For Robust Products

We want to do what we can to provide all of the people involved in the design and development of the products and the processes find out about the latest tools and techniques available to them.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Roland R. Cavanagh, one of the authors of The Six Sigma Way: How GE, Motorola, and Other Top Companies Are Honing Their Performance (McGraw-Hill: 29.95). I asked him about where the six sigma (6s) process begins, whether it had to be a comprehensive company-wide undertaking in order for it to be effective. He suggested that a good place to start is in product design, where the CTQ's—the customer-focused "critical to quality" characteristics—are captured in the creation of the product. I put it to him: "But what about the manufacturing operation? What if it isn't pursuing 6s?

Doesn't that mean those design efforts are for naught?" Cavanagh quickly noted that the designers would need to take the manufacturing variability into account when coming up with the product designs, that they might, for example, implement some poka-yoke features in the parts so that manufacturing personnel would have to put them together properly.

Cavanagh said that based on his past manufacturing experience, it always seemed as though Manufacturing pushed back on Design. It was a matter, in effect, of Manufacturing saying, "We can't make this the way that it is designed. So, Design, you need to change it." And Design would tend to resist. No one likes to be told what to do.

Cavanagh also said that process capability is a big part of achieving 6s products. So, given that, I asked whether the platform team strategy that Chrysler is widely acknowledged for helping put to the for in modern business practices isn't a means by which there can be an assurance that process—meaning Manufacturing—is brought into Design thinking. While he isn't dismissive of platform teams, he commented, "The understanding needs to be deeper." He explained that designers really need to understand the processes involved in transforming their designs into actual, tangible products. Designers need to know something about everything from welding to stamping, from machining to molding. They have to understand just what the constraints are taken into account as they create their designs. Cavanagh and I talked at a conference being held by Engineous Software, which produces a software product called iSight, which is used by design engineers to automate simulated tests of various types so that more tests can be run than is practical when these are manually executed. Consequently, designers can have greater confidence in what they are developing. With v 6.0 of the software, a Six Sigma Robust Design Module that helps deal with reliability constrains and design objectives has been included. Just as they need to understand computer-aided optimization (CAO) products like this, designers must understand lots of other things, including various tools, techniques and methodologies that may be in the domains of their colleagues in other functions. Similarly, process engineers of various types (manufacturing engineers) as well as managers and executives at OEM and supplier companies need to know at least a little something about what designers and product engineers do and the tools with which they do it.

Since the very start, this magazine has been predicated on the simple idea that the way things come to be in this industry is that first they are Designed, then Engineered, then Produced. Those activities must be Managed. So the magazine's four main sections are Design, Engineer, Produce, Manage. For reasons that are too irrelevant to get into, the name of this magazine has heretofore made it seem that we were focused exclusively on the Produce part. Which you, as a reader, undoubtedly know is a misperception. So we've switched a couple of words on the cover of this magazine. You may not have noticed it. But as people who are interested in helping advance this industry, we want to do what we can to provide all of the people involved in the design and development of the products and the processes find out about the latest tools and techniques available to them.