ISO 9001:2008 Surveillance Audit Results

Waiting for us upon our arrival back from the Christmas holiday, was the audit report from our registrar’s (SAI Global) 12 month surveillance audit.  The report was a well-earned Christmas gift as PC Systems successfully passed surveillance audit with only one opportunity for improvement identified.

Over the past few months, the PC Systems’ management team has been working very diligently to streamline our design and development process.  We documented the design and development process with a process flow diagram to show the critical steps and interactions of the engineering, product management, quality, sourcing and customer service department throughout the process.  We also development new design review forms to easily identify and record the design inputs, design outputs, design changes, validation and verification during the design and development phases.  This hard work paid off as in the auditor’s report, he highlighted the improvements to the design and development process.  Other areas of PC Systems’ quality management system which was highlighted in the auditor’s report were the 63 closed continuous improvements and preventive actions complete in 2011, the training matrix and the internal audit program.

As we look forward to 2012, we will continually improve the quality management system at PC Systems.  Our focus will be on improving the corrective action process, improving process yields and better understanding our process capabilities.  PC Systems will continue to use the ISO 9001:2008 standard to better our quality management system and not just to be certified.

Copy of the PC Systems, Inc. ISO 9001:2008 Certificate found here.

Customer Satisfaction and Vocabulary

I stopped in at a local used car (Rogo’s Auto Sales http://www.rogosauto.com/) to talk to the owner (Tim) about a set of keys that he was going to order from me.  A quick conversation with them gave me an idea for a blog post, so I thought I would share it with you.

I bought my first vehicle from this dealer about 6 months ago and I was absolutely amazed by their customer service.  They are small, they know me by name, and they can justify their pricing.  Notice that I didn’t say that they had the lowest price around.  When I had a problem with the new truck, they gave me a loaner and took the truck to the OEM dealership to get it fixed for me.  They didn’t have to do that, but Tim said that was how he wanted to make it right.  That is just one example of the customer service they provided.

I want our customers to feel the same satisfaction after working with PC Systems that I felt after working with Rogo’s.  I have to admit, one of the reasons I stopped in today was to ask about some new vehicles for my wife.  I want to buy from them again.

This morning, I overheard Tim and Kenny talking about how to look up my VIN number.  Kenny told Tim to look under “deals” in their computer database.  I pressed Tim on that a little bit.  I thought it was interesting that they call it “deals” instead of “sales”.  Tim joked and said that he hopes everyone thinks they got a deal there.

I don’t expect that anyone sat down and really thought out what they were going to call “sales” in their database.  Only employees look at it, so there isn’t any incentive or marketing gold to be had by calling it “deals”.  Rather, I feel this is just a reflection of the culture at the dealership, which is what had me excited in the first place.

Using terminology that frames up the customer satisfaction internally will obviously translate into using the same terminology while speaking with the customer.  This is always going to have an effect on the buying experience.  I don’t know if that was intentional at Rogo’s or not, but I thought it was worth writing about.  I’ll have to think about how we do that here at PC Systems (if we do) or how we can start doing it.  How about you?  Can you think of any way you use vocabulary that takes into consideration the customer’s point of view rather than the company’s?

New electrode design improves weld performance

I want to share a continuous improvement effort that was presented by one of our Quality Engineers, Dave Gillen.  Dave has worked at PC Systems since “the beginning” and has consistently been looking to improve peel performance of welded wire to Copper solder tabs, which is one of our core products.   Through a series of corrective action activities, he had declared that the “flaring” of wires when welding smaller gauges (18/20/22AWG) caused a lower peel value on the weld.   Even worse, the “flare” was unpredictable, leading to variability.

Dave found that the “flaring” was caused by the upper electrode design.  It was cut as a radius, which did not always capture the wires before the weld.  He designed a new upper electrode in a trapezoidal shape.  In Dave’s words, “the results were remarkable”, and I agree!

Variability of the weld was reduced significantly with respect to weld peel.  Also, the aesthetic difference is impressive as well, as you can see in the photographs.  We look forward to using this new design and improving our capability at the welders.  As we are all aware, this reduced variability will likely lead to reduced scrap and increased throughput, allowing us to manage our costs for your benefit!

LEAN EVENTS: WORTH THE TIME?

Contribution is a product of teamwork. Teamwork is a product of improvement. Improvement is a product of success. In order to generate these ingredients to success, it is necessary for a manufacturing company to take the time to conduct continuous improvement activities.

PC Systems held a full Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED) event on August 24, 2011. More details are to come about the event in its entirety, but for now I want to dive into a story detailing the almost immediate benefit that team LEAN events can have on a manufacturing process.

Participants of the SMED LEAN event at PC Systems came from many branches of the company, each had one goal in mind: Reduce changeover time of mold tooling. The suspects included company quality manager, engineering manager, engineer, production manager, two plastic injection mold operators, and machinist. The integration of thoughts from each branch led to many noteworthy ideas. Among these ideas was the thought of knurling the allen wrenches used by the mold operators for die change out. Moving forward, it was suggested that rather than using a manual socket allen wrench, it would be more effective to use the services of a battery powered electric drill. These baseline ideas provided the foundation to what was considered to be the best option: An air powered allen wrench.

The iterative process of coming up with this seemingly simple idea portrays the impact that conducting team LEAN events can have. It took the minds of many to come up with such an elementary yet effective solution.  Participant contribution and teamwork allowed for immediate success. The new idea was implemented just days after the event, and is proving to be a solid starting point on the road to tooling changeover time reduction.

LEAN Training – Single Minute Exchange of Dies

Although I have had just a taste of what PC Systems is all about in my limited time with the company, it is evident that a great deal of work is executed to ensure customer satisfaction, and it is amongst the company’s top priorities.  There is an ongoing effort to improve every existing product, process, and idea in order to meet and surpass customer expectation.  In order to secure customer satisfaction, it is necessary to take the appropriate steps internally to better every aspect of the company.  On Thursday, April 21, I attended a LEAN training class with a focus on SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Dies).

SMED is an important aspect in reducing manufacturing waste, much like all other LEAN tools.  It focuses on the reduction of product lot sizes by simplifying and organizing changeover techniques.  “Single Minute” implies that improvement steps can be taken to shorten changeover time to under ten minutes.  Although many of the SMED ideas can be regarded as common sense, as my boss (Engr. manager Kalen Fitch) will tell you: “Common sense isn’t always very common.”

Howard Wilson, of NWIRC, led the one day “Quick Changeover/Setup Reduction” training course at the Community Education Council in St. Marys.  A quote from the course lecture: “SMED ideas can be viewed as being pretty simple, but if applied properly, can make a complex difference.”

The course introduced the material sufficiently via PowerPoint slides, as well as by integrating a few activities.  The first activity was conducted to demonstrate all non-value added steps that may be taken during a common changeover.  The second involved splitting the group in half, and having a contest to see which team can best streamline the changeover process of the first activity.  I took a great deal of good information away from this course, and would highly recommend it.

By implementing many of the ideas illustrated in this course, I expect a great deal of overall production improvement.  Here at PC Systems, I will use my newly acquired skills to benefit the company in many ways.  I will improve mold tooling by standardizing and simplifying general design to expedite changeover time.  I plan on developing a changeover process that can allow for operators to easily change high running tooling by themselves without confusion.  Other organizational practices and strategies will be incorporated into this process improvement in accordance with SMED principles.

Selling Electrical Connectors and Harnesses

Here at PCS, we use multiple Manufacturers’ Reps to serve as our sales force in the field.  This has been a successful sales model in the past which allows for us to cover greater territory while still keeping the overhead and cost down for our customer.

One of these rep firms, Innovation Sales, has recently updated their website.  If you have a free moment, you may want to go ahead and take a look.  As many of you are aware, updating a website is not typically a trivial task, but I think you would agree that the Innovation Sales team did a pretty good job.

http://www.innovationsales.net/

The team at Innovation Sales is a strong one with a very good blend of experience and youth.  For PCS, they primarily cover the Midwest area, but have accounts in multiple other locations due to their excellent customer support, particularly within the areas of Automotive Glass Connectors and Electrical Harnesses.

Their mission statement is:

To “bridge the gap” between customers and suppliers by providing solutions to the problems many of today’s Original Equipment Manufacturers and their supply base encounter.
We do this through sound application engineering combined with strong problem solving methods which have been developed throughout our history of service.

The portfolio at Innovation Sales includes fasteners, castings, powdered metal and electrical components.  The products in the portfolio are typically complimentary, therefore there may be something offered there that will be of interest to you.

The description page that is provided for PCS is pretty good as well in case you are interested in reviewing that:

http://www.innovationsales.net/pc-systems-electrical-harness.htm

If you have any questions or comments, I encourage you to contact us at PCS or the team at Innovation Sales.  I am sure that the team at Innovation Sales would welcome feedback on their new website if you are willing to provide it to them.

ERGONOMIC NIGHTMARE?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we found a way to increase throughput at one of our machines, but the result was a rather uncomfortable working position.  Let’s take a look at the workstation and what our thought process was for improvement.

A little explanation goes a long way here.  The chair that the operator sits on is in the bottom right corner.  Most of the work is completed on the machinery on the table, centered in the photo.  Two foot pedals on the ground run the air cylinders to run the equipment.  Finally, a box of raw material is located to the left of the operator and a box of finished goods is located to the right of the operator.

I have to add, this workstation looks rather archaic.  It is probably one of the oldest pieces of equipment in the plant, but it is very effective at completing the task it was designed for.

Where are the pain points?

1) Height – The chair isn’t adjustable for height.  Also, you can see an operator added a pad.  Sitting on a hard wooden seat for four hours is uncomfortable for anyone.

2) Seating Position – See that foot pedal, there is another one to the right.  The operator has to straddle the leg of the table so that he/she can get close enough to the equipment to do their job.

3) Twisting – The orientation of the boxes and the tooling requires the operator to do a considerable amount of twisting while seated.

4) Reach – The operator can’t get their legs up under the table due to the bracing.  This forces them to reach to do their job.

After soliciting some ideas from the operators, we came up with some ideas that would help address many of the issues above.  Most of the suggestions hinged around moving the leg of the table so that the operator was free to move their legs under.

We gave our Facilities Manager the green light to start cutting and welding and I think he did a spectacular job.  Here is the result:

It doesn’t look like much, but this small change made a world of difference.  Here is a summary of the improvements:

1) Height – Although not shown here, we are providing the operators with a padded adjustable height chair that allows them to rotate if needed.

2) Seating Position – We re-oriented some of the tooling to allow the operators to sit square to the table.  Their legs can be placed under the table without causing discomfort.  The foot pedals can be moved to a position that is most comfortable for the operator.

3) Twisting – As indicated above, we moved the tooling which eliminated most of the twisting.  With the new position, we can put the raw and finished good boxes to the side of the operator so that they only need to reach down to grab a part, rather than twisting and reaching outward.

4) Reach – Moving the leg and brace on the table allowed the operator to move closer to the table, making the reaching distance much more manageable.

I think this is an excellent example of a simple solution that will pay significant dividends for both PCS and our customers.  It may not be our most impressive machine with a bunch of bells and whistles (we have those as well), but this is a machine that is going to affect the bottom line for both of us!  This improvement (and others like it) are what helps us to manage our costs and provide product at the pricing levels that our customers expect.

We are not finished with the improvements at this workstation, but we are going to use this setup for a couple of months and then evaluate the feedback we receive.  Is there anything that you think that we missed?

FOIL CONNECTORS FOR REDUCED THICKNESS

Customer: “I need a harness to connect this widget to this gizmo.  The catch is, it needs to handle between 15 and 20 amps and can’t be more than 0.010” thick.  Oh yeah, it must be electrically isolated.  What are my options?”

We get this question occasionally, typically from auto glass manufacturers supplying to the European market, but also from Heavy Equipment glass manufacturers as well.  Typically, in this scenario you have two options, the first being a flex circuit which I have discussed in the past, or two being a “foil” connector which is a relatively unknown product outside of auto glass circles.  The lack of use elsewhere is really unfortunate because it could be used as a low cost design solution in many different places.

What is “foil”?

First, I would like for you to take a look at a couple of our products that use “foil” as a conductor for reference.

Next, we will take a look at the typical construction of this type of connector.

1) We start with a bare copper or tin plated copper foil conductor.  Standard thickness is 0.1mm and standard widths are 6.25mm, 15mm and 17mm.  Other widths and thicknesses are available depending on application, but using these standards allows us to control cost.

2) The foil conductor is then encapsulated with an insulating tape.  As a standard, black or natural (amber) polyimide film is used (Kapton), but other options are available.  The width is usually 3-4mm wider than the foil conductor.

3) Double sided tape can be applied to assist in final assembly.  Tapes that we use include 3M 9473 and TESA 4972, but once again, other options are available.  A die cut pull tab can be added to really make this a valuable addition.

4) The foil is prepared so that it can be mated with a harness of some kind.  This can include an environmentally sealed plastic overmold to round wire or termination, a tab of reflowed and fluxed solder, a termination directly on the foil with housing, a stamped hole, etc. depending on application.

The design discussion can obviously be much more technical, especially with regards to material selection and current capacity.   This post is meant only to be an idea generator, if you have a problem that you think this may solve, call us and lets talk about it in more detail.

If you have an application that has size constraints, I think the advantage is clear when it comes to using “foil”.  It is often assumed that there will be a significant premium to be paid for this option, but that is the beauty in the solution.  Given the popularity of this type of product in European automobiles, there is already an established supply base.  Cost can easily be controlled by using standard materials which are produced on automated equipment.

The Goal

We recently had a visit from an agency who has money available for training that they need to disburse and wanted to see if we would be a good fit for the receiving those funds.

While walking through the plant I found myself talking in all the common “buzz” words for LEAN manufacturing and Accounting, which typically leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  I am sure most of you have led this dog and pony show at least once in your life?  It became even more clear how important the simple concepts from Eli Goldratt’s book “The Goal” were.

If you are increasing throughput, decreasing inventory or decreasing operational expense you are most likely improving.  I think that sometimes it is good to remind ourselves of that.

Ultimately, if we are successful at the above objectives, you will purchasing from a supplier who has a healthy business (we aren’t going anywhere) and as we grow, our expenses and burden will be shared my more products, reducing or maintaining your pricing.  Sounds good right?

I should add that we anxiously await our assessment from the funding agency and welcome any criticisms or suggestions for improvement.  An outside set of eyes often uncover simple yet effective solutions.   I hope the week is going well for everyone and quietly hope to see some more comments.

Operator Fatigue in a LEAN Cell

Over the past 10 years, PC Systems has progressively integrated LEAN manufacturing concepts into our production flow to reduce waste and provide a higher quality and more cost competitive product.  We have done this with customer guidance as well as internal expertise.

Our conversions from batch processing to single piece flow have yielded some of our biggest improvements and this is one of the characteristics of our company that we really like to “hang our hat” on.  Recently though, an operator brought it to management’s attention that operators were experiencing symptoms of fatigue as a result of working in one of our cells.  In particular, this operator complained of sore/stiff leg joints and dizziness.  The cycle time for the cell is between 20 seconds and a minute, depending on the operator.  This particular operator was making ~900 trips around the cell in a day.  This is one of our most productive operators, but even 600 cycles a day would be an impressive amount of twisting and turning through a day.  You can see a video of the cell here:

LEAN Cell Video

As a management team, we decided the concerns warranted more investigation.  My first instinct was to work in the cell myself for 8 hours to get a feel for the ergonomics of the job.  I have to report that the experience was not terrible, although I felt there were improvements that could be made.  I also spoke with each operator individually to try and pull as much information as possible.  Finally, I looked to my professional network and interestingly enough, I gathered some useful information via Social Networking via LinkedIn.  That discussion thread can be found here:

LinkedIn Discussion

We have decided to limit the time in the cell per operator to 4 hours at this time, while we continue to look for improvements.  Ultimately, it is our feeling that the more comfortable our operators are, the better the quality of the product will be.  We want our operators to take pride in the product they create, the facility they work in, and above all the company that they stand behind.

After reviewing the video, are there any suggestions that you feel would improve the ergonomics that you think we could have missed?  We realize our customer base has a tremendous amount of LEAN expertise, perhaps you would be willing to share some of your comments or best practices that could ultimately reduce your product cost.