Quality is one of the most important aspects of manufacturing. Producing products that don't meet customer requirements will negatively impact sales as well as your reputation. It's not enough for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to merely turn out products quickly or meet demand; it is critically important to place emphasis on quality throughout your supply chain. Anything, from a defective class C component to a misprinted label, can lower the quality of your products, but there are several methods to track and improve quality, including Six Sigma, which is designed to focus on quality while also supporting lean manufacturing goals.
What is Six Sigma?
This quality improvement strategy involves using statistical analysis to hone in on issues that are slowing down production and hindering the ability to meet customer requirements, such as bottlenecks, lengthy inventory lead times and human error. International telecommunications company Motorola developed the Six Sigma methodology in the early 1990s by combining a variety of quality control and data analysis procedures, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The steps Six Sigma takes to identify issues and weaknesses in the supply chain are known as DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control). Define your goals, gather information about your supply chain, analyze that data, find ways to improve, and then control the results by monitoring and modifying your solutions as needed.
How can it help operations?
The primary function of Six Sigma is in the manufacturing field, but the strategy has found its way into virtually every business sector. Its main purpose is to identify the cause of a problem. For instance, this strategy could reveal that reducing lead time in inventory procurement would allow you to double your output of finished products. With this in mind, you could consider options such as consolidating your vendors and seeking out a vendor managed inventory (VMI) program.
Has any company successfully used Six Sigma?
General Electric is one of the major companies that have successfully implemented a Six Sigma, and iSixSigma reported that the multi-billion-dollar company saved roughly $10 billion in the first five years of using Six Sigma processes. The company mainly uses Six Sigma to improve customer relations, but focuses on six core concepts – designing Six Sigma to suit customer needs and company capabilities, creating consistent, predictable processes that improve customer experience, staying on top of what the company is able to deliver, failing to meet that standard and focusing on what customers value most. By paying attention to these factors, GE has been able to improve customer satisfaction while saving billions of dollars.
Are there any other benefits?
Employing a Six Sigma approach to your factory floor could result in environmental improvements, as you will be using fewer resources and creating less waste. The EPA pointed out that when you reduce the risk of turning out defective products, you won't be throwing away as much. In turn, you won't need to use as many materials to replace these defective products, cutting down on energy expenditure as well as the use of raw materials. Another oft-overlooked aspect of improving quality on the factory floor is that it will result in a lower threat of accidents, such as dangerous spills and accidents.
What could go wrong?
While this has the potential to help your factory, it could hinder things if implemented improperly. Fast Company pointed out that while the quality-management strategy can help you to save money and improve operations on paper, it is primarily data-driven, which means things like employee morale can fall by the wayside. Knowing this is a weakness for Six Sigma can make it easier to prevent this issue, however. Schedule regular team or one-on-one employee meetings to stay on top of your working conditions. Customer experiences should be watched, too, whether you conduct satisfaction surveys or follow up individually after orders have been fulfilled.