MAG Giddings & Lewis

April 9, 2009
Company says Six Sigma fails since companies often picking the wrong people for Black Belts, don't follow the define, measure, analyze, improve, control (DMAIC) process and don't have the necessary executive leadership and commitment.

Ellie Kemp admits she is a sports addict, so it's not surprising she says the same elements needed for successful sports teams -- talent, good coaching, a firm grasp of the fundamentals -- are also the keys to success with Six Sigma. Conversely, says the Master Black Belt at machine tool manufacturer MAG Giddings & Lewis, headquartered in Fond du Lac, Wis., companies that fail with Six Sigma likely do so because they pick the wrong people for Black Belts, don't follow the define, measure, analyze, improve, control (DMAIC) process and don't have the necessary executive leadership and commitment.

That hasn't been the case at MAG G&L. Since 2002, the company has documented $9 million in savings from its Six Sigma projects, which Kemp calls "just the tip of the iceberg" since savings from projects are only tracked for one year.

Kemp notes that her company operates in an environment where "you have to offer something to your customer that is different and better. Otherwise, they'll go somewhere else." When the company took Caterpillar's offer to train employees on Six Sigma in 2002, the lead times on MAG G&L's products -- large machine tools such as horizontal boring mills, vertical turning centers and horizontal milling machines -- could be 12 to 18 months. Four employees, including Kemp, were selected for black belt training to kick off the program. Through a series of Six Sigma and lean projects, the company worked to develop modular designs that would allow it to build products more quickly while permitting the customization that buyers sought. The company has also worked to reduce the number of parts required to build its products, standardize on certain parts and improve material presentation and flow. As a result, lead times on boring mills, for example, have been cut to five months.

Ellie Kemp says Six Sigma has saved her company $9 million.

All MAG G&L employees receive Six Sigma training. The company has three Black Belts and 16 part-time Green Belts. Over the past eight years, the company has trained 10 Black Belts and 85 Green Belts. After two years, the Black Belts rotate into key areas of the business. "Once they understand the Six Sigma tools and how to manage projects, they have great value as managers driving process improvements and business improvement," says Kemp.

Kemp believes Six Sigma projects may be the single most important way a company can improve its competitive position. She explains that having employees work full time on continuous improvement focuses the business on implementing change. "A person would be crazy not to want to do this," she contends. "How many times in your career can you say you were put on the one of the most important projects in your business?"

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An award-winning editor, Executive Editor Steve Minter covers leadership, global economic and trade issues and energy, tackling subject matter ranging from CEO profiles and leadership theories to economic trends and energy policy. As well, he supervises content development for editorial products including the magazine,, research and information products, and conferences.

Before joining the IW staff, Steve was publisher and editorial director of Penton Media’s EHS Today, where he was instrumental in the development of the Champions of Safety and America’s Safest Companies recognition programs.

Steve received his B.A. in English from Oberlin College. He is married and has two adult children.

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