Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Publication Date: 03/1/2009
Archive >  March 2009 Issue >  Electronic Mfg. Services > 

Kimball: Supporting Growing Market for Public Safety Products
Kimball's Public Safety Solutions supports a wide range of production requirements including complex, low volume systems.

Kimball Electronics Group was established in 1961 to build electronic organs for the parent company, Kimball International. In the late 1980s, the group became focused solely on contract electronic manufacturing services. Since that time, it has been its mission to be a worldwide EMS leader, providing superior services and technology while growing profitably.

Today, Kimball Electronics Group is a leading contract manufacturer of durable goods electronics and serves a variety of industries on a global scale. The company continues to make the customer the focus of everything it does.

The company has been focused heavily on the automotive market for nearly 25 years. That focus has driven strong expertise in Lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, well documented new product introduction processes, ruggedized product manufacturing, purchasing leverage and global presence. The company has since broadened its focus to include other demanding market sectors such as medical, industrial and public safety products.

Robust Quality Processes
These automotive roots contribute to supporting this market's needs for robust quality processes, traceability, specialized processes to support ruggedized product manufacture and test, and full product lifecycle support.

Within the public safety category, the company focuses on three key market segments: Homeland Security, defense-related products and specialized commercial security and fire safety systems. Products manufactured for these markets include:

  • Emergency personnel communications system chargers.
  • Material identification systems.
  • Night vision systems.
  • Thermal imaging systems.
  • X-ray vision systems.
  • Surveillance equipment for Homeland Security applications or commercial building monitoring.
  • Perimeter and threat detection imaging systems for military and commercial applications.
  • Fire protection equipment for both people and assets.
  • Biometric scanning systems.

The Quality Equation
An interesting dynamic of many industry-specific quality systems is that they tend to pull from common roots. For example, early automotive-specific quality systems such as QS9000 incorporated elements from defense quality systems. As the defense industry modernized and sought to develop standards closer to commercial practices, the automotive industry's ISO/TS 16949 was one of the quality systems analyzed. The end result has been that companies with strong automotive backgrounds tend to have processes and procedures easily aligned with the requirements of defense/aerospace-related quality systems such as AS 9100. In addition to an ISO 9001:2000 registration, many Kimball facilities are registered to ISO/TS16949. This has helped build a strong foundation in key disciplines such as traceability, supply base management, product introduction and qualification, and documentation control.

To achieve compliance with AS 9100, the company's quality personnel did an initial gap analysis comparing existing processes and procedures with those required by AS 9100. Minor areas of noncompliance were then addressed. A similar gap analysis was done for the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) to ensure compliance in internal systems.

Automated systems for component level and product lot traceability developed to support the requirements of the Company's automotive and medical customers also support the traceability requirements of defense and homeland security applications.

Specialized Processes
Project complexity and long-term product performance requirements are two of the key differences found in the public safety market. Many of these products incorporate leading edge technologies in terms of wireless communication or imaging. Products often have to operate in hostile environments such as extreme temperature, high humidity and moisture, wind-driven sand or excessive shock and vibration.

Kimball's in-house reliability test lab supports both initial product qualification processes and longer term analysis of field failures, should customers require those services.

The company's network of manufacturing facilities supports board-level manufacturing to J-Standard and IPC Class 3 manufacturing specifications. Specialized functional test support is also widely available.

Lifecycle Support
Many of the products in the public safety arena vary in volumes and project lifecycles from that found in automotive projects. As a result, the company has had to evolve its support function focus to better support higher mix, lower production volume projects. Project teams have been realigned from a functional/commodity focus to a customer-centered focus. These customer-focused teams have a program manager, buyer/planner and an engineering resource who are co-located in a team area for better coordination. Each team is dedicated to a specific group of customers to ensure project knowledge continuity. In addition to the team focus change, at an engineering and production level, special tactical groups have been set up to address differing production support needs.

The Rapid Prototyping Services (RPS) group supports projects in the engineering prototype phase. The NPI/Production group supports projects ramping from pre-production to volume production. The Special Product Services (SPS) group supports post-manufacturing issues such as end of life production, repair depot and/or sustaining low-volume production requirements. Each team operates from a production area configured to support typical project volumes. This division of support ensures that customers with a basket of differing product needs get appropriately focused support. The end result is an ability to adjust resources to support unique customer requirements while also providing the traditional outsourcing benefits of production economies of scale, breadth of technical expertise, supply chain management and access to a global network of facilities.

The Kimball facility network works well for public safety projects for two reasons. First, the company has U.S. facilities in the Midwest, Southeast and West Coast, all capable of supporting projects which require U.S.-only production. Projects without geographic restriction can also be manufactured in facilities in Thailand, China, Poland or the U.K. In some cases, companies prefer to start a project in the U.S. and once the product matures, transfer it to a lower-cost production region. The company's Transfer of Work (TOW) process, which was originally developed for automotive projects rolling out to different regions, ensures a robust transfer process that maintains material integrity when changing regional supply bases, replicates manufacturing processes in the new facility, and ensures that a longer transit process has no impact on product quality or schedule performance.

Contact: Kimball Electronics Group, 1600 Royal St., GO-149, Jasper, IN 47549 812-634-4200 Web:

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