BI for Continuous Quality Improvement

Greg Matranga
By Greg Matranga | September 8, 2021
Vice President of Global Marketing

Fact checked by Stephen O'Reilly

When you hear the acronym “BI” what do you think of? Most of us think of “Business Intelligence,” a term that encompasses a host of tools—like data warehouses, dashboards, reports, data discovery tools, and cloud data services. These tools make it possible to extract insights from your data.
 
But BI is more than that. It’s also a process. A process by which enterprises use strategies and technologies for analyzing current and historical data, with the objective of improving strategic decision-making and providing a competitive advantage.
 
So, why are business intelligence systems important? They are important because they are commonly used to make informed business decisions, advancing a company’s position within the marketplace and (hopefully) improving the bottom line. That’s essentially what our quality management software solutions do. And it’s also why we’re all in business, right?
Business Intelligence on Shop Floor

Breaking Down Business Intelligence

BI can be a bit intimidating. Since a big part of what we do here at InfinityQS is what we call “Business Integration,” we sometimes find ourselves asking “which BI?” at the beginning of a conversation. Let’s look at the integration portion of this for a moment, before moving on to Business Intelligence.
 
At InfinityQS, we integrate business information across a range of systems—such as Enterprise Resource Planning systems (ERPs), Manufacturing Execution Systems (MESs), Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMMs), custom database systems, and their data sources—in a way that allows the information to be presented as needed by the different business audiences. So, when we think of BI, we think of business integration, in addition to business intelligence. But it always seems to come back to the same thing (what I mentioned above): improving strategic decision-making and providing a competitive advantage.
 
I recently read an article in Information Technology in which the author laid out what they determined to be the five key “stages” of business intelligence: data sourcing, data analysis, situation awareness, risk assessment, and decision support. I would contend that InfinityQS quality management software can imbue manufacturers with each of those key factors involving business intelligence, bring important information where it’s needed most, and help manufacturers continuously improve, maintain compliance, and grow their business.
 
So, whether it’s BI or BI, it’s all kind of the same thing when it comes to manufacturing quality. Let’s look a little closer…
BI for Modern Manufacturing

Data Sourcing

“Business Intelligence is about extracting information from multiple sources of data. The key to data sourcing is to obtain the information in electronic form.” Typical sources of data might include scanners, gauges, scales, digital cameras, and other measurement and data collection devices.
 
With InfinityQS quality management software systems, data can be input manually, semi-automatically, or fully automatically. Our systems are fed data automatically via two very important tools: DMS and DCS. The Data Management System and the Data Collection Service are add-ons from InfinityQS that play a vital role in getting data into the quality management system.
 

DMS and DCS

These two tools have been around for about a decade. And their track records are great. DMS is the piece that actually talks to the equipment; it receives data values from checkweighers, text files, databases (ERP, MES, CMMs), and OPC servers (okay, here we go: it’s acronym time! OPC is a twisted, painful acronym—it stands for OLE for Process Control; and, of course, OLE stands for Object Linking and Embedding—what else, right?). Most of us use OPC servers and have no idea what it stands for. Here’s a link, if you’re really interested. OPC servers are the most common way to read from programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Whew! Too many acronyms can just wear you out. In short, DMS essentially “harvests” the data from various sources.
 
DCS takes all the information that DMS harvests and combines (or standardizes) it for use in both of InfinityQS’ quality management solutions: ProFicient™ and Enact®.
 
An important thing to keep in mind is that by utilizing both DMS and DCS in your quality system you can marry all the separate, disparate data together; our systems can then display it in a useful, easy-to-understand fashion. Now, that’s data sourcing.
BI for Information

Data Analysis

“Business Intelligence is about synthesizing useful knowledge from collections of data. It is about estimating current trends, integrating and summarizing disparate information, validating models of understanding, and predicting missing information or future trends.”
 
InfinityQS quality management software is famous for data analysis. At the heart of what we do here at InfinityQS are two important concepts: data aggregation and prioritization.
 

Data Aggregation

When data is aggregated, you can review quality performance across production lines, shifts, facilities, and geographical distances. This bird’s eye view is critical for prioritizing quality improvement actions for your limited quality resources.
 
As COO Doug Fair mentioned in his SPC: Hunting the Big Picture and the Big Payoff blog, “you need to focus on the big picture of what’s going on across your organization. You need to look at data that represents quality information across multiple production lines, shifts, plants—across the entire enterprise.”
 
The big picture is the key. “My belief is that more companies need to focus on the big picture of extracting manufacturing Intelligence from the quality data they have already collected. It’s not hard. You just need systems that will support shop floor, enterprise-wide data collection and a means of aggregating that data and making it easily consumable and understandable by managers, engineers, and quality professionals.” That’s where we come in.
Extracting Manufacturing Intelligence

Prioritization

Prioritization means you can look down from that bird’s eye view and pinpoint the problem, “I see that region three is where the most waste is occurring.” Then, “If we put our quality improvement team on that, they will be able to make improvements that will positively affect the bottom line in the shortest period of time.” That, in a nutshell, is the great benefit of prioritization.
 
Estimating current trends, integrating and summarizing disparate information, and predicting future trends. To get there you must aggregate all your data and see across your entire enterprise; then you can prioritize tasks for improvement. It’s how we reach a state of continuous improvement! It’s why we analyze the data!
 

Situation Awareness

“Business Intelligence is about filtering out irrelevant information and setting the remaining information in the context of the business and its environment.” A shop floor operator needs key items of information relevant to his or her needs, and summaries that are syntheses of all the relevant data. “Situation awareness is the grasp of the context in which to understand and make decisions.” 
 
When we talk about situation awareness, we talk about exception reporting. And the quality experts at InfinityQS have discussed exception reporting for decades. Most recently, VP of Product Design Matt Tweedy shed some light on it in his blog about audits and reporting. He mentions that the operator’s real focus is "making product, and any time spent away from that, like entering information into quality software, is a distraction." Operators are busy and only need “to know to do something right now, so they can just get on with their regular job.” With our solutions, they “love it that they no longer have walls of charts in front of them.”
 
Focusing on exceptions is somewhat of a paradigm shift for manufacturers. Old habits die hard. But rather than forcing operators to sift through pages of data, look at a “wall of charts,” or shuffle through dozens of Pareto charts and Box & Whisker plots, we bring to their attention, or “surface,” only the issues that they need to care about. That way they can focus on performing the most important aspect of their job—manufacturing consistent, high-quality products for your company. Moving from staring at control charts all day to being alerted to issues in your manufacturing process, so you can nip issues in the bud (even eliminate them before they pop up)—that’s situation awareness.
Real-Time Intelligence at Work

Risk Assessment

“Business Intelligence is about discovering what plausible actions might be taken, or decisions made, at different times. It is about helping you weigh up the current and future risk, cost, or benefit of taking one action over another, or making one decision versus another. It is about inferring and summarizing your best options or choices.”
 
With InfinityQS quality management solutions, once data has been gathered across your plant, or across multiple plants in a region, or across your entire enterprise, you can go in and do “post-data entry analysis.” In other words, as a quality professional, or an engineer, or manager, you summarize all the data that's been collected, and allow the software and statistical tools to identify golden nuggets of information that you can act upon to make high-level quality improvements across multiple plants.
 
This type of data aggregation and high-level analysis can help you direct Six Sigma teams to areas where their actions can generate the greatest quality benefits for your company. Aggregated data can help direct strategic activities that can point to specific production lines, plants, or product families most in need of improvement. That’s minimizing risk, cutting costs, and finding ways to make the best decisions and choices possible for your business.
High-Level Analysis on the Shop Floor

Decision Support

“Business Intelligence is about using information wisely. It aims to provide warning you of important events, such as takeovers, market changes, and poor staff performance, so that you can take preventative steps. It seeks to help you analyze and make better business decisions, to improve sales or customer satisfaction or staff morale. It presents the information you need, when you need it.”
 
InfinityQS quality management software specializes in presenting the information your operators and quality people need, when they need it—ensuring that your operations’ performance is optimal and the decisions they make are the best they can be for your products’ quality.
 
When your professional analysts— Six Sigma teams, managers, engineers (and others)—look at summarized data, they distill the information down to a point at which they can tell where your organization has the greatest opportunities for improvement. Defects, costs, overruns, overfills, underfills, too much scrap—these are the kinds of insights that come from the data that companies gather, aggregate, and analyze.
 
Generally speaking, the biggest returns on investment you can achieve with your BI systems are found in summary data, and if your teams don’t stop and analyze lots of data on a regular basis, you are missing out on the biggest opportunities for cost savings and quality improvement. InfinityQS quality management solutions are here to help cut through the chaff, get to the essence of your organization’s quality picture, and make huge strides forward in your quality endeavors.
 
Take advantage of the technology at your fingertips today: contact one of our account managers (1.800.772.7978 or via our website) for more information.
 

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