Why In-plants Need Lean/Six Sigma
Having conducted Lean/Six Sigma seminars over the years, the ultimate question — and one we in the industry must ask ourselves — is this: What is your philosophy of quality, and what are you intentionally doing to combat poor quality issues?
The response I get most frequently is that while some are actively utilizing Lean/Six Sigma or some other quality management system, most do not subscribe to any formal methodologies, but rather simply react to quality problems as they arise … if there is a fire, put your resources into extinguishing that fire and then wait for the next inevitable one.
While fighting fires may be the modus operandi for many of us, it cannot be considered an improvement to the process. Our goal needs to be preventing fires from occurring at all, which means we must intentionally manage for quality. To improve a process, quantifiable actions must be identified/proven in order to affect and alter that process. Our goal must be to prevent rather than fix problems, thereby improving productivity and reducing costs. If your M.O. for resolving problems is crisis management, then I would urge you to consider how Lean/Six Sigma principles can transform a reactive quality management philosophy into one that is proactive.
What Is Lean/Six Sigma?
Once viewed as two disparate methodologies, Lean and Six Sigma key concepts were combined into one quality management system in the early 2000s, emphasizing the importance of a holistic approach in managing for quality. While Lean seeks to help organizations cut down cycle time, or the time it takes us to produce a product or service, by improving efficiency and eliminating waste, Six Sigma seeks to eliminate defects and variation, thus eliminating costs due to poor quality.
What Exactly Does it Do?
The main goal of Lean/Six Sigma is for our processes to be near perfect so we can better serve our customers. This is achieved either by planning a new process or by improving existing processes. In the context of the in-plant, the majority of our projects would be for improvement, which starts by identifying and defining a major problem or process that is seriously underperforming.
In the Lean/Six Sigma model, improvement projects are researched and implemented by a team composed of key stakeholders who have various roles (production worker, leader, administrator, internal customer, etc.) and who are kept on task by peer and administrator accountability. The improvement team defines the current state of the process (how it exists now) and sets goals to achieve an ideal state — the state of the process after improvements have been identified, implemented and proven. Root cause analysis and other tools are utilized to come up with actions that will need to be applied to achieve the ideal state.
Improvement projects are benchmarked by goals of 40% or more in reduced defects, increased productivity or cost savings achieved. A typical improvement project is completed in less than a year and achieves a substantial increase in either productivity, cost savings or both. Completed improvement projects are then regularly monitored for sustained viability.
Improvement projects are driven by the problem-solving methodological engine of Lean/Six Sigma: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (DMAIC). Many improvement projects are remedied by completing just the Define and Measure phases, while more complex problems require all five phases.
Along with DMAIC, Lean/Six Sigma utilizes a plethora of Total Quality (TQ) tools and metrics that quantifiably gauge and verify the current and ideal state of an improvement project. Understandably, these tools and metrics can often deter the uninitiated, as the math and statistics can be formidable. Therefore, someone on the team needs to know how to accurately apply the correct tool or metric in order to achieve desired effect(s).
As a printer, I am personally interested in how Lean/Six Sigma resources benefit in-plants’ printing processes. I am convinced that if we become competent in just a few available tools and metrics we can implement our own Lean/Six Sigma improvement projects.
Tools such as the Pareto Chart, Fishbone Diagram and the Control Chart are essential to locate root causes of complex problems, while metrics such as the Rolled Throughout Yield and Process Capability Indices are invaluable in gauging actual process performance. You can Google these tools/metrics yourself or you can contact me for information on how to acquire my Printer’s Guide To Lean/Six Sigma workbook, which details what these terms mean and how to apply them in an improvement project.
How Would an In-plant Utilize Lean/Six Sigma?
By way of example, I had a chronic problem with one of the segments of my accounts receivable process. It was, in a word, a disaster. Historically, the college required me to utilize the business service department to send out and process payments which resulted in:
- Poor record keeping: customers were complaining that they received duplicate invoices, or payments were not being processed.
- Incompatibility between two billing systems (the district’s and mine), which, at its worst, revealed a delta of $6,000 between the two.
- The average period from invoice sent, to payment received averaged more than 44 days.
In a recent improvement project, by applying Lean/Six Sigma principles/tools, what had been a very inefficient process resulted in:
- A 97% reduction in the time spent preparing invoices;
- A 98% cost decrease in staffing;
- Payback period improved by 67%.
These outstanding results were reported to the college’s higher administration who, needless to say, were thrilled to see actual, quantifiable cost savings through operational efficiency efforts.
Improving the In-plant
As an in-plant supervisor, I have identified several problematic areas that often plague today’s in-plants. The following improvement projects lend themselves to the application of Lean/Six Sigma principles.
• Chronic reprinting and/or scrapping jobs;
• Quicker turnaround times are increasingly requested by customers, stretching our production capability to the point that printing errors are becoming more frequent;
• Economic losses from reprinting work due to poor quality issues;
• Retooling processes to respond to evolving customer requirements;
• Low-cost Web print providers are forcing in-plants to revise their production processes in order to become more competitive;
• Root cause analysis for problems that are plaguing the processes;
• Cause versus correlation and how to measure variation;
• No plan for data collection (or the lack of appreciation for data collection);
• Unstable digital output devices;
• Devices can’t be relied on to print consistently;
• Inability to match color from customer-approved proofs;
• Decreasing staffing levels and the ongoing struggle to find qualified employees;
• Production processes retooled for automation;
• A need to develop robust training procedures to create a grow-your-own culture of excellence;
• The FM/MPS threat and responding to outsourcing threats;
• A need to develop a rock-solid strategic plan with quantifiable data that undeniably proves an in-plant’s economic worth;
• The vision for creating a paradigm shift in a dysfunctional organization or process;
• Resurrecting an organization or process that seems stuck in a rut;
If you are experiencing or can relate to any of the above challenges, I would urge you to investigate Lean/Six Sigma to help you solve these complex problems. Doing so has transformed my in-plant, and I know it can do the same for your organization.
Related story: What Is Your In-plant's Culture of Quality?
Gordon Rivera is a graphic communication lecturer at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo and is the supervisor of Campus Graphics, an in-plant provider of traditional and digital media for Allan Hancock College, a community college in Santa Maria, Calif. He is a certified G7 Print Professional and has successfully completed both Lean/Six Sigma training and a Black Belt level project. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org regarding your print experiences in the pursuit of quality.