Six Sigma in Manufacturing

What is six sigma in manufacturing?

Six sigma in manufacturing is a process improvement method that helps to minimize waste and produce goods more efficiently. Created in the 1980s by Motorola engineer Bill Smith, six sigma derives its name from standard deviation (typically represented by the Greek letter sigma, σ). The goal of six sigma initiatives is to reduce variation to the point that defects are counted in the parts per million.

Six sigma in manufacturing is often closely associated with lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturing and six sigma initiatives both seek to improve quality and efficiency by eliminating manufacturing defects and waste.

The approach taken in six sigma manufacturing differs from that taken in lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturing uses a five-step process to create continuous improvement:

  • Identify value
  • Create a value stream map
  • Generate a process flow
  • Establish “pull” (create an on-demand process)
  • Continuously improve and perfect

Six sigma in manufacturing focuses on eliminating variation, which results in reduced costs and greater customer satisfaction. The starting point with six sigma is the customer’s experience, and the methodology is data-driven.

The seven steps of six sigma in manufacturing

Replacing the five steps of lean manufacturing initiatives, six sigma initiatives involve the following seven steps:

  • Start with the customer– With a goal of delivering goods that satisfy the customer, six sigma sets out to optimize the value to the customer generated through the production process.
  • Delineate the manufacturing process – Manufacturers need to clearly comprehend how products are currently being produced and identify inefficiencies before determining how to improve. Like the lean manufacturing approach, six sigma uses process maps and workflow charts in this effort.
  • Develop a plan – Any inefficiencies identified in step 2 can be subjected to processes like the 5 Whys [link to glossary page] to understand the nature of the problem and come up with a plan that addresses it.
  • Cut waste to optimize value – Implementing the plans developed in step 3 involves waste reduction.
  • Minimize variation – Consistency in manufacturing processes helps to reduce defects by reducing the amount of variation that occurs.
  • Collaborate – Working with all stakeholders helps a manufacturer to identify variation that might otherwise have been overlooked.
  • Be systematic – Applying a scientific and data-driven approach to process improvement, six sigma in manufacturing is founded on data to define the problem, calculation to determine the best course of action, and measurement to gauge progress.

Six sigma software and its benefits

A manufacturing operations management system (MOM) [link to glossary page] incorporates six sigma software and/or the six sigma methodology. Six sigma software may employ the steps outlined above or what has become known as the DMAIC method: define, measure, analyze, improve, control. By ferreting out inefficiencies and improving manufacturing productivity and outcomes, six sigma software provides a well-defined means to closed-loop continuous process improvement.

Additional benefits:

  • Reduced scrap
  • Shorter cycle times
  • Improved on-time delivery
  • Reduced operating costs
  • Greater customer satisfaction