At a high level, phase gate is a strategic approach to breaking down a complicated process into more manageable phases, which are then separated by checkpoints.

How to Automate Phase Gate Processes in Manufacturing

Christian Weil | AODocs

Phase Gate - also called stage gate - is a project management principle that can be leveraged in many lines of business including new product development, investing, and manufacturing. At a high level, phase gate is a strategic approach to breaking down a complicated process into more manageable phases, which are then separated by checkpoints.

Why is this specifically important in manufacturing?

 

Quality

Determining and managing a successful process is key to a high-quality product with minimal variability between batches. In manufacturing, more so than in other industries, customers expect product consistency. Implementing a phase gate process ensures that product output is checked at strategic points during the production process to catch any errors that may appear.

 

Safety

With many employees working in direct cooperation with large and potentially dangerous machinery, a phase gate process can also improve working conditions. When the manufacturing process is segmented, work instruction and training can be more specialized. The onboarding process could be managed through a phase gate process itself. Once on the production floor, employees can be assigned to a production phase according to training and experience. The evolution of new equipment can also be effectively managed through safety review.

 

Cost Savings

Process efficiencies gained from phase gate lead to cost savings. By checking product development and output at regular intervals, manufacturing companies can successfully manage personnel efficiencies and reduce the risk of production waste from manufacturing flaws and product recalls.
 

Successful phase gate processes require document management

Implementing a successful phase gate process starts with documentation, and these documents need to be managed. SOPs, audit reports, corrective and preventive actions (CAPA), and more must be properly documented and controlled. None of this is possible without the right document management system that allows for process automation.

To reap the critical benefits that phase gate brings to manufacturing, companies should seek out user-friendly systems with features that automate and streamline phase-gate processes. The right system will enable companies to not only adhere to proper document governance standards but to do so efficiently.

 

Auditing and Traceability

Maintaining detailed audit logs is essential for good phase gate processes and safe, compliant manufacturing. Document management systems allow companies to automate their audit report processes and pinpoint the cause of problems should something go wrong. If there is a production issue or product defect, it’s important to be able to detect the origin of the problem. Was it due to a faulty procedure document? If so, who wrote it, who approved it, and who published it?  If an old version of operating instructions was used, a document management system will tell you how many times it was viewed and by whom. Properly controlling the various documents that go into a manufactured product is essential.

 

Built-In Workflows

Document management systems allow companies to outline the process that works best for their organization and integrate it directly into their technology, tools and training materials. Deploying manufacturing workflow templates and setting them up with the right people ensures that reviews can occur at the right points in the production process with minimal disruption and delay.

 

Authorizations and Approvals by Checkpoint

Whether your phase gate process calls for a single approval, multiple approvals or tiered approvals, they can be automated to match your business requirements. People such as implementation specialists work directly with clients to determine and customize each ‘gate’ in a process. This ensures that the right people are reviewing and authorizing each phase of production. By also incorporating communication, like automated email and mobile reminders, for approvers, they will know exactly when they are needed so that they can be more productive and focused when they’re doing other tasks.

 

Decision Tree Integrations

A document management platform can also determine which of a series of subsequent phases a project or document should be sent to depending on the phase gate and approval status. For example, if a product is not approved for quality reasons at phase 2, it can initiate a correction workflow that has predefined steps to correct this type of issue. If it is approved at phase 2, the product can move on to production phase 3 instead. Integrating decision tree logic keeps the process moving smoothly even if issues arise.

The management philosophy behind phase gate is easy to appreciate. In practice, implementing and automating a successful phase gate process in a manufacturing environment takes deliberate planning and sophisticated technology integrations that are still easy for the users to use on a day-to-day basis.

 

About Christian Weil
Christian Weil is a deployment specialist at AODocs, responsible for customizing AODocs to fit the needs of manufacturing customers. Prior to AODocs, he was a Six Sigma manager and Senior Process Engineer at Shaw Industries. He has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology

 

 
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of ManufacturingTomorrow

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