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NS nears Six Sigma roll-out


A core group of Norfolk Southern Railway employees soon will complete Six Sigma training, enabling the Class I to plan a fall-roll out of the quality-control concept in various departments.
Introduced by Motorola Corp. in the mid-1980s, Six Sigma is a fact-based process analysis designed to achieve 99.9997 percent reliability. Union Pacific Railroad, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and CSX Transportation already are incorporating the process analysis concept to improve various operational processes.
NS plans to implement Six Sigma — with the help of a GE Transportation Systems Six Sigma master blackbelt — to reduce variation in the railroad's processes and services.
"Variation is our enemy … the customer doesn't want his or her shipment to arrive on time 99 percent of the time," said John Samuels, NS senior vice president operations planning and support, in a prepared statement. "The customer wants it on time (within a certain window) 100 percent of the time, and when we do that, we'll have an important competitive edge."
Through Six Sigma principles, the ability to jump from 99 percent to 99.99 percent reliability might be more dramatic than it sounds.
"Motorola says 99 percent reliability represents 20,000 pieces of mail lost every hour, drinking water that's unsafe 15 minutes each day, 5,000 surgical operations performed incorrectly each week, 200,000 drug prescriptions filled incorrectly each year, and seven hours without electricity each month," said Samuels.
When NS attains Six Sigma quality level, Samuels believes the railroad could operate 614,000 trains a year with just two derailments, issue 255,000 paychecks per quarter with one error and process 300,000 waybills every month with only one disputed bill.
"We know that if we're going succeed individually and as a company, we have to offer world-class quality," he said. "Six Sigma is a tool to help get us there quickly, and one day it will be 'the way we work.'"

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More News from 10/11/2001