Six Sigma payoff: Lift-truck maker raises $1.5-million savings from green-belt, black-belt programs

For electric lift truck maker Crown Equipment, an investment in Six Sigma is credited with saving the company some $1.5 million. Read here how the savings continue to mount.


At New Bremen, Ohio-based electric lift truck maker Crown Equipment ,

“While we looked for lean initiatives to drive efficiency improvements, we saw Six Sigma very much as a way of cutting the costs of nonconformance,” he notes. “The majority of the savings

The Six Sigma program began in October-November 2005, and commenced with Crown’s business unit managers being asked to nominate individuals to receive Green Belt and Black Belt training. Drawn

Primarily delivered by trainers from Milwaukee-based American Society for Quality (ASQ), Green Belt training came first.

"Black Belt" training—targeted to

Mark DeGrandchamp, director of quality and Lean/Six Sigma at Crown Equipment Corp., says the size of the company’s quality initiatives has decreased since Crown adopted Six Sigma principles.

Going forward, explains DeGrandchamp, Crown’s future plans for Six Sigma will be influenced by its experience generating the achieved savings. Somewhat counter to initial expectations, for instance, has been the finding that the bulk of the $1.5 million of savings has come from Green Belt activities, with Black Belt-driven improvement activities yielding less than $300,000. The problem: Black Belts weren’t assigned to their projects full time, and progress slipped.

The plan now, says DeGrandchamp, is for Crown to appoint an internally recruited Master Black Belt—partly to drive progress, but mostly to provide training, as well as support Six Sigma activities in areas like statistical analysis.

Interestingly, too, the primary focus of Crown’s Six Sigma activities will be at Green Belt level, not Black Belt.

“What we’re seeing is that the more we get into this, the more we find that there are fewer big nonconformance challenges for us to tackle,” says DeGrandchamp. “We’re seeing $15,000-$50,000 projects, and not projects of $100,000 upwards.”

Accordingly, he explains, Crown intends to increase the number of Green Belts in its plants, while holding the number of Black Belts constant.

“The first wave of Black Belts pretty much wiped out the big complex projects: What’s left are projects that are shorter‘quick hits’, and a lot less complex,” he says.

It’s a pattern that’s very familiar to Ron Atkinson, a former ASQ

“When you first start a continuous-improvement initiative, it’s common to find quite complex problems that are relatively easy to solve with the right tools—and Six Sigma provides the right tools,” he explains. “These are problems that might have been right in front of people for years, staring them in face. And suddenly, their number starts to diminish.”

While Green Belt problems continue to arise, prompting—as at Crown—continued investment in Green Belt training, the trick with Black Belt skills, he suggests, is to throw them at businesswide projects—not just manufacturing quality issues.

“Get input from the CEO,” he urges. “Get the answer to the question:‘What would you like to change if you could?’—and then go tackle that.”

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