Discovering the point of metal fatigue means being as precise as a martial artist. Pinpointing and improving the circumstances that might cause metal fatigue earned a class of undergraduate mechanical engineering technology students Six Sigma green belts for their efforts.
The students were part of a new pilot project at Rochester Institute of Technology that took theories about preventing mechanical failures and applied Six Sigma techniques to find solutions.
By providing the Six Sigma content, Bill Leonard, associate professor and chair of mechanical engineering technology, believed the students could acquire a valuable credential that would benefit them in the workplace after graduation.
Faculty aligned the requirements of the Six Sigma green-belt designation with elements of the course Mechanical Failure. The upper-level course in the mechanical engineering technology program, part of RIT’s College of Applied Science and Technology, requires students to validate how different materials tolerate stress and other damaging elements.
“Our goal was to have the students gain an understanding of the core Six Sigma concepts and be able to demonstrate the skills according to the green belt’s responsibilities,” says Leonard. “The students were prepared to function at a problem-solving level within a company’s continuous improvement strategy, not just within Six Sigma.”
Six Sigma is used by corporations as varied as manufacturing and health care. Participants learn Six Sigma concepts in training programs, some sponsored by the American Society for Quality, others designed based on standard criteria of Six Sigma principles and adapted for a specific company. Both processes have recognized certifications.
Leonard and Duane Beck, Six Sigma curriculum developer and an instructor in mechanical engineering technology, approached Ortho-Clinical Diagnostic and Jill Finan, a Master Black Belt in Six Sigma with more than 16 years of experience, to act as evaluator.
“It was a challenge for the students because they had to solve the class problem in a very rigorous, disciplined way,” says Finan, who regularly administers Six Sigma defense initiatives and mentors new practitioners at Ortho-Clinical and its parent company, Johnson & Johnson. “This is a valuable tool kit to give someone just starting out.”
Brian Kyte, a member of the class, was able to use the process during his co-op at Johnson & Johnson.
“Most of the projects I am given involve me having to use one or more of the tools,” says Kyte, a fourth-year mechanical engineering technology student. “You have to change the way you think in order to be successful. With Six Sigma, you don’t just use a tool and move on; you need to be able to analyze the tool and understand what it is you just learned.”
Beck and Leonard want to incorporate the Six Sigma methodology into several other undergraduate courses over the next academic year and establish a regular process for administering the green-belt credential.