After receiving his degree in aeronautical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1936, Shainin became a design engineer at the Hamilton Standard Division of United Aircraft Corporation (now United Technologies Corporation).
In 1939, US industry had begun to focus on the war effort. Hamilton Standard licensed their propeller designs to Frigidaire, Nash-Kelvinator and Remington Rand; manufacturers that had been producing household appliances, cars and office equipment prior to the war. While the licenses included both product designs and process specifications, these licensees experienced problems matching Hamilton Standard’s quality. Shainin became a licensee coordinator responsible for helping them solve problems. Shainin quickly discovered that he could solve problems faster and more effectively by “talking to the parts” rather than talking to the engineers. While the engineers would speculate and develop lists of potential causes, the parts always revealed the real root cause, if you knew how to speak their language. This insight drove Shainin’s approach to problem solving for the remainder of his career.
By the end of the war, Shainin was in charge of quality and reliability at Hamilton Standard, having gained national recognition for his invention of the Hamilton Standard Lot Plot.
Shainin’s most significant contribution was his discovery of the Red X model of systems variation. The prevailing wisdom held that variation causes could be discovered and controlled until the system reached a state of statistical equilibrium. At that point, the remaining causes were believed to be random and undiscoverable. Any further improvement would require a redesign of the system. However, Shainin found that by talking to the parts, he could find variation causes within stable systems. He concluded that Juran’s Pareto principle must apply to the causes of system variation. No matter how many causes had already been identified and controlled, among the remaining causes there must be one that contributed more to the overall variation than any other. He called this cause-effect relationship the Big Red X.
Because of the way sources of variation combine to create overall system variation, it is not possible to make a significant improvement unless you find and control the Red X. For the rest of his professional career, Shainin focused on promoting the Red X concept and developing a disciplined structured system to find it and control it. To support his system Shainin created more than 20 engineering and statistical tools that aided in the search for the Red X. Shainin followed three principles for solving variation problems:
- There is always a Red X.
- The fastest route to identifying the Red X is a progressive search using a process of elimination.
- Talk to the parts with tools that are both rigorous and statistically simple.
During the 1960s Shainin worked for Grumman Aerospace as a reliability consultant for NASA’s Apollo Lunar Module. In order to ensure a statistical margin of safety, Shainin developed a completely new approach to reliability assessment, which was applied to the empirical testing of Grumman’s Lunar Module prototype components and systems. Shainin’s approach to reliability testing was crucial to Grumman’s bid in the development of the Lunar Module. The effectiveness of his approach was demonstrated by zero failures in eleven manned missions, six of which featured moon landings. When the command module became uninhabitable during the failed Apollo 13 mission, the Lunar Module became the lifeboat that brought the Apollo 13 astronauts to lunar orbit and back to Earth.
During the years that Shainin served as a reliability consultant for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, he worked on the hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell that powered Apollo environmental life support in addition to the RL-10 cryogenic liquid rocket engine. The RL-10 soon became America’s most reliable space engine, at one point logging 128 ignitions in space without a single failure.
Dorian assisted Bob Galvin in his drive to improve product quality and reliability at Motorola. As a result of Galvin’s accomplishments Motorola received the first Malcolm Baldridge award for performance excellence in 1989. This improvement program later became the foundation for Six Sigma.