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R&D or Transfer or Production: Lean mindset applies to all

Let me first start by saying that all three divisions have their own place and that too form critical units for most semiconductor companies. R&D is an important means for achieving future growth and maintaining a relevant product in the market; simplistically speaking, it defines the organization’s roadmap i.e. where and how the organization positions itself in the long run. Transfer stage that represents the intermediate step characterizes an organization’s competence to highlight its adeptness to handover blueprints to manufacturing. Lastly, Production phase outlines the facility’s capability to ramp up not only capacity but also capability to handle multitude of variations. Those of us who have worked long enough in semiconductor fabs know well how pertinent Murphy’s law (“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”) is in the context of high volume production operations.

I am going to digress and mention a thing or two about Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) that has become a hot topic recently, not just in the private sector but also in government. On top of ERM priorities lies ‘Cyber risk’ – something that has hogged the limelight in recent times. More and more firms have quickly realized the importance of dealing with cyber risk at the topmost level i.e. discuss it from a corporate governance standpoint to make sure the firms are paying enough attention to their cyber strategy. Why am I talking about “risk” now and how does it relate to “Lean enterprises”? The answer is simple – One (individual or organization) has to prioritize i.e. treat some things as more important than other things. How do you do that? Here is how – you must take a ‘Risk Based Thinking’ (RBT) approach; unless you clearly differentiate Value added vs. Non-Value added activities, it would be a herculean task to focus on things imperative to making an organization successful – both productive and profitable. You must draw a line between value and waste to be able to move to the next step which is how do you emphasize something a customer (whether internal or external) is willing to pay to receive.

Enough of rambling from me; At this point, you are perhaps confused. Let me add value to your time and make it concise. At each stage of handoff, from R&D to Transfer and from Transfer to Production, the internal customers ought to ask “What is the value this phase of the project is adding to make the organization successful”?

I have highlighted some of the key elements to focus on for every stage and keep in mind that they carry over to the subsequent steps (cumulative or snowballing effect). It is reasonable to assume that at certain phases, we will need to pay more attention to one over another.

Lean concepts for R&D > Transfer > Production flow:

  1. Benchmark everything possible

  • Standardize (one of the components of 5S) as much as you can by gathering information from the industry, experts (both external and internal) and also with the Technology node “N” when developing the subsequent “N+1” technology.

  1. Do it right the first time

  • Achieved by sequentially running 1. Screening experiments to identify key parameters 2. Windowing experiments to characterize 3. Response Surface Model (RSM) design to identify the so called “sweet spot”.

  1. Build in variability into the model based on downstream variation that are acquired at Transfer and Production stages.

  2. Value Stream Mapping (VSM)

  • Outline the Process (or Product) map first. By this, I mean think big picture before moving into the nitty-gritty details. It’s done best as a team exercise and should involve representatives from all of the areas within the process being mapped.

  • Bottleneck focus: Always think “what can possibly case a log jam” – any resources – patents, technology knowhow, equipments, people etc.

  • Speed and Efficiency: Nobody likes to wait forever. Key to achieving it is forming cross-disciplinary teams at the onset and knowledge sharing to try and eliminate downstream bottlenecks.

Success is achieved when you put the right team in place – Domain experts (Area, subject matter) and Business Process experts (Lean six-sigma).

For the curious minds, I have also stated below some widely used “lean tools”. There are many more but here are my top-10 picks:

Value of Lean
  1. SMART Goals (Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Time-bound)

  2. Hoshin Kanri (Policy Deployment). Think ‘systems based thinking’.

  3. PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act). I like to say PDCA2 – PDCA+‘Adjust’ as needed.

  4. VSM (Value Stream Mapping)

  5. Kaizen (Continuous Improvement)

  6. Root Cause Analysis

  7. Genchi Genbutsu. Means "actual place, actual thing".

  8. 5S. Think organization i.e. structure and orderliness not just visual management.

  9. Continuous Flow/ Bottleneck Analysis/Kanban/SMED

(Waste). Think all forms of non-value added activities “TIM WOOD”.

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