This BLOG addresses innovation in the manufacturing process. Please comment on the blog posting with your input, observations and questions.
We’ve got a problem and we need your help. I hear that from time to time from my children, my scouts and from my manufacturing engineers. I try to teach them all to become the Jack of all trades and the Master of TRIZ. TRIZ is an acronym for the theory of inventive problem solving which is great tool to use for helping solve problems, better, cheaper and faster. One particular day working in a solar plant a few years ago, a production technician came to me and said, “last night we started to have problems with the stringing machine and we had to shut it down due to all the failures.” A stringing machine is an automatic device that picks up thin (in our case brittle crystalline silicon) solar cells and positions them on a fixture as thin solder coated ribbon wire is attached (soldered) in a series or “a string”. This attachment is made by a computer controlled soldering head that provides slight pressure and intense heat for a very short amount of time. Well, it seemed sometime the previous night, a huge amount of failures were discovered. This spike in defects from just one of the four stringing machines was producing strings that had cells loosely attached to the ribbon wires and 10-15% of the cells were cracking in what looked like a random occurrence. Cracked cells and non- attached ribbon strings are VERY bad things. The basic solar panel requires photons from the sun that hit the solar cells to knock electrons loose causing the flow of electrons from one side of the cell to the other side and electricity can not flow very well, if at all, in cracked cells or cells that are loosely attached to the wire ribbons.
The KEY to good problem solving, requires solving key problems in a good way.
Be a sponge and get as many details of the problem, history, system, resources, knowledge, and functional relationships as you can possibly absorb. We first asked why, why, why, and then why two more times, with few usable answers being supplied to me and my engineers. Why are they cracking, why now and why not during day shift, why are you coming to me, why has this happened in the past, why and what has changed? The fear of a line stoppage, not producing product overnight, the confusion of why now, and the lack of focus on where to start solving this problem were the real issues management was concerned with. Yeah, they did want the problem solved, but they really would have been just as happy if the problem just fixed itself, went away or cycled back to normal failure production rates. (Finding the cause of the problem and eliminating that as a variable needs to be a management focus, but that will be another topic on another day). So no one really had time to answer our probing questions with much detail because the work stoppage on that stringing machine affected production throughput. Since throughput was affected, this meant quality control was investigating and most of manufacturing was in full damage control, as the 10 plus year old stringing machine looked as it was destined for an expensive overhaul, replacement, and or the scrap heap.
Dust off the TRIZ problem solving steps....