How Software Can Close the Loop on Manufacturing Quality Control

Industry 4.0

By Eric Stoop
February 4, 2016

quality control loop

A recent Wall Street Journal article detailing how Boeing is facing up to 24 million dollars in FAA penalties over quality control going back several years across a number of locations shows how even the biggest manufacturers need to close the loop on quality control (QC). Closing the QC loop requires a two-way flow of information across functions that enable end-to-end visibility into quality across the value chain.

This can only be done when quality functions such as document control, compliance management, nonconformance/corrective and preventive actions (NC/CAPA), audit management, and others are integrated across critical business processes. It may be clear on the surface to manufacturers that moving beyond the concept of a bi-directional connection of people, processes, and data across the value chain is paramount to success in the manufacturing sector. That being said, the hard work of achieving that goal starts with understanding the benefits and the challenges of a closed loop approach to quality control.

Benefits of a Closed-Loop QC Process

At its core, a closed-loop approach to quality control facilitates a much more holistic view of product and process quality throughout the value chain. This translates into significant benefits for the manufacturer and ultimately the buyers of their products, which include:

  • Reduction of waste, scrap, and rework via corrective process implementation
  • Increased overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)
  • On-time and complete shipments
  • Real-time, end-to-end visibility across the manufacturing environment

Closing the loop on quality manufacturing is no simple task, but in the end, it makes everyone’s job easier.

Challenges of an Open-Loop QC Process

Manufacturing environments are constantly changing, and while those changes can be subtle, they bring profound implications for the future of the company in terms of quality, and therefore, financial outcomes. Production lines, departments, and divisions operating in siloes are the antithesis to open communication for effective closed-loop QC. The absence of an effective closed-loop process can leave gaps in the quality process that may result in severe risk. There are a number of challenges that an open-loop process like this fosters, including:

  • Lack of long-term quality vision around business processes
  • Lack of standardization of solutions for the same quality process
  • Disconnected technology architecture

Many organizations have yet to automate, standardize, and centralize quality control functions via software solutions like LPA and QMS. Consequently, these manufacturing environments are still relying on manual data entry into spreadsheets that produce reports that can’t timely address QC problems, and are often riddled with errors.

These paper-based processes cannot provide multiple views of QC data nor can they provide the drill-down capabilities for implementation and verification of corrective measures. In addition, they lack the ability to provide a foundation for scalability and agility when the manufacturing environment grows over time or when QC processes must evolve to meet new demands and avoid risks. Modern manufacturers need solutions that provide agility, visibility, scalability, and mobility, which is where the latest software solutions come into play.

How Software Helps Close the QC Loop

Today’s leading software solutions designed specifically for the manufacturing environment are the foundation to a successful closed-loop QC environment that addresses all of the challenges previously discussed as well as many more. These include:

  • Eliminating unnecessary expenses due to human error, undiagnosed issues and communication gaps
  • Providing for streamlined and intuitive QC process reporting and monitoring
  • Increasing QC process management, reporting, and visibility across the organization
  • Standardizing QC lifecycle management for consistent compliance to regulations and standards
  • Allowing for mobility via tablet technology
  • Gathering real-time data and reporting for process correction

This increased flexibility, agility, and visibility sets the stage for easier creation, scheduling, managing, changing, and controlling the planning and tracking of corrective actions. This ultimately reduces waste, rework, and a variety of production process errors that undermine company efficiency and profitability.

It’s common for manufacturers to have disparate enterprise applications such as ERP, MOM, PLM, CRM, MES, EQMS or SCM, creating a roadblock to closed-loop quality management. Today, the best solutions can be integrated for the holistic view that manufacturing environments need across the enterprise for achieving closed-loop quality more easily and cost effectively.

Any defects will be flagged and analyzed, and notifications automatically sent to all necessary departments so that everyone can ensure that the errors are permanently eliminated. These corrective changes can be mapped across systems and facilities so that the organization has an end-to-end QC process that perpetuates continuous improvement across the business culture.

Summary

Manufacturers that create a closed-loop QC process are reaping big rewards that make them more competitive and profitable in a constantly changing and complex global business environment. In fact, companies with established closed-loop quality processes are achieving performance improvements over those without such processes that range as high as ten percent or more.

These very substantial operational improvements translate to higher profits, increased sales, new products, recall avoidance and regulatory compliance. Ultimately, the right software solutions facilitate a robust, closed-loop QC system bringing numerous benefits through elimination of scrap, defects, and rework that lowers costs and risk while raising profits and customer satisfaction going forward.

Eric Stoop
Eric Stoop
CEO at EASE