We talk a lot about manufacturing here at Zebulon Solutions. Our business after all is productization services, helping our customers get their products out of the R&D lab and into stable manufacturing. And we do collectively have decades of experience in manufacturing, on products ranging from mice to cell phones to base stations to wind turbines.
But it’s also good to, now and again, get our hands dirty (or gooey–see below) and do some real manufacturing. We had that opportunity this past month, when one of our long-term customers d asked us to do a quickturn systems integration manufacturing run for them.
And so we did it. We integrated about 250 subassemblies and 1000s of components into about 30 systems, then shipped these systems to two locations, all in under 3 weeks. The components and subassemblies were already manufactured, mostly in China, so what we were doing was pure system integration. Which consisted of a lot of mechanical system integration, a small amount of electrical work, testing, pack-out, and a whole lot of goo. The main challenge of this system is that it is used in a environment where various liquids come into contact with the product. The product also takes a lot of mechanical abuse in real usage, so basically we had to apply all manners of goo–ranging from grease to silicone to RTV to, yes, superglue–to various interfaces.
As the components were already in inventory, we did not get an opportunity to do any design optimization, although we have notebooks full of good ideas when we do get to a product respin. But we did get a chance to work on some of the processes–quickly, under tight time and budget constraints–but that is teh real world of manufacturing. We had a few challenges along the way, mostly coming from the goo aspects, and faced all the typical manufacturing hurdles–yield, rework, inventory shortages and even working around a holiday. The biggest issue turned out to be outbound shipping. We did not have time or budget to design or test a packout solution, and our tons of bubble-wrap in sturdy cardboard did not work out perfectly. But we learned a lot and have a plan for improvements for the next go.
A whole lot of improvements, across the board. And that’s good. And that reminds us why it’s good to walk the talk sometimes.