Evaluating Your Facility’s Processes with Six Sigma

The first week in October is when we celebrate the manufacturing industry with Manufacturing Day on October 5. It is not only a time to educate others about manufacturing careers, but it is also a good time to evaluate processes in your facility.

Is your production efficient and is the product at your desired quality? Consider Six Sigma methodology to improve quality by removing causes of the defects. This blog will take you through the steps of Six Sigma and the tools to use to help evaluate your production processes.

Define. This is the planning part for your process. There are many items you will need to identify during this stage.

  • Customers – Who is your target audience?
  • Needs and Requirements – Needs are the goals of the product, while requirements are conditions required to meet the goals. Both will need to be identified.
  • Problem Statement – Write a brief description of the problem that includes where it is occurring, how long it has been occurring, and the magnitude of it.
  • Goals – Your goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, result-focused, and time-specific.
  • Organizational Support – Gather support within your organization for the project. You will need support from leadership and all areas to bring the project to fruition.
  • Budget – How much will you be able to spend on the project? Consider if new machinery will need to be purchased, new hires need to be made, etc.
  • Project Plan – This is basically the project calendar and should align with your SMART goal.
  • Process Map – Detailed maps of the process with color coded symbols identified with SIPOC: suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs, and customers.

Measure. This is the stage where you identify the scope of the problem by collecting data. Here are some of the steps you can use to accurately collect data.

  • Define the Defect, Opportunity, and Unit – We identify the defect as the problem with product. Opportunities are the places where the defect can occur during the production. A unit is a single item of product.
  • Key Process Output Variable – A measure of the effectiveness that increases efficiency, productivity and profit, or customer satisfaction. You can identify this through the SIPOC method briefly described earlier.
  • Key Process Input Variable – What are the various factors that can cause an impact to a process? The KPOV is determined by the KPIV. For example, at Hytrol the paint finish (KPOV) is determined by chemical levels, oven temperature, and spray patterns (KPIV) of the paint process.
  • Components of Variation – Where can the product experience a difference in production? This can be through human element, through different machines, different batch of materials, etc.
  • Develop Data Collection Plan – Create a detailed plan stating what you want to measure and how and when data will be collected.

Analyze. Look at your collected data and determine the causes of the defects. Closely examine the information with the tools below and help identify the root cause of the problem.

  • Determine Root Causes – Find out what is causing the problem. One way, is to use The 5 Whys Analysis. Ask yourself 5 times why the problem is happening. Each time, getting more specific with a reason. Example: A customer is angry.
    1. Why?  Because their order was late.
    2. Why?  Because it took longer than the time we allotted.
    3. Why?  Because we ran out of a part.
    4. Why?  We used it on a different last-minute order.
    5. Why?  We couldn’t order more parts in time for it and didn’t have enough in stock.
  • Hypothesis – Come up with an idea of why the issue is happening based on the data you have collected.
  • Analysis of Variance or ANOVA – A statistical technique used to test datasets that will help you accept or reject your hypothesis.
  • Measure the Outcomes – Are there any statistical differences? Are there differences between the process outputs for different input variables?

Improve. There are various tools to help identify a solution to your problems. Use one or more of the tools below to help brainstorm and test a solution.

  • Design of Experiments. Change your processes around based on your data. Look for the places where the change in quality is happening. This should be a controlled, active variation of the process. It’s imperative that it is controlled so you can pinpoint the cause of the change.
  • Seven Deadly Wastes – Look at what you are aiming to remove from the manufacturing process without affecting the quality of the product. The Seven Deadly Wastes of Manufacturing are: overproduction, waiting, defects, over-processing, transport, motion, and inventory.
  • Five S – Try to organize the workspace for efficiency, effectiveness, and safety. Using the Five S system can help improve processes. The acronym stands for: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain.
  • Benchmarking – Measure your organization’s policies, products, programs, strategies, etc. with similar organizations. See how you match up against others.

Control. Make sure the process you created during the improve phase is managed and monitored. Select a method below to ensure your new process stays on track.

  • Audit – An audit system will show how gains are sustained and help ensure a continued process control.
  • Control Chart – This is the most common tool to use in the control phase. The chart plots the progress of the new process with control limits. It also helps create a reference log.
  • Visual Management – Real-time performance information of processes. These are usually on bulletin boards or whiteboards with daily progress metrics.

Once you are done with the control phase, your job still isn’t done. Six Sigma is a cyclical process, so start back at the beginning with define. Constantly looking for ways to improve the product and/or the process is the best way to ensure that you are creating great products, a great environment, and great efficiencies.

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