Carey Wilson  |  08/30/2008

Lean, Mean, Sewing Machines

Air Academy Associates Lean Six Sigma implementation

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.

The first order of business was to change the company’s production methods. In December 2006, Singer organized four teams consisting of Green Belts, engineers, and assembly associates, with each team being led by a Black Belt to increase production capacity of the new Singer Inspiration sewing machine.

To capture all the data and ensure success, Leo Guimaraes, the Black Belt in charge, utilized a six-panel problem-solving methodology, taking the define, measure, analyze, improve, control (DMAIC) system and adding an “R” for “replication” (DMAICR). Because Singer has two plants thousands of miles apart, both manufacturing the same machines, the need to share data through the replication process was essential.

During the “define” stage, the teams knew that the ultimate goal was to meet customer demand. They also understood the unfavorable cost that was hitting the bottom line every day they were not meeting the standard. A standard of 300 machines per line per shift was set as the goal.

As the teams started to organize their “measurement” phase, not only were there opportunities for improvement within the main assembly line, there were also areas backstream in subassembly affecting the output at the assembly line. One team was commissioned to balance the main assembly line, while the other three targeted subassembly challenges.

When analyzing the improvement opportunities, the teams broke them down into two categories. The first requirement was to take measurements at the final assembly line of all adjustments to the new product. They could then take the mean and standard deviation back into the subassembly area to evaluate the possibility of transferring this newfound target prior to the final assembly. The second area for improvement was the challenge to rebalance the line. The team came up with 22 areas of opportunity that could provide enough time savings to meet customer demand.

Initiating improvements took a couple of weeks. The teams implemented new tools with mistake-proofing into the sub-assembly area, and wrote new standard operating procedures for all of the changes. The final assembly line went through the 22 changes, which created new standards.

Once the changes were implemented, the team set up controls ranging from statistical process control to single-piece flow. This would not have been possible in such a short time had it not been for the use of lean Six Sigma methodology. The use of the six-panel format also helped standardize the changes halfway around the world.

SVP Worldwide, which is still the world market leader in the sewing machine industry, gained another 2 percent of the market share in 2007. Everyone within the SVP organization now backs up their processes and decisions with facts and data gained by applying lean Six Sigma methodologies.

“Although we have become self- sustaining in lean Six Sigma,” says Atwater. “ Air Academy will continue to be our first choice in our lean and Six Sigma endeavors.”

A Singer production facility


Air Academy Associates Lean Six Sigma


  • Exceptionally experienced instructor/coach/mentor/problem-solving cadre
  • Adherence to it world-renowned "Keep It Simple Statistically" (KISS) methodology
  • Accelerated DMAIC/IDOV-based project completion coupled with earlier benefit realization
  • Self-developed, fully integrated guides, texts, and software  


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Carey Wilson