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Improving Uptime and Productivity in Electronics Assembly

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    Dr. Ron Lasky, Senior Technology at Indium Corporation, explains how simple tweaks to day-to-day operations can drastically improve uptime and productivity in an interview with SMT expert Phil Zarrow.

    Phil Zarrow: Ron, in your book, “The Adventures of Patty and the Professor,” you have a productivity example. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

    Ron Lasky: Yes. There was a young engineer who had attended one of my workshops and his boss had asked him to get ready to install another assembly line. They had two assembly lines. And this young engineer rightly thought, “Well, I don’t think our productivity is that high. If we improved our productivity, we might not have to buy another assembly line.” So he invited me there to measure their uptime and see if they really did need another assembly line.

    Phil Zarrow: Good. What was their uptime?  

    Ron Lasky:  So they gave me some metrics that I asked for and I was able to estimate that their uptime was 9.7%.

    Phil Zarrow: Whoa.

    Ron Lasky: Really bad.

    Phil Zarrow: Why so low?

    Ron Lasky: Well, let me just say that first this caused kind of a stir among management. So, I came back two weeks later after they measured the uptime and I’d say probably the number-one reason uptime was low was because of lunch.

    Phil Zarrow: Oh, okay. Tell us about lunch.

    Ron Lasky:  The entire line was down an hour and a half or more every time for lunch. And this was only a one-shift operation, so this was a major portion of the day.

    Phil Zarrow: There was discussion about the feeder racks in that particular section at that facility, as well.

    Ron Lasky: Yes. Feeder racks. I went out to view a change-over – and change-overs were very important to this company. They were a high-mix business, they did a lot of change-overs – more than one a day. And so I witnessed a change-over, and in many respects, it was quite organized, but they didn’t have feeder racks. So they were out there after every job, taking several hours to put the spools on the component-placement machines. I said, “Well, why don’t you use feeder racks?” And I explained to them how they worked and I said they are a little expensive, but, you know, they’ll pay for themselves in a couple of weeks. And so I mentioned this to the manager, “You know, let’s buy feeder racks.” And he said, “We already have them.”

    Ron Lasky: So, I said, “Well, why aren’t you using them?” And he said, “Because they stick on the rug.” I looked down, and this facility had an industrial-strength carpet on the floor, and it was frayed around the component-placement machine. And so I suggested, "Why don’t we just get a box cutter and cut away the rug and use feeder racks, if you have them."    

    Phil Zarrow: Okay, assuming they stayed in business long enough that the company addressed these issues, why kind of improvement could they expect in uptime?

    Ron Lasky: Well, I made some calculations and I estimated they could go from 10 percent to about 30 percent. To some people, that sounds kind of low, but world class is about 50 percent, and they do go through a lot of change-overs, so I think 30 to 35 percent would be a good goal for them.

    Phil Zarrow: And how do you think this would have impacted profitability?

    Ron Lasky: Well, we usually say one percent improvement in productivity gives you about three percent more in profit. And here, they’re changing their productivity by a factor of three, so it’s really hard for me to estimate exactly what it would be, but it would probably at least be a doubling in profit. They certainly wouldn’t have to buy another assembly line. Actually, they’d have excess capacity on the line, if they had.

    Phil Zarrow: Ron, where can people access your book and your blog?

    Ron Lasky: If people are interested in the book, “The Adventures of Patty and the Professor,” they can download it at Also, if anybody has any specific questions about productivity, I’d be happy to answer them in person at my email address that’s

    Phil Zarrow: Dr. Ron, thank you very, very much.