Making your Quality Control Data Capture Simple

Making your Quality Control Data Capture Simple

One of the challenges with quality management is building systems and processes that are simple enough for people to use, and want to use, but be robust enough to give you what you need to achieve. As I've talked about before, we spend a lot of time with clients helping them simplify their systems, people will use a simple system every day of the week.

Everyone understands the concept that adopting a continuous improvement approve drives employee engagement, increased productivity, and ultimately improved profitability, yet the approach to that continuous improvement activity seems to be a little unscientific most of the time yet we have great tools like Statistical Process Control (SPC).

When it comes to using quality control tools such as an SPC techniques, it can get complicated quickly. You don't need to go to the extremes of a six sigma implementation to gain the benefits of real statistical process control. Teaching people the rules around your SPC system can take time, and it's good to do. Understanding what the upper or lower control limits are for is important, when it goes outside those limits you need to do something, potentially even before that. Knowing that you need to stop the process even though the readings are still within the limits of the chart can also be strange, but it's something you need to know to do, because it tells you that the process is heading out of control, here we typically talk to people about the rules of 7 which are:

  1. Seven points in a row above the average,
  2. Seven points in a row below the average,
  3. Seven points in a row trending up,
  4. Seven points in a row trending down.

There are of course more rules concerning going outside the limits, unusual patterns and even too many readings in the middle third or in any region of your chart that you need to be aware of, but that's getting a little too detailed.

How to record your data  

Recording the data then is important, typically companies use run charts or histograms or gauge charts and a myriad of others which can be useful, but you basically have only 2 options in terms of recording it, on paper or on software. Paper is 'cheap' to set up and get going but expensive in training and failures. Expensive because you need to ensure that everyone understands the rules right away before you start with paper otherwise, they are just putting dots or numbers or a bit of paper. What use is that? If they don't understand the rules, then of course you are probably going to continue to get failures, and someone at some point needs to actually collate the data. That means you need to enter all that data into some software, normally excel, to work out if the equipment is capable of what you are asking it to do.

Using a software tool, however, means that you can let the system highlight where an SPC rule has been broken, and that action needs to be done. You can demand an input from the user to try to understand what exactly is going on. You still have to train them, but the system is going to force the discipline and in turn quickly improve your process.

Go Trendable 

Over the last few weeks, we've been playing with the cloud based SPC software from Argolytics called Trendable ( to see if this would be of any use for a client of ours to get out of their paper system. It's really simple to use and simple to configure, but it does exactly what you want a bit of SPC software to do, it demands answers! 

Like any system you can go in and set up your targets, your upper and lower control and spec limits, but you can also tag the work to a specific gauge you are using or a machine you are using along with obviously the specific product you are working on. What that means is that you can surface a bunch of information around the machine, the measuring gauge, the person and of course the product. What I really love is that if your measurement is outside the specified limits, then the software won't let you move on until you tell it why it's outside the limits and what action you will be talking about it.  

You can link it directly to drawings or instructions for the job, so the operator can open them at a touch of a button, but what we really loved was the ability to link it directly to our Mango software to allows the operator to press a button and document a non-conformance or improvement directly into our Mango QHSE software. Now we have our 2 main quality systems working together.

Argolytics have another bit of software for in depth data analysis that allows you to use the data that you have created in the Collect section. This gives you a whole other level of SPC capability and is ideal for your process engineer or line manager to use.

Keep it simple to engage 

The great thing about this software is it takes what can be a complex area of process control and makes it simple for everyone to use, no matter the skill level or the company size. That means your team get to focus on the product and process, not getting frustrated at the way they need to capture the results of the process. Less frustration means more engagement and importantly understanding of the process.

When people get engaged with your SPC program they see the issues coming up and as they enter them, they start to register that there are things happening that are in their control, that's quite a powerful realisation and a really engaging one.

Engagement drives productivity  

We know from a multitude of studies that the more engaged your workforce is, the higher the productivity level is. By giving the employees the tools and the knowledge around good process control techniques, we see that employees become more demanding on the performance of their processes. They become quicker to shout for support and to complain to engineering that their machine or their process just isn't working.

The result of that is that your process improves, and your quality improves (there's a shock!) improved quality means reduced costs and a direct increase on your profitability.

Making it easier for your team to use SPC to improve your organisation makes sense and is almost immediately self-funding from reduction in rework costs since you actually do need to stop the line and fix things if you do it right. Why don't people do it? I'd suggest it's the reliance of still trying to use a paper based system, which is just craziness when systems like Argolytics Trendable is so easy to use.

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