Why pick a proven manufacturing philosophy when you can use three?

Kaizen? Lean? Six Sigma? Which one should I choose?  This is a dilemma many manufacturers are constantly faced with when they are deciding which philosophy is best suited to improving company processes and the overall bottom line.  They are all proven to help companies improve efficiency, reduce costs, time, and increase productivity.  While they are great all on their own, they each bring incredible advantages that when used together can bring great benefits to a company.  The trick is knowing at where to use them adequately to take advantage of what each of them brings to the table.

Kaizen: Identifying the problem and empowering the workforce

Kaizen is a perfect starting point for any manufacturing process.  First off, who is better at telling you where manufacturing is lacking and what the best course of action is than those who are involved throughout every single step.  A lot of companies claim that employees are the most important asset, but Kaizen truly makes it a fact.  Through a Kaizen-headed mentality, companies are empowering employees to do their part in helping the company grow and get better continuously.

One of the most damaging causes of low or a reduction in productivity is employee morale.  Often time, the workforce can feel as if they are not valued enough or as if they are just another cog in the machine.  Kaizen has proven to be a great motivator, even with the burden of responsibility and consistency it carries along with it.  Taking into account what collaborators think and trying out their ideas expresses that they are truly the most important asset of any company.  It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

You’ve identified the problem areas.  You prioritize the things you can fix immediately and you have the necessary resources to see it through.  What’s next?  How does my company create a standard so as to guarantee a process will run smoothly and consistently from now on?  Lean on lean, that’s what.

Lean: the process standardization, waste elimination machine

Lean’s beauty lies in how it seeks to reduce the amount of waste in a manufacturing process in order to reduce how long it takes and raise quality.  As many know, the Lean method is focused on reducing eight process wastes.  Once the employees have identified the processes that need improvement through Kaizen, the company can use Lean to check how to make the process more efficient.  By eliminating waste, a company will give its customers a much better product or service and this will be reflected in an increase in the company’s profits.

Duvel Assembly Line_Using Kaizen-Lean-Six Sigma together_david kiger
Image courtesy of Jim at Flickr.com

Image: http://tinyurl.com/zphepvy courtesy of Jim at flickr.com

After the waste has been reduced to the point where it can’t be reduced anymore (although applying Kaizen to the processes should not let this happen) it’s time to depend on Lean to standardize the processes.  Standardization ensures that employees involved in the manufacturing process will always carry out their activities in a way that will guarantee the lowest amount of waste possible at the lowest costs and at the fastest time available.  On to the final step.  Bring in Six Sigma

Six Sigma:  quality control and consistency for a bright future.

So far, the company has identified problems and take care of them by standardizing best practices using Kaizen and Lean.  There’s no time for the company to rest on its laurels.  If the information obtained from the processes which are implemented isn’t analyzed and decisions aren’t based on what has been seen, then there is no way a company can generate consistent results for years to come.  Enter Six Sigma.

History will tell us whether a decision that was made was the best one or if it must be changed.  This is Six Sigma’s strong suit.  Many companies have used Six Sigma to make future decisions.  Why? Because it takes into account the history of what has happened and together with some statistical analysis in order to decide what to do next.  Using statistics is the key to using Six Sigma to have a process be consistent throughout years to come.

The more the merrier

Companies can choose only one philosophy and they will surely obtain results.  But, by using the three strongest together at different stages of the manufacturing process a company will have much better results.  Kaizen locates the problem areas of a process. Lean optimizes the solutions given by employees and then standardizes them.  Finally, Six Sigma can be used to take a look at the past of a process to take important future decisions and thus generate consistent processes. And what happens once the process reaches the Six Sigma stage?  It’s time for Kaizen to come back into the picture.  All three philosophies essentially revolve around constant improvement, even though the timeframe for improvement is not the same for each one.  Here is to companies using all the tools available to them to improve manufacturing.  Cheers.

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