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The Lean 6 Sigma methodology and the ‘do more and better, with less’ philosophy

08 June 2020

Article by Joana Moreira, INEGI’s Industrial Engineering and Management junior consultant.

The dynamism and instability of markets dictate the replacement of traditional management methods with innovative strategies and approaches that support the growth and competitiveness of companies.

The goal is transversal to all businesses: increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of processes, reducing operating costs and, at the same time, improving the quality of products and services, while increasing customer satisfaction.

However, among the several possible ways to achieve these results, the Lean 6 Sigma methodology has been gaining prominence, and INEGI also has the capacities and skills to provide companies with techniques and tools that support this methodology. By breaking with traditional approaches, we seek to boost efficiency levels in our customers operations and processes.

Operational strategy is based on eliminating variability and improving flows

The Lean 6 Sigma methodology arises from the joint application of the Lean principles with 6 Sigma principles. The Lean philosophy developed by Toyota, needs no introduction, as it has countless years of application in industry and services. Its main focus is the elimination of waste and the continuous improvement of processes.

6 Sigma, in turn, was developed by Motorola. It aims to eliminate the causes of variability and, consequently, minimize the defects produced, always keeping the focus on the customer. This methodology is currently applied in numerous industries and services. It is synonymous with excellence in processes, and it is common to find its application in renowned companies.

The combination of these two methodologies proves to be a powerful operational strategy1, by combining tools for continuous improvement with tools for improving productivity, quality and lead time. Improvements that are achieved by eliminating waste and process variability.

The main methodology associated with Lean 6 Sigma projects is DMAIC: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (in Portuguese, define, measure, analyze, improve and monitor). The application of several analytical tools allows one to take advantage of data and processes, driving towards improvements with an impact on company performance. The reduction of variability in processes translates into a significant decrease in the number of errors or defects, to achieve very high levels of quality. By changing and optimizing processes, the cost of rework is reduced, since product defects or service failures will be very rare.

Employees play an important role in achieving better results

According to the Lean 6 Sigma philosophy, one of the main vectors in the transition to more efficient operations is the enhancement of human resources. The involvement of employees is crucial to the success of Lean 6 Sigma and their mentality and attitude, in this context, must focus on growth and continuous improvement through process optimization.

Applying this methodology does not mean making employees work more or faster, but more efficiently. To understand the potential impact on companies, we highlight a well-known case study2, which proves that, as this methodology dictates, it is possible to add more value to the operation, with less effort.

In this case study, we come across a factory where inexperienced packaging operators pack about 63 packages per hour, while more experienced operators pack about 80 units per hour. As the increase in the productivity of new operators would translate into significant gains, the company decided to apply the Lean 6 Sigma methodology.

The team analyzed the possible causes and assessed their impact, using the Ishikawa diagram and statistical control tools, determining that among the difficulties experienced by the new operators was the difficult identification of the necessary tools and the fact that they did not know how to execute corrective actions, requiring assistance. The lack of a standard training process and tools for assessing the performance of new operators was also one of the flaws identified.

To overcome these problems, solutions were applied, such as displays with instructions on the packaging bench and the creation of virtual training videos highlighting the most common problems and how to solve them. Training was also implemented in the scope of quality, in order to increase the awareness of operators for this topic, and trainers were provided with tools to diagnose flaws in the performance of new operators and help them in their correction.

More Quality, Less Time, Lower Cost

Simple solutions that in the long run have allowed operators to increase results, without sacrificing quality, and with fewer resources. The results prove it: with the application of the improvements presented, the new operators started to pack 78 packages per hour.

The cycle time for picking up the packaging has been reduced from 5 to 2.5 seconds, the labor utilization rate has risen from 84% to 90% and the defect rate has decreased from 0.17% to 0, 06%.

By combining two powerful approaches to process improvement, Lean 6 Sigma brings together the best of both worlds to quickly and drastically reduce cycle time and waste and promote sustained improvements in data that meet the clients expectations.
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