Solving Common Quality Management Challenges with Automated Workflows

Jan. 25, 2021
Discover how automated workflows can address common industrial management issues such as documentation, traceability, and process adherence.

In recent years the focus on and importance of quality management has intensified. Market demand for product quality, safety, serialization, and total traceability has increased as the risk of lost market value and reputation damage has grown. Quality managers need to be able to quickly access product data and rely on their quality processes to guarantee product specification adherence.

Age-old quality management problems, such as paper-based systems, data recall, and process adherence are challenging to fix. Digital solutions provide the answer, specifically track and traceability solutions and workflow automation.

Let’s look at the way automated workflows solve three common quality management challenges.

Problem 1: Disparate, paper-based information systems
Documentation of data spread across multiple information systems is hard to manage – a common problem for fast moving consumer goods manufacturers.

They run production work orders, preventative control plans, and/or raw material workflows by compiling information from a Manufacturing Information Systems (MIS), Manufacturing Execution System (MES), Warehouse Management System (WMS), and often other information sources or formats such as spreadsheets.

Production managers then have to decipher this information, plan work orders, print paperwork from multiple systems, and distribute this to the production line. The operators then execute the orders from this paper. Quality checks are also recorded manually on paper.

This is not an effective approach.

Solution: Integration of information systems
Automated execution of the workflow solves this challenge by integrating these data sets and pushing out a workflow to operators electronically. It coordinates different IT and OT systems, people, and machines to run the process.

Integration of disparate information improves the process itself and allows managers to analyze the workflow from a centralized dashboard. This helps identify where and when non-conformance events might be occurring more often, improving overall workflow and the Process Control Plan (PCP). 

Problem 2: Traceability and quality data integrity
Paper-based quality systems present another challenge—maintaining data integrity.

Many companies overlook the storage and management of quality data because once a product has passed inspection, the data is only needed in the event of a product recall or audit.

Examples of data management problems include:

Manual data entry. Manually keying data into spreadsheets or ERP systems to generate reports is time consuming and can be prone to error.

Poor filing systems. Finding the correct paperwork stored in filing cabinets can be difficult if faced with quality audits or product recalls.

These practices leave the business unable to respond to external demands in a timely, responsible manner.

Solution: Improved data collection, storage and analysis 
Automated workflows solve this problem by providing tools to record information and the backend database to store it. Operators enter quality data via barcode scanning, photos, or entry into a phone or device. This process allows faster collection and consistent entry of data, and can alert the management team whenever an issue occurs.

The workflow’s centralized database keeps quality information safe, orderly, and accessible. Product batches can be quickly found in the event of a product recall.  

Problem 3: Adherence to process control plan (PCP)
A big challenge for quality managers is ensuring the PCP is carried out the correct way, the same way, every time.

Operators often use paperwork to understand the work order and product specifications, and which quality checks need to be completed. They only know the business process from training and standard operating procedures (SOPs), which means the way work is carried out can vary from operator to operator.

This leads to managers often have no way of identifying and understanding how these variances impact the PCP.

Solution: Accurate execution of quality management process, every time
Automated workflows are executed by a workflow engine. The engine does not change its behavior like people do, so quality plans can be tightly managed and executed.

The workflow prescribes set tasks to the operators to ensure there is no variation in the process. Alert notifications are sent to operators when tasks are required to be completed to allow them to act at the right time and then carry on with their usual work.  

Workflows improve document control for PCPs, ensuring any identified changes are pushed out to operators quickly without the hassle of manually updating documents.

Is it time to review your quality management approach?
The competitive fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) market means maintaining a high-quality product is crucial to preserve shelf space. Quality management is about much more than fulfilling compliance requirements. Product reputation matters, which is why it is so important for quality managers to be able to preserve and access data that can drive product safety and improvement.

By implementing digital solutions, such as workflow automation, manufacturers improve product traceability while retaining accurate quality data. A commitment to quality and transparency in manufacturing processes is quickly becoming a customer expectation—pushing more manufacturers to take action and implement workflows.

Matt Pyke is a Senior Consultant at Nukon, a SAGE Group brand. SAGE is a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about SAGE, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

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