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Rick Ringlespaugh

Quality Insider

Automation Pays Off

Software improves communication

Published: Monday, January 22, 2007 - 23:00

A tier-two automotive supplier faces the challenge of interacting with customers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) on many different programs. For each of more than 100 programs the company is involved in, it must submit a detailed quality plan and then be prepared to change the plan as customers’ and OEMs’ designs and requirements change. In addition, the supplier must meet a complicated series of milestones for each project when submitting documentation and products. In the past, the company’s quality team spent an enormous amount of time complying with these requirements.

The company has been able to substantially reduce the time required to prepare documents, manage the flow of paper, and manage each program by implementing a service-based software utility and application software that automate most of the routine aspects of this process. The company uses software designed specially to expedite the creation of production part approval process (PPAP) documents by automatically synchronizing the duplicated sections of different documents, formatting documents in the required style, and automating the approval and revision tracking process. A service-based utility automates the process of submitting PPAPs, communicating changes, and managing tasks and scheduling with customers.

The advanced product quality planning process
The company has developed considerable expertise in building mechanical components that go inside automobile doors, such as door lock rods. Like nearly all other automotive suppliers, the company must comply with advanced product quality planning (APQP) requirements established by major U.S. automobile manufacturers. A key deliverable of the APQP process is a core documentation package that includes the process control flowchart and diagram, design failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA), process FMEA, control plan and work instructions. The OEM parcels out specifications and requirements to the tier-one suppliers, which distribute the same documents to the tier-two suppliers, and everything comes together 24 months later at product launch to create a perfect product.

This process creates an enormous burden on the company and other suppliers that produce a few relatively small and inexpensive components for many different vehicle programs, each of which requires its own documentation, communications and project management. The workload is magnified by the thousands, or sometimes tens of thousands, of changes in specifications, product design, processes, quality requirements, and other factors that occur in each program and must be communicated up and down the supply chain. The company must react quickly to any changes that affect it by making the appropriate changes to their tooling, methods and documentation and communicating back to their customers.

Moving from a manual process to an automated process
“In the past, the task of preparing all of this documentation, submitting to our customers, keeping track of the different milestones we had to meet, keeping an eye out for changes, etc., was a completely manual process that fell mainly on my shoulders,” says a quality assurance (QA) manager for the company. “I used a word processor to put together the PPAP submissions and found myself continually going through the documents to add and subtract information from the different sections to make them consistent with one another. I spent a lot of time on the phone trying to reach customers in order to get information we needed, such as tracking down the latest revision of the part. The stakes were high because if I overlooked a change or didn’t respond in time, we might end up not getting paid for making 15,000 pieces because the parts didn’t meet the latest specs.”

DaimlerChrysler, the company’s largest customer, asked it to implement a new service-based software utility called Powerway.com, designed to make a revolutionary change in this process. The centerpiece of this new utility is a bill of commerce that transcends the bill of materials to catalog the contribution of each member of the supply chain to the final product, and in turn serves as the connecting point for information flow across the supply chain. For a product such as an automobile, the Bill of Commerce would typically cover 15,000 components produced in about 1,000 facilities.

“At first we were reluctant to try something new when the old approach, although time-consuming, seemed to be working,” the QA manager said. “We were afraid that the software was designed only to benefit our customers and were concerned about the costs of implementation.” But the company decided to implement Powerway.com along with Powerway APQP Advantage, a software package designed to streamline the process of generating PPAP submissions, and discovered that the time savings far outweighed the costs.

New approach generated time savings
“APQP Advantage substantially reduces the time required to create PPAP submissions,” the QA manager says. “I normally start a new submission with an existing submission of a similar part. Typically I need to add and subtract operations to make the submission fit the new part. Using the manual process, this was difficult because any addition, subtraction or change to an operation rippled through the entire document, generating many other changes that took a long time to make and were easy to overlook. APQP Advantage automatically takes care of synchronizing the complete submission. Whenever I add an operation, all of the related elements of the PPAP are automatically kept in synch. The result is that I can produce the typical PPAP submission in only 30 minutes.”

The QA manager submits documents during the applicable quality gate and the software maintains the latest version of the documents with full visibility to customers and suppliers. The system maintains an updated list of projects including important information such as the revision level and revision dates, as well as the latest drawings and specifications. The QA manager is notified x` whenever changes occur that affect the parts produced by the company. “By viewing the status of each part, I get an early warning of changes as they work their way through the engineering change order process,” he says. “We normally build parts ahead of actual orders so that we can be sure of having the parts needed by our customers. By gaining visibility into the revision process, I can often reduce our manufacturing costs and improve customer service by smoothing out the transition from the old part to the new one.”

“For example, if I see a change coming in the color of a sleeve I would probably reduce production of the sleeves with the old color and make some of the new color even prior to the change being approved so we have them ready.” In one typical recent example, the company saved 30 man-days of assembly time by reacting to an engineering change before it received a formal notification. In another case, the color of a door link was changed from red to green. Getting the change notice through Powerway.com saved 15 man-days that would otherwise been required to manually change the parts. In this case, the margin on the part was so low that having to change the parts would have led to a loss on the project.

Tracking project status and scheduling
The software also helps the QA manager track the status of each project and ensures that he meets submission deadlines. “The software keeps track of when everything is due and provides an alert whenever a deadline is approaching,” he said. “The screen shows the status of every element and gate and provides a summary of what has been completed and what remains to be done. I can open up a matrix view and look at exactly what we need to do as far out as the next two years. This makes it much easier to identify when we will have a problem in making a deadline and allows us to give our customer an early warning.”

“APQP Advantage and Powerway.com save time and money by reducing our document management workload and helping us to manage the business more proactively,” he concluded. “They dramatically reduce the amount of manpower required to manage the process, enforce adherence to company policies and standard operating procedures, streamline the flow of information through the supply chain and prevent errors, such as overlooking an engineering change notice. I can now much more quickly generate the information needed to document our quality procedures, communicate in real time with other members of the supply chain, and more intelligently plan our business to avoid waste. The time that I am saving I can put to good use in other areas.”


About The Author

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Rick Ringlespaugh

Rick Ringlespaugh co-founded Powerway in 1987 and has been instrumental in developing strategic business partners, customers and markets for the company. He has provided executive leadership to sales, marketing, operations, services and business development.