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Quality Scan: A Quality Group Gets Lean

How does a business that creates products and services to help companies control their quality, control its own? In large part, the answer is something called Lean Six Sigma (LSS).

LSS is a combination of two methodologies that can be used in any business enterprise system. Lean focuses on the elimination of time traps and waste in any process, not just manufacturing. Lean works equally well in many other areas such as administration, operations, or finance. Six Sigma can briefly be defined by DMAIC, or Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control. LSS is not about creating additional work—instead, it‘s a method of working more efficiently. The goal is to review how each person executes their job function, maximizing value-added contributions and eliminating nonvalue-added activities.

The primary strategy at our group is to permeate the entire organization with best practices centered on LSS. The American Society for Quality standards and our customers’ critical quality characteristics act as the foundation of our continuous improvement efforts. Lean Six Sigma projects start with customer requirements and expectations, identified as Critical to Quality Characteristics (CTQs). This identification focuses on customers for new products, and the existing installed base of products, which consists of tens of thousands of active devices in North America. The team identifies customer CTQs and maps the relationships to the applicable sales, commercial operations, training, and service processes. This mapping forms the basis of the Lean Six Sigma plans. Quality improvement that doesn’t translate into a better customer experience isn’t worth much.

The issues need to be defined in concrete measurable terms with an operational definition. In the Define phase, the six sigma project team identifies a project based on business objectives, as well as the customers of the processes and their needs and requirements. The team identifies CTQs that have the greatest impact on quality, prioritizes, then creates a project schedule of the processes to be improved. For example, reliability and maintainability (R&M) data are a critical requirement for many customers. (Ford Motor Co.’s Q1 program requires such data.) The process of building reliability and maintainability information, when viewed through the lens of LSS, reveals many opportunities for improvement that not only improve processes, but also contribute to better product reliability and maintainability. This is an excellent example of a customer requirement driving internal processes that result in improved quality, efficiency, and cost.

Our R&M process identifies improvement opportunities in the installed base that flow through all factory departments. The process continues upstream throughout the supply chain to the origin of the component part or service provided by Vendor Supplier Partners (VSP).

When Romer Inc. (Wixom, MI), which is part of our group, launched a new portable arm CMM in 2004, the company used the opportunity to implement LSS programs to drive cost and process variability out of the systems as quickly as possible. This procedure also was a perfect opportunity to begin mapping reliability and maintainability data. Additionally, because the product was essentially developed from a clean sheet of paper, bringing the vendor/supplier partners into the process also yielded significant results quickly. Subsequently, Romer has embarked on an advanced program to collaborate on six sigma learning and process mapping with their vendors and suppliers. Vendor/supplier partners and the company’s staff learn six sigma principles side by side, and apply the principles immediately to the component being produced. The return on the training investment for both the end manufacturer and the suppliers naturally aligns, resulting in less process variability, better components, and better end products. And, of course, more satisfied customers!

Tracking the progress of LSS programs and analyzing the results shows how well your programs are doing, and can also reveal additional areas for improvement. We track nearly 60 separate operational dimensions of our component businesses as part of the LSS program. Tracking and analysis reveals trends that can help further improve processes. The LSS program at Brown & Sharpe Inc.(North Kingstown, RI), another member of our group, allowed management to not only manage to lower levels of inventory and faster inventory turns (a 9% improvement in 2005), but at the same time to better manage seasonal demand that resulted in a new record factory utilization level in December 2005.

This article was first published in the March 2006 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 3/1/2006

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