ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Process Control: Reality Check

Is your company in the "denial box" when it comes to process control? Take this reality check and see what areas you can focus on to help your company become more competitive.

In the last column (April 2005, p. 23), we reviewed the role of technology in process control and in making a manufacturing organization competitive. The truth is, many companies are in denial about their situation, often at the highest levels in the company. Sometimes a somewhat brutal reality check is in order.

If you are interested in getting a handle on your company's status in this regard, I challenge you to answer the following questions. Back up your answers with some hard facts and real dataÂūprove your answers to yourself! For every single answer you give, make sure you are not sitting in a "denial box." I would place even bets that many of you will turn up some unpleasant surprises.

  • Does your company have a rigorous, consistent, comprehensive process control program?
  • Is it documented?
  • Is it used on a day-in, day-out basis without fail?
  • Are the results used to make permanent improvements?
  • Does upper management see a summary every week?

  • Are you using the full power of statistical process control software?
  • What software are you using?
  • How quickly is data analyzed?
  • How is it presented to those who need it?
  • Do you have routine control charts?
  • Are you using correlation analysis, experimental design, linear regression analysis and pivot charts?
  • Do you store data on a large database?
  • Is inspection tied to your process control via a database, and is the data readily accessible?

  • Do you have a process control staff that is well trained in ceramic and other technologies?
  • Are all of your key manufacturing personnel (supervisors, technicians, foremen) trained in ceramic technology and other important areas?
  • Are there ongoing training programs in technology-related areas?
  • Do you have a process control staff that has received advanced training in statistical process control?
  • How many of your staff understand basic statistics and appreciate their significance?
  • How many of your operating personnel can read a control chart and act upon it? How many do so routinely?

  • Can you document graphically the improvements in processes, products, loss reduction and cost reduction attributable to your process control program?
  • What are the long-term product defect trends?
  • What are long-term manufacturing profit and loss trends?
  • How much of this can be traced to process control?

  • Are you continuously striving to improve your processing performance in a planned, systematic way?
  • Do you have a formal process for making and tracking improvements?
  • Are employees truly encouraged to make suggestions for improvements? What is in it for them?

  • Do you respond to and track customer concerns?
  • How do customers really perceive your company? Have they reported improvements in your product quality and performance, delivery, customer service and product value?
  • How are customer comments acted upon, and by whom?
  • What is the response process?
  • Do employees hear of this, and can they get involved?
  • Do you do customer surveys?

  • How has your market share changed, and why?
  • How well do you track this?
  • Can you quantitatively pinpoint causes for changes?

  • How do your employees really feel about your company? Do you honestly know? How do you know?
  • How has employee turnover changed in the past 10 years? Are you retaining your key personnel?
  • How many suggestions for improvements have come from production personnel, and are they taken seriously and acted upon?

Bringing it all Together

Some of this information does not strictly involve manufacturing process control. However, these areas are tied to the effectiveness, or lack of effectiveness, of process control. It is important that a successful company views process control in a broader context. Statistical process control can, in fact, often be applied to areas beyond just manufacturing.

Take a hard look at process control in your company. It can pay dividends if you are willing to do a frank and honest analysis.

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