This case study discusses how Ionex Research Corporation, a manufacturer of high-performance process filtration and treatment equipment, increased operations efficiency, improved communication between departments and solved physical paperwork and record-keeping problems with QR Inventory / QR Mobile Data software. The case study is done as an interview with an engineer from Ionex Research Corporation. It discusses what specific problems QR Inventory / QR Mobile Data software solved for the company, how does it help with keeping accurate records and traceability, and gives an advice for the businesses who are thinking about implementing mobile manufacturing process management and stock control.
1. Could you please tell us a little bit about IONEX and the products you make?
IONEX Research Corporation is an engineering and quality assurance based company that designs and manufactures high-performance process filtration and treatment equipment used in environmental and personnel working atmosphere systems. These systems have been used to protect the environment and personnel from the harmful effects of some of the world's most hazardous chemicals and contaminants. IONEX systems have included the fabrication of vessels, air handling units, air processing and filtration systems, containment and glovebox enclosures, and related piping and material handling systems.
From our manufacturing plant in Lafayette, Colorado, IONEX provides equipment designed and fabricated from special alloys in accordance with high nuclear and military quality levels.
Over the past 35 years, IONEX Research Corporation has worked closely with government agencies in developing and testing technologies used in the treatment and destruction of chemical warfare agents and nuclear fission products.
2. Could you give a brief overview of your manufacturing process? What information do you need to monitor, track, store and get reports on?
Most equipment is produced under rigorous quality assurance procedures. Our quality assurance program is compliant with NRC Criteria 10CFR-50, Appendix B; ANSI N45.2; MIL0I-45208A; and ASME NQA-1. We are a registered holder of the ASME "U" and "R" stamps.
The manufacturing process really begins upstream with project data that is fed directly from the engineering department, through procurement, and processed by a material control group. This includes identifying and tracking raw materials and purchased components as well as documenting product acceptance, authorizing releases, invoice preparation, and organization/staging of inventory.
For many of our customers, the quality of our products is directly associated with traceability. QR Inventory enables us to label items with an applicable heat number, serial number, or lot number which is incorporated into a unique QR code image for the item. IONEX uses these QR codes not only for managing inventory, but also for "building" the equipment electronically in real time as the physical products are fabricated. With the Assemblies & Kits module, IONEX performs transactions on the shop floor to automatically deplete the required material quantities while simultaneously assigning the appropriate heat, lot, or serial numbers to completed parts and assemblies. The result constructs a detailed build history of the equipment so that any piece of any assembly may be traced back to the original material. This capability is critical in helping IONEX meet strict customer and regulatory requirements.
In addition, the data collected by QR Inventory provides a live look at the statuses of everything in production. QR Inventory and QR Mobile Data allow us to gather information and view reports at every step of the way, which has greatly improved communication between departments.
The flexibility of the software platform enables us to set up the system in a way that is unique to the company. IONEX uses QR Mobile Data to complete weld maps, inspections, tests, and other shop traveler data. It also integrates and interconnects with other software we use, such as Microsoft Office and MISys Manufacturing.
3. You already had inventory management software (MISys Manufacturing), when you started to look for another inventory software and purchased QR Inventory. What functionality were you looking for and why did you select QR Inventory?
IONEX sought out additional software when the decision was made to implement a bar-coding system. The tasks of manually tracking items and manually updating the database became quite daunting. IONEX found difficulty in maintaining up to date and accurate information and saw an opportunity to improve efficiency in company operations.
IONEX was looking for ways to reduce the physical paperwork that accompanies all of its projects (and the time spent to complete it and track it down). QR Inventory was selected for several reasons:
- Easy to use mobile interface. Database transactions are simple and require minimal training.
- No unique scanning equipment required. Most employees already had smartphones, so IONEX was able to jump right in without purchasing expensive hardware.
- Ability to set up system specific to IONEX needs � not just a "one size fits all" approach to the system
- Ability to track all data associated with an item
- Assembly build history/traceability
- Inspections and auditing directly from the physical unit on the shop floor
- Ability to complete documentation
- Administrative setup tools/interface allow IONEX the ability to expand the system easily, if/when needed
- Great value! Compared to other software, QR Inventory offered more features and capability at a competitive price.
4. What challenges do you face in keeping track of all required information during the manufacturing process, and how does QR Inventory help in solving them? How does QR Inventory compliment MISys Manufacturing? What does it do for your process that MISys Manufacturing didn�t do?
One of the hurdles IONEX was faced with was the amount of data collected at each step of the manufacturing process. It was also challenging to keep information up-to-date and communicate between departments. With QR Inventory, most record keeping tasks are completed quickly and "live" as they happen. The need for physical paperwork is eliminated and everyone in the company has access to the data.
QR Inventory provides additional layers of information (that IONEX is able to define) on top what is captured by MISys Manufacturing. It includes finer details relevant to our specific processes and also provides tools for completing related forms and reports via QR Mobile Data, which could not be performed through MISys.
The integration package allows IONEX to perform a task once in QR Inventory and process it simultaneously for both systems.
5. The most involved part in implementing new software is setup and data entry. Can you give a brief overview of QR Inventory initial implementation at IONEX. How hard / simple it was? Perhaps you can give an implementation advice to other manufacturing companies who may want to use QR Inventory software.
Overall, the setup of QR Inventory is very simple and straightforward. IONEX was able to configure most of the basis for its system and primary concepts within the trial period. Then as IONEX became more familiar with the system and began to realize more of its own needs, it was very easy to adjust and embellish the system to grow and follow the path of the company.
As for implementation advice, IONEX would encourage other prospective companies to fully explore the details and relationships of each of the QR Inventory features and data categories and how they interact with each other. IONEX uses the functionality of QR Inventory for categorizing various types of information far beyond just physical inventory and location. Material identification, location & staging, statuses, build progress/history, manufacturing order processing, designating responsibilities and generating to do lists, and quality program integration are some of the other uses IONEX found for QR Inventory in addition to tracking deliveries and depleted material.
On a deeper level, IONEX would recommend carefully constructing transaction types and flow paths and utilizing them diligently; taking advantage of transactions is beneficial because the Transaction Reports are always available to document the data. They can easily be exported to CSV files for use in MS Excel or listed in MS Access reports, both of which are powerful tools for IONEX.
6. For some companies who did not do inventory before labeling is the sticking point. Can you give a brief overview of your inventory labeling process?
At IONEX, labeling begins as soon as raw materials and components are received. Each item (or lot) is assigned a QR sticker derived from an internal part number, consistent with its purchase order. From that moment on, any member of the company can scan from their phone (if out on the floor) or lookup from the desktop interface the status and information of the item as it moves through the acceptance process and the rest of its lifecycle.
On the manufacturing side, QR stickers are applied to parts and assemblies as they are produced. IONEX is able to capitalize on integration with MISys Manufacturing software to easily generate a complete set of QR codes for a manufacturing order before it hits the floor. The raw materials and components are also "scanned in" to the production parts and assemblies to simultaneously "build" the new equipment electronically and deplete raw material stock.
7. What features of QR Inventory are especially helpful to your company, and what features is it lacking. What other features would you like to see?
The mobile apps are vital to connecting our shop floor personnel to the same database as our desktop users. The Kits & Assemblies module is a great way for us to view the entire contents of specific equipment. The ability to "drill-down" through all the way to the raw materials and components helps maintain the traceability needs of our projects.
The reporting tools are also a great help for tracking transactions, responsibilities and assignments, and completing valuable documentation. IONEX anticipates using this information for identifying historical trends, making projections, and realizing even more optimization strategies.
As far as future features, IONEX might like to see:
- Even more options for cross-linking Workflows in QR Mobile Data with transactions and user permissions in QR Inventory
- An "undo" button to save time compared to performing the reverse/inverse transaction
- Even more built-in advanced filter and lookup tools to find and subgroup sets of data