Optimizing Manufacturing Operations: From the Whiz Kids to Six Sigma

John Cousins
February 7, 2023
4 min read

OSCM was born with the industrial revolution and was really amped up with Henry Ford and his assemble line system for making the Model-T. Then time and motion studies were developed to refine the efficiency and speed of assembly lines and mass production techniques. Frederick Taylor developed these principals of scientific management.

Ford was again an innovator when, after WWII, the company hired en mass a group of super smart operations engineers under the leadership of Robert McNamara. This group had been working on calculating the effectiveness of bombing raids launched from England against Germany. This was in the days before computers. They were based in Washington and used rooms filled with rows of people with mechanical calculating machines like a coordinated human-mechanical computer; real number crunching!

After World War II McNamara realized the value of the team he had assembled and made a deal with the Ford Motor Company to hire the team en masse to optimize their OSCM. They were coined The Whiz Kids and McNamara became the first President of Ford outside the family.

In the 1980s Japan Inc. and especially Toyota developed an array of new and refined techniques to capitalize on manufacturing as a competitive advantage.

Here is a quick recap of how the field has developed over the last thirty years:

Just In Time (JIT) This was a major breakthrough in manufacturing philosophy. Pioneered by the Japanese, JIT is designed to achieve high volume production using minimal inventories of parts that arrive at the workstation in a production line exactly when they are needed. It takes levels of information, integration and coordination that were revolutionary and contributed to the production advantages of the Japanese auto industry starting the 1980s.

Total Quality Control (TQC) relentlessly seeks to eliminate the causes of production-based defects. It is a conceptual part of continuous improvement in manufacturing processes.

Lean Manufacturing JIT coupled with TQC is now the basis of many production and service processes. Lean Manufacturing is the term used to refer to these practices and tools. Lean process ideas have been applied to many business disciplines. One of the interesting ones is in the thinking about Start Ups and entrepreneurial activities. This is the Lean Startup Methodology.

Manufacturing Strategy Paradigm was developed by Harvard Business School faculty to harness manufacturing capability as a strategic competitive advantage. It is based on the focused factory concept that optimizes a set of tasks and limits them for high performance. This type of design and analysis requires trade-offs between performance measures such as low cost, high quality, and flexibility. These techniques have been very influential in the management of factories.

Total Quality Management TQM W Edwards Demming was an early apostle of the quality movement and his legacy is related to TQM. The Baldridge National Quality Award recognizes companies for outstanding quality management systems and their adherence to TQM. ISO 9000 is a certification standard developed to help implement, manage and measure compliance to these concepts. ISO plays a major role in setting quality standards for global manufactures. Many companies require that their vendors meet these standards as a condition for obtaining contracts.

Six-Sigma Quality has to do with refining manufacturing processes to achieve quality by reducing defects to one in less than six standard deviations. A standard deviation is a statistical measure of deviation from a norm. “Six Sigma” is a statistical term that indicates that in a batch of identically manufactured parts, 99.99966% of the items are within the acceptable tolerance specified by the customer.

Six Sigma is considered the gold standard of quality and as close as is practically possible these days to attaining the holy grail of zero defects. These tools have been taught to managers as part of “Green Belt” and “Black Belt” programs. Besides manufacturing, Six-sigma has been applied across a wide range of business areas that are repetitive and error-prone. Some examples are: accounts receivables, sales, finance, IT, legal, marketing, HR, R&D and environmental, health and safety services at companies.

Six Sigma is a remarkably versatile set of analytic tools.

Careers in Operations

Career opportunities in operations and supply management are plentiful today as companies strive to increase profitability by improving quality, productivity and reducing costs. Some of the jobs are:

· Manager of a plant, call center, bank

· Hospital administrator

· Supply chain, purchasing, or quality control manager

· Facilities manager

· Project manager

The top of the heap is Chief Operating Officer or COO. No matter what you may end up doing in your career an understanding of OSCM will be a great asset to you and your employer.

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John Cousins
Author, Entrepreneur, & Teacher

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