Lean Adaptation: Working through Philosophical Differences Print E-mail
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Written by Chris Munroe   
Friday, 29 June 2012 16:32

The tradeoffs of standardization vs. customization.

Lean philosophies work best in standardized production platforms with a supply chain willing to accommodate preferred stocking methodologies. However, the contract manufacturing business model faces many challenges in achieving that goal. As companies expand, differences in production strategy among facilities become quickly evident. Customers further impact this equation, both in terms of the trends in business being produced and in terms of the specific constraints associated with each project. Yet, standardization among facilities supports seamless production transfers and repeatable, high-quality processes. Failing to find a middle ground potentially eliminates the synergies derived from a holistic approach to Lean manufacturing and the overall contract manufacturing business model.

Where is adaptation feasible, and what areas should continue to focus on standardization? The first step is developing a common philosophy on which core Lean practices should be standard. In EPIC Technologies’ model, this includes:

  • Aligning processes with customer needs. This includes developing a common forecasting methodology, and appropriately sizing raw material and finished goods kanbans. Where possible, tooling should be standardized to minimize NRE. The core processes the customer comes in contact with should be common among facilities.
  • Minimizing waste. Even in the absence of equipment standardization, practices to minimize changeover and excess transport of WIP between operations can be standardized among facilities: today, tools such as Agile speed data transfer, programming and standardized work instruction creation. They can also assist in reducing the time to validate documentation accuracy when projects are transferred among facilities. Maintaining design for manufacturing and test requirements at a corporate level also facilitates product transportability, minimizing re-engineering.
  • Maximizing the ability of employees to contribute. Cross-training, easily accessible standard operating procedures and visible production status indicators improve employee productivity by giving them tools to better meet production goals.
  • Measurement and course correction. Clear statement of goals and consistent results measurement help ensure different production strategies achieve common goals. This part of the process also helps identify areas of best practice that should be prioritized for standardization.

With this type of core philosophy, variances in standardized equipment and processes can be more easily analyzed among production teams. Some questions to ask include:

  • Will the benefits of standardizing equipment or a process outweigh the cost?
  • How critical is standardizing equipment or a specific process in supporting customer requirements a year or two from now?
  • Do quality metrics suggest a change in equipment or processes needed?
  • Are there best practices in one facility that could easily be migrated to all facilities?

The answers of what is best are not always clear. In our case, projects have evolved from predominantly  mid-complexity, mid-volume production to a mix that includes more high-complexity, low-volume production.

A key DfM focus had been using standardized array sizes with SMT on one side to minimize changeover time. However, the migration to higher complexity printed circuit board assemblies has made this type of redesign less feasible. There are much tighter tolerances on tooling fixtures, and single-sided design isn’t possible on many smaller, more complex PCBs.

So, we adapted our approach. Tooling for wave soldering is standardized, and the pallets have been designed to fit multiple equipment types. A more flexible array design combined with tooling is now used with more complex SMT or mixed-technology PCBs.

Program management methods and information technology remain standardized among facilities. Common MRP systems and use of tools such as Agile provide a standard approach to obsolescence management, DfM/DfT, work instructions, travelers, process flow, quality metrics and monitoring activities. Customer Focus Teams (CFT) use common methodologies for forecasting and project management. A centralized reliability lab supports continuous improvement efforts across all facilities and fast analysis of any product-specific quality issues.

DfM/DfT tools automate the analysis process with less interaction (and thus variance) from individual CAD designers Automated rule sets can be built and used by design teams in all facilities.

On the materials side, the increased amount of low-volume orders has changed some preferred practices. More parts are being bought in bulk and then packaged into tape-and-reel internally to keep inventories low. While this practice supports the inventory minimization goals, it does add complexity to the production process. From a Lean perspective, forecasting and supply chain management should be standardized among facilities, particularly in systems using EDI pull signals and kanbans.

One area where equipment standardization is still recommended is test. A standardized test platform approach offers benefits in terms reduced capital equipment cost, shorter test time, more flexibility in terms of available capacity, reduced maintenance and ease of project transfer.

Chris Munroe is director of engineering at EPIC Technologies (Epictech.com); This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Friday, 29 June 2012 18:26


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