Assessing The Sigma Level Of A Manufacturing Line – Interview with Kraft Foods Asia

In this PEX Network interview Feng Lei, Manufacturing Continuous Improvement Director, at Kraft Foods Asia Pacific describes the company's Lean Six Sigma Program, talks about the role of Lean Six Sigma in helping the company scale up for rapid growth and explains why the company measures the yield of an entire line rather than focussing on the yield of an individual process.

PEX Network: Can you give us some background to Kraft Food Asia’ Lean Six Sigma programme? Where does it fit within Kraft Foods overall global agenda?

Feng Lei: Lean Six Sigma is not new to Kraft Foods Asia. Kraft began many years ago implementing continuous improvement activities on a global scale to improve our quality, cost, delivery, safety, and sustainability. Indeed, our Lean Six Sigma programme is truly driven from the top down - our CEO committed to our shareholders that we are going to improve our company productivity by Lean Six Sigma. All Kraft global plants are implementing Lean Six Sigma programmes and Kraft Asia’s Lean Six Sigma programme is in line with these global Lean Six Sigma programmes.

But different regions have been operating their continuous improvement programmes under different names, different banners. Going forward we are all aligning so that Lean Six Sigma is our continuous improvement plan for all the plants.

PEX Network: What are the main objectives of your Lean Six Sigma programme?

Feng Lei: The purpose of any Lean Six Sigma manufacturing or excellence or continuous improvement - whatever you want to call it - is to continuously improve the plants, the factories in terms of quality, cost, delivery, safety, and sustainability. So those are always our targets.

At Kraft Foods Asia, we have an assessment programme to evaluate our current lines - to assess them - and to understand our entitlement level and make sure that entitlement is ideal. Maximum efficiencies, zero loss. We aim to achieve an efficiency with a theoretical 100% of the nominal design speed and zero loss. We have a measurement system in place and at the we generate a score (Sigma level). So, the Sigma level indicates how good or badly a particular line is operating.

Our approach is quite unique because our Sigma level calculation is not only based on measuring a process or the yield of one process but the Kraft Sigma level measures not only the quality yield, but alco the machine availability and performance and it can indicate overall line capability by analyzing every single step of the line.".

PEX Network: Why would you want to do that?

Feng Lei: It’s a complex analysis system - we are not only measuring one process, we measure the whole line because we are a process-based industry. The difference of process industry like the manufacturing industry is in the process industry we have a long line, like the assembly line of a car factory, and we link all the processes and all the machines, maybe 100 machines, in one line. If any single machine is underperforming or breakdowns, the whole line will stop or slow down. So, we actually measure the whole line. That actually gives us a much better indication of how we’re performing as a whole rather than measuring the output of only one particular process.

Normally, when you’re talking about Six Sigma, the aim is 99.999% defect free so if you look at the one particular process 93.3% (i.e. 3 Sigma) is very simple. But if you look at a whole line with, say, 50 or 100 opportunities for defects and even every opportunity is 99% of yield, performance and availability, then you multiply all the things together you may only get 40 or 50%. So we measure the whole line, the whole system, instead of one single process.

PEX Network: So, how do you actually go about measuring the whole line? How do you break that down?

Feng Lei: It is not an easy job! In Kraft we have a standard assessment system and we also work with consultants to help us to do the assessment and we involve our black belts and master belts,to jointly do the assessment with the plant team.

PEX Network: I understand that up until 2007, Kraft Food Asia Pacific had relatively sluggish top line growth but since 2008, when the rest of the economy crashed and burned in the rest of the world, your growth really exploded. How much of being able to handle that explosion of growth would you attribute to your Lean Six Sigma programme?

Feng Lei: It’s very hard to answer that. Yes, Kraft Asia Pacific has been growing significantly in the last few years. This year we are growing very, very fast in the whole of Asia, especially in countries like China, Indonesia, India, etc.. Many consumers want our products, but we must provide the products for the consumers without compromising the quality. So, we have invested a lot of time and money in order to scale up quickly to meet consumer demand.

Lean Six Sigma is helping in two ways: first by improving the bottom line and by speeding up our existing lines to get more products to the consumer. Our Kraft Asia Pacific Lean Six Sigma programme is focused on the hot products, for instance. We want to make sure that we concentrate our efforts on the products and lines that will deliver the greatest value to the customer. The second way that Lean Six Sigma is helping is by developing our people and standardising our work to make sure we continuously monitor and focus our existing quality and yield, while at the same time working to continuously improve quality and yield levels. Lean Six Sigma provides a structured approach that allows us to focus those efforts.

So overall, yes, I would say that Lean Six Sigma is a big contributor to the success of our operations as we handle the rapid growth of demand in the Asia Pacific region but I cannot say how much a percentage of that growth is directly contributed to by Lean Six Sigma.

PEX Network: Do you think there’s a strong future for Lean Six Sigma in China?

Feng Lei: Certainly for us, there is. Different companies have so many different ways to do continuous improvement or even ways in implementing Lean Six Sigma methodologies and I believe every company must create their own path to success. I believe our Kraft Lean Six Sigma system is the most suitable system for our company in terms of our culture and our values. It is very useful to have one language throughout all the plants globally; this makes it also very easy for us to benchmark and to find out best practice from all over the world. Would other companies in China find Lean Six Sigma useful? I think so, but they’d need to make sure that it fits with their own values and culture.