QMT Features: July 2007
A new approach to Six-Sigma
New software modules for the QDAS range of SPC software make Six-Sigma available to all levels of users

What exactly is Six-Sigma? The surprising answer is that Six-Sigma is really nothing new, and that most companies already apply many of the techniques in one way or another, without even realising it. The only difference is that companies working within a Six-Sigma environment have adopted a company wide initiative for continuous improvement, with the aim of boosting profitability and the quality of their services and products. This goal is achieved by applying a series of well proven statistical techniques based on existing initiatives, such as Kaizen, Poka-Yoke, JIT, TQM, Lean Management, etc. Continuous improvement is gained by breaking down the manufacturing process into individual working projects that can be measured, monitored and analysed easily.

What is new in Six-Sigma is the application of 3 factors ;

· A consistent process approach

· The consistent application of universal quality metrics

· The combination of project steps and methods

In order to achieve this, the manufacturing process is broken down into individual processes or projects, with each project targeted on one common goal. In this way, each project can be easily observed and measured in terms of cause and effect – after all, you can’t change or improve something if you can’t measure it ! The use of project steps enables users to determine what needs to be done, and the methods provided to determine how something has to be done. The key factor is that Six-Sigma is focused on measuring and analysing what is important in the process.

What is process improvement ?

The concept of process improvement varies from company to company, engineer to engineer, according to the manufacturing and quality philosophies of the company concerned. For those companies applying Six-Sigma, process improvement is best described as the conscious changes that are made to an existing process (i.e. the current status of the process) in order to reach a defined target. The improvements are always measurable and understandable through a series of “cause and effect” relationships, and are not the result of “random” effects. In every case, improvement is permanent and results in a new level being achieved – this can be in terms of quality, cost, time, etc., with a clear increase in benefit for the customer (whether internal or external to the company). In addition, it is also important that the company fully comprehends what is not considered as process improvement, including ;

- Troubleshooting actions or “fire-fighting” are not corrective measure

- Using improved gauges does not make the process any better - it just makes the process more measurable

- Outsourcing of processes simply moves the problem from one supplier to another supplier

- Manipulating” statistical data is simply ignoring and disregarding actual process data

In order to fully understand a process (or project), Six-Sigma engineers often utilise a method known as the DMAIC Phase Model, which provides a set of pre-defined steps towards invoking process improvement. The 5 steps are ;

Define: define the process and determine the problem type in terms of a process flow chart

Measure: determine the critical quality characteristics, and specify the required standard performance levels along with the suitable measuring system(s)

Analyse: determine process capability and performance targets, with identification of causes of deviations from targets

Improve : correction of the causes of deviation, with process optimisation

Control: introduction of process control actions

In order to carry out these actions, engineers can be trained in the use of the various techniques to 2 distinct levels – Green Belt and Black Belt. The more experienced Black Belt user is able to apply all of the Six-Sigma techniques fully independently, and should be able to plan, perform, finalise and manage all types of projects. It is also the role of the Black Belt to appoint less experienced Green Belt users, who are able to carry out smaller (individual) projects under the guidance of a Black Belt. In general, each project will have a Black Belt appointed as a team leader, or Six-Sigma Champion, whose primary role is to be the “engine” of the Six-Sigma initiative for the company.

A New Tool for Six-Sigma – destra

For those already involved in the use of Six-Sigma, there is an underlying requirement for all users to have a significantly high understanding of statistical calculations and techniques. It is for this reason that many companies have been reluctant to adopt the techniques, despite the benefits that can be achieved. QDAS recognised the need for a solution that is both intuitive and easy to use, resulting in the all-new destra software for Six-Sigma. destra is seen quite literally as the user’s “right hand” for the successful implementation of the many tasks required in a Six-Sigma environment.

Many of the software requirements for Six-Sigma are already available within the QDAS product range. The measurement, analysis and improvement phases are covered by the standard software modules, including Sample Analysis for short term processes, Process Analysis for capability of longer term processes, and Measurement Systems Analysis for gauge capability and suitability. These modules are already used by many Six-Sigma engineers, due to the ease of use of the software and its ability to connect directly to most makes and types of in process gauge, removing the need for manual data entry thereby speeding up and improving the accuracy of process data collection. The existing modules are also aimed primarily at manufacturing processes, and therefore lend themselves ideally as a day-to-day statistical tool.

In order to fully complement the existing analysis modules, the all-new destra module provides the important planning modules for Six-Sigma applications, including Design of Experiments (DOE) plus regression and variance analysis. As with all QDAS software modules, emphasis has been placed on ease of use, rather than dependency on the user’s statistical “know-how”. A step-by-step “interview” leads the operator through the standard decision making stages required to correctly plan each experiment according to individual needs, with pre-defined statistical calculations and tests being automatically applied where required.

Unlike traditional Six-Sigma software solutions, destra does not display results in only numerical formats. The software automatically generates a vast array of graphics, according to the context of the analysis, which can be displayed according to the users own requirements – task or project specific, or alternatively user specific. In this way, each user can quickly find the required results without having to make lots of statistical decisions, providing an efficient and target-oriented Six-Sigma environment. All graphics and result tables are freely configurable by users, such that complex sets of data can be reported in a clear and concise way.

Like most other QDAS statistical software modules, destra uses the same common user interface, and is able to handle and administer huge amounts of data. Pre-configured reports allow users to present data in a meaningful manner that can be easily understood, even by technical staff with no previous knowledge or understanding of SPC. The combination of the automated analysis of the standard QDAS products, an operator oriented step-by-step approach, plus a vast array of user definable graphical tools makes destra the ideal tool for those companies wishing to adopt a Six-Sigma environment, and also for those frustrated by the technicalities of existing Six-Sigma solutions.   l

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