Six Sigma Secrets

Dec. 21, 2004

Applied in its broadest sense, Six Sigma methodology is improving AlliedSignal's product-development process. While the corporate growth office at AlliedSignal is charged with improving functional capability as well as diffusing and exploiting synergies between businesses, it also is charged with improving the very processes of innovation and product development. To meet that challenge, the company has expanded the role of Six Sigma quality methodology. Traditionally associated with statistical methods of reducing variability and increasing robustness of manufacturing processes, AlliedSignal applies it as a philosophy and rallying cry for process improvement in general. Where applicable, statistical approaches still are utilized, but as they relate to innovation and product development. Six Sigma also includes concurrent engineering principles, multifunctional teaming, program management, active inclusion of voice of the customer, and design principles to cut cycle time, build in quality, and create more value for customers. "Before, product development generally occurred by happenstance." says Barry Siadat, the company's chief growth officer. "In the last year, we have started to make this as professional and controlled as possible. Six Sigma helps us make commercialization a process that we can map, and then apply tools that put some rigors in it, and make it a fact-based decision process. "Often these tools are models where application of statistical principals can maximize results and reduce variability, including conjoint/trade-off analysis designed to pinpoint combinations of benefits most desired by customers; business and risk analysis, which helps identify program risks, define their probability of occurring, and determine program impact if they occur; and design-of-experiment techniques, which allow multiple independent variables to be evaluated at one time rather than individually. "I think Six Sigma, as it applies to product innovation, will have an impact in three ways. First, it will increase our success rate in the new products. Second, it will help us shorten cycle time and gives us speed to market as a competitive advantage. And third, by doing things faster it helps us reduce costs so we can get more done with fewer resources," Siadat says. "In the aerospace industry, the greatest customer-impact issues for us are lower cost of ownership and increased reliability," says Russ Ford, vice president of quality and Six Sigma, Engines Div., Phoenix. "Both of these tie directly to engine design, so if you design a product to last for a certain number of hours or cycles, it doesn't matter how good the manufacturing capability is, you have some inherent limits to the product put in place by the design. Six Sigma principles allow us to reduce variation in performance up front in the design." Applying statistical techniques to the design of the new AS900 engine for midsized corporate and regional jets slashed time-to-certification from a typical 42 months to 33 months, workhours to project completion by 30%, and variability in fan modules by 50%, eliminating much of the adjustments required to tune an engine. While Six Sigma quality is the goal for any product design at AlliedSignal, the design prediction for the AS900 engine is currently 5.2 Sigma, up from 2.3 Sigma for engines designed just two years ago. "We have been building engines for 50 years, so we have a long history and opportunity to advance the quality and production levels, but Six Sigma has shown the most promise of anything we have used," says Ford. Understanding of Six Sigma principles is so important in the engines group that it is the division's goal to have its 5,600 employees certified as Six Sigma "green belts," which requires 40 hours of training and 40 hours of project work to be completed by the end of 1999. Overall, application of Six Sigma principles has saved the company $500 million in 1998, $1.5 billion to date, and is projected to save $600 million in 1999, says spokesperson Kristin Lemkau.

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