Features Articles

Peter BilgelowAre you measuring customer service the right way?

April wasn’t a good month for United Airlines. Days after a video showing agents forcibly removing a screaming and bloodied doctor from an overbooked flight went viral, they bumped an engaged couple off an overbooked plane – on the way to their destination wedding.

Then came the flight where, allegedly, a scorpion was found roaming loose in the plane. Management, in PR triage, was certainly kept busy.

The airline business is a tough one. In many ways it is similar to the electronics industry. Much of the costs are “fixed”; significant and ongoing capital investment is required; capacity is constantly changing and rarely predictable, and competition is decreasing as relatively few large carriers vie for the majority of business globally. As tough as the airline business is, however, it appears United’s problems boil down to three simple root cause deficiencies. Those deficiencies cause problems not only for airlines, but for countless other businesses in a variety of industries, including, at times, ours.

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Sue MuchaService sector businesses have plenty of functional parallels to SMT.

As CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY Editor-in-Chief Mike Buetow pointed out in his April editorial, hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs are going unfilled. However, the notion that the smallest demographic of employees is in the 30 to 50 age range surprised me. My hypothesis for this is slightly different from Mike’s.

Back in the late ’90s/early 2000s, we were publicly touting the evolution of our economy into a service economy. I think folks entering the job market during that period simply focused on the concept of 21st century jobs. In the STEM events I’ve attended, many of the students I’ve talked with have no concept of factories (outside of thinking about putting a 3D printer in their garage). To them, a high-tech career involves a glass office in Silicon Valley.

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Robert BoguskiIt’s nice to be wanted, but on what terms?

I get 100 fresh emails on a slow day. On a busy day, 200-250. The curse of “reply all.” I’m also preternaturally neat, which means they can’t just sit there occupying disk space; they must be filed away or destroyed. So my brainless morning ritual, punctuated by sips of black coffee, is to delete the overnight solicitations from Emily and her compatriots at Red Star Long March Little Red Book Printed Circuit Boardland in Shenzhen. (“Hello, Dear. We give you good board not costly and never tarnish reputation so rather very much like other detestable board fabricator. Have nice day!”) Emily also wants to connect with me on LinkedIn, and helpfully sends the weather report from Shenzhen (Sunny! Always sunny!) and is curious to know what I’m doing this weekend (writing this column).

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Peter BigelowAll but written off, North American fabs might be on the cusp of a new growth era.

For as long as I have been in our industry, which at this point is decades, the one constant refrain has been that certain technologies, company sizes or geographic locations mean eventual extinction. The technologies in question, just like the company size or geography, have continually changed over the decades. The constant, however, is that much of our industry is, well, just plain doomed!

Currently, the popular thinking is North American fabricators are on the endangered species list. The reasons are numerous. Many survivors are too small to meet capacity demands of global customers, are in a high-cost part of the world and thus noncompetitive with pricing, and lack the technology of newer, more advanced facilities. The general picture painted is North American fabricators are a bunch of bucket shops that can produce only high-mix/low-volume, single- and double-sided product. Commence the funeral march.

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Mike BuetowWe left off last month speaking about factory automation. Manufacturing in the US is always a hot topic, never more so than during the run-up to the presidential election last fall. (Oh, you didn’t hear about it? You will most definitely want to buy the book.)

By themselves, the numbers look good. The US manufacturing purchasing managers index, a barometer of the health of the industrial sector, has generally been moving up and to the right for years, according to the Institute for Supply Management. Over the same period, the Markit US manufacturing PMI has been solid as well. (Computer and Electronics Products is said to make up about 6% of the index.)
But when manufacturing is discussed, it’s generally with an eye toward employment. In other words, the thinking goes, the more product the US builds, the more people it will employ.

Not so fast.

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A dual Kanban approach cuts costs vs. Asia and ensures a predictable flow of finished goods.

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