Mike James reveals how beneficial the Enterprise quality management systems in the cloud can be for small and medium size manufacturers.In the first two in this series of articles in Prime, we looked at – respectively – the deployment of enterprise quality management systems (EQMS) at an aerospace OEM and then at Ford Motor Company. Both have the financial and personnel resources to deploy EQMS globally. They also have the buying power to enable the supplier make changes to the software. But what about small and medium size manufacturers (SMEs)?

SMEs are simply in a different game. I spoke to one manager at a conference recently who makes components for the same aerospace OEM, yet employs only 36 people. How could they possibly fund an EQMS? In fact, they do not need the E just the QMS for their one plant. These and similar conversations with larger manufacturers has led to some new thinking at ATS. How can we offer the same sophisticated tool set at a price they can afford? The process was also being driven by the OEMs that increasingly want their suppliers to adopt the same systems.

Scheme of ATS Cloud Solution

Rather than tackle the subject on our own we approached the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Ansty, UK. They are part of the UK’s catapult programme and have a significant number of SME members. The site offers full, small scale manufacturing facilities and ATS is part of the important informatics stream. The MTC bridges the gap between ideas generated in universities and academia and provides a ‘playground’ for real deployments. Ideas also flow the other way, from the manufacturers into the MTC. Simply put, the MTC is an ideal place to test some new EQMS deployment strategies for SMEs.

The next step involves packing some of the large scale deployments into a one size fits all SME solution. This inevitably involves some compromise and the SME community at the MTC is providing input into the programme. But what are their specific requirements? By working with SMEs we can identify the differences between QMS and EQMS but keep them fully aligned. The alignment is important if we are to ensure a smooth flow of information from SME’s to the, let’s call them ‘globals’ and back, closing the loop.

One of the areas of concern is that the SMEs cannot afford to have the solution customised. It’s a classic 80/20 rule (we are planning a much better ratio) whereby the SME gets most but not all of the functionality at an attractive cost level as a bundled solution. The resulting quality improvements provide the SME with payback in less than one year. However for SMEs, struggling with cash flow, even this attractive result may not be feasible; they need the cash for the investment to start with. To resolve this we need a technical/financial model which works for SMEs.

The result is a cloud-based solution. Clouds can be either in house or externally housed, which gives the SME flexibility. For instance a larger SME may be perfectly content to house the software servers within their existing IT facilities; a smaller SME can choose an external option and not have to worry about the IT infrastructure. Then the software can be charged on a software-as-a-service (SAAS) basis. All of this reduces the investment required by the SME to the point that the payback period can be shorted to less than three months. The downside is that the overall benefit will be lower, but without the QMS there would be no benefit at all. Pilot programmes can always be completed in the cloud and supplier solutions connected to the OEM systems. We are targeting a win, win scenario and it looks like an exceptionally beneficial solution. By pushing through quality improvements in the whole supply chain we can improve agility and performance in the whole sector. In this case the MTC is supporting the aerospace SME community, a low volume, high value sector.

All three elements of ATS’s products are involved; ATS Inspect for attribute data, ATS CM4D for dimensional data and ATS Intelligence for operations data.

Our next step will be to tackle automotive SMEs or the Tier 2, 3 and 4 companies, as they are known. They often have low-value, high-volume products so the QMS suite offered will differ from the aerospace suite. On the other hand, the automotive handshake on quality between supplier and OEM is more advanced, so we can introduce some sophisticated information transfer into the equation. For instance, designs in the form of virtual CAD/CAM files are provided to suppliers by the OEMs and the actual physical product measurements (dimensional) are compared. Only when they are within the agreed tolerances are the products accepted by the OEM. The responsibility for these measurements is given to the supplier, but the information has to be provided to, for instance, Ford in Dearborn, Michigan where all quality data is collected. Currently data is provided in a myriad of formats and has to be corrected and entered. So this handshake is a big step forward.

Effectively we offer a systematic and consistent approach to deploying an EQMS or QMS across the globe. For manufacturers that want more than the standard deployment, funding is required for enhancements. These enhancements in turn can be offered to the whole community. Clearly the solution has to be configurable due to the many different manufacturing techniques, but as we get more and more into the technology, we are finding configurations can be limited. This is essential to the financial model, which only works when customisation or options are limited. Therefore it does depend on a certain level of acceptance that only 90 per cent of what the SMEs would like is actually provided. We will keep you up to date with our progress!

Mike James, ATS
by Mike James
Group Managing Director, ATS International B.V.

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