Six Sigma: Intelligent Manufacturing

Readers might be or might not be aware of the intrinsic implications of Six Sigma. Simply put, Six Sigma strives to make customers happy while increasing profits, or, better said, a company can only increase profits if its customers are happy. And how can a company make customers happy? Only by consistently providing an excellent product or service and reducing defects. As David Kiger has previously mentioned before, there are different approaches regarding cost efficient production lines and supply chains. Therefore, Six Sigma, ought not to be disregarded.

Six Sigma approach was initially proposed and developed in 1986 by Bill Smith of Motorola. He based his philosophy on the work of others, mostly Japanese, that was highly related to quality control processes, TQM, and zero defects. During January 1987, Motorola applied their long term quality program called The Six Sigma Quality Program. After implementing it, in 1988, Motorola was amongst the initial recipients of the Malcom Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA). Since then, the Six Sigma approached has caught the attention of the industry. Amongst the early adopters of Six Sigma readers find companies like General Electric, Honeywell, Whirlpool and Dow Chemical.

Even though Motorola is the initial founder of the Six Sigma approach, General Electric stands out as the company which has proven that Six Sigma is an efficient, exciting and accurate management strategy. The company began implementing Six Sigma program in 1995 and since then, General Electric has achieved outstanding and remarkable results. Sticking to the origins, Six Sigma was originally developed as a practice to improve the manufacturing processes by eliminating defects, then, the approach rapidly started to be adopted by other parts of the business as Six Sigma had proven its success.

To understand Six Sigma in general terms, readers can use the following example: imagine a pilot landing on the landing strip. If the pilot is capable of landing on the half of the landing strip width most of the times, then it would be possible to assert that the pilot possesses Six Sigma landing capabilities. The idea here is to understand that the pilot is most of the times operating in half of the allowable margin. Talking technically, Sigma is a letter from the Greek alphabet commonly used in statistics to define the standard deviation. Six Sigma is a process that allows only 3.4 defects per million opportunities; it seeks to eliminate defects from every product, process or transaction.

In today’s extremely competitive and evolving business environment and marketplace, companies oftentimes face a number of challenges like customer satisfaction amongst others, which is the sole reason why a company is and decides to stay in the business. Satisfying the customer needs is a process that involves a number or key aspects: delighting customers, reducing cycle times, technology advances, reducing costs, retaining people, flexibility, and growing international markets. As the expectations of customers begin to increase over time, it is mandatory for a company to start using the latest available technological developments to meet these demands quicker and at a lesser cost. To face the challenges listed above, companies also need to have effective, dedicated and responsible employees.

Six Sigma was based and developed upon a “project by project” improvement approach. These are commonly selected based on organizational strategies often related to customer satisfaction and profits. Teams work on the projects, resolve the issues and calculate the financial benefits. Companies often use a recognition and award system with which these teams are often bestowed with.

The philosophy has three meanings in general. As a statistical tool, it aims to achieve and maintain 3.4 defects per million opportunities. As a process, it focuses on processes improvements. As a philosophy, Six Sigma suggests that defects are costly and can be definitely eliminated, or simply put: anything less than ideal is an opportunity for improvement. It strives to deliver a product or service the most efficient and effective way possible.

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Image courtesy of thinkpublic at Flickr.com

For any Six Sigma program to be successful when implemented, the role of top management is definitely crucial. Readers might ask themselves: what should management do to try Six Sigma within a specific organization? First, and most importantly, managers ought to deeply understand the concept of Six Sigma and commit themselves to its implementation by actively participating in the process. Afterward, there are several key issues any management needs to consider regarding the implementation rate, how would it fit into the existential program and how would it be controlled.

Six Sigma can be summarized by simply saying that, before companies decide to improve, they should first define and know what is important for the customers, so that they work on parameters that enhance customer satisfaction, reduce defects and meet customer specifications. Since variation is an enemy of quality, through Six Sigma companies should strive to eliminate or narrow the existent deviation, also, as mentioned, they should also try to attain the 3.4 defects per million opportunities.

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