Getting Lean

Jerry Johnson

Striking the right balance between costs and cycle time.

Decisions made in product design can impact assembly cost, defect opportunities and inventory cost. While design for manufacturability (DfM) analysis can eliminate many issues, less commonly analyzed decisions related to cost targets, scheduling and work team assignments can have unintended consequences that generate unacceptable levels of waste.

Lean manufacturing practitioners are aware of Taiichi Ohno’s concept of the seven wastes (muda) in manufacturing as part of the Toyota Production System (TPS). 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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Tom Rovtar

Leveraging the IT department to reduce operation-caused variation.

One continuing trend in electronics manufacturing services is the increasing role IT-related solutions have in supporting a Lean manufacturing-driven organizational culture. This is particularly true of proprietary solutions that automate processes in ways that minimize normally occurring variation or help eliminate non-value-added activity.

One example of this is SigmaTron International’s proprietary Manufacturing Execution System (MES) system known as Tango, whose Phase III system went live at the EMS company’s Elk Grove Village (IL) facility in June. The overarching goal of Tango is to centralize tools used throughout the company for production management, while adding enough flexibility via customization to address facility-specific or customer-specific situations.

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System strategies and the visual factory can handle rapid changes in demand.

Supply-chain disruption and Lean philosophy rarely go hand-in-hand. In some cases, however, systems created to support Lean manufacturing or principles themselves help mitigate the chaos the pandemic has created in the global supply chain.

SigmaTron has operations in the US, Mexico, China and Vietnam. As a result, we had a bird’s-eye view of the initial impact on manufacturing operations in China and used that as a roadmap for preparing operations in other locations for disruption, along with best in-plant practices for disease mitigation. While the ways different jurisdictions reacted to Covid-19 varied, the issues were somewhat similar. This column looks at some lessons learned in that process from this contract manufacturer’s perspective.

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Filemon Sagrero

How Lean Six Sigma prepares workers for tomorrow’s workplace.

People outside of manufacturing often imagine that technology’s next step is to turn factories entirely over to robots. While factory automation is growing by leaps and bounds, the reality is most automation is paving the way for workers to be far more involved in critical decision-making on the factory floor. Just as Industry 4.0 is the driving force behind smarter machines that automatically analyze and adjust processes as they inspect product, Lean Six Sigma is paving the way for a smarter workforce, capable of analyzing production trends and optimizing processes.

The benefit of Lean manufacturing philosophy is a holistic focus on eliminating issues that create bottlenecks, defects and wasted effort. It aligns well with an Industry 4.0 vision, since greater levels of automation help drive reduced variation, and eliminate excess handling and errors related to manual processing. However, while a Lean vision helps drive efficiency and improve throughput, factories with a lot of product variation, as is found in contract manufacturing, do develop inefficiencies that need to be addressed. Six Sigma provides a powerful methodology and toolbox for addressing these inefficiencies. Implemented correctly, it creates problem-solving discipline that teaches production teams how to make good choices in the problems they choose to solve, thoroughly analyze root cause, test their preferred solution and make sure the improvement is sustainable over time.

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Additive processes are an effective tool toward the single-iteration design goal.

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Changes in purchasing and line practices can save big dollars.

The benefits of implementing Lean manufacturing philosophy are higher throughput and elimination of the variation that can introduce defects into a process. In a static environment, implementing Lean philosophy creates significant efficiencies that stay in place with little oversight. Most electronics manufacturing services (EMS) providers have very dynamic environments, however, where supply chain, customers, project technologies, volumes, production personnel and factory floor layout change frequently. In that environment, inefficiencies can creep in. Six Sigma training provides employees with a formalized product-solving methodology that allows these inefficiencies to be corrected. SigmaTron in Tijuana, Mexico, uses Six Sigma as a tool to keep its team focused on eliminating inefficiencies. The facility faced three major challenges over the past year: changing dynamics in the materials market; more projects moving to Mexico for tariff mitigation; and spikes in demand at existing customers for their products. This column looks at four Green Belt projects that cumulatively have eliminated nearly $300,000 in unnecessary costs in the first five months of improvement implementation.

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