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Using Six Sigma to Solve Complex Product Problems

December 3, 2016

From the very beginning of this company’s Six Sigma effort the goal was to use the process to address the most important business problems.  This meant that everything from scrap reduction to strategy problems to working for the company’s customers to improve their performance was fair game for the application of the processes and tools of Six Sigma.

One day the company received a call from one of its large customers.  This customer depended on the quality of the company’s products as a selling feature to its customers.  The purpose of the call was to alert the company that a problem had been detected at an assembly plant and affected thousands of the customer’s products.  This problem was entirely new and completely unexpected.  So unexpected, in fact, that there were no internal detection mechanisms in place to find it during production.  The nature of the problem allowed the company to quickly identify the most probable supplier.  But, the supplier was outstanding and highly capable delivering thousands and thousands of parts with no failures.  To top it off, initial estimates put the cost of the fix in the tens of millions of dollars.

An urgent call to action was sent out from business headquarters.  The first thing done was to pull one of the company’s best MBBs from the training launch then in progress and send the MBB to the plant where the company’s product was assembled.  Next, all of the local BBs were assembled together in a “war room” in the plant.  They were sequestered there and told this was their top priority until the problem was solved and the fix defined.  The team that worked with them consisted of participants from 3 of the company’s organizations, 3 other states and 2 foreign countries.  To make a long story short the problem was solved within 10 days with the following results:

  • The root cause was a process change by the supplier that did not follow prescribed and agreed policy required by the contract between the company and its supply base.
  • A change to the supplier process to bring it into conformance and the production of enough parts to make the fix.
  • A new measurement system was developed to allow the assembly plant to detect the problem in the future.
  • A simplified repair process was created which reduced the actual cost of repair to 3% of the original cost estimate.

The situation described here further convinced the company of the value of Six Sigma for addressing its biggest problems and was critical to the on-going progress of changing the company to one that sees continuous improvement as critical to its long term success.

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