SOFTWARE & ANALYSIS

Advances in

Mobile Data Collection
Extend Quality’s Reach
Today’s portable devices allow quality analysis technologies to extend beyond the plant floor for complete traceability and enhanced collaboration. BY DOUGLAS C. FAIR

T

communications have become commonoday’s consumer electronics are place for consumers. extraordinary. From advanced deskSo why not leverage this same techtop computers and handheld devices to nology in manufacturing? Communicacellular telephones, advanced, simpletion, collaboration and visibility are key to-use electronics are found everywhere. factors in managing quality from site What makes them truly exceptional is to site and from supplier to manufactheir ability to link to cellular networks turer. Using mobile devices to capture and the Internet, resulting in a global and share data where it was previously interconnectedness that, just a couple of unable to be collected has the potential decades ago, was the stuff to dramatically improve of science fiction fantasy. BENEFITS product quality. Immediate communi» The use of mobile data colcation with people in diflection hardware to enter CURRENT STATE ferent countries is the rule critical quality and traceabilMany manufacturers rather than the exception. ity information and provide operate in a technological “Free” international phone data accessibility worldwide stone age when it comes calls can be made without is underutilized today. to data collection and the use of traditional tele» Communication, collaborastorage. New technolocommunications technoltion and visibility are key gies are rarely used for ogies. Cell phones make factors in managing quality logging quality or inspeccalls without consuming from site to site and from tion data. To prove it, just cellular minutes. These supplier to manufacturer. look around a manufaceasily accessible and inex» Using mobile devices to turing facility—few compensive technologies allow capture and share data puters are found on the us to be on-line no matter where it was previously shop floor. Instead, the where someone is and unable to be collected has use of paper and pencil is at little cost. As a result, the potential to dramatically improve product quality. most prevalent. global, instantaneous

Product feature checks, safety checks checks, setup checks and a variety of other critical-to-quality data are still written on paper. Sometimes the data values are transcribed onto spreadsheets. Even then, different formats, errors in transcription and the cost of double-entering data can make the spreadsheets difficult to work with. They languish on individual computers like the electronic versions of paper that they are. Paper use is so widespread in some companies that on-site “librarians” are employed to manage the large amount of records. THE RESULT Paper-based systems make reporting extremely challenging. This is true even when the data has been typed into spreadsheets. A corporate quality director once relayed that it took a team of five people six entire days to track down all the quality data for one of its products. Why? Because the data the team needed was scattered across several paper-based systems. To complicate matters, most information technologies are focused on the plant itself. While on-site software products may be leveraged in lieu of paper, there exists minimal interest in communicating quality data outside of a plant’s four walls. Whether between supplier and manufacturer or from

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A wired or wireless network 2. The critical component is that the database is secured and users have access to the data. Regardless of the hardware used. That’s all. A cellular network 4. Portable handheld electronic devices such as tablet computers and cellular telephones 5. he clicks on a different link on his cell phone. A roving inspector with a tablet computer slung over her shoulder walks from one production line to the next logging defect codes. Source: InfinityQS one corporate-owned plant to another. centralized database. In fact. At the same time data is being entered. EXAMPLE Now imagine that this technology has replaced paper on the manufacturing shop floor. Because the quality checks are entered in real-time from his plant. You can check your balance using a tablet computer or smart phone from anywhere. including access to: 1. No waiting for an administrative assistant to interpret hand-written numbers and type them into a spreadsheet. Then. one doesn’t need a computer at all. such as a bank’s database.qualitymag. No need to install software on your computer. An operator uses a gage connected to a traditional computer to periodically measure his or her products and enter results.indd 35 5/20/11 10:01 PM . when transactions occur. A report summarizes the Shanghai plant’s quality information for the past week. the plant’s quality manager is visiting a supplier.Today’s quality infrastructures allow for data collection and analysis using an assortment of tablets and other mobile devices. users pull up a Web site and log in. Database location is unimportant. logs onto a wireless network and clicks a link. He takes out a handheld device. Source: InfinityQS www. His plane has just landed in China. plants and systems are often disconnected with little or no ability to communicate data outside of the four walls. you are privy to the most upto-date data available. No waiting for a clerk to gather up paper on the shop floor. As the quality manager gets into his taxi he logs onto the local cellular network.” As a result. Imagine also that his Shanghai supplier enters their quality data into the same database. A process engineer performs confirmatory checks with his cellular phone. The result is a summary report of his home plant’s quality data for the past 24 hours. they are automatically posted. data is passed to a single. Since everything is online. Best of all. THE FUTURE TODAY There are some manufacturing companies who have moved away from paper-based systems in exchange for electronic and even Web-based solutions. shared. he also receives e-mails from China when defect levels increase or when an alarm is triggered. The Internet 3. the most recent data is always available. Instantaneous access is available no matter the time of the day or the country in which you are standing. Companies are using mobile devices to collect and analyze data from an unlimited number of sites and suppliers. Basically. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) If unfamiliar with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). It could be somewhere in cyberspace. consider how bank account balances can be checked online. So when you check your balance. there is a sense of “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. all in real-time.com June 2011 | QUALITY 35 034-QM0611-Soft. In fact. most companies already possess the infrastructure necessary to support mobile data collection.

No more 36 QUALITY | June 2011 www. Also. • While consumers enjoy a connectedness on par with something out of a science fiction novel from the 1960s or 1970s. Fair is VP of statistical applications at InfinityQS (Chantilly. Reporting. for the most part. portable data collection brings the quality system directly to the product. organizations can further remove costs from the overall supply chain. VA). the result is a linkage from raw materials to finished goods. the responsible parties in both countries discuss the issue. And yet. If so. Problem-solving activities are driven by data. organizations like to associate traceability fields. all of these technologies are readily available. Source: InfinityQS MOBILE DATA COLLECTION BENEFITS Nothing is actually new or futuristic about the aforementioned scenario. protect final consumers from off-quality products and greatly expand data accessibility. If traceability information is leveraged from one production step (and plant) to the next. the technology is available if they choose to use it. Instead. while minimizing costs across the supply chain. By doing so. but they could further reduce global quality costs. assume that each vendor and supplier associates a common traceability field—such as a lot code—to each manufacturing step at each plant.com. Without it. call (703) 961-0200 or visit www. That way. No more paper. Regardless of where production takes place. Most importantly. leveraging these technologies for quality systems should help mitigate or reduce the possibility of low quality or unsafe products getting into consumers’ hands.com. If there happens to be a problem with a finished lot. Users could just log onto the database. have not been early adopters. and even inexpensive. communication and global plant reporting easy. to their quality data. subcomponents and raw materials can be traced. all of the components. corrective actions are virtually impossible. then “wombto-tomb” traceability would be a reality. such as the shift. Imagine that when an issue occurs. It is as easy as leveraging existing IT infrastructures with commonly accessible and cost-effective mobile consumer technologies.” In effect. manufacturers could not only reduce overall costs of data collection and reporting. experts have instantaneous access to the data surrounding the event. improve communication and control quality on a global level. These discussions lead to process control actions necessary to ensure off-quality product does not enter the supply chain. Q Douglas C. type in a lot code and get the information they need. Manufacturers can trace global raw material consumption to the last plant where finished goods are packaged through a genealogical “tree. data can be “sliced and diced” based on what is most important. Typically. data is passed to a shared database.SOFTWARE & ANALYSIS mailing certificates of analysis. lot code or batch.qualitymag.indd 36 5/20/11 10:01 PM . The use of mobile data collection hardware to enter critical quality and traceability information and provide data accessibility worldwide is underutilized today. Here are some other benefits of mobile data collection: • Collaboration. Together. raw materials can be traced to final finished goods. These technologies make data collection. By doing so. This traceability dramatically improves the ability to track down problem causes and minimize recall costs. manufacturing organizations. mobile data collection and its related technologies could optimize supply chain efficiencies by dramatically improving information exchange while allowing an unheardof level of flexibility in data collection and reporting. a quality engineer in Chicago receives an e-mail describing the event. Some of the most cutting-edge manufacturers are already employing these technologies today to save time. global costs can be reduced while quality levels can be increased by those sharing a vested interest in the outcome. prevent problems and improve product quality on a global scale. For more information.com 034-QM0611-Soft. e-mail dfair@infinityqs. Traceability. By doing so. minimize the possibility of expensive recalls. When an alert is triggered • by off-quality product from a supplier in China. From raw materials and subcomponents to final product assembly. Now.infinityqs.

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