Applying Six Sigma in Smaller Companies
Stanley A. Marash, Ph.D.
previous articles, I’ve discussed the Fusion Management
philosophy, especially in relation to large organizations.
Now I’d like to show how creative thinking works for
even smaller companies.
Wheelock Inc., of Long Branch, New Jersey, supplies audible
and visual signaling devices to the life-safety fire notification
market. Wheelock’s environment of learning, teaming
and coaching for its employees has been extremely successful,
but the company’s CEO and head coach, Peter W. Tarlton,
wanted more. He recognized that for Wheelock to be the best
in its market niche, it must improve productivity, increase
profits and satisfy its internal and external customers
at a higher level. To accomplish this, top management benchmarked
itself, asking some serious questions:
n Which companies are doing
things faster, better and more efficiently?
n Can a small to mid-size
manufacturer get the same results?
n Can these results be maintained?
n Will the company culture
accept something new?
Wheelock’s management viewed the benchmarking data
as a new challenge. Why not follow GE, Motorola and AlliedSignal
and pursue Six Sigma? If their results are real, why shouldn’t
Wheelock target the same results? So the company put together
an action plan to institute new continuous improvement tools
and upgrade its quality management system to ensure it maintained
these tools. The business plan called for Doug Phillips,
vice president of general operations, and Alan Fazzari,
vice president of people services, to lead two initiatives:
ISO 9001 and Six Sigma.
In fewer than 15 months, the team:
n Trained six associates
as Black Belts
n Trained 15 managers as
n Completed several process
improvement projects, with savings close to $700,000
n Completed ISO 9001 training,
including lead auditor and internal auditing training
n Completed both top- and
middle-management empowerment and facilitation skills courses
n Trained its first wave
of 15 associates for Green Belt certifications
n Trained more than 30 associates
from multiple functional areas in design for Six Sigma
Wheelock also established a waiting list of associates who
wished to become Black Belts and Green Belts, completed
facilitation and empowerment training for another 20 supervisors,
identified more than two dozen Black Belt and Green Belt
projects, and set up a formal Six Sigma/ISO 9000 orientation
Two major Six Sigma projects were deployed, the first to
reduce product development cycle time, the second to reduce
the amount of rework in the soldering process for printed
circuit boards. During the first project, the product development
cycle was mapped and analyzed. The “as is” process—involving
75 activities taking a minimum time of 239 days and a maximum
many times that—was restructured:
n The “should be”
process was reduced to 17 activities, including two all-inclusive
pilot runs and multiple checks and balances.
n Core-product multidisciplinary
teams now meet at least twice each week.
n A customer delight council
has been created to focus on external customers.
n Robust design and decreased
time to market are being pursued as primary objectives.
During the second project, a significant production problem
was attributed to one operation, touch-up soldering on printed
circuit boards, accounting for 27 percent of the total assembly
labor and more than $144,000 annually, just on one series
of boards. The test yields before touch-up operations were
just less than 90 percent.
As part of the solution, the company formed work cells
and new teams, each of which own the entire process. Wheelock
was delighted by the enthusiasm; as management increased
its level of interest, employees followed suit. With the
application of SPC by a wave-solder operator, the process
was placed under better control and then applied to all
printed circuit boards. From this, Wheelock found that there
were better yields without touch-up (95%), which eliminated
10 operations and produced annual savings of $435,000. Wheelock’s
successes demonstrate that judiciously applied modern quality
initiatives such as Six Sigma can be valuable even to a
smaller company. By designing Six Sigma into an ISO 9001
base, Wheelock is creating a structure that will maintain
the gains. Wheelock is moving toward Fusion Management.
Stanley A. Marash, Ph.D., is chairman and CEO of The SAM
Group, which includes STAT-A-MATRIX Inc. and Oriel Inc.
This article is adapted from Marash’s forthcoming
book, Fusion Management. Fusion Management is a trademark
of STAT-A-MATRIX Inc. ©2002 STAT-A-MATRIX Inc. All
rights reserved. Letters to the editor regarding this column
e-mailed to email@example.com.