Challenges of Lean Manufacturing in High Mix/Low Volume

Manufacturing in the USA has undergone highs and lows over the last 20 years.  This is especially true in the assembly of printed circuit boards.  There have been the high times with numerous manufacturing sites popping up, investing in state of the art equipment and running 24 hours with 2 to 3 shift changes. 
The most enticing manufacturing projects are high volumes of a stable product with no variables.   These jobs run long enough to develop lean processes and efficient material handling. 
There are many products which do not have a high volume demand such as medical equipment or semi-custom products.  Some electronic manufacturing facilities accept a mix of high volume assembly projects along with the smaller build quantities.   Boutique assembly houses tend to cater exclusively to the low volume projects and have found their niche market. 
There are challenges unique to running multiple variations / projects through assembly in low volumes:
  • ·         High demand on administrative processes and scheduling to maintain floor capacity
  • ·         Documentation and labor in machine changeovers
  • ·         Employee training
  • ·         Lack frequency and/or volume to develop lean processes or process improvements
  • ·         System management and data entry of P/N’s used only used once
  • ·         Material handling costs for ordering /pulling, verifying, and staging for set-up

Despite the challenges, there are electronic manufacturing facilities which have developed the expertise to provide high quality, affordable, low volume assemblies.   Employee retention and healthy partnerships may be two of the keys to address the challenges. 
  • ·         Employee training can be minimized with strong retention, good initial documentation and established best practices for small volume builds will cultivate lean processes at the start.
  • ·         System management and data entry of P/N’s to feed MRP as well as managing material handling issues can be resolved by outsourcing to a kitting provider to allow absolute focus on producing a quality assembly.

Focus, focus, focus.  Success is found in focusing on the strong suit and partnering with others who do the same. 

You can do anything, but not everything. —Anonymous

Made in USA

Does “Made in the USA” matter?  Do companies that make products in the USA find value in the distinction?
According to several polls and some recent research, it does make a difference.  Consumer Reports article from February 2013 ( covered a broad spectrum of manufacturing, labeling practices and consumer sentiment.  In addition to a manufacturer believing in keeping their loyalties and their money in the USA, consumers were also influenced by corporate responsibility, environmental policies and ethics.
Do you believe in MADE IN USA? 
Electronics manufacturing is often cited as an example of products being made outside of this country to maintain competitive pricing.  Some OEM’s have argued that the United States does not have the skilled labor and machinery to compete. 
Much has been written to encourage manufacturing in the USA and to bring pressure to manufacturers to reconsider outsourcing overseas.  Each manufacturer needs to take a look at their corporate responsibility and decide what they are reasonably able to do.  CIC, Inc. is proud to be a service provider to the electronic manufacturing industry who strives to purchase American made components, recommend American made components and encourage American electronic printed circuit board assembly.
Is MADE IN USA an option to explore?  Does it make sense for US companies of electronics manufacturing especially in the prototype and pre-production stages?  CIC, Inc. manages full-turnkey PCBA projects and specializes in procurement and kitting for those projects.  Get a quote and see if MADE IN USA can be possible.