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As of

2009 it enjoys widespread application in many sectors of industry, although its application is

not without controversy.

Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the

causes of defects (errors) and variability in manufacturing and business processes.[1] It uses a

set of quality management methods, including statistical methods, and creates a special

infrastructure of people within the organization ("Black Belts","Green Belts", etc.) who are

experts in these methods.[1] Each Six Sigma project carried out within an organization follows

a defined sequence of steps and has quantified financial targets (cost reduction or profit

increase).

Origin and meaning of the term "six sigma process"

Graph of the normal distribution, which underlies the statistical assumptions of the Six Sigma

model. The Greek letter σ (sigma) marks the distance on the horizontal axis between

the mean, µ, and the curve's inflection point. The greater this distance, the greater is the

spread of values encountered. For the curve shown above, µ = 0 and σ = 1. The upper and

lower specification limits (USL, LSL) are at a distance of 6σ from the mean. Due to the

properties of the normal distribution, values lying that far away from the mean are extremely

unlikely. Even if the mean were to move right or left by 1.5σ at some point in the future (1.5

sigma shift), there is still a good safety cushion. This is why Six Sigma aims to have

processes where the mean is at least 6σ away from the nearest specification limit.

The term "six sigma process" comes from the notion that if one has six standard deviations

between the process mean and the nearest specification limit, as shown in the graphic,

practically no items will fail to meet specifications.[7] This is based on the calculation method

employed in process capability studies.

Capability studies measure the number of standard deviations between the process mean and

the nearest specification limit in sigma units. As process standard deviation goes up, or the

mean of the process moves away from the center of the tolerance, fewer standard deviations

will fit between the mean and the nearest specification limit, decreasing the sigma number

and increasing the likelihood of items outside specification.[7]

[edit]Role of the 1.5 sigma shift

Experience has shown that in the long term, processes usually do not perform as well as they

do in the short.[7] As a result, the number of sigmas that will fit between the process mean and

the nearest specification limit may well drop over time, compared to an initial short-term

study.[7] To account for this real-life increase in process variation over time, an empirically-

based 1.5 sigma shift is introduced into the calculation.[7][13] According to this idea, a process

that fits six sigmas between the process mean and the nearest specification limit in a short-

term study will in the long term only fit 4.5 sigmas – either because the process mean will

move over time, or because the long-term standard deviation of the process will be greater

than that observed in the short term, or both.[7]

Hence the widely accepted definition of a six sigma process as one that produces 3.4

defective parts per million opportunities (DPMO). This is based on the fact that a process that

is normally distributedwill have 3.4 parts per million beyond a point that is 4.5 standard

deviations above or below the mean (one-sided capability study).[7] So the 3.4 DPMO of a

"Six Sigma" process in fact corresponds to 4.5 sigmas, namely 6 sigmas minus the 1.5 sigma

shift introduced to account for long-term variation.[7] This is designed to prevent

underestimation of the defect levels likely to be encountered in real-life operation.[7]

[edit]Sigma levels

See also: Three sigma rule

The table[14][15] below gives long-term DPMO values corresponding to various short-term

sigma levels.

Note that these figures assume that the process mean will shift by 1.5 sigma towards the side

with the critical specification limit. In other words, they assume that after the initial study

determining the short-term sigma level, the long-term Cpk value will turn out to be 0.5 less

than the short-term Cpk value. So, for example, the DPMO figure given for 1 sigma assumes

that the long-term process mean will be 0.5 sigma beyond the specification limit (Cpk = –

0.17), rather than 1 sigma within it, as it was in the short-term study (Cpk = 0.33). Note that

the defect percentages only indicate defects exceeding the specification limit that the process

mean is nearest to. Defects beyond the far specification limit are not included in the

percentages.

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