As part of my preparation for moving back into the consulting world I recently signed up for a series of classes and certifications through Purdue University on Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing. These classes lead to certification as a green and then a black belt in Six Sigma techniques. So what is Six Sigma and how does it relate to automation?
Six Sigma is a business process that allows companies to improve their bottom line by designing and monitoring everyday business activities in ways that minimize waste and resources while increasing customer satisfaction. Six Sigma guides companies into making fewer mistakes in everything they do, from filling out a purchase order to manufacturing a complex product, eliminating lapses in quality at the earliest possible occurrence. Quality control programs have focused on detecting and correcting commercial, industrial and design defects. Six Sigma encompasses something broader, it provides specific methods to re-create the process so that defects and errors never arise in the first place.
Without measuring a company’s processes and its changes to these processes its impossible to know where you are or where you are going. Some of the tenets of Six Sigma are:
We don’t know what we don’t know.
We can’t do what we don’t know.
We won’t know until we measure.
We don’t measure what we don’t value.
We don’t value what we don’t measure.
Six Sigma techniques are often used along with other aspects such as JIT (Just-In-Time), Kanban and Kaizen in the Lean Manufacturing process.
So how do these things relate to automation? Well, often the solutions to correcting inefficient processes involve automating a process to remove human error or making measurements to verify quality. In last couple of years I have been involved in several projects that involved the analysis of customer processes and projects to identify the proper solution. That solution often involves changes to not only the manufacturing process but often the business and operational processes also. Unfortunately my current position only enables me to identify improvements from the technical side, whereas the best solution often involves changes to the operations and business side. I hope to become a more well rounded solution for customers by receiving this training, though my concentration will probably usually still be on the technical aspects.
Six Sigma techniques should be a useful technique to add to my system integrator toolbox.