A Lean Start in NPI Print E-mail
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Written by Steve Fraser   
Thursday, 28 July 2011 15:23

Making sense of an inherently inefficient process.

Lean manufacturing delivers two main benefits: elimination of non-value activity and faster throughput. This month, we focus on ways that customer and contractor teams can work together more efficiently to shorten new product introduction (NPI) processes. In past columns we’ve discussed materials strategy, design for manufacturability/testability and ways that manufacturing processes can be optimized to minimize changeover time and variation. Now, we look at the softer issues of team interaction and parallel processing.

The benefit of a robust NPI process is that it helps ensure that bugs get worked out of the manufacturing process prior to volume manufacturing. However, NPI isn’t an inherently efficient process because of its learning curve element. The key to shortening the NPI cycle is to shorten the critical path timeline, while running processes in parallel. Here are five areas to evaluate:

Set up the right team. In the early days of contract printed circuit board assembly, sourcing teams tended to be composed of engineers or managers with engineering backgrounds. There was a high fear factor and everything was closely supervised. Today, contract manufacturing is considered sufficiently routine, and sourcing is often handled by a single commodity manager who may or may not have a strong technical background. For stable volume manufacturing, this approach works fine. However, during product development, NPI and end-of-life, it is important for the contractor’s team to work closely with the customer’s engineering team. Trying to gate that process through a non-technical buyer can create bottlenecks or drive miscommunication.

Define the timeline between NPI and volume production. The time factor between NPI and volume production drives decisions on source of components and type of tooling required. For example, an NPI in support of automotive product design validation with sustaining production scheduled a year out might require a single order of components from a quickturn distribution source and minimal tooling. Comparatively, if production is scheduled to start six weeks after NPI, component sourcing and tooling must support sustaining production.

Determine what information can be released early. Project setup lead-time can be cut significantly if basic information is released as early as possible. Examples include:

  • Partial bills-of-material (BoM) and approved vendor lists enable purchasing to begin sourcing long lead-time parts and provide input during product development on potential availability issues or suggestions for alternate sources.
  • For transferred projects, early access to custom component vendor lists and terms can help the contractor’s purchasing team determine if there are issues that would drive alternate sourcing suggestions or logistics cost surprises.
  • A list of tooling and programming being transferred helps the contractor avoid redundant development costs and identify remaining resources needed.
  • Release of PCB panelization information, such as physical board layout and tooling hole placement prior to completion of the electrical design, can permit the contractor to order production tooling.
  • Release of mechanical drawings enables the EMS to understand hardware and assembly workscope, order specialized tooling and develop required assembly processes.
  • Release of packaging specifications can ensure the final design is reviewed concurrent with
  • product development.

Identify issues requiring regulatory oversight. While electronics is considered a “clean” industry, some products and substances require government permitting/certification, special handling or specialized auditing procedures. Examples include:

  • Some types of MRO consumables, such as solder flux or conformal coatings.
  • Radioactive material used in some types of smoke detectors.
  • Product functional tests that expose operators to extreme light or sound, such as those found with high-powered LEDs or alarm systems.
  • Explosive devices, such as those used in airbags.

Identify issues requiring external interfaces. Convergence is adding communications functionality to many products that previously weren’t considered communications devices. Associated functional tests for GPS, satellite or RF capabilities may require both a test unit and an external antenna for the test unit. Given the amount of electrical “noise” present in a factory, specialized shielding may also be required. Early discussion of these types of test requirements ensures the lead-time associated with this setup doesn’t delay the rest of the project.

EPIC Technologies uses a checklist to ensure these and other issues are discussed and addressed in its NPI process. Good relationships between teams and a strong focus on these types of softer issues are key to shortening NPI cycle time, supporting supply chain, manufacturing Lean process setup, and
avoiding costly surprises.

Steve Fraser is vice president of operations at EPIC Technologies (epictech.com); This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 July 2011 18:18


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