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Greg Poissant

How past knowledge can be leveraged to build a team-oriented approach.

Electronics contract manufacturing has elements of controlled chaos. While most contractors have standardized processes on the manufacturing floor, the fact that a facility typically serves 20 to 30 customers drives a need for a holistic approach to problem solving that involves the entire organization. A company where every employee is focused on identifying non-value activity both in administrative and production activities will be nimbler and more focused on building quality into to every product than one where just key people are focused on addressing these issues.

From that perspective, Lean philosophy is beneficial in creating this proactive-problem-identifying and ultimately problem-solving culture. How is this culture best created? This column looks at seven basic steps involved in starting that process.

Define the team. The composition of the initial group selected sends a signal to the organization on how widely the program will be implemented within the organization. Achieving a holistic approach involves throwing a wide net in terms of team membership. While it is important to ensure all major functions (administrative and production) have representation, care should be taken to select members based on their talents in terms of contributions to developing a robust process. For example, look for a mix of process, data collection, presentation and analysis expertise determining which department representatives should be recruited.

Create awareness. The better the team understands the tools and philosophy that will be used, the more rapidly and effectively they can apply what they are learning. For example, SigmaTron uses the Eight Disciplines (8D) problem-solving methodology as a framework for analyzing customer issues and defining the specific challenges to be solved. (See “Driving Continuous Improvement with an 8D Framework,” CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY, September 2014.)

Train the team. Once the tools and philosophy are established, the team should be trained on why the designated processes are in place and the approach that should be taken in any problem-solving effort. SigmaTron’s training focus looks not only at the tools to be applied, but also why this type of process can fail. This helps focus the team on looking at relevancy of the process it helps to define.

Implement the process. The next step is implementing the process in a real-time situation. This allows the team to apply the philosophy and tools in a way that tests its understanding, plus the feasibility and repeatability of the agreed-upon process. The goal is to help develop a process that is robust enough to accurately get to the root cause of the problem and eliminate it but not so cumbersome that the organization as a whole would avoid using it.

Standardize the process for consistency. Minimizing variation and non-value-added activity is at the heart of any Lean philosophy implementation. The goal should be to standardize in ways that make it easy for team members to repeat the process and document their activities efficiently and consistently. For example, in SigmaTron’s 8D problem-solving process, team members fill out an Excel spreadsheet form that includes key questions to be answered in each step as instructions buried in the sheet. This concept of tools within tools makes it easy for new participants to do as detailed an evaluation as those who have been doing it much longer.

Monitor performance. If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it. In any problem-solving effort, it is necessary to determine the correct metrics or statistical process improvement (SPI) points and determine if customer feedback should be part of those metrics.

Embrace lessons learned. Every process improvement exercise results in lessons learned. In the case of major corrective actions, the solution implemented may change the process or procedure in a way that the event is unlikely to reoccur. However, in production, manufacturability issues or vendor quality issues may be project-specific. Once the issue is resolved, the organization may forget it occurred. When a similar situation occurs a couple years later with a different customer, the full problem-solving process may be repeated. This translates to non-value-added activity. SigmaTron is addressing this issue by creating a database searchable by key word to ensure that, prior to engaging in a process improvement activity, team members will be able to determine if a similar situation has generated a past corrective action and incorporate past lessons learned in this new problem-solving process.

Creating a proactive, problem-solving culture takes time. Employees need to understand the philosophy behind the processes. The infrastructure supporting participants should include tools within tools, well-defined metrics and a database of past projects. A holistic approach started by a functionally diverse team will help permeate this culture throughout the organization. In the world of EMS, creating this culture will pay big dividends in terms of eliminating organizational inefficiencies, plus rapidly addressing customer- or supplier-driven issues, because ultimately, every employee becomes focused on solving problems as they arise.

Greg Poissant is director of quality at SigmaTron International (sigmatronintl.com); greg.poissant@sigmatronintl.com.

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