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The PCB manufacturing cycle involves a series of interdependent processes starting from raw material and ending with the finished product. Successful PCB manufacturing shops coordinate, control and constantly upgrade their processes to meet the ever-changing market demands. Modification of existing processes for better efficiency in work flow, product quality, or cost savings is an ongoing activity designed for continuous improvement. As soon as processes are established, in comes sales with a new product beyond the capabilities of the present setup. Once it is established that this is a viable market for the shop, the addition of a new process is initiated.
The primary responsibility of maintaining, upgrading and initiating new processes falls to the process engineer (PE). Clearly, this is a tall order. Depending on the size of the operation, process engineering may be an individual or a series of engineers headed by an engineering manager. In the absence of process engineering the tasks are distributed to other departments. Mostly the burden rests with the manufacturing manager who is assisted by sales, vendors, maintenance, lab, and quality as well as upper management.
The PE establishes process control to ensure that the process remains consistent and that the quality of the product meets established criteria across three shifts, day to day and week to week. Engineering documents and charts the different variables using statistical control charts based on Lean Six Sigma (LSS) methodology. Engineering sets up software systems like TrueChem. TrueChem defines and triggers activities based upon specific analysis, events, trends, tolerances, etc. It automatically logs and maintains important records.
In addition, it ensures that required adds, corrective actions, sign-offs, etc., are performed in a timely manner. It also keeps track of who performed what activity, at what time, with what actions, and with what results for full accountability, traceability, and auditability. Engineering is constantly attempting to widen the operating window of the processes to ensure compliance.
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of The PCB Magazine, click here.