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Manufacturing in southern China-no trivial pursuit

Article-Manufacturing in southern China-no trivial pursuit

Flextronics'' Doumen Campus is a symbol of China''s world workshop status

Spread over a 150-acre site in the Pearl River Delta and housing 2.7 million sq ft of manufacturing space, the Doumen, Zhuhai-China Industrial Park of Flextronics, the electronic manufacturing services (EMS) giant, boasts extensive plastics processing capabilities to support colocated electronics assembly operations. Of the more than 1400 plastic injection molding machines Flextronics operates worldwide, about 200 with clamping forces ranging between 40 and 1000 tonnes can be found at the Doumen site.

Plastics processing operations started at Doumen in September 2002, roughly around the time production of Microsoft X-Boxes was transferred from Hungary and Mexico. The first molding operation (54 machines) also supported production of Dell desktops, which had been consolidated in China from Flextronics sites in Thailand, the U.S., and Ireland. Besides this operation, Flextronics has since added injection machines in separate buildings dedicated to mobile phone and notebook/server production.

Each molding operation is colocated with related downstream assembly operations rather than in a common building for processing operations, due to the very scale of operations at Doumen. Literally millions of desktops alone are manufactured each month, and a fleet of trucks would otherwise be required to transport parts between buildings. In 24 hours, Flextronics stamps enough metal for to fill 36 containers.

One consequence of consolidation from multiple global sites is the diversity of injection presses now sited at Doumen. "We have a variety of machines including Mitsubishis, Nisseis, Arburgs, Engels, and Ferromatiks, which makes life more interesting," says John Zanieski, who heads up "mechanicals" at Doumen. His beat encompasses plastics processing operations, metal stamping, and secondary processes such as painting and hot staking. Around 4000 of the 18,000 workers on the Doumen campus come under Zanieski''s charge and his territory covers a footprint of 750,000 sq ft.

Molding operations run on a Kanban system. "If we see empty boxes [from assembly], we run the presses and fill them up," says Zanieski. Here, the key to running a lean operation is fast mold changes, according to Zanieski. "You can try and plan for runs of say 200,000 parts a month in an ideal world, but the reality is that you can''t live that way. The only way is to pop out the mold quickly." Wherever possible, Flextronics employs the Single Minute Exchange Die developed by Toyota. It also does what it can outside of the mold in preparation for the next job. "Not only do we get the resin ready: We also get inspection ready," he notes.

Zanieski''s policy is also to add as much value as possible to the part press-side before it moves elsewhere-either for secondary processing or to assembly. For the X-Box, five injection presses are dedicated to molding the top cover, and five the bottom. The covers come together on a common press-side conveyor system where the X-Box "jewel" is attached, a metal EMI shield is hot-staked onto the top half, and EMI and hard disk brackets are affixed to the lower half. Then, the two halves are attached together before they are sent off to electronics for assembly. The wheel-in/wheel-out press-side conveyor lines are easily exchanged if other products are to be molded.

In fact, what happens press-side sometimes borders on assembly in its own right. Up to seven different operations may be carried out. "An advantage is that you can see whether parts fit together immediately instead of after you''ve molded 20,000," says Zanieski.

When Zanieski starts to see limitations in molding capacity, he''ll explore all options to boost it before resorting to installing new machines. "One option is to install more water loops in a tool and reduce the cycle time," he says. "This typically can be done at a cost of $5000 and payback is several weeks."

Stephen Moore [email protected]

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