Aside from transcription error, the loss of the form, illegible handwriting and the wealth of other disasters that may occur – the main problem with the use of paper based methods of data collection is that they do not provide any kind of visual feedback to the user. Whilst many production environments have circumvented this problem with the use of paper charts completed by the operator, it is still not easy to apply complex pattern rules to the most recently added data.
For example, an operator might measure the length and width of every tenth circuit board which is manufactured; however, the paper form may only accommodate 50 samples per shift after which a new form has to be introduced. At this point there is the issue of feedback and control which is fundamentally flawed as soon as a new form is introduced as the previous 50 samples are instantly forgotten. Even if the data is manually entered into a spreadsheet at the end of each day, this introduces another issue - a lag between the time of collection and the identification of a problem, by which time it could be too late to change the production process and prevent defective products from being shipped to the customer.
Now consider a change of operator: whilst the first operator may be aware that the recorded measurements are starting to increase, the new operator will not have the benefit of this knowledge. It could be possible that the first operator has informed his replacement that the measurements are “all over the place” but there is often no procedure to ensure that this knowledge is passed on. As a result, the second operator then has to record the measurements of another 10 samples which results in 100 defective boards being manufactured before the increasing measurements are noticed.
Another common problem with paper based forms is the lack of control over their completion. It may well be standard procedure to complete a form for every tenth product, but is all of the appropriate information being captured all of the time, every time? Paper forms do not have mandatory fields, and a missing measurement might only be noticed later in the day when the data is being entered into a spreadsheet or database so instead of having a consistent dataset, there is now a gap and the complete data is unable to be analysed.
Using the above example we can list the following problems which are generally true of most paper based systems:
• Lack of visual feedback to the operator
• Problems with communication between shifts
• Some measurement data might not be recorded
• Potential delays in problem identification and resolution resulting in increased defect production
• Handwritten data and paper forms are frequently subject to transcription error and complete data loss.
An in-house solution?
As a result of the above you may have already implemented a computer based replacement for your old paper based system, but how easily can it be changed should you start to manufacture a new product? What happens if the specifications change, or a new measurement is required? Does it provide all of the charts you require or do you have to export the information into another application before you can gain any real insight into your production process?
Most commonly, in-house computer based data collection systems originate from someone with knowledge of spreadsheets or databases and are developed as an aside to their daily tasks – as a result of this, such systems are usually unsupported, and in some cases unheard of, by centralised IT departments and are rarely under the direct control of the quality manager. Another issue is that the designer of the system might leave the company in which case all of the knowledge required to run and maintain the system is lost.
Furthermore, for companies with more than one production site, each location could have their own data collection system, with no consideration of the companies’ overall quality objectives – this normally results in a failure to collect enough information to meet European legislation and other internal company reporting requirements.
These considerations present a strong case for a central, standardised, easy to maintain computer based data collection system which is specifically designed to collect SPC data and to provide feedback on production quality. The latest release of Quality Monitor 2.4 from SPC Specialists, Northwest Analytical (Oregon, USA) does exactly this and can revolutionise the way in which quality data is collected, stored, analysed and shared.
In simple terms Quality Monitor is a direct replacement for existing paper-based methods of data collection; however, it has none of the disadvantages associated with the use of paper forms and does not require any specialist programming knowledge in order to setup and maintain the system and deploy the resulting screens. All of the data entered into Quality Monitor can be sent to any ODBC compatible database (SQL, Oracle, Access etc.) so that the information collected is readily available throughout your company for further analysis.
Implementing Quality Monitor
A typical implementation of Quality Monitor normally begins with a meeting attended by operators and quality managers where the production process is mapped and modelled. At this stage it usually becomes apparent that a number of key quality indicators are not being regularly collected or, at worst, not being collected at all. By identifying the key stages of manufacture it is possible to spot the locations where a data entry screen is required so that information can be gathered at each workstation to produce a complete picture of the production process. At this point a list of data can be compiled so that the resulting screens ensure the reliable capture of all salient information required.
Once the list of fields and the type of data to be captured is known it is possible to begin the construction phase of the implementation. Quality Monitor Designer is the tool used to construct and design the data entry screens and utilises a drag and drop interface so that data entry boxes, buttons and labels can be arranged in the most logical and easy to use format. The majority of the options are accessible in a couple of mouse-clicks which side-steps the steep learning curve associated with writing complex programming code and enables you to get up and running with the program in a much shorter time.
A Quality Monitor data entry screen can be made up of a number of elements to ease the process of entering data and to give operators a better understanding of the information being collected at the point of entry. A typical screen might consist of both numeric and alphanumeric data and metadata and this can be manually typed in by the user or selected from a pre-populated drop down list of values. The illustration (shown at the beginning of this feature) shows a basic data entry screen which incorporates some of these elements.
Operator name is chosen from a drop down list of users and this field can be made ‘sticky’ ie to retain the selected value when the next measurement record is entered. Users can also choose from a list of products which are going to be measured – the product selection box determines both the schematic diagram displayed to the user (which shows the dimensions to be recorded) and also disables the input boxes which are not appropriate for the selected part.
After the descriptive data has been added the user is then able to enter the actual measurement values for the part in question. Using the point and click interface it is possible to set specific fields to accept only numeric information and also enforce the number of decimal places which are recorded. Whilst this makes data entry undoubtedly easier, it also ensures that your resulting dataset for analysis only contains valid information which is accurately formatted. In addition, specified fields can be made mandatory so that the user is unable to complete the record without entering a measurement into particular fields.
The illustration also shows that the specifications for the Height and Width measurements are 25.0 +/- 0.5, therefore a value of 25.0 is within specification, but a value of 26.0, or 24.0, will instantly change the field to red to alert the user that the measurement data is outside of the specifications. In this example the specifications are constant; however, it is easy to look up specifications from any ODBC database or spreadsheet, allowing you to centrally manage your limits in a secure manner.
Quality Monitor offers a number of actions which can be triggered by an out of specification part, these are as follows: such as adding messages,, beeping, or playing a WAV file.
In addition to the various alarm options, Quality Monitor also enables you to give operators access to a number of SPC charts. By clicking on the ‘Charts’ button a Sub Menu appears which gives the user a number of charts to choose from. At this stage it is possible to view an Individuals & Range Chart showing the previously entered data (or a selection thereof) so that the most recently added data point can be compared to previous values.
In addition to ensuring that operators can manually enter data, Quality Monitor also enables you to connect to external measurement devices such as callipers, balances, bar code scanners and micrometers. Specific fields can be configured to obtain their values from an external measurement device ensuring that the information entered is accurately recorded.
Another useful function of the Quality Monitor system is the ability to launch external files. For example, it is possible to link to a network file which contains all of the standard operating procedures for recording data. This is especially useful for new operators and also ensures that you can centrally administer product specifications, measurement requirements and diagrams. You can also use the information which has been entered onto the screen to call particular files. If all your product specifications are stored in PDF format and named according to the Part Number of the product, you can create a button on the data entry screen to return the correct PDF for the product being measured. This then automatically opens in the default PDF viewer so that the user can view the schematics for the part in question. l
GAGEtrak v6.6, Calibration Management Software released
CyberMetrics Corporation’s Quality Management Division, a leading provider of calibration and supplier quality management software solutions, has released GAGEtrak software update, GAGEtrak v6.6, Calibration Management Software Solution.
GAGEtrak v6.6 allows for faster navigation through GAGEtrak with a newly updated and expanded user interface. The update benefits users by requiring fewer clicks to switch between areas that have been consolidated and optimized easier use. Users now have quicker access to reports, calibration records and personnel information from the Main Menu, leaving more time to devote to other tasks.
A complete list of the GAGEtrak v6.6 release enhancements is available online at
Excel spreadsheet for Metronics data
Metronics has announced that measurement data gathered by any of its current range of Quadra-Chek and Gage-Chek DRO systems can now be directly input into an Excel spreadsheet at the touch of a button via the low-cost QC-Wedge communications software package now available from the company.
Transferred in real-time by RS-232 serial connection to the user’s PC via the QC-Wedge functionality linked to the DRO, QC-Wedge then transmits the data immediately and makes it available for editing or printing, or it can be saved on the PC to suit requirements.
Quadra-Chek and Gage-Chek systems are used in a wide range of applications for the single- and multi-axis dimensional measurement of 2- and 3D workpieces.
Defect & rework tracking
ASI DataMyte’s version of Inspect 5.0. is a step up from Inspect 4.1, the main engine behind ASI DataMyte’s Defect and Rework Tracking Solution. Using the solution substantially improves first time quality, and accelerates product launch cycles and time to market. The scrap and rework cost savings combined with the efficiency gains translate into substantial dollar returns, and, of course, a higher quality product.
The software leverages powerful visual inspection capabilities and dynamic data collection, costing, event service and real time reporting capabilities. The list of enhancements includes beefed up defect isolation, root cause tracking, custom defect lists for each inspector, checklist popup mode, direct entry from checklists and warnings for duplicate defects.