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56 The PCB Magazine • October 2015 Managing product flow and cycle time across a wide range of product constructions and vol- umes in a high-mix flexible circuit fabrication facility can be extremely challenging. It can also be a critical success factor, so the only op- tion is to accept the challenge! Many processes are capital-intensive as well as facility-limited, so using cellular manufacturing as an absolute solution is simply not feasible. During the time I have spent in this industry (let's not talk about how long), I have witnessed a substantial improvement with companies able to achieve significant cycle time reduction. This is done in sev- eral ways—with bet- ter processing equip- ment, faster design times, more pre- dictable yields and improvements in material flow meth- ods. Clever improve- ments in processing are myriad across many fabricators, but no single system seems to be a good fit for the challenges of a high-product-mix circuit fabrication fa- cility. What seems to work best for a high- mix factory with a wide range of part numbers is a tailored hybrid system. Concepts can be adopted from classic just in time manufacturing (JIT), theory of constraints (TOC) and quick response man - ufacturing (QRM). Four critical elements de- fine cycle time management in a PCB factory: • Material movement by Kanban (visual signal) • Product mix control • Short term capacity/workflow planning • Daily management Kanban The basis of any cycle time reduction is to reduce work in process (WIP). The more work in process, the longer the overall cycle times. One controls WIP by controlling the amount of work in- troduced and flow- ing through the system. A common method is Kanban, where material movement is based on a visual signal in- dicating work is to be "pulled" from an upstream operation. There are many versions of Kanban that are used suc- cessfully in manu- facturing. One sim- ple method is to Kanban from one operation or work center to the next. Signals are arranged so work is pulled into the next work center when it is ready to process it. This meth - od works very well when the product flows tend to be homogeneous. Cellular manufacturing techniques tend to group operations by prod- by Dave Becker all FlEx FlExiBlE circuiTS llc all about flex Cycle Time Reduction in a Flexible Circuit Facility FeATure ColuMn

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