Six Sigma – Reduce Errors and Increase Output

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From reading up on our guide to the Toyota 5s methodology in the recent weeks, you probably have a good idea about how structured and logical business methodologies can be used to enhance operations. Another method is Six sigma. This is a statistically driven approach aimed at reducing the number of errors present in a business or manufacturing process.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is a statistically driven, quality control method which can significantly improve the efficiency of a business or process. Its origins date back to 1986 and Motorola, but the mathematical concept behind it reaches much further back to the early 19th century. Motorola’s senior management were reportedly unhappy about the lack of consistent quality in the company’s products. To tackle this, a Motorola engineer Bill Smith set out to improve manufacturing consistency. He eventually came up with the six sigma system to influence manufacturing quality. The system has since become very popular and has been applied to a whole range of different manufacturing systems.

It is all about removing errors or defects from a business process and keeping them to a minimum. In this way, process efficiency and product quality is maximised. Six Sigma is now a widely recognised business training offered by many companies, even Motorola. Individuals undertaking the training scheme can reach various levels of competency. These include levels such as green belt, black belt, master black belt and finally champion.

What does Six Sigma involve?

The principle of six sigma is to ensure consistent and high quality manufacturing operations. Under six sigma, the number of defects or errors in a process must be kept to 3.4 per million opportunities. This system is applied to all aspects of a manufacturing process, and involves breaking down and analysing all parts of manufacturing. As a result, you should expect greater efficiencies in processes and business structure.

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Six Sigma defines a defect as anything produced in the manufacturing process outside customer satisfaction. An opportunity is therefore any chance for a defect to occur. For example, sticking with Motorola, when manufacturing their phones, for every 1 million phones they manufacture, the amount which are faulty or have defects should be under 3.4.

The methodologies used to implement six sigma broadly fall under two subcategories; the DMAIC process which stands for define, measure, analyse, improve and control. The DMADV process stands for define, measure, analyse, design and verify. Both of these subcategories will be further explained in the coming weeks. DMAIC is the conventional application of six sigma principles; namely to remove defects in a manufacturing or business process. DMADV is a variation of this theme and is applied to trying to solve problems, often touted as a way of trying to solve previously unsolvable problems.

What are the Benefits?

The most obvious benefit of the Six Sigma process is error reduction. As wall as improving the efficiency of business and manufacturing processes, this can significantly improve customer relations and loyalty. Especially for small and up and coming businesses, the ability of a business to retain a positive relationship with its customers is key to its success. Ensuring consistency in your product and service keeps customers satisfied, making them confident that you can deliver to a high standard.

As opposed to other quality control methodology, you can apply six sigma to the entire business process. It is not just limited to the manufacture of phones, but also to things such as employees working to fix a problem on site, delivering an offsite service or managing or optimising individuals workload.

As a result, six sigma has the benefit of improving employees time management and work motivation. You can also use it to influence further business change and help act on areas of improvement in your business.

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