Major defense supplier streamlines quality operations with fully integrated eQMS

3 fighter planes above the clouds

Our customer is a supplier of complex defense systems. As a global player, the OEM works with hundreds of Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers. The multinational company has been on a steady growth path for many years. As a result, there was a growing need to integrate quality management processes, tasks and data into a central planning and control solution. Therefore, in 2012, the company started looking for a suitable QMS solution.

What were the main challenges?

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The biggest challenge was the need for traceability. Each time the company assembles a defense system, it has to work with a wide range of parts and subcomponents. Traceability requirements for these components extend to the level of individual measuring points, where not only the measurement result is recorded, but also the type of measuring tool used, the qualification of the operator, etc.

To truly cover the entire value chain, information from both the company’s own systems and its key suppliers must be processed – from ID and batch numbers to material certificates and approval documents. Prior to the introduction of QDA, the customer used a setup document, a so-called traveller book, that followed the components through the entire production process. All those involved in the process were asked to document their work according to the company´s QM specifications. However, due to the increasing complexity of the production processes and the rising number of orders, there was also an increased risk that the required data would no longer be fully recorded. Moreover, it was clear that the manual effort was becoming excessive.

2 men standing in front of a computer in a factory

That´s why the manufacturer started to look for an integrated QMS – a data-based software system capable of bidirectional exchange with all relevant systems used in the defense supplier´s value chain. This includes in particular the company´s SAP solution, MES systems and measurement tools. An additional focus was placed on the integration of the customer´s calibration system to ensure that operators only use validated tools to perform their quality checks. This means that when operators use a gauge, the QMS automatically checks that the gauge is calibrated correctly so that its results can be accepted.

Why did the customer choose QDA?

The selection process was initiated by the quality department and carried out by IT. A total of five different QMS offers were shortlisted. The decisive factor for choosing QDA was that its system architecture was open enough to integrate the various third-party systems in use. Another argument in favor of QDA was that new technologies can be integrated via web services.

At the same time, the entire architecture of the solution, and in particular its data structure, is transparent enough to be validated by both the internal quality managers and external auditors. In this way, it can be proven at any time that production is operating in compliance with all regulatory requirements. These range from industry standards, such as ISA95, ISO9000, TFS16949, to customer-specific requirements to IT security and data protection provisions.

How did the implementation go?

The defense supplier runs the software as an on-premise solution at one of its European plants. The basic implementation took place in 2013. The rollout began along the entire value chain. The client was able to carry out large parts of the implementation itself. This applies in particular to user training. Experience shows that most new users are up and running within two hours. This is largely due to QDA´s slim GUIs and, of course, the fact that the system runs in the local language.

From a process perspective, implementation began with a proof of concept (PoC). It showed that the customer was able to map the majority of its processes in the QDA standard. In addition, the POC highlighted where changes needed to be made. Most of these changes were needed to adapt the software’s traceability features to the requirements of the defense industry. Thanks to the PoC, the customer is still running a solution where all changes are built into the standard.

In addition, little was changed in the core QMS solution after the initial implementation. Adjustments were made almost exclusively when additional integrations were required. For example, when it comes to connecting new production facilities or measurement devices to the QMS.

How does the QMS solution support the production processes?

QDA is implemented throughout the product lifecycle chain – from incoming inspection all the way through to outgoing inspection. No part leaves production without being approved in QDA. This includes the planning and approval of newly developed parts and suppliers.

More than 800 concurrent users work on the system 24/7. The user interfaces are configured according to the different user roles. This means that users only see the data fields and associated QMS information that are relevant to their specific work. The customer has configured these front-end roles himself.

The defense supplier uses QDA’s capabilities in the following areas:

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Quality planning

APQP including process flow, control plan, FMEA, PPAP and MSA.

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Incoming goods

Management and approval of incoming goods including inspection and documentation directly integrated with SAP.

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Data collection

Inspection planning to illustrate characteristics, provide work instructions and support testing directly integrated with MES. The customer has more than 800 SPC places in the plant. Against this background, the automation of data capture in the QMS is extremely important. Especially since SPC measurements account for just 10% of the total volume of measurement data. The remaining 90% is about validations of quality checks, data enhancements etc. In addition, the system keeps track of a large number of attributive measurements such as “ok” or “not ok”.

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Data Analysis & Reporting

Advanced statistical methods directly integrated with KPI Reporting.

Together with QDA, the customer is currently considering how to further optimize measurement data management. The focus is on the use of artificial intelligence and natural language processing (NLP). The goal is to create a voice input system that allows workers on the shop floor to record measurements without interrupting their actual work.

How can errors be managed or even avoided?

Given the application of its products, it´s crucial for the defense supplier to be able to detect or even prevent problems, defects and errors in the manufacturing process. As a result, the QDA customer has a comprehensive workflow solution for error handling. When problems occur, the system guides users through specific workflows depending on the type of error.

QDA´s automated escalation processes can also be triggered by divergences that are just beginning to emerge: If a measurement trend threatens to deviate from its normal distribution pattern, the system detects this at an early stage and alerts operators. This gives the defense supplier additional time to make adjustments to the production process before the parts being produced actually run out of spec.

This allows quality managers and product owners to perform predictive quality analysis. Although the solution currently implemented does not yet use artificial intelligence, the customer is able to manage and control out-of-spec measurements at a very early stage. For whenever an error occurs or a process goes out of control, the action management triggers an alarm and automatically notifies the right people with the information they need to fix the problem. By doing so, the defense supplier minimizes the number of production errors and, consequently, the cost of quality.

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Tomasz Lacheta