Applying Six Sigma to Toyota Motor Manufacturing, U.S.A., Inc. (an Operations Management Commentary)

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The Toyota Motor Manufacturing, U.S.A., Inc. (TMM) case involves a scenario where – as a result of deviating from Toyota Production System (TPS) practices. TMM found itself faced with quality issues (i.e., a “hook” component in the car seat would break during installation) that created a bottleneck in the production process, a pile-up of cars with quality issues waiting to be addressed at the clinic and overflow parking areas of the Kentucky plant – and therefore failed to avoid some of the “wastes” (i.e., wastes of time, material and production utility as a result of defective products) that the TPS philosophy in itself was designed to eliminate. In the context of a customer value-driven approach, this meant the seat problem gave issues to the final assembly team (e.g., being bulky and prone to damage, it was likely time-consuming to install), the QC team (e.g., in relation to crash-test performance, and also in terms of not being broken or defective), the ultimate customer (i.e., in terms of surface finish).

The goal of the Six Sigma strategy is to improve the quality of process outputs by addressing errors through minimizing variability in the manufacturing process – i.e., the production process can statistically be expected to be free of errors or defects at the Six Sigma confidence level (effectively only 3.4 defects per million). In the case of a manufacturing entity like TMM, Six Sigma could be implemented through the so-called “DMAIC” methodology, which involves defining the problem, measuring and analysing relevant data (i.e., statistical data), improving or optimizing – based on the data analysis, and controlling and monitoring the implemented improvements to address any deviations from the optimized process.

TPS and Six Sigma philosophies both employ process-based (as opposed to a functional) approaches to process optimization and improving quality. However, the Six Sigma approach takes this to another level by putting problem solving in...
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