The principles and tools in Lean Six Sigma are the most methodical and fruitful strategy to the challenge of cycle time reduction. However, managers need to understand that success in this strategy requires commitment. Cycle time reduction using Lean Six Sigma is not a quick fix and cannot be effective if only used occasionally. Success in it requires long-term commitment of time and resources, as well as tireless dedication to improvement. You should thus expect change as your business focuses from the product, an inside factor; to the outside goal, which is the customer, with the aim of total customer satisfaction.

One may argue that Walter Shewhart came up with the Six Sigma concept. Undoubtedly, it was him who identified the special and common cause process change and invented the control chart in the 1920s. However, it was Bill Smith and Dr. Mickey Harry, who introduced the term “Six Sigma.” In the mid-1980s, Motorola CEO Bob Galvin supported a quality initiative based on the Six Sigma methodologies. These methods changed the way that Motorola did business. They enhanced quality, improved customer satisfaction, and saved the company hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Six Sigma concept in Motorola began with four basic principles, which included measure, analyze, improve, and control (MAIC). General Electric added the D for “define.” Today, Six Sigma includes six principles and methods that introduce it to the design phase of the process. Early integration of Six Sigma ensures faster time to market and products that meet the customers’ particular requirements. Besides, PCB manufacturers who use both the Six Sigma principles and lean techniques are assured of a reduced cycle time and process variation.

The PCB manufacturing process is a batch process that follows a predetermined sequence developed by the manufacturer to meet specific product design requirements. Not all the products go through the same process, and this lengthens cycle time. For instance, a standard multi-layer board cannot be plasma-etched or laser-drilled unless it has some unique characteristics. Still, HDI products may cycle through drilling, lamination, etching, and plating more than two times before moving to solder mask application. The cycle time reduction for the two products, therefore, requires individual evaluation to come up with a high quality end-product.

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