Social networking to many people looks like a waste of time, with limited relevance to the workplace. Quality assurance, on the other hand, while treated seriously by experts and discussed in these pages (see January CT) is neglected for other reasons—its reliance on statistical knowledge, being one.

There has been even less discussion of combining the two.

But I believe that the electronics industry is missing a great opportunity to get the full benefit of failure analysis from the repair of field returns. We should not be satisfied with a list of replaced components when we could get so much more information through a social network.

Insights

Social networks have a tendency to encourage the participants to distinguish themselves by blogging their entire knowledge on a given subject. The social network is so compelling that the technician will describe the symptoms of failure and how the root-cause of the defect was discerned and repaired.

It is as if the social network pulls the entire repair experience out of the technician. Not only will the network allow for sharing of insights about the nature of the failure, but it also exposes any misconceptions about the product technology and provides an opportunity to identify needs for training.

An important aspect of the social network that we have built is that Lotus Notes databases are provided with ample “Rich Text Fields,” so participants can attach an assortment of files to document their observations and support their conclusions.

The special tracking database shown in the diagram promotes interactive dialog between ARRIS support engineers and the repair staff at the new product introduction stage. The ARRIS support engineer will conduct a battery of tests to reveal failure modes. The engineer will then enter the observations into the special tracking database and then forward the field returned unit to the repair department for repair. Suspected software bugs are logged for tracking in the ClearQuest database. As the repair department receives the field return, the database notifies the technician of the engineer’s findings and suggestions.

Two connected Lotus Notes databases facilitate blogs and podcasts for two communities: ARRIS engineers and technicians at contract manufacturer Plexus.

Knowledge base

The two databases allow flexible connection and interaction between the two groups. ARRIS can connect via Lotus Notes and the repair technicians connect through the web by means of their browser.

As repairs are accomplished, the technicians blog about their experiences and provide real-time “fresh” data. Areas of interest can be programmatically tracked or monitored via Lotus Notes to form a podcast for quality and support engineers. As the repository grows, a knowledge base develops to relate symptoms to root causes and effective repair actions. If a new symptom or root cause is discovered, it has a tendency to stand out and make both organizations sensitive to new failure modes.

It was in 1962 that Kaoru Ishikawa formed quality circles in Japan to extract process improvement ideas from volunteer factory workers. In a similar fashion, the technical social network has the potential to move electronics manufacturing to the next level of continuous improvement and increased sensitivity to new field failure modes.

Richard Miller is director, quality assurance (QA), ARRIS.

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