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Getting Lean

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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Jim BarnesLeveraging centralized resources for efficiencies across three facilities in as many countries.

Some industries have specialized end-market requirements. For example, corporate headquarters in fast food and fast casual restaurants dictate menu items and the equipment needed to support those items by region. Franchisees have choices in equipment configuration and a timeframe in which they need to buy it from a designated food processing original equipment manufacturer (OEM). They typically order very small quantities, however, making it challenging for a food-processing OEM to fulfill orders utilizing a single manufacturing location and centralized stocking model. There are also regional differences in input power voltages, cycles and plug styles. Preferred language for control overlays also varies. This creates a configure-to-order (CTO) dynamic that adds complexity to the variable demand model. Outsourcing adds flexibility to this equation because it gives food-processing OEMs access to shared production resources which help mitigate the production resource utilization inefficiencies that this type of high-mix, variable-demand production can create. It also helps OEMs more easily support a global customer base with minimal investment in production resources.

Regardless of whether the project is outsourced, when these units are manufactured in a single location, the wastes of overproduction, waiting, transportation and inventory are likely to be significant. At the same time, dividing variable-demand, small-lot production among multiple facilities has the potential to create inventory imbalances and production inefficiencies, particularly if the work is divided among contract manufacturers and managed separately by region. Lean manufacturing philosophy provides guidance on finding a balance that supports customer requirements while still leveraging some economies-of-scale.

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Filemon Sagrero

How to identify opportunities for improvement and enable corrections before the product is at risk.

The electronics manufacturing community is facing unprecedented challenges in 2021. Component supply and product demand are completely out of sync in many industries. Material constraints and transportation shortages are stretching lead-times even on committed orders. An economy flush with stimulus money and pent-up demand for products not available during much of 2020 has eliminated the ability of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to plan based on historical trends. In the middle is the EMS provider that sees material arriving later than planned, while at the same time experiencing unplanned increases in order volumes on many programs. Lean Six Sigma provides production teams the tools they need to identify issues, analyze potential improvements and implement changes that help keep production flowing on time even with changing production inputs.

SigmaTron International’s Tijuana, Mexico, facility utilizes teams of Lean Six Sigma Green and Yellow Belts in its continuous improvement activities. They use a variety of core tools in that process.  

One tool is the Gemba Walk. The term Gemba comes from the Japanese word for “the real place.” Taichi Ohno, a Toyota engineer and leader, is often credited with developing the concept of the Gemba Walk or the idea that leaders should regularly and frequently be present to observe the work of their organization when and where it takes place.

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Anita Tucker

Building functional test fixtures in-house mitigates several of the “seven wastes.”

The mantra of the electronics manufacturing services (EMS) industry has been faster, better, cheaper for four decades, given that outsourcing isn’t justifiable without a speed, quality or cost improvement over in-house processes. Continually delivering those benefits requires a focus on working smarter that relentlessly asks, “Where can we improve?”

Taiichi Ohno’s concept of the seven wastes (muda) in manufacturing as part of the Toyota Production System (TPS) provides a good thought process for evaluating any process. To recap, those seven wastes are:

  1. Waste of overproducing (no immediate need for product being produced)
  2. Waste of waiting (idle time between operations)
  3. Waste of transport (product moving more than necessary)
  4. Waste of processing (doing more than what is necessary)
  5. Waste of inventory (excess above what was required)
  6. Waste of motion (any motion not necessary outside of production)
  7. Waste of defects (producing defects requiring rework).

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Hom-Ming Chang

How an app approach to data analysis cut initial data formatting time and sped defect resolution.

A key tenet of Lean manufacturing is to reduce variation through process standardization and control. To that end, most companies develop a control plan and monitor various steps of the process. The data collected in those monitoring activities are also useful in facilitating continuous improvement activities. This is particularly true as automated data collection technology has evolved and made it easier to share across multiple platforms.

For example, SigmaTron’s team in its Suzhou facility uses a combination of enhanced inspection equipment, a proprietary manufacturing execution system (MES) and a newly created IT tool to drive continuous improvement efforts.

These efforts build on a Lean manufacturing approach that includes design for manufacturability (DfM) recommendations made to eliminate defect opportunities prior to the new product introduction (NPI) process and use of a production part approval process (PPAP) methodology during the NPI process.

Since the facility’s focus is predominately higher volume production, its SMT lines are optimized to include a higher level of in-process inspection, utilizing 3-D solder paste inspection (SPI) following paste or glue deposition and automated optical inspection (AOI) both pre- and post-reflow. The MES collects yield data at those points and during in-circuit and functional test. The MES also tracks assemblies through each production step in the routing to support traceability requirements.

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John Sheehan

Needed: Methods to best predict and adjust to demand spikes.

Any supply-chain management executive will likely tell you that 2021 is 2020 on steroids. Reason: While 2020 had supply-chain disruption, the worst part of that disruption was followed by drops in customer demand due to Covid-19-related lockdowns, so the situation never worsened beyond spot shortages or transportation delays. This year, pent-up consumer demand combined with historic low interest rates supporting consumer spending is spiking product demand in multiple industries as consumers make purchases they delayed in 2020. 5G infrastructure is rolling out, demand has increased for electric vehicles, which have substantially more electronic components per car, and Covid-19 continues to drive higher medical equipment production. As a result, demand variations are changing schedules weekly. At the same time, constraints developing in the materials market are driving higher prices and longer lead-times. Transportation and freight resources are stretched, and pricing and lead-times are increasing. Covid-19 continues to cause some level of disruption as hot zones develop around the world. In short, 2021 will be a year where multiple variables are constantly in flux.

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