If you are considering a career change and are interested in manufacturing, you should familiarize yourself with Six Sigma. It is a data-driven business methodology for quality improvement that aims to reduce defects and variations in a process using statistical tools and techniques. This article explores what Six Sigma is, its benefits, how it is applied in manufacturing, and how it can help organizations achieve their quality goals.
What is Six Sigma?
Six Sigma is a data-driven business methodology for quality improvement used to lower the number of flaws and discrepancies in a process by utilizing statistical tools. Its purpose is to achieve a level of quality that meets or exceeds customer expectations while minimizing waste, errors, and costs.
The term “Six Sigma” comes from the statistical concept of Sigma, which is a measure of how far a process deviates from perfection. The process is considered to be at the highest level of quality if it has no more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. This level of quality is referred to as Six Sigma quality.
Six Sigma is a disciplined approach to process improvement that uses a defined project methodology and a set of tools and techniques to identify and eliminate the sources of variability and defects within a process. This methodology has five phases: define, measure, analyze, improve, and control (DMAIC). We will discuss about these later in relation to their use in manufacturing. For now, here is a brief explanation of each phrase.
In the define phase, the problem or opportunity for improvement is defined, and the project goals and objectives are established.
In the measure phase, data is collected and analyzed to understand the current process performance and identify the sources of variation.
In the analyze phase, statistical tools and techniques are used to identify the root causes of defects and to determine the critical process parameters that impact the quality of the product or service.
During the improve phase, potential solutions are found and tested, and then the best solution is applied.
The control phase involves monitoring and controlling to ensure that the improvements are sustained and the process performance remains at the desired level.
Six Sigma can be applied to any process in any industry, from manufacturing to healthcare and service industries. It is a widely recognized and respected methodology for quality improvement. Because of this, many organizations have adopted Six Sigma as part of their efforts to strive continuously to improve and adapt.
Overall, Six Sigma is a powerful methodology that can help organizations improve their quality, reduce costs, and increase customer satisfaction. By systematically identifying and eliminating sources of defects, it can help organizations achieve a level of quality that meets customer expectations and ultimately increases business success.
Six Sigma is applied in manufacturing in several ways. If you decide to switch careers to this industry or climb the career ladder, a lean manufacturing master’s degree will be beneficial. Kettering University Online offers the only program of its kind in the US. The program is 100% online, so you don’t have to live locally to study with them.
How is Six Sigma applied in manufacturing?
Six Sigma is widely used in manufacturing to improve product quality, reduce waste, and increase efficiency. Here’s how it is typically applied.
Identifying value is a crucial step in the Six Sigma approach, as it helps organizations understand what is important to their customers and what they are willing to pay for. By identifying value, organizations can focus their efforts on improving the features and qualities of their products or services that are most important to their customers. It avoids wasting resources on anything that does not add value.
For example, a manufacturing company that produces automotive components may identify value by understanding that their customers prioritize reliability, durability, and low cost. They may then focus their efforts on designing highly reliable, durable, and cost-effective components, while reducing or eliminating less important features.
Another example is clothing manufacturers that identify value by understanding that their customers strongly prefer style, comfort, and affordability. They may then focus their efforts on designing fashionable, comfortable, and affordable clothing while eliminating features that are less important to the customer. By focusing on the factors that their customers care about most, the clothing manufacturer can create products that are more likely to be successful in the market. This approach also allows them to differentiate themselves from competitors who may be focusing on different factors, such as high-end materials or ethical sourcing. With some items and for customers with a limited budget, these factors might be idealistic and unaffordable or just unsuitable for their basic needs.
In both examples, the key is understanding the customer’s needs and expectations, then designing products or processes that meet those needs while minimizing waste and maximizing efficiency. By identifying value, organizations can create a clear roadmap for improvement and ensure that their efforts focus on delivering the features and qualities that matter most to their customers.
Creating a value stream map
Creating a value stream map is essential as it provides a detailed picture of the entire production process from start to finish. By creating a value stream map, organizations can identify all the activities involved in the process and determine which add value and which do not. This helps organizations to focus on improving the value-added activities while minimizing or eliminating the non-value-added ones.
For example, consumer electronics manufacturers may create a value stream map to identify all the activities involved in production of their goods. They may find that certain actions, such as quality testing, add value by ensuring that the final product meets customer expectations and are longer-lasting than similar products. Other activities, such as excessive handling or unnecessary transportation of materials, may be identified as non-value-added and can be targeted for improvement.
Also, producing more than needed or too early can result in excess inventory and a waste of resources, like taking up limited storage space. This is a common non-value-added activity that can be identified through value stream mapping. Waiting for materials, equipment, or instructions in order to proceed with a task can lead to unnecessary downtime and decreased productivity. It makes good business sense to produce cost-effective and in-demand products and make the most out of all available resources.
Similarly, manufacturers of food products may create a value stream map to identify all the activities involved in the production of their products. They may find that certain activities, such as food safety checks, add value by ensuring that the final product is safe for consumption. Other activities, such as waiting times between processing steps may be identified as non-value-added and can be targeted for improvement.
By creating a value stream map, organizations can comprehensively understand the entire production process and identify areas for improvement. It helps to streamline the production process, eliminate waste, and increase efficiency, ultimately leading to a higher-quality product and improved customer satisfaction.
Generating a process flow
Generating a process flow helps provide a detailed description of each step in the production process. By generating it, organizations can identify areas where waste can be eliminated and efficiency can be improved.
For example, a manufacturer of medical devices may generate a process flow to describe the steps involved in the production of their products. They may find that certain steps, such as sterilization, require extensive time and resources, while others, such as cleaning and inspection, can be streamlined for improved efficiency. So, the sterilization process can be streamlined by using more efficient methods or by optimizing the placement of equipment and resources to reduce unnecessary movement. Alternatively, the cleaning and inspection process can be streamlined by using automated tools or by standardizing the procedures and training employees to follow them consistently. In addition, use of quality control tools such as statistical process control (SPC) or failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) can assist with identifying and eliminating non-value-added activities, improving process capability, and reducing defects.
Similarly, a manufacturer of automotive components may generate a process flow to describe the steps involved in their product production. They may find that certain steps, such as machining, require extensive time and resources, while others, such as inspection and packaging, can be optimized for improved efficiency. All the phases, including this one, can be applied in all industries where manufacturing is an integral part of business operations.
Also, generating a process flow can help organizations identify potential risks, chances, or errors. By understanding the flow of materials, equipment, and personnel throughout the production process, organizations can implement preventative measures and establish standard operating procedures to minimize the risk of defects or errors in the final product. It can become more cost-effective than correcting any faults after the event.
Establishing pull/creating an on-demand process
Establishing a pull system is an essential step in the Six Sigma methodology, as it helps to minimize waste and improve efficiency by producing products only when there is demand. This system is based on the principle of “just-in-time” manufacturing, which aims to create products in the required quantities at the right time without compromising quality.
For instance, a manufacturer of computer components would establish a pull system to produce products only when they receive an order from their customers. It helps to minimize inventory costs and eradicate waste by ensuring that products are produced only when there is demand.
Similarly, a manufacturer of apparels may establish a pull system to produce products only when they receive an order from their retailers or customers.
This approach has the following benefits:
- Minimized inventory costs: A pull system ensures that only the required amount of inventory is produced based on customer demand. It reduces the need for excess inventory and storage space, that can save on costs associated with warehousing, handling, and disposal.
- Improved efficiency: By producing only what is needed, a pull system can enhance the efficiency of the manufacturing process. It can lead to shorter lead times, fewer production errors, and improved quality.
- Improved customer satisfaction: Because the pull system ensures that products are produced only when there is a demand from customers, this helps to ensure that customer orders are fulfilled on time and in the required quantities resulting in increased customer satisfaction.
- Reduced waste: The pull system can help reduce waste associated with excess inventory, overproduction, and unused materials.
Establishing a pull system involves aligning the entire production process with customer demand. This requires effective communication and collaboration between various departments, including sales, production, and logistics. The process involves establishing a production plan based on customer demand, scheduling production activities, and monitoring inventory levels to ensure that products are produced only when needed.
It may seem like manufacturing more than you require can help increase sales from those who might buy on a whim. However, as you can see from popular items having more demand than the product available, sometimes a wait for availability can increase consumers’ desire to purchase.
Improving and perfecting the process
Improving and perfecting the process continuously is the ultimate goal of the Six Sigma methodology in manufacturing. Consumers’ needs are constantly changing, so products have to be adapted to keep up with this. Adopting an ongoing process of collecting data, analyzing it, and making changes to the process will improve quality, reduce waste, and increase efficiency for businesses wanting to meet their customers’ changing needs and demands.
One of the essential aspects of continuous improvement in Six Sigma is the use of data-driven decision-making. Organizations need to collect and analyze data throughout the production process to identify areas if they want to make improvements and informed decisions about process changes. Data can be collected from various sources, including customer feedback, process metrics, and quality measurements.
An example of this could be a manufacturer of electronic devices collecting data on the number of defects per product, production cycle times, and customer feedback. They can then use this data to identify areas for improvement and make informed decisions about process changes.
Similarly, a manufacturer of pharmaceuticals may collect data on the production yield, batch sizes, and customer complaints. They can use this to make improvements in a comparable way.
Continuous improvement involves making small changes gradually over time rather than large-scale ones all at once. Organizations can use the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle, which involves planning changes, implementing them, monitoring results, and adjusting the process as needed. This iterative approach allows organizations to make incremental improvements while minimizing disruption to the production process.
By constantly improving and perfecting the process, organizations can achieve a high level of quality, reduce waste, and increase efficiency. It leads to a higher-quality product, improved customer satisfaction, and a more competitive position in the market. Additionally, continuous improvement can help organizations identify new opportunities for innovation and stay ahead of the competition.
If an organization does not strive for improvement, it risks falling behind its competitors, who may be innovating and redeveloping their processes. This can result in lower-quality products, decreased customer satisfaction, and ultimately loss of market share. Failing to improve continuously can also lead to an increase in waste and inefficiencies, which can harm the organization’s bottom line.
Another downside to not continuously improving is that the organization may become complacent and lose sight of opportunities for growth and innovation. By constantly striving to improve, organizations can stay agile and adaptable and increase their ability to respond to changes in the market and customer needs.
Six Sigma is a powerful methodology for quality improvement that can help organizations in any sub-industry achieve their goals of improving efficiency, reducing waste, and increasing customer satisfaction. By focusing on these things, organizations can achieve higher quality and better business outcomes. Ultimately, applying Six Sigma in manufacturing, businesses can optimize their production processes, reduce waste, and create a roadmap for continuous improvement.