The War on Defects

Producing and shipping high quality products at a reasonable price is the only way a manufacturer can remain in business.  With the Epicor Enhanced Quality Assurance module, gone are the days of “good enough” or “we compete on price, not quality”, manufacturers are being held to increasingly higher standards of quality by their competitors.  Much of the credit for this goes to W. Edwards Deming, often regarded as the “father of Statistical Quality Control” based mainly on his early work in postwar Japan and who was widely regarded as a hero in Japan for his emphasis on statistics as a tool for improving quality in manufacturing.  Statistical Quality Control (SQC) and Statistical Process Control (SPC) are the lifeblood of a manufacturing company that seeks to measure and capture data about their products and to monitor the production process to ensure high quality standards.

Costs of Quality

Deming and others demonstrated that the cost of inferior quality could be measured, giving management an opportunity to evaluate their quality programs in dollar terms.  These costs fall into two categories:

  1. Inspection costs, which are easily measured, as the cost of human and machine resources to inspect products during the manufacturing process.
  2. Defect costs, some of which are also easily measured, such as the cost of reworking a defective part or the accumulated cost on a scrapped part. However, there are defect costs that are not easily measured, such as the cost of a late shipment and / or the cost of a lost customer.

Because of the impact of the defect costs there is no “optimal” solution in terms of minimizing costs, the ones that can’t be directly measured will overwhelm the ones that can.  However, management can use the information from the measurable costs to evaluate its quality program not with an eye toward cost minimization but output maximization.

An Effective Quality Program

It’s not enough to know that a manufacturing process creates defective parts, or even how many are being created.  The real knowledge comes in the determination of why the defects occur, and for this it is necessary to capture process information such as diameter, thickness, tensile strength, etc.  This is where the Epicor Enhanced Quality Management (EQA) module comes in.  With this module manufacturers are able to create inspection plans for receiving or in-process inspection, and calibration plans for machinery.  An inspection plan will:

  1. Define attributes to store measurements and to establish pass / fail criteria.
  2. Create specifications and attach documents to the specification for further details as needed. A Specification controls the inspection attributes that are evaluated against the specification and defines the acceptable values for each attribute.  You will assign a revision to a specification to control its effectivity date.
  3. Set equipment calibration criteria.
  4. Use revision control to create multiple revisions of a plan and approve the revisions as appropriate.
  5. Determine sample sizes.
  6. Set inspection intervals using Skip Lot processing.
  7. Store the collected data in database tables available for export to a SPC system and / or a Business Activity Query report or dashboard.

Because all of the above are user-defined, the Epicor Enhanced Quality module can be used by any manufacturer.

Setting Up Inspection Plans

Epicor’s Enhanced Quality Assurance (EQA) module uses the Epicor Product Configurator as the base for data collection, although a license for the Configurator module is not required.  An Inspection Plan is revision-controlled and may be used with multiple specifications.

The process is as follows:

  1. Define the attributes for the data you wish to collect – what is it you want to measure?
  2. Create the specifications and assign the attributes.
  3. For each attribute, define any parameters and pass / fail values, as appropriate. These can be done in the specification or in the Inspection Plan itself.
  4. Finally, pull all of this together into an Inspection Plan or Calibration Plan. Launch the Product Configurator and bring in the specification and attributes needed in the plan.

Once the Inspection Plan has been created and approved it can be assigned to a part (for receiving inspection or RMA Processing) or to an operation for in-process inspection.

Using an Inspection Plan

In the Inspection Process in the EQA module for a purchase order receipt, the program will recognize when the purchased part has an approved inspection plan and will enable the data collection process.  This will start with choosing a sample size; the Product Configurator at this point generates the number of inspection instances to match the sample size and displays the Attributes screens to collect the data.

In a similar fashion, Epicor recognizes when an inspection plan has been assigned to an operation and will provide the same functionality.   In both cases the process generates a Nonconformance for any parts that fail inspection.  Inspection personnel can use the Nonconformance to create a Corrective Action as needed.

Likewise, the collected data can be exported using a Business Activity Query into a BAQ Report or dashboard to display statistics by part and attribute, such as Mean and Standard Deviation, and to create an X-bar Control Chart to display sample statistics for process control purposes.  Crystal Reports or the SQL Server Report Service (SSRS) are excellent reporting tools to display the control chart.

Skip Lot Processing

One of the more robust features of the Enhanced Quality Assurance module is the ability to determine the inspection interval for a purchased part to allow receipts of the part to bypass receiving inspection based on past quality results.  This is done by defining a Skip Lot Code, which specifies the number of lots to be inspected, the number of lots to be skipped between inspections, and the repeat cycle.  Users will define multiple skip lot codes to be used based on inspection results.

For example, a user may decide to inspect two lots of a part and then skip the next three lots if the first two pass inspection, and to repeat this process for a total of three cycles.  If the supplier delivers lots that pass inspection for all of the cycles, then Epicor will automatically change the inspection occurrences to another Skip Lot Code that the user has assigned, such as skipping eight lots and inspecting two.  If any lots fail inspection then Epicor will likewise assign a different Skip Lot Code for more intensive inspection.

What Can I Expect from EQA?

You cannot expect to build and ship high quality parts without knowledge of your manufacturing processes, and EQA provides this knowledge regarding the incidence of defects and where these defects are occurring.  As you may have inferred from the above, this module requires significant setup to define the inspection attributes and then use them in specifications and inspection plans.  EQA provides a means of gathering production data and storing the data in a format readily available for analysis through SPC software or user-written reports and dashboards, allowing you to see what is going on in your shop floor.

If you believe Epicor’s Enhanced Quality Assurance module is right for you, contact Tomerlin-ERP today. Call us at 818-887-9162.