5 Reasons Your Legacy SPC System Needs Overhauling – Introduction

Jason Chester
By Jason Chester | July 13, 2021
Director of Global Channel Programs

Fact checked by Stephen O'Reilly

The assembly line was invented in the early part of the 20th century. And believe it or not, so was Statistical Process Control (SPC). SPC was developed at Bell Laboratories in the 1920’s by Walter A. Shewhart. Shewhart discovered that he was able to detect differences in the sources of variation of a manufacturing process and began to classify terms such as “common,” “in control,” “special,” and “not in control”—insights that led to the development of control charts. SPC as we know it today was thus born. It was, of course, performed with pencil and paper…and a slide rule.
Early Factory Assembly Line
As manufacturing, like the rest of the world, was emerging from the first world war, mass production became a thing. Manufacturers were beginning to mass produce automobiles, clothing, and consumer packaged goods, to name just a few items, as the world became increasingly industrialized. As new manufacturing techniques and industrial innovation thrived, SPC became a bedrock of modern manufacturing.
Skip ahead a few years…
Modern Manufacturing with SPC
In the latter decades of the 20th century, desktop computing became commonplace. Manufacturing, like every other industry, soon adopted the new technology. And, so, of course, myriad software-based SPC systems sprang to life and began to fill the marketplace.
This “revolution” in SPC made the labor-intensive, slow, and error-prone approach to SPC at that time easier, faster, and more ubiquitous. More and more manufacturers took the reins of computer based SPC…and so the software evolved. Enhancements and improvements slowly came and went, and innovation eventually sort of “dried up.” Many legacy SPC systems went into what I would call “maintenance” (or moth ball) mode. Updates became largely bug fixes, occasionally new versions would support the latest new operating system, that sort of thing. But innovation, real innovation, slowed to a trickle.
And where new features and functions were added, they happened without any fundamental rethink of the overall design and architecture of SPC software. Instead, this constant addition of a new feature here and a bug fix there led to highly complex, cumbersome, and unwieldly SPC software applications.
And it is these legacy SPC systems that are still largely in use today.
Slide forward into the next millennium…
21st Century Manufacturing

Time Marches On

So, here we are in the 21st century, and SPC software, though still widely in use all around the globe and across every manufacturing sector, has become a market dominated by these outdated legacy SPC systems. Systems that were once useful, maybe even cutting edge in their day, have since become an afterthought for many manufacturing companies, if even a thought at all.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right? We’ve all heard it a thousand times. I guess that’s become sort of a mantra because it’s easier to “make do” with what you have than to incorporate and embrace change. I mean, honestly, why change when the old system does the job it was implemented to do?
Or, to put it another way…if we don’t know what the alternatives are, it is difficult to appreciate how things could even be done any differently. It’s what we know. It’s how we have always done it. To use the old Henry Ford adage, if he had asked his potential customers what they wanted, they would have said “faster horses.”   
Model T Assembly Line


I have two responses to the questions mentioned above:
  1. It may not be broken yet, but when (not if) it does break, your organization is going to be in a world of hurt. The term “preventive maintenance” springs to mind—it’s far better to prevent a catastrophe than to deal with the aftermath.
  2. The manufacturing world (and the consumers we serve) is a very different place now than it was when these systems were selected, purchased, and implemented. It’s time for quality and SPC software not only to keep pace but to help drive manufacturing operations forward.
Think back to your studies in history when you were in grade school. More than a century ago, the locomotive train was a great innovation…and the most reliable workhorse of its day. But in today’s society, this anachronism just doesn’t cut it.
Can you picture Amazon using a fleet of Union Pacific ALCO Class 1 Big Boys? For that matter can you see FedEx relying on a fleet of Boeing 377 Stratocruisers?  Or Microsoft Teams hosted on a DEC VAX? These things were right for their time, but they are not right for today.
Paper-based SPC

Legacy Systems

Legacy SPC systems are in the same situation—right now. They may have been right at the time they were purchased, but today they are just not up to the job of supporting modern day manufacturing. Too much has changed.
This is not about upgrading for the sake of upgrading. This is about the inherent risk and opportunity cost (in microeconomic parlance: the loss of the benefit that could have been gained if the best alternative choice was selected instead). Those risks and opportunity costs are not insignificant. And we’ll need to delve more deeply into that.

A Series of Articles for Exploring SPC

In this series of articles, we aim to bring together our decades of experience from within the SPC software sector, our work with countless manufacturers worldwide who have made the switch from legacy SPC systems to next-generation SPC solutions, and the reasons those companies had for making that switch. We’ll weave these pieces together to discuss the top five reasons why your legacy SPC system is in much need of an overhaul.
Here’s what we plan to look at:
  • Reason 1 – No Man (Data) is an Island
    Legacy SPC systems typically rely on local file-based data storage, which means that all the data (and resultant analysis) is only accessible on the workstation or device on which the legacy SPC system is installed. These islands of data can limit an organization from seeing the “big picture” of their manufacturing quality…and their chances of improvement. While SPC is a process-centric technique, its value can be leveraged when applied across entire manufacturing operations, and legacy SPC systems do no support that.
  • Reason 2 – Fighting Inefficiency
    Efficiency and productivity rule today’s modern manufacturing environments. Cutting edge manufacturers employ continuous improvement teams utilizing Lean Six Sigma, manufacturing excellence, Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), and more to constantly propel their organizations forward. Yet legacy SPC systems are the antithesis of efficiency and productivity—they are labor-intensive when collecting, preparing, and importing data, performing analysis, and acting upon results. 
  • Reason 3 – Limited Capabilities Deliver Limited Benefits
    Modern manufacturing has become a fast-paced, complex, and cutthroat business. To respond, manufacturers are in a constant arms race to find new and innovative approaches to maximize efficiency, productivity, and quality, and to minimize risk. Yet most legacy SPC systems still provide only basic, even rudimentary, capabilities that are simply not up to the job of supporting modern-day manufacturing.
  • Reason 4 – The Complexity Problem
    Modern-day manufacturing continues to become much more complex, and with high-volume automated manufacturing environments trying to satisfy demanding consumer markets, managing that complexity must be done in real time and with little room for error. Yet many legacy SPC systems have become highly complex in themselves and often require a great deal of skill, knowledge, and training to use.
  • Reason 5 – The Big Easy
    Manufacturers face myriad competing priorities for budget allocation and resource availability. Investment priorities are therefore given to projects where the biggest operational returns can be gained, both in terms of short operational performance and long-term growth. Legacy SPC systems that are costly to implement and maintain are often not compatible with these constraints. However, modern SPC solutions that are easy to deploy, use, maintain, and own—but can deliver significant operational advantages—are changing the game.
Please join us for this deep dive into why and how legacy SPC systems are holding back manufacturing, and (in contrast) how InfinityQS’ next generation SPC Quality Intelligence solutions drive manufacturing towards a more modern future of SPC (and quality).

Read the other articles in this series:  
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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