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Robert Hildebrand

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Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma Spurs Innovation and Drives Product Development

Xerox applies design for lean Six Sigma to iGen4 press.

Published: Monday, March 22, 2010 - 08:49

Lean Six Sigma methodologies have been around since Henry Ford’s creation of the assembly line in the early 1900s. Yet, companies that turn to lean Six Sigma often find themselves defending against the stigma that it stifles creativity, turns people into robots, or is just another way to get more work out of employees. These are all misconceptions, and Xerox has discovered how the process-focused methodology helps promote creativity that drives innovation.

Pairing lean Six Sigma initiatives and innovation teams together has helped Xerox drive product development and become a leader in digital printing. According to research by InfoTrends, Xerox’s installed base of digital production color devices accounts for more than 50 percent of the worldwide total page volume printed by high-speed, cut-sheet digital production color printers with duty cycles exceeding 300,000 letter impressions per month.

Recently, lean Six Sigma techniques were used to develop the iGen4 press. Eight years after the launch of the iGen3 press, Xerox wanted to take digital printing to the next level. The team relied on design for lean Six Sigma (DFLSS) during the development of the next generation product to address and exceed customer expectations, resulting in approximately $12.5 million in total savings with a 49-percent return on investment.

Insight and Optimization

 

New product requirement? No problem with the help of a system-level model of how your product delivers value to customers. System-level models connect high-level customer requirements with low-level piece-part tolerances and everything in between.

 

Start with an input-process-output diagram and create the basic mapping of how subsystems receive, transform, and deliver technical specifications. Add to it mathematical transfer functions, y=f(x), and you have a very powerful tool at your fingertips. The hierarchy of math allows engineers to trace the effect of individual parts to the network of outputs and customer requirements that today’s complex products must deliver. With the road map in hand, Monte Carlo simulation—which varies the input factors in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of combinations—creates a distribution of expected performance for each vector or metric your customers care about.

 

With all the complexity in today’s products, even the smallest change in manufacturing tolerance or market requirement can mean long rework cycles. With a system model, a stroke of a few keys and the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, the engineering teams can predict how the product will perform. This knowledge can be used to respond to discrepant part deliveries, remove cost in the design, or customize the product for particular uses.

 

The flexibility and speed derived from using system-model simulation will improve your return on research and development investment.

Voice of the customer

Design for lean Six Sigma specifically focuses on improving efficiencies and reducing costs related to the design and delivery of new technology. Gathering voice of the customer (VOC) feedback, or data that describes customers’ needs and perceptions of products and services, is an important step in DFLSS. It helps decipher current market demands to develop specific metrics that drive development.

The iGen4 development team used VOC to understand what key audiences expected from the product and to define the goals for improvement. Tactics for gathering information include:

  • Current and prospective customer surveys
  • “Walking the customer’s process,” observing press operators in action, and gaining a full understanding of their needs
  • Database analysis of iGen3 press customer service calls to identify usage trends from active customers and to determine common problems that should be resolved in the product evolution

 

Development phase, integrating VOC

Engineers can often fall into the trap of developing a solution without knowing the full extent of the issues needing to be addressed. Lean Six Sigma, however, offers a distinct set of steps and processes that eliminate “solution jumping” and, during the development of the iGen4 press, helped the product teams concentrate on improvements in the areas customers found most critical. The VOC data indicated that productivity and image quality, including color control, were the top two focus areas. The DFLSS goal was to manage the design churn, and the resulting complexity in configuration and testing, in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Several lean Six Sigma-based models and simulations were used, such as system-level multiresponse optimization and input-process-output diagrams. Additionally, the Air Academy tools of Monte Carlo simulation of customer cases and variability in manufactured tolerances were also used. These tools were critical to understanding the performance of the system as a whole because they enabled the ability and flexibility to re-optimize quickly as new requirements or constraints were added. The tools also allowed for the roll-up of capability from piece part to subsystem to system, creating a clear tie between the customer experience and the drivers of that experience. Rather than optimizing each subprocess independently, a significant effort was made to examine the ways the subprocesses work together and use that information to optimize the entire system—generating the ideal output to create the best possible customer experience.

For example, this approach made it easier to customize the machine for a particular environment. Because the optimization considered performance as a function of paper type and environment, if a specific use of the product carries an emphasis on a particular paper or environment those factors can be amplified in the model and the design set points can be adjusted accordingly. Similarly, if a customization required an increase in productivity that degraded another customer requirement, that too could be understood quickly.

Achieving results

Xerox was able to achieve outstanding results. Using DFLSS, the product went to market on time, met customer quality metrics, and improved customer productivity. It also provided significant cost savings of $12.5 million and a 49-percent return on investment.

In terms of performance, the results are equally striking. The Xerox iGen4 takes image quality, automation, and productivity to unprecedented levels. There are more than 400 new parts and subsystems as well as new, patented technologies that help the iGen4 press generate its high-definition image quality.

By combining innovation and lean Six Sigma, Xerox was able to deliver a product that not only helped it drive revenue, but grow its customer’s business as well. Keiger Printing Co., based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was the first North American company to install the iGen4 press. The company wanted a device that would provide color consistency and predictability, which are critical to Keiger’s customers. The Xerox iGen4 was the solution. It creates offset and photo-quality images with consistent color from the first print to the last, and repeat jobs always look the same.

“We wanted to be the first in the country to offer our customers the best solution to meet their business needs,” says Louis Crockett, company president. “Every high-quality color print that comes off the iGen4 press sets us apart from our competition. The iGen4 purchase will change our business.”

Crockett also expects productivity to increase 25 to 35 percent because the iGen4 press automates many operator tasks. For example, the new carrier dispensing system eliminates the need to stop the machine to replace developer. “Time is money, but it is only revenue if you are producing,” adds Crockett.

Reducing the need to stop the press for adjustments means overall operating costs decrease, improving the break-even point between digital and traditional offset printing. Auto density control, which automatically detects and adjusts for density variations while the press is in use, is another feature Crockett calls out because it virtually eliminates streaks.

Replicate this success

Companies of all sizes can integrate lean Six Sigma methodologies into the innovation process. Whether the project is the size of the iGen4 press, or something on a smaller scale such as minor post-launch design changes to reduce manufacturing cost, there are lean Six Sigma principles that can be applied to aid in all types of innovation. To start driving efficiencies and grow revenue through lean Six Sigma projects start by:

Gaining commitment from the entire organization. It is critical to have buy-in from the top to demonstrate the value of lean Six Sigma and the dedication the company intends to make toward it. Leaders can champion the changes and motivate groups to work together.

Developing strong teams. The team members are the most important part of any project. Using the Belbin Team Role system when selecting project participants can help develop a group that will work at the highest potential. Developed in the 1970s by Meredith Belbin, a researcher in the United Kingdom, the system is meant to identify a person’s strengths, weaknesses, roles, and skills. The system operates on the basis that a mix of roles proves to be more effective than a group of like-minded members. An optimal group size is five to seven people with a variety of the nine set behaviors defined by Belbin. When participants know everyone’s strengths, weaknesses, and comfort zones, they develop a better understanding of the group dynamics and are able to communicate more effectively to avoid problems.

Setting goals and monitoring improvements. Innovation is known to take unpredictable twists and turns, but there are processes that guide it. Processes have characteristics that can be measured, analyzed, and controlled. Use this knowledge to set reasonable goals. After the project is under way, monitor progress against goals and make adjustments as necessary.

 

Innovation—creativity at its best—fuels growth and drives business results. Lean Six Sigma is shaking off its longtime criticism as a “creativity suppressor” and helping to get new solutions into the hands of customers faster. Properly used over time, lean Six Sigma is a source of sustainable competitive advantage.

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About The Author

Robert Hildebrand’s default image

Robert Hildebrand

Robert Hildebrand is the iGen Family Xerographic Integration Manager at Xerox Corp. He has been with Xerox for 11 years and his career has focused on design and integration. He holds Bachelor of Science and Masters of Science degrees in mechanical engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Rochester. He also holds seven patents.