Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a registered trademark and service mark of Motorola, Inc.

What is Six Sigma

Originally, Six Sigma is a methodology aimed at recognizing, analyzing and solving of (too) many variations in processes. Each process has its variations. They are the cause of a lot of internal deficits and complaints by customers. Six Sigma offers a methodology to minimize this variation in process.
Over time, the Six Sigma methodology has grown to a collective term of all kinds of techniques and methodologies with the goal of minimizing the defaults per million actions. Within Six Sigma, the word process contains more then only the production process. Also the development process, sales and purchasing can be improved with Six Sigma.

Six Sigma: In the beginning

 From 1985 onwards, Six Sigma (6s) has been developed by the Motorola Company from the US. The definition was as follows:
“A methodology of defining, identifying, measuring, analyzing, improving, and controlling of products and processes.”
(F. Stevens)

General Electrics picked up Six Sigma and developed it further. GE describes it as follows:

“The central idea behind Six Sigma is that if you can measure how many defects you have had during a process, you can systematically figure out how to eliminate them and get as close to “zero defects” as possible.”
(What is Six Sigma?, the Roadmap to Customer Impact, GE)

In each process, it is inevitable that defects occur. The number of mistakes can be regarded as a quality indicator. In general, the Six Sigma Roadmap is used to improve that quality.

Step 3 measures how many defects occur during each step of the process. The sum of all defect percentages defines the probability of a defect to occur. The specialty of Six Sigma is that the company defines a standard for the maximum allowable probability for a defect to occur (process variation). This probability can be rated as follows:

Sigma factor

Number of defects per million

Quality grade (yield)


690000 dpm

30,9 %


308000 dpm

69,2 %


66800 dpm

93,3 %


6210 dpm

99,4 %


230 dpm

99,98 %


3,4 dpm

99,9997 %

Sigma Capability

The average level of American companies is 3 to 4 Sigma. Thanks to the Six Sigma program with Motorola, quality improved over a period of three years from 3 to 5,7 sigma. The original aim of Six Sigma was to reduce process variations.

Internally, Six Sigma uses an improvement methodology that consists of five steps. The DMAIC-circle visualizes this methodology. DMAIC means Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. There exists a clear analogy with the Plan-Do-Check-Act-circle of Deming, which, in turn, is the basis for SGA-circle used by Blom Consultancy.

SGA circle

Just like with other WCM-programs, the approach to problems is generally by multifunctional teams. In this respect, the idea is that by combining different talents, cultures and functional professionalism you can obtain a bigger problem solving capacity.

Six Sigma can be subdivided into six themes:

  • Customer focus
  • Facts and Figures
  • Process focus, management and improvement
  • Pro-active management
  • Boundary less Collaboration (a term coming from Jack Welch) = go for it
  • Strive for perfection (Zero waste, zero defects)

Six Sigma: What did become of it?

Over time, several companies started to use Six Sigma to improve processes. For a long time, it has not only been restricted to production processes, but one is also using the same methodologies to tackle logistical, administrative, and other processes.

In the meantime, Six Sigma became a collective term for all kinds of techniques and methodologies, supporting that the company is going to be a world-class company. The aim still is to reduce variations in process; however, each technique related to the DMAIC-circle and can make a positive contribution is used. An unambiguous Six Sigma definition is not used any more. Several definitions are in circulation.

Peter S. Pande formulated the modern Six Sigma definition as follows:

“A comprehensive and flexible system for achieving, sustaining and maximizing business success. Six Sigma is uniquely driven by a close understanding of the needs of the customer, disciplined use of facts, data and statistical analysis and paying close attention to managing, improving and reinventing business processes.”
(The Six Sigma Way, Peter S. Pande et al, McGraw-Hill: 2000)

More information

Author: Bert Teeuwen, Blom Consultancy

What is the World Class Performance Model

The following model offers a structure to see the relation between the different improvement strategies like Six Sigma (TQM), Lean Manufacturing (JIT) and TPM, and the techniques being applied in those strategies.

It begins with ‘Customer Focus’;
the customer has to be satisfied on Quality, Delivery and Cost.

A rough positioning of several popular techniques would look like this:


A keen strategy needs to be developed how to satisfy the customer.
Companies Policy needs to be translate in hands-on activities

An information layer, including KPI’s, feedback systems, and knowledge sharing ties activities to Strategy

Although customer needs can not be split apart, Q-D and C have different focus and different improvement focus-strategies to realize the strategy.

To do so the company needs a sound organizational basis

World Class Manufacturing

21st Century State of the Art for Manufacturing Companies


Do you know those departments? With all these funny texts on the wall like ‘we make the impossible come true immediately, miracles will cost more time’. If you want get anything done there, ‘you got another thing coming’ and yet, customers all over the world become more demanding every day. You need departments capable of realizing tomorrow what seemed impossible today. To help you revamp your organization on this principle we have World Class Manufacturing.


Every commercial organization is focused on making profit. Manufacturing companies are a special breed within these enterprises because they make their products themselves. The objectives of Manufacturing Companies are to satisfy the needs of the customer who wants:

What customers want

  1. Products of consistent high quality
  2. Delivery On Time In Full amount ordered
  3. Products at the lowest possible cost level.

World Class Manufacturing [WCM] is the collective term for the most effective methodologies and techniques to realize these objectives.

WCM is the result of many centuries’ of production knowledge and ability. Starting with the guild structure in the Middle Ages, this knowledge and ability evolved via the manufacturing in the 18th century, scientific management/mass production, socio-technology and lean production in de twentieth century into the State-of-the-Art manufacturing companies in the beginning of the 21st century: World Class Manufacturing.

Well-known WCM methodologies and techniques are TPM, EFQM, Kaizen, TQM, Six Sigma, JIT, and Lean Manufacturing


WCM starts from the theoretically ideal situation; this means that involved employees have the production processes always run without losses. Then one goes back to reality and focuses on differences between the ideal and real process. This difference is called loss. WCM aims to eliminate this loss. In this respect two things are of overriding importance:

  1. One learns not to accept losses
  2. Creation of ownership, meaning that people carrying out a certain production process, feel ownership of this process and initiate improvements, as well as implement them.

Ownership for the process

Creating ownership

Four Main Features

Focus on People in Processes

First of all, WCM focuses on people who are part of the operation. Together with them losses are traced and made visible.

Find and eliminate losses

Subsequently, WCM forms teams to find and eliminate the cause of a certain loss, for only by removing the cause of a problem the problem will stay away forever. Solutions not removing the cause only cure the symptoms of a problem and are no real solutions.

Process Teams

The third main feature of WCM is product organization. Instead of dividing the work over as many specialized departments as possible, the so-called functional division, WCM organized in process stream oriented manner. Ideally, every product-market-combination of your company knows its own team, to which activities adding to the total value are assigned, as well as the support services directly and exclusively related to them.


The fourth and last main feature is the permanent guarantee of the found solutions: the standardization. A WCM-cycle is only really complete if we made sure that the solution we found cannot ebb away. In addition, the ‘process owners’ in such a way should take this step that we can verify that the step is guaranteed.

Thus the four main characteristics of WCM are successively:

1. Make losses visible
2. Improving in team format
3. Organizing process-oriented
4. Standardize working methods.

People who are directly involved in carrying out the processes of additional value are here the internal customers. All others should be supportive and derive their existence from their positive influence on the production process.

Improving in Teams
Improving in teams

The Walhalla?

Hence, WCM refers permanently to the ideal situation: ownership and the non-acceptance of losses. Is WCM promising us a Walhalla? Alas, on this point we have to go back to reality from our theoretical ideal. World Class Manufacturing is just as physically strenuous, complicated, and demanding as any other form of production, only much more effective because of its completeness, transparency and harmonious coherence between people and processes, between methodologies and techniques. Therefore, WCM is more successful, more enjoyable, and healthier for human beings and companies.

Work Smarter, not Harder!

Not working harder, but working smarter, not being obstructive but co-operative, not the customer has to choose what we produce, but “we produce what the customer wants”. In addition, the customer becomes more and more demanding. He wants more options, the lowest price and he wants it now. Freddie Mercury already sang this in the last century: “I want it all and I want it now”. That is reality at the beginning of the 21st century. That is why we cannot survive without WCM, because only if we make the most of the best methodologies and techniques at our disposal in balanced coherence, are we able to approach the ideal as much as possible. That is what the customer wants.

World Class Manufacturing; Which Manufacturing Company would not want that?

What are Process Teams

Process Teams versus the Functional organisation

Most companies are organized functionally: a planning department, a production department, a maintenance department etc. as demonstrated in fig 1

Functional Organisation

fig 1: The functional organization


This organisational structure is based upon the theory of Taylor who, at the beginning of this century, discovered that specialization results in enormous efficiency improvements.

A significant detail about this way of organizing is that the description of the contents and the purposes of the jobs at the different departments are fairly narrow. This division of labor means that each worker only does a very small part of the job. Thinking and doing are very much separated. To coordinate and organize the work specialized managers are appointed. Control systems and procedures are implemented to tune the divided labor.


The bad news about a structural organization however, is the likeliness of miscommunication about tasks, responsibilities and priorities between the various divisions and departments. This causes low response time, low cost control, low involvement of people and low problem solving ability.

Solving problems and misunderstandings only to often result in time consuming, futile discussions about responsibilities. Typical negative effects are:

  • Problems are being pushed forward or backwards to another department instead of being solved;
  • People clean up their own “alley”, at the expense of other departments (window-dressing).

It is clear that a company should not waste its energy playing internal power games. A Company will only thrive when its energy, knowledge and skills are focused on meeting the customer’s requirements.

An Improvement is necessary.

World Class Manufacturing demands better communication between these functional departments, especially the production department, the maintenance department, the planning department, the purchasing department and quality control. Tuning the communication between these departments is essential for establishing a reliable process.

Breaking the functional barriers

Mix-ups in the “twilight zones” of responsibilities can be avoided with the introduction of “autonomous task teams” or “product teams” with clear goals and purposes. The organization from figure 1 is turned 90 degrees to create complete units incorporating all necessary functions (figure 2).

Cross functional teams

fig 2: Cross functional teams

Responsibility for the final result

Each team is responsible for the final result, either a product or a group of products. Therefore it is important that goals and assignments are clearly set: “Management By Objectives” (MBO). In order to check progression in assignments and achieving the goals, a measuring system has to be implemented, making results transparent..

A second prerequisite for the successfulness of autonomous teams is that the members of each team have sufficient information about and understanding of the problem. They will need support and trust to be able to take their responsibilities independently. Although this prerequisite seems to be a logically consequent on the first step, traditional managers experience it as a revolution.

Working in teams creates possibilities for job rotation, job enhancement and job enrichment. Teams are less vulnerable and offer the members the possibility of adjusting the job to their individual possibilities and ambitions. Employees become more involved with their work resulting in higher productivity, fewer mistakes and complaints, higher quality, reduction of through-put-time, etc.

From manager to coach

The role of the manager changes to coaching his team rather than assigning jobs and controlling work in progress. The coach should create the conditions for his teams in which they can fulfil the job independently and have a stimulating and consulting role. Decisions out of a team’s league are still the responsibility of the manager, he is still in charge but doesn’t have to occupy himself with details.

The manager will find his job more interesting with closer contact with their highly motivated and responsible employees. Within the companies implementing World Class Manufacturing in general are very enthusiastic and wish they started earlier.

Letting go of the traditional “based upon central decision- systems” requires guts.

Small Group Activity (SGA)

“The problems we solve always re-occur”

Solving problems in manufacturing plants is often limited to the removal of the symptoms. We tend to spend more time on solving the problems and forget a thorough analysis of the problem. The root-causes are not taken away. Therefore the problems re-occur.

Team based improvement

Small Group Activity is also known as Focused or continuous improvement in English. SGA finds its origin in the Japanese industry where it is called “Kobetsu Kaizen” or Quality Circles. SGA is a method for problem solving in teams by structurally searching for the root causes and eliminating them. After standardisation of the solution the reoccurrence of the problem is prevented. The feeling of ownership is intensified because those who are directly involved solve the problem in a multifunctional team.
The members of the team learn to use techniques (e.g. cause and effect diagram, Fishbone-diagram) to find and eliminate root causes. The team is also taught communication skills, working in teams and decision making, in order to use each other’s knowledge and experience.

Structured approach

The structure of an SGA project is derived from the PDCA-circle from Dr. W. Edward Deming and exists of 8 steps on the basis of the SGA circle. The SGA team works independently and reports the progress by means of communication boards.

Results of Small Group Activity

The introduction of SGA leads to the following results:

  • Team-building
  • Improved communication
  • Higher involvement
  • Learn how to analyse and solve problems

Role of your Trainer

  • 2 Day training of the SGA team
    • Structural approach of an SGA project
    • The SGA analysis instruments are applied to the problem
    • Communication skills, working in teams and decision making in teams
  • Coaching SGA-teams during the project

SGA training: “Bridge building” Team-working exercise


Hoshin Kanri – Policy Deployment

What is Hoshin-Kanri (Policy Deployment)

‘In spite of the huge amount of projects
it seems result is lacking’

Almost all top managers have a clear vision of what they want to accomplish with their organization in future years. To transfer this vision into a uniform image for all your management team members is a challenging task. Moreover, it could be that your clear vision may have consequences you were not fully aware of yourself.

Focus and balance in your company’s objectives

Policy Deployment is a method that increases the effectiveness of your organization. It adds focus and balance to the company’s objectives by meeting the needs of all stakeholders such as customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers and the environment. Policy Deployment limits the number of objectives and improvement projects and prevents internal inconsistencies.

Through a process that strengthens mutual understanding and alignment, Policy Deployment establishes commitment for the company’s objectives and the necessary means. Moreover, these tools are so powerful that you can also use them in the subsequent transfer to the shop floor. All this will result in clarity about everyone’s contribution to the team’s and company’s objectives. At the same time Policy Deployment is an ideal report structure.

Structured approach

Policy Deployment is a structured step by step approach, starting with setting the company’s objectives and ending with the implementation of specific improvement projects on the shop floor.

Policy Deployment (or Hoshin Kanri)
Results of Policy Deployment

Policy Deployment assures you that:

  1. Objectives are unambiguous.
  2. Actions necessary to achieve the objectives are clear.
  3. Each person in the organization knows what his or her contribution will be in achieving the organization’s objectives.
  4. There is insight in whether the progress of improvements is according to schedule or not.
  5. Only projects supporting the objectives are carried out.
  6. Monitoring and adapting the actions is possible, thus ensuring that planned improvements really lead to success.

Policy Deployment (or Hoshin Kanri) Board

Policy Deployment: from vision to reality


What is SMED: Reducing setup time at least 50%

 1 Introduction

SMED is an abbreviation of Single Minute Exchange of Dies. It is a method to reduce set up time. This method was developed by Shigeo Shingo in Japan and was applied first in the automotive industry. At one time set up times became a big problem at the manufacturing of pressed car parts like doors, bootcovers and so on. This meant a machine stop of about 24 hours when a press needed to be set up for the production of another part. By applying the SMED method the set up times were reduced to a few minutes. Nowadays the SMED method to reduce set up time is widely spread across the World and applied with success in different kinds of industry.

2 The goal

In the current market situation a company needs to respond quickly to customer demands to be able to compete with other manufacturers. Customers ask more and more for small lots. This means that the manufacturer needs to produce small series to satisfy this demand. This implies that more often the need exists to change set up of equipment, unfortunately with the production loss accompanied with it.

As stated in the introduction, the SMED method is a method to reduce set up time. By reducing the set up time the productivity of the equipment increases. This simply because of the shorter period the equipment is not producing products. This increased productivity can partially be used to change set up more frequently.

3 Definition of set up time

To avoid confusion about the meaning of set up time, the following definition is used:

Set up time =

the time passed between the completion of the last product of the old series and the completion of the first good product of the new series.

During the set up actions are made in relation to:

  • the change of tools,
  • the adjusting of machine parts,
  • the adjusting of machine- or process parameters,
  • cleaning,
  • etceteras.

The production loss during the start of the production is also part of the set up time. Except for the fact that the SMED method reduces the time losses, it also tries to search for an optimal set up of the machine and a way to avoid start up losses.

4 Who shortens the set up times with SMED?

In the center of the SMED method are the people that deal directly with the machine the method is used upon. Primarily the knowledge the operators have obtained in time is used. Other departments that deal indirectly with the machine concerned assist these people, for example the Technical and the Engineering department. They assist the SMED-team if changes to parts of the machine need to be made or designed.

Steps to perform SMED

Figure 2: The three steps of the SMED method

5 SMED, an overview

Figure 2 gives an overview of the SMED method in short. The method distinguishes three steps to reduce set up time.

5.1 The initial situation

In the worst case the initial situation is being characterised by unclear information at the working area, no standardisation of settings or work methods, unprepared activities and no order around the machine as a result of which the necessary parts, tools or measurement equipment get lost easily.

5.2 Step 1

The preparations of the SMED route are important. All set up actions are recorded accurately with the aid of a video camera. All the actions from the operators during the set up are described accurately and the time taken for each action is measured.

Furthermore, in step 1 all these actions are being looked at critically if these actions are to be done during the production stop (on line), or if they can be prepared during production (off line). During this it is also determined if the action is actually necessary or if it can be avoided. While making the preparations think of putting ready the tools and exchanged parts. In this step a complete overview of all the tools that are used during the set up is also made.

5.3 Step 2

The next step in the SMED route beholds the search for ways to make off line actions from on line actions. It is possible that making small changes to the equipment or working method can make some actions obsolete.

5.4 Step 3

In the third and final step the on line actions that seemingly are unavoidable are being looked at closely. During this solutions, often very creative, are looked for to shorten the time elapsed during these actions. In step three focus is mainly being paid to:

1. Fasteners Try to replace as many bolted connections by quicker alternatives. Bolted connections are mostly over dimensioned. There are cheap alternatives like snapfasteners with which the set up time can be reduced dramatically
2. Positioning aids: fixed positioners Often aids can be used to simplify actions. Think for example of fixed positioners to simplify the positioning of parts. Fixed positioners prevent endless adjusting
3. Standardisation of tools Simplicity first. That is why the use of different tools needs to be limited as much as possible. This lowers the risk of loss of tools and eases the operations. An example is the replacement of different types of bolts with a single type as a result of which only one spanner is needed
4. Working methods Looking critically at the working methods can often save a lot of time. The starting-point is: First Time Right. This means that an action does not need to be repeated or corrected any more. Also, performing the actions parallel with more than one operator can save a lot of time. This may demand for a little organization, but the time saved determines if the necessary organization is worth the trouble

6 Results

According to mr. Shigeo Shingo it is possible to reduce ANY setup time with 90% (!). And now the hammer… If you achieved this target, his law still applies….

For a first attempt you should AT LEAST achieve a reduction of 50%! Is that worth while giving it a chance…?

ShuHaRi Japanese Learning System


Shu – Ha – Ri

Becoming a Master


The Japanese way to Improve Excellence

ShuHaRi: The route to become a Master

ShuHaRi is a route to master an art, and to become excellent in this art. To do so, one has to go through a learning curve. I noticed in our Western society only a few communities have a structured and purposive approach to lead a pupil from Novice to Master. In Germany there is still a vivid learning system for artisans originating from medieval times. One starts as a “Pupil”, becomes “Journeyman” and finally the “Master”-stage can be reached, where every stage has strict criteria for the level of knowledge and craftsmanship to be achieved. This is a well proven system, dating form back in the medieval ages, to preserve the knowledge of the artisans as a group. Continue reading