The Access Group, the plastics division of direct-sales company Amway, uses a data warehousing solution to improve the quality of its products.
Chances are you've heard of the direct-sales company, Amway. The $5.7 billion company markets more than 450 personal care, nutritional, home care, and cosmetic products. Most of the company's manufacturing is done in Ada, MI, home to its cosmetics, personal care, home care, powder, aerosol, and blow-mold plants. These Michigan manufacturing plants employ about 5,000 people overall; but the blow-mold facility, in particular, is home to about 110 employees. This plastics division, also called the Access Group, runs a three-shift, five-day operation. That schedule can make for mistakes in manufacturing. In response to those mistakes, the company began searching for a data warehousing solution that would curtail defects.
Searching For A QA Solution
Originally, the Access Group handled all its data the archaic way: archived, paper-based records. "When I first came here, my job was to establish quality assurance (QA) practices," remembers QA packaging engineer, Chris Booth. "The company wasn't doing anything meaningful with its data. Everything went on paper and was put into storage. There was no regular review. Nothing meaningful ever came from all of that information. ‘What are we going to do?' was the big data question."
What the Access Group did was begin the search for a QA solution in data warehousing technology. In the spring of 1997, the division took the $120,000 it had budgeted for a solution and started assessing vendors. Booth knew people in the auto industry who had success in solving quality assurance problems, so he spoke to those people. That led him to several vendors who came in-house to do demos. "The shortcoming of their systems," says Booth, "was that they couldn't be customized to fit our needs. You had to build your company practices around the systems, and that just would not have worked for us."
In a conversation with employees from another division of Amway, Booth mentioned his problem and learned that other facilities within the company had been using a solution that was applicable to Booth's problem. The solution, provided by the Cary, NC-based SAS Institute Inc., was a good fit for several reasons. Not only did it provide the flexibility that Booth sought; but, as a system that Amway had already licensed, it was a less-expensive alternative.
Implementing A QA Solution
Booth made a list of requirements for the system he needed, and the QA engineering group built a demonstration of the SAS system for him. "With the flexibility of the system, we knew immediately that we wanted it," says Booth. Within two months, two engineers in Amway's engineering group came up with an online trial. That trial was so successful, and the changes were so minimal, that the Access Group quickly installed the system for full-time use.
The installation took less than a month, during which time Booth was busy configuring the hardware and other system components. "I was installing computers and hooking them to the LAN network," describes Booth. "I designed software wedges and gauge ports, which would automatically transfer the data from employee tools directly to the computer via footswitch. While the engineers were finishing the programming, I was organizing the computer stations. Overall, it was a fast-paced and comfortable transition."
Data Warehousing: A System Walk-Through
Depending upon a person's position, the new QA system automatically boots-up to that user's screen. For example, supervisors' or crew leaders' passwords will automatically bring up data analysis and data entry screens, where as an administrator would automatically have access to all screens. People using the system monitor the manufacturing process. When something is outside of specification, it is highlighted in red. Yellow highlights designate specifications outside of limits, and green signifies products that are produced according to specification. "The system is easy to use," says Booth. "We have people who have been here 30 or 40 years who have never used a computer. With that in mind, we designed it to be simple."
Calculating A Tangible ROI
The terms of the Access Group's ROI (return on investment) couldn't be simpler or speak more clearly for the success of the system. The company invested about $10,000 to install the system and pays a licensing fee of several thousand dollars every year to SAS. For this investment, the company has reaped $15,165 in process improvement savings (bottle light weighting, speed increases) and $62,000 in reducing the amount of colorant in bottles. This does not include intangibles, such as improved accuracy and efficiency in QA inspection data, daily out-of-specification reports, single database storage, or controlled workflow. Comments Booth, "As you can imagine, when I reported these results, management was happy. Even better, though, was when I told them I spent only 10% of the $120,000 they had allotted for the project."