Features Articles

Allen Abell

A process for addressing RMA for multi-factory production.

In a normal business environment, the electronics manufacturing services (EMS) industry has more variation than that of a Lean original equipment manufacturer (OEM). This doesn’t mean EMS providers are disorganized. It simply highlights the challenges of an environment where customer inputs dictate supply-chain choices, processes and validation methodologies that would normally be optimized to minimize variation at a Lean OEM. Pandemic restrictions, supply-chain shortages, logistics constraints and demand spikes of 2021 have caused further variation at EMS providers and customers. However, those challenges serve as incentive to increase Lean discipline.

Past columns have highlighted Lean Six Sigma core tools such Gemba and the DMAIC process that help identify and correct quality issues that develop in manufacturing operations as project assumptions change. Lean Six Sigma is helping create an empowered, educated workforce at SigmaTron, capable of rapidly addressing unanticipated challenges found in today’s production environments. That said, defects can escape the factory or be induced by activities once product leaves the factory. Focusing on this area can have a long-term impact on eliminating another set of defect opportunities: muda (waste) and cost.

In SigmaTron’s model, field-service engineers work with customers that have higher volume or more technically sophisticated products to determine the root cause of field returns. While the company is achieving industry-standard low defect rates on some of its highest volume programs, even that low percentage generates monthly returns when the printed circuit board assembly (PCBA) count is in the millions.

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John Burkhert

Shake, rattle and roll: Your devices often experience it all.

The stark choices of organisms are to adapt, move or die. Our electronics sometimes tough it out so we can do our jobs or simply have a good romp on our favorite ride. No matter the purpose, extreme weather puts an electrical system to the test.

Whether the element is sand, saltwater, sunshine or perhaps a lack of thereof, many dangers age a system prematurely. Most faults caused by the environment are single-component failures. Okay, a part failed. Why? What is the root cause, and what can we do to prevent it from becoming part of a larger trend? Answering that two-part question is the gist of reliability engineering.

What broke is not always evident. Cosmetic damage or a burn scar may point the way if you’re lucky. In most cases, diagnosis is not that easy. Check connectors first, while the board-level investigation usually centers around the FETs that bring power to the device that is out of spec or failing altogether. Somewhere in there a tiny junction has burned up. The repair and return unit or perhaps field service technicians are a good source of reliability anecdotes.

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Peter Bigelow

Working unconventional hours in remote locations disrupts business more than material shortages.

As we enter the third year of our pandemic-altered world, more chains are strained than just supplies. With people working remotely during odd hours, changing careers, or stepping out of the workforce altogether to care for loved ones, the basic chain becoming strained is communication.

Communication has been transitioning over the past couple decades. Time, culture and technology have dramatically transformed. Long gone are the storied two-martini business lunches where colleagues, customers and suppliers met, broke bread and discussed one-on-one issues that needed ironing out. Over the past decades, face time (not FaceTime) with any business client has become extremely difficult to arrange. Today with Covid, meeting face to face is all but impossible for many. Long-changing trends compounded by recent events have had a negative impact on the ability to communicate effectively, which in turn has strained the quality of relationships in too many cases.

For years, a typical customer service or salesperson would spend so much time on the phone with clients, they were jokingly referred to as having “cauliflower ear.” The ongoing constant chatter between people – most business, but some social – helped build strong relationships. How times have changed. The phone-savvy businessperson and bonding over long lunches are no more. Over the past two decades, email has become the communication vehicle of choice. And the pandemic scattered employees, customers, suppliers – everyone – to remote offices, usually in their homes, hopefully with a quiet room from which to log on to Zoom, GoToMeeting and WebEx.

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Bob Willis

A look at solder mask contamination on pads.

This month we look at solder mask contamination on pads. FIGURE 1 is a very, very bad example that never should have made it to the customer. Solder mask residues are visible on the surface and around the edge of the pad. There is also a level of solder mask undercutting.

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Robert Boguski

Or how the metaverse will save us, one contorted axiom at a time.

Ambrose Bierce, of sainted memory, is known for a Devil’s Dictionary, a cynic’s primer on human behavior, laid out in Noah Webster style.

Pity he strayed into hostile territory in bandit-infested Northern Mexico in 1913, never to be seen again. Maybe someone lurking in the sagebrush took offense at imagined slights in the Dictionary. People are so thin-skinned.

Pity also that he lived one hundred years too soon. Bierce missed his moment. Obfuscation has exploded, rivaling worthless college degrees (or maybe because of them). A euphemistic pandemic with no known vaccine, for which we need a new dictionary, has infiltrated our lexicon. Straight talk in professional settings is frowned upon, covertly if not overtly. Blunt talk is often memorable and career-threatening. Verbal mush is benign and soon forgotten. As the author of the Bartleby column in the Nov. 20, 2021, edition of The Economist noted, concerning contemporary biz-speak, “People rarely say what they mean, but hope that their meaning is nonetheless clear. Think Britain, but with paycheques. To navigate this kind of workplace, you need a phrasebook.”

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Gene Weiner

How prepared is your organization?

Here we are in January 2022 with a future fraught with more uncertainties than any other during my six decades in the PCB, IC fabrication and assembly industries.

Business is strong despite shortages in labor and parts. Prices are rising, dramatically in some cases. Profits are being squeezed. Rapid government changes in travel restrictions and worker conditions seem endless due to the continuing evolution of the pandemic.

Supply chains are under pressure from a variety of events and circumstances. These include some brief power shutdowns at plants that produce wafers and PCBs in China, chip and other component shortages, shipping issues with a backlog of over 100 cargo ships carrying, for example, container loads of copper-clad laminates anchored off the Southern California coast waiting to be unloaded. The battery industry is gobbling up copper supplies. Major consumers are buying into chipmakers who can guarantee their needs. This affects those who cannot, causing them to scramble for new sources.

Not only are ICs in short supply, especially for automotive needs with the increase in the manufacture of EVs and hybrids, but substrates are needed for their mounting and connection to the outside world. As a result, major automotive companies in Japan, the US, and Europe have curtailed production in several factories to the tune of several million vehicles in the coming year.

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