Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Publication Date: 06/1/2009
Archive >  June 2009 Issue >  Electronic Mfg. Services > 

Managing New Product Introduction for Flex Circuits

Design and manufacturing companies spend a great deal of time and money attempting to bring new products to market. Developing a procedure that defines critical parameters and metrics is generally described as a "New Product Introduction Process (NPIP)".

According to Wikipedia, "There are two parallel paths involved in the NPIP process: one involves the idea generation, product design, and detail engineering; the other involves market research and marketing analysis. Companies typically see new product development as the first stage in generating and commercializing new products within the overall strategic process of product life cycle management used to maintain or grow their market share."

Although NPIP is generally targeted at OEMs, many of the principles can be applied to companies providing a custom designed product. Manufacturers of flexible printed circuits fit this "custom designed product" description with unique tooling and bills of material (BOMs). Engineering reviews are used to capture the "organizational wisdom" and apply past lessons learned to future product requirements. The challenge of product marketing (the second of the two NPIP parallel paths) generally remains the responsibility of the OEM, but the flexcircuit supplier shares an engineering, scheduling and quality responsibility with its customer.

This partnership requires a close working relationship between supplier and customer and is best accomplished with an intimate understanding of the application and end customer expectations. Startup engineering is the core of a flexible circuit's product introduction cycle. This process includes design, mock up, prototyping, first article and production ramp-up. Issues that drive costs are design layout, design manufacturability, learning curves, tooling, documentation, material selection, and communication. The direct costs of a poor product startup include scrap, late deliveries, expediting costs, and added inspection and rework labor. Cost issues can propagate through the entire supply chain as each link deals with the consequence of poor quality and/or late deliveries. Once in production, engineering changes are made "on the run" to fix issues that are hampering volume production. The indirect costs can be even more substantial with missed market share for the OEM and damaged credibility for the flex circuitry producer.

Introducing Six Sigma
Back in the 1980s, Motorola introduced concepts such as Six Sigma, Design for Manufacturability, and other product introduction techniques to improve quality, delivery and costs. But some of the concepts that a Fortune 500 company applies to a high-volume product are impractical for a small flex circuit manufacturing company. Custom engineering of these "build to print" products requires starting up hundreds of part numbers a year and good management of the product start up process is a critical success factor. All Flex has developed its own version of an NPIP system called "Jump Start". It is a continuous improvement effort program to supply intensified customer support during initial part number design and delivery and is tailored to a company providing custom engineered products.

These principles have been identified as continuous improvement metrics for the Jump Start process:

Rapid Response. Much of a product introduction process can be "dead" time with various entities waiting for information. Reducing the response cycle for information flow greatly reduces the overall cycle time.

In All Flex's case the goal was a 24-hour response time for quotations, questions and customer service feedback. Today over 90 percent of quotations are turned within 24 hours.

Customer Involvement. Include the customer in the document and design review process. Obtain customer feedback to help identify areas for design improvement and insure there is no misunderstanding. The more the customer knows about the status and road blocks, the more they can help. Treat them like a partner in your process.

Contact: All Flex, 1705 Cannon Lane, Northfield, MN 55057 800-959-0865 fax: 507-663-1070 E-mail: information@allflexinc.com Web:

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