CAQ SYSTEMS: THE KEY TO NETWORKING PROCESSES
WHAT IS CAQ?
CAQ stands for “computer-aided quality assurance” and refers to computer-aided quality assurance measures. CAQ systems aim to optimise the entire quality control loop in manufacturing companies with data support by continuously analysing, documenting and recording the production process. As an important component of QM systems, CAQ solutions give manufacturing companies the opportunity to avoid production errors in advance, to reduce risks and to optimise the entire production process in the long term.
We asked two experts from the CAQ provider solvtec IT about the concrete advantages and challenges of CAQ implementation. As an experienced QM specialist, solvtec IT offers modular CAQ software that is used in various industries for quality assurance.
During the interview, solvtec’s managing director Burkhard Hochstätter and project manager Andreas Martin answered our questions. Using the example of CAQ implementation at the automotive technology supplier Solvaro, the two representatives explain which key factors are important in the introduction of CAQ systems and what the digital transformation in the manufacturing industry is like.
Mr Hochstätter, computer-aided quality assurance has become an indispensable part of today’s manufacturing industry. More and more companies are using CAQ to optimise the entire quality control cycle from incoming goods inspection to production and delivery. What are the main advantages of a CAQ system?
A CAQ system offers a company-wide platform to map and support all relevant processes. We are always dealing with people who prepare information in a structured way and would like to pass this “data” on to other colleagues, suppliers or even customers in a comprehensible way. The main advantages of the system are: secure data storage, clear information paths as well as robust and practical data collection. This makes it possible to subsequently evaluate well-founded information and use it to optimise process chains. Ultimately, we want to gain security, fulfil normative requirements, improve our processes and products and, last but not least, save time and money.
Against the backdrop of increasing digitalisation, industry is undergoing a profound transformation. How many companies today are already digitalised to such an extent that they can use a CAQ system sensibly across all processes?
This question is very interesting, especially in our field. If you have been actively shaping the topic of CAQ for many years, then you could believe that you have already met all of the requirements. There are companies with whom we have been working creatively and successfully for more than 25 years. In these companies, quality assurance is continuously optimised and developed across the board. Other companies are still at the beginning and have often created their own small isolated solutions to meet the requirements, such as office solutions or Excel models of the “home-made” brand. In these cases it is necessary to proceed step by step in the project and to connect the existing islands with the appropriate CAQ components. Such projects can also grow step by step over several years.
One of the challenges in implementing universal CAQ software solutions is the individual character of each company. How do you meet these individual, company-specific quality management requirements?
Simply put: Listen well and understand the customer process. But in practice it is not always that simple, because there are indeed very special and unique requirements. There must also be solutions for such requirements that are manageable in the long run. We at solvtec have already created the necessary architecture in the basic development of the CAQ system in order to be able to effectively implement even special requirements of individual customers. Our Module Configurator (MOD) is a separate software module that flexibly couples individual special requests to the standard. At solvtec, there is one source code for all customers and sectors, which is maintained in a release-ready manner – including all specialities. This is very advantageous for the customer, because he can find his functions in the desired form in new releases of the software. Our customers appreciate this very much. Keyword: investment security.
Does Solvtec succeed in avoiding isolated systems in quality management and realising a cross-process, holistic solution?
Yes, this is one of our main goals in software development and in customer projects. The term APQP (Advanced Product Qualitiy Planning) must be filled with life through living, interconnected systems. These systems each map the necessary quality processes, with the focus always on process consistency. Inefficient and erroneous processes must be avoided at all costs; our warning lights therefore go on directly in the event of multiple entries, duplicate data maintenance or manual data transfer. In the solvtec CAQ system, customers design the process and then derive the risk analysis (FMEA), the control plan and the inspection plan. If desired, this even works in all directions. It is also important that the entire process is actively and comprehensibly controlled and optimised in the event of deviations or complaints. We speak here of active quality control loops.
We at solvtec have already created the necessary architecture in the basic development of the CAQ system in order to be able to effectively implement even special requirements of the individual customer.
How do you network the CAQ system with existing software solutions at the customer’s, such as ERP systems, and what are the challenges when integrating it into existing systems?
At solvtec, we have optimised the topic of interface management over many years to meet practical requirements, focusing primarily on ERP and PPS systems. The integration of existing systems is almost always an important milestone in the project plan. If the customer has no special requirements in this respect, solvtec offers a ready-to-use solution with its standard ERP interface. The components of the interface parts are well documented and are then worked through step by step with the contact persons in the customer’s IT department. Based on these templates, an executable interface with master and transaction data can usually be implemented with a few minor optimisations.
What are the current trends and developments in CAQ systems? What solutions are you currently working on and what will the CAQ system of the future look like?
The terms Industry 4.0 or Quality 4.0 are almost hackneyed. Nevertheless, there are some developments that we are following closely and in which we actively support our customers with new products and functions. One central topic, for example, is the automation of inspection processes. Measuring machines or measuring systems take over the continuous inspection of quality. solvtec develops the appropriate solutions here to efficiently connect these automated processes to solvtec CAQ. Another important topic is comprehensive communication. Tasks have to be distributed and also reported back. This development is not met with enthusiasm everywhere, but the smartphone or tablet are part of the daily tools of the trade in this case. In our opinion, the solvtec CAQ can also be used on the executive floors. The most important Q-KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) can be made available to decision-makers easily and transparently, and without any manual preparatory work. solvtec CAQ will become a tool at all levels of the company in the future.
As a supplier for OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers, companies like Solvaro have to meet the highest quality requirements. Which Solvtec modules are used at Solvaro and what contribution do these modules make to quality assurance?
At Solvaro, we attached great importance to the subsequent consistency of all processes in the project planning right from the start. The solvtec module “System and Workflow Manager (SWM)” forms the basis for this. This module allows the holistic planning of the respective processes from incoming goods to production and outgoing goods. Thanks to the structured design of the systems, an FMEA, a production control plan and an inspection plan are also generated from the process flow with just a few operating steps. All these modules are already in use at Solvaro. Another important point is the automated stamping of CAD drawings. In this process, the respective inspection characteristics are extracted from the drawing with software support. The relevant test values are recorded directly at the test station by connecting various measuring devices. In some cases, radio transmission is used to facilitate work on large parts. The measuring equipment itself is in turn monitored in the module “Test equipment management and test equipment inspection”. At the end, valid test results are available for evaluation in the “QM control centre (QML)” module, which can then be used to generate reports for the customer, for example.
At Solvaro, we attached great importance to the subsequent consistency of all processes in the project planning right from the start
For Solvaro, compliance with quality standards such as DIN 24041 or IATF 16949 is of great importance in order to meet the requirements of OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers. What role does your CAQ system play in meeting these standards?
On the one hand, Solvaro has to cover the requirements of established standards, e.g. from the automotive sector. IATF 16949, which you mentioned, should be mentioned here and is actively supported by the solvtec CAQ modules in the form of the already described integrated processes.
On the other hand, product-specific standards, such as DIN 24041, are also important for Solvaro. Solvaro can also store the requirements of these standards in the CAQ modules as needed. Through the consistency of the system up to the workstation, the requirements of the standards are then directly transferred into practice, monitored and adhered to. In the event of deviations, appropriate quality control loops are triggered immediately. This results in a continuous improvement of processes and workflows. Errors and deviations are reduced or ultimately avoided. Documentation, proofs and analysis reports are created for OEMs or other customers in a few simple steps.
Solvaro itself purchases many components with high quality requirements from suppliers. Can your CAQ solution also be networked with the CAQ systems of the suppliers across companies?
Of course it would 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 very easily connect to the outside world. Especially in the quality area we find some well-established interfaces, e.g. to transfer test results from A to B. solvtec offers interfaces in various areas and is always open for possible new interfaces. In general, the connection to other systems for new interfaces is designed in advance together with the partners and considered in detail. As described, we attach great importance to the conception and documentation of interfaces. After all, these interfaces, some of which are special, should also be permanently and robustly integrated into the standard.
How does the implementation of your CAQ modules work at Solvaro and when will they be ready for use?
We would like to let our project manager for the Solvaro project, Mr. Andreas Martin, have his say on this: In close cooperation with Solvaro, we first created a structured project plan. This plan defined milestones such as installation or project start, but also the form of project support, training days and the GO Live period. With the successful basic installation, we provided Solvaro with the solvtec software with the acquired modules at the beginning of January 2022. This was followed by the first training date in Kirchheim in February.
In the first project phase, the focus was on the planning level, which is at home in Kirchheim. The training agenda included the basic functions of the CAQ software, the mapping of processes as well as the generation of inspection plans for a specific customer item, for example from a CAD drawing. The training was followed by weekly joint team meetings for monitoring and project support. From solvtec’s point of view, this systematic approach is eminently important to ensure continuous progress in the project.
In the project team, we have now completed the manufacturing process of the product step by step in close cooperation. After the successful process mapping with production control plan and test instructions in the software, the second training session was on the agenda in Hungary at the end of April. The employees in Szekszárd learned how to record test data at the test station with the help of connected measuring equipment and measuring machines. Radio connections were also used, which we tested in advance at solvtec.
The process planned in Kirchheim has now been transferred to production in Hungary. Currently (end of May) the first product is already working in live operation via the solvtec CAQ system. The entire process from the initial installation to the first “GO-LIVE” took about five months. In general, the solvtec modules are available to our customers immediately after installation. However, the software itself is rarely the time-determining factor in the project, because the standard of the system is well matured and comes with all the important functions. As a rule, the focus is on laying the foundation for the customer in the form of well-structured master data and processes.
At Solvaro, the project always proceeded in a targeted manner and according to plan, also thanks to the very focused commitment on the part of the project management at Solvaro. It was once again confirmed here that the somewhat higher expenditure of time in the planning phase quickly pays for itself in implementation and operation.
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Information on the expert
solvtec IT GmbH, Managing Director