In this blog series aimed at the packaging industry, InfinityQS quality experts like me will be writing about quality in your manufacturing space, the challenges you encounter in mastering the quality issues you face, and how we—and our proven quality management solutions
—are here to help. This is the third entry in the series.
Today I’ll be discussing paper & pencil, that dreaded arcane data collection and analysis toolset that just never seems to go away. We as an organization have discussed it many times in the past, but I feel it’s worth touching upon in this series because packaging, like all other industries, just can’t seem to escape it. Please allow me to explain.
Ditch the Paper & Pencil
If you’re like many packaging manufacturers, you are only scratching the surface of what statistical process control (SPC) software solutions can do for you. So many companies still rely on paper checklists. They’re stuck with the painstaking, time-consuming process of keying in all their collected data into a computer spreadsheet
, then manually performing calculations and creating control charts, and then—perhaps—
analyzing the data.
If you still rely on paper and pencil, the best your quality professionals can hope for is to identify a high priority issue, correct it as quickly as possible, and then move on to the next “fire drill.”
But, I urge you, don’t abandon the value that statistical process control (SPC) can still offer you. Just as your packaging company strives to make products more quickly and precisely (and consistently), your quality solution needs to deliver critical information faster and pinpoint the information that’s most important.
A Dying Breed
I wish I could say that I’m surprised when I see paper and pencil and clipboards still being used on the shop floor for data collection these days. Is your organization still collecting quality data by hand? It may shock you to hear that 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.
According to a recent survey
we conducted, 75% of manufacturers still collect data manually, and nearly half of respondents use paper checklists
to record the information.
The risks associated with paper-based operations far outweigh the benefits. Collecting data manually has the tendency to introduce errors into your SPC system. A partial list:
- Numbers could be accidentally transposed
- Paper is easily damaged
- Data might be misread from the paper
- Data written on paper may be illegible or misinterpreted
- The paper might be lost altogether
- Paper-based records quickly become bulky and take up storage space
- Paper-based data must eventually be transcribed into a digital format, increasing work for production or quality teams
- 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
- Information is available to only those that have access to and can physically look at the paper. And this might be the most significant reason to stop relying on paper.
And, I’d like to add that working with paper can also be expensive
. We worked for years with a company whose quality system generated so much paper that they employed three librarians
—one for each shift. They’d inevitably pack it up and ship it to their over-stuffed warehouse—sometimes without even looking at it. Staff, materials, warehouses, and transportation—you can see at a glance how the costs can add up.
We all know the value of summarized
reports—they tell us what’s happening with our manufacturing processes over time. So, how do you generate summarized reports when you rely on paper? Well, first you’ve got to find the right
paper with the right
data on it. Then hope that you can read the data. Everything all right so far? Well, then you must transfer the data to some other medium, such as a spreadsheet. It’s a time-consuming, laborious process that’s (again) fraught with error (more on spreadsheets below).
If you don’t suffer the anguish of transferring paper-based data to another system for analysis, then the data is forever trapped on paper
and you’ll never be able to use it to benefit your packaging operations.
Change Can Be Difficult
Many packaging manufacturers are concerned about the learning curve involved in switching to software-based data collection. Or contract agreements might require collected data to be formatted a certain way. Or mixing manual, semi-, and fully-automated devices might complicate the data collection process across a line or site. Hmmm. On first blush, I’d say that’s enough to thwart anyone. But, honestly, don’t those sound more like excuses than reasons to avoid switching and modernizing?
Spreadsheets are Not the Answer Either
Whether using spreadsheets or paper-based quality systems to gather data, the critical information that companies need to manage their business is stuck in this miasma. If 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 your organization at risk.
Example: A manager requests a simple summary quality report every month. Most companies create a separate spreadsheet for each part number they run, and data from each part is saved to each of these unique spreadsheets. If you have 150 part numbers, then you’re going to have 150 spreadsheets to manage. Yikes.
I’ve witnessed companies trying to manage numerous spreadsheets. It just doesn’t work. And yet, the information contained in (and across) those spreadsheets is exactly what the manager needs to make intelligent decisions about production processes…and about the business.
Data Collection Done Right
Data collection done right means data entry on any connected device—tablet, PC, or smart phone
. Wireless connectivity should be all that’s required, and you shouldn’t have to bother 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
. What I mean by that is this:
- Data collection features should mimic the ways in which operators collect data on the shop floor.
- Data collection should be simple.
- Your software should make data capture faster than when an operator writes a number on paper.
- Data collection 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.
Our experience here at InfinityQS 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 are truly happy. Take it from me, when you win the support of your operators and inspectors, they’ll quickly embrace any system…and that includes your SPC system.
It’s therefore important that your system can capture a variety of data automatically, even without engaging an operator—from hand-held gauges, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), pre-existing databases, manufacturing execution systems (MES), and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. In addition, bar-code scanners offer a fast, convenient, and inexpensive way to enter defects data or associate information fields (such as purchase order numbers, lot codes, and other descriptions) to data that is being captured by operators and inspectors.
A robust quality management solution can help you simplify and streamline data-collection and kick the paper and pencil habit. InfinityQS offers a more effective, efficient approach: Real-time SPC solutions. Our systems 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
Our graphical dashboards provide a wealth of information in a clean, simple layout. You can clearly see when the next collection is due. And operators and lab technicians receive a series of alerts that count down to when data collections are required so that critical tasks aren’t missed during the hustle and bustle of a hectic day.
Using our solutions, organizations eliminate many of the issues common to paper-based systems: late or missed data collections, transposition and typographical errors, and reports that take days or weeks to generate. InfinityQS helps organizations develop highly accurate data collection best practices, which lead to improved data integrity and elevated trust in your data—and that leads to dramatically improved results for your quality improvement program.
Spending your hard-fought capital on paper and spreadsheets is throwing good money away. After your data is successfully collected, it can be analyzed to reveal critical information that can help you 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.
Read other blogs 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.