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Project Example: Lean Six Sigma Project Increases Production by 58% and Lowers Energy Costs by $263K for British Aerospace Supplier -

Project Summary

  • The Challenge: Production was unable to keep up with customer demand
  • The Discovery: Lots of waste and a lack of standardization
  • The Improvements: Reduced wasted transportation, created parallel processes and standardized the processes
  • The Results: 58% increase in production capacity and a $263K reduction in annual energy cost
  • Next Steps: Tackling the production process of one of Solvay’s high-demand resins

The Challenge

British manufacturer Solvay was experiencing increased demand for one of their long-selling resins, which was good news—but how to keep up? They had already succeeded in reducing production cycle time from 24 hours down to 19 a few years back. But now even the 19 hours was too long to keep up with the high demand. The challenge was to meet the increasing demand and avoid losing any business. Resin Mix Technician James Yates saw an opportunity.

The workload was high since the product was being produced 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Production employees worked 4 days on and 4 days off to keep the line running. When James introduced the idea of reducing the cycle time further, he ran into a bit of resistance from the production employees.

They didn’t see the need for process changes and were worried that James’ project would increase their workloads. James pushed forward and trusted the DMAIC process and its tools. He knew the results would speak for themselves.

The Discovery

With the use of simple tools such as 5S, Spaghetti Maps and the 8 Wastes, James was able to quickly show where the pain points were and what caused the long cycle times and the variation:

  • The process had a lot of non-value-added steps and waste—primarily transportation and motion.
  • The manufacturing tolerances were very wide, which in turn caused large variation in cool-down time.
  • There were no standards in place—different technicians performed tasks related to preparation and cleaning in different ways.

James determined that the root causes were outdated or nonexistent Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), inconsistent messaging from engineering and communication issues between the different shifts. The atmosphere for initiating an improvement project was less than ideal. He had a hard time getting buy-in from people involved in the process—engineering, production.

The Improvements

James identified a robust list of improvements:

  • Reduced and eliminated transportation of raw materials
  • Implemented parallel processing where before production had to be stopped
  • Standardized and documented processes
  • Instead of using all of the production tolerances they targeted the lower end of the tolerances for production

With these improvements in place he was able to show that the cycle time could be reduced to 12 hours per batch. Several trial runs confirmed the findings and attitudes among the staff began to shift. The production employees saw that their work schedules were unaffected and they weren’t doing any more work or working any harder than before. Leadership recognized the potential savings and appreciated the improvement in overall communication.

The Results

With the new process cycle time of 12 hours instead of 19 hours, Solvay is now able to produce approx. 300 more batches of the resin per year. Their baseline was 457 batches per year, so they achieved a 58% increase in production capacity. And they accomplished this without adding any resources or additional shifts! In addition, since the mixers run 7 fewer hours per batch, the improvements resulted in a $263K reduction in annual energy cost.

James’ persistence and trust in the DMAIC process paid off, and his efforts and results were recognized. Leadership was so happy with his project that he was nominated for the Solvay Industrial Award and Global Employee Summit.

But James is not done. He continues to make sure the new process stays in place and is being followed, and he has already set his sights on tackling the production process of another one of Solvay’s high-earning resins. Onward!

James Yates is a Black Belt and a Resin Mix Technician at the Solvay Wrexham manufacturing plant which is about 45 miles south of Liverpool in the UK. He is responsible for the preparation and manufacturing of resin systems used in aerospace.

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Get the inside scoop on many other successful Lean Six Sigma projects at our Project Examples & Results page. Do you have a story to tell? We’d love to hear about your own project success! Please contact us.

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 30 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Marriott International, Inc. build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.
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