Indium Blog

Patty and Pete: An Audit on Their Own


Patty was eating her lunch at her desk while reading Golf Digest. She had been training with weights, performing stretches, and getting lessons from a long drive pro in Grantham, NH. It was a 90 minute drive, but it was worth it. The sophisticated machines that the golf center there had, indicated that her average drive was up from 250 to 268 yards. Still way short of Rob’s 294, but she was making progress!


Patty was kind of depressed as she read the magazine. The whole Tiger Woods scandal had her in a funk. Her feelings were summed up by another person, who stated that they were in a state of mourning. Her mind was sort of drifting off, when she was startled by Pete's knock at the door.

“Hey kiddo, pack your bags looks like another trip,” Pete cheerfully announced.

“Pete, how is it that you always know what’s going on before I do? I’m supposed to be the manager,” see teased.

“Somes got it, somes ain’t,” he quickly shot back.

They both chuckled. Patty and Pete made a good team, he was well connected and knew what was going on. Through being with Patty and the Professor, Pete was encouraged to go to night school to get his degree and was always trying to learn things from both of them. Through Pete’s “knowing the ropes,” he was a wise counselor to Patty on the realities of getting things done. They both helped each other immensely and they both knew it.

“So what’s the scoop?”, Patty asked.

“Well you remember that our parent company bought out a privately held company in Virginia a month or so ago, right?”Pete responded.

“Sure,” said Patty.

“Well, senior management went on a tour and they concluded that the place is a mess. They are going to ask us to perform a Lean Manufacturing audit and develop an improvement action plan,” Pete went on.

“Bring your golf clubs, the courses are open down there,” Pete finished.

As Patty went into her office, see checked her email. Sure enough there was an email from the site GM, Sam, telling her to come and see him about a trip to the new facility in Virginia. Patty went to see him and received very broad instructions.

“That place looks like a pig sty in a swamp. Go do your magic and give us a plan to fix it up. Oh, and by the way the former owner has stayed on as the site's GM.  Ahh, …ah he is a little rough around the edges…thought I’d give you a heads up,” Sam shared.

The trip was a breeze and Patty did bring her clubs. She and Pete decided to wean themselves from The Professor on this one. As they arrived they met John Davis, the Ops Manager. John seemed pleasant, but serious, and a little subdued, almost like a puppy that had been kicked too many times. He also didn’t make eye contact when he talked.

As they walked out into the shop floor, Patty was aghast. Not only was the floor disorganized but it was filthy. As she walked toward one of the reflow ovens it almost looked like tinsel was hanging from the ceiling. She couldn't figure out what it was.

“John, what is that hanging from the ceiling above the reflow oven?” Patty enquired.

“John was taken aback, as if he never noticed the hanging material.”

Patty, pointed and said again, “This stuff.”

“You know, I never paid much attention, I’m not sure what it is,” he finished.

As they all went closer to the reflow oven, they could see sticky material hanging from the ceiling like stalactites.

The trio studied it and suddenly Pete exclaimed, “It’s flux dripping from the ceiling with cob webs hanging on it.”

“How is this possible? Aren’t the flux condensation and cob webs cleaned up during routine cleaning?” asked Patty incredulously.

“We don’t ever clean,” sighed John.

Patty and Pete were speechless.

“How can you never clean?”, asked a stunned Pete.

Our GM Mr. Oscar Patterson says cleaning is a waste of money.

Neither Patty or Pete knew what to say.

Patty and Pete, accompanied by John, continued their audit over the next few days. They were pleasantly surprised to see that uptime was a respectable 25%. They got to know John a little and, on the third day of their visit, they were surprised to see that he was more dour than the previous two days.

“John, what’s up?” asked Pete.

“It’s hard not to be discouraged,” said John.

“How so?", Inquired Patty.

“Well, Mr. Patterson went to SMTAI and heard a paper in which the speaker said that it has never been shown that nitrogen in the reflow process improves quality and reliability. In addition, he heard that nitrogen makes tombstoning worse.” Replied John forlornly.

“Well that’s true, in surface mount assembly.” replied Pete and Patty in unison.

“But Mr. Patterson turned the nitrogen off on our wave soldering machines. He didn’t even tell me,” moaned John.

“Yikes!” exclaimed Patty.

“Looks like the Big O struck again,” Pete chimed in.

Patty was going to respond to Pete’s comment, but she thought she would wait until they were alone.

Patty then commented, “A good solder paste should not need nitrogen in reflow, but nitrogen almost always helps in wave soldering.”

“Did Mr. Patterson perform any experiments to show that acceptable yields could be obtained without using nitrogen in the wave machines?” Patty finished.

“No," replied John, "he just cancelled the blanket PO for nitrogen and was beaming when he announced at a staff meeting that by not using nitrogen we save $10,000 a month.”

“Didn’t anyone ‘push’ back?” Patty asked.

“You don’t know Mr. Patterson, Patty,” John replied.

“You mean the Big O,” Pete interjected. 

Patty glared at Pete.

Patty then asked, “It’s almost quitting time. Have you got a few scrap boards and a cylinder of nitrogen?”

“Yes, I think so,” said John, “We certainly have scrap boards and I have a few cylinders of nitrogen we use for other purposes.”

Patty then suggested that they perform an experiment. Fortunately, Patty and Pete now bring a camera and video camera with them, so Pete was assigned to video the proceedings. Patty ran a few scrap boards through the wave soldering machine with no flux or nitrogen. The boards looked hilarious when they came out of the wave, they had huge stalactites on the bottom. The 4” x 6” boards must have had a pound or two of solder on the bottom. Pete was laughing so hard that he couldn’t hold the camera steady. Even John cracked a smile.

“Kiddo,” where did you learn that?” Pete asked. “I’ve been around a long time and this board takes the cake.”

“I took some training from the folks at Speedline  and we did this in a class,” answered Patty.

“But wait, the best is yet to come,” Patty added.

She then asked John to turn on the nitrogen and they ran the same board through, still with no flux. The board came out of the wave looking fine. John inspected it.

“It looks like it could be shipped,” John said with amazement.

“Absolutely amazing,” added Pete.

“That’s why nitrogen is important in wave soldering,” Patty summed up.

"It is possible for a robust flux to get excellent yields in wave without nitrogen, but a DOE  should be perfromed to verify this hypothesis," Patty added. 

As they left the building for the day, Patty admonished Peter, “I told you to behave. What is this 'The Big O'?”

“I spent a little time getting to know the operators. Everyone calls Oscar Peterson, 'the Big O' behind his back….. He is 6 feet four, 380 pounds. The word is he is a real dictator, it’s his way or the highway. He is also a miser, always looking to cut costs. The operators clean up the rest rooms and make the place as look good as they can by cleaning up during their breaks.” Pete summed up.

Will Patty and Pete confront the Big O? How will it go? Is nitrogen in the wave really that important?

How are the plans for Patty’s wedding going?

Stay tuned for the latest.


Dr. Ron

Note:  It may be hard to believe but at one facility I witnessed: 

1. The end of cleaning.  Workers could not convince senior management that cleaning paid for itself. The description of the filth above the reflow oven (that Patty and Pete observed) was my remembrance of what it looked like at this facility.

2. The end of using nitrogen in wave soldering.  As in the above story, the nitrogen was turned off by management without discussing it with engineering and without any data.  First pass yields immediately  dropped 15% -25%.