What to Look For in SPC Software

Shamonique Schrick
Contributing Writer

As competition in the manufacturing industries ramps up on a global scale, organizations are seeking ways to drive sales while also remaining in compliance. Manufacturers may also want to capitalize on a breakthrough in their industry and compel continued momentum after the introduction of a new product or process. Whatever the reason, manufacturers are exploring tools like statistical process control (SPC) software in an effort to create higher-quality products without compromising productivity.

What Is SPC?

Statistical process control (SPC) uses specific tools like control charts and sampling programs to control a production method of any part of the process involved in manufacturing. There are many ways manufacturers can ensure a product is compliant, but not all of these methods can highlight variations within specifications that still affect quality. When manufacturers focus on continuous improvement, SPC can shine a light on previously unidentified issues, such as bottlenecks or unnecessary rework and scrap.

SPC Control Charts Drive Process Visibility

When there is process variation, SPC control charts can help manufacturers distinguish between:

  • Common cause variation—Every process has common cause variation, even if the process is running as designed. It can be reduced but never entirely eliminated. Examples include recording an error accidentally or taking longer than expected to complete a task.

  • Special cause variation—Unlike common cause variation, special cause variation is not a natural part of the process, and manufacturers should target these occurrences and work to eliminate them. Examples include unexpected machine maintenance or a power outage.

Control charts, also sometimes called Shewhart charts, use data plotted on a graph to monitor process variation over time. These charts are most effective in pairs, with one chart monitoring the average and the other following the distribution range. Manufacturers may also use charts individually. The goal is to determine whether quality targets are consistent (controlled) or unpredictable (uncontrolled). Manufacturers can use these charts manually. However, manual control charts present challenges, including difficulty generating real-time data and reporting.

What Is SPC Software?

SPC software maximizes productivity and minimizes costs with real-time data visibility across the plant. SPC software automates quantitative data collection and leverages quality tools like control charts to enable real-time process monitoring, empowering operators to step in and address issues before costly non-conformances occur.

Competition in manufacturing industries is fiercer than ever, so whether and how an organization handles SPC can directly contribute to its success or failure, even if it produces a similar quality product as another manufacturer. Manually tracking SPC is time-consuming and may not keep up with fast-moving trends in the industry. Additionally, running manual control charts and monitoring may restrict a manufacturer’s ability to involve a more significant number of employees in driving quality throughout the targeted processes. For all these reasons and more, manufacturers are rapidly adopting SPC software to improve conformance, increase yield, reduce waste, and maximize efficiency. 

Good vs. Great SPC Software

When SPC software platforms first hit the market, many organizations saw a notable improvement in their ability to respond to process variations. However, after the initial upgrade from manual control charts and SPC tracking to SPC software, some organizations stopped looking for any further innovation. And while that initial SPC software platform may be “good enough,” manufacturers may be missing out on newer features designed to help drive quality and go well beyond the basics.

Data Storage

Older SPC software and even some current software focus on storing data locally, limiting a manufacturer’s ability to share data across multiple plants and facilities. Great SPC software is cloud-based and can track across several facilities, helping to create a more robust big picture look at overall process functioning. 

Data Visibility 

Another critical improvement in SPC software involves how manufacturers collect and compile the data. Basic platforms act more like data repositories and still require operators to enter the data, frequently monitor charts, and then compose reports. Newer platforms may offer immediate data capture through the use of sensors or scans. This data is then immediately fed into customized control charts. Operators can access these customized charts and use the software to produce reports that provide a clear and functional data summary. This allows everyone from the operators to plant executives to easily see the data and respond.

Instant Notifications

Great SPC software platforms also offer notifications that can alert a facility when a process has deviated beyond set parameters, which may be much more tightly controlled than industry regulations. By having the option to set custom controls and alerts, manufacturers can detect variation sooner, with much less waste generated. 

Focus on the Relevant Data

Facilities of any size will quickly generate a large amount of data when monitoring using SPC. A good software platform will reliably capture all the data generated by processes. Unfortunately, capturing all of the data without any way to filter and sort it quickly can cause operators to get bogged down or lost in data that is not relevant to the particular problems they are hoping to solve. Great SPC software will capture the data and also provide the tools for efficiently sorting through to find the relevant issues. The software can instantly analyze data from several processes and assign a grade or designation describing the current yield and potential at a glance.

SPC Features and Functionality

SPC software creates crucial solutions for manufacturers already working with very tight timeframes. Rework and scrap are less likely outcomes when manufacturers can identify and respond to variations almost immediately. Some of the benefits of SPC software include:

  • The creation of a data-driven decision process

  • A reduction in the margin of error, costs, and scrap and rework

  • An increase in operational efficiency and resource utilization

  • Faster problem resolution and analytics and report production

A comprehensive SPC software platform offers a way for everyone in the facility to participate in statistical process control actively. Operators, managers, and enterprise-level can monitor data and drive continuous improvement. Organizations can develop and strengthen a solutions-based workplace culture by implementing a software solution that spans the entire facility or even multiple facilities. Everyone who participates in the process feels invested and can see how their actions connect with the goals of SPC. When everyone in the facility focuses on continuous improvement and moving toward quality targets, SPC becomes an invaluable tool. A great SPC software platform allows a manufacturer to wield that tool with greater precision than ever before.