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Concepts: Six Sigma

In the mid 1980s a new concept of manufacturing quality emerged.  Within a couple of years it became Six Sigma.

Over the years the concepts were merged with those of lean manufacturing to become Lean/Six Sigma and supposedly became last word in manufacturing management.  Along the route we lost track of the original concepts of Six Sigma.

In recent years the concepts eroded into a series of skill training programs on project management, collaboration and leadership.  As the program became more about credentials than competence the results started to show. 

US manufacturing has started to slip when measured by manufacturing velocity (the crucial master-metric of manufacturing).  The red line below shows the ratio of WIP inventory to shipments.  It's the inverse of velocity.  As velocity improves WIP I/S ratio goes down.  For most of the 90s an up to about 2005 attention to velocity drove steady improvement in the metric.  After 2005 we started to lose ground as the philosophy of manufacturing management focused on checking boxes.

We're losing the battle for factory velocity. When lean manufacturing principles emphasize unit operations efficiency at the expense of velocity, velocity falls.  When Six Sigma becomes a focus on analysis methods rather than manufacturing process, velocity falls.  Doing it right is harder, but ultimately more valuable.

TCS is launching an initiative to get manufacturing back on track.  See the first step in our paper on A3 in Manufacturing.




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