Our annual user conference presented us the opportunity to chat with some of our industry-leading customers on how they support continuous improvement within their organizations. It’s always enlightening to hear the real-world experiences of others and in turn, relate them to best practices. Our panelists had all successfully used their quality management software to drive change in the manufacturing process and were happy to share what they had learned with our user community.
We examined some of the most commonly used practices in continuous improvement and asked our panelists how they had capitalized on this valuable information to identify quality issues that led to more informed business decisions.
Statistical Process Control – commonly referred to as SPC – helps measure, analyze and control the quality of different manufacturing processes. When data falls outside of the control limits, it warrants a review of the process behind the product variation. Our participants stated by that by using their quality management software, they were able to categorize issues using different measurable codes, thus creating a formalized resolution process with a standardized workflow. Although the process does not deviate, it is flexible enough to apply to different company sites doing different things. Reports become consistent across locations, which makes it easy to roll out real-time data across the organization. Managers can react instantly to variations in manufacturing operations and successfully identify process trends that in the end lead to fewer product defects.
Several of our leaders mentioned that they actively track cause codes and defect codes at a master business level. This was an effort that seemed pointless to some in the beginning, but years later proved invaluable with the huge amount of data that had amassed. In doing so, data within their quality solution became easily accessible and available for input into charts as part of the auditing process. The data actually started to visualize itself and defect analysis proved much more effective through the use of the solution.
When questioned about the use of process maps, the general consensus of the panel was that a narrowed focus area should be an important component of the continuous improvement effort. A hierarchy structure can be used to group parts that go through different process areas so that part adjacencies can be identified. The quality software solution helps to showcase areas that require a deeper dive and provides some clarity on how different programs can benefit from each other.
It seemed that Pareto was one of the most used continuous improvement processes for our participants. Pareto Analysis is based on the 80/20 rule, where a small percentage of findings results in the largest effect. The driver of Pareto is determining the predominant root cause that leads to the resolution the majority of your quality issues. Our experienced users said they practice Pareto to examine defects and summarize findings. By creating measurable codes, they were able to see what codes they could remove. The more the measurable codes were specified and understood, the more effective they became. One panelist mentioned his company was able to shrink its number of codes from 1600 to 280 in a just a few years!
When asked by the moderator if Pareto Analysis could be used as a preventative measure, all agreed that it is an excellent tool for planning. Many have used it from an auditing perspective. Failed audits are based on criteria or process codes and Pareto Analysis allows them to zero-in on areas that are being audited. A company can look at all nonconformances across sites, pick the top measurable codes and form a continuous improvement team for each code. Our panelists all claim they heavily rely on the data within their quality management solution to effectively practice the 8-step methodology for process improvement.
Some great advice that came out of our panel discussion was not to accept anything except for past-tense statements. Any promissory statements are vulnerable in the audit process. For every nonconformance, acquire a cause and corrective action. If it’s not something that can be taken care of in a timely manner, use the data to make a good decision – it’s a huge benefit of the quality management solution.
Our discussion proved that these are powerful tools that provide a tremendous amount of input to help a company position themselves for success. By using an effective quality management solution, manufacturing data can be easily merged from other sources such as an ERP system to help identify root cause. This information helps managers understand what is needed to review on a weekly or monthly basis to drive improvement.
Faced with the pressures of a competitive marketplace, many of our panelists’ customers are pushing them to zero-defects. The only way to get around this issue it to be proactive about quality data. Instilling a culture of continuous improvement is not easy, or as one leader so aptly mentioned, “This isn’t a one-time effort, you have to consistently work to drive improvement.”