The Idea to Ignition™ Methodology Provides the Framework for EMI Shielding Success
The Tee Up: How applying the Idea to Ignition™ methodology to the SigShield™ product realization process helps us get it right the first time.
As the tee up says, we’re going to discuss this, but first a few housekeeping notes:
- Idea to Ignition™ is not only our tagline, but also the name of the four-step methodology Modus Advanced, Inc. uses when we engage in producing a new project.
- The methodology provides a framework or path to success.
- The SigShield™ product realization process is the combination of the Modus™ Idea to Ignition™ methodology, Nolato Trishield form-in-place gaskets, and the resulting benefits to our customers.
Now that we’re all on the same bus traveling down the same highway, let’s dive into how the Idea to Ignition™ methodology is used to improve the chances of getting it right the first time within the SigShield™ product realization process. We’ll compare two fictional custom machined RF shield projects. We will “green-light” one project and “bow out” of the other. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy or close this page and get back to work!
The Players: Assume standard disclaimers - names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, incidents and any resemblance to persons, living or dead is purely coincidental! Well, except the Modus™ staff.
- Company #1 = US-based Military communications equipment manufacturer. Nobody wants to be named Company #1, so let’s call them Raymil Systems.
- Company #2 = US-based high-volume manufacturer of electronic test equipment. Let’s call this company Allprice Equipment.
- Regional Sales Manager (RSM) = The Modus™ folks who work side-by-side with customers helping get it right the first time.
- Sales Engineer (SE) = The Modus™ person paired with the RSM on the inside. The SE plays a key role in the quote process and internal project set up.
- Product Application Engineer (PAE) = The Modus™ staff person who plays a key role in project evaluation during the quote process, helps with Design for Manufacturability (DFM) and project set up.
- Modus™ Operations Team = The internal team at Modus™ who execute product realization. The team includes everyone from the Vice President, Manufacturing to our Director of Quality.
Okay, time to get on with it!
As with most companies, Modus Advanced, Inc. has a documented sales process. While we call it “sales”, we look at it more as consulting. Our RSMs are trained to identify opportunities where Modus™ can add real value to a customer’s business. Many times, the consulting work involves helping an engineering team navigate the intricacies of material performance, manufacturing technologies, design for manufacturability, quality requirements, regulatory considerations and supply chain needs.
The Idea to Ignition™ process really starts with the first project-specific customer interaction. This is one of the areas where the RSM will add value to the customer relationship. The RSM sits at the intersection of the customer, including knowledge of this specific account, and Modus™ capabilities. We call the first project-specific interaction the Idea stage.
Great, we have a name for the stage, now what? We took the time to add a couple of fictional companies. Should we pull them into the story? Let’s start with an interaction with Raymil Systems.
Comparison #1 - Raymil Systems = Greenlight
As noted above, Raymil Systems (RS) is a fictional manufacturer of military communication equipment. The RS New Production Introduction (NPI) team is tasked with designing and procuring a custom machined RF shield for a new piece of equipment. The new equipment will provide a game-changing advantage for a variety of US Special Forces units. The advantage can’t be realized until the new equipment has been designed, built, tested and released.
The good news is Modus Advanced, Inc. is on Raymil’s approved vendor list (AVL). Being AVL approved opens the resource doors at Modus Advanced. By resources I mean the time and attention of Raymil’s assigned Regional Sales Manager. The RSM’s knowledge of the customer’s business can make all the difference when it comes to project success. As previously mentioned, through interaction with the Modus™ RSM, Raymil is already onboarded at Modus™. This means projects can quickly move through our system with little to no friction. More on our onboarding process in a different blog!
During the Idea stage, we ask a lot of questions. The questions are designed to make sure we’re adding significant value to the project. Value can be defined in a variety of ways, but our focus is typically centered on:
- shorter lead times
- the need to get it right the first time
- being able to check-the-boxes on quality and regulatory certifications
- and of course, the importance of the overall customer experience.
Bottom line - we will be doing everything possible to confirm the project is a good fit while also starting to plan for project success. We don’t take project-fit lightly at Modus™. Your time is valuable, and people are depending on you to get it right the first time. If we’re not the right fit, we’re going to quickly “bow out” of the project.
If we, as a team (Raymil and Modus), decide the project is a good fit the project will move into the Engineering stage. Lot’s going on in this stage! The RSM, SE, and PAE will be working in tandem with your engineering team to not only define the appropriate manufacturing techniques, materials, and automation possibilities but will use their RF shield manufacturing expertise to suggest DFM options.
The expert engineers at Raymil are typically well versed in specifying the aluminum used in RF shields. By the way, the vast majority of what we see at Modus™ is 6061-T6. Though we’re not fans of the “we’ve always used” statement, 6061-T6 falls into that category. It works effectively for a variety of reasons.
For plating, the more common specifications we see are Electroless Nickel per B733 Type IV SC2 Class 4, Chem Film per MIL-DTL5541 Type II Class 1A Clear, and Trivalent Chromate Conversion Coating per MIL-C-5541 Class 3 Type II. Design engineers typically understand their specific plating needs. Our task is to make sure the machined RF shields are plated correctly and meet drawing specifications. We work with a number of plating companies who, like Modus™, believe in serving their customers with speed and precision.
If engineers at Raymil have already specified the appropriate aluminum and plating combination, why do we include material selection and RF shield DFM in our methodology? When working on an RF shield project, we find engineers appreciate our ability to look ahead and spot potential form-in-place gasket issues before the first aluminum chips start flying. We’re not going to say we’ve seen it all, but we’ve certainly seen our share of design issues causing unnecessary project delays. We won’t get into DFM suggestions or a case study in this post but suffice it to say a quick review by our team during the design process can certainly help improve project success. What’s the term we hear? Oh yeah - early supplier involvement!
We’re sure you get it by now, but to cover our bases, let’s quickly touch on the last few tasks we complete during the Engineering stage. What about checking the quality requirements? We will be looking for anything out of the ordinary on the drawing. While most requirements are pretty straight forward, we’ve seen a few questionable specifications. We would say most are related to tolerance expectations on the form-in-place gaskets. Again, we will save the tolerance and DFM suggestions for another post.
Finally, our team will be looking for opportunities to reduce project costs and lead times through automation. Depending on the type of project, our team may look at pallet systems, multi-part fixtures, or the use of robotics. All are available options at Modus™.
We enter the Solution stage after receiving a purchase order. Customer PO’s are typically entered into our system within 24 hours. While entering a PO sounds trivial, in reality, it’s anything but trivial. Depending on the customer, purchase orders can easily be 5 to 10 pages in length and include 10 to 20 PO specific clauses! Our team prides itself on paying attention to the details. Details matter when you’re trying to get it right the first time.
After the order has been entered and again checked for accuracy by a second person, the project moves to the cross-functional pre-production planning process (PPP). In this process, members of our production, quality, sales and engineering teams review every aspect of the project. The ultimate objective is to make sure the RF shield sails through all the manufacturing steps. Our manufacturing team does not make assumptions. Details are ironed out and questions answered prior to the project being staged for production. Our team is dedicated to working with both speed and precision.
The last stage of our project lifecycle is the Ignition stage. The RF shield is now in full production. After all the strategy and planning in the first three stages, the physical SigShield™ product realization process finally starts. A “traveler” is created, reviewed, and released to the production team. Aluminum chips are flying in the CNC machining centers and the quality team is continually verifying the results.
Plating falls into the Ignition stage. Luckily coordination with our approved plating partners starts at the tail end of the Solution stage. Our partners know what’s in the pipeline and are prepared when parts arrive on their dock.
The Modus™ team inspects the Plated shields received from our plating partners and passes them on to the Insert Department. Yes, we have a Threaded or special Insert Department with trained professionals! Inserts are installed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and then the RF shield is delivered to our Dispensing Team.
We won’t get into too much detail about the dispensing operation in this post as it’s covered in other posts. At a high level, the FIP team carefully dispenses test lines to verify the electrically conductive Nolato Trishield or Trishield 2.0 form-in-place gaskets meet drawing requirements. After being dispensed on the machined RF shield, the EMI gasket goes through multiple quality checks to verify everything from gasket height to the physical location on the shield.
A final quality check is performed on the complete RF shield using a variety of metrology tools. Our machined shield and form-in-place gasket inspection methods allow our team to quickly verify multiple features.
Full-blown production commences which includes continual quality control, and upon completion the “greenlight” order goes out the door!
Comparison #2 - Allprice = Bow Out
Our “bow out” company, Allprice, is a real-life example of why their proposed project isn’t a good fit for Modus™. Allprice is an amazing company! Heck, they're out to change the world and we’d like to help them!
Allprice approached Modus Advanced, Inc. about a project several years ago. The East Coast company specified a Nolato Trishield form-in-place gasket for one of their units. They checked a lot of our interest boxes:
- They were based in the USA
- had the ability to do significant business with Modus™
- cared about quality
- and were interested in one of our specialty processes (FIP gaskets).
Of course, our RSM and SE were intrigued by the customer and prospective project. We were in full discovery mode working through the Idea stage when things started to go “a little sideways”.
Let's not be too dramatic! It's not like we shut down a production line or missed a critical delivery. “Sideways” in this instance meant the dialog with Allprice started to go down a path we weren't prepared to support at the time. A few short bullets:
- Discovered: The preferred supply chain plan had Modus Advanced Inc. setting up shop in or near the Allprice facility in China.
- Response: Setting up in China isn't currently in our strategic plan.
- Discovered: Allprice was going to supply their own housings.
- Response: Customers find more value in the relationship with Modus Advanced, Inc. when we manufacture the RF machined shield or chassis.
- Discovered: Due to the economics of Allprice's model, they would "allow" our company to make 15% margin on the raw material in the first year. The margin would then decrease to 10% the second year and finally adjust to 5% for the life of the project. Modus™ would have to throw in the processing as part of the package. In other words, they weren't going to pay us to dispense the gaskets on their units.
- Response: While we appreciate Allprice's offer to let us make a sliver of profit on the Nolato material, our "speed and precision" manufacturing model isn't sustainable at 5%.
Where did we end up with Allprice? Our Sales Team didn't give up. In the interest of continuing a meaningful relationship with Allprice and supporting a potential Nolato deal in China, we offered to do a little free consulting to help Allprice set up an internal dispensing line. Today they are dispensing hundreds of thousands of units internally at a price that works for their economic model.
Through the course of multiple engagements with their engineering team, we discovered a division of Allprice which ended up being a perfect fit for the SigShield™ product realization process. This particular division of Allprice serves US four letter agencies and prefers to keep lower volume production state-side. This definitely equates to a “greenlight” project for Modus™.
Bottom-line – sometimes a “greenlight” is immediate, but because developing relationships is key at Modus Advanced, Inc., “bowing out” may also be a win-win for everyone.