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SigmaTron Named Thoratec Platinum Supplier

On Oct. 6th, SigmaTron International was honored as a Platinum Supplier to Thoratec, the world leader in mechanical circulatory support systems for humans. Their product is the Heart Mate.  This is a system that initially was used to keep patients alive while waiting for a heart transplant. It has been so successful that sometimes the transplant does not take place and they live with the system.

“This award is a wonderful achievement and underscores the commitment of our team in Union City in supporting this customer. Medical devices are a growing segment of SigmaTron’s customer base and I’m really pleased that our ability to support a truly mission critical project has received this level of recognition,” said Gary Fairhead, SigmaTron’s President and CEO.

SigmaTron Provides Scalable Solutions

When a test equipment manufacturer decided to outsource all its manufacturing, SigmaTron’s Union City and Tijuana facilities were able to provide a cost effective nearshore/localized solution that addressed the customer’s concerns for customized support and visibility into project status.  Longer term, the team at SigmaTron has been able to provide a customized fulfillment solution that helps further reduce cost.

Originally, the customer was outsourcing print-ed circuit board level assemblies (PCBAs) to several small job shops in Silicon Valley and doing final assembly in-house. Today, SigmaTron builds all but one mature product which still undergoes programming at the customer. The PCBAs from one product version are built in the Tijuana facility and integrated in the Union City facility. The rest of the product versions are built entirely in the Union City facility.

During the last quarter, the Union City team has developed a customized fulfillment pro-cess that utilizes SigmaTron’s standard drop-ship system with programming modifications on front and backend that support the customer’s preferred data transfer and report-ing methods.  Under this system, the custom-er’s end market customers order products off their website and SigmaTron receives a copy of the order via a secure FTP site. This data is input into SigmaTron’s dropship system and pick lists and shipping info are sent to the UC shipping department. Shipping labels are provided by the customer and printed in Shipping to ensure that end customer preferences for method of shipment are honored. The product is bar coded prior to shipment and that confirmation data appears on the secure FTP site. The information is also available on SigmaTron’s proprietary Score system. Future enhancements to the system will include an automatic verification by the system that the product serial number is valid for the order scheduled to ship.

“The customer has a proprietary system for serial number generation and also felt it was important to link our systems to their internal ordering systems. Our IT team did a great job of developing a cost effective solution that gave the customer the process ownership they wanted, yet created an efficient pull and ship signal with our team that aligned with our core systems. It is a win-win not only for the customer and our team, but also for their end market,” said Keith Wheaton, Vice President Business Development – West Coast Operations.

Fulfillment is done from a finished goods Kanban at the UC facility. To minimize the invoicing transactions which would other-wise occur as each product ships, the customer owns part of the FG inventory and SigmaTron holds a buffer stock which is released as customer-owned finished goods are depleted.

The benefits of this solution include:

  • Rationalization of the customers’ supply base to a single electronics manufacturing services (EMS) supplier, freeing up their staff to focus on other things
  • Elimination of the costs associated with maintaining internal manufac-turing capability at the customer
  • Elimination of space required for finished goods inventory at the customer’s facility
  • Minimization of the customer’s transaction costs
  • Elimination of one shipping cycle, since the goods are stored at the facility where final assembly occurs
  • Faster response to customer requests
  • A focus on optimizing the overall process over time.


Acuna Facility Optimizes Its Test Operations

SigmaTron International’s Acuna, Mexico facility’s test engineering team is finding ways to eliminate defect opportunities and reduce lead-time and inefficiency in its test process.

A sequential verification process that ensures that all test and related activities are performed prior to shipment, is being used for volume customer.

“We originally implemented sequential verification to support a single customer with a complex test and configure-to-order process and later expanded to all volume customers with multiple test steps,” said Dennis McNamara,  SigmaTron’s Vice President Engineering, Mexican Operations.

Under the process, units are bar-coded and tracked via an internally-developed software program. The test steps are programmed into the sequential verification program and the test technician scans the bar code as the product reaches that station. The program tracks the unit through in-circuit test, programming, functional test and an audit process in shipping. If a step is skipped, the system will inform the person bar coding the product. The system also logs test results and any associated activities, such as programming flash memory. It provides a record of all activities per-formed that is associated with the product’s bar code. This enables the person packing out the unit to audit that the unit has completed all test steps and, when programming is involved, verify that the unit is programmed correctly for the order being shipped.

This eliminates the possibility that test steps can be inadvertently skipped or that configure-to-order units can be shipped to the wrong location, which can be common challenges in higher volume production with less automated tracking systems.

For most accounts, the system is simply used to verify that the units completed all tests prior to shipment plus support any traceability or device history record-keeping requirements associated with the product. However, customized reports can be generated for customers requiring that service to support continuous improvement efforts.

The Acuna team has also standardized on the National Instruments platform for functional test and Checksum for in-circuit test (ICT).

“We’ve found that the combination of a standard platform and use of electronic data has reduced test fixture development time by 25-30 percent and driven cost reduction in non-recurring engineering charges,” McNamara added.

SigmaTron’s test engineering team either develops the entire test plan or works with the customer’s team to optimize their test plan by highlighting the best mix of test options to achieve the coverage and quality levels desired.

In addition to reducing test fixture development time, platform standardization also simplifies maintenance and technician training, focusing the team’s expertise on two platforms rather than spreading a smaller amount of knowledge across several different manufacturers’ platforms. Several of the test engineers in the Acuna facility have completed training and qualification in National Instruments’ Labview Core 1, 2 and 3; Labview Test Stand I and Labview Machine Vision Processing courses.

The team has also found ways to reduce test load and unload time by combining processes done during specific tests. One example of their process improvement efforts involves testing of products with LED and LCD displays. Cameras that test for correct colors, symbols and brightness are integrated in the functional test fixtures. Program-ming and verification is also done as part of the functional test process when-ever possible on products that require that step.

Spitfire Controls Gives Appliances a Voice

The team at Spitfire Controls has developed a proprietary control design that incorporates Near Field Communication (NFC) capability. In layman’s terms, this capability would allow appliances to communicate with smart phones. The benefit of NFC vs. a wi-fi design is primarily cost. NFC capability is roughly 2 percent of the cost of adding internal wi-fi capability. NFC has security advantages over Bluetooth, since devices must be no more than 20 centimeters apart to receive the signal. Communication is simpler since there is no pairing process required.

What is the consumer benefit of appliances with an NFC device? The biggest advantage would be simplicity of diagnostics. Have an appliance that isn’t working correctly? An appliance with an NFC device could work with a smart phone app and run a full diagnostic analysis. That error code could be transmitted to a repair operation, where they could determine the problem and the best way to fix before the service call. The price would be predetermined and the repair-person would arrive with necessary parts. That cuts down on the number service calls needed to address the issue, and customer time and expense related to service calls.

NFC capability may also reduce the cost and complexity of monitoring appliances for damage-causing failures such as water heat-er leaks or washer pressure hose failure, or refrigerator/freezer loss of power. It could also be used to signal maintenance issues prior to appliance failure for components nearing end of life.

And since NFC can work with passive RFID tags, some day your refrigerator may be building your shopping list and sending it to a smart phone app based on sensing what is missing a your pre-programmed list of food normally stocked in your refrigerator or freezer.

NFC capability is just one of the ways the team at Spitfire Controls is trying to offer its customers next generation engineering solutions.

Work Progresses On 40,000 Sq. Ft. Suzhou, China Expansion

Progress continues on SigmaTron International’s 40,000 sq. ft. expansion. The concrete foundation is being poured, the support pillars and ceiling beams are in.