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A Practical Guide for Manufacturing Process Improvement, Part 2

A Practical Guide for Manufacturing Process Improvement, Part 2

By Bob Sproull

Review of A Practical Guide for Process Improvement, Part 1

In Part 1, I began our series on practical ways to achieve process improvement. I explained how to select the right improvement team and how to have successful team meetings. I also explained how the improvement process is based upon the tried-and-true observation that employees at all levels will demonstrate pride in their work if they are permitted to participate in the decision-making process relative to their work. Of course, one of the most important keys to success is the selection of an effective leader. 

The effective leader will apply these primary keys for achieving successful team meetings:

  1. Set an agenda and goal for each meeting.
  2. Maintain focus and direction, using the agenda.
  3. Regularly stop and summarize ideas, and check for understanding.
  4. Plan meetings in advance to utilize everyone’s time effectively.
  5. Team members must demonstrate a clear understanding of responsibilities.
  6. Summarize assignments and facilitate creation of next meeting’s agenda.

Part 2 of this series will continue with an exploration of a key element to an effective improvement team’s actions. This is the completion of what is known as a customer dissatisfaction analysis. I will also explain the proper use of the most effective tools teams can use for process improvement, and that is the process control chart.

Conduct a customer dissatisfaction analysis

Improvement can’t really be successful and sustainable unless the improvement is perceived by the customer in the form of an improved product. With this in mind, it is imperative that the team visit the customer location and find out what the customer dislikes about the current product. If you take the time to determine the characteristics used by the customer to evaluate the quality and other characteristics of the product, you (as the supplier) will get a much clearer picture of customer’s requirements. 

I also recommend routine follow-up visits be made to the customer’s location in order to build a strong customer-supplier relationship. In addition, I advise teams to invite their customers to their own locations, so they can see the manufacturing processes in action. 

One of the key takeaways from your customer location visit should be a complete list of sources of customer dissatisfaction with your product. This should include input from all levels within the customer’s organization. The list should include the following:

  • A complete description of the sources of customer dissatisfaction
  • The current severity level of dissatisfaction
  • A metric to track the impact of improvements in the level of the dissatisfaction
  • A list of all of the characteristics used by the customer to appraise the product

One of the tools I recommend for manufacturing teams in going about this process is a Pareto analysis. This analysis can be used to determine the influence of certain variable or attribute data collected on your current product by the customer.

The Pareto analysis can be used by the improvement team for determining the focal point for improvement. It also sets the stage for a cause-and-effect analysis to define relationships between process parameters and product characteristics. This exercise helps in the selection of an appropriate control chart indicator.

Use control charts with discretion

One of the problems I have observed when tools like statistical process control (SPC) are implemented is the concept of something I refer to as “paper hanging.”  In the case of control charts, this is the indiscriminate posting of unnecessary charts. Success is not based upon the number of control charts posted, but rather, the effectiveness of the ones being used. Effective control charts are those that help stabilize and control key product characteristics. Charts that don’t meet this standard are extraneous to the process.

If control charts are selected correctly, when the control measure is brought under statistical control, you will clearly see noticeable improvements in the quality and flow of the product. Customer requirements are the most important consideration in any improvement initiative.

From the steps already taken, you should now be ready to select the control characteristics that the team will study, control, and continuously improve. The selection criteria should be based upon the following two questions:

  1. Is the control characteristic critical to product quality?
  1. Is there a suitable measurement system available to measure the control characteristic?

Coming in the next post

In Part 3 of this series, I will present measurement system evaluations and then move on to other subjects including process potential and capability studies. 

Until next time,

Bob Sproull

Bob Sproull

About the author

Bob Sproull has helped businesses across the manufacturing spectrum improve their operations for more than 40 years.

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