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Lean Processes and Quality Products Help Maintain Competitive Edge
NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft being prepared for launch in Wallops Island, VA flight facility clean room. (Photo courtesy of NASA.)

Companies providing high-mix, low-volume electronic manufacturing services (EMS) are faced with a great deal of competition. While this often works to the advantage of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) seeking such services, EMS providers must work that much harder to stand out from the crowd. For Hunter Technology Corp., an EMS provider based in Silicon Valley, CA, a number of differentiators help set the company apart from other EMS providers, including comprehensive lean enterprise and deployment processes, a significant investment in technology, and their own line of RF/microwave products, including integrated assemblies for defense systems.

For OEMs and EMS providers alike, establishing efficient processes is a powerful differentiator because of the effect it can have on reducing lead time and cost. No company intentionally develops a bad process, but products change over time, and a process can become convoluted. Often, a manufacturer may simply let the process run rather than take the additional time to analyze and streamline it. To minimize process inefficiencies, Hunter involves its OEM customers in the planning process from the moment the manufacturing documentation is received.

To minimize manufacturing process inefficiencies, OEM customers spend a week onsite at Hunter's 62,500-square-foot manufacturing facility in Milpitas, CA, meeting with engineering, production, and materials staff members to map all processes from design through product delivery. The goal is to achieve efficiency, and in the process save manufacturing time and money.
Model SRX-00140 V is a high-performance microwave SIGINT VME/VXS tuner available in a single-slot 6U VME package.


The first step in the process review program involves noting all interaction points between EMS (Hunter) and OEM and where there might be opportunities for improvement. The complexity of doing this varies by product, since such things as test equipment, medical devices, and military/aerospace equipment typically must meet stringent standards, such as AS 9100C:2009-01, ISO 13485-2003, ISO-9001:2000, MIL-STD-883, MIL-PRF-38534, and MIL-PRF-55100. In these cases, Hunter examines the simplest processes first, such as how instructions are sent from an OEM to the EMS.

Total Quality Control
Hunter's total-quality-control (TQC) format is set up so that the first part of every instruction involves inspecting the previous step before moving to the next step. Inspecting each part is extremely important, especially for military and aerospace products where a malfunction could result in the failure of a system or project or even be life threatening. An example is NASA's $280 million Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) project. Launched this September aboard a Minotaur 5 rocket, it contains printed-circuit boards (PCBs) assembled by Hunter for which reliability is essential. The LADEE system is on a 100-day mission to scoop up dust particles and analyze the composition and variability of the moon's tenuous atmosphere, dipping as low as 12 miles above the moon's surface.

An OEM may at first be resistant to changing its own internal procedures, but when Hunter's personnel explain how some process changes can result in savings of days and/or dollars, most customers are willing to make their own internal process changes. Cycle time, for example, can be reduced by value stream mapping. In most cases, preproduction processes account for about one-half of the lead time for a product. Since non-value-added activities account for almost 90 percent of that preproduction time, analysis of these processes provides an opportunity for improvement.

Forecasting Product Pulls
According to traditional forecast-and-build manufacturing models, an OEM customer will provide a forecast with volume that may not be connected to when end-customers pull product. Typically, an OEM forecasts a set amount and provides the EMS with a blanket forecast. The EMS then purchases raw material for that amount, builds that amount of product, and ships that amount, no matter whether the OEM needs it or not.

In comparison, when an OEM uses a "supermarket" pull replenishment system, it supplies the EMS with data on actual historical end-customer pulls. Hunter then uses a simulation to predict manufacturing and supplier lead times and variations in end-customer demand to establish optimum inventory levels and safety stock. The simulation can ease concerns with the OEM's sales and marketing team over maintaining adequate supply.
Value stream maps highlighting interaction points between the EMS and OEM reveal opportunities for process improvement.


By running lean "supermarket" simulations, Hunter can show weekly product pulls over a 12-month period. Using these data, Hunter then helps an OEM calculate the maximum amount of required stock based on demand, and the minimum stock levels based on week-to-week variations. As the EMS, Hunter also suggests conservative, safe stock levels at the outset, reducing these levels as an OEM feels more comfortable. The simulations are extremely useful for forecasting, for saving money on surplus stock, and for providing an OEM with peace of mind.

Prototyping
Prototyping is a process that can also benefit from review. In reviewing an OEM customer's incoming documentation, Hunter discovered that the company was not always operating with complete sets of documentation and consistent instructions. Hunter's personnel suggested that the OEM switch to Hunter's documentation format, but the OEM was hesitant. By pointing out that the OEM was using the documentation for only three weeks of a three-month prototyping process, while Hunter used its documentation format for 52 weeks out of the year, and that prototypes could be developed significantly faster if the processes were documented in a standard format, the OEM reconsidered the change.

In addition to saving prototyping time for OEMs, consistent documentation enables an EMS to standardize the process so that all of its customers are using the same format. This makes it easier to train and manage supervisory and production personnel, ultimately saving time and money for an OEM.

Investing In Technology
By outsourcing production to an EMS, an OEM customer can leverage advanced technology without investing in capital equipment. For example, Hunter recently added two sealed x-ray-tube inspection systems from Nordson DAGE (www.nordson.com) with approximately 0.95µm feature recognition, 740× geometric magnification, and 70° oblique viewing angle. Between rotating the base and rotating the tube, Hunter's technicians can inspect any hidden joint or point on a PCB from any angle.

Pb for High Reliablity
Military and aerospace customers can benefit from Hunter's capabilities with lead-containing components. While many global manufacturing processes have switched to the use of lead-free components, demanding military and aerospace applications may still require components with lead. As a result, Hunter partners with companies that assist with the need for high volumes of tinned components by coating the components with lead. Lower-volume components and the re-balling of BGA sockets and connectors can be done in house. These services significantly reduce production time for many OEMs.

Hunter makes full use of manufacturing optimization tools to save OEMs time and money, such as the design-for-manufacturing (DFM) tool available from Valor MSS of Mentor Graphics (www.mentor.com). By running an OEM's bill of materials through the DFM tool, Hunter can produce a report indicating which parts will be available from multiple sources, the number of years each part is expected to be available, and the long-term prediction of obsolescence. Components that may not be readily available in the near future are flagged. Such an HIS report is based on an external, open-source database, and is invaluable to both OEMs and EMS providers. As new components are released, they are added to the database, providing engineering design and product development teams with real-time information.

Hunter Technology is unique among EMS companies because, in addition to 40 years of contract manufacturing experience, the firm also designs, manufactures, and markets its own lines of high-performance microwave solutions for electronic-warfare (EW), signal intelligence (SIGINT), and radar applications. The company offers integrated RF/microwave solutions through 77GHz, including frequency synthesizers, microwave receivers, frequency up/down converters, and millimeter-wave subsystems not addressed by existing commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products.

The EMS is adept at using the latest monolithic-microwave-integrated-circuit (MMIC) components to pack functionality into miniature, highly integrated packages. The company's experience and expertise contribute to producing repeatable and reliable microwave systems for even the most demanding applications. In combination with in-house automated test and validation systems, the company has designed and shipped custom RF/microwave subsystems through 80GHz, miniature frequency synthesizers to 40GHz, frequency up/down converters with instantaneous bandwidths to 2GHz, and fast-tuning, low-phase-noise receivers and tuners.

In addition to its lean enterprise and deployment processes, DFM/prototyping, development of RF/microwave products, and use of the latest technology, Hunter is expanding capacity and service through acquisitions. The company recently acquired the equipment and inventory assets of NBS Design, adding five more automated SMT production lines along with comprehensive additional test and repair capabilities, including two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) x-ray machines, automated-optical-inspection (AOI) equipment, flying-probe machines, and boundary-scan equipment. This acquisition greatly increased the company's capabilities while maintaining its capabilities to label products as completely "Made in the USA."


Contact: Hunter Technology Corp., 2921 Corvin Drive, Santa Clara, CA, 95051 408-245-5400 fax: 408-245-5503 E-mail: joeo@hunter-technology.com Web: www.hunter-technology.com

 
 
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