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Schlote GmbH & Co. KG is a development partner and series supplier to the automotive and automotive components industry, the metal casting industry and the mechanical engineering sector. It is part of the Schlote Group, which is a conglomerate of associated manufacturing companies that specialize in various facets of the automotive supplier industry.
The Schlote Group is a conglomerate of associated manufacturing companies that specialize in various facets of the automotive supplier industry. In addition to mechanical product engineering and the assembly of ready-to-install components, the group’s services also extend to constructing and manufacturing die-casting molds, tools and fixtures. The group consists of seven companies and employs a workforce of 1,100.
Schlote GmbH & Co. KG (Schlote), which is located in Harsum, Germany, is a development partner and series supplier of the automotive and automotive supplier industry, foundry technology industry and mechanical engineering sector. The company, which was founded in 1969, employs a workforce of 260, and manufactures products in small-, mediumand high-volume production.
Schlote specializes in the processing of work pieces made from a wide variety of materials using the latest technologies, and boasts comprehensive know-how in these areas. This special knowledge is reflected in the company’s complex production islands and lines.
The company’s manufacturing activities focus on cast and forged products. The firm is placing increasing importance on automating work processes, including integrated assembly processes. Using a high degree of automation enables the customer to receive optimal quality with appropriate process capabilities.
Prior to adopting a computer-aided quality (CAQ) management system, Schlote was using a heterogeneous information technology (IT) environment on its shop floor along with a number of standalone solutions subject to a relatively high error rate due to the manual and unstructured creation and modification of documents. There was no universal standard at Schlote, so each plant and location was responsible for its own organization.
As a consequence, there was no inherited data or documents; knowledge, follow-up or new projects; controlled deadline monitoring; actions monitoring or evaluation possibilities. Furthermore, processes were unstable and not the least bit transparent.
A large number of standards, methods and systems also needed to be observed and applied on a day-to-day basis. Using manual methods made it almost impossible to comply with standards such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9000, ISO 14001 and TS 16949/Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG). And it was nearly impossible to manually apply risk management, continuous improvement process (CIP) and statistical process control (SPC).
This situation prompted the company’s decision makers to implement an efficient, customer-oriented quality assurance system.
The use of a computer-aided quality (CAQ) system was aimed at optimizing all phases of the product lifecycle, and bringing comprehensive transparency and stability to all quality processes. By centralizing and fully integrating the administration of data, Schlote was able to create a company standard, and implement a universal methodology across all plants.
The list of possible suppliers was narrowed to three companies. Following an extensive evaluation, the company opted for product lifecycle management (PLM) specialist Siemens Digital Industries Software’s Opcenter quality management software.
“Siemens Digital Industries Software’s Opcenter supports us with the implementation of synchronous processes and the establishment of cost transparency,” says Torsten Matthes, quality management representative at Schlote.
The Opcenter Quality software solution had the greatest application potential and embodied the optimal CAQ system for the organizational structures at Schlote. This was one of the principal reasons for the decision. The decision also favored a high degree of homogeneity with customers and suppliers that also rely on Opcenter solutions. Opcenter Quality also features a certified interface with the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in use.
Following project preparations and resource planning, both test and productive systems were installed at the company’s Harsum site. Users of the test system then attended a basic training course. In parallel, preparations were also carried out for the switch to the productive system, such as the setup of an interface with the ERP system and further training for system users. The go-live of the productive system was followed by a rollout and successful project implementation at other sites.
Five of the company’s production plants use the Opcenter quality management solutions today. The following modules are in use:
Project management is part of the APQP module and supports all aspects of the product development process across all areas of the company. The project management tool is used to map internal and external project work. This also enables the administration of complex projects for new developments and change projects. Templates reduce the administration effort. The core focus is action management, which is aimed at ensuring adherence to deadlines and due dates, and recognizing likely project postponements at an early stage, thus enabling the customer to take action to avoid them. Project management is linked to Advanced Product Quality Planning online so that all data remains current up-to-the-minute.
The Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) module enables the creation of process FMEAs using a systematic procedure in the field of process development.
The Opcenter solution facilitates the definition of system elements, functions and failures and the creation of links for the verification of failure consequences and causes, in order to avoid or discover them and initiate appropriate action. The solution provides a graphical visualization function, risk analysis and a comprehensive range of evaluations.
By using a common database and integrating it with other modules, the Opcenter solution enables information to be used in a standard and comprehensive manner. This allows efficient search capabilities and the compilation of a knowledge database.
Using the FMEA module also helps prevent product defects and process errors. Use of the module supports further process steps, from the analysis of quality risks to the initiation and execution of corrective actions.
The Inspection Plan Management module is a core element of the quality management solution. The inspection criteria for all quality-related company activities are defined in conjunction with the control plan in order to facilitate product and process quality. This is of great benefit to Schlote, since data is no longer recorded and stored in paper format, and thus is available for further processing.
The in-process production test enables the early identification of production disruptions and the cause of those disruptions. This enables optimal production process control.
The inspection plan links the production order with the corresponding inspection order, matching it against the product, production unit or production line.
At Schlote, the acquisition of measured values is carried out at Zeiss KMG and statistical process control (SPC) inspection stations. All documents associated with the inspection plan can also be accessed online. A user-friendly system interface and the optional automatic transfer of gage and measuring device data, reduces inspection time and costs, as well as erroneous data input.
The Incoming/Outgoing Goods Control (IGC/OGC) module supports the quality monitoring of purchased products and parts. The inspections are attained from random sampling tables and dynamic sampling procedures. These results are then used as a basis for the supplier assessment. The earlier detection of defects enables Schlote to minimize costs and effort while also improving effectiveness.
Unlike most other companies, Schlote uses two monitors at its incoming goods workstations. The first monitor displays the in-progress inspection and the second shows the packing instructions.
Product quality, deadline and quantity reliability are variable criteria incorporated in the supplier comparison feature of the Supplier Assessment Management (SAM) module. These criteria may vary with each delivery. An individually configurable evaluation matrix enables the weighting of criteria that remain valid for longer and specific periods of time, such as audit results, service behavior, price, location, etc. The inspection results from the acquisition carried out within the scope of the incoming goods inspection are used as a basis for the objective data, which is required for supplier assessment. The supplier assessment function takes all criteria, which can also be individually weighted, and aggregates them in the form of an overall evaluation.
The Concern and Complaint Management (CCM) module is an integrated, detailed documentation track-and-trace and analysis option that provides significant potential cost savings. A wide range of evaluation options enable the rapid and efficient identification of weaknesses and the initiation of the respective countermeasures. Workflow Manager also helps optimize the company-wide flow of information. This prevents duplicate work and increases production process transparency.
In the future, Schlote will not only be able to acquire and document complaints and complaint handling, but they will be able to determine and evaluate the cost of complaints.
The Quality Action Management (QAM) module enables the central administration of all relevant quality actions; for example, the planning and control of complaint actions, statistical process control or incoming goods inspection. Automated monitoring and important information related to scheduled quality actions can be shown at a glance on a company-wide basis.
QAM is an important tool at Schlote, and is used in all plants. The acquisition and tracking of actions is carried out on a theme-specific, cross-area, action-oriented basis. Missed deadlines are reported to the appropriate individual without delay, so actions are no longer overlooked.
A key requirement in quality management is providing integration capabilities in super ordinate management systems. With its standard ERP system interface, Siemens Digital Industries Software’s Opcenter modules offer a solution for avoiding data redundancy, exchanging relevant order data and preventing interruption to the flow of information.
At Schlote, following the inspection decision, the data and results are automatically returned to the ERP system via the interface.
Using the Siemens Digital Industries Software’s quality management system has enabled Schlote to achieve considerable cost savings across product development and manufacturing processes, as well as in the product acceptance and test phase. Savings include rework and inspection, reject, guarantee and goodwill costs.
Schlote is able to increase production process transparency by documenting the complete part history, monitoring all product and process data across all levels and the systematically identifying the potential for improvements. Real-time quality data, which is fed back into the development process, triggers a continuous improvement process based on lessons learned.
“Opcenter Quality improves process transparency and is an integral part of the continuous improvement process,” says Imet Leshko, who is a member of the quality management team at Schlote.
Schlote is currently in the process of building a new plant in Tianjin, China. A rollout of the CAQ system in China is planned.
Existing installations will be further optimized in order to increase transparency and cost-savings.
Schlote also plans to establish key users on an individual plant basis to support system users and the expansion of the system on site.