Tag Archives: normal

Episode 42 — Six Sigma

Normal_Distribution_PDFGuest Erica Lee Garcia explains the role of process improvement tools such as Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, and Statistical Process Control in this episode of The Engineering Commons podcast.

  • Although process improvement tools are widely used in manufacturing, not all engineers are familiar with their usage.
  • Our guest is Erica Lee Garcia, a Professional Engineer from Canada, who is also the owner and CEO of Erica Lee Consulting.
  • One might have expected Erica to go into civil or mechanical engineering based on her childhood activities.
  • Erica majored in Materials and Metallurgical Engineering at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
  • Our guest started her career working for a firm that produced powdered metal products.
  • In trying to determine why conveyer belts kept breaking in a sintering furnace, Erica got her first exposure to the continuous improvement process.
  • Six sigma is all about getting rid of variation, while the lean method is all about getting rid of waste.
  • Statistical process control (SPC) is a control scheme used for process analysis and monitoring.
  • Kaizen refers to a philosophy focused on continuous process improvement. The term has recently come to mean a concentrated effort in dealing with a particular issue over a short period of time; such an activity may also be referred to as a “kaizen blitz” or “kaizen event.”
  • Dr. Jeffrey Liker, a professor of industrial engineering from the University of Michigan, published The Toyota Way in 2003. The book details 14 principles that provide the framework for Toyota’s continual improvement system.
  • The Kaizen Institute and the American Society for Quality are organizations that promote the continuous improvement of people, processes, and systems.
  • Erica has run into situations where engineers and accountants have wildly differing interpretations of the same underlying data.
  • Adam asks how projects can continue to improve after all the “low-hanging fruit” has already been gathered.
  • Bruce Tuckman introduced the “Forming — Storming — Norming — Performing” model of group development in 1965.
  • The phases of a Six Sigma project are “Define — Measure — Analyze — Improve — Control,” also known as DMAIC, for short.
  • Erica addresses how one might deal with non-normal data while engaging in process improvement.
  • Process variations are designated as resulting from “common” and “special” causes.
  • Jeff notes that the 2007 financial crisis has been partially blamed on fat-tailed distributions that were distinctly different from assumed Gaussian probabilities.
  • Erica mentions a video presentation by Dan Milstein talking about the 5 Whys, a tool used in process improvement to determine cause and effect relationships.
  • Brian inquires about the minimum production volumes required to justify initiating a continuous improvement project.
  • Jeff raises the notion that Six Sigma may kill innovation. That position is refuted by Erica, who notes that there is a method of Design for Six Sigma.
  • While the United States celebrates National Engineering Week for seven days in February, the entire month of March is set aside as National Engineering Month in Canada.
  • Our guest believes that aspiration messaging is more effective than descriptions of day-to-day duties when undertaking engineering outreach.
  • The Changing the Conversation campaign, sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering, is mentioned by Erica. She notes a video from the site, titled “If it weren’t hard, it wouldn’t be engineering.”
  • Advice for early- and mid-career engineers is provided by Erica on her website, EngineerYourLife.net.
  • Marc Garneau is a Candadian engineer, astronaut, and politician.
  • Brian comments that engineering is a “world of niches,” in which engineers often have radically different duties and assignments, even if working in the same discipline, or for the same company.
  • Erica can be found on Twitter as @engineeryrlife. She can also be contacted via her website.

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the graph of a normal distribution probability density function. Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson