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February 10, 2017
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Your CMMS: Essential to Lean and Six Sigma

Aimed at eliminating defects and waste through quality control and continuous improvement, Lean and Six Sigma are highly popular in manufacturing operations and beyond.

Aimed at eliminating defects and waste through quality control and continuous improvement, Lean and Six Sigma are highly popular in manufacturing operations and beyond.

Make it easy for maintenance team members to embrace your organization’s chosen methodology.

By Alexandra Altvater, Manufacturing Industries Manager for Dude Solutions

It’s a given that focusing on equipment effectiveness can help manufacturers move quality products out of the door on time. To help maximize that effectiveness, many operations are switching to Lean Manufacturing or Six Sigma, if not both, to eliminate errors and drive productivity improvements. After all, Lean and Six Sigma complement the goals of maintenance managers and help them achieve their objectives with greater efficiency.

According to Alexandra Altvater of Dude Solutions (Cary, NC, dudesolutions.com), while Lean or Six Sigma can generate increased efficiency and continuous-improvement benefits, change management is a key component to get everyone on board. At times, the idea of implementing a new procedure can be met with resistance and even hostility. As Altvater explained in a recent white paper, one way to ease the learning curve and ensure the proper organizational support is to use a computerized maintenance-management system (CMMS).  


Lean and Six Sigma are aimed at eliminating defects and increasing efficiencies through quality control. Each has an emphasis on continuous improvement, making them highly favored processes with a large adoption rate in manufacturing operations. They’ve also become popular in industries outside of manufacturing.

Lean Manufacturing provides tools to define and eliminate waste throughout the manufacturing process to increase efficiency and, ultimately, profit. While Lean may have started in Venice, Italy, as early as the 1450s, the first person to truly integrate the process was Henry Ford. In the late 1980s, Toyota perfected the process and gave industry the Lean techniques it uses today.

Toyota improved on Ford’s original approach by adding evenness of work flow to the process, helping expose inefficiencies in production that allow companies to redesign manufacturing systems for maximum profit. Quality improves as production time and cost are reduced. There is an emphasis on not only continuously improving the process but also on measuring data to gain actionable insight.

As its name suggests, Lean Manufacturing eliminates waste, something with which CMMS can also help. By looking for areas of improvement in maintenance, workforce scheduling, inventory, work-order management, and preventive maintenance, a CMMS can help maintenance managers and technicians focus on tasks that matter and trim fat that can slow down productivity.

When using a CMMS, tasks such as preventive maintenance become more efficient and equipment uptime increases. The right platform lets organizations make better decisions when it comes to budget. In addition, a CMMS helps:

• spot trends in over-maintaining
• ease workforce scheduling with a calendar view
• improve spare-parts inventory management, including, among other things, ensuring that items are on hand, at the right time, and stored in the proper places.

Additionally, CMMS ensures that work orders are filed in a central system, allowing all technicians access from any desktop or mobile device. This mobility means less time looking for work orders, improved data accuracy, increased organization, and more-efficient work-order resolution.

Six Sigma is about continuous improvement. The word Sigma comes from statistics and refers to how far something is from perfection. Created by Bill Smith while working at Motorola, Six Sigma focuses on the fundamentals of an operation and looks for a better way to perform the tasks. Every part of the process is about improving the products that a company offers to its customers by eliminating defects or anything that impairs product quality.

The philosophy of Six Sigma emphasizes personal responsibility as everyone involved strives to achieve perfection and improve efficiency. Furthermore, it offers a clear goal for companies to achieve measurable and quantifiable financial returns. One of the central tenants of Six Sigma is the DMAIC process (define, measure, analyze, improve, and control) that offers transparency into what is working and how to improve (see “Five Ways a CMMS Can Facilitate the DMAIC Process” below.)

Six Sigma identifies several key roles for successful implementation, starting with business leadership, or a deployment leader. Not only do leaders set a vision for Six Sigma implementation, they empower their teams with the freedom and resources to explore new ideas for business improvement that go beyond departmental barriers.

Another aspect of Six Sigma is its martial-arts-style belt-ranking hierarchy of champions who are responsible for implementing and integrating the process across an organization (and also mentoring others). Yellow Belts have co-ownership of Six Sigma projects. Green Belts are the engine and workhorse of the project. Black Belts are leaders and mentors of the business. Master Black Belts serve as in-house coaches on Six Sigma and ensure consistent application of Six Sigma across various functions and departments.

A CMMS can diffuse concerns maintenance personnel may have regarding the introduction of Lean and Six Sigma by helping them integrate these principles into their daily work.

A CMMS can diffuse concerns maintenance personnel may have regarding the introduction of Lean and Six Sigma by helping them integrate these principles into their daily work.

Barriers to adoption

Fear of redundancy is common among employees when new processes, including Lean and Six Sigma, are introduced in a plant, i.e., the thinking is that whatever process is brought in will be just as inefficient as the one before. This skepticism stems from poor application of the methodologies. For every great outcome, there’s an attempt at integrating Lean or Six Sigma that isn’t properly supported and results in frustration, poor quality and unhappy customers.

Altvater notes, however, that manufacturers shouldn’t be discouraged. There is a way to not only pitch Lean and Six Sigma to employees, but also help them integrate these principles into their daily work. The key is to emphasize the positive benefits and, once the process begins, to focus on tailoring it to the employees’ work.

CMMS and methodology of choice

One of the best ways to get everyone in an organization to embrace a new process, be it Lean Manufacturing or Six Sigma, is by simplifying its adoption. Regarding maintenance teams, to make the transition as smooth as possible and ensure continued usage, a site should look to its CMMS system. These systems can make it easy to track positive changes and provide the visibility to easily access, create, and share progress reports using the data.

By pairing Lean Manufacturing or Six Sigma with a CMMS, organizations will start to see better time management, be empowered to plan for the future, and have a stronger workforce.

Alexandra Altvater is Manufacturing Industries manager for Dude Solutions, Cary, NC. For more information, email alexandra.altvater@dudesolutions.com, or visit dudesolutions.com.

Five Ways a CMMS Can Facilitate the DMAIC Process

Since a CMMS can provide easy ways for maintenance managers to track progress and efficiency, it’s an ideal complement to the DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, and control) process (a central tenet of Six Sigma). According to Cary, NC-based Dude Solutions’ Alexandra Altvater, here are specific steps you can take with your CMMS to support the DMAIC process:

1. Define: In the first step, DMAIC calls for defining, which includes the definition of the most essential maintenance and safety data to track. Once the vital parameters to track are defined, a clear path is set. Some CMMS providers will offer an implementation and consultation service to guide manufacturers in this process. Often, these consultants can advise which parameters will provide the most valuable feedback.

2. Measure. Once parameters are set and defined, it’s important to have a tool in place that will measure them accurately and without excessive manual effort. CMMS platforms, especially with mobile functionality, make measuring simple for maintenance technicians and managers. There are a host of key parameters that can be measured, such as how often machines are maintained, how often they break down, and which machines are using up most of the budget.

3. Analyze. Once measured, this next step in the process kicks in. One of the industry standards to focus on analyzing is the OEE (overall equipment effectiveness), which measures the health of your equipment and gauges maintenance strategy. CMMS systems can identify data trends and deliver simple reports to show key outliers and areas for improvement. Manufacturers can also compare themselves with others in the same industry, i.e., use benchmarking, by tracking and comparing the same key values to get a true sense of how they are doing.

4. Improve. Once spotted, key areas of concern can be addressed. Sometimes, when one machine consistently fails, it turns out that buying a new piece of equipment is more cost effective than allowing it to keep guzzling the current maintenance budget. Other times, equipment may just need a more frequent preventive-maintenance schedule. In contrast, other pieces of equipment may hardly every have an issue and need less focus. In any case, this is the stage to pinpoint problem areas to increase cost effectiveness and better allocate your team’s manpower.

5. Control. Once you have improved your processes, it’s vital that you control and sustain them. One of the best ways to sustain positive change is to continue to measure and track with a CMMS to make sure that the maintenance strategy stays on track.