Recently, we had a conversation with a large food and beverage manufacturer about quality management and software strategies. Topics of the discussion included Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Enterprise Quality Management Software (EQMS), Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), and Statistical Process Control (SPC) software.
The discussion about SPC in particular raised some interesting points. This company had recently decided to globally deploy an SPC solution independent from the work it was doing in ERP, EQMS, and MES. This is an architectural approach that many large companies choose and warrants further discussion.
An Overview of the SPC Space
It may be beneficial to first provide a statistical process control definition and background on the solution. SPC software generally provides data collection, analysis, visualization and workflow capabilities designed to help track and reduce variability in production processes. Primarily, users of SPC are machine operators, manufacturing supervisors, continuous improvement professionals, and Six Sigma project managers.
Users obtain value and justify an ROI in SPC software through manufacturing processes variability reduction and the subsequent reduction it provides in scrap rates, yields, material variance, and the cost of quality. The main sponsors of SPC projects are typically plant managers and directors/VPs of manufacturing, Quality, and OpEx.
How SPC Fits into the Software Market
SPC is a software space that sits squarely between MES and EQMS, with often neither space providing an ideal solution. In general, a manufacturing company can choose to go one of three routes with SPC software: deploy it as part of MES, as part of EQMS, or as a stand-alone solution.
MES and SPC
Many MES vendors today already have an SPC module but it’s generally not offered stand-alone. Rather, it comes as part of MES, which can create time to value issues for SPC deployments. Anyone who has spent time in the MES industry knows it's often slow to deploy because MES requires integration with so many other enterprise applications and must rollout across a diverse set of plant assets. It also touches on many different areas of manufacturing besides SPC, such as traceability, maintenance, scheduling, and more.
Because of these time to deploy and complexity issues faced with MES, many companies choose to go with stand-alone SPC software to more quickly and easily address process variation pain points. Of course, the MES vendors are not standing still and many have been focused on improving these areas of weakness and are making real progress.
EQMS and SPC
There are also the EQMS vendors, some of which offer SPC. EQMS does not have the same time to deploy issues as MES, but the players still often struggle with SPC. Most EQMS vendors do not deal well with real-time process data, instead they are designed to enforce workflows for quality and compliance professionals like CAPA, Doc Control, Audits, Certifications, etc.
Because of these issues dealing with data on the shopfloor, again many companies choose to go with stand-alone SPC software. However, some EQMS vendors are starting to focus more on real-time manufacturing data and integration with MES systems.
Then, of course, there are the SPC pure-play vendors. The SPC space is relatively small, but growing with many of the players focused on how to extend their core businesses. In general, the pure-play SPC companies perform well within the niche market. Each has the right set of functionality, subject matter expertise, and value to quickly deliver the ROI customers demand.
Recent growth in the space has also now given players the scale needed to support global deployments and enterprise customers, as was verified by our recent discussion with one of the world's largest F&B companies.
However, in reality, there are only three or four SPC vendors that matter for large companies and then many more small companies that are not yet viable for enterprise customers.
LNS Research’s Future Coverage of SPC
Similar to the way we've been covering quality management software, LNS Research will be moving onto the shop floor and into manufacturing operations. Additionally, we'll be talking about the SPC space and helping users understand the benefits of SPC software as well as what's the best approach for them, whether it should be implemented as a stand-alone solution, as part of MES, or if it should be done as part of EQMS.