Six Sigma is defined as 3.4 defects per one million opportunities, or approximately one out-of-tolerance feature in every 300,000 parts. For the majority of manufacturing this is an admirable goal, but there are some applications where that’s one defect too many. Critical aircraft components. Brake parts and safety belt mechanisms used in passenger vehicles. The lock on your house’s front door. These are just a few of the everyday examples where dimensional deviation is unacceptable, and may well be catastrophic. Thanks to some clever software tools, however, it’s possible that Six Sigma quality levels might one day go the way of the Edsel.
Of course, the term Six Sigma means far more than the percentage of defective parts produced on the shop floor each day. First introduced by Motorola engineer Bill Smith in 1986, General Electric’s Jack Welch later took the Six Sigma ball and ran with it, making it a central part of his management strategy. Since then, this and other quality tools have become an integral piece of manufacturing today. Together with Lean, these continuous improvement methodologies utilize a variety of techniques to reduce waste and defects while improving part quality, production efficiency, and worker safety. Some examples include:
- DMAIC—Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control is a key element of any Six Sigma project, and is designed to identify the sources of errors and reduce process variability
- Why ask Why—in order to determine the root cause of problems on the production floor, Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno encouraged employees to iteratively ask why these problems occurred, a technique now known as Five Whys
- Follow the Stream—mapping the manufacturing process from start to finish is a valuable exercise, one that helps identify the parts the customer is willing to pay for, hence the term Value Stream Mapping
- Keep it Clean—Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain are the five principles behind 5S, a practice that improves workplace organization and cleanliness
- Even a Caveman Can Do It—mistake proofing, or Poka Yoke, is a mechanism used on the production floor to avoid errors—a fixture that prevents improper loading of a workpiece is just one example
Old Tools, New Cars
There are many such techniques, any one of which is helpful in reducing process variability and identifying sources of waste—implemented together, they offer a robust methodology by which manufacturers can improve virtually every aspect of their production systems. However, for those seeking the holy grail of continuous improvement—Zero Defects—even the most ardent of Lean and Six Sigma supporters must admit that a broader array of tools may be needed.
That’s because these quality programs are primarily geared towards the factory floor. What about product design and engineering? Automobile manufacturers, for example, continually develop bold new designs in an effort to reduce vehicle weight while optimizing performance. Are legacy tools being used to their full extent at the concept stage, long before the first bit of metal is formed or hole drilled? Further, relatively new technologies such as 3D printing are already making substantial impact on the way products are developed, and promise even bigger changes as they become mainstream manufacturing processes. Of what relevance are Poka Yoke and Value Stream Mapping when parts are delivered complete (or nearly so) from the jaw of a 3D printer?
Simply put, are our tried and true quality strategies up to the challenges that come with this brave new manufacturing world?
Pursuing Product and Process Perfection
The answer is a conditional yes. Six Sigma and Lean will continue to drive quality improvements for decades to come, but we as designers, product engineers, and corporate management must continue to push for perfection, to take a fresh look at the way we do our jobs and assure as low a defect level as possible. It’s only by embracing new technologies that this goal will become reality.
Groupe Renault is one company doing just that. By implementing Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE as the hub of its “NewPDM” strategy, the automaker is pursuing a “right the first time” approach to product development. This is achieved through real-time collaboration of more than 10,000 Renault 3DEXPERIENCE users, each of whom are connected to a “unique configurable powertrain-platform-vehicle structure” that enables them to participate in manufacturing activities from concept through production.
They’re not alone. Electric vehicle manufacturer Faraday Future has also adopted Dassault’s Target Zero Defects initiative, which aims to reduce the risk of vehicle recalls and speed time to market through its virtual design capabilities, improved visibility of development and manufacturing activities, and a single source repository of information. The result? Faraday Future is now able to “design, simulate, and prepare for production in ways that were not possible with any other solution.”
Technology Enhances Quality Standards
The capabilities found in 3DEXPERIENCE aren’t meant to replace traditional Lean and Six Sigma methodologies. Quite the contrary, it only makes these tools better. For instance, Dassault’s Lean Production solution, a part of the 3DEXPERIENCE, provides users with greater visibility to material flow and manufacturing processes than ever before, while empowering them to make better decisions and more easily achieve performance targets, even on a global basis.
These are just a few examples of how automakers continue to raise the quality bar, and the tools needed to meet that challenge. Given the rigors of modern manufacturing—tougher materials, closer tolerances, accelerated product development cycles—it’s clear that manufacturers will be forced to demand ever more from their decades-old Lean and Six Sigma implementations. By leveraging software solutions that encompass the entire product lifecycle, and using them to augment existing continuous improvement programs, Zero Defects will one day be attainable.