The Nepcon show in Shenzhen, China is coming up. The question comes to mind as to what to show that will attract the interest of people investing their time to come to see Mentor at the show.
Moving PCB-A production geographically to any alternate location, whether in-house or to an out-sourcing provider is always a challenge. The working practices are different as well as the knowledge-base of the management, engineering and production operators. Priorities are different. The communication channels are there, but what barriers are there, such as language, time difference and perhaps just the reluctance to call thinking that perseverance will eventually solve the issue and avoid showing dependency. This scenario gets a whole lot more challenging when considering lower cost locations. The barriers become higher, the incumbent experience weaker. It seems the cold hard lessons learned by years of experience are doomed to be repeated. This has been the story in the industry now for many years. We coped though didn’t we?
So, what is new in China? For sure, the same barriers and re-growing pains are there. China is a long way from the target market of most products made, and there is a considerable language and cultural gap. We are still coping though, yes? Now we hear that rather than low cost volume manufacturing, China is moving very rapidly into the Automotive and other key sectors that require some very specific quality and safety standards. Are we still okay with this? Are we happy to drive around in a car where the critical safety systems for the engine management, brakes, steering, suspension etc. are made in lower cost locations? The answer appears to be growing in favour of “yes”. After all, with the correct management of these manufacturing and assembly operations, in theory, there should be no difference, correct? Wrong! We all know that there is a learning curve, it is not something special for China, we have seen it everywhere that assembly is moved. It is “statistically certain” that at some point serious issues will appear.
The automotive world has for many years been aware of these risks and has driven some hard-core conformance and assurance processes in all automotive manufacturing, which used to be “local” to most automotive final assembly plants. As the use of electronics continues to escalate in cars for critical systems, the focus on quality and responsibility increases for the PCB-A assembly houses, now also in China. Can we afford to go through the re-learning curves for automotive? Consider the costs of recalls the damage to brands that we have seen in the past. Think of the safety issues, the moral and financial liability should injuries occur as a failure of an automotive critical system at a critical time. The intention here is not to challenge the rise in Chinese automotive business, but rather find a way to avoid the need to go through the re-learning curves.
Going back to the Nepcon show then, will the key people from these automotive companies come along to see systems like our Valor MSS (Manufacturing Systems Solutions) suite , in which we have built in and applied the lessons learned from many years of our own and our customers’ experience? Using our MSS system would give plenty of companies in China an immediate head-start and a credibility to be able to demonstrate world-class operational and quality performance. The alternative is to risk being one of the companies who will one of those who make up the learning curve, risking their business and reputation, whether they are a local company or part of a multi-national, in an area that perhaps should not be gambled on.