Addressing Manufacturing’s Necessary Evil

Many view quality control as such, but integrating new measurement technologies and approaches can ultimately minimize QC’s impact on the bottom line.

Some view their shop quality control department as a necessary evil that eats into the company’s profits. I’ve had QC personnel tell me they feel like manufacturing’s red-headed stepchildren. One QC person even told me his department had been compared to police internal affairs. Ouch.

Machine tools make chips, meaning they make money. Adding faster, more advanced machining equipment and investing in new technologies can improve production and boost profits. The return on investment for those purchases often can be easily measured. Conversely, investing in inspection equipment is a harder pill to swallow, in part because it’s difficult to quantify how improving measurement capabilities improves the overall process.

Perhaps it’s time to flip the script. Adding modern measurement equipment and rethinking QC strategies can ultimately minimize the QC department’s seemingly adverse impact on the bottom line by giving inspection personnel, as well as machine operators, the tools they need to better do their jobs. This is especially important if CMM measurement has become a process bottleneck.

For instance, CMM software is becoming more intuitive to use, meaning it’s possible that machine operators can check some parts on a CMM by executing an existing measurement program, freeing QC personnel to tend to other duties.

Shopfloor CMM technology also is becoming more advanced, meaning machine operators can accurately measure parts right at the machine. According to our 2015 Top Shops survey, 23 percent of the shops in our benchmarking group said they use this technology, compared to only 11 percent of the other surveyed shops. First-article inspection is still likely to require measurement on QC’s CMMs, but a shopfloor CMM can reduce the number of subsequent trips to QC as a process is dialed in or maintained.

On-machine probing is valuable for speeding setups, and many shops use their probes for that reason. However, fewer use the probes for in-process part measurement. A part that fails post-process inspection by CMM or gaging typically results in rework, repair or scrap costs. In-process inspection via a probe with the part still fixtured in the machine offers the opportunity for process feedback and correction to avoid part rejection.

It also helps to think outside the box to simplify and streamline part measurement. For example, PDQ Inc., a Rocky Hill, Connecticut, a shop I wrote about last year, has developed an interesting lights-out approach to CMM inspection, leveraging CMM and quick-change fixturing technologies to enable unattended measurement of multiple parts.

In any case, when employees see that you’re investing in advanced measurement tools and processes that will make their lives easier, they’ll be more apt to look for other ways to become more efficient to minimize the cost of inspection.