InfinityQS in the Food & Beverage Industry: #5 Paper & Pencil

Members of the Food & Beverage industry: Welcome to this, the fifth entry in a blog series created just for you. InfinityQS quality experts, like myself, will continue to write about quality in your manufacturing space, about solutions to your problems, about the challenges you face in mastering your particular quality issues…and how we are here to help.
 
Today I’ll be discussing paper & pencil, that dreaded arcane data collection and analysis toolset that just won’t seem to go away. I’ve discussed it many times in the past, but I feel it’s worth touching upon in this series because Food & Beverage, like all other industries, just can’t seem to get away from it. Please allow me to explain.
Drowning in Paper

Stuck? You Needn’t Be

Most Food & Beverage manufacturers are only scratching the surface of what statistical process control (SPC) software solutions can do for them. Many are still relying on paper checklists. They’re stuck with the painstaking, time-consuming process of moving every piece of collected data into a spreadsheet, then manually performing calculations and creating control charts, then maybe analyzing the data.
 
When mired in paper, the best that quality professionals can hope for is to identify the most pressing issues and correct them quickly before moving on to the next fire drill.
 
That doesn’t mean you have to abandon the value that SPC can bring. Just as your manufacturing organization strives to make products more quickly and precisely, your SPC solution needs to deliver critical information faster, pinpointing the information that’s most important.

You’re Not Alone, But Soon You Will Be

If you are still collecting quality data by hand, you aren’t alone. According to a recent survey, 75% of manufacturers still collect data manually, and nearly half of respondents use paper checklists to record the information.
 
I’m surprised to see clipboards and paper being used for shop floor data collection today. Shockingly, it is more the rule than the exception. And this is true even though modern manufacturing plants almost always incorporate some level of data automation.
Clipboards on Factory Floor 
It’s important to note that the risks associated with paper-based operations far outweigh the benefits. Manual data collection has the propensity to introduce errors into an SPC system:
  • Data might be misread from the paper
  • Paper is easily damaged
  • Numbers could be accidentally transposed
  • Data written on paper may be illegible or misinterpreted
  • The paper might be lost altogether
  • Paper-based data must eventually be transcribed into a digital format, increasing work for production or quality teams
  • Paper-based records quickly become bulky and take up storage space
  • Working with pencil and paper makes it difficult to verify that collections have occurred or catch entries that fall outside of the acceptable range
  • Recording data on paper—or even transcribing paper checklists into digital spreadsheets—increases the difficulty of locating information in response to audit or regulatory requests 

Don’t Get Hit in the Wallet

Paper habits are not only ripe for error, but they are expensive. I once worked with a manufacturer whose quality system generated so much paper that they employed three (3!) librarians—one for each shift—just to manage it all. And when the on-site library filled up, they packed it up and shipped it to their warehouse. There it was organized with the millions of other pieces of paper that had been amassed. Librarians, paper, writing utensils, warehouses, and transportation. You can see how the costs associated with paper systems can pile up.

Reports? Ha!

Worse, how do you generate summarized reports from paper-based systems? Well, first you’ve got to find the right paper with the right data on it. Then cross your fingers and hope that you can read the data. If so, then you must transfer the data to some other medium, such as spreadsheets. It’s a time-consuming, laborious process fraught with error.
 
So, if you don’t go through the drudgery of transferring paper-based data to another system for analysis, then the data is forever trapped on paper and unable to be used to benefit your manufacturing operations.
Move On from Paper and Pencil

So Why Stick with Paper?

Some Food & Beverage manufacturers are worried about pushback from staff who are nervous about the learning curve involved in switching to a software-based data collection process. Contract agreements might require collected data to be formatted in a specific way. Or a mix of device automation—from manual to fully-automated—might complicate the collection process across a line or site.

There’s a Problem with Spreadsheets

If you think that moving your paper-based system to spreadsheets is a good idea, think again. Not only are spreadsheets unwieldy and challenging for operators and inspectors to work with, they are also very difficult to manage and organize. Plus, when the time comes for monthly reporting, get ready for a long, drawn-out headache.
 
Consider a manager who requests a simple summary quality report for the month. To organize spreadsheet-based data collection systems, most companies create a separate spreadsheet for each part number they run. Data from each part is saved to each of these unique spreadsheets. Got 150 part numbers? You’re going to have 150 spreadsheets to manage. I’ve seen companies who try (unsuccessfully) to manage thousands of spreadsheets. It just doesn’t work, especially when hundreds of different part numbers are manufactured in the course of a month.
 
So, how can data from hundreds of different spreadsheets be combined to summarize a plant’s quality levels for a specific month? How would you even know which part numbers were manufactured and which spreadsheets to access? It’s not just tough, it’s darned near impossible. And yet, the information contained within and across those spreadsheets is exactly what managers need to make intelligent decisions about production processes and about their business.
 
Whether using spreadsheets or paper-based quality systems to gather data, the critical information that companies need to manage their business is caught in this quagmire. If their critical quality data is inaccessible and unable to be leveraged for improvement or for preventing quality issues from getting into the hands of consumers, then using paper and spreadsheets can put organizations at risk. 
Move Away from Clipboards 

Modern Data Collection Features

Modern data collection should support data entry on any connected device—tablet, PC, or smart phone. Wireless connectivity should be all that’s required, and there should be little need to involve your IT department.
 
The software you use to collect data should be configurable enough to support data collection the way operators expect to do it. That is, data collection features should mimic the actual ways in which operators collect data. And it should be simple. Software should make data capture much faster than when an operator writes a number on paper. And it should allow operators to easily enter (without typing) the traceability fields, quality data, and other information found on paper forms—while automatically noting the time, date, shift, and operator name.

Data Collection Technologies

My experience is that operators enjoy working with software that makes data collection fast and easy. If it lessens their burden and eliminates the hassle associated with juggling paper and spreadsheets, they will be happy. And when you win the support of your operators and inspectors, they’ll quickly embrace your SPC system.
 
Therefore, it’s important for your SPC system to have the ability to capture a variety of data automatically, even without engaging an operator—from hand-held gauges, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), pre-existing databases, and manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. And let’s not forget bar-code scanners—they are a fast, convenient, and inexpensive means for entering defects data or associating information fields (such as purchase order numbers, lot codes, and other descriptions) to data that is being captured by operators and inspectors.
Modern Data Collection

Quality Intelligence to the Rescue

A robust quality intelligence solution can simplify and streamline the data-collection process and help you get off paper and on board with a more effective, efficient approach. Real-time SPC solutions, like those we offer here at InfinityQS, support:
  • Automated and semi-automated data collection
  • Tablet- and smartphone-based data entry
  • Automated notifications for when data must be collected
  • Automated prevention of data entry errors
For operators, our modern dashboards provide a wealth of information in a clean, simple layout. You can clearly see when the next collection is due. Operators and lab technicians receive a series of alerts that count down to when data collections are required so that these critical tasks aren’t missed in the hustle and bustle of today’s busy production environment.
 
With InfinityQS’ real-time SPC solutions, organizations eliminate issues common with paper-based systems: late or missed data collections, transposition and typographical errors, and reports that take days or weeks to generate. . Addressing these issues can help organizations develop highly accurate data collection best practices, which lead to improved data integrity and  elevated trust in your data —which leads to dramatically improved results for your quality improvement program.
Food & Beverage Manufacturers Using Modern SPC

InfinityQS Solutions

Spending your hard-earned money on paper and spreadsheets is throwing good money after bad. It’s no way to manage data collection, and it is certainly not a good way to deploy a quality system. Once successfully collected, your data can be analyzed to reveal critical information that can slash costs and generate big gains in quality, productivity, and efficiency.
 
Take a look at InfinityQS products—they have a simple, friendly interface  and offer expansive data collection flexibility to help mimic your real-life manufacturing situations. And our reporting capabilities will help you uncover valuable information that you were never aware of, leading to significant improvements in your bottom line.
 
So, Food & Beverage industry members: please return to this blog section of the InfinityQS website to see the next entry in this series designed just for you.
 
You can also read a previous entry in this series:
Douglas C. Fair
By Douglas C. Fair
Chief Operating Officer
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