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The media announces new food or beverage recalls seemingly every other day. These recalls not only drain dollars from the bottom line but also infuriate consumers. Worse, product contamination leads to a lack of consumer trust, illness, and even death. Through continuous process improvement, Six Sigma methods focus on reducing and eliminating such disasters before they occur. Alarm management is a vital addition to this approach.

Why Six Sigma?

The time-tested Six Sigma method originated at Motorola during the mid-80s as a technique to track and improve a process by eliminating deficiencies and improving quality. Allied Signal further demonstrated Six Sigma could also increase profits. It spread rapidly through several industries, including food production, integrating with Lean Enterprise methods, evolving into Lean Six Sigma.

The term Six Sigma represents a statistical model meaning that for every one million chances to produce a widget, there should be 3.4 or fewer deviations. That is a 99.99966% success rate. This approach, when focused on improving existing processes, involves these five steps, collectively called DMAIC:

  • Define: State problem to be solved, or identify defect.
  • Measure: Collect data to be used as baseline performance metrics.
  • Analyze: Determine if defect is real and what is root cause.
  • Improve: Implement process changes to prevent defect from occurring again.
  • Control: Codify changes in processes to preserve successful improvements.

Six Sigma works best when whole teams within an organization (with a focus on executive-level buy-in) aim at continuous improvement. While reaching Six Sigma is the ultimate goal of any process, even lower levels of success still lead to better outcomes, such as greater efficiency, lower costs, and positive customer response.

A study by researchers at the Federal University of São Carlos in Brazil and Clemson University in South Carolina published in 2020 identified Lean Six Sigma had significant positive impacts for 145 food and beverage companies. The approach of continuous process improvement was shown to increase profitability by lowering costs, as well as increase productivity and advance the quality of food and beverage operations.

Even though low profit margins in the food industry introduce hesitancy to embracing Lean Six Sigma throughout an organization, incorporating alarm management with DMAIC can offset concerns by focusing on increasing efficiency and productivity.

How alarm management leads to continuous improvement

Alarm management offers organizations a structure and methodology to address control processes (both normal and abnormal) with formalized procedures. Parallels are made between DMAIC and aspects of alarm management, thus becoming very much aligned for process improvement.

The Define task aligns with the Alarm Philosophy, the documentation pertaining to defining what is an alarm, how it is handled, viewed, etc.

The Measure task aligns with alarm performance metrics, such as the measurement of alarm frequency or the measurement of alarm state changes and state durations.

The Analyze task aligns with the analysis of alarms, searching out root causes, discovering potentially related or similar issues throughout the process, or realizing inefficiencies and repetition of operator activity.

The Improve task aligns with the decisions made by alarm management teams to implement process changes in attempts to correct a defect or improve an outcome. This may involve modifying alarm configurations or reducing nuisance alarms.

The Control task aligns with integrating improvements into the formalized procedures moving forward, and may even involve management of change processes to ensure organizational enforcement.

Moving forward

Review the whitepaper Applying Six Sigma to Alarm Management for a more in-depth perspective of how alarm management contributes to the continuous improvement cycle. Contact TiPS to learn more about LogMate Alarm Management Suite.