Design Engineering with Six Sigma

Engineers who are responsible for product design are increasingly relying on the Six Sigma model to guide them through the process. The methodology founded by engineers at Motorola is now being applied to all business functions, but it is rooted in being able to manufacture a quality product through a process that is easily repeated and free of errors.

The most common design model used by engineers in Six Sigma is known as IDOV. It stands for identify, design, optimize and validate. Each of these steps is an important part in developing a production plan that will achieve a Six Sigma product, which is a nearly perfect product created with statistically less than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. If this can be achieved, the company will experience larger profits by meeting or exceeding customer expectations.

The customer is at the center of all Six Sigma programs and that is why the first step in the model is to identify the needs of the customer. What expectations do they have of the product and how will they use it? Knowing the answers to these questions will give the engineer a clearer idea of what must be accomplished.  Simply asking the customers is not good enough when it comes to this highly statistically-based method.  Questionnaires, surveys, and other statistically-based methods of data collection are used.

After identifying exactly what needs to be produced, the work begins on a design for the production line and what raw materials will be used. Formulas will be developed to determine the most efficient use of those materials and the most efficient way to run the product through the line. The engineering team will identify potential problems and will be prepared with alternatives if they surface.

Once the basic design is complete, the next step is to optimize the process. This means making sure that it can be run time and time again with the same top quality results. This also means keeping a close eye on the budget to make sure that costs are controlled so that profit margins can be maintained. Things that drive up costs will have to be redesigned.

The final step in the engineering design is to validate the process. Now that the production has been optimized, it is time to go back to the customer and make sure that what you have produced meets their needs. Has it been built to their specifications and at the price that was quoted? The customer will go over your prototype and let you know if it is acceptable, validating what has been done. If there is a problem, you will have to go back to step two or three to address it. Remember, the goal is 99.997% perfection and customer satisfaction, or in other words, less than 3.4 defects per million opportunities.