When reviewing gage management software, consider how it complements the operator’s job: Will the software facilitate or will it get in the way or be cumbersome? Source: Plexus Systems Inc.

Best-in-class manufacturing companies faced with quality and compliance regulations have turned those mandates into a competitive advantage-and technology plays a key role.

Consider an integrated quality solution that links gage control data to quality functionality. Integrating these areas provides a powerful mechanism to ensure the enterprise’s control and measurement data is used to improve product quality and streamline operations. The implemented systems close the gap between measuring, tracking and monitoring on the shop floor and feeding that data back into design and production.

The end result: improved part quality, better response to customer concerns and a long-term improvement in manufacturing operations.

That is why for many companies, the goal becomes integrating gage control with quality software to improve the entire manufacturing process.

An Integrated Approach

Many factors determine the purchase of new software and quality modules. However, it is crucial to fully integrate gage control with the entire quality system from the outset. Gage control is essential to parts control. As a part undergoes dimensional changes, fixed gages also must undergo a corresponding change.

Despite this, both customers and auditors are on an undeniable trend toward demanding more information that is tightly integrated across quality planning documents such as the flow chart, FMEA and control plan. Five years ago, no one could anticipate it would become a de facto industry standard for software to automatically link everything together.

Quality programs and software should include a gage control module, providing a comprehensive set of tools for managing and controlling measurement gages within a company.

Based on a master gage list, each gage should be serialized and bar coded. The system should handle gage calibration, calibration scheduling, calibration priority reports and automatic e-mail notification when gages are due for calibration.

See if the quality system includes a gage study system, including repeatability and reproducibility (GR&R), bias, linearity and stability. The gage control system should be based on AIAG MSA-3, AIAG’s Measurement Systems Analysis Manual, third edition. And the gage control system should be integrated with the control chart and statistical process control (SPC) systems.

Source: Plexus Systems Inc.

Benefits Realized

Take the lesson learned by a large powertrain plant in New York. The facility had a disciplined and thorough gage control process. It had 12,500 active gages and 600 masters. Test points were entered manually for the first gage, then that gage was copied for each additional serial.

However, the plant needed to convert its old control methods from a legacy software system to online manufacturing software for all of the facility’s functions. In the conversion, there were just enough differences among copied test points to drive home the benefits of storing them at the gage drawing level.

Far from weighing them down, the gage team looked at each such anomaly as an opportunity to pull out the gage drawing and correct the test points once and for all.

Beyond Gage Data

Measurement systems analysis (MSA) is not an end in itself-it supports the broader goal of monitoring and improving the manufacturing process.

Control plans are detailed descriptions of monitoring-and hopefully improving-a given process. The control plan has a column, “Evaluation and Measurement Technique,” which contains either a gage type or a gage serial used to measure a given characteristic. Unless a gage control system is linked to document authoring system, there will be redundant data.

In fact, this was the very issue that tipped that powertrain supplier toward a solution that automatically integrated the gage control system with the rest of the document authoring systems. Its customers require that control plans list specific gage drawing numbers, resulting in several thousand more redundantly typed gage records.

In addition, when the company executes the control plan by collecting data via online check sheets, they can store which gage serial was used to collect a given set of data. This is a level of tracking required only by certain mission-critical military and medical systems, but it will become more mainstream in the future.

Source: Plexus Systems Inc.

Finding a Fit

There are several software choices that integrate gage control and quality. Some systems offer a comprehensive set of tools that are easily accessed by operators on the plant floor for managing and control measurement gages within a company.

The key differentiator is that these gage control systems are integrated with the control chart and SPC systems.

There are small packages, less than $1,000, that offer deeper gage control features. These point solutions may be good for one task, but will not take into consideration other critical operations. Working in silo solutions will help with a single task but not the entire enterprise.

The midrange software also will be designed for stand-alone operations. They may contain other tools for reporting, record keeping, forecasting and trending. However, such solutions do not share information from the top floor to the shop floor.

New on-demand solutions, based on the software as a service (SaaS) model, are emerging and gaining ground in the manufacturing industry. These products come with quality and control functions without the hassle of managing the IT operations onsite. The best of these products come with gage control and traceability features that provide the ability to pinpoint individual components and evaluate production and measurement issues. And they will have features for mandatory compliance and reporting for several other departments.

Choosing the right solution for manufacturing operations is an important decision, one that a company will be forced to live with for years to come. It is essential to evaluate all key elements:

Usability-Adoption, or use, by a large percentage of employees is critical to capturing the data accurately and in a timely fashion. Is the software simple to use? Does it complement the operator’s job and make it easier or does the software get in the way or seem cumbersome? Does it make good use of technology such as handhelds, barcodes, radio frequency identification and touchscreens?

The Right Fit for the Business-How would data get into the system? Is it easy? Is it captured and validated at the point of origination? In which manufacturing environment is it appropriate-highly automated lines, a machine-building shop or an engineer to order operation?

Ease of Change-Can a nonprogrammer create new screens and reports? Are operator-induced changes carried forward automatically as new features are provided by the software vendor? How often is new functionality released?

Total Cost of Ownership-Hidden costs should be looked for, particularly if SaaS is being compared to on-premise solutions. Some costs avoided with the SaaS model include servers, operating systems, backup equipment and labor.

Software expenditures often compete with spending on new production equipment. The thinking is that software doesn’t make parts. In truth, the right software can help make more parts and control and measure them correctly.Q

Quality Online

Visit www.qualitymag.com and type “Gage Management Software” into the search engine to find related articles. Among the results you’ll find:
  • “Size Up Gage Calibration Software”
  • “Successful Software Selection”
  • “Gage Software for the Real World”
  • “Software Takes on ISO”

Tech Tips

  • An integrated quality solution that links gage control data to quality functionality can result in improved part quality, a better response to customer concerns and a long-term improvement in the manufacturing operations.

  • While many factors determine the purchase of new software and quality modules, it is crucial to fully integrate gage control with the entire quality system from the outset.

  • When looking for software that will integrate gage control and quality, it is imperative to thoroughly evaluate the key elements of each solution reviewed.