The Lean Ranger in: The Workshop of the World, Part II

By Jon Miller Published on June 15th, 2006

After a short layover at Gemba’s Shanghai office, Yang Kai and I are off to Guangzhou. Since it’s a domestic flight, the Security level is a little lower, but there are still lots of uniforms standing around.
I spot an ATM in the airport and withdraw the Chinese equivalent of $100 US – exactly 800 Yuan. It’s a sizable stack of Chairman Mao notes that proved to be hard to spend.
The taxi ride from the Guangzhou airport to Dongguan took us through the Chinese countryside. This part of the world straddles the Tropic of Cancer and looks a lot like Mexico. The weather was considerably warmer than Shanghai. I was expecting to see rice paddies and farmers in pointy hats – what I saw were a lot of excavators near the freeway, lots of tractors in the distance. Some cows, some chickens.
As we approached Dongguan, the scene became more urban. New buildings everywhere, soaring libraries, enormous soccer pitches. Our lodgings for the week, The Silverland Hotel is a new 5-star facility in downtown Dongguan. A night there will run you $50.00 US. After dinner Kai and I went for a walk.
In China, the sidewalk seems to be the center of commerce. Everything is for sale. A shoeshine is 25 cents; a DVD of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is 75 cents. One young man with a shopping cart of tiny books, each with ‘My Diary’ in flowery script – ten cents apiece.
At 8 PM on a Sunday night, Yang Kai and I are walking the streets of Dongguan, recovering from dinner. Between a very informal Internet Café and a pharmacy, we spot an open storefront that sells industrial electric motors. The motors, some of them the size of V8’s, are encased in Plexiglas boxes mounted on sturdy pedestals. The walls are decorated with framed prints of the motors in action. A very nice lady behind a counter pressed brochures on us. Yang Kai explained in Chinese, “Thank you, but we are not in the market for electric motors right now.” “For a friend back home, then,” the nice lady insisted.
China is in business to do business.
After our walk, Kai and I got down to the specifics of our mission. Tomorrow we’re on at Cardamom Electronics. We’d worked out a rough plan a few weeks earlier, now it was time to review the basics.
Cardamom makes Printed Circuit Boards. A lot of PCBs, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Their facility in Dongguan is one of the largest in the area, employing 2500 people. Most of their cards go into cell phones and PDAs from companies you know. Our mission here is to cut the time required to change the equipment over from one product to another.
Yang Kai had some thoughts on the root cause of the long changeover time. “They seem to walk back and forth a lot here, trying to locate the proper components,” he mused, “I wonder if they have proper notification of what’s coming next.” I made a note of this in my black book. I have been in Cardamom facilities in Europe and remembered that this was a recurring problem.
When the emphasis is on getting this job up and running, the importance of the next job fades. Especially when changing over from one PCB to another requires 10 people reloading 22 Surface Mount Device (SMD) machines and a variety of optical scanners and solder flow ovens.
Here’s how it works – the ‘unpopulated’ little green boards are loaded onto a chain driven conveyor system. First stop, the pasting machine. Here, solder is pressed through a silk-screened mask onto the board.
The freshly ‘buttered’ board is carried along on a conveyor belt through a series of ‘pick and place’ machines. These devices, with their red flashing lights, look like an electronic slot machine. When the conveyor stops, the machines gauge the position of the board, determines what resistor, oscillator or semiconductor is required, picks the component from a paper tape and sets it in place on the green board.
The components are mounted on a paper tape. The tape is wound onto large spools resembling movie projector reels.
Once all the components are on the board, it’s off to the oven where they heated until the solder melts and the connections are made. An optical scanner determines whether the right part is in the right spot. Other devices determine whether the electrical connections are correct.
So, eight movie projector reels slowly being consumed by an electronic slot machine. Twenty two slot machines standing side by side. One hundred Seventy Six opportunities to put the wrong part in the wrong place.
Approximately 21 minutes for the first completed board to appear at the end of the oven. Twenty one minutes before you know for sure that you’ve got the sequence right.
This is where Cardamom feels the pain. Getting those changeovers right the first time is the key.
Tomorrow we go in for real.

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