Need to find the fastest route into the city? Google Map it. Looking for a new house? There’s Zillow. Tracking a storm? Go to weather.com. All of these sites serve up an assortment of information in a visual format that lets you zoom in for more detail, or from a different angle via satellite and various mapping techniques.
Images are the fastest way to communicate, and, in fact, is the only real universal language. We’ve been using the power of the picture for a very long time—think airports, highway signs, or even the simple diagrams showing you how to put the new office chair together. But with advances in computer processing power, computer graphics, and collaborative technologies, manufacturers now have a way to animate the annotate associated with product design, manufacturing work cells, and, now, even product defects.
For decades, computer-aided design (CAD) software has allowed designers to depict product curves, surfaces, and solids in 2D and 3D models, enabling the quick creation of parts and assemblies, thereby accelerating the design-to-manufacturing process. But what happens when there is a glitch on the assembly line as it relates to workflow or materials? How do you identify, and, more importantly, fix potential problems before mass production begins?
It’s a problem that manufacturers have been trying to solve by closing the communication gap between engineering and production departments. Really, what is needed is more visibility into the process, and when it comes to tracking products—and possible defects—there is no better way than a visual representation.
Imagine an equipment operator looking over the graphical simulation of a workflow manufacturing process, when suddenly they recognize a possible problem. With their mouse hovering over the image on the screen, now it is possible to easily markup the defect on a graphical depiction of the part, which may be the root cause of costly downtime or product defects.
This concept has been addressed in more depth in an earlier post, Tightening the Continuous Improvement Loop, which examines a three-platform strategy. Under this scenario, an operator can pinpoint quality issues within a product image and then link design improvement suggestions to the engineering and design teams via their PLM system. In a three-tiered collaborative strategy, any product or process update would also be linked to the ERP system. That is where the full-circle communications loop really pays big dividends.
But, there are other issues that must be addressed within the manufacturing operations management (MOM) environment before this can become a seamless transaction. Specifically, how do you present the visual data in a manner that makes it valuable and actionable?
First, you need to focus on key quality metrics, such as Defect per Million Opportunities (DPMO), Sigma level, or supplier score. By defining the metrics first, there is a clear focus on potential problem areas. From there, you should be able to drill-down into the image to reveal additional metrics or contextual data, such as the list of suppliers—or even key customers that may be impacted by the problem.
Lastly, the tools at hand need to be in the hand – ideally on a tablet or other mobile device – in order to give quality inspectors, maintenance personnel and machine operators a way to capture information while on the move. This is especially useful in cases where the product dimensions force operators to move around it to check critical areas for potential defects, as one example.
Incorporating visual quality defect tracking into a manufacturing process is an important step toward improving quality consistency across your enterprise, as well as at the corporate level. This approach becomes a very effective way to quickly deliver accurate quality metrics that can be easily understood by each of the stakeholders, such as other departments, suppliers or management.
After all, regardless your native tongue, be it Polish or not, the language of images and pictures is truly international, hence making a picture be worth a thousand words.