Quality check: Managing shop quality levels

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by Kip Hanson

Software is your best bet for managing shop quality levels


When I started in the shop, measurement results were still written down on a piece of paper. The entire back wall of the inspection room was lined with filing cabinets, filled with the reams of quality data we’d generated over the years. Vern, the shop owner, got a lot of exercise with all the bending he did when organizing files, and the office supply salesman sent us a nice Christmas card every year. Everyone was happy.

The problem started after they hired Jay, that pesky young quality engineer. He was one of those continuous improvement geeks, and wanted to analyze the heck out of everything. He even convinced Vern to buy a new IBM PC—the one with the 5-1/4 in. floppy disks—so he could begin distilling all that raw data from the file cabinets into trends and statistical analyses.

Give the devil his due, though. Jay was able to identify trends in our manufacturing processes that we’d never known existed.

Because of his efforts, the shop’s quality increased to unheard of levels, winning us a shiny plaque for the front office and some new business from an aerospace firm across town. Eventually, we gained ISO certification, all thanks to Jay’s nerdy ways.

Let there be light
Attempting to control quality without a software system is like gall bladder surgery in a darkened operating room—you might get away with it if the surgeon’s really good, but you’re far more likely to survive if the lights are on.

That’s what QMS does—it brings light to your manufacturing processes, allowing you to identify problems before they happen, and assert control over chaos. Mike Rappaport, CEO for IQS Inc., North Olmsted, OH, says enterprise quality and compliance software solutions provide visibility into a business’s key quality metrics and create one central repository of the truth.

“A good QMS delivers far more than quality control. It deals with document management and measurement of employee skills, gauge and tool calibration, equipment maintenance, control plans and risk mitigation. The list goes on. Then you wrap all this around nonconformance and corrective action, tie it into supplier management, and you now have a way to measure and control quality throughout the supply chain.”

Planes and power plants
If you’re thinking QMS is for big companies, you’re right—Boeing, Lockheed, General Electric and other industrial giants would build neither planes nor power plants without QMS. That doesn’t mean, however, that a quality system isn’t within reach of a mom and pop shop. “Smaller companies are adopting our SaaS version (Software as a Service),” Rappaport says. “For five concurrent users, the whole system costs less than $1000 a month.”

That monthly fee isn’t the whole story. As with any software system, the implementation should be considered carefully and budgeted for, lest the project turn into a runaway train. Rappaport encourages his customers to set aside their darlings. “Implementing QMS isn’t like ordering at Burger King, where you can have it your way. Most times, people will need to let go of their spreadsheets and preconceived ways of thinking.”

If you’re ready to do that, a small QMS implementation can be accomplished with as little as 10 to15 days of billable consulting—about the price of a mid-sized sedan.

Keep it simple
Tim Lozier, marketing manager for ETQ, Farmingdale, NY, agrees implementation should be a straightforward task. “The biggest gap is being able to identify your existing processes and those you wish to improve with a QMS solution, matching them to what the solution is able to achieve.” Assembling those members of the company who directly impact the software—its stakeholders—and mapping the inputs and outputs of the company’s various business processes is the best way to achieve this. Only then can a decision be made on those that bring the biggest returns.

“Start simple and work up from there,” Lozier suggests. “Once you’ve implemented the first couple of processes, everything after that becomes easier. In a collaborative project, one with defined deliverables and expectations, the implementation process delivers a solution that meets your needs—on time and in budget. Whatever else, know that implementation is a journey. Make sure you have the right partner.”

Push me, pull you
Intelex product specialist Eric Morris says QMS is about risk reduction. “I had an interesting conversation at a trade show with a small company. It has 100 employees, and supply industrial ink to a very large beer company. Any problems from the quality side could mean the end of their business, which is why they were looking for QMS—without it, they risk losing their biggest customer.”

Companies purchase QMS because they want to keep something in control, says Morris. This could be their processes, their supply chain, their documents or their employees. But hold on—isn’t this why shops spend millions on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, to gain control? “In comparison to a well-designed quality management suite, ERP systems are often not easy to use. They can be inflexible, and a burden on the organization.”

QMS, because of its simple, modular landscape, complements and supports ERP systems, augmenting functionality that in many cases was an afterthought by the ERP vendor. It does this via integration tools common in the QMS world, allowing the ERP system to push data into QMS, and pull quality information back out.

The tipping point
TIP Technologies Inc., Pewaukee, WI, is another QMS provider with an eye to integration. Executive vice president Ronald M. Dolan says the majority of his installations are connected to some sort of ERP system. “Quite often what happens is, customers come to us and say, ‘we’re done putting in our ERP system, now we’re ready to do quality.'” Sometimes these are the result of failed implementations on the quality side, after the users have discovered the functionality provided by their shiny new ERP system isn’t everything they dreamed about.

The reason for this is simple: ERP attempts to be all things to all people, a huge elephant that supports everything that goes on under the corporate roof. It’s no wonder quality management takes a back seat. “ERP becomes unruly, especially with large implementations,” Dolan explained. “The users attempt to do a simple transaction and get bogged down in the steps—click here, then go back over there, enter some data in this field. It’s tough to get things done sometimes.”

There are many advantages to a tightly integrated QMS solution. For starters, users are able to operate in software designed “by quality people, for quality people.” This makes the associated processes more efficient, and goes a long way towards attainment of accurate, pertinent information—it also makes the people entering that information a lot less cranky. And with a seamless handshake between systems, data accuracy is assured.

Dolan adds you should implement your QMS solution by manufacturing process rather than by software module. “This reduces costs, and assures focus on the relevant parts of the product.”

The bottom line is this: manufacturers everywhere need quality. QMS is one of the tools to help you achieve it. Maybe it’s time you gave your quality system a checkup. SMT

Kip Hanson is a contributing editor. [email protected]




TIP Technologies, Inc.

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