Todd Baggett

Standardization is helpful but not always the best solution.

In the electronics manufacturing services environment, product design is “controlled” by 30 or more customers, plus the EMS company, which limits the degree to which Lean manufacturing initiatives can be implemented. In the EMS realm, there is often a need to tailor continuous improvement efforts based on individual customers’ products and objectives. Lean in this environment is more of a toolbox, where different groups of tools are used to support each customer. We’ve discussed many of these tools in our columns over the years. This month we look at how they can best be combined to deliver superior quality and service in a multi-customer environment.

Some disciplines are transparent to the customer and best applied holistically as the foundation for a Lean organization. These include:

5S or 5 Pillars philosophy (sorting, set in order, sweeping or shining, standardize and sustain). Setting up a clean factory and keeping it orderly are core concepts that drive efficiency and high quality by making inefficiency very visually obvious.

Clear design guidelines. While not all customer designs will conform to best practices, every customer should be provided with design guidelines so they are aware of best practices. Guidelines that track closely to industry standards are more likely to be adopted than those that reflect a unique internal recipe.

Lean practices in supply-chain management. At a holistic level, there should be a clear vision of optimum raw material lot sizes, a standardized forecasting methodology and a supply-chain management strategy that encourages suppliers to support Lean initiatives.
Personnel cross-training. Training personnel in multiple operations so that they can be shifted to various operations as needed helps optimize capacity by providing a fast way to eliminate bottlenecks.

Continuous improvement training. Training in problem-solving disciplines such as Six Sigma can be done holistically; however, the application of these techniques may be very focused.

Point of use stocking. Obtaining extra feeders and doing line side stocking to minimize changeover time can be beneficial across the board.

Other disciplines are best used in more focused approaches:

Standardized equipment platforms. While standardizing on core equipment platforms throughout an organization can create highly efficient factories and reduce capital expenditure requirements, it can be impractical when a diverse mix of customers is present. Focusing on minimizing variation as a holistic goal, while configuring lines and work cells to best meet the needs of each facility’s customer base, can be more practical. Standardization of SMT equipment, rail widths and functional test platforms to the extent practical can increase schedule flexibility and minimize bottlenecks. Standardizing functional test platforms can minimize maintenance costs and reduce both fixturing costs and fixture lead-time.

Application of Six Sigma techniques. While some companies make the search for kaizen events a mission in itself, in the EMS environment, Six Sigma techniques may be more powerful as a tool for addressing specific customer issues rapidly. For example, when one of our teams applied Six Sigma’s Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control (DMAIC) approach to a quality issue in our facility in Juarez, Mexico, it was determined that the root cause was illumination values that were causing misaligned placement against the pads on certain BGAs and ICs. As a result, the team was able to rapidly correct the problem.

DfM/DfT recommendations. Development of design guidelines should be done holistically. Specific DfM/DfT recommendations should be made on a customer-by-customer basis. EPIC Technologies uses a 5-point ranking scale to make it easier for customers to understand the level at which noncompliance will impact product quality.

Lean supply chain management philosophy. The concept of setting material bonds for raw material with the supply base and holding finished goods kanbans for each customer is a good holistic practice, but the reality is that this will also need to be customized and often modified for each customer. Additionally, many customers will have some suppliers on their approved vendor list (AVL) not willing to comply with preferred Lean practices.

Value Analysis Value Engineering (VAVE). This is perhaps the most powerful technique for applying Lean philosophy on a customer-by-customer basis, because it educates and motivates the customer’s team through a collaborative brain-storming improvement process with defined cost benefits over time.

Taking a customized approach to Lean manufacturing philosophy, and using some tools universally while tailoring others for customers willing to optimize their product design, supply base and product-ordering patterns, provides the best of both worlds. It provides immediate benefits to customers wishing to fully utilize the toolbox, while providing a scalable solution to those who may be willing to integrate Lean principles into their designs over time.

Todd Baggett is EPIC Technologies’ senior vice president, sales and account management;

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