Contents - June 2005
Welcome to the June Edition of Newslyne, Micralyne's quarterly e-newsletter.
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Micralyne is in its eighth year of operations and, like any business with history, has had some great times and some challenging times. One would normally associate challenges with difficulties in revenue, profit or financing, but the challenges of growth can also be significant.
Micralyne has been experiencing strong growth for the past year and we expect this to continue for at least the next year. With growth comes challenges of hiring and training staff, negotiating new agreements with both customers and suppliers, maintaining effective quality during growth, and asking employees to put in extra effort to work new shifts, train new staff, and still meet customer expectations.
Certainly these are better challenges than those of no growth, but they still need to be well managed. At Micralyne, we are doing a number of things to ensure that customer expectations are fulfilled throughout this growth cycle.
If you are buying services from a fab, you obviously don't want to buy from a fab that is about to go out of business. However, you should also make sure the fab, or any supplier, isn't too busy to take on your business. Here are some things to look for:
- How much will your product contribute to the fab's overall revenue? If it's a small amount and the fab is growing rapidly, you may not be given top priority in the manufacturing or development queue. If it's a large amount, then you need to ensure that the fab can hire and train staff, access required capital, and provide sufficient plant capacity.
- Has your prospective fab shown an ability to handle growth in the past? Can it demonstrate through customer references that it can maintain quality during a time of growth?
- Can your prospective fab readily finance its growth? Growth consumes cash, in the form of inventory, receivables, and maybe new capital equipment. Can the fab demonstrate enough financial capacity to manage these needs?
- Does your prospective fab have proven quality assurance and manufacturing efficiency programs in place? Does the fab have a mature process engineering department: this is evidence that efficiency is a serious objective. Avoid fabs lacking these elements or a track record of volume manufacturing: it's a much different game than development.
- Does the fab have mature supply chain management practices? Has the fab taken steps to minimize supply chain risks, are its suppliers committed to lean manufacturing practices, and does it take buying materials as seriously as selling finished goods?
Growth is an objective of most businesses. It is exciting and it demonstrates market relevance. But it's not always easy to manage. I know that Micralyne can provide positive answers to all of the above questions. We know that our customers expect us to maintain quality and increase productivity as we grow, and that our growth has to be positive for them as well as Micralyne.
Give us a call if you want to discuss how Micralyne can help you with your company's growth challenges. Please feel free to contact me at 780-431-4414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Chris Lumb, President & CEO, Micralyne Inc. -
Managing Manufacturing Ramps
The job of a process engineer is to increase manufacturing efficiencies by reducing the variances of fabrication processes. Micralyne has gone through a number of manufacturing ramps with its customers that move a MEMS product from prototype to high volume production. During this phase, issues surrounding processing are often magnified and can potentially make a transfer to manufacturing longer and more costly.
Micralyne’s business is to translate a customer’s MEMS-based product design into a set of fabrication processes that can be used to manufacture a product at high volumes. Moving from a development or prototyping stage to high volume manufacturing involves a manufacturing ramp that can ultimately make or break a successful product launch. Micralyne has implemented a number of internal processes that have measurably improved the success of our manufacturing ramps and, in this edition of Newslyne, I would like to address two of our most important tools.
First, Micralyne has implemented a number of in-house monitoring systems that allow us to understand and address any fabrication process step variations. We have made a significant investment into these on-line tools and they record the performance of key process steps which in turn facilitate the use of such tools such as SPC (Statistical Process Control), Cpc & Cpk (Process Capability Ratios), Pareto analysis, X-bar and r-charts (Average & Range). This data gives us guidance on what issues to tackle first.
Our online systems measure important process variables such as material thickness, deposition rate and uniformity. By monitoring these systems in real-time, we can first ensure process results are on target and then identify and remove sources of process variation. To reduce variance, Cpc & Cpk data are again reviewed and if they are still unsatisfactory we repeat the process and continue this loop until we are satisfied.
Our second key tool is to ensure that members of our process engineering team are involved in new product development projects at a very early stage and long before they move into volume production.
Our past experience indicates that the earlier our process engineering team gets involved in a development project, the more efficient and cost effective a manufacturing ramp will be. In fact, our customers often wonder why we are involved so early but we explain it is clearly to their benefit. In particular, we explain that a manufacturing ramp will occur much more smoothly if we utilize our known processes (“known” meaning we have statistical data to ensure repeatability and reliability) and the process engineering group is the repository of this detailed process knowledge.
Overall, whenever we can integrate a series of standard processes and minimize or eliminate the creation of new processes, we can ensure that we generate higher product yields right out of the gate.
In conclusion, the use of proven statistical methods, implementing collection tools customized to our fabrication processes, and ensuring heavy interaction between development engineers and process engineers will all greatly enhance product development success. This in turn will reduce the costs and timelines associated with a manufacturing ramp and product launch.
- Bob Williamson, Process Engineering Manager, Micralyne Inc. -
Making Profitability Priority Ensures Funding Options
In the MEMS industry five years ago, venture capital financing was relatively easy to secure and many MEMS-based businesses raised millions of dollars at sky-high company valuations. Today, most of those companies are out of business or at the very least did not deliver on the promises made to their financiers.
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Additional Reading & MEMS Industry Resources
Some additional reading that might be of interest to you in regard to Micralyne or the small tech industry is:
MEMS Executive Congress - The MEMS Industry Group is hosting this one day, executive-level event on September 20, 2005. The event will focus on the business of MEMS and connecting end users with integrators.
MICRO Magazine - MICRO is the only magazine dedicated to advanced process and equipment control, defect reduction, and yield enhancement strategies for the semiconductor and related advanced microelectronics manufacturing industries.
Nanovip.com - Launched in November 2003, this website offers a searchable, human edited database, focused on MEMS and nanotechnology companies sorted by country and business sector.
National Institute for Nanotechnology - This Edmonton based institute is focused on the integration of nano-scale devices and materials into complex nanosystems that are connected to the outside world. The long-term objective is to discover “design rules” for nanotechnology, and develop platforms for building nanosystems and materials that can be constructed and programmed for a particular application.