What is Cicret and Why is It Important?

Folks,

Let’s check in on Patty …

Patty had to admit that she was getting annoyed. Two of the female engineering students were always going to her husband Rob’s office for help with their homework. At first glance this would seem like a normal thing to do, as Rob was a teaching assistant for the materials science class they were taking as part of his Ph.D. program at Ivy U. But they were there every day. And Patty could tell that they had more on their minds than materials science.

Rob was approaching his mid-thirties now, but had boyish good looks and was in athletic physical condition. He looked just like all of the twenty-something PhD students that were his peers. Patty remembered when she and Rob became engaged, her best friend Jan Curtis said, “Patty you are a lucky girl. In addition to being smart, successful, kind, fun, and interesting, Rob is handsome and cute!”

So it is not surprising that these two engineering females would find Rob attractive. To add insult to injury, these two young ladies just happened to be Justine Randall and Jessica Wu. They were the two students who innocently said to Patty, “Professor Coleman, you are an inspiration for us. We hope, in twenty years, that we can be just like you.”

This quote triggered the beginning of Patty’s relationship with hair dye.

It didn’t help that Rob could not wear his wedding ring, because it was a danger in the experiments he was doing for his research. It had been off for so long that even the tan line had faded.

To Rob’s credit, he was doing nothing to encourage any interest, but Patty wanted to set these two young girls straight. She had purposely not told Rob that she could not pick their twin sons up from daycare. She would do so when Justine and Jessica were in Rob’s office. She would know they were there, as they had to pass by her office on the way to Rob’s.

Just then, they walked by. Patty gave them a few minutes and then she went straight to Rob’s office. She tapped on the open door and stuck her head in.

“Honey, I forgot to tell you that I can’t pick the boys up from day care, I have a meeting with the Dean,” Patty said to Rob.

“No problem. It’s way past my turn to get them anyway,” Rob responded.

Justine and Jessica looked like they just found out spring break was cancelled.

“Justine, Jessica, I believe you have met my lovely wife, Professor Coleman?” Rob said.

After a few pleasantries, Patty left, feeling relieved. However, she decided Rob definitely needed a photo of her and the boys prominently displayed on his desk.

After entering her office, she set her new adjustable desk to the standing position. She then noticed that she had just received an email from Mike Madigan. It read as follows:

Patty,

The board is considering buying a start-up that has developed a new device called The Cicret. See this video.

They claim they can develop a prototype for $1 million. My gut tells me that they are dreaming. But, if I am wrong, it is too good of an opportunity to pass up.

I’m hoping you can meet with Jan Curtis and Phil Anderson and come to a consensus on what the opportunity is.

Let’s have Anderson write the report to reduce any extra workload on your part.

Your faithful student,

Mike,

BTW, thanks for helping my son at West Point. Fortunately he has inherited all of my wife’s good points and none of my bad ones!

Patty continued to marvel in the change in Mike Madigan. Much of his aloofness and grouchiness had worn off. Patty then went and looked at the video and was blown away. Her first thought was, “I want one.” Then she went to the company’s website and saw that they had yet to make a prototype. She thought that the company’s request for donations was comically cute, but did not foster confidence.

As she was mulling this over in her mind, Pete came to the door.

“Hey Professor! Jan and Phil are coming to visit!” Pete exclaimed.

As usual, Pete was a step ahead of Patty.

Two days later, Jan, Phil, Rob, Pete, and Patty were in a small conference room at Ivy U. Patty forgot how much she missed them all and got a little misty eyed thinking about it.

“Well Professor Coleman, what do you think about the Cicret Bracelet?” Phil teased.

“I want one!” Patty joked loudly.

“But, I’m not sure I will ever have one,” she continued.

cicret_bracelet

Figure 1. The Cicret Bracelet. Will it look this bright in sunlight?

“It seems a challenge to get all of the electronics into such a small form factor,” Pete chimed in.

There was a murmur of agreement.

“Can you even find an IC with dimensions as small as the width of the bracelet?” Jan asked.

“I did a little checking and the new Apple A8 processor is quite small, a little less than 1 cm on a side. But that is about the width of the bracelet and some margin will be needed,” Rob added.

“Let’s see if we can estimate the dimensions of the bracelet and compare them to an iPhone 6,” Patty suggested.

cicret_bracelet_teardown

Figure 2. The Cicret Bracelet teardown.

The team went to different websites to get the answers. As usual, it took a little longer than expected. Within an hour, they had a summary.

The dimensions of the Cicret Bracelet were 20 cm long, by 1 cm wide and 0.5 cm thick for a volume of 10 cc. The iPhone 6’s dimensions are 13.8 cm by 6.7 cm wide by 0.69 cm thick equaling a volume of 63.8 cc, over 6 times the volume of the Cicret.

“I think we might be unfair in comparing the Cicret to an iPhone 6. The video doesn’t suggest it can do all that the iPhone does,” Jan commented.

“Perhaps, but a factor of 6 in volume difference is a lot,” Rob responded.

“The battery seems like a show stopper, the iPhone battery is 9.5×3.8×0.33 cm = 12 cc, more than the entire volume of the Cicret,” Patty said.

While the team hashed all of these issues out, Pete obtained a teardown analysis of an iPhone 6.

iphone6_teardown

Figure 3. The iPhone 6 teardown.

“Look at the teardown of the iPhone 6, it has more than 20 ICs. The Cicret has only about 5,” Phil sighed.

“To make the Cicret in its proposed form factor, one would almost surely have to work with IC and component vendors and have them develop special ICs and components to fit into the bracelet. This would certainly add to the cost,” Jan added.

“Let’s see if we can summarize what we have learned,” Patty suggested.

Since Phil was to write the report, he went to the white board and queried the team. The following summary resulted.

  1. The Cicret, at this time, appears to be a design concept. The videos were clever digital creations, not the viewing of a working prototype.
  2. It is quite a stretch to think that a working prototype can be developed in anything close to the form factor shown in the video. The reasons for this are:
    • The integrated circuits required are likely to be smaller than the width of the bracelet, as some margin will be needed. So, smaller-than-typical ICs will be needed. If this is the case, special ICs must be developed at considerable cost.
    • The volume of the Cicret is 10 cc vs over 60 cc for a smartphone. Although the Cicret may not need all of the function of a smartphone, this volume difference appears to be too much.
    • The volume for a battery, using current technology, will be the biggest challenge. Current battery sizes are greater in volume than the Cicret.
    • The parts list that the Cicret offers appears to us to be too low. There are likely quite a few components needed that may not be listed.
  3. We question that the projector lights will be bright enough to be viewed in sunlight as the video suggests.
  4. One million dollars (US) seems to be a very optimistic cost to develop a working prototype in anything like the form factor shown in the video. Component and (especially) battery sizes will be issues. We think this cost could be off by a factor of 10 or more.
  5. These conclusions may be too negative. It would be helpful if one member of our team could visit Cicret to discuss these concerns.

“Nice summary everyone,” Patty said.

“Who will go to Cicret? It’s in France, right?” Jan asked.

“How about Phil? Maybe he can at last find a girlfriend,” Rob teased.

And with that the meeting ended.

Patty and the Professor: Filling the Void

Folks,

Let’s see what is up with Patty….

Patty sat at her computer, admittedly a little tired. She had just gotten back after a week’s vacation in Colonial Williamsburg with Rob and their two sons. Even though the boys were only five years old, she had insisted that they go to the historical triangle and get the two young lads started on American history. She and Rob had been speaking Mandarin and Spanish at home and the boys were both trilingual, so visiting Williamsburg was among other things Patty had planned to prepare them for a rewarding and productive life.

OK, maybe she was an overachiever for her sons, but she remembered the profound impact that visiting this historic treasure had on her when she was a young girl. During this visit, the young family alternated days at Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens and Water Country USA. They also ate dinner at two of the historic eateries. Of course, at their young age, her boys enjoyed Busch Gardens and Water Country the most.

She had to admit that the trip left her a little shaken. She saw scores of youngsters mesmerized with their smartphones or tablets while standing in line for a ride at Busch Gardens. More troubling was watching teens texting in Colonial Williamsburg while a character interpreter explained the making of a flintlock rifle or the impact of the Royal Marines taking the gunpowder from the Williamsburg magazine, early in the Revolutionary War.

Patty clearly recognized the profound benefit of electronics, after all, it was her career! However, she was troubled by its overuse, replacing personal human interaction and intellectual pursuits and its luring many children away from playing. She was stunned to go to the park where she grew up, a few weeks ago, and finding no children on the swing sets, slides or monkey bars.

More troubling, was a recent chat she had with the Professor. He told her he was convinced that the likelihood of a high school student getting into an elite university was inversely proportional to the number of text messages they send each day. He pointed out that according to Sherry Turkle in her seminal book, Alone Together, the typical US teen sends 200 texts a day. He went on to explain that if a teen sends that many texts a day, how can they have time to be studying Milton or the rise and fall of Rome, learning calculus, or becoming proficient in any topic needed to get into a competitive college or university? To make the point that better students don’t send many texts a day, The Professor even surveyed his statistics class at Ivy University and found that on average the students there sent only about 20 texts a day.

With all of these conflicting thoughts swirling in her mind, she was startled by Pete coming to the door.

“Nous allons à Québec!” Pete shouted. Patty had to shake her head a little bit to get the cobwebs out.

“Hey kiddo, you look a little tired. Too much vacation?” Pete teased.

“Yeah, we didn’t get home ’til 11:30 pm last night. Anyway, what’s up?” Patty responded.

“Well, while you were away, our beloved senior management decided they might want to buy a company in Quebec, near Sherbrooke,” Pete answered.

“Why will we be going to Quebec if we haven’t bought the company yet?” Patty asked.

“The company has 99.5% first-pass yield, but their financials are not that great, especially return on assets,” Pete replied.

“Looks like maybe their uptime or line balancing may be bad,” Patty commented.

“Their throughput would suggest otherwise, for the three lines they have,” Pete said.

“Hmmm, interesting,” Patty murmured.

“Oh, one more thing. They probably need to be using solder preforms on QFNs in some smartphones. They have a voiding warranty issue.” Pete added.

How can a company have outstanding yield and good throughput and still not be profitable? What about solder preforms? Stay tuned to find out.

Cheers,

Dr. Ron

In Search of a Problem to Solve

It has been a while, let’s look in on Patty …

Patty had to admit that she was very fortunate. She had yet to turn 30 and she was a Senior Vice President at ACME.  There was even a small article about her in Fortune magazine. But she had to admit that, at some level, she was bored. She missed the action of being out on the line and solving problems.

With these thoughts she headed toward the lunch room. She had avoided eating lunch with the execs and still ate lunch with the young engineers that were her age. No one thought it strange. Pete was occasionally the old-timer in the group, as he was approaching 45 years old.

As she sat at lunch with her friends, Patty also had to admit that she was jealous of all of the group’s talk about solving technical problems. She was now responsible for corporate strategies and seldom got her “hands dirty.” So she missed the technical challenges on the shop floor.

After lunch she stopped Pete.

“Hey, Pete, could you stop by my office?” Patty asked.

“Kiddo, for you anything … even that,” he answered and they both chuckled.

As Pete sat down in Patty’s office, she asked him, “How do you like your new job?”

“What’s not to like? Twice as much money and working with you!” Pete answered.

“But don’t you miss … ,” Patty stopped and struggled to gain her composure.

Peter helped her, “Working on the shop floor solving process problems?”

“Yes, so much so that I could almost cry,” Pete finished.

They were silent for awhile.

Then Pete suggested, “Why don’t I see if I can find us a problem.”

Patty smiled. Pete was always well connected.

A few days passed and Patty had just about forgotten about their meeting. There was a knock on her door and Pete stuck his head in.

“Hey kiddo, we have an assignment,” Pete shouted cheerfully.

Patty perked right up.

“What’s the scoop?” she asked.

“You know the new program that rewards cost savings?” Pete asked.

“Sure, I think it is a great idea,” Patty responded.

“There is a conflict in our plant in Santa Clara. Management wants to give a $10,000 reward and the senior purchase manager is blocking it,” Pete elaborated.

“Why?’ Patty asked.

“The engineer deserving of the reward purchased a solder paste that improved uptime,” Pete said.

“Sounds great, what is the issue?” Patty asked. “Let me guess. The better solder paste costs more?” she asked.

“Yep!” Pete responded, “One penny per gram.”

“Mike Madigan wants someone to negotiate the situation. Why not us?” Pete asked.

Patty quickly sent Mike an email offering to help. He gave her the go ahead shortly thereafter.

In a matter of days the arrangements were made and Patty and Pete were on a jet from Boston’s Logan Airport to San Jose, California.

Their flight had taken off and they were enjoying a snack, when Pete commented, “Let’s hope we don’t find someone there like the guy who wanted to assemble the boards without the boards,” Pete chuckled.

At this comment, Patty almost choked on her sparkling water. About four years ago, when Patty was just starting out, they were working on a critical project. The manager in charge wanted the boards to be assembled on a certain date.  Unfortunately, the PWBs did not arrive on time, even though all other components, connectors, and the other hardware where ready. The manager, in frustration, came out to the line on the scheduled start date and was furious that the boards were not being assembled.

The manager asked the lead engineer, “Why aren’t the boards being assembled?”

The lead engineer responded, “The PWBs did not arrive from the vendor.”

To this the manager responded, “Aren’t you going to assemble them anyway?” (See note below.*)

This was their favorite story about the occasional comedy in electronics assembly.

It seemed like no time at all and Patty and Pete were sitting in the conference room that had been reserved for the meeting. They introduced themselves to a young engineer who was sitting in the room waiting for the meeting to start. His name was Dave Ferris.

“So Dave, you are the cause of this meeting, eh?” Pete teased.

“I guess so. I can’t believe how hard it is to sell productivity here. The amount of time the new solder paste saves enables us to produce 1,000 more units per year on each line. And these boards are super expensive, with high margins. Admittedly the solder paste costs $0.01 more per gram, but the additional profit is over $800,000 per year for each of our three lines,” Dave Ferris explained.

“How did you perform the calculations,” Patty asked.

“I went to a workshop run by this quirky, cheerful guy everyone calls ‘The Professor.’ He was amazing,” Ferris replied.

Pete and Patty both chuckled.

“We know The Professor well,” they chimed in unison.

“We assume you used ProfitPro for the calculations?” Pete asked.

“Yes,” Dave responded with a surprise in his voice that they would know about such things.

Will Patty and Pete save the day?  Will Dave get his award?  Stay tuned to see.

Cheers,

Dr. Ron

*As hard as it is to believe, the story about building the boards without the PWBs is true.  Thanks to ITM.