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September 26, 2012

Six Sigma Projects: Always room for improvement

Filed under: Six Sigma — Tags: , , , , — Alec @ 6:13 pm

One of my favorite Six Sigma projects ended up actually being two projects. The first Cellular Manufacturing (1 piece flow) project was so successful on this product that a year later we did a second round of improvement.

Why was the project one of my favorites?  It was all about the attitude. The team’s behavior completely transformed from very negative to enthusiastically driving the whole process. The team really ran with the second Six Sigma event.  Members creatively developed new processes to overcome impossible obstacles. It was a favorite because it showed that you can improve and redo a process 2 or 3 times to reduce waste and variation even more!

The project goal was to reduce lead times by 25% AND reduce costs by 25% on the manufacturing of a complex medical cutting instrument. The original process involved:

  • Takt* time of 2 minutes
  • 26 operations
  • 3 small cells
  • 22 operators (not counting setup)
  • 15 inventory racks
  • spacing between operations was 1752 feet
  • 17-day Lead Time

The capacity exceeded the Takt time on most operations, and the in-process inventory was reflected in the 15 in-process inventory racks. Keep in mind that almost all of these 22 operators were single operation, very fast – often less than a minute ­– very tedious, and mostly manual.

So, we got started. This project involved observing each process, collecting production, scrap, changeover times, doing Value Stream Maps and elemental breakdowns on each process, identifying obstacles, involving all operators for retraining, and a lot of dreaming about “What if”.

After Round One, the process now looked more like this:

  • Takt* time of 2 minutes (or exceeded)
  • 13 operations
  • 8 larger cells
  • 5 free standing operations
  • 13 operators
  • 11 inventory racks
  • 11-day Lead Time

These changes reflected a total capacity reduction by 10%. The lead times were reduced by 25%+, the inventory by 30%, with an investment of less than $10,000.

The most significant actions were the implementation of the new cells that had 2 to 4 operations in each cell operated by one person. Doing an elemental breakdown of all operations, it was observed that most of the operators had idle time within the cycles, and that the cycle time was much faster than the needed Takt time.

Another huge change required moving all the machines in the same area and reducing the steps between operations by more than 50%. Plus, by slowing down some operations and utilizing the idle time, 6 additional small cells were accomplished.

There were some technical difficulties of course. We had to adapt a few machines auto start and stop, add some quick change fixture designs to speed up changeover, implement some operator training so they knew how to run all of the 2 to 4 machines in their cell. The conclusion of Round One was very successful and the operators mostly enjoyed the new variety.

The team was reenergized and excited to lead a Round Two of improvements. After Round Two, more of the once “impossible” technical difficulties were eliminated. They began working with the outside vendor for heat treat, which were then picked up and delivered to the cell. Two of the significant changes in the second round were the dedication of a small Cnc into 1 cell and continued redesign of the fixtures. Again, the investment again was less than $10,000. After Round Two the process changes looked like this:

  • 10 operations
  • 10 operators
  • 8 inventory racks
  • under 7 to 10-day Lead Time

To me, the even more exciting part is that there was room for MORE reductions! But the product design difficulties and investment could not be overcome. This excited team did identify a 4-day process if and when the technical problems could be resolved.

*Takt time is the beat of the customer usage ie. how many do they use a day divided by the number of hours a day you want to work.

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