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MES Data Analytics and Manufacturing Quality Control

Today’s article will tackle three ways MES data analytics applies to quality control professionals, including real-world examples…and how the right MES solution could be your key tool.

What keeps you up at night?

During these times of quarantine, economic chaos, and social distancing, there could be many things on your mind. If you’re responsible for quality control in a manufacturing environment, it could well be the effectiveness of your process.

Enforcing a repeatable process is a must in manufacturing, and it’s critical to quality control. But what happens when a process can’t be enforced as it’s designed?

Consider these process challenges:

  • You’re running short on a part, and you need to deviate from the process
  • You’re having trouble properly performing the process; example: scanning a barcode for product verification/traceability and the barcode is damaged
  • You’re forced to retest parts more often than you should; example: not setting up the test correctly

By the way, a great intro to this topic is our previous article about how to get started with data analytics in manufacturing. Ready to improve quality? Let’s go!


1. Learning From Deviations In The Process

Your repeatable process is in place to ensure quality, yet manufacturing doesn’t always go according to plan.

For this example, you’re not a quality control manager; you’re now an operator at a station. And in the course of building an engine, you’ve run out of an oil filter, an obvious key component that’s required before testing the engine.

You can add an oil filter later, so you bypass that step now, and the line keeps running. MES data analytics tracks that action, so the engine eventually gets diverted to repair to add the filter. Any action taken outside the process increases the chance of failure, yet you may not have a choice; the line needs to continue to run.

With many stations running, these process deviations can occur multiple times a day. MES data analytics quantifies, on a large scale, all steps taken outside of the process, how often they happen, and why they’re happening. Capturing data with reasons for bypassing the prescribed process is critical because you can continuously refine your process, deviate less (making it more repeatable), and increase your ability to produce quality products the first time.

More on MES solutions later, but know this now: a good MES provides the flexibility to deviate from your quality control process and continue working.


2. MES Data Analytics Allows for Adjustments When The Process Fails

OK, so your repeatable process may get interrupted by a deviation. That’s not earth-shattering. It’s when the process repeatedly fails that can be troublesome.

There are two common reasons products end up in repair:

  1. You knowingly routed products to repair because of non-conformance (see #1 above); these you can deal with, and they shouldn’t surprise you.
  2. You built a product absolutely correctly, 100% to spec, and you have data to prove it. Yet, the product fails an end-of-line test, and it goes to repair. This is unexpected, and now it’s happening with troubling regularity.

In short, your process could be working properly, yet parts can still fail. That’s a nightmare, and it’s enough to keep you up at night!

MES data analytics helps you quantify both problems. Instead of guessing on a cause or hoping things will change, data analytics shows you how many times a part had to be retested, giving you insight into repeatability of your process at the test cell.


3. Chasing Upstream Processes, Ensuring Supplier Quality

There’s a lot you have little control over: parts from suppliers, isolating lot numbers, and trending failures relative to the part numbers you’re using.

Don’t get discouraged! You do control a bunch. If it’s in your building, you control it (at least you should). These are upstream process details that should be looked at as adjustable, and data analytics make it possible to root cause any failures. So, if you discover a better technique or an adjustment, you should be open to change.

As quality control, you’re responsible for overall quality at every level. But, what exactly is “quality” for you? Is it:

  • Satisfied customers
  • Doing it right the first time
  • Not having to incur warranty costs
  • Not going through damaging, expensive recalls
  • Upholding your brand’s reputation
  • Increasing customer loyalty

With those now top of mind, you’re really responsible for the quality of the final products you’re manufacturing AND the quality of the parts you’re receiving from suppliers. That list doesn’t happen without quality on both ends.

That brings up an interesting situation. What happens when a supplier issue is uncovered by data analytics? For instance, data analytics showed you that a problem correlates with when a shipment was received. MES data analytics isolated the issue, which is one of its key functions.

If instructions are being followed to the letter, the supplier sees that, too, and will have to respond with a solution, the two teams work together to fix it. If that doesn’t happen satisfactorily, it may be time for another supplier.

Data analytics gave you something to chase in the upstream process. You analyzed the process, the lot numbers, the deviation…and you correlated that data between them all to uncover insights. You now have the ability to isolate part consumption, by supplier of those parts, to root cause any failures in a way that was unachievable before.


A Real-World Example

Let’s take a closer look in the context of an actual example. For this, you’re making axles for on-highway trucks, and they need to be tested.

An end-of-line test involves two major concerns: 1) Axles contain gears that move at high speeds, so they have to be partially filled with oil, and that oil needs to stay inside. 2) Because of the moving parts and high stress on the gears, heat is generated and causes expansion, and that pressure needs to be relieved.

Simple, right? Oil seals are used on rotating shafts and gaskets are used on differential covers to keep oil in, and air-breather vents are used to relieve any built-up pressure.

So, time for testing! You plug the air-breather, use the differential oil fill plug as a port to pressurize the axle, measure the pressure decay over time, and confirm that all the things that should keep oil in the axle are doing their job.

Fail! What do you do? This is a big deal. Perhaps you didn’t secure the plug correctly on the air-breather. You retest, and it fails again!

Only two areas could be the cause, differential cover gasket or seals (pinion and axle). Were bolts on the differential cover not tightened correctly? You check the install process, and even though all bolts check out, you tightened the bolts an extra 5 Newton-meters, and it passes the test!

Just because the seals are put in correctly and the bolts are tightened to spec doesn’t mean it’ll meet requirements. You monitor the situation for 30 days, adjust  upstream processes, yet you are still having issues.  Now you turn your attention to parts, discovering that you’re using non-conforming parts from a particular supplier.

How did your MES data analytics contribute to solving this issue?

  1. The number of times you had to retest axles gave you insight into repeatabilityof your process at the test cell.
  2. Data analytics gave you insight into your upstream process, even when performed correctly.
  3. Data analytics gave you the ability to isolate part consumption by supplier to root cause failure analysis in a way you could never do before.


An MES Solution — Know What You Don’t Know

What you know: there’s a better way to organize the mass of activity happening on the plant floor.

What you don’t know: how to gather and use data to improve how that activity is done, making it repeatable.

An MES provides visibility. It connects multiple sites, integrates with equipment, and raises the effectiveness of business applications all to better optimize operations. But, there’s more that an MES does.

An MES solution allows you to confidently take action rooted in knowledge.

  1. Study why operators have to step outside of the process (deviations)
  2. Adjust when the process fails (and it will)
  3. Chase upstream processes (and root cause any failures)

Without an MES and its analytic capabilities, you’re bound to make the same mistakes again and again. Having no continuous improvement methodology in place, it’s impossible to increase the quality of your products. No one can afford that.

Always remember that a good MES solution must have two things: 1) provisions within its design that allow you to proceed (not shut down the whole line) and 2) tight controls when you have to deviate.

Does an MES sound interesting? We hope so! Learn more about what an MES solution does and how to select the right one.

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