SPC Software: A Quality Manager’s Dream?

The Carlisle & Finch Co. has a long history of making the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard happy customers, but as quality tolerances tightened, the company decided that it would give up its old processes for quality mangagement and invest in a forward-thinking solution: statistical process control (SPC) software.

The Carlisle & Finch Co., based out of Cincinnati, Ohio and founded in 1894, has long been a key supplier to the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Federal Prison System for its high-powered searchlights. The Carbon Arc Searchlight was first seen on boats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and can now be seen on high-end yachts, commercial marine crafts and in other militaries around the world. Bob Batsche, quality manager at Carlisle & Finch, says while his company has always been strictly focused on the quality of those searchlights and other products, the military’s growing concern over quality reporting necessitated some change on the plant floor.

The company has always completed comprehensive quality checks, but the sheer amount of data required was overwhelming to customers. In addition, the format of those checks were often not what customers wanted, and data had to be transferred over in labor-intensive processes. Batsche says, “When checking parts, we just had ‘inspection characteristic’ sheets showing what the dimensions was supposed to be. We would check the box if in tolerance, but did not note what the actual dimension was. This left [customers] wondering what the actual measurement was, even though we said ‘in tolerance’ on the sheet.”

In particular, the military customers began to express some concern regarding the speed and ease at which searchlights, and other products, could be confirmed as meeting government quality standards. The process, previously done by hand, seemed needlessly complicated. Soon enough, Carlisle & Finch’s military customers started requiring the use of statistical process control (SPC) software. Suddenly, Batsche was in need of a new solution.

Batsche took a short trip up to Detroit for a quality-focused trade show, where he wanted to take a look at the various software-based quality solutions and see which might work for the unique properties of Carlisle & Finch’s business. He says, “Zontec’s Synergy (software) caught my eye because it could handle different samples sizes per lot size that we needed. Synergy was the easiest to allow various changes of sample sizes and recording or viewing of the actual measurement.” Batsche found that SPC software wouldn’t only provide better data to his customers — it had real potential to streamline the quality component of the production process as well.

Zontec’s Synergy package is part of a larger ecosystem of SPC software, which aim to streamline the process of logging details about the quality of a product or a batch, and then provide the necessary analytics to make further decisions regarding any quality issues that might arise. Input data can come from a number of systems, many of which manufacturers already use on a daily basis, such as electronic gauges or coordinate measuring machines (CMMs).

SPC software also hooks into enterprise resource planning (ERP) or manufacturing execution (MES) systems. From there, the SPC systems allow plant managers to get real-time information on the quality of their processes, so that they are aware as changes happen. These analytics give managers and executives empirical data on which to base investment in new equipment, or further training of operators.

Once Batsche brought the Synergy SPC software back to Carlisle & Finch, he said the results were pretty immediate. With the software online, plant floor employees were able to more easily log information about the quality of a given product. This data is funneled into data banks and data tables, where it can be used to gauge quality changes, or the overall quality of a given lot.

Batsche describes the process of using SPC software to track a particular part as it moves down the line: “Most of our parts are short run lots, so depending upon the part, it may be brought into the inspection for first piece inspection using Synergy, or the working leader will check the first piece for acceptance before continuing with the part. At other times, it is not until final inspection do we (the Quality Control Inspection Department) see the part. With Synergy, we are notified if something is trending towards being out-of-tolerance during the production process. We also can review previous orders for deficiencies, as well as previous operator errors.”

For Carlisle & Finch’s non-military customers, these changes have provided more transparency into the quality process. Batsche says his customers have long been aware that the company is operating to a Mil-Standard Inspection program on all its products, but now, he says, “When customers visit, they can see first-hand how we use Synergy during the inspection process.”

Batsche also says that the integration of SPC software into Carlisle & Finch’s daily processes has not only increased the quality of inspection data, but also the quality of the product themselves. He says the company’s “machine operators have become a little more aware of deficiencies that have occurred and which have been pointed out both verbally and with a printed chart showing the errors.”

By keeping more aware of quality slips as they happen, the company has become more agile in its ability to respond to concerns levied by Batsche’s inspection team. And that leads to more streamlined inspection from military customers. When the military’s quality assurance people visit Carlisle & Finch to ensure the quality of its order, all the necessary data is automatically compiled into informative packets. In fact, Batsche says that the system has helped his company ease military customer’s minds and form a degree of trust — because previous lots have met quality specifications, military QA people are more certain future orders will as well.

Batsche continues: “Synergy’s chart reporting allows the operator to have on hand what deficiencies have occurred and how they can correct the problems so it doesn’t happen again. Since implementing Synergy, we have reduced our rejects by two-thirds.”

More in Operations