Case Studies: Six Sigma Yields Results at GW Plastics

May 1, 2006
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GW Plastics' plant in Tucson, AZ, uses Six Sigma on the production floor. Source: GW Plastics


GW Plastics Inc. (Bethel, VT), an injection molder and provider of precision tooling, components and assemblies, is seeing benefits from its Six Sigma program as it invests resources toward continual improvement.

"We believe in this disciplined method," says Sumanesh Agrawal, GW Plastics' corporate director of quality and continuous improvement. "Six Sigma gives employees a methodical and structured approach to follow."

The results from the first several projects have been very encouraging, resulting in improvements related to in-process inspection effectiveness, increased weigh-count throughput, cycle time and scrap reduction. Although most Green Belt projects are done internally, GW is also engaged in two projects (one of them a Black Belt project) that are being jointly performed with customers. The first few projects took four to six months to complete and have averaged in excess of $20,000 in annual savings per project. GW Plastics' current projects are more aggressive and are expected to yield bigger savings.

Since GW started its Six Sigma initiative in June 2004, the company has trained 29 people-including one customer-and seven projects have been completed. The company completed a third wave of Green Belt training in September 2005 for eight people. GW turned to Premier Performance Network (York, PA) to conduct the first wave of Green Belt training. The Premier Performance Network (PPN) is an organization of more than 50 consultants who have worked for more than 15 years in the field of corporate performance and quality improvement. PPN consultants have served as Six Sigma instructors for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Six Sigma Qualtec and General Electric.

PPN supported GW Plastics' Six Sigma implementation by providing nine days of Green Belt training. They conducted three days of training at a time, with a month in between for projects. Kent Sterett, president of PPN, said that allowing more time and support for its projects contributed to GW's success.

"It seemed to be very popular with management," Sterett says. "In GW Plastics, Sumanesh did a very good job of getting the executives involved. Sumanesh and his management team deserve a lot of credit."

PPN consulted with the project team and provided the material and the instructor. "We train the people inside the company to be self-

sufficient," says Sterett.

Following PPN's training, Agrawal, an ASQ certified Black Belt, trained all subsequent Green Belt waves at GW. Agrawal says the company is considering a consultant or external trainer for their first wave of Black Belt training.

Currently GW has two Black Belts and a wave of Black Belt training, which incorporates some disciplines and techniques of lean manufacturing, is planned for mid 2006.

The company-wide program is driven by a steering committee of plant managers and top executives including Brenan Riehl, the company's president and CEO. "GW Plastics is fully committed to Six Sigma. We are investing significant resources in training to provide our associates with the tools and support they need in order to succeed," Riehl says.

With the objective of "driving Six Sigma to permeate the company's culture," GW Green Belts represent a cross section of employees from hourly to salaried, including participants from different functions such as accounting, maintenance, quality, production, materials, engineering and molding. GW sees this culture growing through project experience in which employees work on teams led by Green Belts and get involved with Six Sigma. "Projects are a great way to learn the tools and reap the benefits of all the effort, and they provide the team with a sense of achievement," Agrawal says.

Like many of its industry peers, GW Plastics finds itself challenged to meet customer demands for productivity improvements and improved quality. In addition to employing technology solutions, GW expects its Six Sigma efforts to help reduce process variation and costs.

GW Plastics has five locations in the United States and Mexico. There are now one or more active projects in every U.S.-based GW plant. The latest projects to be completed included a defect/scrap reduction for an automotive part. This was achieved through modified tool maintenance procedures and by using a vision system to check a critical feature of the part as it is injection molded. The project resulted in cost savings and the elimination of customer complaints for this part.

Another recent project improved productivity for a healthcare part by systematically analyzing the elements of the overall cycle time for molding the part, and eliminating unnecessary delays. This project resulted in a 24% reduction in overall cycle time.



Benefits

Six Sigma supports GW's continual improvement philosophy, which applies cross-functionally within all levels of the organization, and provides a standardized approach for solving difficult problems.

The program introduces employees to systematic problem-solving and gives them a sense of contribution and accomplishment when their solutions are implemented.

Six Sigma blends with lean manufacturing methodologies and can promote the adoption of tools such as Kaizen, 5S and Kanban.

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