Why Does Continuous Improvement Have to Be So Damn Complicated?

Posted by on Jun 16, 2011 in Continuous Improvement, Problem Solving | 0 comments

It doesn’t!  Use a structured process and some simple tools and you can make tremendous improvement.  It’s that simple!  Let me explain.
Some years ago, I learned a few simple techniques that really changed how I approached problem solving and continuous improvement.  The first technique was the simple process of comparison.  Compare defective items with good items.  The items can be machines, people, parts, i.e., basically anything you want to improve.  Look for differences between those items that give you clues to what’s causing the defective items to be bad.
I remember a problem a plant was having with a product where several wires were spliced together, dip soldered, and heat shrink applied to seal the splice.  A customer complained that moisture was getting into the joint and causing it to fail.  Engineers studied the process, but could not find the root cause of the problem.  I was called in to help.  I took several of the faulty splices and lined them up side by side and compared them to a known good splice.  Within minutes we realized that the faulty splices were caused by some operators using the wrong method causing the wire to curl and puncture the heat shrink tubing.  We corrected their method and the problem was solved.
I’ve seen where good engineers sometimes get stuck trying to reduce scrap levels.  There are various reasons scrap is produced.  The key is to compare the scrap items to look for similarities.  For example, how many are defective on the right side?  Left side? Etc.?  The differences are because there are different failure modes for each type of defect and you need to determine the cause of each different failure mode.  A simple pareto chart can help you determine priority based on frequency.  Using this simple approach can help you reduce scrap levels tremendously!
Another technique, using simple tools, is something called PF/CE/CNX/SOP and can help reduce variation by 50% or more.  PF stands for process flow diagram.  Develop a detailed map of the process you want to improve.  CE stands for cause and effect or fishbone diagram.  Identify the various potential causes of the problem.  CNX is an evaluation of what process inputs are controlled, those that are noise (uncontrolled), and those that are critical to the process.  How much variation is created by the controlled, noise, and critical process inputs?  How can you reduce the variation?  SOP stands for standard operating procedure.  Does a SOP exist for the process?  Is it adequate to control the process?  Is it being followed?  Using this technique, understanding the process, it’s inputs, and the amount of variation created by each can improve the process and make it more consistent.

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