“We’re seeing more than a tenfold return on our investment in Six Sigma training,” said Joe Olmeda, VP of Manufacturing at BSN Medical in the Rio Grande Valley. The Reynosa-Hidalgo facilities of the global company make and distribute fracture management components, the supplies that are used to protect and immobilize fractured arms and legs.
The seven BSN mangers who trained for the Six Sigma Black Belt in 2011 have applied their new skills to fine tune the manufacturing and logistic processes at the maquila. The volume of material scrap has been greatly reduced, and the amount of resin needed for fabrication has diminished, Olmeda noted. “Savings in those two areas alone has more than repaid the investment.
BSN has plants in dozens of countries making medical devices that include bandaging, compression therapy and orthopedic braces. Its medical products are typically ranked first, second, or third in their markets.
Headquartered in Germany, BSN pursues a corporate goal of continuous improvement and has chosen Six Sigma as one means of achieving the goal. Olmeda said each BSN plant has the freedom to select its Six Sigma instructors. Locally, TMAC at UTPA is Olmeda’s choice for English speakers and Monterrey Tech for Spanish speakers.
In the Valley, BSN first sent seven upper level employees to Six Sigma training: four manufacturing managers, a quality manager, a materials director and a financial director. Through hands-on exercises and statistics-heavy tracking, the new Black Belts got a thorough grounding in the tools that can help manufacturers turn out products with next-to-zero variation from a standard and with reduced waste.
Training the upper level of management first was the easiest way to get the work culture to change, Olmeda said. “Between them, the managers impacted all 600 people working at BSN. They are at the top of the pyramid and what they learned flows down and affect everyone else.
“We like to have a Six Sigma sponsor for each project,” Olmeda continued.
The sponsor does not run the project but understands its dimensions and objectives. Now each Black Belt takes care of a specific BSN area and is expected to do three projects per year.
From those three projects, the manager is expected to come up with savings that totals five times their salary. Cost avoidance is as valuable as cost savings. Exceeding the goal results in a performance increase higher than average while missing it brings a lower increase than average.
In 2012, BSN is starting a second round of Six Sigma meetings, this one directed at mid-level staffers, including logistics and customs service managers.
“This will reinforce the new culture,” Olmeda said. “People on lower rungs of the ladder will learn from their bosses. They will be able to understand why things are being done a new way. If they understand their piece of the puzzle, they can contribute to the team.”
Trickle down training will be evident in three formats: English, Spanish and Visual Workplace, a system of red, yellow and green lights that updates workers if they are on track to achieving production objectives.
Olmeda said one of the big benefits of implementing Six Sigma is the consistency it brings to reports.
“Now every project and presentation is in the same format, so all the details and results are presented the same way, in one format. Previously we had nine different formats. We’ve changed a lot, but there is still a little bit of comparing apples and oranges.”
By quantifying product improvement and cost savings, Six Sigma enables BSN’s Black Belts to pursue projects that increase the company’s competitive edge.
Story by Eileen Mattei