Six Sigma is a management philosophy that focuses on reducing process defects. According to Six Sigma principles, the definition of quality is, “product uniformity around a target value(s)”. It’s a philosophy focuses on improving each and every component that goes into the quality of output.
Drivers of quality
The quality of output in a manufacturing process depends on multiple factors. Each of these factors, in varying degrees, contributes to the overall quality of the output. Let’s go through some of these factors.
Management: Management support is essential for achieving quality improvement. Quality control, production scheduling, digital transformation initiatives, etc., are the prerogative of the management.
Materials: The materials that go into the production of goods play a huge part in the quality of the product. The materials chosen should be appropriate for the requirements in the end product.
Machines: The machines that are used to make the products also play a major role in final quality. Machines themselves help to improve quality by eliminating variability in processes. Using tailored machines for processes improves the output.
Processes: How materials and machines are used in production also affects the final quality of the production process. Optimal asset management and tracking can help improve processes. Improved processes increase output quality downstream.
People: The engineers, operators, and technicians working on the production floor also have a major influence in the quality of the work. The knowledge, experience, and skills of the technicians play an outsized role in the final product quality. This is an often overlooked element of quality improvement.
There are many more factors that affect the final quality, but the focus of this article is on one of the most important drivers of quality – the people involved in the production process.
In a manufacturing operation, various technicians are essential for smooth operations. This includes production managers, machine operators, maintenance technicians, plant supervisors, and control engineers.
First of all, they must have strong knowledge in their area of expertise. For example, an operator working with a boiler needs to know the type, the working principle, and the specific details of the boiler. Similarly, each technician should know the engineering principles, machine specifications, and operating conditions. This is the basic expectation from the technical manpower in a plant.
On top of this, people in the plant must have sufficient hands-on experience with the work there. This can be acquired through training exercises, education provided by machinery or equipment OEMs, specialization courses, and relevant industry work experience.
It’s also necessary for employees to take the initiative to update their knowledge, constantly. Some of the means for gaining knowledge include industry trade shows, diligent reading of blogs, newsletters, etc. The updated and relevant technical manpower helps to improve the processes and performance of plant operations.
Relying on people to deliver improvement also brings its own challenges, mainly rising from variability in the ways that technicians and operators perform their work. The underlying reason for the variability is the differences in training, skill level, and capabilities. Many other such individual differences play major roles in the occurrence of defects and imperfections in finished products. This is evident in the quality of the work, the product, and production process.
Without a doubt, variability in processes has to come down in order for output quality to increase. Automation, improved machinery, and condition-based maintenance help bring down the variability. But these are not helpful in bringing down the variability that arises due to people. Plant employees have to help each other to bridge the gaps in the ways that people perform this task. Some steps can be taken by management to aid that,too.
Rely on experience: Experienced technicians have faced many situations during their professional life. How they perform various tasks is molded by this experience. You should tap into this wealth of experience to identify the optimal way to perform specific tasks.
Guidelines provided by OEMs have to be relied upon for the same reason.
SOPs and checklists: The guidelines provided by OEMs and experienced technicians can be used to create standard operating procedures (SOPs.) This codified set of instructions will help to eliminate variability in operator actions. This can be converted to checklists, to ensure everyone adheres to the SOPs.
A cloud-based solution like CMMS can be used to grant access to these SOPs anywhere, and on any device.
Openness: Fostering an open environment is beneficial, too. Any employee should be able to challenge how things are done and suggest a better way to improve the quality of work. Eliminating punitive actions against such voices is a basic necessity. Incentives to encourage workers to propose ideas have to be on top such a policy.
Training: Your company has to take initiative to improve the knowledge and skills of plant technicians. Conducting regular seminars, workshops, and symposiums will help. Tying up with OEMs to constantly impart updated knowledge to employees is also helpful. You also can provide employees with subscriptions to industry-related journals and newsletters, with the same goal in mind.
Apprenticeship: Every new employee in a plant has to be trained by experienced technicians. These experienced technicians are aware of SOPs and other nuances of the plant. When new employees train under experienced technicians, they are bound to follow how they perform their tasks. This will work only if standard practices are established and employees adhere to them.
Automation and ancillary Industry 4.0 technologies help to bridge quality deficits to a great extent. The remaining piece to the puzzle is the variability that occurs due to differences in individuals, and this can be reduced by managers fostering collaboration among employees. Various tools and techniques can be employed for that – and cloud-based technologies are a great enabler for employee collaboration. Such solutions have to be implemented as a supplement to analog methods.
Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.