Monthly Archives: March, 2011

Applied Materials Plant Tour w/ ASQ Austin

Yesterday evening members of ASQ Section 1414 were treated to a plant tour of the Applied Materials facility in Austin, TX. This was a rare opportunity to see the manufacturing operations of a top tier semiconductor equipment vendor up close and personal.

The event was kicked off by Steve Rogers, Managing Director of Silicon Sector Group Manufaturing Operation for Austin & Singapore, who presented an excellent overview of Applied Materials’ quality philosophy and how it permeates every aspect of its manufacturing operation. Quality tools such as Kaizen, 8D Problem Solving, lean and Six Sigma are used not just to address problems when they pop up, but to continuously improve processes.

The semiconductor equipment business is a made-to-order business. Every chip manufacturer that Applied Material supplies defines its own unique proprietary tool configuration – one that presumably gives it a competitive advantage over others in the marketplace. You cannot meet such mass-customization and exacting demands by working harder and faster. Applied Materials is doing it by creatively using quality tools to become nimble and efficient – being able to rapidly convert a manufacturing line from one tool type to another, and by moving from building and testing fully built tools to a modular approach.

The tour of the facility included 4 separate buildings that highlighted the company’s different product offerings – various versions of Producers & Enduras. Attendees were broken up into four groups. Each group was escorted by a member of the manufacturing team and one from the quality assurance team. (My thanks to Neelam & Ted for escorting Group 2.) While it was not possible to actually step onto the manufacturing floor which are clean rooms, tour members still got an excellent visual of tools in various stages of production. Tour guides were cognizant of the non-semiconductor background of the group and patiently explained what was being shown.

I was impressed how all the pieces fit together at Applied Materials. Semiconductor equipment are complex. And yet, by applying quality principles and tools in a disciplined manner Applied Materials routinely meets its customers’ expectations worldwide.

I’m especially grateful to Daphne Gilbert, quality engineer at Applied Materials, for making the tour possible. Many thanks!

Pursuit of Perfection

I came across “The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation” by Matthew E. May while scanning the business section at a Half Price Books store. I picked it up because the price was right, to be honest. It sat in a stack at home for months before I came across it again. I had just finished reading Daniel H. Pink’s “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” and was pondering about creativity & innovation. So, it made sense to read on the approach Toyota took. I regret not reading it sooner.

May dispels the myth that innovation happens in flashes of brilliance within a select group of people possessing an aptitude for creativity. He presents the system Toyota has in place wherein innovation and creativity are the domain of every person. Everybody is inherently creative and we would do well tap into this vast resource. But before you roll your eyes, May gives a reality check and points out that the net impact of your innovation is relative to your base of responsibility, power and control. This grows the higher you move in the organization.

In the book he reveals the three principles that fuel the engine of innovation at Toyota even today: Ingenuity in craft, Pursuit of perfection, and Fit with society. He details 10 key practices – the toolbox – that make these principles operational: Let learning lead; Learn to see; Design for today; Think in pictures; Capture the intangible; Leverage the limits; Master the tension; Run the numbers; Make Kaizen mandatory, and Keep it lean. And, he demonstrates how these principles and practices come together with various examples & anecdotes that go beyond Toyota or even the automotive industry to addressing social problems.

May takes great pains to pepper the book with quotes from figures across the spectrum of human endeavors to show that Toyota or the East didn’t invent these concepts. But, Toyota’s innovative & disciplined use of them has made it “a double threat: the world’s finest manufacturer and a truly great innovator…”

The writing is very reader friendly. I was devouring the book with speed. The structure of the book reinforces the problem solving approach. Each chapter on the 10 practices defines the Problem, identifies the Cause and presents the Solution. Each chapter ends with a section for self-reflection (Hansei): questions that I am using to exercise my brain daily. I would recommend that everyone, not just professionals, read “The Elegant Solution” at least once.