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Getting the business with Six Sigma

Business students do hands-on exercises to reinforce the key principles and techniques of Six Sigma.

Only one company in the Lehigh Valley has a conference center with multicolored doors, paints its warehouse with rainbow stripes and hands out crayons at the beginning of a presentation.

That company is, of course, Crayola, which teamed with Lehigh’s MBA program and the Center for Value Chain Research for "Six Sigma Implementation Case Study," a joint course on using Lean Six Sigma to streamline processes.

Forty-six people, including students pursuing their MBAs and supply chain management certificates and industry participants from a wide range of businesses, braved the snowy weather on January 7 to hear Crayola representatives discuss their company’s successful applications of the Six Sigma strategy.

In addition to getting the chance to leave their Lehigh classrooms and learn how a company uses Six Sigma in everyday practice, students in the class critiqued Crayola’s program and projects.

In the second half of the course, held in Lehigh’s Rauch Business Center, students used hands-on exercises to reinforce the key principles and techniques.

“Better, faster and cheaper”

Six Sigma is a set of techniques using qualitative and quantitative tools to analyze data and improve business practices and results. It is typically employed in manufacturing, but Crayola has extended it to supply chain management and other processes.

Crayola completed its first wave of Six Sigma projects in 2008, saving more than $1.5 million in raw materials, cost avoidance, process improvements and scrap reductions, according to Drew Kuhn, Crayola’s manager of continuous improvement.

“Six Sigma makes things better, faster and cheaper,” says Richard Titus, the course instructor. “It should improve performance from a financial standpoint and from the customers’ perspective.

“Many times in business, we problem-solve on opinion. This is a more disciplined, team-based problem-solving methodology based on measurements, facts and data.”

Titus, an adjunct faculty member, spent 20 years working at Ingersoll-Rand, where he was part of that company’s initial implementation of Six Sigma.

He is now a Lean Six Sigma consultant and helped introduce it at Crayola. He credits Crayola’s operations management team, led by Peter Ruggiero, with providing the support necessary to initiate and sustain a successful program.

“A great tool for problem-solving”

Ruggiero, who received his MBA from Lehigh in 2003 and is Crayola’s executive vice president of global operations, led the session. He and his team discussed the introduction of Six Sigma and presented specific applications of the techniques.
 
One such project involved the problem of crayon blocking, where excess glue causes newly formed crayons to stick together in large blocks. With the help of engineering interns from Lehigh, the engineering staff at Crayola used Six Sigma techniques to test various parts of the glue application process and eventually solve the problem.

“Six Sigma is a great tool for any kind of problem-solving,” says Jen Garner, a process engineer at Merck who took the class as part of her certificate in supply chain management at Lehigh. “Crayola has been implementing it for three years and Merck uses the same methods.

“It’s great to have industry participation in the program. Seeing the immediate, real-life applications of Six Sigma gives it credibility and makes sense for professionals like me.”

Story by Emily Groff

Posted on Tuesday, February 08, 2011

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