A QA/QC paperwork solution

Jan. 1, 1999
Piles of paperwork disappear using special software for all quality assurance and control documentation.

Piles of paperwork disappear using special software for all quality assurance and control documentation.

With ever increasing technical requirements and stipulations for manufactured items, many companies are faced with a seem-ingly endless list of qualifying factors. Few products made today are produced without reams of paperwork.

As quality assurance programs and practices assume a larger role in manufacturing, the amount of documentation needed to satisfy the record keeping requirements is astonishing. Furthermore, the increased adoption of ISO 9000, as well as various similar standards, has also created a demand for comprehensive documentation at each step of production.

A few years ago, material specifications were often left to a mill to determine. Today, everyone throughout the complete manufacturing cycle, from the producer to the end user, is concerned with the materials used. In an attempt to simplify and standardize this information, Mill Certificates or Mill Test Reports (MTR) were developed.

Mill Test Reports are documented verifications of the chemical and physical properties of steel products. Typically, MTRs will follow the steel throughout the distribution system. At every step along the way, copies of MTRs are maintained by the organizations involved.

These reports have proven quite useful for documenting and tracking materials and other quality assurance information. Yet, the task of recording, storing, tracking, and accessing these MTRs is a time-consuming responsibility that can easily tie up many company resources. These tasks can be difficult enough when just a few items are involved, and as product inventories expand, so, too, does the paperwork burden. The sheer number of documents can quickly become unmanageable. In these situations, a document management system helps reduce the chaos.

One such system is offered by CompuSoft of Edmonton, Alberta. Its software package, TraceAbility, is a steel shop document management system that lets copies of quality assurance information, including drawings, be scanned directly into a computer and stored digitally as a graphic image. The image is an exact copy of the original.

The available local area network (LAN) capabilities of the program permit information to flow throughout an organization to all appropriate individuals on the network, without ever having to search for the original paper copy.

MTRs can be organized and indexed in a variety of ways to suit specific company requirements. TraceAbility's indexing makes finding the information both fast and accurate.

Typically documents are organized by job, sales or purchase order numbers, heat numbers, drawing numbers or other similar categories. The TraceAbility program also accommodates documents having multiple pages, items, and heat numbers. Two levels of search capabilities are provided: a simple search and a full search.

No more hide and seek
The simple search routine locates certificates and documents quickly and easily. Users just enter a few details from the sales order form or pick ticket. As the various item numbers are entered, the program automatically matches and displays the appropriate product descriptions.

Once located, all relevant information such as item number, item description, heat number, purchase order number, vendor, and document type are then displayed in the same order as shown on the sales order/pick ticket.

Clicking the Show button displays the exact MTR for any particular item. This information can then be viewed on the screen, sent to a printer, or directly faxed to a customer. In cases where multiple MTRs are needed, each is printed or faxed in the order in which it was initially entered.

When faxing, a cover page listing the item numbers and heat number of each relevant certificate is automatically prepared. Cover pages can be tailored by selecting customer names from the master customer list, and the necessary address information is automatically entered into the cover letter. Other items, such as the sales order or job number, can also appear on the cover page through a simple selection process in the program window.

A Send To window appears when the fax is ready to send. This contains all the appropriate recipient information and a comments area for notes.

The optional full-search feature performs many of the same functions as the simple search. But here, the MTRs can be located using a variety of custom elements. Operators simply select the type of document needed from the customizable pick list. Then areas to be searched are entered, and the program will look for these in the order listed.

Once the documents or drawings are found, they, too, may be displayed on the screen, printed, or faxed. An inbound fax feature merges data from vendors directly into the TraceAbility program without requiring a physical or hard copy.

All of these program functions are available from the main screen. Each can be accessed through a series of buttons and drop-down menus. Five levels of security protect the data.

The TraceAbility program requires Windows 95, a Pentium computer with a minimum 16 Mbytes of RAM (32 recommended), a CD ROM drive, a laser printer with a minimum 4 Mbytes of RAM, and a SCSI scanner with an automatic document feeder.

Time-saver software
A jobshop would find TraceAbility handy, especially after completing a job, which is when it pulls all MTRs for customers. For example, M & Z Industrial Supply, a distributor of stainless and carbon steel bolts, was manually filing all its documents into binders. Reference numbers were assigned to each one, and lot numbers associated with each reference number were entered on a spreadsheet. As is often the problem with such methods, determining the most efficient filing criteria becomes a point of concern.

Although M & Z's system was adequate for archiving, retrieving documents for shipments was a slow process. Providing documentation included a series of time-consuming steps:

  • Search the first lot number presented on the pick ticket.
  • Locate the reference number under which it was filed.
  • Go to binders and locate document/certificate with the proper reference number.
  • Take paper from the binder.
  • Photocopy the information.
  • Place original back into the binder.
  • Highlight appropriate lot number on the photocopied material.
  • Go to next lot number on the pick ticket and repeat steps one through seven.

As a result, M & Z experienced a severe labor burden with this method. Pulling MTRs for a large order took up to 30 to 40 minutes.

TraceAbility drastically reduces the amount of time necessary to locate and process documentation, and M & Z quickly discovered this. "I first realized the magnitude of the time savings offered by TraceAbility in about the second week of use," says Drew Schofield, general manager of M & Z. "I witnessed one of our workers key in, search, and retrieve certifications for about 20 lot numbers in less than two minutes. Based on the size of the order, it could have easily taken 20 to 30 minutes with the old manual filing system."

M & Z now scans all documentation as it is received. Then, using the TraceAbility indexing screen, the company quickly and efficiently files documents into the system database.

In addition to tracking lot numbers, M & Z decided to use some of TraceAbility's user-defined fields for specialty data, such as purchase order numbers and manufacturer names. The company takes advantage of the master-list feature.

This allows M & Z to index products using internal company product codes. These codes, in turn, reference the full product description from the master list. Thus, both product and description codes are searchable fields.

In addition, the master-list feature practically eliminates the chance of an item number being entered incorrectly because entries, imported electronically during setup, are verified against the master list. Once TraceAbility automatically locates and displays the full product description, the operator performs a visual verification to ensure the correct item description is in place.

To locate the MTRs for an order, M & Z now only performs the following steps:

  • Enter all the lot numbers from the pick ticket into one column and select search.
  • Highlight the desired documents from the results screen.
  • Select cover page feature.
  • Print or fax all documentation in one batch.