Integrating Quality Management and PLM is a Recipe for Profit

PLM and quality are two sides of the same coin, so why use siloed systems?

Autodesk has sponsored this post.

(Image: Autodesk.)

(Image: Autodesk.)

“A quality product is good for profitability” didn’t become a cliché by accident. When a product isn’t up to standards ‒ be it regulatory or customer expectations ‒ it has a significant impact on the bottom line and profitability. Consider all the money put into development, manufacturing, shipping, marketing and more. If a product error isn’t discovered until that product is in the customer’s hands, then money is at risk.

This is why engineers place such an emphasis on quality management and product development. The aim is to catch all issues early so the root causes are addressed quickly, and changes are made at minimal costs. However, in practice quality management can be a slow endeavor.

“Engineers don’t make changes for the sake of change. A lot of the time change comes from quality feedback that needs to find its way back to the development process,” says Dave Chapman, PLM Solutions Engineering leader at Autodesk. He argues that much of the delay comes from the fact that quality management and product lifecycle management (PLM) are often considered two separate entities.

When that happens, the best-case scenario is that a quality software, or module, connects to a PLM tool. But often it’s too expensive to maintain separate quality and PLM tools. “In that case,” Chapman adds, “you default to spreadsheets, email and similar. That makes a laggy system where you’re making a lot of wrong stuff. The earlier you have this information, the better.”

Chapman sees PLM and quality as two sides of the same coin. This article will cover his arguments and real-life engineering examples outlining why PLM and quality should be integrated into one ecosystem and the synergies that follow.

The Challenges of a PLM and Quality Disconnect

PLM systems are often touted as a single source of truth, so many engineers use them this way. As a result, leaving quality management information out of PLM systems creates conflicts. Consider an email sent about a bad component in an assembly. Without having that information in the PLM system, it could take an engineer hours, days or even weeks to know that there is a problem. Think of all the products made during that time. Thousands of units can be affected, and since parts are often reused in different offerings, the issue could span multiple product lines.

“With a manual process, you end up with days and weeks of errors going unnoticed,” argues Chapman. “If you reuse compromised parts, you have the propensity to cause costly issues that can really add up. Quality comes back months later, after finding a high failure rate, and asks design, ‘why do you keep using this bad part?’ It’s because they never knew.”

Engineers want to solve problems, not propagate them. But if they operate in the dark with regards to quality, they will tend to reuse what’s already been designed to simplify development, bills of materials (BOMs) or product lines. This practice diverts the need to design a new part and helps get to market faster, but without quality data it is risky.

Engineers will do more than stop including bad parts in their designs when they have access to quality data. With access to quality data, engineers can take more immediate actions on quality issues, preventing small problems from becoming large ones, and freeing up more time for ideation and creating new and improved offerings. For instance, they can take more immediate actions on quality issues, preventing small problems from becoming large ones and freeing up more time for ideation and creating new and improved offerings. They might also say: “Oh, there are multiple issues stacking up against this particular supplier, or this particular component,” says Chapman. “Then let’s take immediate action on that instead of waiting for the problem to brew for weeks or months.”

PLM and quality systems also need a list of approved vendors. Different suppliers can offer equivalent parts, but they will differ based on performance, quality, costs, shipping and more. The variations between the equivalent parts can also cause rippling effects throughout the BOM, so this must be documented as well. Engineers with access to this level of detail can quickly react to it. For instance, if a supplier needs changes, engineers can assess how that affects the rest of the BOM. Then if they need to redesign a part to accommodate new specifications, they get that information as soon as they need it.

Even when quality and PLM systems are both used at an organization, problems persist if they are siloed. Fully integrating these systems isn’t straightforward and can create a situation where there are two sources of truth.

“When non-conformances arise, you want an issue tracking system that is directly tied to your change management process,” says Chapman. “When you want to make a change based on an issue in the tracker you want to interconnect that change and non-conformance reporting (NCR). This will generally lead to corrective and preventative actions (CAPA) where you identify the issue, try to stop the loss and prevent future problems.”

The best integrated PLM and quality systems also live on the cloud. This enables everyone to have access to the data they need when they need it—and from any device. This means that anyone from anywhere can raise quality issues at any time—a fundamental necessity of good quality management.

(Image: Autodesk.)

(Image: Autodesk.)

How Integrating PLM and Quality Has Helped Organizations Prosper

So, if a quality issue is going to lead to a CAPA most of the time, then isn’t that inherently a PLM concern? And if so, shouldn’t the tools tracking quality and corrective actions be one in the same? Autodesk explains that a common narrative for its customers is that they need a single source of truth to control rework and corrections.

“Our customers didn’t need something elaborate, heavy or fancy,” says Chapman. “They just needed a way to feedback issues, capture them efficiently across the company and report back regardless of who is making the report and where. They needed a quick mechanism that they could run reports on and tie that directly back to their bill of materials so they could see the reports right away.”

Spirax Sarco, a British-based manufacturer of steam management systems, peristaltic pumps and associated fluid path technologies, uses Fusion 360 Manage to consolidate processes, documentation and visualization across 10 manufacturing sites. The system also handles technical support queries from over 40 countries.

“The main benefit that [cloud-based PLM] is going to bring to us is the ability to have a single process across all of our operations around the globe,” said Stephen Howse, PLM Program Manager at Spirax Sarco, in an Autodesk video. “We have an extensive and broad product range and it’s important that we have good control of it. We’re also going to be focusing on quality, corrective actions and non-conformities and … our engineering change process.”

Howse also comments on how Fusion 360 Manage “proved so easy to configure we can really focus most of our effort on user adoption and how we deploy this across our operations … My favorite feature is the ease that we can train our core team on how to utilize it.”

Consider the benefits of a fully integrated PLM and quality management system. Delays are eliminated as a quality issue immediately flags a report to the appropriate people in development. This streamlines the process and creates traceability. From the BOM, all quality information can be found including current issues, vendor lists and corrective actions. And since all the information is in one spot and one user experience, there is no chance of miscommunication.

Evatec manufactures thin film production tools used in the semiconductor, optoelectronics and photonics industries. It is using Fusion 360 Manage to improve customer satisfaction as demand for its tailored solutions increases.

“Every one of our customers is different,” said Klaus Mündle, head of Product Lines at Evatec AG (in a translation of another Autodesk video). “We need a platform strategy that helps us be ready for customization … But we still need to maintain short delivery times, flexibility and product quality.”

He added, “Quality is one of our most important topics in the company. A cloud-based system integrates all our partners. Everyone sees the most up to date information for the best decision making … Digitalization helps better, new-working procedures become standard. For example, a bill of materials can now be created automatically from the CAD model where previously we lost a lot of time.”

Autodesk’s Cloud PLM Tools From a Quality Perspective

The flexibility of cloud-based PLM workflows is very powerful, but it doesn’t end when users get easy access to information. Chapman notes that these tools also offer default workflows and workspaces that organizations can tailor and customize to their needs—simplifying implementation. Some of these workspaces in Autodesk PLM include:

  • New product introduction
  • BOM management
  • Change management
  • Quality management
  • Supplier management and collaboration

“There is a lot of data and segmentations of the data. You don’t need to see all of it based on who you are,” Chapman says. “If you report a quality issue, you don’t need to see all the data and work on it unless that’s part of your job.” You only need to interact with the issue reporting mechanisms and the change orders that affect your data-to-day, so why not have a PLM and Quality tool that offers organizations the ability to simplify workflows based on what each user needs?

To learn more, visit Autodesk’s PLM solution center, or watch the webinar.