CMTC Manufacturing Blog

We succeed because you do.

6 Areas of Improvement Every Consultant Analyzes

Posted by Steven Brand

Manufacturing consultant and engineers discussing product designBefore delving into the five areas experts target for manufacturing quality improvement, it may help to understand where manufacturing in the United States finds itself. It turns out that there’s plenty to feel optimistic about.

American manufacturing leaders say that the U.S. will surpass China in manufacturing output by the year 2020 even though only nine percent of the workforce in the United States – 12.3 million workers – is employed in manufacturing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 1987, manufacturing sector employees have increased their output by more than 2.5 times.

Why? – The consensus among manufacturing experts points to continuous quality improvements. Companies have gotten smarter on how they complete the production cycle.

There are at least five areas, or philosophies, that consultants analyze for manufacturing quality improvements. The following schools of thought have been adopted by many because they’ve been shown to work…

Lean & The 5 Principles

The biggest obstacle for production is waste, and the entire focus of Lean is eliminating this obstacle. It’s estimated by the Lean Enterprise Research Centre (LERC) that 60 percent of the average manufacturing system is waste, in the sense that it adds no value to the customer. Waste under Lean is defined as anything in a manufacturing value stream that does not add value from the customer’s perspective. The Lean approach, originated by Toyota, revolutionized manufacturing after the car company evolved from a small manufacturer to the world’s largest car maker.

Lean Principles

While there’s plenty to know about Lean, newcomers can get a good grasp with the following …

Identify value: Once identified, create the product or service yielding the most value for the customer – hopefully exceeding their expectations.

Map the value stream: Identify the necessary steps facilitating a streamlined production throughout a workflow by phasing out anything that doesn’t add value.

Create flow: Drop steps in a workflow which may cause frequent problems. Redirect with proficient steps, free from blockage or backflow.

Establish pull: Do not supply without demand or pull from your market. Waste no resources unless customers want a product or service.

Seek perfection: As layers of waste are discovered throughout the delivery process, continue to eliminate them. Refine processes until they are as close to perfect as possible.

Six Sigma

This school of thought puts emphasis on reducing process variation so that, in the end, analysts can identify and stop the causes of production defects. Statistics and formal processes are fundamental for gathering information, so process standardization is emphasized under Six Sigma. Special training is needed for employees to ensure that they follow the Six Sigma methodology and use the data-driven approach correctly.

Six Sigma emphasizes reducing process variation to stop the causes of production defects #mfg


Just as Lean has its 5 Principles, so too does Six Sigma. Like Lean, DMAIC utilizes interconnected phases. The acronym stands for:

Define the business problem, goal, potential resources, project scope and high-level project timeline.

Measure the current baselines as the basis for improvement with an objective point of view.

Analyze information to identify, validate and select a root cause for elimination.

Improve the problem situation by locating it, testing it and implementing a solution.

Control – this is the point in the process where companies want to solidify the gains. Don’t regress to old bad habits; sustain your progress.

Theory of Constraints (TOC)

Under this perspective, the end goal is the improvement of profitability from throughput, which is the amount of product passing through a system. TOC pinpoints where any bottlenecking may occur on the production floor, or across a value stream, and systematically addresses the issue until the constraint is appropriately managed. The understanding of how to make sound financial decisions based on throughput, inventory, and operating expense is a critical requirement for the implementation of TOC practices.

Bottleneck occuring in materials production.

Drum-Buffer-Rope model

As a TOC methodology, DBR can be thought of as an analogy of marching soldiers or boy scouts who are hiking. The drumbeat synchronizes the pace of the soldiers, which buffers the fastest and the slowest of the group, preventing bottlenecking. The fastest soldier is tempered, and the rope pulls along the slowest person. This can be applied to manufacturing line.

Many thought leaders in the industry have decided that taking one track doesn’t have to be at the expense of others. So, in an effort to combine the benefits of multiple perspectives, some of the above philosophies have been cross-pollinated. That includes hybrids like Ultimate Improvement Cycle (UIC) and Lean Six Sigma.

In the end, what matters is what works. Lean kicked off a revolution of exponential progress for manufacturing quality improvement, and combining the perspectives listed above continues to excite ambitious CEOs. To learn more about how these principles can help your bottom line, see our guide Guide to Six Sigma – a comprehensive, 15-page overview of the principles and philosophies of combined, revolutionary schools of thought.

Download eBook

Topics: Quality

Tell Us What You Think