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Getting Lean

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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Hom Ming Chang

A near real-time feedback loop between layout and assembly.

Two core tenets of Lean manufacturing philosophy are eliminating defect opportunities and minimizing process variation. Consequently, most companies embracing Lean principles do some form of design for manufacturability (DfM) analysis to identify manufacturability issues either during design or in the new product introduction phase. In some cases, this is an automated feature of design software. In other cases, this is done manually.

SigmaTron has adopted a hybrid process that uses software automation to speed basic analysis, followed by an engineering review. This E-DFM software tool reduces the time it takes to create a detailed report from several days to a few hours and works with SigmaTron’s existing Valor software platform.

Automating the process improves efficiency, since the engineering team reviews the automatically generated reports and suggests solutions for accuracy instead of individually performing a full analysis themselves. They then can make suggestions to further optimize the recommendations, as needed. The tool has been customized from industry-standard PCBA design rules and SigmaTron’s equipment/process-specific manufacturing guidelines, so it reflects equipment and process constraints.

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