Communicate and Establish Consistency to Control Cost

As an EMS company rooted in product development, TJM processes between 10-20 new part numbers per month. One of the common challenges of product development is the variation and inconsistency in the fabrication and assembly data forms provided by the customer.This data serves as an input to our manufacturing process. It ranges from excellent in its detail and completeness, to the non-existent. All of which needs some level of preparation to translate to the manufacturing floor. In many situations there is conflict between the data and documentation that we need to identify, present and clarify with the customer before we can proceed with manufacturing their product.

Standardization in its most primitive form is consistency. I view a lack of defined standards as an opportunity for improvement. I see inconsistency as a lack of control and an impact to profit. I can appreciate a new start up company that consistently provides limited manufacturing data, more so than an established technology company that provides good data just some to most of the time (inconsistently). I know what the start up company will require to do business with, I can determine what they need, and I can quantify it in the cost of my proposal. For the latter, we can often get burned if we blindly assume we’ll be working with the same data package as previous projects and discover once the project is in process that we are not.

The manufacturing business, like most, is schedule driven. Process timing and the ability to accurately define the time of each process is paramount. In contract services it can also be the difference between profit and loss. It’s sequenced steps with predetermined time (and cost) attached to them. Inconsistency disrupts flow, rhythm and causes us to be reactive. Being reactive never makes money.

Ultimately, we know we will get your product built correctly, and on-time. But at what cost? More specifically we need to evaluate at what unnecessary cost? What was the cost of getting product built correctly for this customer as opposed to the next, and why? What did we learn from this last project that impacted cost that we can improve with communication? Answers to this paragraph are the critical content of your checklist, your data, your detail, your standards as you move forward again with that customer.

Hopefully what you are lacking or need defined is actionable and you have a cooperative customer that wants you have the most accurate and complete and data to succeed profitably. In many of the cases I refer to, you may be getting all they have available. If you’re not working with a customer that has the time, means or interest, identify the increased cost non-recurring engineering (NRE) and pass it on. Make sure it’s reflected in your cost, or at least quoted provisionally. The key here is you pointed it out, you communicated.

A Model of Consistency and Partnership

While I have expressed our challenges and the impact of inconsistent, incorrect or incomplete data, it is not by coincidence that our most successful projects, in all areas of efficiency and quality are achieved with our partners by consistency. Its about having communicated, (and having acknowledged), exactly what we need and expect from the customer to deliver quality electronic hardware on-time AND meet or exceed cost objectives.

Communication and continually refining the process has lead to a sort of “rhythm” in how their design data is provided and optimally prepared as the input to our manufacturing processes. Extremely complex, high density board builds can be completed in 1-3 days with 100% yield.

The elements of our system that promote this accuracy, efficiency and yield can clearly be defined. I can equally identify costs due to lack of standards and consistency. Avoidable situations that derail our process timing and impact our bottom line.

I like to talk standards, quality system standards, industry specific design and manufacturing standards, or just the standard way you do business between two parties. I strive for communication and consistency more so than anything. Most of my post here, and in the near future regarding partnership and standards are based on two parties who want the other to succeed.