February 29, 2012

Students apply Six Sigma to trash; save the university $200K

When five Fisher undergraduate students had the choice between working on a project in a sterile medical setting or for the university’s residence halls waste operations, team leader Tracy Levine said the choice was simple.

They picked trash.

Now, the team is being credited with saving the university an estimated $200,000 annually through their recommendations and the development of streamlined processes in waste management in two South Campus residence halls.  According to Daren Lehman, director of facilities operations for the Office of Student Life, some of the new procedures and recommendations will be adopted in other residence halls across campus.

The residence hall waste project was part of an advanced undergraduate operations management course in Six Sigma, a lean management and process improvement program. The students participated in a 10-week course last year and then were assigned projects to earn Six Sigma Green Belt certification, according to Doug Evans, who teaches the course in the Department of Management Sciences.

Fisher became the first business school in the nation to launch a Six Sigma program for select juniors and seniors in 2006. Traditionally, it is taught in MBA and executive education programs at business schools and through corporate training programs.
Lehman said he didn’t know what to expect when the Office of Student Life was offered Fisher undergraduates for the project. “A significant facility expense is trash removal,” he said. “Just like other departments across the university, we were looking for ways to reduce costs.”

The team analyzed every aspect of the movement of trash and recycling from students’ hands to receptacles; its removal by housekeeping from each floor to a centralized trash room and its final haul away from the buildings.

“We shadowed housekeeping, conducted surveys of students and we were out at 4 in the morning watching trucks haul away garbage,” Levine, the team leader said. The other students working with Levine were Brima Bah, Kyle Caven, Adam French and Danny Tran. The students were also given access to past billing information and input costs by the Office of Student Life.
“We test piloted different methods for trash removal,” Levine said. 

Finally, the team really got their hands dirty in the project.

 “This is where we implemented one of the Six Sigma processes to an actual operation—‘sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain,’ Levine said. The students reconfigured and overhauled Steeb Hall’s trash room, where all the waste and recycling are stored until it is hauled out of the building. The students produced a 26-page report and presented their findings to the administrators in the Office of Student Life.

 “Projects like this in a business setting might take up to a year or several months. These students were really dedicated and worked under a much shorter timetable,” said Evans, who taught the class and advised the teams. “They did a fantastic job.”

 “One of the best things about the program at Fisher was the number of real projects I got to work on,” Levine said, who now works in Cincinnati as a consultant for Intelligent US Consulting. She and her teammates all had multiple job offers after obtaining their degrees last year.