The EMS Quality Imperative: Surviving a Challenging Market and Emerging Stronger

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The great recession has hit U.S.-based manufacturing companies hard. To stay in the game, EMS providers have cut costs and balanced production with customer demand. Even with all of these changes, quality assemblies must continue to come off the SMT line. Chris Murphy, The Morey Corporation, shares strategies for quality-centric assembly in new and long-term client relationships.

To say that this great recession has been unkind to the U.S. manufacturing sector would be an understatement. From top OEMs and their suppliers, down to the niche providers, electronics manufacturers across the industry have been tested: make the adjustments necessary to remain competitive.

The Morey Corporation (MOREY) is no exception. To remain successful in the electronics manufacturing services (EMS) industry, we’ve implemented aggressive cost containment strategies, compensating for a decrease in customer demand. However, while every core operational variable may be in flux, quality must remain the constant.

The three strategies covered in this article allow EMS providers to keep delivering great quality regardless of internally or externally driven variables. These strategies will also help us to emerge stronger from the recession.

Foster a Quality-centric Culture

At MOREY, quality is not a department within the organization, it is a common aspect that runs throughout the company. Fostering a quality-centric culture starts with a commitment from leadership to pursue excellence in quality and is realized in the training and daily practices of every employee.

Fostering a quality-centric culture depends on employees’ aptitude for problem solving. There are a number of ways that staff can be trained to think intuitively to solve problems. Many of these tools are derived from lean manufacturing and six sigma systems. One such training, the 5 Why’s, is a technique whereby a starter question leads to another question, which will eventually lead to the root cause of a problem. The 8D’s, or the Eight Disciplines, is a team-oriented process to define the root cause of a problem and move toward a corrective action. These are just two of the many problem-solving protocols available.

On the tools side, Andons are physical markers that promote problem solving at the source. Based on a lean manufacturing model, Andons are an “I have a problem here” flag placed at strategic work stations throughout the facility. If a line operator or office worker detects a problem, that person can raise the Andon and shut down the line or process. We then have a process to document the problem and quickly implement a solution to fix the problem permanently. Also, a system that promotes maximum efficiency in the work environment, 5S (derived from lean manufacturing), can be used throughout the offices and production floor.

Figure 1. An Andon on the EMS shop floor.

These are just a few of the problem-solving training modules and tools that foster a quality-centric culture.

Think Big Picture on Risk Containment

Big-picture risk containment is all about having a comprehensive understanding of the entire supply chain. For example, it is easy to ascertain how a quality problem negatively impacts our customer. But what about our customer’s customer? When a quality problem impacts the EMS’s customer, we should already be thinking ahead as to how this disruption will affect their customers. Often, mapping out possible disruption scenarios will greatly mitigate the issue’s overall negative impact.

Another major aspect of big-picture risk containment is the ability to go deep in the supply chain to determine a quality issue’s root cause. Quality issues can come from the supplier. But what about the supplier’s supplier? Use your purchasing team to take a strategic approach to supplier quality. Gain knowledge on the viability, longevity, and quality metrics of your supplier’s suppliers. This depth of understanding in the supply chain is critical in determining a quality issue’s underlying cause and helps identify strategic suppliers with which to successfully partner.

Renew Your Quality Systems

EMS providers with long-term customers (relationships could have formed 20 or 30 years ago and still be satisfying the OEM and EMS companies’ goals) are fortunate and clearly doing something right. However, after decades of working with the same customer, quality systems can become like barnacles. Existing quality systems breed new quality systems and, eventually, unnecessary non-value-added activities permeate the quality processes that govern manufacturing delivery. 

With the production realities of this current economic cycle, we have been working with customers to scrape the barnacles off of our quality systems. Together, we are asking the question “Is this necessary?” All of this is being done at no detriment to quality output. The results from this exercise drive change not only at the EMS facility but with customers as well. These changes will position companies to emerge stronger when assembly volumes increase.

Chris Murphy is a 20-year veteran of MOREY and currently serves as director of quality. MOREY is a 75-year-old EMS company providing comprehensive design, engineering, manufacturing, and testing services for OEMs, application service providers, suppliers, and other enterprises relevant to the aerospace & defense, industrial, utility, communications, and heavy off-road/on-road and agricultural vehicles markets.


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