Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Continuous Improvement and Understanding Lean's Role at Your Company

Editor's Note, update May 19, 2010:
Society of Manufacturing Engineers member and author, Mark Hamel, has been awarded The Shingo Prize Research & Professional Publications Award for the Kaizen Event Fieldbook. Given out in May 2010 in Utah at The Shingo Prize Annual Conference, the Shingo Research Award recognizes and promotes research and writing regarding new knowledge and understanding of lean and operational excellence.

SMT recently received a copy of Mark R. Hamel’s Kaizen Event Fieldbook for review. Hamel is a consultant to the manufacturing industry, facilitating the transition to Lean. Lean manufacturing has been a noteworthy electronics assembly strategy for many years, raised to a necessity level by the profit-margin, supply chain, and quality strains of the recession that began in 2008. While manufacturers must work to be lean, they also must make lean principles work for them. “Learn by doing” is the mantra of Hamel, encouraging readers to apply the lean principles that best improve their business. Hamel explains kaizen as “small, cumulative continuous improvements.” While some may be tempted to engage Lean as an abrupt overhaul of their business, these incremental changes will likely result in a more successful and sustainable manufacturing environment. Read a brief description of the book from its publishers here.

The workbook is divided into three sections, an education on the foundations of lean: kaizen, leadership, definitions, and ways to get started; four phases for developing, deploying, and maintaining kaizen events and strategy; and a final section on customizing these principles and actions for the specific business. Perhaps the most valuable resource of the Kaizen Event Fieldbook is appendix of worksheets: forms that can be used for audits, event planning, tracking initiatives, and more. The book is also closely synched with its Website, http://www.kaizenfieldbook.com/, where readers are welcome to ask the author questions, download the blank forms for their employees, and link to related resources suggested by Hamel.

For most electronics manufacturers, aspects of the Lean system are familiar, while others are not. The Fieldbook includes many clear definitions for the terms employed in the lean concept, while Hamel continuously points out that readers should come to the system with an idea of their own goals and interests. There is a difference between memorizing the system and terminology and learning it. Hamel encourages readers to learn the system and adapt it for their individual needs.

To quote Hamel, “the Fieldbook can be applied in several ways: at a corporate level as a framework for developing (improving, if the developing is done) and deploying standard work throughout the organization, and for the personal development of motivated kaizen practitioners. Kaizen’s role within a lean business structure is defined, and the point is frequently made that kaizen is a daily and weekly application of lean, not a single-event makeover. Detailed descriptions of how a kaizen event is planning, how it functions, and how best to maintain its effect are provided.

Contrary to the hype, lean systems can create plenty of waste, when communication lags, implementation is too ambitious, or when follow-up is lacking. Hamel points out that, while the main thrust of the kaizen event is kick-off, training, storyline, leaders’ progress meeting, work strategy, reporting, and recognition, this event is worthless without planning and follow-up. The Fieldbook’s suggestions for communicating include reporting methods as well as input methods to gain fresh ideas from employees. Suggestions even include visual communication, such as different colored shirts for people involved in different parts of a project.

Lean manufacturing demands continuous investment in making the production flow work; eliminating waste; and increasing your business’s performance through higher throughput, fewer errors, faster turn-around, or other metrics. With the Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ seal on this workbook, it looks to be a valuable addition to, or starting point for, a Lean initiative at the manufacturing facility.

For more information, read SME Releases the Kaizen Event Fieldbook

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor

Friday, December 4, 2009

Technology for a New Year

Each year brings its own challenges and opportunities. During a recessionary period, people get creative. Though we have struggled for financial security, new ideas and applications in electronics will bring forth growth in the upcoming year.

For example, the new refrigerator in my kitchen has a bright Energy Star symbol on the front and a written estimation of operation cost for the year. The thermostat on the wall came with an Energy-Star-approved program recommended by the EPA for energy efficiency.

The grid system of energy usage in the U.S. is slowly evolving to smart electronics control as well, as we adapt to reduce power consumption. Lowering our carbon footprint will march right along in 2010.

RoHS Directive rules (2002.95/EC) are expected to apply to medical electronics in 2010, and many medical monitoring equipment makers are already converting to lead-free parts. This presents more challenges in a steady manufacturing sector that didn’t have the initial burden of RoHS that most board assemblers experienced. For more on REACH and RoHS, as well as new environmental legislation, read advisory board columnist Laura Turbini, Ph.D., RIM, in Our Relationship with the Environment.

One area that has been developing all along, and will see healthy support in 2010, is printed electronics. This should save on costs and fabrication steps as well. New circuit printing processes promise lower-cost ICs than conventional printed circuits.

Printed electronics on flexible substrates will affect many markets, adding RFID tags, OLEDs, and LEDs to traditionally non-electronic items. As I write this, I’m en route to California, where I’ll visit Kovio Inc. in Milpitas, CA. This company has been active in printed electronics since 2001. It manufactures RF barcodes from specialty inks using a printing process. Read a 2007 interview with the company from SST's WaferNews.

What will the new year mean for SMT? Market shipments are up and the North American PCB book-to-bill, published monthly by IPC, is strong. For some applications, PCBs will have printed RF on them for tracking; expect this higher level of traceability to become increasingly common.

Gail Flower, editor-at-large