Getting Lean

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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Andrew Vo

Methods for 100% test coverage at the assembly level.

While Lean manufacturing strategy is discussed in relation to test strategy, it often focuses on defect mitigation strategies such as integrating program, pack and test activities to minimize variation and transport. However, a Lean manufacturing philosophy can provide even better guidance as companies navigate test strategy options. There is one hurdle to overcome. Google the question, “Is test a value-added activity?” You will see answers in Lean manufacturing forums that range from “if the process is in control you don’t need to test” to “yes, if the customer is willing to pay for it.”



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Gerardo RuelasCesar de la TorreWhen commercial AOIs were not up to the task, a little internal ingenuity saved the day.

While there is great debate in the quality community as to who first made the observation that visual inspection by humans is not 100% effective (both W. Edwards Deming and Dr. Joseph M. Juran have been given credit) and even some debate about the true effectiveness rate (is it 75%? 80%? 85%?), all agree it is inefficient and error-prone. Yet, automated optical inspection is often deemed not cost-effective for relatively simple processes in many factories.

One area that is often problematic for electronics manufacturing services providers is odd-form part through-hole insertion. Through-hole odd-form parts continue to be used when a part’s weight or need for a more robust solder joint makes that level of interconnection more reliable. Transformers, large capacitors, diodes, relays, connectors and pressure sensors are few examples of parts that are often still packaged as through-hole. Manual assembly, like manual inspection, is prone to variation and associated defects, particularly issues such as misaligned parts, missing parts or wrong parts. Odd-form parts are typically of a size or shape that makes automated insertion methods impractical.

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