Choosing the Right SPC Vendor for Your Company

A company had recently decided to globally deploy an SPC solution independent from the work it was doing in ERP, EQMS, and MES. This is an architectural approach that many large companies choose which warrants further discussion.

Matthew Littlefield, LNS Research
Matthew Littlefield, LNS Research

Recently, we had a conversation with a large food and beverage manufacturer about quality management and software strategies. Topics of the discussion included Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Enterprise Quality Management Software (EQMS) Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), and Statistical Process Control (SPC) software.

The discussion about SPC in particular raised some interesting points. This company had recently decided to globally deploy an SPC solution independent from the work it was doing in ERP, EQMS, and MES. This is an architectural approach that many large companies choose which warrants further discussion.

It may be beneficial to first provide a statistical process control definition and background on the solution. SPC software generally provides data collection, analysis, visualization and workflow capabilities designed to help track and reduce variability in production processes. Primarily, users of SPC are machine operators, manufacturing supervisors, continuous improvement professionals and Six Sigma project managers.

Users obtain value and justify an return on investment (ROI) in SPC software through a reduction in manufacturing processes variability and the subsequent reduction it provides in scrap rates, yields, material variance and the cost of quality. The main sponsors of SPC projects are typically plant managers and directors/VPs of manufacturing, quality and OpEx.

SPC in the Software Market
SPC is a software space that sits squarely between MES and EQMS, with often neither one of these providing an ideal solution. In general, a manufacturing company can choose to go one of three routes with SPC software: deploy it as part of MES, as part of EQMS, or as a standalone solution.

Many MES vendors today already have an SPC module, but it’s generally not offered standalone. Rather, it comes as part of MES, which can create time-to-value issues for SPC deployments. Anyone who has spent time in the MES industry knows it's often slow to deploy because MES requires integration with so many other enterprise applications and must rollout across a diverse set of plant assets. It also touches on many different areas of manufacturing besides SPC, such as traceability, maintenance, scheduling and more.

Because of these time-to-deploy and complexity issues with MES, many companies choose to go with standalone SPC software to more quickly and easily address process variation pain points. Of course, the MES vendors are not standing still and many have been focused on improving these areas of weakness and are making real progress.

EQMS and SPC
There are also the EQMS vendors, some of which offer SPC. EQMS does not have the same time-to-deploy issues as MES, but the players still often struggle with SPC. Most EQMS vendors do not deal well with real-time process data. Instead their products are designed to enforce workflows for quality and compliance professionals like CAPA, Doc Control, audits, certifications, etc.

Because of these issues dealing with data on the shop floor, again many companies choose to go with standalone SPC software. However, some EQMS vendors are starting to focus more on real-time manufacturing data and integration with MES systems.

When it comes to the pure-play SPC vendors, the space is relatively small but growing, with many of the players focused on how to extend their core businesses. In general, the pure-play SPC companies perform well within the niche market. Each has the right set of functionality, subject matter expertise, and value to quickly deliver the ROI customers demand.

Recent growth in the space has also now given players the scale needed to support global deployments and enterprise customers, as was verified by our recent discussion with one of the world's largest food & beverage companies. In reality, however, there are only three or four SPC vendors that matter for large companies and then many more small companies, that are not yet viable for enterprise customers.

Similar to the way we've been covering quality management software, LNS Research will be moving onto the shop floor and into manufacturing operations. In the meantime, more information on SPC and its relation to Enterprise Quality Management Software can be found in our EQMS Best Practices Guide.

>> Matthew Littlefield is the President and Principal Analyst of LNS Research. To hear more thought leadership, follow him on Twitter @m_littlefield.

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