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Thomas R. Cutler

Quality Insider

Six Sigma and the Engineer-to-Order Manufacturer

Published: Tuesday, October 17, 2006 - 21:00

In a repetitive manufacturing environment, Six Sigma’s quantification is much easier than in the engineer-to-order (ETO) manufacturing environment, where no two products are identical.

Six Sigma is a program that affects the entire company. What have been missing for ETO manufacturers are the central management tools to ensure the entire Six Sigma implementation is applied systematically. While Six Sigma affects external and internal users, centralized communication is critical to the program’s success, particularly when there's a strong need for interaction between engineering and manufacturing.

According to Stephen Carson, executive vice president for Visibility Corp., “Many project-based manufacturers provide contract engineering and manufacturing services related to the production of components and assemblies with multiple domestic and off-shore locations. These companies must have a consistent track record of growth by concentrating and effectively competing on quality, timeliness and price. They require a state-of-the-art process and quality control system that provide both the flexibility and consistency to deliver the highest quality manufacturing services and cost effective product delivery.”

Following are some key quality ETO challenges:

  • Rapid expansion and addition of new facilities
  • Increasing variety of manufactured products
  • A requirement to achieve and sustain for full ISO quality system certification
  • A need to reconcile disparate paper and electronic systems and tools used to plan, measure, and manage quality control
  • A need to reduce costs and maintain or improve product quality

By defining a specific solution with well-defined integration into the core of an ETO enterprise resource planning application, project-based manufacturers meet or exceed the requirements of each challenge, while ensuring that the solution will be long-lived without bearing the burden accompanying stand-alone custom solutions.

Six Sigma focuses on three essential elements:

  • Delighting customers. Customers define quality. ETO customers with one-of-a-kind manufacturing requirements still expect performance, reliability, competitive prices, on-time delivery, service, and clear, correct transaction processing.
  • Outside-in thinking. Quality requires ETO manufacturers to view business from the customer's perspective only.
  • Leadership commitment. People create results. Involving all employees is essential to the success of ETO manufacturers and a Six Sigma implementation.

Carson noted that, “A quality workbench provides immediately accessible benefits, such as real-time workflow and an event-driven corrective action reporting and action system; integrated tool usage history traceability and management; on-line real-time access to all revision-controlled manufacturing process and quality assurance system documentation.” Additional benefits include comprehensive product quality attribute data collection, reporting and management from incoming inspection through to final work-in-process receipt.

As more ETO manufacturers use the Six Sigma process, technology solutions that allow tasks to be accessed instantly by an employee, customer, product or process become increasingly important. Once the task is displayed, all relevant information pertaining to the issue must also be displayed; activity on the task must be time/date stamped and fully audited for management control.

Six Sigma benefits in the ETO environment:

  • Streamlined tracking and management of Six Sigma issues
  • Employees are held accountable for turnaround time and quality
  • Problem products, vendors or employees will be quickly identified
  • Centralized problem-knowledge database for quick diagnosis
  • Rapid identification of outstanding problems based on exceeding time to resolve
  • Full integration with inventory control, scheduling, data collection, item master and bills or material
  • Tracking of all training, consulting, labor and equipment costs associated with your Six Sigma implementation
  • Electronic reports, CAD files, flowcharts or photos can be attached to each task, so all information is available online

Specific quality-focused tools to assist ETO manufacturers in achieving optimal quality control over products and business processes are at the heart of Six Sigma and the project-based environment. Maintaining high-levels of product quality with complete inspection procedures—from raw materials, to work-in-process, to customer and vendor returns is critical. Tracking defective materials and assigning them to return-to-vendor, scrap, or rework is all important to ETO efficiency in identifying profit or waste. Six Sigma in the ETO environment allows companies to measure production performance and procedures with statistical process control tools as well as monitor vendors quality and delivery metrics. The increased quality of unique, one-of-a-kind products and processes increases customer satisfaction.


About The Author

Thomas R. Cutler’s picture

Thomas R. Cutler

Thomas R. Cutler is the President and CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler Inc., celebrating its 21st year. Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 8000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 1,000 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. More than 4,500 industry leaders follow Cutler on Twitter daily at @ThomasRCutler. Contact Cutler at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com.