Challenges with Statistical Process Control and SPC Software

Posted by Matthew Littlefield on Fri, Feb 10, 2012

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Many of my recent posts have focused on Enterprise Quality Management Software (EQMS) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Software. In this post I want to explore the traditional approach to Statistical Process Control or SPC Software that many companies have taken as well as some of the common challenges these companies run into.

Statistical Process Control is not Straightforward

The concepts behind SPC are not complicated but that doesn't mean successful implementations are easy to come by either. There are more than a few failed or abandoned initiatives in the market place today. In fact, from my personal experience as a young manufacturing supervisor, I still remember the challenges we had rolling out our new SPC initiative.

To help others understand what a "traditional" SPC initiative looks like as well as what challenges may be faced with such an approach; I thought I would frame this discussion and post around these personal experiences.

On the Floor

Being part of the front lines, it was our responsibility to distribute and collect SPC control charts to all machine operators each shift. Unfortunately, even this seemingly benign task was not as easy as might first be thought. Being a union plant, extra responsibility and extra paper work was never viewed as a good thing. Many at the plant still had an old school mentality with the operator as the expert. This "art over science" approach was threatened by a SPC initiative that promised to reduce variability below that which could be achieved by even the most experienced operator on their own.

For those who haven't seen one before, below is what a typical chart looks like, ahhh memories...


To add to the challenge, SPC was mainly perceived as a quality initiative. It did not have the full buy-in of the manufacturing organization. We understood the benefits, but because we had not been included in the development of the process or the roll out, there was not a true sense of ownership. Also, because the initiative was led by quality, it was approached more as a quality sampling plan rather than a process improvement initiative.

Finally, our plant roll-out of SPC was not viewed as part of an enterprise initiative and it was not incorporated into the overall manufacturing processes; nor was it integrated into the technology we were using. Our plant had ERP at a high level, which didn't have much interaction with plant activities. We also had a HMI/SCADA system that operators used to control work centers. There could have been arguments made to incorporate SPC into either but we choose neither.

In fact, I don't believe at the time there was much knowledge or understanding that SPC software existed or could have helped.

The Results and What We Learned

Through brute force and persistence the initiative did become part of culture as the years passed. Although it was never exactly clear how much the company benefited from SPC or if the company got better at SPC over time and unfortunately we will never know now. The plant shut down several years ago (after I had already left) but hopefully it has given us a good starting point for our discussions.

To summarize some of the common challenges a company can run into with the traditional approach to SPC, please see the below list:

  • Control Charts are perceived as extra operator work
  • SPC is perceived as management style of the day
  • Experienced operators are threatened by the new process
  • Quality and Manufacturing are not on the same page with SPC
  • SPC is not built into the manufacturing process
  • SPC is not supported with software
  • SPC is not viewed as an enterprise initiative
  • The success of SPC is not measured or reported with transparency

I am sure for some of you the above discussion has touched on familiar experiences you have had with your own SPC initiatives. Over the past several years there has been a lot of progress made in management styles and supporting technology. In future posts and research projects I will start to extend the conversation and highlight some new best practices and strategies leading companies are using today for become more successful in these areas.

If you are interested in participating in some of this research or being notified when future posts are published, please submit your email at the LNS Research homepage.

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Categories: Enterprise Quality Management System (EQMS), Statistical Process Control (SPC)