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Six Sigma in the manufacturing industry

Published: 28 Jan 2021

Husain Al-Omani, Master Black Belt, Board Member of the AACE (Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering) International Marketing Board, highlights the importance of the Six Sigma approach and why more businesses should adopt this quality management methodology.

Over the past 50 years, there has been an increasing interest in the application of the Six Sigma methodology within a number of sectors; from construction and healthcare to education, and hospitality. Six Sigma is a tool that is used for process improvement and quality control. It is not only used for improving business performance, but also for increasing the levels of customer satisfaction, by eliminating causes of defects/errors, reducing cycle times as well as operational costs for business.

Some of the other key elements of Six Sigma programmes include making fact-based data-driven decisions, improving processes, providing leadership in management, teamwork, and training that encourages innovation while managing risks. This quality approach is related to the reduction in process variation and decision-making based on statistical tools such as the Pareto Chart, Histogram, Gage R&R, Process Capability, Regression, Control Charts and others.

According to the Global Business and Management Research Journal (2003), the manufacturing industry suffers from excessive and uncontrolled variation in processes. ‘Variation’ is the property of a characteristic, process, or system that takes on different values when it is repeated. Sometimes, a variation in a process can cause low efficiency, poor quality, and slow cycle times down in manufacturing. However, by implementing the Six Sigma approach, businesses have the potential of reducing variation from current products processes and new products through a design/redesign approach.

Adopting the Six Sigma approach

Six Sigma is a data and fact-driven management methodology that begins when stakeholders clarify what measures are integral for assessing the performance of a manufacturing operation. After an assessment has been conducted, an analysis and data collection procedure should be developed and updated to find out the main components for optimising manufacturing, process outcomes. Once the process has been implemented, businesses will be able to eliminate any potential defects before they happen.

Manufacturing practitioners of Six Sigma are extensively trained in the DMAIC (define, measure, analyse, improve and control) methodology, with the objective of reducing cycle times, eliminating defects, achieving cost savings, reducing variation and improving processes in the operation.

The main aspects of Six Sigma in manufacturing include:

  1. A focus on the impact of financial goals through process optimisation (which is tied to customer satisfaction)
  2. The focus on the needs of the customer and measurable improvements in processes that are critical to the quality characteristics – each characteristic is a distinguishing feature of the product or service
  3. The internal critical quality parameters that relate to the needs of the customer (eg, the timeliness).

For the manufacturer’s product to be profitable, the value of the output must be higher than the value of the inputs used. During the Six Sigma transformation, the inputs that are collected in the form of labour, material, machine, and energy, are used to create the output product to the customer’s specifications.

Six Sigma training

Manufacturers can improve Six Sigma outcomes by introducing hiring and training initiatives, which are focused on leader efficacy. Successful organisations realise the importance of their human assets and how they play a major role in achieving their success. The degree of success depends on the appropriate level and relevance of the organisation’s human assets’ education and training.

As this quality tool continues to emerge, it is vital for manufacturing businesses to get their teams up to speed with this discipline, if they are to continue improving business performance and, more importantly, prevent expensive costs as a result of poor quality

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