When purchasing a new car, the first thing you may notice is the vehicle’s make. The car may say Toyota or Ford on the outside, but what’s on the inside? In reality, the car’s components—from the tires to the transmission—are typically manufactured by third-party vendors and suppliers. These and myriad other vendor-made parts are assembled in original equipment manufacturer (OEM) factories all over the world, where the final product comes to life. Essentially, large manufacturers, like Toyota and Ford, are assemblers of other companies’ goods.
Today’s supply chain is becoming increasingly global as manufacturers in all industries (not just automotive) rely on various suppliers, plants and assembly lines across the world to create consistent, safe and high-quality products with the lowest overall cost. However, for large, multinational organizations, it becomes difficult to ensure consistency without the ability to closely monitor operations at each location.
Vying for Visibility
Manufacturers must understand that quality issues within the global supply chain affect every step of the manufacturing process, as well as the hierarchy of personnel invested in their products’ quality. Consider the following scenario: A local farmer unknowingly supplies contaminated spinach to a food manufacturer. The manufacturer processes, packages and ships the spinach to hundreds of grocery stores. When the farmer learns of the contamination, or worse, a customer becomes ill after consuming the spinach, a recall is issued.
Now, the manufacturer’s entire staff must deal with repercussions of the recall—supply chain managers have to find the remaining lots of contaminated food and pull them from distribution; customer service representatives handle increased call volume with concerns over risks of consuming any of the company’s food; plant managers pay close attention to ensure no further product is packaged with the tainted spinach; and C-level executives address a damaged brand reputation and lost profits.
However, for as long as most manufacturing professionals can remember, the primary focus was monitoring operations on the individual plant floor. The goal was to catch product variations as soon as possible when a machine, process or specification went out of an acceptable limit. To achieve this, many organizations implemented manufacturing execution systems (MES), statistical process control (SPC) software, and other quality programs to further their lean manufacturing and Six Sigma initiatives. Although this sets manufacturers in the right direction, it is no longer enough. They must have visibility across the enterprise to see opportunities for improvement that directly affect the company’s bottom line.
Leveraging Technology to Achieve Enterprise-Wide Visibility
It’s time to turn to technology in the form of enterprise quality management software. By leveraging an enterprise quality solution in the cloud with mobile capabilities, manufacturers can easily integrate every plant, supplier and executive office into one centralized quality program. An enterprise quality solution can collect manufacturing data from each site, assimilate them in real time, and present reports and analytics to users from a single repository. Seeing the analytics of manufacturing processes in real time arms each player, from the plant floor to the board room, with the information necessary to more efficiently and effectively complete his or her own job.
Moreover, enterprise quality software ties suppliers into the picture. By monitoring suppliers’ operations, manufacturers can verify that the components they receive meet specific quality standards well before the pieces are incorporated into the final products—even before the products are shipped from supplier to OEM. For example, an American bicycle manufacturer used a cloud-based quality system to obtain a real-time view of its suppliers’ processes in China. Now, the company can identify out-of-spec components in process, and correct the issue before other parts are run on the line or lots are shipped.
Geographic, Cultural Considerations
When working with a global supply chain, it’s important to recognize the varying technological capabilities of dispersed geographical areas. The beauty of a quality solution delivered through the cloud is that manufacturing plants with limited manufacturing IT infrastructure, but local Internet connectivity can still input live production data into the repository. Alternately, a supplier in a location that doesn’t have reliable Internet access can use smartphones or tablets with cellular service to collect and send data to the quality system. This technology not only breaks through geographical and infrastructural barriers, but can also address cultural considerations to connect the entire value chain.
For example, a food and beverage leader used a cloud-based solution to standardize quality across 143 plants around the world. To address varying user settings across geographies, the company’s technology team worked closely with the vendor to employ user-based permissions and preferences that immediately recognize a user’s location, preferred language, level in the corporate hierarchy and required view of the software. As a result, line operators in Istanbul log in to a screen written in Turkish, and customized for real-time quality check alerts and data entry, while quality managers in Mexico log in to see dashboards and reports for data analysis in Spanish. Since deploying the solution, the company quickly saw time and cost savings, a reduction in maintenance, and an increase in operational efficiency.
Finding the Value: Resurrecting Data for a Second Life
The technology is in place, and everyone is connected and monitoring data in real time across the entire enterprise. Now what? Typically, once data is used at the plant level, it dies an early death in the database. However, in addition to obtaining instant insight into enterprise-wide operations, quality professionals can resurrect the same data—in its second life—to obtain manufacturing intelligence that can be used to improve operations.
With the ability to slice and dice data, and perform in-depth comparative analyses in an enterprise quality solution, manufacturers can pinpoint areas across the globe that are ripe for continuous improvement efforts and provide the greatest opportunities for cost savings. Cross-plant comparisons can also be leveraged to identify and replicate best practices for improving overall operations.
Staying competitive in the global manufacturing market is an ever-present challenge. By leveraging technology through quality management software, end-to-end enterprise visibility is now a reality. Every level of an organization now has the ability to maximize global competitiveness, while cutting costs and delivering the most reliable, highest quality products that customers demand.
Doug Fair is the COO at InfinityQS.