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by Kennedy Smith

When Quality Digest spoke to Ford Motor Co. in 2001, the company's Six Sigma initiative was just getting underway, and Ford was in the process of working out all the kinks that come along with implementing a new quality improvement program.

Henry Ford: Driven to Succeed

1863--Born July 30 in Greenfield Township, Michigan

1879--Leaves family farm for Detroit to work in machine shops

1891--Secures position as engineer with the Edison Illuminating Co.; returns to Detroit

1896--Completes his first automobile, the Quadricycle, and drives it through the streets of Detroit

1899--Ends eight years of employment with the Edison Illuminating Co. to devote full attention to the manufacture of automobiles. Made chief engineer and partner in the newly formed Detroit Automobile Co., which produced only a few cars

1901--Henry Ford Co. organized with Ford as engineer. Ford resigns over dispute with bankers in 1902 and the company becomes the Cadillac Motor Car Co.

1903--Ford Motor Co. is officially incorporated. Ford's first Model A appears on the market in Detroit.

1908--Ford begins manufacturing the Model T.

1910--Begins operations at factory in Highland Park, Michigan

1913--Introduces first moving automobile assembly line at Highland Park

1914--Announces his plan to share the Ford Motor Co.'s profits with workers, paying them $5 for an eight-hour day

1917--Begins construction of industrial facility on the Rouge River in Dearborn, Michigan

1918--Loses his bid for the U.S. Senate

1919--Edsel B. Ford, son of Henry Ford, is named president of Ford Motor Co.

1921--Ford Motor Co. dominates auto production with 55 percent of industry's total output.

1926--Focuses on air transportation and develops the Tri-Motor airplane

1927--Transfers final assembly line from Highland Park plant to the Rouge River facility. Production of the Model T ends, and the Model A is introduced.

1932--Builds first V-8 Ford car

1933--Successfully resists first efforts to unionize workers at Ford plants

1937--"Battle of the Overpass" occurs between Ford security staff and United Auto Workers union organizers. As a result, the court orders Ford not to interfere with union activity.

1941--Ford Motor Co. signs a contract with UAW

1947--Henry Ford dies at age 83, at Fair Lane, his Dearborn home.

Source: The Henry Ford online, www.thehenryford.org.

The 2001 J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study had just ranked Ford last among the big-seven automakers, a status that only added fuel to Ford's determination to reclaim its motto "Quality Is Job 1." During the last two years, the company has taken gigantic measures to improve its standing, and that improvement can be seen in the recent 2003 Initial Quality Study. Ford was the most improved automaker and was ranked No. 4--not the No. 1 position Ford wants, but definite proof that its quality improvement efforts are on the right track.

Six Sigma at Ford has been in the works since 1999, when the company's former director of corporate deployment for Consumer Driven 6-Sigma sought an effective method to improve quality. Top management soon joined the cheering section, and Six Sigma efforts have been persistent ever since.

This year Ford celebrates its 100th anniversary, and quality has been a pivotal factor since the beginning. In fact, Henry Ford introduced several principles and practices that are now considered the backbone of lean manufacturing. Since that time, Ford has tried its hand at total quality management, and now Six Sigma.

Now that employees have had some time to adjust to the company's new quality structure, Quality Digest has revisited Ford to see just how effective Consumer Driven 6-Sigma has been.

The bottom line

The most effective way to measure a quality management system's effectiveness is by looking at the numbers. Since Six Sigma's inception, Ford has saved about $1 billion in waste elimination globally. Year-over-year savings worldwide was $359 million last year. Moreover, customer satisfaction has risen five percentage points in the company's internal customer satisfaction survey.

Results like these don't happen overnight. Ford invested heavily up front to train its employees as Six Sigma Green Belts, Black Belts, Master Black Belts and Project Champions. The company also implemented a project-tracking system in which members of separate project teams can observe via an internal database what others are working on.

Currently, Ford has approximately 3,000 Project Champions, and its Black Belts have closed more than 6,000 projects during the past three years.

Training at Ford

With more than 200 Master Black Belts, 2,200 Black Belts and nearly 40,000 Green Belts worldwide, Ford is now looking to provide at least Green Belt training for almost all of its employees, whether it's for Six Sigma awareness or for actual Green Belt verification.

Black Belt classroom training is one week per month for four months. This enables students to apply learned principles to their first project while they learn--one week of training and three weeks of implementation per month throughout the four-month period.

Improvement projects are tackled using a team approach. The teams consist of a member of upper management, a Master Black Belt, a Black Belt and Green Belts in various fields of expertise. Each plays an integral role in the project's success.

Project Champion--A member of upper management who supports the project and removes any roadblocks for the Black Belt

Master Black Belts--Train Black Belts and mentor them in their projects. They also show progress and successes to upper management.

Black Belts--Implement Six Sigma projects and lead individuals on the improvement team in the right direction

Green Belts--Learn some of the tools, help Black Belts with projects and do small projects of their own. Green Belts with expertise in different areas often participate on the same team.

Black Belts are asked to handle about two or three projects at a time. Black Belts choose their own projects and are asked to take on only those that have waste elimination savings and customer satisfaction improvement. "We want this year's Six Sigma projects to deliver half of the company's 'Things Gone Wrong' objective for the year," says Debbe Yeager, director of Consumer Driven 6-Sigma at Ford.

Project teams involve as many people as they need to and always include a Project Champion, a Master Black Belt and a Black Belt. Many times, they work with Green Belts, who are experts on various aspects of the project, from financial analysis to part maintenance.

Keeping leadership involved

In the last few months, Ford has created what it calls "performance cells," in which senior leaders are asked to partner with Master Black Belts. "We've told senior leaders in the company to run performance cells like they'd run a manufacturing cell or their business," notes Yeager. "Managers said, 'We can do this; we've been running departments most of our careers.' When they realized that Master Black Belts could be leveraged for technical expertise, all they had to do was run the business, which is something familiar to them."

This keeps new projects coming in and ensures that current projects are on track.

Case application

Pauline Burke, a Master Black Belt, took on a Six Sigma project after identifying a problem with the Ford Focus' body-side moldings. Customers were complaining that the moldings were lifting at the edges. After delving into the DMAIC process, Burke soon realized she was involved in what she refers to as a "mega project," one with multiple root causes and multiple factors. A typical Six Sigma project at Ford takes about four months, but because this project had so many X-factors, it took Burke and her team nine months to complete. Burke takes us through the DMAIC process:

Define. "My problem was the body-side moldings of the Focus. They were lifting off the car at the edges. We didn't realize we had this problem until we looked at customer feedback because in the plant, the moldings looked great.

"In the define phase, we had to figure out exactly what the problem was. What was the customer complaining about and what are the measures? Within the define phase, we analyzed each factor in the plant that could contribute to this problem.

"We discovered four factors that contributed to the molding problem. First, the tape on the molding wasn't contacting the car body enough. Second, holes located on the body used to line up the molding were too high and were hitting an indent on the body side. Third, it turned out the pressure we were using to apply the molding was too low. Fourth, the body side was not sufficiently clean, so the tape wasn't sticking as well as it could."

Measure. "Once we figured out the factors that were contributing to the defect, I went to the measure phase. I measured where the holes on the body side were located. I measured how flat the part was and how we could fix the molding to make it flat. I measured the pressure we were using and figured out the optimal pressure. And I measured the percentage of the area that was being cleaned."

Analyze. "Once all the data had been gathered, we analyzed our results and found the appropriate solution. It took a lot of teamwork--experts from various fields, maintenance personnel, tier one and tier two suppliers, and management were all involved."

Improve. "The solution included moving the holes on the body side down about two millimeters. On the body-side molding, we changed the molds to make sure that it was very flat on the back side so that 100 percent of the tape would contact the flat body side. Next, we figured out the optimum application pressure using design of experiments. Then, we replaced the head on the cleaning fixture to more effectively clean the body side."

Control. "Changing the hole location on the body side was a permanent fix, and we continually monitor it in our quality checks. Making sure the molding is flat was something the molding supplier didn't have as a quality check, but now they do. Other quality checks include ensuring the optimum pressure is used to apply the moldings and maintaining the cleaning equipment."

Since her team's improvements have been implemented, the project has yielded $100,000 in waste elimination savings per year, and there have been no customer complaints with regard to body-side moldings on the Ford Focus.

Overcoming skepticism

When Quality Digest first visited Ford, Louise Goeser, Ford's vice president of quality, noted a chief roadblock to implementing Six Sigma was employee skepticism. The only way to overcome this challenge was to demonstrate successes over time. Two years later, Yeager has found that more and more Ford employees are jumping on the Six Sigma bandwagon as they realize results experienced by other departments. "Jim Padilla [head of North American operations at Ford] requested a Master Black Belt coach because he wants to see how to apply Six Sigma methodology to other areas within the company," she notes. "In the beginning, Six Sigma was kind of a stand-alone thing, but now we're seeing more and more integration."

Burke was one of the skeptics when she first heard about Ford's intention to roll out Six Sigma. After 14 years with the company, she says she was like everybody else: wondering how long this program would last. "Large companies implement a lot of new programs," she says. "Some of them stay and some of them go. But, I decided to give it a chance and found out I really love it."

Burke recalls that her aversion to Six Sigma was swiftly quelled during her Six Sigma training. "I liked the philosophies of Six Sigma," she recalls. "I liked the disciplined approach to solving problems.

"I feel great fixing problems for customers and making the company stronger by improving quality," she continues. "When the employees are happy, they do better work. When they do better work, the customer wins. They're getting a better vehicle, they save money and quality rises."

Burke presses on as a Master Black Belt, mentoring and training Black Belts and leading new projects.

Quality Q&A: Louise Goeser

Louise Goeser is Ford's vice president of quality. In the following interview, she discusses how Six Sigma has shaped the company's business practices.

QD: How has Consumer Driven 6-Sigma directly affected the quality of products at Ford Motor Co.?

Goeser: Significantly. During the last two years, we've experienced record "Things Gone Wrong" improvement. Half of the TGW reduction was the result of Consumer Driven 6-Sigma. J.D. Power and Associates reports that we have made a 16-percent improvement in initial quality in the past two years and are the most improved of the top five automakers.

QD: How do you measure the success and results of Consumer Driven 6-Sigma at Ford?

Goeser: The key results come down to improved quality and waste elimination savings. Since we launched Consumer

Driven 6-Sigma in 2000, we've made significant quality improvements and have saved $1 billion through waste elimination. Success is viewed as corporatewide adoption of the Consumer Driven 6-Sigma tools and methodology by everyone in our company--from our senior management on down. With Consumer Driven 6-Sigma, our data-driven decision-making skills are rapidly increasing.

QD: What are some specific challenges to maintaining a sound Consumer Driven 6-Sigma system?

Goeser: Probably the biggest challenge is project selection, particularly getting the business owners to select projects for the Black Belts that are linked to the organization's strategic objectives. We also work very hard to link Consumer Driven 6-Sigma to our other key initiatives in our company's Revitalization Plan. (This is an important year for us, as we are also celebrating Ford's 100th anniversary.)

QD: How does Ford's Consumer Driven 6-Sigma initiative compare with Six Sigma programs you've seen at other major corporations?

Goeser: We have continued to stress and measure customer satisfaction as one of our major deliverables, while many other organizations focus only on internal waste. We have also used our Master Blacks Belts in technical as well as business leadership roles. We have a best-in-class Black Belt and Master Black Belt selection process that is really working.

QD: Give a general overview of Ford's quality program. How does Consumer Driven 6-Sigma fit into that?

Goeser: We stress three components in our "Quality is Job 1" strategy: Quality Operating Systems to define our standards and processes, Quality Leadership Initiative to engage all of our employees and Consumer Driven 6-Sigma as our primary data-driven decision process.

QD: What new programs/processes are on the horizon for Ford? In other words, how will Ford go beyond Consumer Driven 6-Sigma in the future?

Goeser: Ford will continue moving upstream to create value and prevent waste. We will use Design for Six Sigma and continue to strengthen our ties with our suppliers on their deployment of Consumer Driven 6-Sigma. We continue to integrate the Consumer Driven 6-Sigma tools, methodology and mindset as a way to deliver on our policy deployment objectives corporatewide.

About the author

Kennedy Smith is Quality Digest's associate editor. Letters to the editor regarding this article can be sent to letters@qualitydigest.com.