The Professor’s second visit to ACME … continued


“Well what should we do Professor?” John said weakly. 

“Clearly, not shut the line down over the lunch break,” The Professor responded quickly. 

“We can’t!” said John, “The operators are all friends and they count on having lunch together.” 

“How much are they paid per hour?” asked The Professor. 

“Ten dollars,” replied John. 

 “You can pay them $15 per hour and still make more profit if they keep the line running over the lunch break,” The Professor opined. 

“Fifteen dollars per hour for the lunch time or the entire 40 hour week?” John asked nervously. 

“For the whole week,” was The Professor’s reply. 

“I find that hard to believe,” John shot back.

“Consider this,” said The Professor. “Your line is up only 9.7% of an 8 hour shift, that’s only 47 minutes. Today you lost 95 minutes over the lunch hour. You may be able to increase your uptime to greater than 15% by keeping the line running over lunch. I modeled your business with ProfitPro3.0 cost estimating software. Your company will make millions more per year if you keep the lines running over lunch. I have worked with other companies to make this change; it is really easy with a 30 minute lunch period. If 5 people normally run the line, you have just one stay back during lunch. That way each person only misses the regular lunch break once a week.”

John thought optimistically, “There is such a thing as a free lunch.”

“Now, let’s talk about what we can do to double the uptime from the 15% we will get by running the lines over lunch,” said the Professor.

Patty listened to all of this in amazement. The Professor was helping ACME more than she thought possible.

Next steps? Yes, John will keep his job. But, what is The Professor’s plan to get uptime to 30% or more? And, we still haven’t learned where Patty will go to dinner.  Stay tuned for the latest.


Dr. Ron

Dr. Ron note:  As surprising as this may seem, this story is based on real events. The uptime numbers and improvements are from real examples. Any company that can achieve 35% or more uptime can compete with anyone in the world, even in low labor rate countries. Sadly, few companies know their uptime or have an urgency to improve it.

Best Wishes,

The Weakest Link: Musings from SMTAI

Due to an illness, I jumped in to co-chair a session at SMTAI yesterday. In doing so, I had the pleasure of spending a little time with a longtime industry machine designer. Afterward, he asked an interesting question:

Talking to all these (industry veterans), I’ve seen a common thread. Almost all are unhappy and hoping to make it to retirement while continuously looking over their shoulder and waiting for the shoe to drop. Perhaps it’s a function of have been through too many downturns. Almost all say they are working harder than ever for less money than ever. Staff reductions of years ago have never been replenished.

Griping aside, they are all keenly aware that there is no one to step in to fill their shoes, be it process engineers, quality managers, field service, you name it. They all state they’re on their own with no replacements in sight. What’s your take on this and if they’re correct, will the industry grind to a halt?

Great question! I agree with the sentiment expressed — small/no raises, more work, no bench from which to develop new engineers. These have been problems for the past 10 years.

That said, I see some underlying trends that make me more bullish than some. For starters, there’s never been more entrepreneurs at the college level. I have been spending time researching tech incubators and have come away stunned at the level of talent and energy. The so-called hobbyist market is booming: 140,000 attendees at the Maker Faire event in San Mateo this year, and they all come to see innovation in action. In researching open source pick-and-place software earlier this year, I learned that there are some 2,000 desktop placement machines out there, and an engineer is behind every one.

There is an abundance of talent designing and building electronics hardware and related tools these days. They just aren’t doing it at the usual places like IBM or HP. It’s more under the radar, but it’s there. Google, for instance, has 5,000 workers doing box build and test in Mountain View. There is a lot of hiring going on at growth companies; it’s just no one talks about it.

During the SMTAI Keynote this week (a really interesting, if a bit inflated, talk on the F-35 warfighter by retired US Navy General Bob DuLaney), I asked whether he saw a way we could better leverage such state-of-the-art technology in order to get more engineers interested in the industry. His response was that he couldn’t see how any engineer wouldn’t be excited to work on such a project. Point, DuLaney, but if I had it over, I would have asked the question this way: How could a company like Lockheed Martin ensure product builds come in on time and on budget when the supply chain it depends on for materials, bare boards, assemblies and so on is struggling mightily to recruit and retain top engineering talent?

For my bigger concern is really the lack of interest by new engineers in the smaller companies that supply the big ones. The Lockheed Martins and Raytheons will always attract talent. But they buy much of their bare boards and assemblies from companies that are considerably smaller, local and less well known. Those firms are the ones having trouble recruiting and keeping talent. For those who do it well, it’s become a strategic advantage. And as long as the Tier 1s have to outsource, their ability will always be limited by the weakest links of their supply chain.

Slow Train a Comin’

Where are the next generation of good engineers going to come from?

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked this …. well, you can do the math.

A good friend asked me this just today. He has noticed many of the 25 to 45 year old engineers have left the SMT industry, and questioned where the new ones would come from.

My response: The same place they always have — they will be poached from other companies, or trained in house.

Twenty years ago, we had the same problems we face today regarding the availability of qualified process engineers. But we looked at it differently. Then, with the industry in its relative infancy and growing 15 to 30% per year, we accepted that hiring novice engineers and training them was simply part of the cost of doing business. Somewhere along the line (get it?) the mindset changed. We started to expect that experienced yet affordable engineers would always be available, and when they weren’t — especially after the tech meltdown, when many left for greener, less cyclical pastures — we as an industry went into a collective mode of “woe is us.”

What we forgot, however, is that the electronics industry has traditionally been self-reliant. We don’t need universities to send us mechanical and industrial engineers ready minted and prepared for action. We need to get back to recognizing that every industry has its learning curve, and we need look no further than ourselves for the solution.

It’s time to stop worrying about the next-generation of engineers and get back in the business of recruiting, mentoring and shaping the orbs as they exit college, engineering degrees in hand, into insightful and careful process engineers.

Companies that do well in this regard will have a competitive advantage over those that don’t.

And if we are lucky, we may just learn something along the way.