Earlier this month two massive explosions rocked the port of Tianjin, northern China.

As soon as officials blamed the explosions on negligent activity, my thoughts immediately went back to my consulting days in China. The Chinese companies that I provided consulting services were manufacturers of printed circuit boards. I was tasked with visiting their manufacturing plants and providing recommendations to improve quality and productivity at the plants. I was given complete access to every area in the plant, and allowed to interview all the staff from laborer to senior managers. Unfortunately, the language barrier proved to be difficult when interviewing most of the employees.

I reviewed not only manufacturing processes, but also scrutinized the inspection and packaging lines, the warehouse operations, and other related facilities. Conditions at the plant were subpar. Most of the equipment and machinery was very old, and it was common to see puddles of chemicals leaking from pipes. The conveyers vibrated so much that a lot of material was damaged during transit. The clean rooms were monitored through windows, but this didn’t stop operators from eating, drinking and smoking; there were enough blind spots to hide in. Safety was not a primary concern when storing raw materials and chemicals. Most were piled up to the ceiling in storage rooms without any organization, while other materials were kept in aisles between conveyer belts. Even more surprising was the use of elevators for chemical storage space when no other room was available. It was not uncommon to see chemicals spilling out of broken containers and left to dry on their own.

There was a lot of wasteful spending on machinery. I came across two brand new NC drilling machines still in the original packaging. I found out that a few parts and manuals were missing, and no one could figure out how to bring the machines online. The process manager had to outsource the drilling.

Floors throughout the plant were dirty and stained with chemical remnants. There were only two clean and organized areas in the whole building – the reception area and the president’s office. The rest of the administrative offices were in poor condition – broken furniture, cluttered desks – complete chaos. Ironically, one mid-level manager told me the furniture was very cheap and did not last long because it was made in China!

I completed my report and presented it to the company’s president of operations. He did not read the report; instead he asked me to review it with the plant manager. The plant manager reviewed the report, but was not open-minded to any improvements listed within it. He was full of excuses and blamed most of the machinery problems on the maintenance department, blamed the facility cleanliness on the janitorial department, and shifted blame onto the procurement manager for storage problems. He also blamed the procurement manager for purchasing subpar, low-cost materials from local vendors (Chinese).

Most workers recognized these problems, but had no say into fixing or improving conditions. Worker moral erodes and is reflected in the quality of production.

The quality of products made in China has improved over the years, but factory and worker conditions may not be keeping up. Without safeguards in the workplace tragedies are bound to happen in plants that work with hazardous and flammable chemicals.

Dominique K. Numakura

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DKN Research Newsletter #1526, August 30, 2015 (English Edition) (Micro Electronics & Packaging) 

Headlines of the Week

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1. Panasonic began volume production curved touch panel screen for automobiles. It provides more design freedom of the cockpits.

2. Yamaha Motors founded a subsidiary, YMVLSV (Yamaha Motor Venture & Laboratory Silicon Valley Inc.), for R&D for vehicles, robotics and industrial solutions.

3. Mitsubishi Chemical began marketing of see-through type organic solar cell film. Mitsubishi expects remarkable market at the modern buildings in town area.

4. AIST developed a flexible but tough transistor with mono-layer carbon nano tube. It could be valuable for the wearable sensor devices.

5. TIT developed a tiny low-temperature plasma jet with metallic titanium using 3D printing process. It could be valuable for medical devices.

6. Sumitomo Electric developed a USB-compatible coaxial cable capable of 40Gbs for next-generation Thunderbolt. Sumitomo plans volume production for March 2016.

7. Yokohama Rubber commercialized a new color filter film “YF-Z Series” for displays and industrial applications. The films cut blue lights with 350 ~ 400nm wave length.

8. Riken codeveloped a FPP (Fine Particle Peening) process. It makes nono size dimples mechanically on solid surface without laser and photolithography.

9. Toshiba commercialized a new intelligent power module “TLP 2704” with thin SO6L plastic package for FA equipment. Mounting height: 2.3mm.

10. AIST codeveloped a heat insulation alumina film through simple nano-fiber sol process with Kawaken Fine Chemical. It reflects over 70% of visible and IR light.

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