Thursday, October 18, 2012

Problem Solving and the Deming Cycle

Problem solving is a huge part of what engineers do on a day to day basis in industry.  Factories have highly innovative processes to produce their product, but sometimes the processes lead to product failure.  Engineers have to implement a change in the process in order to fix the product defects.  Sometimes it is clear what the issues at hand are and how to fix them, other times it is very difficult to pin point the process issues. Regardless of difficulty, everyone is relying on the engineers to solve the problem and get them producing quality parts again. 

Dr. Deming did industrial engineers a huge favor by developing his Plan Do Study Act cycle (PDSA).  The PDSA cycle is a step by step process to help discover the root cause of the problem.  The Planning phase is to recognize there is a problem present, form an improvement team, develop performance measures, and clearly define the problem.  This step allows you to prepare for the problem solving process and begin to find out the root cause of the problem.  The Do part of the cycle is when we identify, choose, and implement our solution.  After the solution is implemented, we dive into the Study phase and monitor the process.  An important part of this cycle is to have a way to measure during the study phase after implementing the solution.  If we can quantify it, we can compare numbers and see the improvement.  The last part of the cycle is Act, which means what are we going to do now to continuously improve the process.  After implementing a solution, did it fix the problem completely and is there room for more improvement?  If the answer is yes than the cycle starts over again, if its no than the PDSA is over and the problem is fixed. 

The Deming cycle is a great tool for finding the root cause of the problem and implementing a solution in a fast, organized manner.  After all Industrial engineers strive to be efficient in all aspects and the Deming cycle keeps everyone on task when problem solving.

-Dan Westerheide

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