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By Carey Wilson

In autumn 2006, customer demand was exceeding production capacity at Singer Sewing Machine facilities. To meet the capacity constraints, Don Fletcher, CEO of Singer’s parent company, SVP Worldwide, headquartered in Hamilton, Bermuda, decided to launch lean Six Sigma into all facilities around the world.

Singer had been building sewing machines for more than a century utilizing old-fashioned methods of manufacturing, and the need for change was undeniable. The problem was a lack of data-driven procedures, which sometimes resulted in inefficient processes being accepted as business as usual. The situation clearly needed to change.

First there had to be a champion for change. With that realization in mind, Mike Simmons, SVP Worldwide’s vice president of global human resources, took on the challenge. Simmons decided to partner with Air Academy Associates in the worldwide launch of lean Six Sigma at Singer. The decision to start from the top down was clearly the right choice, and all top management went through a one-week champions’ training on how to launch a successful lean Six Sigma implementation. Greg Atwater, director of worldwide quality and Six Sigma, was brought on board to travel throughout the organization setting up and implementing the plan to train Black Belts and Green Belts.

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By Quality Digest

Why, Why, Why, Why, Why

I agree with Craig Cochran that complex problems are difficult to solve or tackle using the 5 Whys method (“Don’t Fail Your Customers With the Five Whys,” February 2009). Companies and consultants have a tendency to want to use the 5 Whys method as a pill for all illnesses.

Another problem with the 5 Whys method is that by the time you get to the fifth why, the root cause of a problem inevitably ends up being something along the lines of “the employee causing the error is not motivated.”

There are, however, a lot of cases where the 5 Whys method has worked nicely. Normally it’s with simpler or straight- forward situations, or where there’s supporting data for the problem-solving team to explore during the 5 Whys process. I have seen instances where after a lot of complicated Six Sigma or failure mode analysis, problems were never solved. When we applied the 5 Whys correctly and, in a brutally honest way, we got to the bottom of the issue in no time.

--Paolo Chiappina


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By Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest

You might notice that the copy of Quality Digest you’re holding in your hand is a little light. You’ve been telling us for years that we had too many advertising pages, so we delivered with fewer pesky ads to interrupt your reading pleasure. Is that customer service or what? Of course, we didn’t plan it that way.

As to why we’re skinny this month, our “Quality Curmudgeon” Scott Paton has analyzed the woes facing the publishing industry in his column, so I won’t do that here. Just flip to his column at the end of the magazine (which is much closer than it used to be) when you’re done here.

Obviously the print news industry, including trade publications, is quickly changing. Fortunately for us we have seen it coming and have been improving our online presence and adding exclusive content.

In case you haven’t been to our web site recently, here’s a brief overview of what’s available:

The key feature is the addition of video. We both produce our own content and solicit content from others. The site currently hosts 50 videos, with about two videos being added each week. The most popular videos have been our Technorazzi and Viewpoint series.

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By Quality Digest

Error-Proofing Oil-Cap Assembly

Two vision sensors are used at the station where caps are pressed onto the O-ring loaded on the assembly dial.

Supplying parts to the automotive industry leaves no room for error. That’s why Miniature Precision Components Inc. (MPC) uses three vision sensors to error-proof the automated assembly of oil caps at its Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, facility. MPC’s four manufacturing plants generate approximately $167 million per year supplying the automotive and commercial industries with high-quality, injection-molded parts and assemblies.

“Machine vision has been a key component of our automation strategy for the last seven years,” says Shane Harsha, MPC manufacturing engineering manager.

An automated oil-cap assembly system is a case in point. MPC engineer Brian Champion recently augmented traditional tooling and sensor technology with Checker vision sensors from Cognex Corp. of Natick, Massachusetts.

Nicolette Dalpino’s default image

By Nicolette Dalpino


Body Armor Is Safe

Although the Department of Defense Inspector General (DOD IG) report on body armor identified a range of issues involving Army testing processes and documentation dating back to 2007, both the Army, which conducted the tests, and the office of the DOD’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), which independently assessed and verified the results, disagree with the DOD IG’s report.

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By Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest

Pick up any newspaper ([nüz´ pa p r], n. A roughly cylindrical, folded sheaf of paper imprinted with black marks, usually found in a moldering cobwebbed stack behind the hydrangeas), and you will most likely find a story of yet another print media group going through consolidation, layoffs, or just quietly passing on. McClatchy Co., which owns approximately 30 newspapers and just two years ago purchased Knight Ridder, recently announced that it was laying off 1,400 people. Some of this was due to the economy, some to existing debt, and some to both readers and advertisers running off to the internet, a serious issue faced by the entire print industry.

News magazines are also feeling the crunch. U.S. News & World Report recently announced that it is moving from a weekly to a biweekly publication next year, and Time has reduced its circulation base to lower costs. Publishers in general are gasping for breath as readers and ad dollars shift to the internet much more quickly than anyone expected.

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By Mike Richman

I woke up yesterday morning at 6 a.m., downed a glass of juice, showered, got dressed, grabbed my briefcase, and ran out the door. I arrived at the office at 7 a.m. Waiting for me were nearly 50 e-mails; a couple of them were junk, but most were from actual humans to actual, little ol’ me. When did I get so popular? Soon thereafter the phone started ringing--advertisers, subscribers, contributors, vendors, trade partners, etc., etc., etc. By 7:30, I was already way behind.

At noon I ran out for a quick break. I drove through Wendy’s for lunch and ate while scurrying around doing a handful of personal errands. Then it was back to the office for more e-mails, more phone calls, and more meetings; 5 p.m. came around before I knew it. Contact from the outside world slowed down a bit, at which point I finally turned my attention to the editing of this magazine--you know, the quality assurance job that’s my chief responsibility. After three intensive hours of proofing and editing, I returned home, ate dinner, paid some bills, and went to sleep. So far, today’s been pretty much like yesterday--and I expect tomorrow to be the same. Personal time? Family time? Social interaction? What are those things?

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By Quality Digest

Better Than 5 Whys

I liked the way Craig Cochran discounted or lessened the credibility of the 5 Whys (“Don’t Fail Your Customers With the 5 Whys,” February 2009). He provided excellent rationale for its limitations. His alternatives were good; however, I do not believe they can replace Ishikawa’s use of the fishbone technique. While with IBM, I had a class in defect prevention using the fishbone technique followed by action teams to remedy candidate causes with a resolution to each of the viable candidate causes.

-- Ed Gardner


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By Mike Richman

As Dirk Dusharme mentioned recently in this space (“A Bold Step Forward,” June 2008), we at Quality Digest have been working like mad these last few months to launch a major redesign of our web site, conveniently located at The primary upgrade involves the addition of streaming video, most of which we script, shoot, and edit ourselves.

Early last month, the new site went live. The results have been even better than expected, and not just in terms of user response. This new project has offered us a fantastic opportunity to learn some valuable lessons about customer service and quality in a whole new medium.

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By Quality Digest

Six Sigma and the Brain Trust

In the article “Leveraging the Brain Trust” (Joe Froelich and Cristopher Del Angel, August 2008), the authors dredge up the infamous Qualpro “study” which asserts that “... 91 percent of the Six Sigma companies exhibited stock performance below the S&P 500.” I addressed this sham claim quite some time ago when it was picked up by FORTUNE Magazine . Qualpro, which sells a service that competes with Six Sigma, refused to respond to my e-mails and never disclosed its data or methodologies. In all likelihood its so-called study is nothing more than a marketing ploy. In the meantime, there is solid academic research that supports the hypothesis that Six Sigma and Total Quality Management pay huge dividends (literally) to shareholders. I wish that Quality Digest’s editorial staff would implement the rule that strong claims demand strong evidence and challenge the Qualpro assertions the next time that they appear in an article.

--Tom Pyzdek


Energy Solutions

Thank you for this excellent, thought- provoking piece on the current energy crisis (“Energy Crisis or Opportunity?” “Quality Curmudgeon,” Scott M. Paton, August 2008).