ROI

Peter BigelowThe HKPCA Show revealed just how far robotics for the PCB shop has come.

Industry exhibitions never disappoint, and during the last couple of months of 2017 two of the biggest ones took place. Seeing the multitude of options that other parts of the world have in the way of equipment, materials and supplies is always staggering. I am always amazed how many suppliers of drill bits and drilling machines exist – matched only by the number of suppliers of via fill chemistries and paste.

Equally impressive is seeing what’s new. These days the really groundbreaking concepts, equipment and materials seem to be first launched anywhere but in North America, more often than not in Asia. While walking the aisles of the HKPCA Show in December and drooling over the multitude of opportunities to invest the capital dollars I wish I had, on equipment not available back home, I observed some interesting and definitely new equipment that was being described in a decidedly old way as robotics.

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Peter BigelowSuccess comes not from the name of an efficiency plan, but its execution.

Business acronyms come and business acronyms go, and usually those acronyms are a snappy way to make an otherwise mundane business initiative sound exciting and new. Today the rage is FOD, which is short for foreign object debris (or if you are in the military, foreign object damage).

In the 1970s the acronym that every self-respecting corporate executive proudly promoted was “JIT,” as in just in time. JIT is basically doing what everyone was always trying to do anyway, but utilizing computer-generated data instead of less accurate, more intuition-based means. Adopting JIT systems and procedures was touted as the surefire way to improve customer service, an organized method to reduce lead times and improve on-time delivery. By touting JIT, you showed you were a progressive manager.

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Peter BigelowQuality is a must. Endless inspections are not.

I sometimes get this overwhelming feeling some things are heading backward. Some of that could be age, but regrettably there are times and situations decidedly not related to age, but highlighted by the experiences that have made me age.

Such is the trend currently taking place of customers who insist on verification and validation protocols that seem to accomplish only one thing: increasing the headcount at any and every company that supplies that verification and validation-gone-crazy customer.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for producing quality product. Earlier in my career I was with a company whose owner early on embraced TQM (Total Quality Management) and all that went with it. The lessons of Deming, Shingo and the concepts of Kaizen, FMEA, value stream mapping, poka-yoke, Kanban, and Lean became our obsession. The result: reducing staff by 25% – mostly by attrition – while increasing sales 30%, mostly via shorter lead times and better quality. Oh, and costs went down too, way down. Yes, two of our organization’s three goals were delivering quality on time. Third and most important, however, was delivering maximum value to customers so we could be more competitive and, therefore, secure increased levels of business from existing and new customers. Continually improving quality and service required an organization to be Lean, efficient, and to reduce unnecessary and non-value-add processes.

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Peter BigelowA frustrating implementation sheds new light on the value of personnel.

So what exactly is intellectual property?

Talking with an accountant is seldom a fun conversation, but I must admit that when our auditor stopped in for his periodic “kick the tires and see how things are going” meeting, the conversation did open my eyes. What started as a simple “have you invested in any assets this quarter?” morphed into a discussion about what really is value vs. just an asset.

The short answer to his question was, “Yes, we did indeed purchase some capital equipment.” My mistake was trying to anticipate his next question, which I presumed was going to be, “Then why have you not started depreciating it?” My cut-him-off-at-the-pass response was because we were going through a much-longer-than-anticipated learning-curve with the machine and had not put it online yet.

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Peter BigelowWhat you think may not be what you see.

Over the past couple months I have been in several discussions where the demise of the North American fabrication industry has been at the core of the various debates. While everyone in these exchanges was coming from different perspectives, ranging from technologist to financier to global consultant to marketer, and ranging in age from “young bucks” to seasoned retirees, the common thread of their thought process was fabrication as an industry in North America is dead or dying.

Various data points cited – accurate or subjectively interpreted – paint a bleak picture. The number of facilities is down to just over 200, with over half of those facilities under $5 million in revenue. New materials and supplies being commercially introduced are more often than not developed in and/or by Asian companies, and the reinvestment in capital equipment in North America pales in comparison to amounts spent everywhere else in the world. Yes, on the surface the picture is depressing – or is it?

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Peter BigelowQuality programs should ensure quality, not hamstring ingenuity.

From time to time, new terms take hold that sound critically important, become heavily, if not overly, used in business conversation, and often are both misleading and oxymoronic. Such is the case with the now frequently used “single point of failure.”

I do not think it’s possible to go through a facility or quality audit by a large customer where they are not searching for – and certainly identifying – what, in their opinion, is an unacceptable single point of failure. In my experience, the single point the auditor or customer identifies is usually neither more nor less critical than any other aspect of the process, is usually not a single point, and is usually not more than a process – or processes – the person who cites it does not understand.

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