Why buy manufacturing software?

In both QFS and API's custom systems you can expect cost savings, better quality, tighter control of manufacturing processes and shorter time-to-market. Below you will find a description that will help with possible ways to look at a system purchase in terms of ROI.

Seeing the value in understanding manufacuturing.

Cost, Control, Quality, and Calendar

A systems analysis of value-add in a manufacturing enterprise using
The Quality Feedback System.
By David C. Douglas, President
Automation Programming, Inc.
San Francisco, CA
(415) 559 8000

Cost, Control, Quality, and Calendar as the Basis for Analysis

Recently I had a look at one of API's customers and their use of API's QFS Manufacturing Execution System. I did this to try and understand a variety of the different values QFS offered to them and to have a basis for explaining the system and its value to other enterprises.

I was challenged to this task by a friend who measures improvements to his manufacturing endeavors in terms of two elements: cost and control. As production management that is how he achieves high levels of competitiveness.

My own view looks at the to attributes manufacturers provide along with their products: cost, quality and calendar. The competitive company delivers lower cost, higher quality products in a timely manner.

Neither way of looking at manufacturing enterprises is perfect but looking at the combination of cost, control, quality and calendar can help assess improvements in manufacturing. These improvements can include a software system like QFS, purchase policies, changes in product design, or updating manufacturing techniques. The analysis can assist manufacturers deliver higher quality products, reduce time-to-market, get ISO 9000 certification, increase yield, or any of a variety of other goals.

It was with that background that I had a look at one of a customer's use of the QFS MES. This customer was the first customer of the system and have had it in use for three years. In that time they decreased product cost dramatically. They increased production volume two orders of magnitude. They got ISO 9000 Registered. They implemented flow manufacturing. QFS was a central element of their production strategy.

With QFS as a significant part of their production strategy, they requested and were part of the development of many parts of the system. API spent a significant amount of time working with this customer and has intimate knowledge of their entire operations. While they do not seek publicity this close relationship made a great opportunity to look QFS from a customer's point of view.

My friend was right. This analysis from the cost, calendar, quality and control perspective was instructive to me. I hope it is also instructive to you. It is if you see parallels in this analysis and your operations. It may have added value if you find ways the QFS Product Family can help you.


The QFS Product Family

The Quality Feedback System (QFS) is a software system to support manufacturing organizations. While it has interfaces to business systems, it goal is to improve shop-floor related activities. This means collecting data about the manufacturing process without getting in the way. It means increasing yield. It means supporting increased manufacturing volume. It means supporting both high-volume and lot-size-one manufacturing. It is used wherever direct material contact occurs.

The parent of the family is QFS itself. This is a manufacturing execution system (MES). All the other elements of the QFS Family are either portions of QFS, separated to provide scaleable partial functionality, or are designed to interface directly with it. As the parent of the family it is helpful to know what QFS is and how the MES relates to the overall manufacturing environment.

On one hand, QFS is a collection of manufacturing systems in the manufacturing process where the stand alone functions perform some task in the enterprise. While a detailed functional description of the QFS MES can be found elsewhere, the various elements of the system include

In addition to these elements, QFS integrates islands of automation including legacy or stand alone test systems and production equipment. If unfamiliar with the technical aspects of QFS I'd recommend looking at a QFS MES technical description.

QFS is also a horizontal integration of those elements and islands of automation, tying together disparate elements of the shop floor to create a unified manufacturing environment.

The horizontal integration of QFS allows these islands of automation to work together in a coordinated fashion. The left hand then knows what the right is up to. Shipping knows, automatically and for free, that the products going out the door have been tested. Final test knows that intermediate tests have not only been done, but can also check the results. Managers can see a view of all or parts of the manufacturing process. Engineering can look at detailed data for analysis, prediction and assessment. An important note about the horizontal integration of systems is that it extends beyond facility walls. Horizontal integration includes outside producers (OSP) of assemblies and components into a single, virtual enterprise.

In addition, QFS is a vertical integration of the shop floor with other systems in the enterprise including the planning, finance, and design systems. This allows the BOM that the planning system uses to be accessible to the test systems so that data that finance uses will match data that production uses.

QFS has direct ties to the manufacturing resource planning (MRP) system of the enterprise. The ties to the planning system make the initiation of production well coordinated with demand. It also improves inventory reporting to that system to increase accuracy and timeliness.

The inventory movement and material backflushes to happen automatically as production occurs, without error and without taking time out to make a separate transaction in another system. It therefore improves the quality of the production planning process.

Likewise, revision control on the shop floor is improved by the coordinated distribution of new design and revision data to the entire shop. The same BOM that the planning system is using is available to the test systems, increasing data accuracy.

Again, functional and system definitions of QFS can be found elsewhere. If you are unfamiliar with QFS and the functions of an MES finding these definitions may be a good idea. Rather than go into specifications of the system, the state-of-the-art tools it uses for analysis and production modeling I return to the four-element analysis.

Those four elements of manufacturing that QFS improves are cost, control, quality, and calendar.


Cost Reduction with QFS

Cost in manufacturing comes in many forms. The primary elements that increase costs are:

Each manufacturing enterprise has a different balance of these elements. A systematic approach to manufacturing can reduce the costs from each of these elements. QFS reduces the cost from all of these elements.

The degree of the savings is very dependent on the manufacturer involved, the systems already in place, and the commitment of the company to achieve the savings. Again, these are the savings that I saw at one customer site. Hopefully you can see a relationship between these savings and those at your enterprise.


Control Increases with QFS

Control comes down to knowing what you are doing, when you are doing it, and why you are doing it.


Quality Improvement with QFS

A core aspect of QFS is its ability to integrate quality information into the manufacturing process. It is, after all, the Quality Feedback System. It distributes what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. It records the results of what was done. It provides the analysis tools to see how well it was done. It improves quality.

To distribute what needs to be done QFS holds a relational model of product descriptions, sales orders, customer information, vendor information, test requirements, production routes and a large host of others. All of this information is available to every place on the shop floor where it is needed. To make the information effective, it is hidden when it is not needed.

To record information all the production processes are on-line, interacting with the central QFS system as operators, technicians and engineers perform normal activities. The degree of connectivity is transparent to them. They do what they need to do and the system guides it and captures it.

Then there is the analysis. Users at any level can analyze the production process from any perspective desired, from individual assemblies to entire product lines. From one station to the whole shop floor. From first-pass yield to Nth-pass yield to aggregate yield. From a component to the whole assembly. If you tear something apart and rebuild it in a different way it can tell you what happened to all the pieces. So, what individual assemblies were shipped between 3 and 5 PM on Friday at the end of the last quarter that were handled by operators with brown eyes?

The fundamental point is, if you know what's going on you can make it better. If asked how well you did, you can tell someone.


Calendar Compression with QFS

QFS supports a number of manufacturing paradigms and manufacturers can pick the manufacturing method that allows best throughput, time-to-market, and varied product lifecycles.


In Closing

This cost, control, quality and calendar analysis is only one way to look at the effectiveness of a system. In this analysis much of the interaction between the elements has been ignored. On this day I have used this particular analysis to look at the system. While others can be applied, I hope this one inspires potential users of the system to have a closer look at it and members of the QFS Product Family.

At API we have tried to make QFS the most effective system possible from every perspective. Judging from the reactions we have from customers of the system we have been successful. Our success helps them be successful as manufacturers and businesses.