High-performing computer solutions are essential for seamless and accurate operations, whether it's for autonomous vehicles, critical power infrastructure, or military missions in austere and contested environments. The overall package needs to protect both the equipment and the data, all the while delivering unwavering performance in unpredictable, unmanned, and unforgiving situations.
For Crystal Group, this requires unwavering attention to detail, well beyond traditional quality standards as they design, build, and test every one of their rugged computer solutions.
That’s because their customers –which include the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), autonomous vehicles OEMs, utilities, and oil, and gas companies– rely on them to ensure their products meet or exceed AS9100D, IEEE, IEC, and military standards, cybersecurity protections, and individual program requirements.
VKS Enterprise work instruction software, Crystal Group now reliably captures program requirements and updates to industry regulations. It also bolsters training, implements continuous improvements, and reinforces high quality and efficiency standards by capturing tribal knowledge.
Given their high-mix, low-volume production, this is essential to ensuring the timely delivery of resilient products.
Crystal Group Delivers Rugged, Reliable & Secure Solutions
Crystal Group is trusted on more than 600 vital applications across some of the most demanding and regulated industries, such as the military, oil and gas, aerospace, autonomous vehicles power and mining.
It specializes in the design and manufacturing of custom and commercial rugged computer hardware solutions for harsh environments. This means that final products have to comply with tough International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) while abiding by strict industry and military standards.
Crystal Group products are also subject to various quality regulations, including AS9100D quality management standards, a key driver for implementing digital work instructions. This particular certificate sets the quality standard requirements for aviation, space, and defense organizations.
“We implemented VKS digital work instructions to help improve quality, collect data, and streamline our processes,” explained Rachel Manson, the Engineering Supervisor at Crystal Group.
Along with going digital with their work instructions, Crystal Group also set a goal to deploy the software on the factory floor within six months.
A mighty goal, but one that our U.S.-based implementation team was excited to pursue with Crystal Group. Working together, both teams created custom work instructions for each process and quality test that takes place within the factory on a daily basis.
"Along with having the VKS Customer Success team available for any immediate or complex support needed, the VKS Knowledge Center proved to be very helpful and provided us with clear information and details on how to use VKS features and deploy the solution." -- Rachel Manson.
2 Identified Challenges for Crystal Group:
- Maintain quality and consistency while complying with ever-changing defense regulations and industry standards.
- Train and prepare new employees with speed and efficiency alongside an increased production rate and rising shop floor demands.
With the scope of industries and customers that depend on Crystal Group’s products, there is no compromise between quality and configurations. Products must always pass, if not surpass, strict IEEE, IEC, and military standards (MIL-STD), including MIL-STD-810, 167-1, 461, and MIL-S-901 regulatory agencies.
Achieving and maintaining MIL standards is imperative in all programs and platforms across the U.S. DoD. In addition to facilitating interoperability across the Air Force, Army, and Navy, these standards are designed to equip warfighters with proven solutions for mission success in the most challenging and unpredictable situations.
Solution #1: Continuously Improve Quality and Remain Consistent
Before we continue, let’s break down what MIL-SPEC standards like MIL-STD-810G and its successor MIL-STD-810H represent.
The U.S. DoD lists the environmental stressors that a piece of computer hardware and its software must be able to withstand while remaining fully operational. A product that meets MIL-STD-810G requirements can withstand gunfire, vibrations, extreme weather, salt fog, and fungus throughout its life cycle. MIL-STD-810H is the updated version of the standard, which brings new changes to the build and test procedures a component goes through.
This is where our work instructions come into play. Using work instruction software on their premises provides Crystal Group with a foundation for process standardization on a platform, which as Rachel explained, "is very user-friendly and easy to implement."
From the very beginning, Crystal Group set up work instruction templates for each testing procedure and aspect of its in-house production. This means every design process, assembly guide, and MIL-STD test has its own template.
“By selecting the appropriate templates, we can piece a work instruction together like a puzzle.” -- Rachel Manson
By leveraging VKS' Embedded Guidebooks, Crystal Group can create standard templates and reference them within different work instructions. Building the instructions this way helps reduce the creation time for build-to-order or highly-configured products.
To keep up with evolving MIL-SPEC and other industry standards, these templates are regularly updated with new pictures, video steps, drawings, and other configurations. The shop floor benefits from the instant mass-update functionality that keeps the facility paperless and the operators up-to-date.
Plant supervisors, process engineers, and decision-makers know that to track quality consistency, let alone improve it, you have to gather and monitor factory floor data.
In addition to work instructions, Crystal Group is leveraging VKS to build quality directly into their manufacturing processes. By incorporating Smart Forms within the work instructions, Crystal Group captures critical data during product build. From tool parameters and torque values to warehouse inventory codes, serial numbers, and more, VKS provides Crystal Group with 100% traceability.
Executives and supervisors can effortlessly filter through VKS’ real-time reports or work instructions to access the information needed for planning, decision-making, and continuous improvement.
Solution #2: Training a Reliable Workforce
As Crystal Group has been accumulating tribal knowledge for over three decades, finding a solution that preserved and ensured a continuous improvement standard was imperative and will bridge them into a new realm of operational efficiency.
Likewise, a fast growth rate is great news, but it also presents a unique set of challenges for a company. Keeping track of each new trainee’s qualifications before having them access a certain instruction directly affects the plant’s quality output.
“We had all this tribal knowledge and best practices in place, but VKS helped us capture, record and share it with the new hires to secure a steady growth.“
Crystal Group needs to test every server and computer to make sure all components work properly and meet all customer specifications.
Testing also ensures the company delivers consistent quality before shipping products. For this reason, it's important that the digital work instructions used by the operators are always updated in accordance with the latest best practices. Otherwise, the tests would be ineffective.
With interactive visual instructions now in place, operators can address critical checkpoints by following guidelines during testing and inspection.
To streamline training and gather practical data on trainees’ progress, Crystal Group uses Certifications to ensure that only accredited operators have access to specific Guidebooks within the software.
Using our API, Crystal Group also integrated our software with CABEM Technologies. CABEM’s Competency Manager platform provides companies with an all-encompassing solution to track employee competencies, credentials etc.. It also allows managers and HR professionals to be flagged when training activities are due, keep track of operators’ certifications, and more.
The ability to link VKS to CABEM ensures only specific users are automatically granted access to guidebooks through the Certifications feature. This guarantees that all processes are only run by trained personnel.
This also applies to in-process daily inspections where the Certification feature guarantees only qualified personnel conduct validations. With easy access to applicable technical documentation, visual guidelines, and links to relevant data, supervisors now ensure heightened quality control and standardized processes.
Embracing Industry 4.0 and the Connected Worker
Through elaborate APIs, VKS helps companies bridge the gap between shop floor operators and ERP or MES systems. By providing an intuitive interface to guide them, the VKS platform makes it easier for companies to adopt digital technologies in the factory and facilitate standardized manufacturing processes.
Within six months, Crystal Group was also able to leverage the power of ERP integration. Visionaries at Crystal Group use the VKS software to establish bi-directional communication between the shop floor and their ERP system with the help of our Enterprise module features.
With work orders being pushed directly to VKS, the software tracks completed quantities, product build times, and all performed quality checks. This information is pushed back to Crystal Groups’ ERP system to streamline information and report operations as complete.
Easy access to important information processed through their ERP provides Crystal Group with numerous benefits that range from improvements in planning and on-time delivery (OTD) to reductions in manual entries and missing data.
By using VKS work instruction software, Crystal Group has standardized its processes and improved training with speed and efficiency. They now instantly capture data for any build to ensure ongoing compliance with all industrial and military standards and regulations to further elevate their position as an innovative industry leader.
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