Companies don't necessarily have to use Six Sigma or lean, but they need an effective quality-control process

Aug. 1, 2011
THERE is lean manufacturing. There is Six Sigma. It shouldn't come as a surprise that in recent years, some companies have even combined the two ideas

THERE is lean manufacturing. There is Six Sigma. It shouldn't come as a surprise that in recent years, some companies have even combined the two ideas to form a methodology called Lean Six Sigma.

Rick Ring, an advanced manufacturing specialist for Purdue University Technical Assistance Program's Manufacturing Extension Partnership, says a company doesn't have to practice either in order to reduce comebacks, eliminate rework, and increase customer satisfaction.

“But you should know about basic improvement methods and tools,” he said.

Having an effective quality-control process that detects and prevents defects and resolves customer complaints is a key element for customer retention and increased profitability.

“Do we know who are our customers, and what do they want?” Ring asked. “What are our main processes? What are our main problems? What improvement tools should we use to solve problems? As (Hall of Fame catcher and malapropism king) Yogi Berra once pointed out, ‘We made too many wrong mistakes.’”

The goal is to create and maintain defect-free systems made up of defect-free processes that result in defect-free products and services delivered on time that are desirable to the customer and profitable to the organization. Top management balances customer satisfaction and financial performance, he said.

Quality means meeting customer requirements and expectations, and producing defect-free products.

Ring said the customer is “the user of a system or process output. A customer can be internal. A truck body comes in, I check it in and we start the install of whatever is going on the body. I'm done and I pass it on.”

Suppliers are “the producer of inputs for a system or process. One supplier would be the truck. Then they have to match that up with parts. The truck and parts have to get there at same time.”

Teams are “groups of people that work together to achieve common goals, groups of people that pool their skills, talents, and knowledge. They are the cornerstone of the continual improvement and are driven by leadership and communication skills.”

He cited a quote by legendary baseball manager Casey Stengel: “It's easy to get the players. Gettin' 'em to play together, that's the hard part.”

Ring said there is no magic pill to reduce comebacks, eliminate rework, and thereby increase customer satisfaction.

“If there was a magic pill, it'd be marketed and somebody would be a millionaire,” he said.

To get started, a company should implement, document, and maintain a Quality Management System (QMS).

“Under such a system, you say what you do, do what you say, prove that you did it, and then strive to improve,” he said. “Once implemented, a QMS defines the rules and how to detect errors or defects. If there are errors, you've found them before the customer. A QMS ensures that a company's products and services are meeting all the required standards.”

The benefits are standard work; accurate records; ensuring conformance to established criteria; improved training; understanding of customer requirements; and documented corrective actions.

The 12 elements of a quality program, according to the NTEA Quality Assurance Kit: management responsibility and authority; documentation system; maintenance; clean and safe workplace; inspection and testing program; adequate training; protect customer-supplied property; protect all inventory (parts, in-process and finished product); corrective and preventive actions; customer complaints; track parts and material traceability; and supplier control.

Ring said one method to document a QMS is to use the ISO 9001:2008 standard. ISO 9001 is a generic global quality system standard for all suppliers of goods and services. It says “what”, but not “how.” A company may become “registered” or “conformant” to ISO to the parts and standards desired.

He said there are many improvement methods and ways to solve problems, such as Plan-Do-Check-Act, Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, and Training Within Industry (TWI).

“Select the method that most suits the culture of your organization, then improve one process at a time,” he said. “Now here's the thing: This won't do you a lot of good unless you have documentation in place already so you know what you're doing. To run out there helter-skelter and try to fix this and that doesn't work real well.”

Problem-solving method

He said there are many paths to the same place. It could be a just-do-it project — a simple, no-risk, no-cost task where complete agreement on an obvious solution exists or a large project that may take months, with a high risk and cost, and a completely unknown solution.

Ring went through one problem-solving method:

  • Identify the problem (plan)

    “Identify an issue, quantify the need for improvement in profit, set a baseline, state the problem, and make a timetable with goals and dates. Sources for projects are customer returns and complaints, errors, audits, long-term chronic problems, new products, processes, personnel, or equipment, and internal measurements — scrap, late deliveries, etc. Decide if the problem and the potential savings are worth the resources to be expended. Document the project by naming the leader and the team, then define their accountabilities and responsibilities. Describe the scope of the problem, set the timeline, and set intermediate and long-term measurable goals.”

  • Analyze the problem (do)

    “Determine the root cause by collecting and analyzing data, verify each root cause, and identify the chief root cause. Several factors may work together in a certain order in a certain environment to produce the problem. They could create a perfect storm. Most of the time in life it's not just one. Collect data just-in-time, not just-in-case. Gather data directly from the process, focus on the data to avoid finger-pointing, and choose methods that will avoid bias. A moderate amount of carefully collected data used immediately is worth more than a huge amount of thoughtlessly collected data that is never used.”

  • Evaluate possible solutions (do)

    “Identify actions and potential solutions that will reduce or eliminate the root cause. Choose which actions to test and plan the implementation of the solutions as a project. Is the solution effective, feasible, timely? Does it affect the customer? Is it cost effective?”

  • Test-implement the solutions (check)

    “Implement the plan, ensure that other processes are not affected. No improvement? Go back to identifying the problem.”

  • Standardize the solution (act)

    “Make sure the solutions are permanent. Determine if the solution is effective elsewhere.”

He provided selected improvement tools:

  • Brainstorming

    “A method for generating and collecting ideas where you clarify what is to be brainstormed, select a scribe, and review the brainstorming process.”

  • Interview

    “An exchange of data using face-to-face or telephone communication. It can be done in groups or individually.”

  • Survey

    “Most of surveys I see don't do so well, they're ineffective, and don't get turned in. But I have seen ones that work. If you do survey, try to do it right. Be focused. Don't do a 20-question type of thing.”

  • Cause-and-effect diagram

    “It identifies the factors (causes) that lead to an outcome (effect). Identify the effect (problem). Then identify three to six major potential problems, selecting from recognizable process, repetitive steps, people, materials, machines, methods. Brainstorm factors that cause effect. Identify first-level causes, then second and third.”

  • Five whys

    “Identify the problem to be solved. Using brainstorming, ask, ‘Why?’ Document the answer and connect it to the problem statement. Keep asking, ‘Why?’ until the answer is apparent.”

He said if a 10-step process is generating numerous errors, consider simplifying it by removing one or two steps.

“It's ongoing,” he said. “You have to keep doing it. It's not a one-year program,. It has to involve the whole organization. If you're the person driving the program and you leave, they have to continue to keep on doing it.”

As Sherlock Holmes said in Sign of Four, an 1890 novel by Arthur Conan Doyle: “You know my methods. Apply them.”

Training Within Industry (TWI)

Paul Johnson, a co-worker of Ring's who holds the same title, said TWI was developed in the 1940s to help industry feed the World War II effort. It was used in the 1950s to rebuild the infrastructure of Japan after the war, and has since spread worldwide.

“It deals with continuous improvement,” Johnson said. “All your businesses look at how to get better. You don't just make a product and ship it. We want to know, ‘How can we produce it and continue to get better?’ Continuous improvement is about profit. That's the bottom line of whatever business you're in.

“The program is one of utter simplicity. It uses a blueprinted procedure that requires a minimum of time and it adheres to the learn-by-doing principle. There are built-in multipliers to spread the training.”

He said that TWI reduced training costs by 60% and increased productivity by 14% recently at Adidas.

There are three levels of management:

  • Policy deployment

    Senior management is in charge of purpose and direction and focuses on priorities and strategic issues.

  • Cross-functional management

    Middle management is in charge of breakthrough improvements and focuses on value-stream management and large-scale projects.

  • Daily management

    Supervisors and leaders are in charge of routine stability and continuous improvement and focus on TWI, standard work, and problem-solving.

A common thread runs through all TWI programs as the result of much trial and error learning during introduction: each program has a similar four-step method; the method is stated in common, straightforward language; each participant must use the method to demonstrate understanding; small groups of eight to 10 practice the method under guided assistance to “learn by doing”; an outline of what and how and time sets a universal standard; 10 hours of class are best delivered in five two-hour meetings without a break; and compact scheduling of the five meetings to keep the subject fresh and not keep people away from their jobs over long periods of time.

“The TWI approach is not a matter of schools or classes,” he said. “It is individual and/or group work on current-day problems of output, quality, lost time, scrap, re-work, maintenance, and working relations.”

Job Relations (JR) teaches supervisors and team leaders how to develop and maintain positive employee relations to prevent problems from happening and how to effectively resolve conflicts that arise. Objectives: build positive employee relations by effectively resolving conflicts that arise; and maintain positive employee relations by preventing problems from happening.

To prevent problems, let each worker know how he/she is doing; give credit when credit is due; tell people in advance about changes that will affect them; and make the best use of each person's ability.

To handle a problem: get the facts and be sure you have the whole story; weigh and decide instead of jumping to conclusions; take action and don't pass the buck; and check results by asking, “Did your action help production? Did you accomplish your objective?”

Results from JR training include improved employee relations, morale, attendance and quality, fewer grievances, increased productivity, and reduced cost.

Job Methods (JM) teaches supervisors and teams leaders how to continuously improve the way jobs are done. The objective is to make the best use of the people, machines, and materials now available.

The four-step method:

  • Break down the job

    “Use a sheet that lists present/proposed method details, remarks relating to time, tolerance, rejects, and safety, and ideas.”

  • Question every detail

    “Why is it necessary? What is its purpose? Where should it be done? When should it be done? Who is best qualified to do it? How is ‘the best way’ to do it?”

  • Develop the new method

    “Eliminate, combine and re-arrange, and simplify.”

  • Apply the new method

    “Sell the change to others, obtain necessary approvals, put the new method to use right away, credit those involved, and continue to improve the new method.”

He said concrete results from JM training include reduced cost, WIP, inventory, and returns, increased throughput and profits, continuous improvement, and improved customer satisfaction.

Job Instruction (JI) teaches supervisors and team leaders how to quickly train employees to do a job correctly, safely, and conscientiously. Objectives: develop a well-trained workforce resulting in less scrap and rework, fewer accidents, less tool and equipment damage, improved quality, increased customer satisfaction, and fewer returns.

The four-step method:

  • Prepare the worker to learn

    “Put the person at ease, state the job, find out what the person knows about the job, get the person interested in the job, and place them in the right position.”

  • Present the operation

    “Tell, show, and illustrate one important step at a time. Do it again, stressing key points. Do it again, stressing the reasons.”

  • Try out the performance

    “Have the person do the job. Do it again, telling important steps. Do it again, telling key points. Do it again, telling reasons.”

  • Follow-up

    “Put the person on his or her own. List who to go to for help. Check on the person frequently and encourage questions.”

He said concrete results from JI training include reduced training time, scraps, and tool and equipment damage, increased productivity, profits, and job satisfaction/morale, fewer accidents, improved quality, and standardized work.

“TWI is for supervisors and front-line leaders — anyone in charge of people or who directs the work of others,” he said. “It's for those who take action or make recommendations on first-line discipline problems.

“It indoctrinates people into an ‘improvement’ frame of mind, teaches people how to identify opportunities for improving their jobs, trains people how to generate ideas to take advantage of these opportunities, shows people how to get these ideas into practice right away, and creates ownership for people to maintain standard work.”

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.