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CAQ systems: The key to networking processes
SOLVARO has opted for a CAQ system from solvtec IT. We asked what Managing Director Burkhard Hochstätter and Project Manager Andreas Martin think about the key factors for successful implementation and how the digital transformation in the manufacturing industry is shaping up.
Mr Hochstätter, computer-aided quality assurance has become indispensable in today’s manufacturing industry. More and more companies are now using CAQ to optimise the entire quality control loop, from incoming goods inspections through to production and delivery. What are the main advantages of a CAQ system?
A CAQ system is a company-wide platform that allows you to map and support all relevant processes. We always work with people who compile information in a structured way and want to pass this ‘data’ on to other colleagues, suppliers and customers in a comprehensible way. The main advantages of the system include secure data management, clear information channels and robust and practical data collection. This allows sound information to be subsequently evaluated and used to optimise process chains. Ultimately, we want to gain security, meet normative specifications, improve our processes and products and, last but not least, save time and money.
Within the context of increasing digitalisation, the industry is undergoing a profound change. How many companies have implemented digitalisation today to the extent that they are able to use a CAQ system across all processes in a useful way?
This question is a very interesting one – especially in our field. If you have been actively shaping CAQ for many years, then you might think that you have already met all of the requirements. There are companies we have successfully been working with on a creative basis for over 25 years. In these companies, quality assurance is continuously optimised and developed in a comprehensive way. Other companies are just getting started and often create their own small stand-alone solutions to meet requirements, including ‘DIY’ Office solutions or Excel models. In these cases, it is necessary to approach projects step by step and connect the stand-alone parts that are already there to the appropriate CAQ modules. These kinds of projects can also grow steadily over several years.
One of the challenges when implementing universal CAQ software solutions is the very individual nature of each company. How do you meet these individual, company-specific quality management requirements?
Simply put, by being a good listener and understanding the client process. But it is not always that easy in practice, because the requirements are actually quite specific and unique. There also have to be solutions for these kinds of requirements that are manageable in the long term. At solvtec, we have already created the necessary architecture in basic CAQ system development to allow us to effectively implement individual clients’ specific requirements. Our module configuration tool (MOD) is a separate software module that flexibly reconciles individual special requests with the default module. Our source code spans clients and industries and is maintained so it is ready for release, including all special features. This is very advantageous for the client, because it means that they are able to find their features in the desired form even in new software releases. Our clients really appreciate that. Keyword: investment security.
Does solvtec manage to avoid stand-alone systems in quality management and instead create a cross-process, integrated solution?
Yes – that is one of our main goals in software development and client projects. The term APQP (advanced product quality planning) must be brought to life through living, interconnected systems. These systems map the necessary quality processes, where process consistency is always a priority. Inefficient processes plagued with bugs have to be avoided, so our warning lights come on immediately for multiple entries, dual data maintenance and manual data transfer. In the solvtec CAQ system, clients design the process and then use it to derive risk analysis (FMEA), the control plan and the test plan. If required, this can work in all directions. It is also important that the entire process is actively and transparently controlled and optimised in the event of any deviations or complaints, i.e. through active quality control loops.
How do you network the CAQ system with existing software solutions on the client’s side, e.g. ERP systems, and what challenges do you face when it comes to integrating into existing systems?
At solvtec, we have optimised interface management over many years and adapted it to practical requirements, with a particular focus on ERP and PPS systems. Integration into an existing system is almost always an important milestone in the project plan. If the client does not have any specific requirements, solvtec provides a ready-to-use solution with its standard ERP interface. The components of the interface parts are thoroughly documented and are then worked through step by step with the contacts in the client’s IT department. Using these models, an operable interface with master and transaction data can usually be implemented with just a few minor tweaks.
What are the current CAQ system trends and developments? What solutions are you currently working on and what does the CAQ system of the future look like?
The terms Industry 4.0 and Quality 4.0 have almost started to lose meaning. But there are some developments in this area that we are following closely and where we are actively supporting our clients with new products and features. As an example, one key topic is test process automation. Measuring machines or systems continuously check quality. Here, solvtec is developing the right solutions to efficiently connect these automated processes to the solvtec CAQ. Another important topic is overarching communication. It is important to assign tasks and to report back. Not everyone is enthusiastic about this development, but in this case, smartphones and tablets are some of the daily tools of the trade. In our opinion, it should also be possible for solvtec CAQ to find its way onto the executive floors. The most important Q-KPIs (key performance indicators) can be provided to decision-makers in a straightforward and transparent way, without any manual preparatory work. In the future, solvtec CAQ will become a tool at all levels of the company.
As a supplier to OEMs and tier one suppliers, companies like Solvaro have to meet the strictest quality standards. Which solvtec modules are used at Solvaro and how do these modules contribute to quality assurance?
At Solvaro, we attach great importance to the subsequent consistency of all processes as soon as we start project planning. The solvtec module ‘System and Workflow Manager (SWM)’ forms the basis for this. This module allows integrated planning for the relevant processes from incoming goods through to production and outgoing goods. The structured system composition results in an FMEA, a production control plan and a test plan being generated from the process flow in just a few operating steps. All of these modules are already in use at Solvaro. The automated stamping of CAD drawings is another key point. The respective test features are extracted from the drawing aided by software. The relevant test values are recorded at the test station by connecting various pieces of measuring equipment. Radio transmission is sometimes used to make work on large parts easier. The measuring equipment itself is in turn monitored in the ‘Test Equipment Management and Test Equipment Testing’ module. At the end, valid test results are available for evaluation in the ‘QM Control Centre’ module, which can then be used to generate reports for the client, for example.
For Solvaro, compliance with quality standards such as DIN 24041 or IATF 16949 is really important in order to meet the requirements of OEMs and tier one suppliers. What role does your CAQ system play in meeting these standards?
Solvaro has to cover the requirements of established standards, such as those from the automotive sector. IATF 16949, which you have already mentioned, should be included here and is actively supported by the solvtec CAQ modules in the form of the universally integrated processes already described. In addition, product-specific standards such as DIN 24041 are also important at Solvaro. Solvaro can then store the requirements from these standards in the CAQ modules as required. System consistency results in standard requirements then being transferred straight into practice, monitored and complied with right down to the work station. If there are any deviations, the corresponding quality control loops are triggered immediately. This results in constant improvements in processes and workflows. Errors and deviations are reduced or ultimately avoided. Documentation, evidence and analysis reports are created for OEMs or other clients in just a few steps.
Solvaro itself purchases many modules with high quality requirements from suppliers. Can your CAQ solution also be networked with suppliers’ company-wide CAQ systems?
It would of course be nice if all companies and systems spoke the same language. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in practice. However, there are now many systems that can easily be connected outwardly. In the field of quality in particular, we have found some well-established interfaces, e.g. to transfer test results from A to B. solvtec provides interfaces for various different areas and is always open to new interfaces. In general, connections to other systems for new interfaces are designed well in advance together with the partners and are then reviewed in detail. As mentioned, we attach great importance to interface design and documentation. These interfaces, which are sometimes specific to the client, should also be permanently and robustly adapted to the default interface.
How does CAQ module implementation work at Solvaro and when are your modules ready for use?
We would like to give our Solvaro Project Manager, Andreas Martin, a chance to speak here: Working closely with Solvaro, we first created a structured project plan. Milestones such as installation and project start, as well as the form of project support, training days and the go-live period are set out in this plan. We made solvtec software with the purchased modules available to Solvaro at the start of January 2022 with successful basic installation. This was followed by an initial training session in Kirchheim in February.
In the first phase of the project, the focus was on planning, which was based in Kirchheim. The training agenda included the basic features of the CAQ software, process mapping and test plan generation for a specific client item – from a CAD drawing, for example. Training was followed by weekly joint team meetings for monitoring and project support. From solvtec’s point of view, this systematic approach is extremely important to ensure continuous progress in the project.
In the project team, we have now completed all of the steps involved in the product manufacturing process, again working in close collaboration. After successful process mapping with the production control plan and test instructions in the software, the second training date was set for Hungary at the end of April. Employees in Szekszárd learned how to record test data at the test station using connected measuring equipment and machines. Radio connections were also used, which we tested at solvtec in advance.
The process that was planned in Kirchheim has now been transferred to production in Hungary. Currently (at the end of May), the first product is already in live operation in the solvtec CAQ system. The entire process, from initial installation to go-live, took about five months.
Generally, solvtec modules are available to our clients immediately after installation. However, the software itself is rarely the time-determining factor in the project, as the system defaults have been well-developed and cover all key features. Generally, the focus is on first laying the foundation for the client through well-structured master data and processes. With Solvaro, the project was always on track, which is also thanks to the great deal of effort and laser focus on the part of the project management team at Solvaro. Here, it was once again confirmed that the slightly longer period of time spent in the planning phase is quickly balanced out in implementation and operation.
Many thanks to the Solvaro project team!
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