Traditionally, the beginning of a new year is a time of renewed energy, when people and businesses strive to improve upon the previous year and take stock of their processes. What’s working and what’s not working? Above all, what needs to change?

Countless manufacturing companies are moving into 2019 with an outdated SPC solution. In many cases, the operators on the shop floor are still manually collecting data, or utilizing control charts via Excel, while managers tend to only review the data if and when a problem arises. Too often, shop floor data is left to languish in an on-premises database, and is only accessed on an as-needed basis to review a particular issue.

Alternatively, operators, managers, and Six Sigma teams could be working together to monitor, aggregate, and mine the data for actionable insights across the entire enterprise that, in turn, could provide continuous improvements and cost reductions.

Fortunately, it's not too late to make an SPC resolution (or three).

Switch to a Cloud-based system.

If your organization consists of more than a handful of facilities, a Cloud deployment makes good business sense. This is because a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model offers a centralized repository for data across manufacturing sites, thus removing the need for IT infrastructure and its associated costs, like system maintenance.

Many Cloud-based platforms, like Enact from InfinityQS, provide auto-updates, 24/7 system support, rapid scalability, and clear visibility of quality data across manufacturing sites. Enact also provides “quality intelligence” with real-time quality data and alerts that can be routed to matched users. In addition, customizable dashboards help individual users focus on the data for which they’re responsible, cutting out the excess and streamlining efficiencies.

Increased mobility, visibility, and connectivity aside, a Cloud-native solution can be easily standardized as well. For instance, businesses that make the same product in different states or in different countries can feed their slightly different processes into a Cloud-based system, and that system can adjust to create a consistent picture across the enterprise. As Eric Wise, vice president of statistical methods at InfinityQS, mentioned in a previous article, “You build the backbone once, rather than having to build the backbone or framework in every factory.”

Commit to analyzing data.

One of the biggest benefits of Cloud-based SPC software is the ability to review and analyze data, even in-spec data, effectively and consistently. Doug Fair, chief operating officer at InfinityQS, has seen organizations flourish when they examine data across the enterprise, even “good” data, to find and eliminate issues that they might otherwise been unaware they had.

“Eighty-five percent of the improvements in quality, productivity, and costs are due to data aggregation and analysis at a higher level than the shop floor,” Fair says. “So, if companies aren’t regularly taking the time to analyze summaries of data, they are missing out.”

This includes analyzing data that is within specifications—because costly issues that may not raise immediate red flags, like a packaging company slightly overfilling packages, often show up in data that’s technically in-spec. Organizations that make a point of aggregating and reviewing less urgent data on occasion are more likely to enjoy huge cost savings as a result, to which Fair can personally attest.

“I have had many experiences where multimillion-dollar bottom-line improvements have been made because companies closely scrutinized in-spec data,” Fair says. “When companies summarize their data and look at it regularly, they uncover previously unknown information…They can then apply their time and resources in the right places to get things fixed—and make dramatically better—in a very short period of time.”

Focus on priorities for continuous quality improvement. 

Reassessing one’s business often means stepping back to survey the enterprise as a whole. This could mean asking questions like, “Where are the greatest opportunities for cost reduction and quality improvement?” and devising a strategic plan to target pain points and turn them into successes. Acquiring modern SPC software, especially as it grows even more intelligent and user-friendly, is a great place to start.

Maximizing ROI with a new SPC solution can be easy, too. It all depends on an organization’s strategic intent, Fair says: “If you want big gains in quality and cost, [you] need to step back and think about quality as a strategic initiative that can transform a company’s performance.”

Software like Enact provides the tools for these transformations; but ultimately, it is up to the quality professionals themselves to decide how they want to use the tools, which processes they want to focus on, and what kinds of data they want to prioritize. By running comparative analyses on a Cloud-based SPC platform, they can pinpoint exactly where they need to apply their quality efforts and adjust accordingly.

For example, a manufacturing company that is monitoring data across multiple plants might ask:  

  • Which regions run the same products better or worse than other regions?
  • Where are yields highest or lowest among all products, all production lines, and all plants?
  • What defects were present, or not present, based on production lines, region, plant, or shift?

All of these questions and more can be answered, Fair says, by aggregating and analyzing the data housed in a central repository. Next, Fair suggests that quality managers create a prioritized list based on the evidence in the aggregated data—what should be tackled first, second, third, and so on—and stick to a schedule of regular data analysis sessions. In doing all of this, Fair says, “you set an expectation that it’s important to regularly review data, so that opportunities to improve quality and reduce costs are uncovered.”