Lean Problem Solving with the 6Ms

As a plant manager, it consistently feels like a major part of your job is problem solving. Resolving manufacturing issues are is a big part of running a successful plant. But what if resolving issues wasn’t just about fixing things so you can this show back on the road, and instead were opportunities to improve your processes. So instead of just getting back to the status quo, you can go past that and make lasting changes in your company. One tool for achieving this type of next level problem solving is 6M analysis.

The 6Ms give us a structure that does a couple of things. First it gives us a place to start. Sometimes when I’m staring at a problem, especially a complicated one, I find that it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed to the point where I’m not sure where to even even begin. The 6Ms give us that starting place. Second, it helps take my problem solving to a deeper level. Instead of finding one cause of the problem and stopping there, the 6Ms show that very rarely are problems traced to a single cause. It can help explore how problems are truly multifaceted and stem from multiple issues.

So let’s dig into the 6Ms and see what each of them are and how they work.

Man – Here we’re looking at human causes of the problem. Have Operators had enough training? Are they aware of critical procedures? Do they have access to Standard Work documents? It can even go so far as to apply to whether your operators are getting enough sleep to be effective on the job.

Machine – This refers to the tools and machines used in the processes. Are the tools provided the right ones for the job? Are they in good working order? Are they up to the task both in quality and capacity?

Materials – This refers to the materials coming in to the work cell. Are they to the right specifications? Are operators having to make unexpected adjustments to make them fit. Are they damaged? Are they arriving on time? Do operators have them in the right quantities?

Method – This refers to the work being done. Are the standards and work instructions correct? Is the work cell set up properly? Is it ergonomic? Is there enough light? Can the work be done safely and efficiently?

Mother Nature – Sometimes processes are affected by the environment. High humidity may cause electrical issues or cause an increase in corrosion on metal surfaces. Cold or hot temperatures may affect curing times for paint or glue.

Measurement – This refers to physical measurements, machine sensors, automatic readings, etc. This can crossover into Machine territory as well.

All of these elements can be visually represented with a Ishikawa diagram, named after Kauro Ishikawa an organizational theorist from Japan.

So lets work an example problem. Imagine that you’re the plant manager of factory that makes vehicle lights for ambulances, firetrucks, and other specialty vehicles. Let’s say that one particular model keeps failing quality checks. The plastic casings are routinely cracking which allows moisture to seep in and cause the unit fail. So let’s apply the 6M method to this issue.

Starting with the Man component, you look at the operators assembling the units. After talking with that department, you realize that one of the assemblers has been hired on in the last two weeks and the department lead has been home sick. The new operator, it turns out, hasn’t been fully trained in putting the units together. They don’t know what defects to look for when they get their materials. They also don’t know what tools they should be using. They’ve been using a pneumatic screwdriver instead of a hand held screwdriver to tighten screws and it’s over tightening them causing stress on the plastic.

This leads you to look at the Machine component. Why is there a pneumatic screwdriver there when it causes operators to over tighten screws?

You look at the raw Materials coming into the work cell. Upon closer inspection you realize that the supplier has changed their design to make it lighter and use less plastic, but in the process it makes the seams weaker and more prone to cracking when under stress.

Following the Methods, you see that the standard work documentation is not the most recent revision and has been moved from an easily accessible location to a drawer under the work bench. It doesn’t mention the possibility of cracking in the plastic fixture. It doesn’t specify which screwdriver to use.

Mother Nature comes in to play when you see that cracks increase during colder months when the lights are kept in the unheated warehouse causing them to become more brittle.

Finally checking measurements, you realize the work cell could benefit from a way to measure the torque being put on the screws to attach the lights.

So by using the 6M problem analysis tool when looking at manufacturing issues, you can see that it gives you a deeper level of insight into the problem’s root cause. By looking at the four components of the problem it’s easy to see a whole range of possible solutions ranging from training the new operators, to tool selection, to updating standard work documentation.

We at Optegrity are firm believers that problem solving is a deep process and in order to truly resolve issues one needs to take a multifaceted approach. The 6M method is a great place to start that investigating. In fact we’ve integrated it into our Resolve: Issues Management System. Check it out!

What insights has your team gained from this type of next level problem solving?

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