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!