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Despite competing goals of price and reliability, the technology requirements for most products are similar.

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The reality of a brittle supply chain could mean harsh consequences for failure to deliver.

A field programmable gate array (FPGA) is an integrated circuit configurable by customers in the field, making such devices desirable for space and defense applications. A fortified version, known as a Radiation Hardened (RadHard) FPGA, can withstand attacks from electromagnetic and particle radiation in outer space.

Columns, rather than solder balls, are a critical subcomponent in the final assembly of FPGA packages. A sudden shortage of mission-critical FPGA devices could result in warfighters not flying and rockets not launching. This is not an exaggeration. But how could this be? Quite simply, makers of ruggedized FPGA devices depend on a single subcontractor to provide services to attach copper-wrapped solder columns.

Past production shortages in the semiconductor industry have been short-lived because multiple vendors have been able to quickly step in to fill voids in the supply chain. Today, only a single subcontractor is designated on the Qualified Manufacturer List (QML-38535) as a provider of copper-wrapped solder column attachment services for the entire FPGA industry. Any supply chain dependent on a single supplier is inherently vulnerable. Action is needed to develop a solution to resolve this vulnerability.

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A cross-functional team approach for completing prototypes and ramping to production.

Faster, better, cheaper has always been a mantra in electronics manufacturing services (EMS) because leveraging the benefits of companies selling manufacturing expertise and infrastructure has been the primary motivation behind the growth of outsourcing. Improvements in computing technology, networking infrastructure and systems interconnection now give EMS teams unprecedented real-time visibility into the product realization process. But like the guy who buys a Porsche and drives mainly on city streets, these systems are rarely tested to their full potential. Firstronic’s new product introduction (NPI) team recently needed to break that paradigm when the Covid-19 pandemic drove a new customer to request a product ramp at high speed when other supply chain options were unexpectedly shut down.

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Does a small node suggest anomalies – and potential failure?

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Lights-out manufacturing mandates a standard communication protocol.

Electronics assemblers often assume an MES solution is all they need to gain complete control of all processes and traceability for SMT, manual assembly, box build, test, and rework processes. But even if an MES solution provides interfaces to a wide range of equipment, the plant needs to purchase interface options for the equipment. Often, the investment is so large, they choose not to do it. A vendor’s proprietary interface to control and collect data from their machine in real-time can cost up to $5,000/machine. For a plant with 50 machines that need such interfaces, that is a significant investment that often exceeds the cost of the entire MES solution.

For companies that develop and sell MES, developing proprietary machine interfaces is a major resource, cost and time expense. Doing so involves constant updates and attempts to work with companies that often perceive MES vendors as competitors and are not willing to share interface information and data. Electronics manufacturers evaluate machines more and more on the type of communication interface they provide and their additional cost, and often buy machines from vendors that do not charge extra for communication interfaces. A standard interface always has been needed. Attempts to create one failed because of shortsighted interests of equipment vendors and a misunderstanding of the benefits to be gained from a standard interface.

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A new layout marries staff resources to immediate demand.

In the fourth quarter 2019, the team at Milwaukee Electronics’ headquarters began looking at ways to improve throughput by eliminating customer-focused cells and enhancing worker responsibilities. The goal was to make it easier to shift cross-trained employees among work cells to support variances in demand.

The electronics manufacturing services (EMS) facility was divided into five areas, each headed by a supervisor with direct responsibility for the team in that area. This put resource allocation in the hands of the people who work with those resources. Instead of dedicating space and team members to specific customers, each supervisor now has the flexibility to move their team around based on that day’s demand. They can also request additional training for any team member if they feel additional skills are necessary. Additionally, one supervisor was assigned as an assistant to the production manager. A production manager has finite bandwidth. The assignment of a roving supervisor to address day-to-day challenges helps ensure tactical issues don’t sidetrack the production manager from focusing on more strategic issues.

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