Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Publication Date: 12/1/2008
Archive >  December 2008 Issue >  Electronic Mfg. Services > 

From Microprocessors to EMS at RMF
Some designs require old-fashioned manual assembly.

A young engineer with a Masters Degree in his back pocket and a passion for microprocessors had an idea. Ultimately, this idea led to the startup of a new company, RMF Design and Manufacturing Inc. in 1983. In those days Microprocessors were the "technology of the future" just as the Internet is today.

Back then, the futurists talked about a world in which all appliances would be intelligent and in which all parts of the globe would be wired together. The new company set out to make all these things happen. At first we offered design services only. We designed microprocessor-based products for our clients. These products included data communication cards, building automation systems, domestic thermostats, vending machine controls and many other products.

We quickly distinguished ourselves with a highly structured design process which enabled us typically to achieve a production-ready product with our first revision of prototypes.

Our approach reduced our customers' lead times and overall expenses, which proved to be a very effective strategy for companies who were building niche products with a limited window of opportunity.

Do It Right the First Time
We came to believe that the single largest source of loss in our business was doing things more than once. We realized that a formal quality program was the best tool to ensure that we "got it right" the first time. In 1995 our quality system was certified to ISO 9001. This quality system made us a good fit for customers who wanted to develop medical or diagnostic equipment, avionics hardware, and high-reliability machine controls.

We designed many products successfully, and soon customers were asking if we could help them to manufacture their products. At first we purchased components and contracted out the board assembly to local board assembly companies. We tested the assembled boards, carried out final assembly and shipped the finished products to our customers.

We had many customers with smaller, or sporadic production runs. The contract board assembly companies tended to service their large-volume customers first, which meant that our smaller jobs were left until last, and our lead times began to lengthen.

By 2000 the situation had become untenable. We realized that our business could not succeed unless we shortened our lead times. To ensure that small and large jobs enjoyed the same level of importance and reduce our overall lead times, we set up our own board assembly facilities.

Setting up a board assembly facility in conjunction with our established electronic design facilities had numerous other benefits. For one thing, our engineers began to appreciate the effects of their design decisions on the manufacturing process. Designing for manufacturability became more and more important for our company. Our objective was to design a new product and have it in production with one revision of prototypes and no changes after production began. Once again we realized that doing things right the first time was going to save our customers a great deal of time and money.

Our projects were becoming more complex and more regulated. All products now had to be designed to meet North American and European EMC requirements and electrical safety standards. Medical products required FDA approval as well as CE marking.

We upgraded our design process. The objective was to meet the clients' requirements after only one prototype revision, and also to pass regulatory testing on the first try.

Products Increasingly Complex
The design of medical products was also becoming more complex. Risk Analysis had to be included throughout the design process. Also the design process itself became as important as the final product, and had to be thoroughly documented and this had to be included as part of the product documentation.

Once more we upgraded our design process to accommodate the FDA requirements. Our objective in this case was to produce documentation in advance of the prototyping activities so that the prototype and documentation would both be ready at the same time, and neither would need to be done again.

A similar process was taking place in other product areas. Standards had to met for industrial and commercial electronics in both EMC and electrical safety. We used our medical design process as a standard for designing all of our other products.

Customers feared that this would add cost; instead, it reduced cost and allowed us to achieve a very high level of technical success. In almost all of our projects we build only one revision of prototypes and meet the regulatory requirements the first time.

Over the last decade, we have faced another significant challenge: low cost manufacturers in China and India have made it increasingly difficult for North American companies to compete in the manufacture of high-volume products.

This development reinforced our belief that our future lay in the design and manufacture of lower-volume products with more specialized or unconventional process requirements.

We have structured our production facility into several large work cells. Each work cell includes purchasing, shipping receiving, surface mount and through-hole board assembly and test and final assembly facilities. Our machinery was set up to operate as flexibly as possible. Each team is fully responsible for the projects assigned to it, as well as production budgets and quality requirements for each product.

We have found that this production structure allows us to successfully complete many more small and specialized projects than could be accomplished with a centralized structure.

Once again it is our conviction that our greatest source of loss in our manufacturing department is having to rework product. Our best strategy for reducing costs is to ensure that we do it right the first time. Our distributed production structure is designed to ensure that the team members identify strongly with the products they build and that they are motivated to build these products right the first time. Our quality department not only audits their performance but provides training and direction.

Today, our company occupies about 20,000 sq. ft. and we are staffed by 40 to 50 employees. We are fortunate to be able to design and manufacture products for a wide variety of customers including manufacturers of medical and diagnostic equipment, commuter train and subway controls, avionic equipment, vending machine controls, power company equipment, production machine controls and municipal water treatment equipment. What is important to all of these customers is our ability to successfully design, prototype and meet regulatory requirements on the first attempt. Second attempts and their higher costs are just not in the picture at RMF.

Contact: RMF Design and Manufacturing Inc., 5675 Timberlea Blvd., Mississauga, ON Canada L4W 2S4 905-602-6777 fax: 905-602-6780 E-mail: Web:

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