Quality seems to be a never-ending problem for manufacturers, regardless of industry. Implementing and operating a system for tracking product quality is often seen as a burden that must be endured to avoid greater cost and expenditures down the road. Trying to track quality issues across processes within a plant—or across sites scattered around the country or the globe—consumes time, resources, and cash. You can be inundated with quality-related data, yet still find yourself impeded by recalls, rework, and regulatory audits.
But quality can’t be ignored. From food recalls to faulty auto parts, quality issues can have devastating effects on any manufacturing organization’s reputation and future earning potential. Whatever your industry, whether you’re a small manufacturer or a global brand name, you’re likely scrambling to find solutions to your quality issues.
Here’s how we solve that quality “problem” and turn it into an opportunity.
Make the Move from Problem to Solution
Too often, quality-related data is scribbled down on paper forms, stashed in spreadsheets, and ends up gathering dust in filing cabinets or siloed in databases or file servers across your organization. It’s mandated that you collect it, but after collection, it’s not useful to you.
But with the right approach—and the right tools—you can use that data to not only improve your products and boost operational performance, but to transform your business into an industry leader.
Where does this process start? You’ll want to consider a quality management software solution that can help you do more than just check quality data for problems. When evaluating options, look for the following functionality.
First, you need a solution that can work with your existing infrastructure to pull in quality data directly from your processing lines and equipment. Ditch the paper checklists—and the human error that often accompanies them. Manual data entry is susceptible to mistakes driven by fatigue, distraction, or a desire to impress management. Plus, manually recorded data means even more time is needed for re-entry into databases or reporting systems.
And this doesn’t even touch on the problem of retrieving the manually collected data when you need it. Neither paper nor spreadsheets should be used to collect data on the shop floor; these solutions won’t give you the information you need. What you need is a quality management solution that can get you the reports you want in seconds. It’s time to throw away the paper and move into the digital age.
Look for Extensive, Targeted, Off-the-Shelf Functionality
You might think that the free “bolt-on” quality features that come with some Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions or measurement systems are a good deal. But such systems are far from robust and can hamstring manufacturers.
When it comes to meeting your quality management needs, one size does not fit all. A basic module added to an ERP typically does not include essentials such as:
- A friendly, intuitive role-based interface to help simplify the jobs of production floor personnel
- Timed inspection tracking
- Automated alerts and notifications
- Control charts and analysis tools
- Self-serve, easy-to-generate reports
Why are these features not included? Because ERP systems aren’t built by quality management experts. When you invest in a purpose-built quality software solution, you get functionality that will actually help your users—built in—without expensive coding and rework.
The ideal quality management solution gives you the flexibility to determine which types of information to accumulate, how often, and at what level of granularity. Your solution should provide a method for establishing parameters—and for alerting and notification when quality strays outside those boundaries.
When using a modern quality management software solution, users know immediately when an issue arises and can adjust the process before making any non-conforming product. This helps prevent costly product holds or, even worse, potential recalls.
In addition, make sure that the quality management system you use can collect the kind of data that is important to your organization, in a way that works for your operators. In addition to collecting the data in real time, the system should store that data in a centralized database for use in strategic decision-making.
A centralized, unified data repository is a must-have in today’s manufacturing environment. Too often, manufacturers collect data only to find it siloed, non-standardized, and difficult to integrate.
To ensure product quality and consistency across lines and plants, it’s essential to be able to bring data from every facility together and aggregate it for analysis. Data aggregation is rolling up data across your manufacturing enterprise and uncovering where the greatest opportunities exist for reducing waste, reducing costs, and improving quality. This is how you get a huge return on your quality management software investment.
Centralized storage and reporting provide the means to get that all-important “big picture view” of what’s happening across time and across shifts, lines, and sites—even when those sites are in different regions or spread out across the globe.
Simplify and Save
Naturally, any quality management solution should be efficient to deploy and easy to operate. You need a solution that doesn’t demand additional expenditures to upgrade your legacy systems, meet a steep learning curve, access “premium” functionality, or scale out as your implementation—or available technology—advances.
Watch out for systems that offer fast, inexpensive deployments but then require you to redo your work over and over again or buy new add-ons any time you want to add functionality or product numbers.
Standardize and Customize
Advanced reporting and configuration capabilities are important for reaping full benefits from your quality transformation. Look for quality management software that offers built-in reporting options that are easy to configure to meet your reporting needs and customer demands.
With these capabilities, you move beyond a reactionary mindset and into a proactive quality approach. The result is a unified organization, focused on the combination of product quality, time to market, and profitability.
Get Excited About Quality
Of course, humans are naturally resistant to change. Implementing a new quality management system—especially one that can promote such drastic transformation on an enterprise scale—can meet some initial resistance.
It helps to start small—on one line or a single product—while involving your site’s operators, managers, and engineers. Pick a specific production line, or family of products, something small that you know needs attention.
You need to alter your focus a bit—away from just data collection. Think about the key result you’re trying to achieve—a meaningful result that improves your products and your business. Things like reducing scrap, rework, giveaway, and defects can have a quick, significant impact. The point here is not to avoid collecting data; it’s to collect the right data.
When your team members experience the results of automating measurement-device outputs, efficiently grouping and ordering tests, and transitioning from paper to electronic data entry—and see how they can free up time for other, less tedious tasks and deliver results at an exponentially faster rate—you might find operators and supervisors queuing up to be next in line for deployment.
It’s Time to Re-Imagine Quality
When your organization re-imagines quality, quality management becomes an ongoing, transformative opportunity for the whole enterprise. You begin to do more than just collect and respond to data. You can mine your supply chain, production lines, and more for actionable insights that spark continuous improvement—not just for one product, but across entire lines, sites, regions, and operations.
And you don’t have to break the bank in the process. It’s all possible. You just need to re-imagine it.
Watch this success story on our website and learn more about how one company saved $800,000 by changing the way it looked at quality data.