Operational Excellence from a Design Services Manager


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Jesse Vaughan discusses the key aspects of continuous improvement he sees in his role as manager of design services at ACDi, and the importance of carving out communication channels—both internally and externally to help build operational excellence.

Nolan Johnson: Jesse, you are a manager of design services for ACDi, but let’s start with your manufacturing and process experience. How much of that knowledge transferred into your first year as a design services manager? Were you able to bring what you learned from operations into the design team?

Jesse Vaughan: Yes, absolutely. My manufacturing role was on the assembly side, and I was the lead manufacturing engineer for our largest internal customer—a military prime contractor—where I ran over 100 NPIs for a complex product. I would often find issues on the assembly floor, and then be able to troubleshoot that back to design. But I didn’t connect the dots at that point because I didn’t have the design experience. I only understood it from a 10,000-foot view; but now, building the product and being able to backtrack, I can take those experiences of, for instance, connectors that need to be select-soldered with passives that are too close to surface mount components.

You end up soldering the connector and losing the passives around it, things like that. There are nuances with spacing requirements, sorts of press-fit, tolerance differences. Right now, we have the benefit of having the service bureau under the same roof as the Frederick (Maryland) operation so we can walk a product literally from inception through design. Obviously, we go to a third party to get the PCB fabricated and then I can bring a designer onto the floor with their data package and watch the product being built so they can get a good understanding. You get the perfect marriage.

Johnson: Was this in the company culture already, or have you helped to cultivate this?

Vaughan: It already existed, but I have helped to accelerate it. When we are more knowledgeable about the issues out on the floor, and we can incorporate lessons learned on the front end of design, then the company is more successful. Obviously, our customers are also more successful, which helps with retention. It’s beneficial to have the kind of communication and connection we’re going for.

Johnson: Can you quantify how that has improved your NPI process? Can you give some sense of the positive impact it has had?

Vaughan: It’s difficult to quantify just based on the data points. This is my first management role, so we had that learning curve of understanding the team. For example, just before I came on board, we brought in a selective solder machine to further automate our process for our current customer base. We used to wave and/or hand-solder all connectors, but as it is with any implementation of capital equipment and a new process, things needed to be tweaked.

I had the benefit of coming on board within that cycle of the selective solder machine. They went to run the first lot and we said, “Hmm, I think we need to make some changes because, yes, automation will increase efficiency, but not the way the board is currently laid out. We need to make some changes, create some spacing so that we can take advantage of the time savings and the cost savings for putting this machine in place.” That is probably the most significant example as far as an overall program. That product line consists of eight separate boards in an entire rack that goes together for a communications system, but that’s the main board that drives everything else. They were having some other test-related issues, and while we provide sophisticated test capabilities, this was not a requirement that was flowed down to us in this particular instance.

They were getting test data feedback, sitting with the designers, the assembly team, and with their manufacturing guys as one big brain trust. There are certain things you can’t change due to signal integrity, operability, or reliability reasons. But the areas where we were able to make modifications to have a cleaner run and more efficiency, we were able to implement. It was good being a part of that, but it’s hard to quantify it.

To read this entire interview, which appeared in the May 2021 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.

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