Saving a House, Losing a Mansion

Patty and The Professor agreed to work with two of the local process engineers to develop a plan of attack to try and find the lost productivity.

Patty spoke first. “It’s tempting to look just at the new solder paste, but this approach wouldn’t be thorough.”

The Professor and the two process engineers, Joe and Ann, agreed. So they went ahead and developed a thorough productivity assessment plan, including uptime and line balancing measurements and evaluating changeover and assist times. Ann pointed out that one of the five lines was still using the old paste. All agreed that this situation was good news as they would have a new paste to old paste comparison. It was already lunch time and everyone was hungry, so off they went to a local Outback. While riding in the car, Patty’s cellphone rang. It was Rob.

“Hey Patty,” Rob cheerfully started. “Guess what I shot last night at the Golf Club of New England — a four under par 68! The pro told me it was the best round this year at the course from the back tees.”

“Rob, that’s great!” Patty cheerfully responded. Truth be told, she was really happy for Rob. He was the No. 2 golfer on the men’s team at Tech a few years ago as a senior. She was a junior then and was the best women golfer in Tech’s history. The few times they played then, she beat him. Ever since her dinner date, after their success at AJAX, they had been a couple. At the time she had been thinking of breaking up with Jason and Rob’s invite to dinner was all the catalyst that she needed. In the past year or so, Jason would just watch sports on TV and drink beer. He didn’t have a fitness program or a real plan for his life. Rob was so much different. He worked out, mostly to improve his golf game and he was getting a master’s degree part time.

After they started dating, Rob and Patty played golf together with some other guy friends from Tech. She usually shot the low score, but the three other guys were longer off the tee than she was. Her superior iron play and short game made the difference.

At lunch this working foursome talked about the audit they were about to perform.

“There is one comical thing we should tell you before we start,” Joe said with a twinkle in his eye. “I’ts about the ‘Saving a House Program.’ ”

At that, Ann started laughing and inadvertently started choking on her “sweet tea.” Patty was about to perform the Heimlich maneuver when Ann revived.

With Ann still red in the face and laughing, The Professor requested, “Yes, please tell us.”

Joe chimed in, “So that Ann doesn’t choke to death, let me take a stab at it. The new cheaper solder paste has not been very popular and has generated many complaints. The new COO, Fred, decided he had to do something. He estimated that the new paste saves $100,000 a year on all five lines; that’s about what a modest house costs locally. So he tells all of the complainers that using the new paste saves enough money in a year to buy a new house. He even found a house for sale on the internet for $100,000 and had posters of it made with the saying: ‘Saving Enough for a House.’ It worked; people stopped complaining.”

“Joe, can you tell us what some of the complaints were about the solder paste?” asked The Professor.

“Well, for one thing, it is stiff coming out of the tubes or jars, we have to knead it or it won’t print,” Joe responded.

“Hmm,” both Patty and The Professor mused.

“Also, if we stop a line for a few minutes the paste stiffens up and we have to perform some dummy prints to kneed it,” chimed in Ann. “Sometimes even after this, the first print has to be discarded due to poor hole fill. It wastes time and solder paste.”

“Don’t forget the smell,” Joe teased.

At that, Ann just about spit up her sweet tea.

“The new paste literally stinks,” Joe added. “Fortunately, the vendor added some perfume recently.”

“What about reliability of the finished product?” The Professor asked evenly.

“That’s what is surprising. It’s as good as the old paste.” Ann replied. “We performed some tests and asked around, the reliability is very good.”

“A pleasant surprise indeed,” The Professor said.

The little group finished lunch and headed back to get to work on the audit. Ann and Patty and Joe and The Professor formed teams and went off to the factory. They performed detailed analysis of changeover times, assist times, line balancing, uptime, etc., on the four lines using the new solder paste and the one line using the old solder paste.

As Patty approached one of the lines she saw a cheerful looking gent about 45 years old replenishing the solder on one of the stencil printers. Ann introduced her to Wilbur and asked if it was OK for Patty to ask him some questions.

“Darlin,” he said to Ann in his backwoods drawl, “Anything you gorgeous gals want to ask me is jus fine.”

“How does replenishing the new paste compare to the old paste?” Patty asked.

“Well, it takes a lot longer, stirring the paste and all, but to “Save a House” I’m willing to put up with it, sighed Wilbur.

After a day-and-a-half of work, the team reassembled. The Professor suggested that Patty lead the discussion. Many calculations and comparisons were performed, finally after several hours they were ready to meet with Fred Perkins and Jane Wilson. Patty agreed to speak.

Patty, addressed the small gathering. She presented the approach they used to collect data, their analysis techniques and the fact that they had reached a consensus. The evidence, she said, is persuasive that:
1. The site productivity is down about 8%, which will reduce profits about 12%.
2. The main culprit appears to be the new solder paste.

At this Fred slammed his fist on the disk. His face a bright crimson, he shouted at Patty, “Liar, you corporate types are all alike! You come here from your Ivory Tower and tell us how to assemble a product. You have never had to meet a payroll and make a profit in your life. I’ve been out on the line. It only takes two or three minutes longer per changeover with the new paste and replenish times are even less.”

At these comments Jane rolled her eyes and glared at Fred. It was clear she wasn’t intimidated by him.
Patty shot back, “Fred you are correct; let’s look at the numbers. We measured your average uptime at about 25%, which is quite good. That means the lines are running two hours in an eight hour shift or 120 minutes. Eight percent of 120 minutes is about ten minutes a day. A typical line has two changeovers a day each requiring 2 extra minutes and 6 solder paste replenishments ,taking an extra 1 minute each with the new paste. This totals 10 minutes, hence cuts production by 8%.”

Fred screamed back, “This is mathematical gobblygook. I saved the company $100,000 a year.” At this he stormed out of the room.

The remaining folks stared at each other. Finally Jane broke the silence, “It never occurred to me how precious a few minutes here and there can affect profit. With the new paste, we will lose about 12% of our total profit of $10 million, or $1.2 million per year. It appears that while Fred was ‘saving a house,’ we were ‘losing a mansion.’ ”

Epilogue: Three weeks later Fred was “promoted” to corporate compliance officer. Jane became the new site CEO/COO. The old solder paste was reinstated a day after Fred left. A few of the old-timers kept some of the “Saving a House” posters for future reminiscing.

5 thoughts on “Saving a House, Losing a Mansion

  1. I enjoy the articles, a little too much story and too little facts on the process issues and resolution.
    I work at being an Assoc. SMT Process engineer and need to figure out a lot of issues pertaining to the job. I’m constantly looking for ways to be better at what I do. Hence the reading of the Professor. How does one know what is truely required of a process engineer? There are so many different areas which have to be cover, chemistries, takt time, line balancing, fabs materials,solder paste, stencil design, reflow profiles, etc.. When does one know when they have the knowlege neccessary to honestly say they are a good SMT process engineer? Technology changes so quickly – to be honest it is very difficult keeping up with it.

  2. Mark, good question – 1st: ALWAYS think outside the box!!!
    Your boss requires – reports on yield, defect causes, action items, thruput times, setup, etc.

    In 1983, SMT was just getting started – for volume (at major mfg, developing Memory module assembly capability). Every problem was ‘new’ – lots of research and long hours on my part. And we had huge geometries, no-tech machines (no vision, no inline monitors), and relatively low volumes.

    So I learned quickly to look ‘outside’ the obvious for problem solving. The results were successful, as memory modules is a major industry!

    2nd: Get a couple of SMT Process ‘how to’ books. A lot of basics are free- online articles, magazines.
    3rd (maybe 1st) Join SMTA…

    4th: participate in online discussions.
    5th: Use Team resources. Some of your tech and operators are more than likely quite under-utilized. Include them in problem-solving sessions. (reward them; even if its’ just donuts!)
    6th: Post charts of goals – production, yields, and KEY yield improvement issues.
    Good luck.

  3. These blog posts remind me a lot of The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement. A must read for anybody in the manufacturing world. A theory of manufacturing written as a story/novel.

    James. To your point of participating in online discussion, as a rep, I’ve found all too often that these discussions typically border on insulting and often resort to lies about products. For a long time I’ve wanted an online community driven by accountability. If you’re going to post something your identity is going to be known. No hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. If such a solution exists, I’d love to hear about it.

  4. Pingback: An Interview with Patty at Circuits Assembly blog

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