How I Adopted a Quality Assurance Program (Six Sigma) to Reduce Defects, Reduce Expenses and Increase Our Bottom Line – A Movement Towards Lean Manufacturing
While I worked at JStep, I often spent a good portion of the time at our factory during our development seasons (Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter). Like any new factories, there were still kinks in the cogs and manifold problems that required attention. Given the experience of our factory management team, I assumed that these issues would be resolved both effectively and in a timely manner, but then I realized that they had been operating this way for all those years.
These issues could be anything small to significantly large. There were quality issues such as blooming, cracking, over oxidation, color bleeding, mismanaged products, defects, etc. There were even times where the compounding was incorrectly batched. At times, I was baffled at the inability and obliviousness of some of our factory workers. But ultimately understood that things these did happen because we’re human and we inherently make mistakes.
Step 1: Immerse yourself in the process.
Because our coworkers would often out me due to my lack of experience and lack of knowledge, my suggestions were unheard, ignored, and overlooked. In addition, Asian culture protects and offers asylum and to the older. You’re required to respect their wishes and their thoughts, even when they’re blatantly wrong.
This is why I had to learn from the basics. I threw on ragged clothes and went to work on the factory lines for months at a time so that I could understand how the workers were working and why problems would arise. If I couldn’t find the source of defects, then how would I identify it? And if I couldn’t identify the issue, then how could I rectify it?
So I would work 12 hours a day on the factory line with all of those older coworkers. Sure, I was not as fast or as efficient or as experienced as them, but I wouldn’t let that stop me. Within 2 weeks, I matched their pace and produced better products with less defects. This is because employee happiness was at a low and the factory workers didn’t understand the need for this product. They didn’t love it like I did. They saw work as work. Regardless if they made a good product or not, they thought the work would always continue.
Step 2: Always think to yourself, how can I make this better?
During the process, I was would always make my best attempt to understand why defects occurred and how they could be prevented. As mentioned above, factory workers didn’t really care how the product turned out.
Step 3: Write the process out step-by-step.
I then made a flow chart of what the process looked like, identified which zones had the most occurrences of defects and/or other issues, calculated how much loss these issues were causing, then formulated a solution on how to rectify the process.
I would make checkpoints so that products had defects early on would not get processed (and re-processed later). I would encourage factory workers to produce better products because if our quality sucks, then they’re futures are directly impacted. If no one buys our products, then there there would be no need to make products thus eliminating their jobs.
Step 4: Propose changes and put them into effect. Test for 30 days and assess its effect.
Once you identify the underlying cause of an issue, you need to fix it. However, it’s impossible to tell whether your change has made any difference when you’re batching thousands and thousands (or millions) of products on a monthly basis. The only way you can really assess the changes is after about 30 days of the process. Of course, when you initially put the new process into effect, it will slow the pace down for the first couple of hours because you’re changing the way the cogs moved, but once everyone acclimates to the new process, it will be back up to speed.
But this is much easier said than done. Our management was skeptical by my proposals and I ran into a number of obstacles:
- Fear of change
- Fear of commitment
- Fear of disruption
- Fear of costs
- Fear of time
- Fear of output
- Fear of success
Regardless, I remained persistent to my thoughts. If I had too much tension from one member of the management, I had to go behind his back and speak to the superior. Of course, I made every effort to persuade them. I even tried to phrase my proposal in a way where it seemed like it was their idea. But the old remain old and conservative. They are accustomed to such a way and believe that they’ve already optimized the process to the best of its nature.
Step 5: After 30 days, assess the process and start this procedure again.
I researched ways to make ensuring quality assurance and make the manufacturing process more effective. It often takes critical thinking and outside-of-the-box thoughts. But the simple fact is, you can even optimize the way you optimize the manufacturing process. In other words, once you gain more experience, you learn to make changes and adapt more quickly. You are able to identify easily how something can affect your bottom line prior to even making those proposals. Here’s a list of questions you should always ask yourself:
- What are a few current problems that we are facing?
- What percentage of products is being affected by the problem?
- What is the underlying cause of the problem?
- What can be changed at this moment in time?
- What processes are repetitive during
- What checkpoints could reduce the number of affected products?
- What variations of the manufacturing process are other competitors or partners currently incorporating into their products?