Alan Yurko, Siebe’s chief executive, has high hopes for the experts he has hired from the US-based Six Sigma consultancy. He hopes that in time they will help virtually wipe out product defects, saving the company £50m a year.
The initial programme will cost the group £20m to implement and Yurko estimates it will take up to six years to achieve the top quality standards in each of the company’s 150 plants. A typical Siebe plant today has 5,000 product defects per million units.
Siebe becomes the first UK company to join a small group of US corporations, including Motorola, General Electric and Allied Signal, putting their faith in the six sigma approach.
Initially 200 employees, called blackbelts, are being trained, but eventually 1,200 employees will learn the approach and the theories behind the statistical techniques.
The pace of change and the importance of the initiative varies across the divisions.
At Siebe Control Systems, which includes the Foxboro business, 100 blackbelts will be trained by the end of the year.
Henry Metcalf, head of Siebe Control Systems’ US manufacturing, is championing the initiative but he says the responsibility for it happening must rest with line managers. So far 50 blackbelts in the US and Europe have been trained.
Metcalf says his business is selecting the best people they have to put on the programme. Each is assigned the biggest problem in their area of the business.
Some returns are expected by the end of April.
The first blackbelts are working on early solutions to problems – alternating one week in a classroom with three weeks at a manufacturing plant to enable solutions to be worked through quickly.