Speed to market
Inside the facility the large production floor is split into two areas - a SMT portion in the front and a box-build area at the back.
Jerry has worked here for a long time - since 1987 - starting out as a Buyer in Western Digital and progressing through various roles including Purchasing Manager, Materials Director, various Operations Manager positions and finally, in 2005, General Manager of Flextronics SBS, Cork, Ireland.
He points out a large open space in the middle of the factory floor. The space means Flextronics can be flexible and can move quickly. In this economy, in this region, that's important. “Speed to market is extremely important,” explains Jerry. “You have to provide customers with flexibility”.
Jerry Fitzpatrick © Flextronics
A long history of firsts
The Cork site was originally established in 1984 by Western Digital to produce controller boards for things like graphic and hard drives. In 1987 the site was one of the first in Europe to move toward surface mount technology; later they were the first to produce mother boards for a brand leader in the computing industry.
Flextronics took over the site in 2000; their first customer after the acquisition provided decoders for a popular cable television company in the UK and Ireland.
“In a year and a half we probably did about 30,000 decoders a month launching into the European market,” says Jerry. “We have been extremely lucky, on many, many occasions, where we arrived at a precipice of what I would regard as something big happening in the market and our history was able to sustain us to develop that.”
Now about 250 employees directly manufacture at the site, while another 80 are involved in other Flextronics Global divisions.
Inside the factory© Flextronics
Adapting to changing conditions
Where the Irish manufacturing market used to be 80 percent US multinationals and 20 percent local to regional OEMs, the split has now reversed. Naturally, many companies in the region – including Flextronics – have had to find new ways of operating in the region.
Jerry isn’t fazed by this; change is nothing unusual for the site. “We've had to invent ourselves many, many times to cope with economies of scale, market conditions, global demand, technology changes, technology bubbles.”
Certificates:High complexity, low volume
To stay competitive and vital in the midst of this change, the company has focused on innovation tailored to the regional market. The area of innovation and R&D provided an opportunity for the company.
“Flextronics decided that we want to stay in that region, we believe it's a big offering within our portfolio and we developed our SBS model to support this,” explains Jerry. The SBS model specializes in the production of highly diversified, highly complex, low volume products – a valuable service for the R&D centers and businesses in the area.
“R&D and innovation centers do require somebody to basically support their ideas. Every time somebody comes up with an idea it has to go into manufacture. It needs somebody in the region to work on New Product Introduction (NPI) to get the product into volume production”.
Flextronics SBS leverages its worldwide footprint to enable companies to transition to the volume production stage once they are ready, acting as a local supplier that can call on the support of Flextronics global infrastructure.
Flextronics SBS Cork:Machinery to match innovation
• 5 SMT lines with dedicated in-line 3D solder paste inspection
• Lead and lead free solder wave lines
• 2 x 5 ton and 2 x 12 ton press-fit machines (MEP)
• 3 x Flying probe test systems
• Dedicated in-line automated optical (AOI)
• 3 x In-line Agilent 5DX x-ray systems
• 1 post wave In-line Series 5000 x-ray
• Multiple ICT Test platforms
• Functional Test Systems incl. RF, ISP Boundary Scan
• 7 x HASS / Burn-in chambers, including Walk-in
The site has recently purchased two new Hitachi high speed placement machines, an Agilent AOI machine, DeK screen printer, Nitrogen capable oven and robotic conformal coating machine. The investment in capital expenditure is vital to keeping up with the increasing complexity of customer needs and to engage in new market areas such as Self-Service, Clean Energy and Medical.
As we walk through the factory Jerry demonstrates a flying probe station in action – a machine ideal for the low volume new design. Three quarters of the way through testing one board it has already made 11,000 steps. The facility has four of these machines.
Incubating technology for the future
Right now the site is preparing for medical business and has certification in this area. Jerry says they plan to convert the back-end of the factory into clean rooms.
The facility has also established close connections with the local university and the Cork Electronics Industry Association. The site has taken on a role as an incubator, something that makes Jerry and the team is proud.
“One of our most sustainable customers, we basically incubated them here. They had their first European-headquarters within this site,” says Jerry. “Two major global players, when they first came to Europe, started in a portion of our building, in our back-end offices, we were doing manufacturing and basically supporting their manufacturing in Europe”.
The strategy is working, with the company winning seven new customers in the past 12 months. The facility now has a high double-digit number of small to medium sized customers. The factory almost never stands still, operating six days a week. For employees, this means three groups work 12 hour shifts, 3 days a week.
Cork has experienced staff, some who have been working here since the facilities opening. This provides an advantage over lower-cost geographical areas Jerry says, particularly as these employees are able to deal with complex tasks. At one station we see an engineer working diligently on a unit that will sell for over 100,000 euro.
In short, Flextronics SBS in Cork thrives by solving complex problems says Jerry. “I've heard it said once from some senior people,” he says, “if you ever have an issue and you're not solving it, trust it into Ireland, give it to Cork and if they can't make a hand of it, nobody in the world will make a hand of it”.