Choosing effective strategies for waging war against error in manufacturing and service operations requires an understanding of “the enemy.” The types of error to be combatted, the sources of these errors, and the amount of error that will be tolerated are important components of a functional definition (see Vol. I for an introduction).
The traditional view is that the amount of error to be accepted is defined by the specification limits of each characteristic of interest. Exceeding the specified tolerance of any characteristic immediately transforms the process output from “good” to “bad.” This is a very restrictive and misleading point of view. Much greater insight is provided regarding product performance and customer satisfaction by loss functions.
There is some disagreement among quality professionals whether or not precontrol is a form of statistical process control (SPC). Like many tools prescribed by the Shainin System, precontrol’s statistical sophistication is disguised by its simplicity. The attitude of many seems to be that if it isn’t difficult or complex, it must not be rigorous.
Despite its simplicity, precontrol provides an effective means of process monitoring with several advantages (compared to control charting), including:
Lesser known than Six Sigma, but no less valuable, the Shainin System is a structured program for problem solving, variation reduction, and quality improvement. While there are similarities between these two systems, some key characteristics lie in stark contrast.
This installment of “The War on Error” introduces the Shainin System, providing background information and a description of its structure. Some common problem-solving tools will also be described. Finally, a discussion of the relationship between the Shainin System and Six Sigma will be presented, allowing readers to evaluate the potential for implementation of each in their organizations.
Despite the ubiquity of corporate Six Sigma programs and the intensity of their promotion, it is not uncommon for graduates to enter industry with little exposure and less understanding of their administration or purpose. Universities that offer Six Sigma instruction often do so as a separate certificate, unintegrated with any degree program. Students are often unaware of the availability or the value of such a certificate.
Upon entering industry, the tutelage of an invested and effective mentor is far from guaranteed. This can curtail entry-level employees’ ability to contribute to company objectives, or even to understand the conversations taking place around them. Without a structured introduction, these employees may struggle to succeed in their new workplace, while responsibility for failure is misplaced.
This installment of “The War on Error” aims to provide an introduction sufficient to facilitate entry into a Six Sigma environment. May it also serve as a refresher for those seeking reentry after a career change or hiatus.
While Vol. IV focused on variable gauge performance, this installment of “The War on Error” presents the study of attribute gauges. Requiring the judgment of human appraisers adds a layer of nuance to attribute assessment. Although we refer to attribute gauges, assessment may be made exclusively by the human senses. Thus, analysis of attribute gauges may be less intuitive or straightforward than that of their variable counterparts.
Conducting attribute gauge studies is similar to variable gauge R&R studies. The key difference is in data collection – rather than a continuum of numeric values, attributes are evaluated with respect to a small number of discrete categories. Categorization can be as simple as pass/fail; it may also involve grading a feature relative to a “stepped” scale. The scale could contain several gradations of color, transparency, or other visual characteristic. It could also be graded according to subjective assessments of fit or other performance characteristic.
While you may have been hoping for rest and relaxation, the title actually refers to Gauge R&R – repeatability and reproducibility. Gauge R&R, or GRR, comprises a substantial share of the effort required by measurement system analysis. Preparation and execution of a GRR study can be resource-intensive; taking shortcuts, however, is ill-advised. The costs of accepting an unreliable measurement system are long-term and far in excess of the short-term inconvenience caused by a properly-conducted analysis.
The focus here is the evaluation of variable gauges. Prerequisites of a successful GRR study will be described and methodological alternatives will be defined. Finally, interpretation of results and acceptance criteria will be discussed.
There is a “universal sequence for quality improvement,” according to the illustrious Joseph M. Juran, that defines the actions to be taken by any team to effect change. This includes teams pursuing error- and defect-reduction initiatives, variation reduction, or quality improvement by any other description.
Two of the seven steps of the universal sequence are “journeys” that the team must take to complete its problem-solving mission. The “diagnostic journey” and the “remedial journey” comprise the core of the problem-solving process and, thus, warrant particular attention.
Of the “eight wastes of lean,” the impacts of defects may be the easiest to understand. Most find the need to rework or replace a defective part or repeat a faulty service, and the subsequent costs, to be intuitive. The consequences of excess inventory, motion, or transportation, however, may require a deeper understanding of operations management to fully appreciate.
Conceptually, poka yoke (poh-kah yoh-keh) is one of the simplest lean tools; at least it was at its inception. Over time, use of the term has morphed and expanded, increasing misuse and confusion. The desire to appear enlightened and lean has led many to misappropriate the term, applying it to any mechanism used, or attempt made, to reduce defects. Poka yoke is often conflated with other process control mechanisms, including engineering controls and management controls.
To effectively reduce the occurrence of errors and resultant defects, it is imperative that process managers differentiate between poka yoke devices, engineering controls, and management controls. Understanding the capabilities and limitations of each allows appropriate actions to be taken to optimize the performance of any process.
Every organization wants error to be kept at a minimum. The dedication to fulfilling this desire, however, often varies according to the severity of consequences that are likely to result. Manufacturers miss delivery dates or ship faulty product; service providers fail to satisfy customers or damage their property; militaries lose battles or cause civilian casualties; all increase the cost of operations.
You probably have some sensitivity to the effects errors have on your organization and its partners. This series explores strategies, tools, and related concepts to help you effectively combat error and its effects. This is your induction; welcome to The War on Error.
Previous volumes of “Making Decisions” have alluded to voting processes, but were necessarily lacking in detail on this component of group decision-making. This volume remedies that deficiency, discussing some common voting systems in use for group decision-making. Some applications and issues that plague these systems are also considered.
Although “voting” is more often associated with political elections than decision-making, the two are perfectly compatible. An election, after all, is simply a group (constituency) voting to decide (elect) which alternative (candidate) to implement (inaugurate). Many descriptions of voting systems are given in the context of political elections; substituting key words, as shown above, often provides sufficient understanding to employ them for organizational decision-making.
“Fundamentals of Group Decision-Making” (Vol. IV) addressed structural attributes of decision-making groups. In this volume, we discuss some ways a group’s activities can be conducted. An organization may employ several different techniques, at different times, in order to optimize the decision-making process for a specific project or group.
The following selection of techniques is not comprehensive; organizations may discover others that are useful. Also, an organization may develop its own technique, often using a commonly-known technique as a foundation on which to create a unique process. The choice or development of a decision-making process must consider the positive and negative impacts – potential or realized – on decision quality, efficiency, and organizational performance factors.
In business contexts, many decisions are made by a group instead of an individual. The same is true for other types of organization as well, such as nonprofits, educational institutions, and legislative bodies. Group decision-making has its advantages and its disadvantages. There are several other considerations also relevant to group decision-making, such as selecting members, defining decision rules, and choosing or developing a process to follow.
Successful group decision-making relies on a disciplined approach that proactively addresses common pitfalls. If an organization establishes a standard that defines how it will form groups and conduct its decision-making activities, it can reap the rewards of faster, higher-quality decisions, clearer expectations, less conflict, and greater cooperation.
While the Rational Model provides a straightforward decision-making aid that is easy to understand and implement, it is not well-suited, on its own, to highly complex decisions. A large number of decision criteria may create numerous tradeoff opportunities that are not easily comparable. Likewise, disparate performance expectations of alternatives may make the “best” choice elusive. In these situations, an additional evaluation tool is needed to ensure a rational decision.
The scenario described above requires Multi-criteria Analysis (MCA). One form of MCA is Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP). In this installment of “Making Decisions,” application of AHP is explained and demonstrated via a common example – a purchasing decision to source a new production machine.
The rational model of decision-making feels familiar, intuitive, even obvious to most of us. This is true despite the fact that few of us follow a well-defined process consistently. Inconsistency in the process is reflected in poor decision quality, failure to achieve objectives, or undesired or unexpected outcomes.
Versions of the rational model are available from various sources, though many do not identify the process by this name. Ranging from four to eight steps, the description of each varying significantly, these sources offer a wide variety of perspectives on the classic sequential decision-making process. Fundamentally, however, each is simply an interpretation of the rational model of decision-making.
Uses of augmented reality (AR) in various industries has been described in previous installments of “Augmented Reality” (Part 1, Part 2). In this installment, we will explore AR applications aimed at improving customer experiences in service operations. Whether creating new service options or improving delivery of existing services, AR has the potential to transform our interactions with service providers.
Front-office operations are mostly transparent due to customer participation. Customer presence is a key characteristic that differentiates services from the production of goods. Thus, technologies employed in service industries are often highly visible. This can be a blessing or a curse.
Some of the augmented reality (AR) applications most likely to attract popular attention were presented in “Part 1: An Introduction to the Technology.” When employed by manufacturing companies, AR is less likely to be experienced directly by the masses, but may have a greater impact on their lives. There may be a shift, however, as AR applications pervade product development and end-user activities.
In this installment, we look at AR applications in manufacturing industries that improve operations, including product development, quality control, and maintenance. Some are involved directly in the transformation of materials to end products, while others fill supporting roles. The potential impact on customer satisfaction that AR use provides will also be explored.
The use of digital technologies in commercial applications is continually expanding. Improvements in virtual reality (VR) systems have increased the practical range of opportunities for their use across varied industries.
As discussed with respect to other technologies experiencing accelerated development and expansion, several definitions of “virtual reality” may be encountered. Researchers and practitioners may disagree on which applications qualify for use of the term. For our purposes, we will use a simple description of virtual reality:
“Virtual reality” is an experience created, using a digital twin or other model, where
Digital Twin technology existed long before this term came into common use. Over time, existing technology has advanced, new applications and research initiatives have surfaced, and related technologies have been developed. This lack of centralized “ownership” of the term or technology has led to the proliferation of differing definitions of “digital twin.”
Some definitions focus on a specific application or technology – that developed by those offering the definition – presumably to coopt the term for their own purposes. Arguably, the most useful definition, however, is the broadest – one that encompasses the range of relevant technologies and applications, capturing their corresponding value to the field. To this end, I offer the following definition of digital twin:
An electronic representation of a physical entity – product, machine, process, system, or facility – that aids understanding of the entity’s design, operation, capabilities, or condition.
The advent of a new year inspires a great deal of reflection and anticipation. Many of us will evaluate our personal and professional progress over the past 12 months and set new goals for the upcoming year. The same is true for “The Third Degree;” this installment will look back at some posts to provide additional resources related to the topics discussed. It will also look ahead to preview topics to be covered in future posts.
Introduced nearly a century ago, flow charts are one of the most basic mapping tools available; they are also very useful. As such, they have become ubiquitous, though the name used may vary slightly – flow diagram, process map, etc. When packaged with a PFMEA and Control Plan, it is a Process Flow Diagram (PFD). Extensions of the original flow chart have also been developed, identified with new aliases for what is, at its core, a process flow chart.
The variations need not be a distraction; a basic flow chart can be very useful to your organization. Once a basic chart is available, it can be expanded or modified to suit your needs as you learn and gain experience. The following discussion demonstrates this progression.
Entertainment, Education, Marketing, or Benchmarking? Yes!
The summer vacation season is under way. If you have openings in your vacation agenda, or are looking for mini-vacation ideas, you may want to consider “tourism factories.” These include plant tours, participatory agricultural and culinary experiences, and other tourist services that connect consumers to products in unique ways.
Tourism factories serve varying interests of visitors and hosts. Whether it serves to open a new communication channel between a company and its customers, reinforce a marketing message, provide an educational opportunity, or simply satisfy the curiosity of inquisitive types, a well-designed tourist experience can be an incredibly valuable asset for many types of businesses. Increasing numbers of these tourist experiences are available as business leaders around the world recognize their potential.
An Introduction to the How and Why
Last year, I was invited to speak at a corporate “roundtable” on the subject of lightweighting. Though the host’s unfavorable terms compelled me to decline, I do not dismiss the topic as insignificant or unimportant. To the contrary, it is important enough to address here. For everyone. For free.
Lightweight design is increasingly critical to the success of many products. The aerospace and automotive industries are commonly-cited practitioners, but lightweighting is equally important to manufacturers of a wide variety of products. Running shoes, health monitors, smart watches (probably dumb ones, too), various tools, and bicycles all become more appealing to consumers when weight is reduced. Any product that is worn or carried for a significant time or distance, lifted or manipulated frequently, is shipped in large quantities, or is self-propelled is a good candidate for lightweighting.
Companies, universities, athletes, hospitals and physicians, municipalities, and any other entity that can be compared in any way often claim to be “world-class.” Is this a quantitative or qualitative assessment? Can “world-class” be objectively determined, or is it subject to the biases inherent to the assessor? Does it mean, simply, that the entity – whatever type it may be – is “good enough?”
The first definition of world-class on Dictionary.com is “ranking among the world’s best; outstanding.” This sounds like a grand achievement and a worthy goal. Unfortunately, it is completely meaningless.
The ability to formulate relevant, probing, often open-ended questions and present them at opportune times to appropriate individuals is incredibly valuable. Honing this skill will secure your reputation as a thought leader among product development, process development, or other project team members.
Many laud those who seem to have “all the answers,” but to what questions? Solving problems in your business is not a trivia game; having all the answers to questions that do not expose the underlying causes of issues or reveal improvement opportunities is of little value to your team. In most cases, it is much easier to find an answer to a question than it is to construct a question in such a way that maximizes the value of the answer.
Modern gurus of self-help have changed the narrative from “improve your weaknesses” to “play to your strengths.” However, the –abilities that drive performance in manufacturing and service operations require both approaches. A successful strategy includes extracting maximum value from well-developed –abilities and continually improving the weaker ones. The –abilities that drive performance include stability, reliability, profitability, and others. Some are more critical in a specific context; some have multiple interpretations; all deserve attention.
The –abilities that drive performance are straightforward concepts. The problem is that many managers and entrepreneurs lose sight of the basics while pursuing higher-level objectives. Let this post be a warning against this and a reminder of how solid fundamentals create a path to success.
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