Testing Todd: Is Your Process Cluttered? Supercharge It!

I recently came across a social media post regarding process development through the eyes of Elon Musk. Although there are many philosophies about process development, I found Elon’s insight particularly interesting. He was talking about rocketry and evolution of the reusable rocket at SpaceX. I thought I would pass along his ideas and see how they may work for you. I’ll be paraphrasing a bit, but you’ll get the idea. Let’s design a process, shall we?

Question Requirements
In step one, we need to question requirements. Elon says, “Make your requirements less dumb.” This is particularly dangerous when the requirements come from a smart person. We tend to not question these cases. Everyone is wrong some of the time, no matter who you are. So, we must clearly define the requirements of what our process is designed to deliver.

Try to Delete the Part or Process
Now that we have our requirements (steps) defined, we need to try and delete the part or process. Step two: Is it a necessary part or step in the process? We tend to overengineer a process. In Elon’s view, if you are not adding a process part or step back in at least 10% of the time, you are clearly not deleting enough. Also, a big mistake made in process development is that the process is assigned to a group or department. The process must be assigned to a person. They will take ownership of the requirement, defend its necessity, and manage it. This stops the ambiguity of a process requirement getting lost and possibly constraining the overall goal. If not assigned to a person, the original person that may have come up with the requirement may have moved on and no one knows why the requirement is even in the process. This can have effects on process velocity.

Simplify or Optimize
Step three is a very important step and makes total sense. It is quite common for even a smart engineer to spend a lot of time optimizing a thing that shouldn’t exist. We are all taught in high school and college to “answer the question.” It’s convergent logic. We cannot tell the professor that your question is dumb; we will get a bad grade. We must answer the question. So, we are trained to be in a mental straitjacket. Therefore, we then spend the time optimizing a step or part that should not exist. We need to step back and, before we simplify or optimize a process part or step, question whether that step is even necessary. If not, delete it. (See step 2.)

Accelerate Cycle Time
In step four we want to go faster. We can always go faster. However, don’t do this before you have done the previous three steps. If something has gone wrong in steps one through three, you don’t want to dig your grave faster. You want to stop digging. One of the main things that slows cycle time is too many in-process testing steps. What happens is that we put quality checks in process and then forget to delete them. Albeit they are necessary during development to identify weakness or non-conformance, but if the final first pass yield is acceptable at end of line, there is no further reason for the in-process testing step and it can be deleted. By following this idea, the velocity of the process or line can be increased. It is too common that these steps are added during debug of the process and then forgotten. This leads to these unnecessary testing or check steps choking the line or process.

Automate
In step five, we automate. If all other steps have resulted in positive results, we need to pursue automation. This increases stability and repeatability. However, we need to think of the previous steps. We do not want to invest capital in automation when, after review, the automation is not needed, and the automation step should be deleted entirely. 

Closing Thoughts
After reading Elon’s ideas on process development, and developing many processes over the years, I can see I have fallen into the trap more than once. What happens is that we find ourselves doing the five steps in reverse order. After spending all the time and energy in process development, we have overengineered the process and have cost and steps that should never have been there in the first place. Doh!

Whether you embrace some of the above thinking, I found it very interesting and a good spin on process engineering. Thanks Elon.

This column originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of PCB007 Magazine.

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2021

Testing Todd: Is Your Process Cluttered? Supercharge It!

09-30-2021

Recently I came across a posting on social media regarding process development in the eyes of Elon Musk. Although there are many philosophies with regard to process development, I found Elon’s insight particularly interesting. Let’s design a process, shall we?

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2020

Testing Todd: Training the Force or the Few

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As with any business, the quality of goods and/or services is of the utmost importance. Company reputations are gauged by the success or failure in maintaining high-quality outputs. Todd Kolmodin explains how maintaining high-quality and on-time delivery depends on multiple factors: first, equipment and tools to produce the product or service, and second, the power of the workforce behind the product.

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2019

Testing Todd: Go To Bed Hungry

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Another decade is coming to an end, so, forward thinkers, let's take this time to review the past, evaluate past decisions, and hopefully make prudent decisions to move forward in the ever-changing marketplace in which we exist. There has never been a Magic 8 Ball to predict what is going to happen, so we all do our best to calculate, look over the fences, and aim to remain in this competitive meat grinder we call “the market.”

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2018

Testing Todd: What’s in your ET?

07-13-2018

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2017

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08-22-2017

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2016

Testing Todd: Are You a Leader or a Manager?

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Testing Todd: Process Management: Doing It Right

04-27-2016

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2015

Flex and Rigid-Flex Circuit Testing: Challenges & Solutions

06-24-2015

Although flex circuits are nothing new in today’s technology roadmap, the testing of unpopulated flexible circuits can be challenging. In this article, columnist Todd Kolmodin writes about the different methods available to test these circuits.

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05-20-2015

New finishes have come to market; some allow better conductivity, while others reduce the overall cost of precious materials. Regardless of the finish, electrical test must be performed on these circuits. With that comes the caveat of how much of a witness mark can be left on any given landing pad and still be acceptable to the CM or the final OEM user. Todd Kolmodin explains.

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01-28-2015

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2014

What is 4-Wire Kelvin?

12-05-2014

"I've been asked many times, 'What is 4-Wire Kelvin?' So, this month I will explain the 4-Wire Kelvin Test and how it can help uncover defects that normally would go undetected in standard electrical test methodology," writes Columnist Todd Kolmodin.

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Where Do We Go From Here?

12-01-2014

In this installment of "Testing Todd," Gardien's resident expert Todd Kolmodin answers questions from Dan Beaulieu concerning the future of electrical test. His focus is on the future of testing technologies, testing equipment, and E-test.

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Testing Todd: Where Do We Go From Here?

12-01-2014

In this installment of "Testing Todd," Gardien's resident expert Todd Kolmodin answers questions from Dan Beaulieu concerning the future of electrical test. His focus is on the future of testing technologies, testing equipment, and E-test.

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08-19-2014

The use of flying probe testers has become increasingly popular in recent times, mainly due to the affordability of the equipment and also the reduced cost of testing, as no dedicated or "bed of nails" fixture is required. When using flying probes to test military product, one must be diligent to make sure the test method is allowable.

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The use of flying probe testers has become increasingly popular in recent times, mainly due to the affordability of the equipment and also the reduced cost of testing, as no dedicated or "bed of nails" fixture is required. When using flying probes to test military product, one must be diligent to make sure the test method is allowable.

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Do you need to go outside your company for your testing service? Maybe you have capacity issues, maybe your equipment is down, or maybe you just want an established back-up plan? Whatever the reason, it is very important to choose the right outside testing service because, ultimately, you're not just choosing an objective service provider; you're choosing a partner.

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06-03-2014

The PCB industry has advanced significantly in the recent millennium. OEM specifications and requirements have also advanced due to the maturing of technologies, which has caused the requirements of electrical test of these higher technology products to advance and increase in intensity.

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Testing Todd: A Summary of Various Test Requirements

06-03-2014

The PCB industry has advanced significantly in the recent millennium. OEM specifications and requirements have also advanced due to the maturing of technologies, which has caused the requirements of electrical test of these higher technology products to advance and increase in intensity.

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