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Software Update: SPC Software Helps Manufacturers Detect and Solve Process Problems


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Steve Wise, featured in this question and answer session, is vice president of statistical methods at InfinityQS International Inc. (Fairfax, VA; www.infinityqs.com), a developer of statistical process control (SPC) software.

Manufacturing Engineering: How does statistical process control [SPC] software help manufacturers improve quality?

Steve Wise: There are many facets to this question. One of the most basic ways SPC helps improve quality is by giving instant feedback on data collection. By adding this first line of defense, you instantly take notice of items that otherwise would pass through undetected. Collecting data is like lighting up an area. Before any sampling strategies or analysis takes place, quality will improve just because the person collecting the data has a way of understanding if processes are performing good, bad or otherwise.

Whether you are looking for divine knowledge from streams of data or simply looking for events in the data, the best path is to use statistical methods specifically designed to analyze a data population when the population is still being created—that is, live data coming off a process. Live analytics and event detection are at the foundation of SPC.

Added benefits include identifying what machine is best suited for a given job or how much extra material is needed to complete a job—any process can be measured. Even if you don’t leverage the full capacity of an SPC platform, simply understanding a process’s mean, standard deviation and stability expectations will give you intelligence that allows you to predict future performance.

ME: What new tools have been added to your ProFicient SPC software?

Wise: Manufacturers today are looking to really push the envelope in order to get more value out of their quality systems. The cloud is opening new possibilities in driving global quality standards while remaining flexible to local requirements. We’ve worked closely with the industry to develop powerful and intuitive cloud systems to meet the demand.

Other recent enhancements to ProFicient have been added to help companies with the management and movement of data. Manufacturing data can become extraordinarily powerful when you can extract snapshot samples from multiple unique data highways and combine those samples into a single meaningful subgroup with all data sharing the same time stamp. This allows a company to sweep across a multitude of process parameter sensors and store those data values with measurement data from what the process is producing.

In Six Sigma terms, we are automating the combinations of X’s and Y’s and storing those paired comparisons to a database. The ability to correlate, in real time, process inputs to process outputs is the holy grail of Six Sigma. That dream is a reality with ProFicient. Another offering is a Web-based visualization dashboard that provides enterprise-wide KPI [key performance indicators] reporting and OEE [overall equipment effectiveness] reporting. This app gives local and remote managers a window into the health of an entire enterprise.

ME: What industries are deploying SPC to help with regulatory compliance and other quality-related issues?

Wise: Regulated industries make up a large percentage of InfinityQS’ customer base. When a regulated company is compelled to operate and verify to a heightened veracity of data management, they have found ProFicient to fit the bill. We took [FDA regulation] 21 CFR Part 11 to heart several years ago. We saw the need for the SPC industry to step up its game and we took the lead. The software is full of features that help industries comply with their regulations. We also have a large contingency of deployment engineers that work with clients at their sites to ensure correct implementation and training, and help execute IQ/OQ [installation/operational] scripts. We even provide PQ [performance qualification] services to validate a client’s unique implementation.

Not all clients concerned with regulations are in the medical device and pharma industries. Most every product-producing company is compelled to provide some level of data collection, analysis and evidence of quality.

ME: How have your customers implemented manufacturing intelligence?

Wise: We hear a lot of stories from our clients who implement our MI platform about new efficiencies and a fast ROI. At the heart of the matter of the improvements is the premise of taking guesswork out of operational decisions. By measuring processes, a company gains a true understanding of who they are; from there, solutions become surprisingly clear.

Lin Engineering [Morgan Hill, CA] is a solid example of a company using the cloud to collaborate on quality with suppliers overseas. A manufacturing supply chain can be like a symphony with different players stepping up at different times. The key is timing. If a quality issue is detected at incoming inspection, then that is already too late. Lin Engineering verifies the specs of its suppliers’ products as they are being produced. They’ve eliminated the guesswork and the delays that can result from supplier quality issues. They also are able to collaborate with their suppliers on Six Sigma initiatives. This is one application, but a good example of how the cloud is changing the landscape in the manufacturing world.

ME: How is cloud technology changing the way manufacturers employ SPC?

Wise: The cloud changes the prism of what is possible with data. Each step in the evolution from pencil and paper, to client-servers to now, the cloud has been an order of magnitude of expansion of  what can be done with data. Going from client-server to cloud has removed all data access constraints. Data are now so easily accessible, that implementing effective security constraints has been a major challenge. Imagine the ability to view and analyze data from any place in the world from one workstation (or any smart device) in real time and on request … the possibilities are endless. The elapsed time between events and decisions collapses. To not be locked down to a physical location to do one’s job. To tie into suppliers’ live quality data for meaningful collaboration. To remove the IT burden of managing multiple data sources. Roll outs are much faster. Uniformity and consistency among departments, sites and divisions are much easier to implement and enforce. The cloud is such a huge part of the conversation today because it allows businesses to operate how they need to in order to be successful.

The InfinityQS ProfFicient SPC software gives users instant feedback on manufacturing operations through new Web-based visualization and OEE dashboards.

ME: What future changes do you see for implementing quality on the factory floor?

Wise: Quality decisions are beginning to rely more and more on information presented from automated data sources. Rather than having a person physically measure something, update a visualization with the new data and then make a decision, the new expectation for the shop floor is to understand that live updating visualizations and the actions they indicate are needed. More of the data will be automatically collected and the routines of a quality technician will be managed within an automated schedule that prompts them when action is required. There will be expectations that business software should behave much like modern apps they use on their smart devices, or television, and have the same modern look of the latest computer operating systems or office programs. The factory floor will demand that software ‘get with the times.’ Remember the resistance to software on the factory floor? Boy, have times changed! ME

New Releases

CGTech (Irvine, CA), developer of the Vericut NC simulation, verification and optimization software, on Feb. 28 announced the release of its new Vericut Reviewer iPad app available through the Apple Store.

With the free app, shop-floor personnel can view 3D animations of CNC machining processes at machine tools at any time. The Vericut simulation moves according to the NC code on the CNC machine, so virtual machining exactly mimics real machining, and users can select and closely examine specific sections of NC code where a potential problem might exist.

A Vericut report containing information about cutting tools, job setup, machining instructions and other information can be automatically packaged within each saved Reviewer session, creating a virtual workshop document. The reports are PDF files automatically generated during the simulations.

The Vericut Reviewer is a free iPad app available for CGTech’s simulation, verification and optimization software.

Siemens PLM Software (Plano, TX) on Feb. 19 announced the new release of Parasolid with version 26.1 of the company’s geometric modeling kernel. The latest Parasolid update focuses on complex high-level operations that help software developers deliver solutions to difficult modeling problems.

The new version 12.1 update of the Costimator cost-estimating software from MTI Systems Inc.  (MTI; West Springfield, MA) adds 24 new cost models offering estimators more speed, accuracy and consistency. MTI’s Costimator now integrates with the latest JobBOSS shop management software from Exact North America Inc. (Bloomington, MN).


Epicor Software Corp. (Austin, TX), a developer of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, announced Feb. 13 the relocation of its corporate headquarters from Dublin, CA, to Austin. Epicor's previous corporate office will remain a strategic location for its retail distribution solutions.

Software Update is edited by Patrick Waurzyniak: pwaurzyniak@sme.org.

This article was first published in the April 2014 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF

Published Date : 3/25/2014

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