What makes Boeing the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world when the competition is cutthroat and survival is difficult.

 Of course, the out of box technology and the most effective processes they follow. Enabling them to produce the best plane full of advance features. Also, they are very competitive in the market.


 When we talk about the efficient process, we immediately think about the Six Sigma Process.

This is what brings us today, to discuss about America second-largest aviation industry “Boeing”.

How and why are they are using Lean Six Sigma process?

Before we start to explore Lean six sigma?  How it brought changes in Boeing?  We need to go back and see ourself how their process worked before 1993.

 Boeing followed an obsolete manufacturing process before 1993. Its Assembly and design area look like a park. The planes were stationed awkwardly.

Few on the left side and few numbers on the right side. Ramps and workers surround the planes, they would go around assembling and fixing the parts of the plane. These methods were standard process followed in those days

The company decided to implement a Lean management process to improve efficiency. Initially, the employees did not take it seriously until the Boeing faced a tough challenge from the Airbus.

As a result of this change in a process, there was a considerable achievement in manufacturing. Production time improved to 60%. The floor space improved to 50%. Now there was enough space for another process. The resource productivity of Boeing improved from 30% to 70%.

Lean manufacturing is now the core part of the production system. A very critical process for its success.

The implementation of a lean manufacturing process enabled Boeing to manage its supply of inventories more efficiently than before.

Boeing did not stop here, in the late 90’s they added Six Sigma process in their Lean manufacturing process.

Lean manufacturing complemented by Six Sigma process helps reduce cost. It also improved the response time to customers’ demands. Plus it improved quality, empowered its employee and increases profitability. Lean Six Sigma process now had touched everything from design to engineering, from production to suppliers. There is not a single unit where Six Sigma Process is not a buzzword in Boeing.

What is Lean Six Sigma?

So let us try to understand the Lean Six Sigma process. How it improves the overall manufacturing process?

Lean Six Sigma Process is a combination of two processes the Lean Process and Six Sigma Process.  The combinations of these two process are used to develop a problem-solving culture.

Both Lean process and Six Sigma process is based on the scientific methods. It helps manufacturing companies to develop a process of daily improvement.

Lean & Six Sigma how the got invented:

The lean process is Toyota’s innovation whereas Six Sigma originated in Motorola. Initially, they were a separate topic altogether but now their line of difference has blurred. Companies that use lean manufacturing also adopt the Six Sigma process.

Six Sigma process reduces defects and enhances process control. Whereas the Lean process focuses on driving out wastes (removal of unnecessary procedures and processes) allows work standardizations and flows.

Now we know something about the Six Sigma Process. Therefore we need to further learn more about it.

In today’s volatile and unpredictable business environment, the struggle is for growth and profitability. Companies are forced to adopt processes for reducing cost, time and, improved outputs besides being innovative.

For this reason, Lean Six Sigma is used to identify and remove waste, eliminate problems, improve working conditions, improve workers efficiency. It also enables them to respond to customer demands.

Therefore we can easily say, that Lean and Six Sigma process is a combination of processes into one powerful process for improving business operation.

The Lean approach is a process to eliminates any valueless activities of the business. This means it encourages you to do activities that bring more value to the effort. In the Lean approach, the workers do only those activities that are more productive and eliminate low yielding activity.

We can easily say that lean is about streamlining of the manufacturing process.

Now if we look at the Six sigma, it delivers quality improvement in business and it keeps the defects at minimum.

In other words, the Six Sigma process is a concept of a statical formula for quality control. It is an effective problem-solving technique.

With each level of Sigma, the variation reduces. For example, Sigma 3 is better than Sigma 1 and Sigma 2 and so on. At level 6 the variation acceptability is much reduced with high-level accuracy.

Now if you see in Six Sigma Process, the level of defects is reduced to near accuracy. The outcome becomes predictable. The process is designed to make predictable outcome falls in desirable norms as per customers’ expectation and methods are error-free.

Six Sigma process-oriented companies design their process in such a way that their outcome is almost predictable and as per defined acceptable norms.

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Motorola-The originator of Six Sigma process.

Six Sigma process emerged from Motorola. Motorola is a high tech company famous for its highly reliable products. However, it was facing tough competition from Japanese. The Japanese competed them in every business.

In comparison, Japanese companies had an awesome quality standard. Motorola could not keep up with these Japanese companies in terms of quality and support. Customers of Motorola were not happy with product defects and customer support.

This force Motorola top Management to take actions. Motorola engineers were given instruction to minimize the defects in the product. This they have to ensure before products are out of the factory premises.

Bill Smith, the scientist at Motorola designed a process based on a statistical formula to control and reduce the errors in products. This process came to be known as the Six Sigma process.

He initiated the implementation of the Six Sigma process. The process gains high success in Motorola. The error in the product was much reduced after implementing only four phases of it (measure, analyse, improve and control).

Even though the result improved instantly, The Japanese were still far an ahead of them in quality.

The management took the challenge of improving the quality of Motorola products. A decision to improve the quality of products by manifolds within five years time. Though not an easy target to achieve Motorola employee took to themself and started working towards the goal realization.

After five years, Motorola achieved a significant milestone in every business they had. The management then decided to fly to Japan and compare their achievement with the Japanese.

The results were startling for them and the founded that Japanese were 2000 times better than them. Japanese companies had a similar process and they were using from some years together.

Motorola engineer became more ambitious after their discovery. The set another goal to improve their process by tenfolds within two years time frame. The new goal set is 3.4 defects per million opportunities.

As Motorola was making the changes they were also documenting it. Adoption of the Six Sigma process not only improved the manufacturing quality but also save them $16 million.

You can confidently say  Motorola had pioneered the Six Sigma Process.

Six Sigma process include

Lean SIX Sigma DMAIC


What is the type of problem that requires fixing is decided in this phase? The project defines the problem. Additionally, it prepares a problem statement, a detail project charter and high-level process maps of customer needs. This phase is of a paramount for the project team as well leadership team as the project gets outline here.


How are their process today? What are there problems and its magnitude? How is their process performing? Measurement is a critical phase of the entire project. It is a key indicator showing the health progress of the process. Also, it provides a clue for issues during the life cycle of the projects. The project team collects data. At the same time, a lead time maintained for process or qualities that customer is receiving.


In this phase, a deep analysis is carried out to find the root cause of the problem. More time is invested in finding real issues before attempting the solution. Otherwise, there will be wastage of resources and time.


Once the root cause is discovered, the team will find a solution to fix it. In this phase, the team will use ideas, pilot process change, implement solutions. It finally collects the data to ensure that there is measurable improvement in the process.


 In this phase, the improvement made is continuously monitored. A monitoring plan is developed to track the success of the improved process. A response plan is prepared to rectify if there is a dip in performance.

On the other hand, if we see the Lean Six Sigma, it is used to remove eight kind of waste. They are 1) unutilized talents 2) defects 3) wastes 4) transportation 5) Inventory 6) Overproduction 7) Motion 8) Extra processing.

Lean Six Sigma contributes to a framework for a cultural change besides minimizing defects and waste. With the implementation of Lean Six Sigma process the approach of employee and the manager changes to more focus activities. There is continuous improvement via process optimization, resulting in the overall growth of the organization.

Lean Six Sigma when successfully incorporated in the organization. It combines tools from both the Lean Manufacturing process and Six Sigma process. The combination results in the inclusion of some tools like Kaizen, Value stream, Visual Management and line balancing.

What do we mean by the waste in Lean Six Sigma process?

Waste is defined as, any expense or efforts, time, material, space and resources of a company that are more than the minimum required for which customer is not ready to pay.

So let us see the different waste of Lean Six Sigma.

  1. Defects: A defect in a product that is unfit for use. Which means either it’s scrap or requires further modification to get convert into other products for usability.
  2. Overproduction: Overproduction means producing finish goods in excess for customers when he does not need it. The organization must follow just in time manufacturing policy of Lean Management. Overproduction results in the preparation of additional reports of overproducing of material when it not requested from customers.
  3. Underutilized talents: This category discusses the wastage of human potential in an organisation. Often employee fails to realize his potential due to a gap in communication between him and managers.
  4. Transportation: Excess movement of people, materials, equipment and other stuff from factory location to warehouse and visa versa. There is a fear of damage and breakage in products in unnecessary transportation and wastage in travelling cost.
  5. Waiting: Waiting means a delay in getting email response, approval from top bosses or managers, delay in delivery. In other words, process delay that causes wastage of time of project progress.
  6. Motion: Movement people for want of tools, equipment or moving from one factory floor to another to complete jobs. These are the unwanted task that waste productive time and sometimes can cause employee injury.
  7. Inventory: Inventory is products and materials in a warehouse or manufacturing floor. It is a problem when it is in excess. Holding unwanted inventories is a cost to companies. It occupies space and chances of getting obsolete and damaged are high.
  8. Extra processing: This could be due to a poorly design process. This results in overlapping areas of authority and human error, lack of communication, doubling of data entry. It could also mean an inadequate job station or human error and floor layout.

Lean Six Sigma helps to identify and eliminate all the above waste and production become very efficient.

We have seen in details both Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma. How the company of origin have benefitted.

Let us see Lean Six Sigma usage in the aviation industry, especially from Boeing view.

Before going into the process we shall see the marketing and demand side of the aerospace industry. What prompted them to adopt efficient methods.

Aerospace Business landscape across world.

Aerospace is a multibillion-dollar industry. The air traffic market expected to grow from 14.1 billion dollars in 2014 to 18.8 billion dollars in 2025.  The forecast for CAGR 4.25 %.

The old airports will get renovated. Many new greenfield airports are expected to come up. Due to this, there will be growth in demand for air travel giving rise to air traffic.

The Asain Pacific region is estimated to have the largest market share 38.6% for ATM. Especially emerging market from India and China are showing brisk growth.

To meet this demand The Asia Pacific airliner fleet going through massive development of fleet with effective renewal programs.

Business process in AE

Aircraft has a life span of 25 years. To make it operational from time to time, customary checks and maintenance are conducted. Beside this refurbishment and overhauling work requires removal of parts like turbine blades of engines and landing gears. Manufacture of aircraft is the once who specifies when the refurbishment and overhauling need to be carried out.

Due to economic pressure Aircraft are now use more than their life span. This Results in more refurbishment maintenance and overhauling work on the aircraft as they get old.

Aerospace operators are expecting better design and manual for carrying out easy maintenance and restoration without disturbing other connected parts.

Such demand has forced a stiff competition among the airline manufacturing companies to meet the demand of Airline operators. These operators want a better plane that is easy to maintain, with all the passenger’s safety features onboard.

Airline operator not only wants early delivery date but a high standard of service from the aircraft manufacturers. The aircraft operators prefer only those manufacturer who could meet their requirements.

In these scenarios, the aircraft manufacture wants to provide good quality of aircraft to their customers. With all the passenger safety built-in and thus keep their customer happy. Lean Six Sigma principle assist them in all these stages.

Aircraft industries widely use Lean Six Sigma. They use it for optimizing of design, business, and supply chain procedures and also for manufacturing thus improving the process.

Boeing and the Lean Six Sigma

Boeing realized this in 1990 and adopted Lean Six Sigma. At that time there was a demand to increase the pace of production of planes. Boeing did not have the pace and neither the skilled staff to do so.

To achieve their target, they went to Toyota. They were a leader in the automotive industry and a champion of implementing Lean manufacturing systems.

Boeing executives were getting training from Toyota ‘s best coaches, through classroom training every day. It took Boeing 10 years for the transition in new systems.

The Boeing performance started showing growth only after its engineers were trained and the Lean Six Sigma was implemented. It occurs on account of the following tools:

Value Stream Mapping.

 It is an exercise of finding and getting rid of all sorts of losses. It is difficult and time taking operations. All activity is analyzed to the minutest details and this task is difficult.


Boeing also uses a tool called LDBR(Lean plus design-build Road Map) which connect several processes of Boeings. It also links between the design team and the manufacturing team that assembles the parts.

Boeing lean and tool kit is an umbrella of tools that includes Kaizen (continuous improvement). The tool kits also have all the elements of Lean Six Sigma.

The improvement in Boeing was huge. The production of planes went up 4 times. Boeing started producing 42 Boeing 737 aircraft in a month. Production area also decreases by three times with the employee’s strength.

 Application of Lean Six Sigma could only make this happened in Boeing Production line.

In one of his speeches, the head of the commercial plane, Ray Corner said that they have increased the rate of production of commercial planes by 60%. The assembling of 737 aircraft, the time consumed has reduced to 50%. There is an increase in the utilization of warehouse by 132%. The cost of quality assurance decrease by 55%. And 41% in reduction of production area.

There is a huge improvement in assembling of 777. The time is reduced by 14%. Warehouse turnover stocks have increased to 32%. Engineering work quality on all parts of the aircraft structures increased to 30%. The expense of quality assurance decreased by 10%, production areas decreased by 43%.


We can also see from the example of Boeing 777 aircraft, how Lean Six Sigma identified the problem.

It is such a pain to find a problem or issues from among the millions of components in aircraft assembly.

At Everett, Wash, Six Sigma team discovered a fault in Boeing aircraft 777. The recirculating air fan was rejected during a functional test carried out on the aircraft’s production line. The data gathered on the plane indicated that the faulty part required replacement. This increasing the cost besides the additional need for testing.

Professionals from Engineering, Quality, Manufacturing, Supply Management & Procurement departments were integrated into investigating team to find the root cause.  Foreign object debris (FOD) problem founded on 777 recirculating air fan failure.

The parts of the fan that were supposed to prevent the debris became debris themselves. For example, ductwork caps and plastic sheeting. Six Sigma professionals solved the problems by altering the process.

Boeing today:

Boeing is now well versed in Lean Six Sigma process and uses them in all their production stages. It boasts of having 60 black belts certified professional and 300 Six Sigma Green Belt Certification

Top management did not mandate the Six Sigma and therefore it is not mentioned in their annual reports. It got acceptability at the grass-root level.

Finally, you have seen the effect of the Six Sigma process in the manufacturing industry. If you work in a similar industry, you can better your career through Six Sigma Certification.

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  1. Rajesh kumar Reply

    I had so much fun reading this case study. It was insightful and it clearly illustrated the value of Six Sigma at Boeing, in particular as a business strategy by focusing on improving their operational effectiveness

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  5. Rishi Kapoor Reply

    The Boeing Case Study teaches you how to apply the Lean Six Sigma Methodology. This course introduces you to the Six Sigma Methodology, with a brief history of the organization and case studies from various Boeing Products.

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