The Toyota Production System operates at Six Sigma. There are also other Six Sigma System. I’m going to start off by discussing what is Six Sigma and then give you some examples of other Six Sigma systems.
We start with Toyota’s Six Sigma System.
Six Sigma means that you operate with 3 or less defects per million opportunities for defects. Toyota needs to manufacture about 11 cars, without a defect, to accomplish Six Sigma.
A quick word about 3 defects per million opportuinities. A defect could be that the car fails to operate or that the radio fails to operate. Discus what is a defect first.
Not only does Toyota accomplish six Sigma but they do it by installing other companies parts in their cars. Toyota actively works with their suppliers to improve their operations in support of Toyota’s quality goals.
Toyota’s Production System is not the only Six Sigma System.
Lockheed Martin Ues a Six Sigma System to Build Rockets for the Navy.
Lockheed’s customer was very clear, when you press the button, the rocket fires. That was their top three requirements.
The requirements were clear and concise. Number one was customer requirements. This left no room for confusion and it made it clear on where to put the primary focus of development.
This was a large complex project and like any large project, things go wrong. Lockheed agreed with the customer that the customer could attend any internal Lockheed meeting. This meant that Lockheed did not hide any significant problem and the customer did not blow up any problem, since problems are a part of any big project.
A Parachute is a Six Sigma System
If a parachute wasn’t a six Sigma system, would anybody really jump out of a plane with one. I am not an expert on parachutes but I will make a couple points. The first point is that the materials such as harness, cabling, and parachute material must be of high quality, have built in redundancy, and are consistently tested, to achieve six sigma.
Once you have the materials they need to be packaged so that they deploy to six Sigma requirements. This means it must be simple and easily reproducible.
Airplanes are Six Sigma Systems
Regarding airplanes, Recently, an airplane pilot found one of his two engines on fire and was able to, without radical procedures, fly the plane to a safe, uneventful landing. This was possible because planes are designed to operate at six Sigma.
I highlight three reasons airplanes operate at six sigma. Airplane subsystems are isolated is much as possible. That’s how come a plane can still fly successfully with one of two engines burning. Critical systems have backups. If the planes control panel fails, you can still fly the plane. Subsystem isolation is a critical design criteria.
The flight of an airplane has a human and mechanical aspect. Both of those are regulated by a non-airline entity that focuses on safety. The Federal Aviation Administration not only requires scheduled checking but also emergency improvements required. The FAA also governs pilot certifications and performance requirements. The FAA separates the safety of flight from the industries operational flights, and this helps create a six Sigma system.
Pilots train extensively. I heard a story about an airline pilot flying into the old Hong Kong airport. On approach, warning sounds and flashing lights started to go off in the cockpit. Then more and more until it became overwhelming. The pilot, recognizing that there was no time to work on or fix the problems, so he told his crew to fly the plane like a Cessna. He landed the plane without incident.
There are Six Sigma operators, but not every business needs to operate at Six Sigma.