Aiming to enhance manufacturers' real-time quality management efforts, enterprise quality and compliance management software provider IQS has announced an integrated application to provide workers with up-to-date inspection data on various suppliers and multiple products during the parts receiving process.
Announced at the Automotive Industry Action Group's annual AutoTech conference in Detroit last week, which this year focused on collaboration among competing supply chain partners, the Mobile Inspection application ties together IQS' core quality software with handheld hardware devices to provide the most current inspection data from a bevy of suppliers and to alert shop floor personnel to the presence of nonconforming parts or those otherwise not up to spec.
Using the Mobile Inspection application, workers with handheld devices can scan a part and have its product characteristic data compared against current specifications and inspection rules stored in the IQS application. If a nonconformance is identified, the supplier can be notified with the appropriate details in real time, and issues can be resolved in a much timelier manner than with manual processes, the company said.
The mostly manual processes surrounding quality management reflect the way people traditionally have thought about quality, Simon Jacobson, a research analyst with AMR Research, told Managing Automation in an interview today. "It's [been] very much an afterthought," Jacobson said. "Extending real-time capabilities not just to data capture, but as [inspection] documents change, can bring quality into sync with other processes." Beyond catching issues during incoming inspections, Jacobson said, if real-time capabilities are extended into the actual production environment, information can be collected on specific lots and batches, providing traceability back to suppliers and suppliers' suppliers.
In traditional environments, quality data is collected but synched with enterprise systems only at the end of the production cycle, or once a week, for example, he said. Catching issues and making use of data in real time, by contrast, can reduce negative consequences, such as rework and scrap, and even decrease downstream problems, such as warranty claims.
According to weekly newsletter Warranty Week, U.S.-based manufacturers spent $13.8 billion on warranty claims worldwide during the first half of 2006. The newsletter estimates a 3% rise in that level, to approximately $14.2 billion, for the same period in 2007. In its "Mid-Year Warranty Report," which measures the cost of warranty claims as a percentage of sales, the newsletter posits that claims actually are falling for many companies as they use efficiency processes, and as product quality and reliability increase.
In addition to automotive, IQS targets the aerospace and defense markets, FDA-regulated industries, and "multi-market" manufacturers, which make products that serve multiple markets. The IQS technology framework, according to the company, consists of three main components: an executive dashboard and analytics, a robust data model and application for quality and compliance, and its own middleware technology for integration with ERP, PLM, and MES systems.
In a statement, IQS CEO Michael Rapaport said that the Mobile Inspection module represents a step toward reaching the level of accessibility in quality applications at the "point of need" that ERP and supply chain functions have similarly achieved through the use of mobile technology.
Manufacturers may be starting to catch on to the promise of mobility beyond familiar applications such as e-mail and Web browsers. Jacobson cited a recent article by AMR's Chris Fletcher, which reported that managing in-process quality made the top of the list of capabilities manufacturers wanted to derive from the integration of mobility into manufacturing operations. Other goals further down the list included information exchange between plant floor applications and ERP systems, and visibility into the extended supply chain.
Of particular note, Jacobson said, is IQS' partnership with mobile device provider Motorola. "If you look at where IQS and Motorola are headed, this is a natural evolution," he said. "It was only a matter of time before they linked up."