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Factory Layout – What are the Options

In my previous post we covered what to consider for factory location. Having selected a location in which to set up a factory, the next question is how to lay it out.

Factory layout refers to the arrangement of physical facilities so as to have the quickest flow at the lowest cost and with the least amount of handling in processing from the receipt of material to the dispatch of the finished product. The aim is to allocate and arrange space and equipment to minimise operating costs.

As with location selection, factory layout is a long-term commitment. To optimise the relationship between output, floor area and manufacturing process, an efficient layout must achieve multiple objectives simultaneously:

  1. The proper and efficient use of the available floor space
  2. Work should proceed from one point to the next without delay
  3. Adequate production capacity and flexibility, including potential to expand, at least in the short- to medium term
  4. Lower material handling costs
  5. Employee health, safety, accident and injury prevention
  6. Efficient labour and equipment utilization and productivity
  7. Maintaining quality standards, managing waste and storing inventory
  8. Ease of supervision, and control
  9. Plant and equipment maintenance
  10. Complying with local regulations

Factory Layout Options

There is no one-size-fits-all option. Each factory, location and industry is unique, though the basic principles remain the same. 

For small and medium manufacturing units, there are three main layout options, for which the main pros and cons are laid out below:

Product (Line) Layout

Equipment is arranged in a single line determined by the sequence of operations in this layout. Advantages are that it is low cost, operations are smooth and have continuity. The production control process is also simpler. However, the layout lacks flexibility. One process breakdown can bring the whole factory to a halt. 

This layout is best suited for mass production where the process is repetitive, demand is stable and material availability is reliable. 

Podrain expects to use this design for our larger ‘volume production’ factory. 

Process Layout

Sub-process equipment and staff are grouped together in this layout. This is flexible and adapts fast to changes in volume and product variety. It’s also possible to ensure specialised supervision where needed and ensure high utilisation. However, more skilled labour is needed and production controls need to be strong to avoid time lags and inventory accumulation. 

This layout is best suited for non-standard product lines, smaller quantities and where frequent changes to design may be needed. Podrain currently uses this layout in its prototype and small batch manufacturing facility. 

Combined Layout

This blends the product layout and process layout where some steps of production are laid out by product line and others have sub process equipment and staff grouped together. this is a very complicated layout to design. When done right, it can offer efficiency and better production controls. However even a small error can lead to being stuck with bottlenecks in the production process. It’s typically used in very large manufacturing organisations for FMCG items. 

Single-Storey vs. Multi-Storey Factory

Land is scarce, and suitable land is scarcer still. So, having selected a location and figured out the plant layout, one is left with the decision of a single-storey versus a multi-storey building.

Single-Storey Building -Advantages:

  • Greater floor loads, no structural strength needed to support upper storeys
  • Lower noise transmission and building vibration
  • Ease and lower costs of building and expansion
  • Natural light and ventilation
  • Higher floor area usable for processing – no stairwells, lifts, shafts, etc.
  • Concentration of service facilities centrally yields lower operating costs
  • More efficient layout and material handling, product routing
  • Lower cost of supervision

Multi-Storey Building – Advantages: 

  • More efficient utilization of land area, and smaller land area requirements
  • Temperature management costs are significantly lower
  • Greater structural strength, higher construction quality, fireproof and longer-lasting
  • Upper storeys dust-free, especially for precision manufacturing operations
  • Downward chutes are cost-effective for material movement
  • Compact, more efficient layouts – though there is a limit to the benefit of this

Whether single- or multi-storey factories are more economical to build and operate per square foot of usable floor space is hard to determine. Local and regional considerations regarding regulations and land prices may play a significant role and costs may vary over the course of time. For example, our Bangalore factory is a multi-storey facility. While production control is a little more difficult, land availability at a central location in the city is a key factor in our choice. 

In conclusion, siting, designing and building a plant that’s conducive to business success is all about balancing the trade-offs between costs, time, complexity and benefits in pursuit of the goals of the company.

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Factory Location: How to make a choice

India

India

Entrepreneurship is all about making decisions and one of the key decisions every manufacturing entrepreneur faces is the best location and layout for the plant or factory. Should it be in a city, semi-urban or industrial area? Is proximity to an employee pool, educational centres and public transport important? What about public utilities? Taxation and incentives?  Which amenities are likely to be most vital to success?

We’ve been thinking about this at Podrain and went back to basics on it.

Plant location is a strategic decision that  is nearly impossible to change without incurring considerable losses. The ideal location is one that minimizes the cost of production, supports a large market share, maximises social benefit and eliminates risk. Locational analysis that takes into account demographics, trade area (availability of and access to customers), competitive, economic and traffic analyses and can help determine the right location.

A location in which some costs are higher may still be the best choice if it maximises net advantage, i.e., its overall unit cost of production is lowest.

Here are some things we are considering when selecting a suitable location for a factory:

  1. Natural or climactic conditions
  2. Cost of land or land lease
  3. Availability and access to raw material
  4. Transport costs – inward, to bring in raw material, and outward, to sell or distribute finished products
  5. Availability and access to market
  6. Availability and access to infrastructure – developed industrial sheds, link roads, transport hubs, public utilities, civic amenities, means of communication
  7. Availability and access to both skilled and unskilled labour, as required, and local labour rates
  8. Availability and access to banking and financial institutions
  9. Safety and security of the plant, its workers and its assets
  10. Government and regulatory environment – positive and negative incentives, including cheaper utilities, tax relief, liberal local labour laws, pollution control and waste disposal regulations, among others
  11. Personal reasons, such as being close to family, familiarity with a particular place, or a network of known associates whom we can call upon for financial, operational and emotional support. This isn’t intuitive to admit but it’s really important to have a good support system.

Not all these considerations carry equal weight. For example, government incentives cannot compensate for poor public infrastructure. Running costs at a plant can contribute significantly to the overall cost of manufacturing, and poor location selection can cause a business to fail as its growth and efficiency are constrained.

MSMEs like us often do not have the financial or operational capacity to compensate for the shortcomings of public infrastructure , so our ability to adjust to an unsupportive environment is extremely low, particularly in the early stages of the manufacturing journey.

Is there something else we should include? What is your experience. Do write to us or add your comments to let us know.

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Quality testing for prototypes

In PCB manufacturing, repeatability and consistent quality are critical – whether for large-scale production, small batches or prototypes.

Skilled and experienced technicians can and do create excellent work, but relying on individuals to establish, deliver and sustain top-quality results is risky. Programming Automatic Inspection Machines and processes is expensive, time-consuming and not always practicable, especially when prototyping.

Testing

Testing

Prototype QC needs to ensure that the design will work; that it is safe, and meets certain standards of quality and reliability; that it performs to expectations; and that it addresses its purpose.

Small batch PCBs have some rather unique attributes:

  • High Mix, Low Volume (HMLV). It’s likely that the PCB manufacturer builds several board designs in this environment to ensure efficient use of their production infrastructure.
  • Higher performance, reliability and quality requirements. Small batch and prototype PCBs are often intended for critical applications where more stringent IPC standards apply, like aerospace, automotive safety or medical devices. Quality and reliability expectations can be significantly higher for these critical system applications.
  • Complex designs. Prototypes are created to solve specialized and often complicated challenges, which means their designs are complex, requiring atypical manufacturing processes

How to ensure the best quality standards for prototypes and small batches

  • In-circuit testing (ICT). Provides a reliable, high-fault coverage verification method for the majority of PCB assembly electronic components that’s free of human error. It’s great for big assemblies or ball grid arrays and after assembly.
  • Short circuit testing. The main cause of PCB prototype defects is a short circuit between its larger components. For example, a fastener between two proximate pins can damage the microcontroller by triggering a short. It is vital to gauge the impedance each voltage node to the ground. Faulty components or incorrect soldering can cause components to overheat.
  • Flying probe test. A practical, cost-effective technique for prototypes and small batches that tests PCB probes from one spot to another, looking for singular issues in the circuit – shorts, capacitance, resistance, inductance, opens and problems with diodes.
  • x-ray inspection. As the prototype is being manufactured, an x-ray technician runs tests to locate defects, looking for elements that may be hard to discern with the naked eye – for example, joined connections, internal traces or barrels.
  • Functional testing. The #1 criterion for a prototype’s success is, “Does it work?” Performing a functional test requires the parameters for ‘success’ to be clearly defined. Functional testing takes a long time, because it simulates the real-life environment in which the prototype is expected to work. But in terms of long-term value, it’s worth doing. A great deal of money and time can be saved by identifying potential operational pitfalls and eliminating them at the design stage.
  • Burn-in testing. Intended to identify failures early and initiate load capacity. Burn-in testing helps identify potential dangers relating to power being pushed through the electronic components for extended periods of time. One must keep in mind that individual prototypes may be partially or even completely damaged by a rigorous burn-in test, and the test’s utility to prototype QC should be decided based on the destination application of the PCB.
  • Automated optical inspection testing (AOI). Camera-based visual inspection to identify issues that may emerge on the board during the preliminary phase of assembly. It’s wisest not to rely entirely on AOI, but to complement it with an ICT or flying probe for more accurate QC results.
  • Inverted polarity testing. The more manual assembly, the higher the risk of human error. The simple act of ensuring that each individual component is set up based on its polarity can prevent the complex and delicate components of your prototype being badly damaged. Protection diodes can protect PCBs but add to their power consumed.
  • Populated components testing. A simple BOM cross-check to ensure that the components selected fit the board design can save investigative time and effort later in the process.

Several other QC approaches, including tests for PCB contamination, solderability and peeling; micro-sectioning analysis; and time-domain reflectometers, can identify faults or be used in combination with those discussed above, like ICTs and flying probes.

Choose the right QC test(s) for your prototype

It begins with clearly defining the purpose and desired performance levels of the PCB; weighing the pros and cons of the available tests – which include costs, time required, destructive vs. non-destructive; and always keeping in mind, especially when prototyping, that the design-test loop can flex and adapt as the product design is iteratively perfected.

It’s always a good idea to partner with a manufacturer who is committed to the best quality; has documented and traceable processes; has the necessary quality and classification standard certifications; is experienced at HMLV manufacturing; and leverages technology to ensure high-quality, repeatable results.

Podrain collaborates closely with its clients when prototyping and producing small batches, and meets the highest quality and classification standards. We advise clients on the right mix of testing to ensure that their prototype PCBs meet the final test of quality – sustained, reliable, top-level performance in the field.

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The Goal – A book that I highly recommend

Cover of the Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt

The Goal by Eliyahu M Goldratt is among the most important management books of the 20th century. It has significantly influenced my journey as a professional engineer, employee and entrepreneur.

My first manager gave me the book when I started my career twenty-odd years ago. I am grateful for many gifts of learning from him, not least of which is that he placed this book in my hand. It made a huge impression on me, as did his act of trusting a green 24-year-old with so much responsibility and giving me a great tool to learn how to deliver.

The book is written as a novel, quite different from the majority of management books. Most of the action takes place in a manufacturing plant. The protagonist, plant manager Alex Rogo, is facing two crises: his supervisor has given him a 3-month ultimatum to turn around the plant’s fortunes, and his wife has left him. One day, Alex meets his old professor at an airport and begins a series of conversations that help him identify his true goals and navigate towards them. By using this novel-like structure, Goldratt is able to lay out several valuable ideas without preaching.

As an engineer on the factory floor, I could easily relate to the lessons of The Goal. The concept that stayed with me the most was what Goldratt calls bottlenecks. The common-sense principle is that the weakest part of the system constrains the efficiency of the whole system. But there are lessons everywhere in The Goal, and as I gained more work experience, I began to appreciate them even more. When the entrepreneurial bug bit in 2014, seeing the principles of The Goal in action influenced how I approached the setup and operation of the business.

Here are a few things I learnt from The Goal:

Know the ‘true’ goal

If we don’t have clarity on what we are trying to achieve, we may waste a lot of effort without making progress.

Identify the bottlenecks

Everything is interconnected, and the weakest part holds the stronger parts back. So, understanding how things are connected, finding and focusing on the constraints is vital to getting better results.

System is more important than its parts

Designing a system or process that is more efficient is key – even if it means that a few individual steps or parts are less efficient. In other words, when we think of optimization, we should think big, because local optimizations may interfere with each other.

Knowledge and help are everywhere if we just look

Alex Rogo is trying to do everything himself and failing miserably. Over time, he realises that he and his team – all people with years of experience – can do more collectively than any of them were able to do on their own. Even his wife, who knows nothing about his work, contributes to solving some of his most pressing challenges because she has a fresh perspective
 

A fresh environment can give birth to new ideas

The problems at the factory are overwhelming, and the questions posed by Alex’s professor seem unanswerable until Alex takes his son’s hiking club on an outing. He is then able to relate the problem of how to keep the kids together and reach their campsite on time to the issues he is facing at the plant.

Asking people can be better than telling people

Alex’s professor never tells or advises. Instead, he asks Alex and his team questions that force them to think and work things out for themselves. Because of this, they develop the habit of considering things carefully, collaborating, finding their own solutions, and figuring out the right questions to ask.

      The Goal was first published in 1984. Many great, transformational ideas about management, operations, systems and other concepts have come about in the four decades since then, but the fundamental lessons of the book remain relevant even now. They apply to any industry, even those that did not really exist in their current form in 1984, such as software and services. As the book demonstrates, the ‘bottleneck’ framework can even be used to deal with the challenges in our daily lives.

Over two decades after I first read it, The Goal is still very meaningful to me and I often gift it to others (most recently, our Head of Operations). I highly recommend The Goal to entrepreneurs, employees and anyone who is looking for a rational approach.

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Electronics Manufacturing Opportunities and Challenges for India’s Burgeoning Aerospace Industry

India’s Aerospace and Defence (A&D) market is estimated to grow to around $70 billion by 2030 with government encouragement and improving infrastructure. There are opportunities beyond commercial and military aviation. Private players are entering new areas like unmanned flight, space transportation and commercial satellites.

When most people think of India and space, they see VSSC and ISRO. In recent years, several impressive private startups have entered the domain. These startups are driven by strong R&D, and they are changing the profile and perception of Indian high-tech. Here are just a few:

  • Asteria Aerospace combines robotics and AI to create customised hardware products and software solutions for UAVs.
  • Bellatrix Aerospace, incubated at IISc, develops in-space propulsion systems and orbital launch vehicles.
  • Agnikul was incubated at IIT Madras, and is part of the Airbus Accelerator. This company uses 3D printing to build launch vehicles and engines.
  • Dhruva Space, based in Hyderabad, is a National Award-winning start-up that offers full-stack space engineering solutions from ground stations to launch solutions and satellite platforms.
  • Skyroot Aerospace is developing Earth-to-space transportation systems for both materials and people.

These startups, and many others like them, are based on the combination of decades of space research expertise from ISRO and VSSC, and the new generation of IT entrepreneurs. The new entrepreneurs have an understanding of how to win over investors with deep pockets and the appetite for risk.

This industry faces two unique challenges: massive amounts of capital and long development cycles. Companies in this area are not just developing software. They are building physical products which must go through an extended design, development and testing process, are highly regulated and require precision engineering.

Ancillary manufacturers of aerospace components and assemblies face new challenges to supply these startups. Aerospace-grade materials and components require special design, materials sourcing, transportation, manufacture and storage.

  • PCBs used in aerospace equipment must be able to withstand extreme temperature, high humidity and excessive vibration.
  • Their lifecycle must be measurable in decades.
  • In some cases, replacing a PCB may be nearly impossible – for example, a PCB used in a GPS satellite.
  • Aerospace PCBs must be absolutely uncontaminated to perform reliably.
  • PCB size is severely restricted by the high cost of transporting equipment to space.
  • Aerospace PCBs are also highly complex, requiring double-sided and multi-layered designs.

Many of these challenges have no Earth-bound equivalent. Replacing a PCB in an aircraft engine is expensive, time-consuming and complicated, but it is possible; replacing one used by an orbiting satellite is near-impossible. Solving these challenges requires new and revolutionary thinking at every step of component/assembly manufacture.

Podrain works with several of these startups. We are AS9100-certified as a top-quality manufacturer for the aviation, space and defence industry. Podrain is one of the few EMS companies in India with this level of quality. This is an exciting new industry for us. There are many new challenges and problems to solve. The possibilities are only growing.

Will private spacefaring companies be able to sustain and be profitable in the long run? India’s low-cost, improvisational manufacturing philosophy and engineering expertise make Indian EMS companies perfectly positioned to manufacture aerospace components. Podrain sees huge domestic and international potential for Indian EMS companies as space becomes democratised. Podrain stands ready to seize the opportunity.

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Complex assemblies – some samples

Telit ME910 / LE910

Part number: ME910 / LE910
Telit ME910 / LE910
  • Part Number: ME910 / LE910
  • Make: TELIT
  • Dimensions: 28.2 X 28.2 X 2.2 MM
  • 4G LTE, CAT 1, 4
  • Mobile IoT 3GPP REL 13, 14 – LTE CAT M1, NB1, NB2 
  • 3G and 2G Series
  • Voice Capable Variants – Volte, Analog, and Digital Audio
  • Certified with Regulatory Bodies and Mobile Operators Worldwide
  • Multiple I/O
  • Optional GNSS

Digi International : CC-WMX-JN58-NE

  • Part Number: •CC-WMX-JN58-NE
  • Make: Digi International
  • Dimensions : 29mm X 29mm X 3.5mm
  • Description : Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 802.11A/B/G/N/AC, Bluetooth v4.0 Transceiver Module 528 mhz  Surface Mount

Quectal: EG95EXGA-128-SGNS

Quectal: EG95EXGA-128-SGNS
  • Part Number: EG95EXGA-128-SGNS
  • Make: Quectel
  • Dimensions: 29mm X 25mm X 2.3mm
  • Description: Cellular, Navigation Beidou, Edge, Galileo, Blonass, GPS, GNSS, GPRS, GSM, HSPA+, LTE, UMTS, WCDMA Transceiver Module – Antenna not included Surface Mount

Telit: GE310-GNSS

Telit: GE310-GNSS

Part Number: GE310-GNSS

Make: TELIT

Dimensions: 18mm X 15mm X 2.2mm

Description:  Automated Manufacturing Process Friendly. Miniature and Futureproof footprint. BT 4.0 Transceiver. GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and Beidou navigation, Ideal solution for applications such as asset management, utilities, and telematics. Battery-friendly operation with 2.8V GPIOS.

Quectel: EG91NAFB-512-SGNS

Quectel: EG91NAFB-512-SGNS
  • Part Number: EG91NAFB-512-SGNS
  • Make: QUECTEL
  • Dimensions: 29mm X 25mm X 2.3mm
  • Description: Cellular Navigation on Beidou, Galileo, Glonass, GPS, GNSS, LTE, UMTS, WCDMA. Transceiver module- Antenna not included surface mount

Honeywell: LGA_299_35MMX35MM_BETTER_SOM

Honeywell: LGA_299_35MMX35MM_BETTER_SOM
  • Part Number: LGA_299_35MMX35MM_BETTER_SOM
  • Make: Honeywell International Inc.
  • Dimensions: 35mm X 35mm X 6mm
  • Description: SOM , I.MX6 SOLOX-2 , 4GBYTE EMMCFLASH , 1GBYTE DDR3L

New Technologies Inc: A-365-MQ-A00

  • Part Number: A-365-MQ-A00
  • Make: New Technologies Inc
  • Dimensions: 22.5mm X 15.05mm X 1.13mm
  • Description:  The A-365-MQ Fingerprint sensor is a fingerprint scanner in an LGA Style package. The sensor is based on capacitative contact technology with hardened surface and enhanced ESD immunity.
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Automotive

Increasing Share of Electronics in AUTOMOBILES

Many recent news articles have pointed out the effect of semi-conductor chip shortages on automobile output. There will be 7.7 million fewer vehicles produced and over $210 billion in revenue lost in the year 2021 according to some reports.* This has taken many consumers – who don’t realize the extent of shift in automotive technology – by surprise. 

 Cars now contain more electronics than ever and their share is only growing. According to this research report from McKinsey & Company, software and electronics have become the focus of most automotive companies.  Power Electronics, growing at 15% , sensors at 8% and ECU’s /DCU’s growing at 5% plus will drive the global size of the automotive electronics industries to $469 billion by 2030. 

At Podrain Electronics we are working with automotive OEM’s and other players as they ride the wave of change. 

Automobile OEM’s are shifting gears into electronic mode:

Automobile components that were previously electrical or mechanical systems are now getting an electronic layer.  For example, we have worked with a major Indian automotive manufacturer on the prototype “anti-pinch” window sensors for their new range of SUV’s.  The electric motor, which operates the power window is fitted with a sensor that can sense any obstacle and stops the winding action. Parents of fidgety children who like to put their hands out of a window or pets who like to stick their noses out into the breeze can drive easier, knowing this technology will keep them safer.  

This example is the tip of the iceberg. Sensors are being used in engine, power, steering, braking and acceleration systems converting automobiles from electro-mechanical machines to electronic & software devices. For examples, a tire manufacturing OEM client of ours is integrating electronics to create a Tire Pressure monitoring system that will enable them to optimize tire pressure based on weight of the load, road and environment conditions.  The ability to remotely monitor the performance of their products opens up new opportunities to provide extended support , warranties and differential pricing for them.This is only one example of an OEM whose product and commercial model are changing to suit the times. 

Fleet Management & Allied Services need electronics in automobiles: 

We have supported clients for GPS and Vehicle Tracking Systems manufacture – another growing space of automobile electronics. There are several use cases for Fleet Management Solutions. They help track on-time arrival and departure of vehicles, fuel consumption, route monitoring and modification, safety tracking etc. Fleet management solutions and Asset Tracking are often done by other businesses and not by the Original Equipment Manufacturer. According to Mordor Intelligence this will be a USD 22 billion in 2026** and we certainly expect to help many of the companies in this area. 

The future of mobiility – whether you choose a traditional fossil fuel vehicle, an electric one or a hybrid – certainly involves electronics! 

If you are looking for electronics manufacturing services support for your company contact us and we will get back to you at the earliest.

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