When Lean and Six Sigma Meet Industry 4.0



By now, all of us are aware of how deeply the internet has engrained itself into our lives. Through a myriad of applications, it has opened us up to a new world of instant information and connectivity amongst family and peers. It truly has changed our lives forever!

The same can be said about the impact Industry 4.0 has had on the manufacturing world. Each day, more manufacturers are implementing new technologies in their facilities in efforts to improve operations, boost efficiency and increase profitability. However, many are still trying to figure out how to best approach these new technologies and what they will look like for their business. One way to better understand how to achieve a “smart” factory is to think of it in the context of Lean Six Sigma (LSS).

Manufacturers who have already begun their Industry 4.0 implementations have experienced rapid improvements in data accessibility, computational power and connectivity, all made possible using sensors, cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). As a result, there has been an increase in the use of Data Analytics – affectionately called “Big Data,” or data collected automatically – to drive business strategies and make solid, fact-based decisions. With more manufacturers generating data at higher rates than previously possible, Big Data Analytics has become a hot topic for manufacturers of all sizes.

That’s where LSS comes in. Basic data mining techniques such as clustering, association, prediction, classification and process mining algorithms help organizations reach correct and optimal decisions in various stages of LSS. Now, as companies are upgrading to digital operations, the appropriate LSS tools can be applied to expand on initiatives that companies have already started.

Most companies have responded to this evolution by “turbo charging” every process-driven operation supported by Big Data that is guided by LSS practitioners. My only hope is that companies do not misunderstand and overestimate their new capabilities and assume they no longer need LSS tools!

In reality, when aligning IoT and Industry 4.0 with LSS methodologies, these tried and true tools are made even more relevant. Why is this? The need for an established quality process is not going away. Furthermore, these tools empower dynamic and efficient analyses of complex and not-so-complex processes, enabling organizations to better leverage vast amounts of data. This way, companies of all sizes can easily make operations more efficient, improve business intelligence, identify strategic initiatives and provide better products and services to their customers.

We all know the cliché…knowledge is power. In this context, that cannot be more true. Managers and employees with knowledge in LSS are better positioned to take an active role in ensuring new technologies are incorporated into their operations in meaningful ways. The large amount of data collected by Industry 4.0 innovations will not do anything for a company if it is not cleaned and formatted so it can be properly analyzed to provide informed, actionable insights that can improve a business. A linguist will always be needed to translate and share the unique story only data can tell us. Therefore, for any operation, it is crucial to start with an LSS framework from the beginning and watch the data-driven transformation emerge, evolve and thrive in the competitive business climate that now demands real IoT decisions.

Charles Darwin said it best: “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most adaptable.”

The principles of how to run a production line, find defects and bottlenecks, increase capacity, remove waste or work more efficiently, etc., are still part of manufacturing operations. How to modify operations in this new environment is where the adaptation comes into play – by combining what we have learned about manufacturing in the last few decades with all the new benefits of Industry 4.0. Using advanced analytics to solve the same manufacturing challenges we’ve faced for years just accelerates our ability to reach operational and business excellence.

LSS practitioners know where and how to collect data, translate raw data into practical and interesting stories, provide targeted information and develop actionable strategies in response to collected data. Their role will not be diminished because of the massive data available. Instead, their skillset will be needed now more than ever as they are able to guide decision-making around much larger volumes of data better, faster. More importantly, their skillset enables them to sift through Big Data in ways that can be overwhelming for the untrained. Just imagine – what used to be accomplished with a laptop and Minitab, for example, using four or five variables, can now been done in data lakes with 400, 500, 600+ variables. Now that’s HUGE!

To get your team the data collection tools and skills they need to drive your company’s success with Industry 4.0, click here or contact inquiry@the.center.org.


Anna Stefos, Operational Excellence Manager
Anna Stefos has a diverse background in automotive spanning 20 combined years at GM and FCA, ranging from international manufacturing to product development, strategic planning, program management, corporate strategy and international operations. Anna’s experience in partnering with C-level executives provides a strong foundation for and advising small and medium-sized companies to achieve Enterprise Transformation and propel them towards Operational Excellence. Anna has a passion for Lean Six Sigma and is a trained Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Categories: Industry 4.0, Lean Principles, Six Sigma, Technology