The future of electronics manufacturing: Data and Lean problem solving

Christi Beck-Levicki Blog

Data is the hot trend in manufacturing right now. Everyone, including the Saline Lectronics team, is talking about the importance of tracking everything – work flow, process steps, materials used, machine performance, operator time, etc.  On the factory floor, when data analysis is coupled with Lean problem solving, the quality benefits are monumental!

Cogiscan Factory Intelligence system

Cogiscan’s Factory Intelligence system displayed at the end of each SMT Line to show live machine performance.

As part of our Lectronics 4.0 Connected Factory, we installed both Cogiscan’s Track, Trace and Control (TTC) and Factory Intelligence systems. Thanks to these systems, we’ve gathered a tremendous amount of data. We are using this data to track the components and processes used to assemble a customer’s product, and analyze production problems with key machine indicators to drive root cause identification and solutions.

We now have detailed insight into work and factory performance that we never even dreamed possible. With these systems, we are proud to offer enhanced traceability to our customers, specifically medical, aerospace and automotive customers, who require this added quality control at every step of the PCB assembly process.

The lessons learned from these new data sets are invaluable as they have improved our electronics manufacturing workflow and performance in ways we never anticipated. Before this extensive gathering and analyzing of data, what was previously considered an insignificant issue had gone unnoticed, or buried, as processes were in place to compensate for the defects, also known as hidden factories.

Reviewing the data over time indicated that many of these small issues were not insignificant as originally thought. In fact, analyzing the data more closely, smaller issues tended to grow in size as it was distinctly shown that they impacted many of the downstream processes as well.

For example, when a defect occurs in Surface Mount (SMT) it may be caught by AOI and manually touched-up.  This touch-up process becomes integrated into the manufacturing plan, and the root cause of the problem is never found and addressed, thus causing waste to build in every subsequent production run. As the product flows downstream, quality issues associated with touch-up can occur and inhibit the flow of materials.

When we collected and analyzed data from our SMT lines, poor wetting showed up as a recurring defect. Although this is a common problem on an SMT line, this new data forced us to look at the effects over the entire value stream and truly address root cause. We have since established an SMT Kaizen Team to implement Lean tools and address the root causes of poor wetting. Specifically, the team hopes to create actions that will eliminate the need for touch-up.

The 5 Whys, Fishbone diagram, value-stream maps, and many others tools can lead to successful root cause identification and elimination. These Lean tools help to systematically peel back the problem in order to best identify possible causes. “Experimenting at the lowest level” is another Lean concept that can be employed to experiment with solutions. All of this work can remove waste in order to help improve the flow of parts and maintain crucial delivery schedules.

Data can also serve to validate process improvements. When an improvement is put in place, the data can be watched over time to ensure that the defect has been addressed, and the true root cause eliminated. Paynter charts are often used to watch data over time, and verify that the implemented fix actually eliminates the problem.

In electronics manufacturing, we don’t have the time to wait for a weekly or monthly report to be run by IT that illustrates production performance within each department. We need to know in real-time, or as close to it as possible, if there is an issue in order to prevent it from continuously happening to best save precious time and profit. The goal is to be predictive instead of reactive.

Without a proper team to interpret its language, data is meaningless numbers and figures. In order to analyze the mass amounts of information we’re receiving, we also need a workforce of engaged, Lean problem solvers.

Creating a workforce of problem solvers is the human element of Industry 4.0, or the Internet of Things. Our Connected Factory is monitoring, gathering, and providing the data, but it’s the technicians who are interpreting the data and implementing the appropriate improvements. Manufacturing of the future may be driven by data, but it’s the solutions-oriented employees who have the right keys.