This week I had the pleasure to interview Quality Manager, Hans Griep. He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and spoke to me about how we can improve the quality of products by creating robust designs that minimize the chance of errors.

MS: What makes a high-quality product?

HG: When you talk about the quality of a product, you can think of a variety of attributes… how durable it is, how many defects it has, and what kind of features it offers. These are all aspects of quality. When you make a product, you’ll always find defects. In order to reduce the number of defects it has, you must improve it. For example in software, finding bugs and repairing them enhances the quality of the software.

MS: You recently wrote an article about the Quality by Design (QbD) concept, how does this approach influence product quality?

HG: The idea of Quality by Design (QbD) is a parallel activity throughout the development and testing of a product. One of the steps of QbD is to research the market whether there’s a real interest in the product and another is to reduce the number of defects by creating a solid, robust design. You shouldn’t test quality into products; you should design quality into the product. If you don’t do that, it can become very expensive… the more errors you discover in products, the more costly it gets. One example of a robust design is a USB flash drive. You can only put it in your pc or laptop one way! You can’t make mistakes because the USB connector is designed for you to only be able to put it in that one port.

MS: Who uses this QbD approach?

HG: Many companies use QbD concepts without knowing, but for years, the automobile, aviation and food & beverage industries have successfully adopted the approach. Whatever product you make, there should always be a design that prevents errors and assures a successful product.

MS: Is Six Sigma similar to QbD?

HG: The traditional Six Sigma is a step-by-step improvement of existing processes. It has to do with avoiding and repairing defects in existing systems, enhancing customer satisfaction and contributing to positive financial results. Quality by Design, on the other hand, is an add-on to the traditional Six Sigma techniques. Think of it as an extra step. Six Sigma can only deal with defects in existing processes while QbD alters the process in itself.

The thing that always attracted me about Six Sigma is that it’s strategically driven. You have to say how much money you are going to save the company before you are even allowed to start a project. If you don’t know what you are measuring, you can’t ever improve it! You have to do a baseline… what am I doing wrong in order to improve it? You must be able to say, if we start using this Six Sigma approach, we will save the company $40,000 and you must prove that to your manager.

MS: Should all companies use Six Sigma and QbD?

HG: It’s the logical thing to do, but it’s not a legal requirement. Some companies only take some of the Six Sigma tools and apply those. These approaches, however, are helpful because they formalize things in a company and Six Sigma provides the tools to do it. Hopefully, more companies will adopt the QbD mindset in the future!

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