NCAB: Quality through End-to-End Process Visibility

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100% quality achieved through control of all details Chris Nuttall has been in charge of quality and technology issues at the NCAB Group Since early 2011. He believes that attaining the highest possible quality can be only be achieved by focusing on all the individual details - from design input through process improvements and onto delivery. So far, the figures are pointing in the right direction, but he stresses that the NCAB Group are only as good as their latest delivery and there is no place for complacency.

“I was not entirely convinced that it was appropriate to include willingness in the rankings. But in the end it is people who can make the difference and I have come to realize that both performance and willingness are prerequisites for achieving the set objectives,” says Chris Nuttall, Chief Operations Officer, NCAB Group.  

Quality the Number One Priority

Chris has extensive experience of working with the quality and performance requirements applied in the automotive industry. As a result he has brought in a high degree of quality consciousness to his new role, which is something he believes is right in line with the times:

“Earlier, only customers from the automotive industry demanded that manufacturers lived up to their (automotive) standard of quality. Now we’re seeing other clients as well demanding this. Quality expectations and demands are today increasing across the board.” he says.

The NCAB Group’s vision is to deliver PCBs with zero defects. The quality as perceived by the customer experience is top priority in everything we do and, as Chris Nuttall puts it, the NCAB Group is only as good as its latest delivery. What then, is the NCAB Group doing to live up to its vision? Chris emphasizes that quality is something that can best be managed by focusing on the individual details all the way from design right through to delivery. In addition, it is vital to identify the processes across the entire flow in detail. It’s only when you have that level of overview that you can plan for quality throughout the supply chain. He says that it is not only up to him to achieve or influence that. As quality manager, he says he can contribute ideas and support when needed, measure the results and reconnect them to help steer the boat in the right direction, but emphasizes that the quality of NCAB’s deliveries is dependent on everyone involved at every stage.

Can Add Value at The Design Stage

The prerequisites that ensure that customers get the quality they want at the best possible total cost can really be determined at the design stage. If the NCAB Group, with its manufacturing expertise, can be brought into the process and add value right from the PCB design stage, it can ensure that the PCBs are designed for volume production.

“Customers in the automotive industry, for example, Stoneridge, have benefited from our expertise at the beginning of the supply chain. The players in this branch expressly seek the best possible quality at the lowest possible cost. Once we get the opportunity to show how we can add value, the customers can realise the extent of the benefits gained through designing for the entire life cycle, compared with, for example, just choosing a design that is optimal for the prototypes.” explains Chris.

Developing The Factories

The next stage in the chain involves developing processes and technologies for PCB manufacturing in the factories. In this context, the NCAB Group team in China plays a crucial role. They work closely with the factories that are ranked on the basis of both performance and how willing they are to work with the NCAB Group to develop their quality and delivery capabilities.

Initially, Chris was not entirely convinced that it was appropriate to include willingness in the rankings. But he concluded that in the end it is people who can make the difference and he has come to realize that both performance and willingness are prerequisites for achieving the set objectives – what is more important, the mindset to improve or having the skills but no desire to improve on them?

Furthermore, having quality control on the spot in the factories is crucial for the NCAB Group. In this context, Chris says that the group should work to improve its ability to make use of the statistics in targeting the regular audits carried out at the factories. That is why the NCAB Group has started to follow up the numbers every quarter in order to focus on the next quarterly audits. This to be able to constantly work on the areas that specifically need improving and very quickly and visually seeing where we are still to improve.

“We have the biggest and best factory management team in place in China and they are working hard to help the NCAB Group to keep our promises to customers.” says Chris. “We are present at the factories, where we always play a constructive role, since the factories we work with are focused on developing and improving themselves. We want to get the right procedures, processes and methods of verification in place to enhance quality.” he concludes.

Positive PPM Development

For the NCAB Group, Quality assurance is much much more than applying various criteria to the product itself. What is equally important is to look at the process, tools and people who use them. Naturally, product monitoring is, at the same time, also essential. One of the key indicators to monitor quality is measured in the number of incorrect order lines in relation to the number of delivered order lines. Another are the PPM (Parts Per Million), as historically driven by the automotive industry.

“We are moving in the right direction, so I’m relatively satisfied. But the journey isn’t over.” says Chris.  “When customers purchase a PCB, they want the right quality, at the right price and delivered on time. Part of my role is to ensure that quality is the outstanding feature of the NCAB Group.

With some customers, we have reduced the annualised figure to 15 PPM, which is very good. We should never rest on our laurels however, but rather constantly work to further improve ourselves.” Chris underlines.

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