But it was to "Six Sigma" standards…


    Six Sigma Blog: Fire alarms: The Dell notebook scare and Six Sigma defect control

    CIO Magazine

    I'm sure you've heard of the cases of Dell laptops catching on fire and the resulting recall.

    Sony, the manufacturer of the batteries, offered this explanation:

    “It's a number you can count on two hands,” [Sony spokesperon Rick] Clancy said, adding that it is inconsequential “when you look at it by Six Sigma standards.” Six Sigma is a measure of engineering quality that ensures a process will not produce more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities.

    Ugh. The goal is not to “only” have 3.4 defects per million, especially when the failure mode could result in such severe consequences. Do you want the guy sitting next to you in 13F to have his laptop suddenly catch fire? I don't! The goal for quality should be ZERO defects. I guess this is a difference between Toyota (the zero defects goal) and other Japanese companies (they all aren't like Toyota). When it's YOUR laptop that catches fire, you don't care that yours was a rare and limited case. It's not “inconsequential” to you.

    Now is Toyota perfect? No, they've had plenty of recalls this year. But, I wouldn't expect them to say “it's OK, it's only a few vehicles.” Toyota seems to really apologize for quality problems when they occur.

    That's why one of the lean principles is “Continuous improvement in the pursuit of perfection.” If you reach “Six Sigma” quality levels, don't stop! Keep improving, the goal really is zero defects, not 3.4 per million.

    The Sony/Dell fires are caused by what has been described as a manufacturing defect.

    The defect was caused by a short circuit that happens when microscopic metal particles break through the lithium ion cell wall and contact a battery anode, said Sony spokesman Rick Clancy.

    “You try to eliminate that in the manufacturing process, but to eliminate them 100 percent is very difficult. Usually when you have a short circuit, it might lead to a battery powering down so you'd have a dead battery, but other times it could lead to incidents including flaming,” Clancy said

    The chances of a short circuit depend on the design of each PC, such as whether the battery cells are aligned in parallel or perpendicular, and their proximity to heat sources like the processor and power supply. But ultimately, the odds are against the engineers, since any given particle can create a short, just as any given sperm can make a baby.

    I'm not sure how good this Sony spokesperson is, considering this analogy he drew, seems somewhat unprofessional:

    “It's kind of like impregnating someone. It only takes one, so the more of them there are, the more likely that you'll impregnate someone,” said Clancy.

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. Perhaps six sigma is not enough and we need seven sigma? Even then, this is not “a standard”. Sorry to state the obvious but continual improvement continues.

      Are the replacement batteries going to be any better? They may already be at seven sigma and are installed as part of a laptop that generates much heat.

      We have all seen many users with their laptops on their laps (what would you expect?) and other soft surfaces that block the cooling vents under their computers.

      DELL, Apple and others who make laptops need to look at their three systems: organizational, the product and the way the product is used.

      Do the laptop design organizations have control of this problem?

      Thankfully nobody argued that the battery was not part of the laptop (once infamously tried with the tires on Ford Explorers!).

    2. We’ve now seen Apple recall some older laptops over these same Sony batteries.

      John, you make great points. The laptop manufacturers DO have responsibility.

      Perfection is a better goal than Six Sigma.


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