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Running machines 24/7

Micro-Mechanics has introduced innovations to help reach its goal of nonstop production.

Micro-Mechanics introduced a 'Pit-Stop' system to reduce the time that a piece of equipment is left idle while the machinist prepares it for the next job.

TO ensure that its machines are as productive as possible, semiconductor equipment maker Micro-Mechanics introduced a system to reduce the time a piece of equipment is left idle while the machinist prepares it for the next job. The company's machinists took about five minutes to prepare the tooling for the next part of the production process, leaving the machine unused during this time.

In the new system, one dedicated "Pit-Stop" personnel would prepare the tooling offline, allowing the machine to run continuously with little down time.

Based on 57 tooling changes per day under the old system, 10 machinists were required to change tools for 19 machines. But with the change, just one employee is required, resulting in a 90 per cent reduction in idle time. This frees up the machinists for other tasks, such as inspections.

"Machinists tend to change the parameters of each tool on the machine for their convenience and this is a hard habit to change. All these activities eat up productive machine hours," says Micro-Mechanics chief operating officer Low Ming Wah.

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"The Pit-Stop section was our key innovation to prepare, track and maintain all our tools and fixtures offline. It took us a lot of man-hours and more than 10 years of innovation and development to get to this stage, and we will continue to develop further."

Beginning in 1983 with a small factory in Singapore, Micro-Mechanics designs, manufactures and markets high precision parts and tools used in process-critical applications for the semiconductor and other high technology industries. Today, the company serves a worldwide base of customers from five manufacturing facilities located in Singapore, Malaysia, China, the Philippines and the US. It also has a sales presence in Taiwan and Europe.

The company's efforts to raise productivity is centred on a strategy it calls "026 + R&D", which is based on four key areas: 0 (zero defect), 2 (2 days response time), 6 (6 days cycle time) and R&D (Innovation).

The company's Pit-Stop innovation, for instance, helps it to achieve the zero defect and 6-day cycle time aspects of the strategy. Pit Stop personnel are able to reduce incidences of wrong toolings being chosen, while significantly reducing machine idle times. As a result, the higher machines run-time will facilitate parts to be completed much faster and help achieve the 6-day cycle time target.

"To enhance our customer value and stay competitive in this dynamic industry, we need to continuously deliver flawless quality products, fast response within two work days on enquiry and achieve six days cycle time upon receiving an order, in short 026+R&D," says Mr Low.

"From FY2013 to FY2017, our sales had grown 48 per cent, gross margin has grown 67 per cent, with our headcount growing marginally by 14 per cent. These figures have been very encouraging."


Another of Micro-Mechanics' goals is to achieve "24/7" machining, or a machine spindle run-time of 160 hours out of 168 hours per week. To help do this, the company developed its own methodology for using the correct cutting tool, cutting parameters such as spindle speed and correct feed-rate, and invested in a system that enabled the machines to be run continuously overnight.

With the additional unmanned machines running for one shift, Micro-Mechanics was able to increase its output by 42 per cent and fulfil its customers' orders earlier.

Another effort to attain 24/7 machining involved the development of fixtures to suit the company's product needs, thus enhancing its machines' efficiency.

These fixtures are designed to meet the repeatability and reliability of the machining process.

Says Mr Low: "If we don't invest in new technology and equipment, or develop innovative processes and know-how - it is hard to expect a better future, especially in our super high-mix and super low-volume manufacturing."