Overcome Roadblocks to Standardization in Manufacturing Quality Control
Get more out of SPC data when your teams are on the same page.
Standardization in manufacturing yields tremendous benefits and efficiencies. However, getting to the point where you can truly say you have standardized your operations isn’t always a straight path. Consider these examples, from two large enterprises that went about their quality software deployments in very different ways.
- Company A deployed a new quality management system. They were adamant about communicating what the plan was. Essentially, they told their employees, “This is what we’re building, and this is what you’re going to get at the site.” Despite employees’ grumblings, the company didn’t waver and pushed forward. The end result of this seemingly “draconian” rollout was that they were able to deploy at approximately 80 sites in 18 months. How were they able to deploy on such a large scale over such a short period of time? Standardization.
- Company B approached their deployment a bit differently. They had facilities in the US and in Europe that had been acquired over time, so there were many different operational practices in place. For example, one specific issue that came up was “Do we use the metric system for all our measurements?” Unfortunately, they didn’t standardize. When they ran reports for the entire company, they had results in multiple units. Was this the end of the world? No. Were they able to perform comparative analyses? Not as easily as they had hoped.
When you multiply a single measurement by multiple units across multiple products over hundreds of sites—you can see what a plate of spaghetti that turns out to be. The best results for enterprise-wide reporting will always come from a standardized system. It makes deployment easier; it makes reporting better; and it enables you to make better decisions.
But as you can already see, different organizations will face different challenges when they attempt to standardize operations. In this article, we take a look at two common issues: operator adoption and process and system standardization.
Consistency is Key—and the Benefits Are Worth It
In our recent article “Embrace the Benefits of Standardization in Manufacturing,” we acknowledged that standardization of quality management through a modern, SPC-based quality management solution delivers enormous benefits including:
- Rapid and cost-efficient solution deployment
- Ease of system maintenance
- Unparalleled visibility
- Reduced hardware, software, and personnel costs (especially with cloud-hosted software solutions)
And we talked about how standardization can be applied across operations, creating consistency in areas such as:
- Naming conventions
- Software products
- Software functionality
- Work practices
- SPC data analysis
That article also addressed the concerns that can arise when you are implementing standardization across teams or locations that are used to doing things in different ways.
The internal differences that many organizations deal with are important to acknowledge, but it’s also important that those differences not thwart standardization efforts (as in our Company B example above). It’s helpful to know and understand the benefits of reaching alignment (which isn’t necessarily the same as agreement) in order to standardize wherever and whenever you can.
The Slippery Slope: Adoption on the Shop Floor
We all know that getting buy-in from operators on the shop floor is critical for rapid adoption of any system. The operators are the primary users of any quality software system, and they must use the system effectively. Because of this critical link, most companies are just not willing to say no, outright, to their operators. This leads to concessions.
You can give in to operators’ needs and desires—to a point. Standardization doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor, and it is important to ensure that your standardized practices provide the best possible fit for the greatest number of users.
However, when you start making concessions or allowing “exceptions” to the standard practices, those anomalies can ultimately impact your ability to use the data you collect. So, as you’re establishing your standardization rules, be sure you’re basing those rules on conscious decisions. You need to balance your need for quality system adoption with the need to standardize, so that everything goes as smoothly as possible.
One large company we worked with did a great job with their deployment, and with standardization, by making each decision a well-thought-out conscious decision. They basically said, “We’re going to work to get buy-in, and we’re going to give the operators what they need. But the end goal still requires common naming conventions and work practices to make the investment we made in the system worthwhile.”
They were careful about where they capitulated to operators and where they dug in their heels. At the very least, standardization discussions with all the interested parties forces an organization to have these types of conversations.
To learn more about keys to getting user buy-in, read the InfoCenter article 2-Phase Adoption: Implementing SPC for Manufacturing Quality Control .
Variations on a Theme
One thing that may happen in large companies is that everyone in the various plants and on different lines thinks the way they do things is how everyone does things.
However, the cold hard fact is unless you have gone through a rigorous standardization exercise, this is never the case. It’s not until you sit everyone down that you come to realize what really goes on—how everyone does things in their own way. The differences, in some cases, may be minor, but they are there.
So, one piece of advice we give to any company thinking of standardization is this: make sure the conversations take place. And not a few times but repeatedly, because it takes a while to hammer these things out. When people start to drift back into their daily routines, the agreed-on rules can easily be forgotten and left behind.
Standardizing Work Practices and Systems: All Your Data in One Place
Another essential area that presents challenges for standardization is in the work practices and systems themselves. Standardizing the ways in which you work with your quality management software, work with the data you’re collecting, and apply information to your workflow is important.
Standardizing Practices Across All Sites
We’ve worked with organizations that have numerous facilities performing the same tasks in different ways—some of the facilities do their work on paper, others on spreadsheets, some on InfinityQS software, and some on other software. It’s a mish-mash. And it’s not efficient.
Just getting everyone on the same quality management system, and particularly one with a central, unified data repository (like the solutions that InfinityQS offers), is huge. We’ve found that the unified data repository is essential to standardization for any SPC-based quality management solution. Without a centralized data source, it’s tempting to allow a single site to do “just this one thing” differently. (Remember the slippery slope?)
Let’s say you have two different people with two different spreadsheets. If you want to compare their data, you need to either pull up both spreadsheets for a side-by-side view or copy and paste from both into a third spreadsheet—in which case you’re manually putting all the data in one location. So, a single, unified data repository makes sense. It allows all your data users to have access to all the information—and share one version of the truth about your operations.
Standardizing Within the System
Standardizing the way you work within the software will help you reap the benefits of a good quality software system. It’s amazing how even small differences can wreak havoc on your reporting.
Here’s an example:
Some time back, we worked with a company that did not name things consistently. They wanted to filter their quality data by work center, which is an excellent idea. The challenge came when multiple quality engineers didn’t realize they were working in a centralized system. When they each created data collections for Work Center 123, the names included: WC-123, WC 123, WC_123, WC123, WC*123—and others.
So, when they looked in their database, they had seven different versions of the same process. They had no idea that they should hammer out standardized naming conventions before collecting data. Going back to fix problems like this is often time consuming and can be expensive. They weren’t happy, to say the least. It’s a tough way to learn a lesson.
Start with a Solid Foundation
Ensuring standardization across processes and systems—and ensuring that users work within the rules you’ve set up—is easier when you are using a quality management software solution that has standardization built in. Enact®, the InfinityQS Quality Intelligence platform, is perfect for sustaining standardization across the manufacturing organization.
Enact helps you standardize by ensuring items are named once. Period. And everyone is working from the same set of data because it’s in a central, unified data repository. Furthermore, Enact gives you the power to create role-based information in dashboards—and it gives individual users the option to customize how they view the data on their dashboards.
When you have the basics like these issues covered, your conversations with users and stakeholders across your organization can start and stay more productive.