Most manufacturers will at some point overlook an out-of-control process and deliver an out-of-spec product. When this happens, the customer is rightfully upset and the manufacturer wastes appreciable time, money, and resources to mend what they themselves should never have broken.
The costs of poor quality are usually what drive manufacturers to update their statistical process control (SPC) software. Somewhat ironically though, most modern SPC solutions are aimed at issue prevention as much as control.
In "Elevating Quality to the Top Floor," a case study from SPC solutions provider InfinityQS, the story of an elevator manufacturer’s journey to better process control aligns with an industry trend: using real-time data to nip costly quality issues before they emerge.
The international elevator manufacturing firm profiled in the case study had several problems to solve. The first and most critical was their tendency to produce out-of-spec elevator wall panels, which often resulted in job site construction delays that could last between two and seven days. Naturally, this angered their customers, wasted installation crew time, and cost money.
In addition, the company did not use a formal SPC application prior before trying out InfinityQS’ ProFicient software, says Jim Frider, senior product marketing manager at InfinityQS. Instead, they used Microsoft Excel for capturing quality data.
Over time, the firm realized that they needed a better way to monitor and analyze the data they were collecting—and to see results in the quality of their product. Thus they tried ProFicient to see if it would improve both their product quality and process capability.
Beforehand “they could not determine the capability of their process,” Frider says. “They didn’t have the ability to generate meaningful SPC metrics in real time. This was costing them thousands [of dollars] per year in replacement panels, as well as lost man hours for their installation crews that could not be billed for warranty claims.”
Shortly after implementing ProFicient at their primary elevator panel manufacturing site, the company saw that they could use the real-time data to speedily identify when and where panel processes where flawed or even beginning to go awry—prompting shop-floor operators to take immediate correction action. According to the site’s project manager, “Once we put InfinityQS controls in place, we were able to prevent non-conforming material from leaving the factory.”
The same visibility that allowed the firm to pinpoint quality issues also enabled them to choose where to focus their next process improvement efforts. Soon, they began to see results in other areas.
Besides improving the consistency of their panels—their initial goal—they discovered that they could improve their Takt time, which is the average time between the start of production of one unit and the start of the next. They also found they could slash their data analysis time from what used to be weeks using Excel to mere minutes.
As the case study describes, the manufacturer was able to reduce their wall panel production time to just two to three minutes per run, constituting a 40-60% time savings. Now the company is able to quickly and easily track their quality and process information through a mixture of manual, semi-automated, and automated data collection, performed by ProFicient.
The benefits of actionable and intelligent SPC data, for this company and others, are myriad. Quality teams can conduct faster and more accurate audits, for instance. Armed with historical data and reporting, they can go on to improve other onsite production processes. They also can perform detailed cross-analyses of other systems in minutes, as opposed to days or weeks.
“When manufacturers can unify real-time information across lines, machines, products, shifts, and even plants, they gain increased visibility and can make smarter business decisions,” says Michael Lyle, president and CEO of InfinityQS. “Many InfinityQS customers cite visibility as their favorite product benefit, because it allows them to rectify problems and expose which lines or plants perform better than others. Understanding why these differences exist enables continuous process improvement, making quality data an invaluable asset to manufacturing operations at large.”
Even so, it seems like a good chunk of manufacturers only consider buying real-time SPC software after a certain amount of recalls or customer complaints have forced their hand.
“Unfortunately, a serious manufacturing problem—either internally discovered or reported by a client—is the primary reason manufacturers invest in real-time quality monitoring software,” Frider confirms. “However, corporate initiatives can help drive the need for SPC. For example, a corporate cost reduction initiative can drive a waste reduction initiative at the plant level, and real-time SPC can be the chosen means for accomplishing this goal.”
“Another driver for real-time SPC can be the demands of a large client,” Frider adds. “The client may require tighter tolerances on the parts they purchase from a supplier. The parts supplier then uses real-time SPC software to monitor their processes to help them meet the stricter client requirements. New management or a new owner may decide that production and quality are sub-par, and they end up turning to real-time SPC software to improve their quality and production performance.”
“Maintaining brand integrity and client satisfaction are also drivers for SPC,” Frider continues. “Multi-site manufacturers turn to real-time SPC software to help them produce the same product at different plants around the globe. Moreover, younger, tech-savvy workers are entering the manufacturing workplace and real-time SPC software is a tool they are comfortable with and are embracing, unlike older workers who often rebuffed these types of solutions.”
Additionally, “changes to regulatory requirements, such as in food safety regulations, often compel companies to invest in real-time SPC software,” Frider says. “Some regulations call out the need to use SPC technology.” He also points to new process equipment that increasingly has sensors built in, providing users with helpful SPC data. This too can motivate a company to invest in a real-time SPC solution.