Six Sigma: Not a Panacea for Design Flaws


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The quantifiable results derived from Six Sigma programs are impressive;it has proven to be comprehensive, effective quality tool.Read the complete point-of-view by Karthikeyan Natarajan, Head, Mahindra Satyam Integrated Engineering Solutions

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Six Sigma: Not a Panacea for Design Flaws

  1. 1. Point of View Six Sigma: Not a Panacea for Design Flaws By Karthikeyan Natarajan Head, Mahindra Satyam Integrated Engineering Solutions The quantifiable results derived from Six Sigma programs are impressive; it has proven to be comprehensive, effective quality tool. For more than a decade, companies throughout the world have applied Six Sigma techniques to improve process performance, decrease variation, and maintain consistent quality of process output. It provides the techniques and tools to streamline any process, reduce whatever defects it may include, and measure process capability. Originally used in 1995 in Motorola’s manufacturing division, where millions of parts are made via the same, repeated process, Six Sigma is now applied in numerous industries. By implementing the structured, disciplined, and data-driven approach, thousands of organizations have seen dramatic reductions, if not elimination, of defects. As such, they have enjoyed enhanced profits, superior product quality, According to the Six Sigma and new levels of customer satisfaction. Academy, a company can The quantifiable results derived from Six Sigma programs are impressive; it has count on someone certified proven to be comprehensive, effective quality tool. Creating fewer than 3.4 defects per one million opportunities—the standard for Six Sigma—is indeed remarkable, as a Six Sigma "Black Belt" to and the results of such efficiency can be staggering. According to the Six Sigma save about $230,000 per Academy, a company can count on someone certified as a Six Sigma "Black Belt" to project, and many Black Belts save about $230,000 per project, and many Black Belts complete as many as six complete as many as six projects per year. projects per year. General Electric has embraced Six Sigma wholeheartedly, and benefited a great deal from its commitment. By blending proven engineering philosophies, Six Sigma techniques, and significant common sense, GE has improved its market share, Consumer Union Rankings, and profitability—huge gains for relatively low cost. Another company applied Six Sigma and reduced the time required to complete a service from 70 days to just 10 in only 18 months. As a result of this increased operational vigor, parts back orders also dropped dramatically. Moreover, GE implemented the Design For Six Sigma Methodology (DFSS) for new product development and for value engineering techniques, improving its bottom line 4 percent in the process. Key program elements are listed below: • It converted the margin in design to value engineering opportunities • Customers reported significantly fewer quality issues. (Service call rates dropped from 7 percent to 4 percent in five years.) • Customer satisfaction improved, along with the quality and reliability of its products • The program enabled system engineering practices, which, in turn, enabled next-generation product and technology development Design still matters While Six Sigma can enhance the quality of design by forcing users to understand its failure probabilities from the outset, it cannot architect a design itself. That
  2. 2. Point of View critical task remains in the purview of the design team. Only when a design is architected, and meets the functional requirements, can DFSS improve process capabilities. If a design meets its functional requirements, DFSS can ensure its consistency throughout its life. In addition, Six Sigma provides a set of tools and a framework to capture the voice of the customer. It improves process capabilities by minimizing defects, which leads to higher customer satisfaction. However, Six Sigma does not replace good design practices. Instead, companies must employ predictive engineering, analytical engineering, fundamentals of design, engineering drawing standards, and process technologies, among other disciplines. To achieve transformational results, true collaboration is required. At the same time, Six Sigma is not a substitute for robust design techniques, frequent "toll-gating" (comprehensive checks during product development), and implementation of environmental, health, and safety processes. Nor can it modify design principles. Similarly, DFSS methods can only address processes that can ensure minimal variations and bring about expected performance. They cannot produce better designs to meet functional requirements, or address design flaws. In addition, Six Sigma Consider the story of a man who visits an eye doctor for a checkup: The doctor asks the man to read a chart from a distance, but the patient says he is provides a set of tools and a unable to do so. The doctor examines the patient’s eyes closely, produces several framework to capture the pairs of glasses, and then asks him to try each one. Even after sampling several voice of the customer. It pairs of spectacles, the man still cannot read the chart. The perplexed doctor begins improves process capabilities to ask the patient some questions, and soon enough, discovers the patient cannot read or write. by minimizing defects, which leads to higher customer This example illustrates the fact that basic functionality requirements must be met before fine-tuning can be effective. Attempting to tune a process without ensuring satisfaction. However, Six that it is designed properly may work, once in a while. However, it is more likely to Sigma does not replace good be futile—a solution in search of a problem—akin to giving an illiterate man glasses design practices. to help him read. Similarly, a company recently produced refrigerator liners via thermo-forming with a new plastic material. However, it did so without a proper process to establish important dimensions, such as liner width. Precise liner widths are critical because they help a refrigerator hold trays, shelves, and other parts securely. To solve this problem, the company was prepared to spend a considerable sum to modify its machine process parameters. Instead, it embarked on three months of design experiments—a far less expensive option. These resulted in creation of a post- formation cooling fixture, which ensured the process capability for the critical dimensions. In addition, like most large-scale initiatives, a Six Sigma program requires support throughout the organization—a holistic approach. Members of the design team, for instance, must keep their marketing, sourcing, purchasing, and manufacturing colleagues apprised of changes in process. Furthermore, the entire organization must embrace the shift in mindset and culture required for Six Sigma programs to work optimally. Without commitment and support at every level of the organization, complemented by robust change management initiatives, Six Sigma programs are likely to fall short of expectations, or fail outright.
  3. 3. Point of View Six Points about Six Sigma • Six Sigma is a mindset, more than a tool. It is a comprehensive shift in how operations are performed. To ensure success, the entire ecosystem—suppliers, customers, and implementers, among others—must commit to the Six Sigma philosophy. • Using numerous Six Sigma techniques does not guarantee a superior product. Using numerous Six Sigma However, applying exceptional tools can guarantee success. techniques does not • Control plans tend to fall apart if they are not linked to business imperatives or guarantee a superior metrics. Track projects and initiatives, and ensure accountability. product. However, applying • Six Sigma techniques can be applied in most industries—for quality and exceptional tools can mainstream processes guarantee success • Six Sigma is not a substitute for common sense. Hard work and applied expertise can solve many problems; applying Six Sigma to all problems is ineffective. • Senior management commitment is imperative to Six Sigma success. Organizations should work hard to generate enthusiasm. Pointing to some of its abundant success stories is an effective way to create excitement. For further information please write to