B & B Ice and Water in Port Arthur, Texas, had been a successful company for many years. Despite their success, the organization was finding a number of problems that they could not seem to solve. By embracing Six Sigma techniques, the organization was able to address these issues, make its company stronger than before, and further its commitment to continuous improvement.
Utilizing techniques like DMAIC helped B & B Ice and Water on its first Six Sigma project. From this initial project alone, the organization was able to improve employee morale, increase customer satisfaction, boost its level of quality, and benefit the company with an increase in annual savings. The success of this project was so clear that it provided the springboard to launch many other Six Sigma projects, each serving to help fulfill B & B’s goal of continuous improvement.
B & B Ice and Water Had a Problem
B & B’s ice and water distribution company dates back to 1969, when it was established by Paul Benton, Sr. in Port Arthur, Texas. The organization has strived from the beginning to provide safety from overheating and dehydration to the workforce of industrial clients that do their business in the high temperatures of the Gulf Coast. This is accomplished while also maintaining strict sanitation standards and a commitment to cost-effectiveness. An example of the types of products and services offered by B & B would be pre-filled industrial-sized water and Gatorade coolers that fit up to 500 beverages delivered on a daily basis. The coolers with ice-cold beverages are delivered in are job-site-approved and in rugged and fork-liftable containers. Safety precautions include making sure all bottles are safety sealed and dated for consumption, as well as ensuring that the bagged ice is from purified water and made into a shape that lasts the longest, as well as cured for the highest quality product possible. The company also has an in-house laboratory with a daily ice and water testing protocol. This extraordinary commitment to quality has made B & B one of the only companies in all of Texas to receive an International Packaged Ice Association PIQCS Plus certification.
Along with serving the Texas area, the business expanded in 1986 with a distribution center in Tampa, Florida. Further locations in Georgia and Louisiana were established throughout the years, coinciding with 3rd generation owner Roman Benton’s expansion into servicing the petrochemical industries of these states.
With a company’s growth comes a number of challenges. One of the foremost of these concerns is the ability to maintain the level of quality that the company was built on during expansion. Roman Benton had been having concerns that B & B Ice and Water was not the company that it once was. For years, the company had been plagued with problems that it did not seem to have the skill set to correct. In order to help right the ship, Benton looked to Six Sigma.
Benton, along with his Vice President of Operations, took a four-day Six Sigma course, and took what they learned back to their team. They trained their front-line staff on Six Sigma and Lean principles, achieving buy-in by showing the staff what they hoped to accomplish and why. Through this training, the team was able to learn Six Sigma techniques for addressing issues. This meant breaking down an individual problem in order to fully understand it, including its various components. From there comes determining the root causes, coming up with potential countermeasures, and implementing them. These steps are all covered in the Six Sigma technique known as DMAIC.
For B & B Ice and Water’s pilot Six Sigma project, they looked at one of their products that had tight specifications that were proving to be a frustrating challenge to maintain. The main issue with the product involved the test batches ahead of production runs. The team was having a number of issues, spending too much time in the lab in order to get the specifications right on a daily basis. A significant amount of waste was present in the constant waiting and reworking. Costs had also gotten out of control. Trying to reach the specification levels had become a daily grind and had begun to affect the morale of the team.
B & B Ice and Water Utilized the Six Sigma DMAIC Technique
During their four-day training course, Benton and his VP of Operations were taught the DMAIC technique, which they utilized during their first Six Sigma project. The DMAIC technique is composed of five phases which collectively function as a disciplined method for problem-solving. The phases provide a framework for the identification/elimination of problems, the improvement of processes, and the achievement of better outcomes. These five phases are: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.
• Define: During the Define phase of DMAIC, you define exactly what the problem is. This is where you determine what the project is, as well as its scope and purpose. In the Define phase, you map the current process, estimate costs and timelines, and detail the expectations of the customer.
• Measure: In the Measure phase, you establish baseline figures in order to assess progress during the later phases. This involves identifying the data that is needed for collection, deciding on the measurements to use, settling on a method for obtaining the measurements, establishing the acceptable amount of variation, and the actual collection of the data.
• Analyze: With the Analyze phase, you work with the data that was collected during the Measure phase. This is where you identify potential defect causes and then narrow them down to the root causes through analysis.
• Improve: The Improve phase of DMAIC involves coming up with solutions and implementing them, after determining the root causes during the Analyze phase. In this phase, potential solutions will be brainstormed, as will the criteria for selecting the right solution. The potential solutions will be compared against the criteria until the right one is picked. From here, the solution is tested, and the results are measured and compared against the measurements from the earlier phases.
• Control: The Control phase of DMAIC is meant to ensure that the improvements made are able to be maintained. This involves putting support measures in place to ensure that the improvements are permanent. A plan is also plotted to address any issues that may arise.
The Outcome Laid the Groundwork for More Six Sigma Projects
The success of this very first Six Sigma project led to an annual savings of $21,000. Other clear benefits of the project included a boost in employee morale as well as increased customer satisfaction. Employee productivity increased as well as overall product quality. The pilot project also helped to eliminate a significant amount of waste.
This all led to the team embarking on a number of further Six Sigma projects. Within six months, management staff submitted an additional eight projects of their own, which led to a further $90,000 in annual savings.
3 Best Practices When Implementing a Six Sigma Project in Your Business
The success of B & B Ice and Water’s first Six Sigma project gave the organization the confidence to continue with a number of further projects. These projects collectively served to help solve a great number of problems happening in the business. It all started, however, with taking the steps to see that first project through. Here are some tips from the lessons B & B learned when launching its first Six Sigma project.
1. Pick the right project
Not all projects are going to be the right fit for the DMAIC process. For example, DMAIC should not be utilized if it is already obvious what the problem is and how to solve it. Another indicator that a project might not be a good fit is if there is little to no data available on how the process might be improved. Another thing to look out for is whether the ability to measure process improvements would be extremely difficult or even impossible.
2. Get your team behind Six Sigma
The first thing that Benton did after getting back from his four-day Six Sigma course was train top-level management on Six Sigma techniques as well as focus on getting the entire staff onboard prior to launch. He understood the necessity of doing so in order to achieve project success. It is imperative when launching a Six Sigma project to get buy-in from the staff so that there is full commitment to the process across the board. Otherwise, the full benefit that comes from the methodology cannot be seen.
3. Pick a project that is in line with the goals of the organization
B & B Ice and Water has long been a company that focuses on quality. The stated core purpose of the organization is to enhance the lives of those who are working and playing outdoors. The core values of the company are safety, continuous improvement, excellence in quality, performance, and value, and an obsession for the customer. In picking a project, the team made sure that it was in line with the core values and purpose of the organization. This should be paramount when you pick the Six Sigma projects for your business as well.
One Six Sigma Project Success Leads to Another
With B & B Ice and Water, the success of one Six Sigma project created a spark that led to several more projects in the company. For a company that does $10 million in sales a year, the initial savings of the first project may have looked small, but the combined savings of all the projects must have been very exciting. In your business, it does not matter if your first Six Sigma project has a limited impact on the overall bottom line. What is important is that the impact is clear, proven, and sound. That way, you can get clearance for further projects, and the successes can multiply. Whether the initial success of a project is relatively small or astronomical is not the most important thing. Success is success. As long as you have a drive for continuous improvement, you can find more projects in your organization that can benefit from the Six Sigma method and further expand upon your achievements.