Six Sigma Changed Manufacturing Forever
It did not take long after word started spreading about the success Motorola had improving production, for other companies to want to learn the secret. The quality of Motorola products improved considerably in the late 1980’s and it was because the CEO adopted the Six Sigma model. The model called for improving the manufacturing process to eliminate production problems that were costing Motorola millions of dollars. Now the words ‘six sigma’ and the manufacturing industry are practically synonymous! That is because of the huge success companies have seen with this methodology.
Six Sigma is a quality control program that strives to produce a nearly perfect product every time it goes through the assembly line. Six Sigma, stands for the number that Motorola tried to obtain of less than 4 defects per 1 million units which has now become the industry standard. Five Sigma is just over 200 defects per million and the scale goes down from there. If a company is running at Three or Four Sigma, there are hundreds or thousands of problems. This is when major changes in manufacturing are required.
When Motorola began the review of production in 1986, they found that most of the production lines were operating at Three Sigma or worse. The production problems were costing Motorola customers and the future of the company was threatened. Special teams of experts were employed to look at each step of the manufacturing process to determine where the defects were coming from and how they could be reversed. The experts were named after martial arts experts who work their way from yellow belt up to black belt.
When this method is used to improve manufacturing, the team member who is a black belt is in charge. He or she has been specially trained in quality control measures to overhaul the assembly line. They will employ a team composed of a variety of people including green belts and yellow belts who are also trained in the methodology but to a lesser degree. The collaborative approach is one of the key features in making sure that any company obtains its desired results.
It may seem unrealistic to expect that a company can manufacture a product with Six Sigma 99.9997% efficiency but it is definitely possible as many companies have proven. Assessing performance and analyzing the data to make sure that the goal has been achieved and is being maintained are a critical part of the process.