Quality assurance

by Jonathan Bradshaw
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Editor’s note: This is the second article in a two-part series on quality control in feed mills. The first article, which appeared in the February 2008 issue of World Grain, looked at the basic principles associated with a sound quality assurance scheme in the feed milling industry.

When it comes to managing quality assurance schemes, the feed milling industry often turns to Six Sigma or 5s. These techniques, which originated in Japan, have been successfully applied in all walks of life and across many different industries. The engineering and food industries have been among the greatest advocates of these techniques and have applied them widely with an amazing degree of success.

Six Sigma, which was originally developed by global communications company Motorola to eliminate defects in its processing plants, has been running for more than 20 years and builds upon other techniques and principles pioneered by Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Kaoru Ishikawa and others since the end of World War II. It uses some of the principles of TQM (Total Quality Management) but mainly follows the methodology of DMAIC (Define–Measure–Analyze–Improve–Control) in the case of an existing business. In the case of a new business venture or new product development, the methodology of DMAIV (Define–Measure–Analyze–Improve–Verify) is followed.

Throughout the application of Six Sigma, little attention is paid to the cost of implementation since it is accepted that by minimizing defects, process efficiency is naturally enhanced to its optimum plain.

The five steps of DMAIC are almost self-explanatory to those familiar with quality control and assurance concepts. They are:

• Define — What it is you wish to achieve and what is in line with your customer’s needs and aspirations? What is it that your organization is striving for?

• Measure — What you are doing now? Gather up information that measures your current performance. This data will be used at a later date to evaluate your performance and will act as a measuring stick to establish whether you are making progress and achieving your goals.

• Analyze — Look at the relationships between causes of Six Sigma mainly follows the quality control methodology of DMAIC (above) when it comes to addressing an existing business.

an event and the results. For example, does the cooler work better or worse in summer or winter? Look at every factor you can think of so you don’t miss any item, even if it appears insignificant. Regular daily mill walks will help with this as the mill manager becomes more intimately acquainted with the facility and its idiosyncrasies.

• Improve — Experiment and measure. Try to increase operational efficiency in the milling process but always measure the effects of what you try. Use your original data and then strive for continuous improvements. A good miller will try something every day.

• Control — It is quite easy to create more defects than you cure, and there is a need to be careful when experimenting with process technique changes. Pilot runs will assist with establishing whether larger-scale trials are appropriate. However, pilot trials may not always be replicated in full-scale operations. Ensure that variances are corrected before they result in defective product being supplied.

In the case of new product development where you have no control phase available, you will need to “verify” your concepts or new product and establish the parameters you seek to verify as being achievable. By means of pilot runs or “trials,” you can verify whether a product can be effectively produced and then establish production parameters and protocols for the production team.

While DMAIC and DMAIV are the main criteria for establishing and operating Six Sigma, there are numerous interpretations of the principles. For example, Price Waterhouse adopted DMEDI (Define–Measure–Explore–Develop–Implement) when relating Six Sigma to financial auditing in companies where no manufacturing facilities exist or where they have little or no significant impact on operations.

The main core of Six Sigma is a progressive and organized approach to problem solving using tried and trusted data. It focuses on customer needs and uses statistics to identify improvements. However, it only takes a few statistics to get the ball rolling, and improvements, albeit small in the initial stages, can be achieved in a short time period.

To look in more detail at how the Six Sigma system is implemented and administered, you need to examine how it defines roles of employees — “Champions, Experts, Black, Yellow and Green Belts” — and how the overall leadership of the company fits in with the system hierarchy.

In Six Sigma, Champions are responsible for implementation and are usually drawn from among those who already have leadership responsibility within the organization.

Black Belts act under the guidance of Master Black Belts, who in turn operate under the guidance of the Champions. Black Belts apply Six Sigma methods to specific areas of the organization.

Green Belts adopt Six Sigma techniques alongside their other company responsibilities and functions, and Yellow Belts are Green Belts in waiting. They understand Six Sigma principles but have yet to implement them.

When it comes to implementation, it is the Champions who delegate tasks to the experienced Black Belts. The quality assurance personnel and those involved in change management within the organization are usually Black Belts, and it is these people who really drive the system forward. A certain temperment is needed to operate as a Black Belt or a Master Black Belt, since it requires dedication beyond the normal daily attendance to achieve results. An exceptionally astute person capable of paying great attention to detail will achieve the required results, but it is very easy to let the system lapse, particularly if the leadership at the top of the organizational chart is preoccupied elsewhere.

Six Sigma is an amalgam of many ideals from Deming, Ishikawa and other eminent quality gurus. The goal is to use all the facilities together to produce the best results. It calls for very detailed analyses and observation and a diligent approach to monitoring plant performance. It calls for a detailed scrutiny of customer requirements and a parallel examination of an organization’s ability to deliver against those requirements. It also requires a degree of “benchmarking,” and it requires those involved to make sure they remain competitive rather than just producing everything the customer asks for regardless of costs.

Many organizations choose to employ consultants to guide them through the initial stages of establishing Six Sigma as part of their organizational philosophy. But once the principles, aims and techniques are recognized, and suitable people are trained to implement them, the system rapidly becomes self-perpetuating.


The 5s technique is basically a means of organizing things. The 5 “S’s” are Japanese words which, when translated into English, mean: sorting, simplifying, sweeping, standardizing and sustaining.

Much like Six Sigma, the first step of the 5s technique is to measure what you are doing currently. Sorting involves the establishment of current parameters, deciding what is relevant and what is not.

The next step is simplifying the parameters down to those that you intend to match or make improvement. Sweeping, or systematic cleaning, exemplifies the need to keep the workplace organized and tidy so things can easily be found and retrieved quickly. Standardizing refers to making work practices common and robust so they are performed correctly each time they are carried out, irrespective of who is doing them. Sustaining is maintaining standards and making sure people do not slip back into their old, less effective ways of doing things.

5S is not a quality-assurance system in itself. It’s more of a tool to keep things well organized and constant, which enables quality improvements to be made that can be clearly identified without variations in working practices, “muddying” the waters and making improvements difficult to evaluate and substantiate.

Complementary to TPM (Total Productive Maintenance), 5S has been adopted by many companies in the food industry, particularly those with high turnover of ingredients and a multiplicity of functions within a changing labor force.

Jonathan Bradshaw is a consultant to the agribusiness and food processing industries, specializing in project management and bespoke training programs through his company, J B Bradshaw Ltd. He has extensive experience in flour and feed milling in Africa, the Americas, Europe and the Caribbean. He may be contacted at: jonathan.bradshaw2@btopenworld.com .