Monitoring product and process quality on a manufacturing shop floor often seems like a job for a great detective. On any given day, you might find yourself trying to solve numerous mysteries:

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  • What are the sources of customer complaints?
  • Why isn’t this product passing quality checks?
  • Why does this defect show up on only two production lines?
  • Could our different raw material suppliers be causing some of our defects?

As a famous fictional detective once said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” When it comes to solving manufacturing mysteries, you can take a clue from Sherlock and use solid data to discover quality culprits—even the improbable ones.

A Curious Incident Shows Up in Quality Data

At InfinityQS, we’ve seen real-time SPC data help manufacturers solve their biggest problems time after time. Sometimes, our customers have a pretty good idea where to start looking for clues about what’s going wrong on the production floor. But now and then, the answers that their quality data reveal are as shocking as the end of a good whodunit novel.

One such revelation happened in a packaging plant that was making folded cartons. InfinityQS helped this manufacturer’s quality team to gather process, product, and defect data from one of their production lines. During one of their data collection activities, a control chart (similar to the one below) indicated to the operator that there was an out-of-control event. The event was triggered for a critical parameter that, if unchecked, could cause expensive production problems at their customer’s plant.

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In InfinityQS Enact® or ProFicient™, control charts help pinpoint issues and provide information that help operators ensure their processes are as consistent and trouble-free as possible. Control charts are real-time, shop-floor tools that provide instantaneous feedback to operators and provide them with information that can help when troubleshooting.

Initially, the operator was skeptical when reviewing the information from the control chart. His skepticism was born of the fact that, given the information on the control chart, the machine should be jammed and cartons should be falling off the line. There should be a big mess. But there wasn’t one. Basically, the data didn’t match what he should be seeing.

The machine hadn’t stopped running or shown any outward indication of a problem—but the control chart did, and it was undeniable.

So the operator went to take a closer look…

…and found not one, but two blockages in the machine. However, the blockages were so slight that they generated no visual or physical manifestations of the issue. Yet they still negatively affected a critical product feature. Armed with this information, the operator shut down the machine, removed the blockages, made several important adjustments, and re-started the line. By removing the cartons, he eliminated the issue and values on the control chart went back to normal.

Without the control chart and its out-of-control plot points, the operator would likely not have known about the problem. An entire shift’s worth of product could have been ruined. Worse, the defective products could have been shipped to the customer, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars of customer downtime, rework, and re-shipping costs.

For shop floor operators, collecting data can sometimes seem like busywork. But when the data they collect helps them eliminate issues, solve problems, and run their machinery more efficiently, they quickly embrace it.

To Optimize the Manufacturing Process, Start with the Right Questions

Collecting SPC data isn’t just about some esoteric corporate goal in a boardroom somewhere. It’s about answering the right questions, right now, on the floor. Are your machines running consistently? Are product features changing, increasing, decreasing, or remaining the same? If you’re looking for a way to answer these questions, you need data. And you need the right analysis tools to supercharge shop floor problem solving. By doing so, you can make better, more consistent products while increasing profits and lowering expenses.  

The best way to assess process and product quality in real time is to begin collecting data for your important product and process features. And of course, you need an SPC software solution that converts that raw data into actionable insight. Data do not lie. But they can be ignored. Without a way to quickly visualize and interpret information from data, opportunities for cost reduction and quality improvement can be lost. Data are good, but information is invaluable. And statistical tools like SPC can provide you the information you need—and help a good detective become a great one.

Sometimes collecting and analyzing quality data solves a mystery—and sometimes it reveals one. What unknown crimes against efficiency and consistency are lurking on your production floor? Centralizing data can be the key to finding them. Watch our video to learn how.

With the right statistical process control tools and quality intelligence approach, finding ways to improve product quality and keep production running smoothly will become downright elementary.