Quality is intrinsically linked to your brand. Even as regulatory and market forces put new pressures on your business, quality cannot be sacrificed. It must remain a constant commitment.
Yet continuing pressures to be leaner and more flexible are introducing greater complexity into operations across industries, making quality more difficult to manage. As a result, better visibility and greater overall control of production processes is needed to maintain high quality amid this greater complexity.
The challenges are even more pronounced for those in highly regulated industries, such as automotive, pharmaceutical, and food and beverage, where product quality can directly correlate with vehicle, drug and food safety. Any failure to ensure quality can have health implications on consumers, result in costly recalls and bring about greater scrutiny from government regulators. In these industries, the collection, sharing and reporting of quality information should be automated, replacing time-consuming and error-prone manual systems.
MES-Based Quality Management
Modern manufacturing execution system (MES) software is an essential component for optimizing quality in today’s information-enabled manufacturing operations. An MES integrates quality management and business analytics with production management to help you achieve the highest levels of quality and support regulatory compliance.
Consider some of the key advantages an MES can bring to your organization to help bolster your approach to quality management:
- Data-Driven Decisions: Automated information gathering and reporting allows for more informed decision making around quality issues, deeper insights into quality metrics and easier quality compliance
- Greater Production Management: Production management capabilities help you better manage key quality characteristics throughout your operations
- Simplified Compliance: Information and production capabilities can help simplify quality-related compliance processes
- Ready for New Regulations: Serialization and traceability capabilities can also help you meet emerging regulations regarding product safety and potentially dangerous counterfeits
Gain Enterprisewide Connectivity
Enterprise-based IT and plant floor-based operations technology (OT) are two data-rich systems that have long been disconnected in most manufacturing operations. A modern MES can serve as an integration gateway between your IT and OT systems, supporting the creation of what Rockwell Automation has termed The Connected Enterprise.
What is a Connected Enterprise? It connects your people, processes and technologies, and enables unfettered information sharing across your entire organization. This ensures you can deliver the right information to the right decision maker at the right time, helping optimize not only quality management but also productivity, throughput and more.
A Connected Enterprise requires a network foundation that enables seamless connectivity. Consider using a single network architecture tapping EtherNet/IP, today’s most-used industrial Ethernet protocol. Built on standard, unmodified Ethernet and IP, EtherNet/IP allows you to deploy both industrial and commercial Ethernet solutions to harness the full power of the Internet of Things.
Automate Data Gathering and Reporting
An MES automates the collection of data from multiple disparate sources, replacing outdated processes of manually collecting data in paper-based systems. Speeding up data collection can be especially beneficial in industries such as pharmaceutical, where extensive record keeping is required for regulatory purposes, and automotive, where time consuming data collection can be a burden on high-velocity operations.
Automated data collection also reduces the potential for human error in documentation processes, which can lead to unacceptable product quality or even product recalls. Data collected from systems dispersed throughout your operations can be viewed on dashboards or reports, providing deeper insights and better decision making. From a quality standpoint, this enables you to:
- Compare product quality against manufacturing conditions
- Review finished-product quality against individual suppliers’ raw materials
- Deliver quality reports to different stakeholders, with information contextualized to each person’s role
Integration up to your ERP systems also enables greater tracking of non-conformant product and scrap, and a better understanding of rework costs.
Improve In-Production Quality Management
An MES can synchronize production activities to help operators coordinate real-time production sequences in increasingly flexible manufacturing environments. These production-management capabilities can play a vital role in your quality-management efforts.
Key opportunities for managing quality during production include:
- Create and implement enforceable workflows that guide operators through each production process and help ensure products are built to specification, which can help improve first-pass quality.
- Leverage product quality tests and no-fault forward systems. You can view results in real time and use the information to help prevent the release of below-quality products.
- Hold and quarantine capabilities help keep products that don’t meet your quality requirements — and are potentially dangerous — in your facility instead of reaching your customers.
- Security features such as role-based access help restrict production activities to authorized workers.
Quality management can have significant implications on compliance for companies in highly regulated industries. In these instances, a modern MES can help you manage your workflows, ensure the proper tests are being conducted and speed review times to help ease your regulatory and auditing burdens.
For example, compliance-specific instructions can be delivered to operators and specific processes and procedures, such as required sign-offs, can be enforced at different points in the production process to help ensure compliance. Quality and safety managers also can access compliance results in a dashboard-style report, quickly search any production anomalies and take immediate corrective action.
Unique MES elements also are available to help companies meet compliance requirements specific to their industries. In the pharmaceutical industry, this includes electronic batch recording (EBR) capabilities, which can significantly simplify and speed compliance reporting compared to cumbersome, time-consuming paper-based systems.
Quality is more than another metric or check-box. It’s the foundation on which your brand exists. For your customers, quality is often the deciding factor between you and the competition.
A modern MES can play a critical role in optimizing quality management in today’s increasingly connected and information-driven operations. It can help your workers make more-informed business decisions and better manage quality throughout the production process, and can help ease the burden of complying with both existing and emerging regulations.
Todd Montpas is a Business Manager of Information Solutions at Rockwell Automation.