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More Than SPC – How Automotive Manufacturers Can Leverage Quality Systems

To realize the full benefits of Statistical Process Control (SPC) software, automotive manufacturers must step out of their old mindsets and explore what else their quality system can, and should, offer.

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The automotive industry was one of the first to embrace the power of Statistical Process Control (SPC) software. Over the last few decades, SPC has certainly helped automotive manufacturers collect data on the plant floor, monitor for quality issues and meet industry standards, but that is generally the extent of the technology’s use. Despite pioneering the quality space, automotive manufacturers and suppliers have been accused of adopting a “set-it-and-forget-it” tendency when it comes to their quality systems.

Now, trends such as more stringent fuel efficiency requirements, lightweighting and new design criteria are changing the manufacturing landscape and creating quality challenges. For example, in order to meet fuel efficiency requirements through lightweighting, manufacturers must introduce new materials, new adhesives and new welding techniques into their processes. As a result, organizations must take extra strides to ensure these new components properly fit together and function once they become part of the final product. If not, the manufacturer risks a costly recall and may even jeopardize consumers’ safety.

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Fortunately, many automotive manufacturers already have the basis for overcoming these challenges, and more — their SPC systems. However, to realize the full benefits of this technology, automotive manufacturers must step out of their old mindsets and explore what else their quality system can, and should, offer.

More than SPC

In addition to collecting quality data on the shop floor, automotive manufacturers should see if they can integrate their SPC software with other manufacturing systems and equipment, like scales, gauges, CMMS, portable measuring systems and even ERP systems. Through integration, manufacturers can automatically collect data across different systems and aggregate the information for a holistic view of their operations. This also eliminates duplicate or redundant data entry and reduces paper-based or manual processes to improve accuracy and productivity as well as quality.

As quality software collects and integrates data across machinery and software systems, it should make that information available to operators in real time. From a dashboard on a computer interface, operators can obtain visibility into their processes. With this “first life” of data, operators can then proactively monitor quality-related issues and make instantaneous adjustments. For example, if the manufacturer’s adhesive is not bonding sufficiently with the chassis’ aluminum body, operators can see that there is an issue and correct it before producing thousands of faulty vehicles (i.e.… SPC predicts the fault before it happens).

On a similar note, a quality system should ensure that the right people take the right actions in a timely manner. Automated workflows can incorporate alerts, timers and reminders to boost operators’ efficiencies, as well as standardize data collection approaches throughout the organization.

Alas, many automotive manufacturers don’t realize that there is life beyond the data they collect on the shop floor. While these data can help make real-time decisions and adjustments, they also have a “second life.”

A quality system should have the reporting and analysis capabilities to glean insight, or Manufacturing Intelligence, to not only improve process control and meet Lean or Six Sigma requirements, but also to identify opportunities for continuous improvement. By slicing and dicing the available data, automotive manufacturers can pinpoint areas for reducing waste, improving overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), meet compliance standards, and more. By leveraging this insight, manufacturers can cut costs and make better business decisions across the organization.

Using an Enterprise Quality Hub

Automotive manufacturers who are looking to “get more” out of their SPC systems and are unsure of where to start (or where to pick up) should consider deploying an enterprise quality hub. In addition to providing real-time data collection and integration, automated workflows and advanced reporting capabilities, an enterprise quality hub extends quality efforts beyond the plant floor. Leveraging cloud technology, an enterprise quality hub pulls together data from plants and suppliers around the world and enters it into a centralized repository. From anywhere, anytime, through any device, users can access the data to obtain vital Manufacturing Intelligence. Visibility across the global supply chain is essential to optimizing manufacturing operations, incorporating new design elements and materials and creating a high-quality, final product. For instance, an automotive manufacturer in Detroit can monitor quality data from a brake pad supplier in China to make sure that the parts meet their quality standards before the products even ship.

As new trends and challenges continue to arise in the automotive industry — whether self-driving cars or ultra-lightweight pickup trucks — manufacturers should take another look at their current SPC systems and quality efforts. With such drastic design changes and innovations, it is likely that the industry will exhibit a renewed interest in SPC over the next few years. But, many manufacturers will find that their standard, existing systems are no longer enough. By exploring the additional capabilities of quality software and turning to an enterprise quality hub, automotive manufacturers can more readily pave the road for success.

Martyn Gill is General Manager of EMEA at InfinityQS International

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