Those of us on the march towards Quality 4.0 in our manufacturing companies are grappling with the challenge of producing high quality parts with a minimal investment of time and resources into new inspection methodologies. Additionally, there’s the overwhelming data management aspect. How do we know that it’s “good” data? Where is the data stored? How can we best present it to our customers, quality system auditors, and internal staff? Those are just a few of the driving questions and issues surrounding data and automating the quality function. Until recently, there were way too many individual pieces of software crunching data from machines, devices, instruments, and gages and storing it in independent, disconnected folders housed in a myriad of places, including desk drawers! Here’s the good news: software solutions are available now that truly streamline inspection and measurement data and even go beyond that functionality.

At the risk of this sounding too elementary, like a Quality 101 workshop, let’s review why an understanding of manufacturing process data and managing it is important. For new technicians who are coming into industry daily, these fundamentals are important to grasp. It’s also helpful for us seasoned veterans to get a refresher now and then: The ultimate benefit for a company to understand and house the minutia of its processes is improved profitability. Wider profit margins stem from machining and operational efficiencies that come about from continuous improvement tweaks. We learn what needs to be fixed from the data as we learn how the process is trending over time. Making components better, cheaper, and faster leads to improved deliveries and satisfied customers who likely come back to us again and again.

Screen shot displays automatic ballooning

Screen shot displays automatic ballooning and GD&T extraction on a scanned 2D drawing. This task, done automatically, saves sometimes days of time. It is also helpful assurance that the initial inspection and measurement data collected at the start of the work order process is reliable and accurate.

Organizing data and making it easily accessible are the keys to getting the best use out of it. Initially, that can be a challenge for many manufacturers. We frequently find that data is stored in various folders, as “silos” of information that aren’t linked in any way, either to each other or to a centralized system or network. So ideally then, we need a comprehensive manufacturing quality management system (QMS) that features centralized data storage where manufacturing results are automatically posted as measurements are taken, compare these results against the inspection plan instantly, and provide alerts when process adjustments need to be made in real-time. Today’s comprehensive QMS software technology gives us the best chance of delivering useful information from the beginning of the work order. One-click automation software now allows us to capture all the relevant measurement and GD&T data from the 2D drawing or 3D part model. Some customers report that this benefit alone saves days, not hours, of time. As part of this step, these systems then generate a complete bill of characteristics for the part, in-process and final inspection plans, SPC settings, and identifies the gages and equipment required for inspection. 

QMS software technologies

Comprehensive, all-in-one QMS software technologies feature centralized data storage where manufacturing SPC results are automatically posted as measurements are taken, compare these results against the inspection plan instantly, and provide alerts when process adjustments need to be made in real-time.

For those of you well on the road to a systems approach to manufacturing, you may ask whether this level of QMS software can integrate with your ERP system. Yes, it can. Quality 4.0 merges with Industry 4.0 easily. In fact, the Quality 4.0 pillar of the higher level plant-wide goal is imperative to the success of Industry 4.0. Manufacturers first began digitizing aspects of their business and production operations decades ago, and that effort often resulted in “silos” of information using non-connected software programs. I can see the relief on the faces of our customers who have made the shift to an all-in-one platform as they start realizing the benefits. They like the immediate ease of having one central system with which to interact. Many have the system dashboard visible and accessible at many places around the factory: in production cells on computer stations and using small, portable devices; on big screens mounted on walls to see the status at a glance; or on computer kiosks accessible at convenient locations. Inspection results are imported automatically into the system from CMMs, VMMs, arms, and Bluetooth or wireless devices or manually via fully integrated shopfloor tablet-based apps running on standard devices. 

comprehensive QMS technology

The latest generations of comprehensive QMS technology gets all contributors in the manufacturing process on the same page with part dimensions, tolerances, and data reporting which maximizes process efficiency.

Another important aspect of instituting a comprehensive manufacturing QMS is its ability to easily generate reports for quality auditors and customers—including the stringent reporting requirements in the aerospace and medical industries. Report types include industry-standard, FAI, PPAP, SPC, NCR, ISO; and industry-specific such as AS9100/EN9100, AS 9102 for aerospace; QS-9000/ISO/TS16949, APQP for automotive; 21CFR, ISO 13485 for medical; as well as defense, heavy machinery, oil/gas/energy, and other multiple best-practice standards. Inspection results collected from the shop floor provide the source data used in these reports. If the QMS features a report designer, as some do, it allows the user to create custom report forms and templates to meet internal or external reporting requirements. Custom reports can include formulas, unique page layouts, and it also offers the capability to re-create your customers’ templates and branding. It’s one more way to solidify and nurture customer relationships with your company. 

A truly comprehensive QMS also embraces and manages measurement gages and devices. While automatic ballooning and results reporting are often the tasks that generate the most interest in this kind of software, gage management is a close runner up because, again, it ties this vast function into one system. There are several good independent software programs dedicated solely to gage management. What’s compelling about having the centralized, all-in-one system strategy is that every gage used on a particular work order is identified and tracked. If there is a problem with a particular part lot down the road, the gage calibration data can be verified and used to ensure that the gages were within tolerance. It also provides the capability to find out if any other part lots might be affected that used those same gages. Additionally, when identifying the gages to be used on an upcoming job, staffers can readily determine in the system where those gages are currently located within the shop, who is using them, and whether a calibration alert might be popping up on any of the required gages. The quality technician or machine operator can then ensure that the calibration is done well in advance of the job start date.

tool gage

A truly comprehensive QMS also tracks and manages measurement gages and devices.

Data-driven manufacturing is here. The quality function is crucial in this endeavor, and while those of us in the quality department have always known this, that realization is becoming much more mainstream at the executive level. The question has been how best to align manufacturing operations with the quality function in the new digital, data-driven environment. We knew we needed some form of all-in-one system to remain competitive and profitable, however, the initial generations of these programs were lacking in one area or another. Those solutions are now available that are economical from a time and cost investment perspective and can be an answer to streamline and simplify data management. As an added bonus, the latest generations of comprehensive QMS technology gets all contributors in the manufacturing process on the same page with part dimensions, tolerances, and data reporting which maximizes process efficiency. An automated, centralized, integrated approach to inspection and measurement data management can significantly reduce errors, improve data security, and provide consistent product quality. Why? Because the source information—generated automatically right from the drawing or model—provides accurate and reliable data. That’s the solid, unshakable foundation necessary upon which to build the entire QMS structure and data-driven strategy in any manufacturing company. Q