CONTINUAL GROWTH MEANS CONTINUAL CHANGE

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Quality assurance much resembles a highly sensitive company organism – constantly undergoing change and development. Linking up and expanding a system of separately located servers with different ERP and CAQ structures whilst production is still going on is, therefore, something of a challenge. A process valve manufacturer succeeded in doing just that at its sites in Germany and Switzerland – in collaboration with Böhme & Weihs.

In 1963, a precision engineer developed the world’s very first plastic process valve (PVC). The GEMÜ Group which was founded at the time now employs over 1600 people all around the globe. Nowadays, the Group is represented in around 50 countries through a network of subsidiaries and trading partners. Hardly a year goes by without Gebrüder Müller Apparatebau GmbH & Co KG bestowing a number of important innovations upon numerous sectors for use in their industrial applications. They produce diaphragm, globe and solenoid valves, butterfly valves, flowmeters, positioners, and position indicators, as well as a range of accessories. The company also specializes in customized, stainless steel valve blocks and CleanStar valves made of fluoroplastic – specially designed for ultrapure applications in the medical engineering and biotech sectors, for example.

The focus on valve and control technology means that the company is operating in an extremely quality-sensitive and process-relevant environment. Accordingly, they are confronted with the toughest quality standards, such as those of the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – and, in general, subject to extremely strict documentation rules. However, ensuring that their quality assurance processes are accordingly compliant and transparent is a huge challenge for a company that is currently expanding on a global scale.

Taking a look at Switzerland illustrates this: The GEMÜ production facility built in Switzerland in 1981 used to operate to a large extent independently from the main plant in Germany, both in terms of their product portfolio and their production infrastructure and organization. In both countries, the facilities relied on different ERP systems and their own servers. There was no connection whatsoever between the servers in Germany and Switzerland which meant that no data exchange took place. This was due, on the one hand, to technical reasons, such as the fact that the transmission rates were still too low at the end of the 1990s. On the other hand, this was also due to there being different decision-makers in Germany and Switzerland. Whereas the national facilities still worked mainly independently from one another from a quality perspective until the close of the 1990s, the we-are-one philosophy caught on in the early 2000s. One reason for this was that it became clear that more and more work was being duplicated. This sparked the desire to install a compliant, transparent quality management system within the GEMÜ Group. It was now time to appoint some external experts for this change process.

COLLABORATION WHILST REMAINING INDEPENDENT

These requirements were met by the German systems technology specialist, Böhme & Weihs, in Wuppertal. Right from the outset, it was obvious that the two locations would first have to be equipped with a powerful CAQ system – totally independently of each other. Independent installations were required simply because both locations were working with different ERP systems. However, right from the very beginning, it was important to focus on getting the whole GEMÜ Group network-ready for a later point in time. One of the main features of the CASQ-it CAQ software is its modular design which allows a system to be enhanced step-by-step. Only one single process step is required to be able to put the solution into production as all the individual modules function completely independently from one another. This allowed GEMÜ to get going at individual locations without having to immediately invest in a complete system.

In 2001, GEMÜ introduced the CASQ-it IGI module for their incoming goods inspection processes, CMEA for complaints management and defect tracking and GMS for administering their inspection devices at both locations. And they knew that if the demands and requirements grew at the same rate as the company, the software structure could be gradually extended on a modular basis – until a company-wide QM system was achieved which would allow the quality-relevant processes at the individual locations to be centrally planned, controlled, monitored and become part of one, common network. A close integration based on CASQ-it would also allow the system to be accessed from any company location – or even when on the road, staggered according to a system of pre-defined rights.

MODULAR AND SUPRANATIONAL

In 2010, the CAQ solution clearly demonstrated its flexibility when it was decided to initially implement English as an additional language in the software at the Swiss site – across all catalogs. It was important to meet this requirement, particularly in view of the demands set down by the FDA. The implementation culminated in success, thanks to the system provider’s partnership-based approach which allowed them to find an efficient solution: The German language catalogs and existing data were exported by Böhme & Weihs, supplemented with GEMÜ’s English terminology and then re-imported. Through this automatic conversion process, the system was able to operate on a bilingual basis within a very short period.

To date, the biggest challenge to be mastered was merging the two servers in Germany and Switzerland – whilst both were still running. The ultimate goal was to centralize CAQ and the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, which was now identical at both locations, and to synchronize all the processes at the factories. As of this point in time, the quality management section at the German headquarters was designated to take on the role of control center. This all went extremely smoothly because of the exemplary dialog between the software provider and the customer – and because both sides were willing to listen to the experience gained by the other to mutually develop the best individual strategy possible.

THREE LANGUAGES, ONE GAIN

Just one year later, the positive experience gained from merging the systems at the German and Swiss locations led to the integration of the French subsidiary into the new CASQ-it system structure. The French language was also implemented at the same time, thus further enhancing the multilingualism of the software. This means that no matter in which of the three languages, German, English or French, the data is entered into the system, the content is always displayed to the user in the language in which he or she logged onto the system. A complaint or report from France is, therefore, automatically received in German at the company’s headquarters in Ingelfingen.

In 2015, complete transparency was achieved across all the relevant segments of the Group through the integration of yet more clients into the CAQ system. Today, all those involved in the process have full access to the current status of a complaint – from anywhere and at anytime. For GEMÜ, the software provider specially designed their CMEA complaints management and error analysis module to allow each individual complaint process to be split into two areas.

One area is responsible for the reporting and documenting of respective measures vis-à-vis the customer who launched the complaint. The other area handles error and cause analysis. Within the complaints process, each factory involved in the processing of a complaint is still free to process this complaint independently and create any desired number of substructures to incorporate the suspected errors, causes and parts/components. The status of a complaint and any intermediate results are permanently managed within a central transaction – regardless of at how many points within the GEMÜ network the complaint is currently being processed. Thanks to these comprehensive overviews, the company is able to provide its customers with full details at any given time. At the same time, this cross-plant complaints processing system is also a guarantee for high efficiency levels.

ALL INFORMATION AT THE TOUCH OF A BUTTON

Each individual location also conducts its own evaluations – completely independently from the evaluations carried out in the central quality management section. This may include, for example, the number of faulty components, caused by different production sites, or the number of complaints directed towards external suppliers. The ability to remain independent internally whilst presenting a united front vis-à-vis the customer – these are goals that are totally fulfilled by the new system.

All in all, the volume of work involved has been greatly reduced – and this is really appreciated in the quality management section: At the touch of a button you can now get all the information in as much detail as you need.

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