Reduce Defense Products Cost, Lead Time with Highly Efficient Manufacturing
By Joseph O’Neil, President, Hunter Technology Corp.
Reducing product cost and lead time are two top-of-mind goals for defense electronics manufacturers. While most companies start out with efficient processes, over time products change and steps are added. Eventually, manufacturing processes can become convoluted. One way to shave months off of production time and dramatically reduce costs is to ensure design and manufacturing processes are lean and efficient.
Value Stream Maps Reduce Cycle Time
Major contracts awards to defense contractors often come with large penalties for missed delivery deadlines. With new products in particular, design changes can add weeks, and sometimes even months, to the process. By the time the product finally gets to production floor, the customer is anxious and the manufacturer frantic.
Hunter Technology, a Silicon Valley-based vertically integrated EMS with its own line of RF and microwave products, knows firsthand that reducing time to market by squeezing the manufacturing process can only go so far. So the company’s engineering, production, and materials staff plans out all processes from design
through delivery using value stream maps. By examining each step in the process to ensure it is as efficient as possible, value stream maps can help reduce cycle time from design to production. Considering that pre-production processes account for about half of lead time, and almost 90 percent of that time is used for non-value-add activities, there’s often a huge opportunity for improvement.
If mapping out every process seems overwhelming, it’s easiest to begin by addressing the simplest processes first, for instance, how instructions are sent from one department to another. Hunter’s TQC (total quality control) format is set up so that the first part of every instruction is inspecting the previous step before moving to the next step. TQC is particularly useful for military and aerospace products that must meet stringent standards such as AS9100C, ISO 13485-2003 and ISO-9001:2008, as well as numerous IPC and MIL-Spec standards.
Process Reviews Ensure Quality
TQC also ensures quality for products where a malfunction could be fatal to the success of the project. For example, NASA’s $280 million Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) launched last September (Figure 1) onboard a Minotaur 5 rocket containing printed circuit boards assembled by Hunter. During its mission, LADEE descended as low as 12 miles above the moon’s surface to gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky. By using a modular common spacecraft body rather than a custom design, the NASA Ames Research Center began its transition from custom towards multi-use designs and assembly-line production, a move which could drastically reduce the cost of spacecraft development, just as the Ford Model T did for automobiles.
Another area that can benefit from process reviews is prototyping. For example, when one of Hunter’s OEM customers came in for lean training, Hunter reviewed their incoming documentation and discovered the OEM was not always operating with complete sets of documentation and consistent instructions. When Hunter suggested a switch to the documentation format, the OEM responded, “Why would we want to do that? We’re the ones using the docs.” Hunter pointed out that while the OEM uses these docs for just three weeks out of the three-month prototyping process, Hunter uses this format for 52 weeks out of the year and could develop the prototypes significantly faster if the processes were documented in a standard format. In addition to saving prototyping time, consistent documentation makes it easier to train and manage supervisory and production personnel, which ultimately reduces costs.
Lean Supermarkets Save Money
In the traditional forecast-and-build model, stock forecasts aren’t directly connected to when the product is put into production. Forecasts are created and raw materials ordered for a set amount regardless of when they are needed, even though finished goods imageries fluctuate over time. For companies concerned with the investment of over-maintaining a continuity of supply, a “supermarket” pull replenishment system provides tremendous value for forecasting and saves money on stock surpluses.
The best way to ease into this model is to order conservative safety stock levels at the outset and gradually reduce the levels as the process becomes more familiar. For example, to reduce stock surpluses for its OEMs, Hunter asks for data on the actual historical end-customer pulls. It then uses a simulation which factors manufacturing and supplier lead times, plus variations in end-customer demand, to establish optimum inventory levels and safety stock.
Lean supermarket simulations can be run to show weekly pulls over a 12-month period. This provides a visual demonstration of fluctuations in finished goods imagery. A second simulation can then be run to calculate the maximum amount of stock based on demand and minimum stock levels based on variations from week to week.
Invest in Capital Equipment, Automated Tools
One of the most challenging aspects of manufacturing is the constant investment in capital equipment. Advanced test equipment in particular can make the difference between meeting deadlines with quality products — or not. Hunter recently added two Dage sealed X-ray-tube inspection systems (Figure 2) featuring approximately 0.95 microns of feature recognition, a 740x geometric magnification, and a 70 degree oblique viewing angle. Between rotating the base and rotating the tube, technicians can inspect any hidden joint or point on a printed circuit board from any angle.
A tool that the company considers essential for managing product information is IHS’ BOM review. Engineers tend to design products that include components with which they’re familiar. Should any of the components become obsolete over the life of the product, the manufacturer is faced with a mountain of paperwork to substitute new components — assuming the parts can be found in time to meet deadlines. To help manufacturers avoid this nightmare, Hunter runs every bill of materials through the IHS tool to indicate which parts will continue to be available from multiple sources, the number of years the part is expected to be available, and the long-term prediction of obsolescence. Components that may not be readily available in the near future are flagged using an external, open-source database.
Hunter also utilizes Valor for DFM. As new components are released, footprints and unique intricacies of the package are added to the Valor VPL database, providing engineering design and product development teams with real-time information. For manufacturers who don’t have time to research this information, the Valor DFM tool is indispensable.
EMS Discipline on Hunter Products
In addition to having 46 years of contract manufacturing experience, Hunter is one of the few EMS that designs, manufactures and markets its own line of high-performance microwave solutions for EW, signal intelligence and radar. From its 62,500-square-foot manufacturing facilities in Milpitas, Calif., Hunter offers integrated RF solutions up through 80 GHz, including frequency synthesizers, microwave receivers, up/down converters, and millimeter-wave subsystems that are not addressed by existing COTS products.
Military and aerospace customers are attracted to Hunter’s product line because the company is particularly adept at utilizing the latest MMIC die components to squeeze tremendous performance out of a tightly integrated package, while considering the complexities of manufacturing in high volumes throughout the development process.
This combination of experience and expertise produces high-performance, repeatable and reliable microwave systems such as the Model SRX-00140V microwave SIGINT VME/VXS tuner shown in Figure 3. Combined with in-house automated test and validation systems, Hunter has complete control over final products such as:
• Custom RF subsystems up to 80 GHz
• Broadband up/down converters, up to 2 GHz instantaneous bandwidth
• High-speed digital RF arbitrary modulation generators
• Fast-tuning, low phase noise RF receivers and tuners
• Miniature frequency synthesizers up to 40 GHz
To expand its capacity and service offerings, Hunter Technology recently purchased the equipment and inventory assets of NBS Designs, Inc. (Milpitas, CA) and Spectral Response LLC (Lawrenceville, GA). These acquisitions doubled manufacturing floor space, increased SMT capacity by 40 percent and added significant engineering resources in PCB design and leading edge DF(x) review capability. It also enables the company to offer design, NPI, volume manufacturing, test, tune, and integration in both California and Georgia, along with warranty, repair, upgrade and third-party logistics.
These recent acquisitions follow Hunter’s mission to optimize its clients’ operations by lowering costs and reducing time-to-market through the use of innovative design and engineering solutions combined with vertical integration. Major customers include OEM leaders in high reliability industries such as medical, networking, test, measurement, defense, and aerospace. Resulting operations are now of the size and scope necessary to attract a more diverse account base that expects responsiveness, technical expertise, product reliability, and financial strength. The ability to label products completely “Made in USA” has been greatly enhanced for all of Hunter’s OEM clients.
Hunter Technology is a leading EMS provider delivering specialized design, engineering, and manufacturing services. Hunter helps clients design, engineer, build, test and ship reliable, mission-critical electronics products. The company specializes in customer collaboration on the design and development of integrated RF solutions up through 80 GHz, including frequency synthesizers, microwave receivers, up/down converters and MM-wave subsystems not addressed by existing COTS products. More information is available by calling 408-957-1300 or visiting our website.
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