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Turning it All Around at Saline Lectronics
Panoramic view of the large manufacturing floor and SMT assembly lines.

Take one contract manufacturer that was headed for bankruptcy, point it in a new direction, provide it with dedicated leadership, add an infusion of capital, new equipment and expertise, and end up with a company that is not only in the black, but is a model for other contract manufacturers to follow.

The problem that had Saline Lectronics headed for bankruptcy was a reliance on Michigan's automotive industry for customers, and the iffy nature of the automotive business at the time. It was 2002, not a great year for US automakers, and Lectronics eked out just $2.5 million in revenue. Today's revenue, on the other hand, averages about $2.5 million per month.

At the time, Mario Sciberras was a consultant for the company, and saw what needed to be done. In cooperation with two of the company's investors, a new start was made. Mario was named President and CEO, and started to revamp the EMS provider's direction, customer base and corporate rationale. He pointed the company at medical and aerospace products, and this made all the difference. New cutting-edge production equipment was purchased, intensive recruiting and training of technical employees, and finally certification to the highest standards required by aerospace and medical customers meant that Saline Lectronics was ready for the "Big Show".

One satisfied customer led to another. In many cases, the company's willingness and ability to manufacture what amounted to prototype quantities soon led to much larger contracts, and expanded production lines to meet these expanded needs.

Huge Telematics Output
Today, one very happy customer accounts for an impressive part of the company's business — a maker of telematics devices designed to plug into a car's diagnostics interface to monitor the driver's habits for insurance companies. The customer had become very dissatisfied with its Chinese sources, and was introduced to Lectronics by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. A pilot run of 1,000 units convinced the OEM customer that it had found the right manufacturing partner. Production was ramped up, Lectronics added a second high-speed production line and the company now produces 9,000 finished products a week for this customer.
Hand soldering department where technicians are busy assembling different types of circuit boards.


Sciberras explains the company philosophy very simply: "We pride ourselves in our customer relations and customer service. `The customer comes first' is not just a saying here, it's a way of life."

Cutting-Edge Technology
The lineup of assembly machines is impressive, which represent cutting-edge assembly technology. There are five SMT lines from Juki, three of which are high speed; three Speedline MPM screen printers with vision inspection; five Heller reflow ovens, AOI inspection systems from MIRTEC, Orbotech, Yestech and Ersa; considerable rework, processing and coating systems; through-hole mounters; wave soldering and selective soldering systems; and Cogiscan intelligent feeder system.

The latest upgrade consists of another ambitious project: installation of Cogiscan's Track, Trace and Control (TTC) system. The system will allow Saline to track, trace and control the components that are placed on every single assembly down to the reference designator on the board.

"From a manufacturing standpoint, there are many initiatives in process throughout the organization as a result of our growth," said Eric Hassen, Saline Lectronics' General Manager. "The major focus for 2014 involves refining our systems and processes to better serve the needs of the medical industry, including traceability, process validation and system certifications."

The new software and hardware system will scan and track the part number, manufacturer, manufacturer part number and date code for each component placed on the circuit board. Saline's existing system had only been required to track which components were used on a specific job number. Once the installation is complete, the EMS provider will have the ability to trace components all the way to the reference designator on the PCBA and will be able to provide its customers with the complete history for every component at each reference designator.

In addition to component traceability, the Cogiscan system includes factory-wide Quality Data Collection and Repair Management. This will enable harvesting critical inspection and test result data for each PCB, while ensuring that any failed unit is successfully repaired before it is allowed through subsequent operations. This will provide customers with assured product quality, along with traceability records that prove that every single product went through all required test and inspection steps.

The new system is expected to provide an additional level of traceability and confidence in each finished product's reliability — important factors in mission-critical applications for aerospace and military.

The smart feeder system will thus provide "cradle to grave" traceability documentation. Feeders will be verified appropriately and trace all relevant data, including part number, manufacturer, date code and serial number — even down to the smallest chips on the circuit board.This also will reflect positively on the company's box-build capabilities, which have boomed in the last two years, and Sciberras sees even greater growth in this sector in 2014 — especially for medical, diagnostics and telematics customers.

OEMs Coming Home
There have been a few customers who left to use overseas manufacturing, and soon returned after learning that they weren't saving much if any money at all. This all goes back to the onshoring trend, which continues to gain momentum. Companies that have been burned by their reliance on offshore manufacturing are discovering great savings in both time and money when they don't have to keep sending engineers and managers to China to solve problems for a product that can be produced for about the same cost in the U.S.

Meeting Customers' Needs
Constant improvement is part of the very fabric of Saline Lectronics. It even achieved a "Best In Class" distinction for its most recent AS9100 audit. "As we continue to expand within our 110,000 sq. ft. facility and procure additional automated equipment, the future of working with high-volume assembly customers looks to be very exciting for all of our team members at Saline Lectronics. For 2014, our core business will continue to include mid-volume assemblies because our main goal is to develop long-term, sustainable and meaningful relationships with our customers," commented Sandra Jacobs, Vice President of Sales and Marketing.

Saline Lectronics provides significant electromechanical box build capabilities, going beyond simply manufacturing the PCB assemblies. Typically, a new aerospace or defense account may start with kitted projects due to the high level of traceability that is required at the component level, and when the customer sees how well the projects turn out, it will progress to full turnkey assembly. In addition, the EMS provider will drop ship to the end user and, in fact, electromechanical box builds now represent about 42 percent of its business. Once customers realize how well the EMS provider performs, they tend to take advantage of the box build and drop ship options.

To meet client needs, Saline Lectronics holds different Kanban agreements with some customers, and each one varies depending on the complexity of the build. The name of the game in CM is flexibility, especially for high-end customers. Some customers need only 50 boards a year; others may need up to 2700 units a day. While mid volume has been the company's bread and butter, it can transition to higher volumes with its five Juki assembly lines, while maintaining the flexibility to support larger volumes.

Precision Storage and Metering
Finally, the company is working with Juki on a new material storage unit that has been provided free of charge for the year. It's a humidity-controlled material "vending machine type" that can store reels, tubes and trays. The data for each component stored in the machine is tracked, and when a job needs to be pulled, the machine will spit out the required material. This eliminates room for error where operators might pull the wrong feeders. The system not only spits out the correct feeders, it keeps track of what's remaining, all the while storing critical components in ideal temperature/humidity conditions.

The company's mantra of constantly being on the cutting edge of EMS production has fed its continuous growth. The Cogiscan upgrade is just another part of this constant push to be the best and to bring electronics manufacturing back to the USA.


Contact: Saline Lectronics, Inc., 710 North Maple Road, Saline, MI 48176 734-944-2120 fax: 734-944-2005 E-mail: msciberras@lectronics.net Web:
http://www.lectronics.net

 
 
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