Focus on Smart Processes, Not Just Smart Factories


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Nolan Johnson talks to Audra Thurston, Todd Brassard, and Meredith LaBeau about how Calumet is focusing on smart processes, and not as much on smart factories. While modern manufacturing equipment and next-gen technologies can be impressive, so much innovation still hinges on human beings. Calumet believes by investing in their workforce and instilling a culture of innovation throughout their company and supply chain, they’ll see faster advancement.

Nolan Johnson: Right now, there’s a whole lot of discussion about smart factories and equipment that help you automate your manufacturing processes. But right behind that is all of the “basic blocking and tackling” work that needs to be done to manage processes. How do you tackle process improvement to make them more efficient and make them better?

Todd Brassard: A relevant question, especially if the resurgence in domestic manufacturing continues. There is pressure, newfound interest, and good reason for U.S. OEMs to manufacture leading electronics technologies within the United States. Much of this new interest is coming from increasing security concerns as other countries rapidly advance their technical capabilities – at times through forced technology transfer, intellectual property theft, or other nefarious methods – which in many cases already exceeds the manufacturing capabilities of United States electronics industry.

Sure, there’s good reason to bring electronics manufacturing back to U.S. soil, but lawmakers’ focus on advancing and protecting exclusively microelectronics as opposed to the greater surrounding ecosystem has ended in a domestic electronics industry that can readily conceive and design, but not adequately manufacture, the most advanced electronic systems at home in the United States. Through direct and frequent interactions, we know defense, aerospace, and even some commercial U.S. OEMs are casting about the country seeking circuit board manufactures that can provide viable technological solutions for novel leading edge electronic systems to fulfill their government contract commitments within the next two to three years. Often, will little success, according to their representatives on the calls.

Calumet_young_engineers.jpgMoney solves problems by enabling manufacturers to acquire modern equipment, attract talented people, and sustain a capable workforce, but unlike the state sponsored circuit board manufacturers common in China, the U.S. government cannot and will not come to rescue of the U.S. circuit board manufactures with a sweeping injection of funding. Manufacturers must play with the “cards they been dealt” and make incremental improvements from there.

How then can U.S. circuit board manufacturers begin the journey towards becoming a smart factory? Is becoming a smart factory a good strategy based on what the U.S. market is now asking of its electronic manufacturing industrial base? Is there a middle ground between traditional manual processing and smart factories, say with smarter processes?

To read the full article, which appeared in the January 2021 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.

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