Streamlining, but Streamlining What?


Reading time ( words)

Streamline, verb. 1. The path of a particle that is flowing steadily and without turbulence in a fluid past an object, 2. To make (an organization or system) more efficient and effective by employing faster or simpler working methods.

Electronics continue to grow in application areas, capabilities, and complexities. With such growth in the raw number of circuit boards being produced globally, the pressure is on to build more faster with higher quality and greater reliability. But I’m not telling you anything new. What is new is the thinking and problem-solving that will need to happen at the manufacturing floor level to deliver on this coming need. What do I mean by that? Let me give you an example.

In our ongoing coverage of 5G technology—and in other reports coming out of real-world experiences with 5G—it’s clear the world will need a bunch (technical term) of 5G transceiver hardware. The traditional hexagonal coverage areas mapped out by previous-generation cell networks simply won’t work as 5G won’t penetrate windows and walls. 5G is like Usain Bolt—the fastest ever seen, but only over short distances. But don’t try to send it very far because the signal just won’t make it there. This translates to a vast quantity of “sprint” hardware filling in what used to be covered by a single "marathon-runner" cell tower. Somebody’s going to have to build all of that hardware. And you can bet that forecasts and build schedules will shift forward and backward with regularity.

C_Nolan-Jun2019.jpgDo we really think that we can speed up existing processes? Will faster workers or a new line with more throughput be enough to grow with the increased demand? Or does this new market require thinking about the capacity problem in a completely new way?

Our investigation into streamlining assembly reminded us of the elephant in the room: facility downtime. Time and again, the point made by experts was that the easy solution isn’t to automate a single thing on the floor. Instead, the easiest solution is simply to reduce factory down time. If your floor currently stands idle 70% of the time, you can triple your top-line revenue just by filling your floor until you’re at 10% idle time. Now, if that objective means addressing spots of automation on the floor, great. But how do you get to that kind of productivity? Processes and data. Streamlining for us is about maximizing our current utilization first.

The tools you need aren’t necessarily more or faster workers or more equipment. The tools you need take into account changing customer forecasts and route the builds through the shop in the most efficient manner possible. The tools you’ll need allow for faster, more nimble corrections to what flows through the shop floor at any given moment.

To read the full article, which appeared in the June 2019 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.

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