When is it more convenient to improve throughout a series of incremental steps and when is it better to take the leap and to adopt a different process or technology?
This question is not trivial, especially for manufacturing organizations. In this post we will briefly present these two complementary approaches and will provide some thoughts regarding their implementation.
Continuous Improvement consists in an ongoing effort to improve a product, a process or a service. Although these efforts can be “incremental” over time or “breakthrough” all at once, it’s is normally associated with the adjective incremental. It is important to highlight this concept as we refer the adjective “breakthrough” to a new process.
Incremental Improvement approaches are:
- Deming cycle
- Six Sigma
The Deming cycle is a model designed by William Edwards Deming for the continuous improvement of quality and processes and for the optimal use of resources through an iterative approach: Plan, Do, Check, Act.
Kaizen, on the other hand, is the composition of two Japanese terms, KAI (change, improvement) and ZEN (good, better), and it means changing for the better, continuous improvement. It was coined by Masaaki Imai in 1986 to describe the business philosophy of the Japanese industry with particular reference to Toyota. In the context in which the term was coined, Kaizen is translated with “continuous improvement” losing its originality with respect to the Deming Cycle from which it derives but with which it does not coincide.
Six Sigma indicates a quality management program based primarily on a statistical approach. The aim of the method is to achieve process control such as to have only 3.4 defective parts per million, which leads to very restrictive limits on the variability of the production process. It was first introduced by Motorola in the second half of the eighties by Bob Galvin and Bill Smith, it spread to other major companies, such as General Electric, Toyota, Honeywell and Microsoft.
To stay competitive in the global market, it is important to know when and how to innovate the production processes. Indeed, an incremental approach becomes profitable when we remain in the same technological context and push the system to improve its performances. But sometimes this is not enough.
Let’s imagine we are amateur cyclists, we have an entry level bike and we want to train to improve our performance uphill. First, we will start with a targeted training program. As our performance improves, we will come to a point that the we will have to move to a better bike. Having months of training already behind us, we will immediately notice the difference. On the other hand, starting with a top class bike without an adequate athletic training will bring almost no benefit.
Similarly, it is important to take a technological leap in our process when:
- We are already taking full advantage of the capability of our current technology;
- We need better performances.
It is quite easy to understand that before moving on to a new technology it will be necessary to make the most of what our current technology offers us.
How to choose the best approach?
The question is: Continuous Improvement or New Process? It is not always preferable to adopt an improvement process before implementing a new technology. For example, let’s imagine our company is using old machines and we are about to make an investment. Should we purchase the same technology already adopted, but more efficient, or is it more convenient to make a technological leap?
Here are some examples:
- We manufacture components using 5-axis machining centers, but new additive technologies could be the best solution for our products;
- We have always designed our factory layout using 2D CAD and spreadsheets, but it might be more convenient to switch to 3D CAD and a discrete element simulation software instead of updating the 2D license;
- I have always used forklifts to move parts in my workshop, but an AGV may be the optimal solution.
Where to start?
Accialini Training & Consulting is able to provide concrete support in choosing the best approach, and consequently to save precious time and money for your investments. In particular:
- We support you in the Manufacturing Assessment phase: Continuous Improvement or New Process?
- In the case of Continuous Improvement, we help you to choose the best approach to follow and in the implementation phase (eg. Lean? Six Sigma?);
- In the case of a New Process, we will assist you in selecting the best process and in managing the introduction of new technologies using the MRL approach.
Contact us to discuss your needs in detail.
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