Prevent an Escape with Quality Control in Manufacturing

December 10, 2018
7 min read

When someone says the word “escape,” what comes to mind for you? Is it a last-minute meeting that suddenly “comes up,” allowing you to avoid a visit to your least-favorite relative?  Or maybe the opposite; a family emergency allows you to escape a meeting you were just dreading? Is it the latest fad, the Escape Room? Did you escape from prison recently? Or do you own a Ford Escape? Or maybe you’ve just had a really bad day, and you want to just “escape from life”—like the Southwest Airlines’ ”Wanna Get Away?” commercial…

Or is it a classic movie, like The Great Escape or Shawshank Redemption? Maybe it’s one of those get-under-your-skin (literally) movies like Outbreak, Contagion, or The Andromeda Strain—where something escapes that should never get out and spells disaster for the whole world (cue the ominous music).

These movies feature something getting loose, something that shouldn’t be “out there.” Which brings me to the theme of this blog. I recently had a very interesting conversation with a client, during which the word “escape” was spoken in the most unusual circumstance. The conversation kind of surprised me, because I’ve been doing this for a long time—and I never once heard this phrase related to a business operation (and I’m rarely surprised by anything that people say).  

It’s Loose!

angry-looking monkey

So, I received a call from one of my clients recently.  He’s the Director of Quality for one division at a large manufacturing company. I had tried reaching him several times during the last few months, but to no avail. I had also been trying to reach several other people in the same division, but also, to no avail. I felt like they were all communicating with each other (“don’t answer his calls;” “don’t reply to his emails”—I know, it sounds a little paranoid, but I’m in sales…).

Everyone is Panicking

First of all, I was a little surprised he was calling me. I mean, I had tried multiple times and never seemed to find him at his desk, and he never replied to any of my emails either. After a brief overview of what he needed, he asked me a few questions, which I answered. 

As it turned out, he was not the only one from the division who was contacting me. But their calls did not appear to be directly tied to my attempts at reaching them. That’s what really piqued my interest. What’s going on? Why the new interest? What happened?  I was really curious to know what event took place that triggered this noticeable change—from ignoring me—to receiving multiple calls within the last two months. Without a doubt, this was a noticeable change, and I needed to know what triggered the change.

I described to the Quality Director my attempts to reach several people within the division over several months, with no responses—to the sudden change of now receiving multiple calls in a short period (including his). So, I had to ask, “What changed; what happened to precipitate this change?” Very calmly, he said:

“We had an escape.”

I wasn’t really sure what he meant, but I thought about it for a quick moment and responded, “Do you mean an ‘escape’ as in a bad product got out the door to one of your customers?”

“Exactly,” he said. “And the problem almost cost us a very important, key customer across almost every division in this group.”

manufacturer worker explaining to his coworker

What to Do

Continuing, he described their plans to mitigate the risk of another “escape” from happening. “So, we told them [their customer] we were going to work with them and ensure that this issue never ever happens again.”

Then he went into the details of why I was now fielding all these inquiries: “One of the key steps we need to take is refocusing our quality program, which means implementing and utilizing a real-time SPC [statistical process control] program. InfinityQS is the real-time SPC corporate standard for our company…so that’s why we’re all trying to get in touch with you.”

I smiled into the phone. “We have your back,” I said. And I could almost see him smiling with relief on the other end of the phone.

Real-Time SPC is the Answer to Quality Control in Manufacturing

When you have an escape, when your Andromeda Strain gets out, you’ve got to contain it right away. Particularly if you’re in Food & Beverage, Aerospace & Defense, automotive, medical devices, pharmaceuticals—any of those industries for which a bad product escape could have a significant impact. Any consumable product that could kill somebody; anything that’s driven or flown, or where a crash would be catastrophic; those kinds of things. You get the gist.

So, you’ve got to contain it right away or, better yet, prevent it from ever happening in the first place. Failure is not an option—falling short will potentially shut down the company. And it’s happened before…

worker doing quality control

You’re Only as Good as Your Processes

Your organization is judged on the quality, timeliness, and volume of product that your processes produce. The problem is that manufacturing organizations face constant struggles (both externally, as well as internally) to:

  • Eliminate variation in processes
  • Maintain compliance with regulatory and customer requirements
  • Improve product quality
  • Reduce scrap, waste, defects, and rework (cut costs!)
construction worker handing reports to his coworker

That’s where we come in. In many cases, manufacturers assume that these are problems inherent in the system that they just have to deal with. They aren’t even looking for a solution, because they don’t realize that those problems are solvable.

You may be looking for better methods to not just fix problems but prevent them; not to just reduce waste, rework, and scrap, but improve the bottom line; and not just improve quality—but never ship a bad product again (ZERO defects!). There it is. 

InfinityQS Real-Time SPC Fits the Bill

To keep up with today’s manufacturing pace, and the demands it places on everyone involved, it’s important to have the information you need available—all the time, on demand. That’s why real-time data collection in an SPC software solution is the first step.

But as a quality professional, you know that process improvement requires more than just collecting data. You also need to get timely and meaningful information out of that data and use it to take meaningful action. You NEED to provide the right information, to the right people, at the right time.

Having data that gives you visibility into a process in real time is truly powerful. On the shop floor, it enables operators to immediately see when a process is starting to show variation or pinpoint when a defect actually occurs, and it gives them the power to quickly and proactively respond. It’s what you might think of as the “first life” of your data—tell me what I need to do right now.

Once you have that immediate responsiveness, you can start looking beyond the control charts and get a higher-level view of the story your data is telling you. You need to reach a point at which you feel comfortable that the issues, like the Andromeda Strain, never see the light of day.  This is what you might think of as the “second life” of your data—discover where you have room for improvement and let the data help you prioritize your improvement efforts.

With InfinityQS solutions—at both the plant and corporate levels—users can see trends in data that instantly connect to your organization’s business needs. They quickly see opportunities they never knew they had—to improve products, processes, and operations across the organization.

So, keep the monkey in the cage, keep the venomous strain in the petri dish, and use real-time SPC to lock down issues before they become forces that can ruin your organization’s reputation (or your career). Prevent the great escape.

angry-looking monkey in a cage