How are you managing the quality data on your design projects? According to the software company Arena Solutions, a good portion of the design engineering community continues to use Excel to manage quality data, even though Excel comes with limitations as a sharing and collaborative tool.
Steve Chalgren, vice president of product management and strategy at Arena Solutions, told us about some of the shortcomings of Excel as a tool for managing quality records. For one thing, modern product records such as the design history file (DHF), the device master record (DMR), and the bill of materials are too large and too complex and change too frequently to be managed effectively on Excel. "Manually making quality notes and controlling changes by relying on quality feedback in distributed locations through spreadsheet formats is inefficient and error-prone and makes maintaining traceability difficult."
Quality records are highly relational and include associated data that must be included within files, he said. Within the DMR and the DHF for each product, all revisions, parts, and drawings must be properly linked and tracked. "Quality data needs to be attached to item records. Spreadsheets, servers, and paper files alone provide no integrated way to aggregate all related item data."
Another challenge for quality records is that, throughout the lifecycle of a product, numerous revisions of product information are created and communicated to multiple internal and external teams. "Keeping everyone on the latest revision of product data when it is spread over local computers and in various spreadsheets and paper files is nearly impossible. It is especially difficult for external partners and suppliers to obtain current product information."
PLM systems for quality documents
Chalgren argues that the best way to manage quality in product design is to utilize a system designed specifically for product design data and design collaboration. "It helps if you can put the quality data into the process everyone is already working on -- the PLM system." The visability of a PLM system lets engineers find other iterations of a product quickly and easily, along with the quality data. "The important part of quality is visibility. If you're looking to design in something that has already been used, and if you are unaware there were quality problems, you could be adding in more problems."
Cloud-based quality data is particularly useful, he said, since everyone involved has access to the same data. It doesn't get hidden and forgotten on one team member's server.
"For quality the cloud enables the transference of documents to different entities," Chalgren said. "If an OEM is having problems with a connector or solder bridge, you can have someone take a picture of the item and send it to the design team. If you don't have a way to send it, the problem is more difficult to solve. If all of the team members accessing product and applications have access to the data in the cloud, you can point your phone at the problem, take a photo, and send it out to everyone instantly."