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Ron Meier, senior quality assurance and manufacturing engineering manager at Echostar, recently was at the Sanmina Kunshan facility in China to present the company a Diamond Award for their services for Echostar.
In an interview, Meier discusses with I-Connect007's Edy Yu the importance of working closely with your OEM partner and the impact of having the same process and quality goals.
Yu: Give us some background about Echostar. When did you start manufacturing in China?
Meier: Well, I would say we started doing work in China around 2006. We started moving some production over here. At the time, it was an economic reason. Now, they are making about 12 million set-top boxes for Echostar.
At Echostar, we design and manufacture set-top boxes. It's probably the best technology in the TV industry. Our award-winning Hopper and Joeys, which is a multi-tuner box with a DVR in it, is our flagship box, and it's not an easy box to manufacture. The quality has to be great. Most people are willing, if they're computer messes up and they have to reboot it, they're okay with that it seems like. Nobody wants their TV set top box to reboot and miss what it is they're watching. The TV experience has to be seamless, therefore, quality is extremely important, and these guys here in Kunshan deliver us great quality.
Yu: Five years ago, the QA was really poor, and the decline rate of the goods was too high. How did you turn it over within five years?
Meier: Well, on both sides, number one, you have to recognize that there is definitely an issue. That's the first thing. The team here did recognize that they were not performing as well as they should. At that point, we both agreed that to be partners, we were going to have to roll up our sleeves and both approach this problem and get it resolved. We helped them from a technical standpoint, we helped them from a quality standpoint.
Our quality team at Echostar, we're kind of lucky in that we see many, many factories in a year, so we're able to come in and add something that maybe these folks haven't seen. They come to the same factory every day; we don't. We have suppliers all over the world that we go visit, and so we're able to help them. Of course, we're not talking about anything proprietary that we pass on from one supplier to another. Not at all. Just general, known best practices in the industry.
Yu: Normally in the same situation, other companies might just stop and find another OEM. You are in China and there are tons of OEMs knocking at your doors. Why did you choose to help these guys improve instead?
Meier: We have a relationship with Sanmina that goes back 20 years. They've been building set-top boxes for Echostar for two decades. It's pretty easy to throw a contract manufacturer out the window and start with a new one. However, starting up with a new one has its own set of issues and problems. Matter of fact, it's never seamless. So we opted to maintain a relationship with a valued partner and thought that if they were willing to listen and work with us, then we could get this back on track, and they were willing to fix their issues that they had. In a lot of cases, I think the companies, the customer-supply relationship can get off the track, because one side or the other doesn't agree, and in this case, we both agreed there was an issue, and we both agreed that we had to help each other to get it fixed.
Yu: Supply chain management is quite different now compared to 10 years ago. One of your boxes is made up of thousands of components from hundreds of suppliers. How can you manage that?
Meier: Well, we try to visit all the key component manufacturers periodically. It really helps when you have phone calls, technical interchanges, and quality issues; it helps to know how their factory's laid out and what their issues are. That way, when you're trying to get to the bottom of an issue, you know how their process works, and that's really the key. Sometimes, you can talk the same language even, and not really understand how something happens. But if you can visualize what that factory looks like, and how that production line's laid out, it's easier to get to the bottom of an issue.