When a cake comes out of the oven, with its wonderful aroma filling your house, you can’t wait to taste it. Tasting is also testing it – testing the final product. That includes not only the taste but the texture, how dry or moist it is, the overall “mouth feel” as professionals call it. Everything should come together in one, well-integrated whole. If it isn’t quite right, the guessing game begins: which process step or ingredient was wrong?
Baking a cake is not difficult, yet even in that process, best practice gives us chances to test ingredients along the way. By breaking an egg into a bowl before adding it to the wet ingredients, we can save ourselves a lot of trouble and cost, or by sniffing the milk, or inspecting the baking soda or proofing yeast packaging to make sure it hasn’t expired. At each step – mixing all the dry ingredients together, and then the wet ingredients, before combining the two – we can check our materials as we go through the steps of our manufacturing process.
Now imagine trying to guess what excessive material variability might exist in the creation of medical-grade polyethylene gloves when our company (as is the case with one our real customers, Handgards) uses some forty overseas suppliers of varying sizes, all making the same product but using different sub-suppliers? Imagine having containers full of gloves arriving that do not meet the standards of our final product testing – and the losses in time and money along the entire chain.
To complicate matters, each glove requires eleven ingredients, all with their own specifications, and all coming from lower tier suppliers. Who knows where they get their materials and what testing processes the more remote ones use along the way?
The cake and the glove have one thing in common: final product testing keeps it off the market, but the volume of waste, if the problem is discovered at this final point, reflects lost time and cost that cannot be recovered, not to mention morale. For a company, as for a baker, it also means loss of reputation and brand image in the marketplace.
Key Check Points in the Supply Chain
Clearly, it’s impossible to keep every single process or ingredient under a microscope in real time. How then to manage suppliers, sub-suppliers, co-manufacturers, as well as the enterprise feeder plants through all phases of external and internal production?
What’s required is the ability to see both the big picture of our manufacturing process from a bird’s-eye view, as well as to zero in on a process, or “look” into the final product, or for that matter anywhere along the multi-tier supply chain that our QA system designer thinks is an important transition or risk point.
Building such a comprehensive approach requires:
- Supply chain visibility/transparency.
- Skill in selecting the proper array of tools from the Internet of Things (IoT)
- Use internet-based Certificates of Analysis (COAs) sent in by suppliers from all tiers of the supply network, inputting the information directly into a standard interface. This enables…
- Statistical Process Control (SPC.)
Supply Chain Visibility and Transparency
Visibility is defined as a state in which it’s possible to track materials, parts, components or products from anywhere in the supply chain, from their source all the way to their final destination in the hands of the consumer or client.
The August 2016 issue of ASQ’s “Quality Progress” magazine cited stunning figures from a recent study that examined the current status of supply chains (THE STATE OF SUPPLY CHAINS IN 2015 A SURVEY OF ELECTRONICS MANUFACTURING*.) It was based on a survey of 315 “individuals responsible for their company’s supply chain function.”
The study showed that:
Lack of Supply Chain Visibility is Pervasive, Slowing Responsiveness and Growth
–89% face challenges with lack of visibility into the status of their supply chain
–96% report lack of visibility [which] introduces risk to their supply chain
–70% have real-time status updates for less than half of their supply chain
–82% would take days to understand the impact of an extreme global weather event
–92% would find value in increased visibility and management capabilities
When supply chains lack transparency, the impact of nonconformances and compliance breakdowns in the supply chain quickly snowball. ASQ cites “the factor of 10” rule of thumb, which means that costs increase exponentially if materials flow from one phase to the other without correcting a breakdown in the same phase in which it occurred. In the software industry, various authors invoke an even more serious rule of thumb, a factor of 50.
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things is a relatively new concept that was defined in the 2013 Global Standards Initiative on Internet Things (IoT-GSI) as “the infrastructure of the information society.” The IoT allows objects to be sensed and controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure, creating opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems and resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy and economic benefit. It includes the entire network of equipment, vehicles, buildings, that are fitted with arrays of electronics, sensors, software, actuators and network connectivity, making it possible to collect, process and exchange data.
The study cited above asserts the electronics industry’s supply chains are not ready to implement tools to manage their supply chains in a way demanded by their complexity and level of risk associated with failures. According to the study:
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing exponentially, but supply chains are not ready
–53% are moving forward aggressively with development of “Things”
–77% lack skills needed to fully deliver IoT solutions
–IoT is forcing manufacturing companies to acquire new skills
Selecting the Right Tools
Among the tools in the IoT that an industry like electronics manufacturing (or any other industry) could deploy with relative speed and cost-efficiency is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) quality management system for the supply chain.
SaaS is still a fairly new thing. It is not a standalone software package, neither is it hardware, although both are involved. It operates outside the boundaries of the client company, which reduces the burden on the client and safeguards internal systems. This approach requires no purchased hardware, and no breaching of the company’s firewalls, while preserving data behind the walls, at EMNS, Inc., that have been audited by the US Nuclear Industry to their standards and granted the SOC 2 certification.
Supply Chain Transparency in GSQA® provides instant visibility of all of the value chain members that contribute to the material flow in a supply chain to a quality finished product.
Building the Foundation for Robust Supply Chain Quality Management
In GSQA®, the relationships within the supply chain are defined by the supply chain members themselves as they access the application online. By entering their compliance information and defining their sub-suppliers for the materials in their finished products, the suppliers automatically generate the supply chain family tree, which propagates through auto-generated emails, inviting tier after tier of suppliers to access the website, enter their data, as well as the data of their own suppliers.
The Limits of Finished Product Testing
Neither discrete products (for example, electronics or landing gear) nor blended products (polyethylene gloves, cakes, tires) can reveal the characteristics of their ingredients once they are finished. They have been transformed during the manufacturing process or may have been destroyed in use. Only monitoring key checkpoints along the multiple tiers of the supply chain, by using the IoT effectively (SaaS) and efficiently in a context of transparency, can meet the challenge of today’s complex manufacturing and demanding clientele.