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Fireside Chat with the Xperts: The Hare, the Hound and Phil Zarrow

Fireside Chat 03042020

In this episode, David Kruidhof and Dr. Bill Cardoso host Phil Zarrow of ITM Consulting.  Phil contributes his considerable experience and Xpertise to this wide-ranging conversation.

From Industry 4.0 to Aesop’s Fables, this interview covers a lot of ground.  Topics include the importance of educating and training the next generation of domestic electronics manufacturers, as well as recognizing limitations to the benefits of automation and artificial intelligence.  If you are interested in the current state of electronics manufacturing as well as what’s coming, you’ll appreciate this discussion.

Enjoy the video, and then reach out to us directly with any question.  Register for upcoming Fireside Chats with the Xperts and view our archives here.

 

Transcript:

David Kruidhof:
Okay it’s 10:00, it’s time for another Fireside Chat with the Xperts. We have a very special guest with us today, Mr. Phil Zarrow. Welcome.

Phil Zarrow:
Thank you.

David Kruidhof:
Phil is with ITM Consulting, both Bill and I have known him for, I don’t know, I guess I have known of Phil for a long time. We first met, you were doing a training, best practices training in Orange County. I was fortunate enough to be sent, to go to that and learned quite a bit.

Phil Zarrow:
Oh, I thought you were saying, it was a cure for your insomnia or something. Very kind, David. I appreciate it.

David Kruidhof:
Yeah. So why don’t you tell us a little bit more about ITM consulting, what you do, where you’ve been, where you’re going?

Phil Zarrow:
Okay. Well, I’ve been involved in electronic assembly for over 40 years and part of my early career was with equipment manufacturers. I was a rep for a while, I was with equipment manufacturers and I was… that the equipment saga culminated with being product manager with Bitronics at the time, this was pre-Soultech and did that. And then I went to work for a tier two at the time contract assembler up in Northern California called GSS Array. And we had six lines in San Jose, medium volume lines, and we had about 25 lines outside of Bangkok. And my job there working under the immortal, the late Rich Fryberger. My job was as director of technology development, and so it was basically an inside consultant thing. And a lot of it is what I do now, starting with process audits, and what I’ve been doing, and I was there for a few years, and then I left to start ITM Consulting with a partner and gradually built it up. And we now have five other consultants on board as well.

Phil Zarrow:
And we do everything from, well, probably one of the most predominant thing is process troubleshooting, or what we call, rather than troubleshooting, we call it process failure analysis. And this is where if somebody’s having a problem they needed mitigated. Now, bear in mind that they don’t automatically pick up the phone and call a consultant, and I know you guys don’t. Basically we have what we call the four levels of defect resolution. Level one, ignore it, maybe it’ll go away. Put electrical tape over the check engine light, turn the volume up, so you only hear that that breaking noise in the back suspension. Okay, level two, try to fix it yourself. Well, yeah that’s what we are, we’re engineers, we’re supposed to fix it and so, and varying success.

Phil Zarrow:
If that doesn’t work… It used to be maybe call a consultant but then it became a see what you can do to get it done, fixed for free. The boss is hanging out “Hey get that fixed.” So you asked the guy in the next cubicle, you look at old proceedings, you call the equipment manufacturers. After all printer manufacturer’s going to be a real expert on zone separation or things like that. So finally, oh, and of course the internet. Oh, thank God for the internet, because we all know everything on the internet is true.

Phil Zarrow:
There’ve been some handy YouTubes when it came to fixing my dishwasher and certain things on the car, but we’re an esoteric industry, so it’s probably not. But anyway, if you read it on the internet it must be true if you have the bulletin boards and stuff like that. And then finally, when all else fails and you’ve got escapes in the field and people are ranting and raving and stuff like that. And then you call a consultant and they want you to come in and figure it out real quick for cheap and get it done.

Phil Zarrow:
That’s that’s our lives, and I love it. I mean, it’s always a challenge, it’s always fun, and learn something new every day. And so, yeah so a lot of what we do is problem mitigation, things like that. One of our hallmark thing is process audits. We actually have two patents on our audit methodology. We do validation, process validation, particularly for high rail in mission critical type products that are being built. We qualify contract assemblers or we help you the customer keep tabs on them and basically help. We love it when we can get to help people set up a process. I think we’re going to help you do it right. But that’s it, it’s varied, and occasionally, we get to other things when you get involved in solder paste evaluations with customers, which we love and equipment valuation. So it’s a variety of things, but we’re having fun man, still having fun.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Reminds you of that story of the CEO that introduces a new CEO to the company, right? And at that first day he gives a new CEO three manila envelopes sealed, right? Number one, two, three, and he tells the guy, “Listen, first problem, you have open envelope number one, and then number two, and number three.” So the first trouble the new CEO gets into opens the first envelope and says “Reorganize.” So they go ahead and reorganize the company, it’s fine. Next trouble they have open second envelope. It says “Blame the previous guy,” easy blame the previous guy, throw this away. Then the next problem comes in, opens the third envelope. It says “Write three letters.”

Phil Zarrow:
All right I love it.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
I mean, everyone knows you in the industry, right? You are the defacto mensch when it comes to SAP but I mean to figure out what’s going on. And I know that your first home, your first address is airport somewhere, right. And then-

Phil Zarrow:
It was up until COVID yeah definitely was.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
I was going to ask you, I mean, how… Because your customers really need you at a time, you can’t be there. Right? How do you deal with this year of confusion and stress, right? Because now several of these customers need to pump product in unprecedented levels at a time, people are not showing up because they’re sick, because they need to separated. How did you manage this incredible challenge we had last year until now, actually?

Phil Zarrow:
A good question though, because it’s definitely been challenging because so much of our work to be really effective has to be hands-on digging into it. Even when we do like a process order or process mitigation, we’ll ask customers to send certain data, SPC data things ahead of time, and sometimes it’s spotty. So when you’re on site, you can really dig in, and plus what you see what people are really doing, a lot of times it’s even different from the manager’s perception. So it’s been very difficult being hands off that way. We have had a couple of customers where we’ve observed social spacing and wore our masks and all that, where we were able to go on site. But it’s obviously dropped off quite a bit.

Phil Zarrow:
And where I live in Tennessee, it’s been a little bit more relaxed, but for example, my associate Jim Hall was reluctant when we could travel to somewhere. He didn’t want travel because he’d have to, he’s in Massachusetts, he’d have to do a 14 day quarantine when he gets back, and then not being able to go to the Y and everything else. But I’ve traveled a little bit, but it’s been challenging, and of course it’s been limiting. And we know there’s a lot going on because certainly from you guys’ perspective the capital equipment has been doing really well from everybody I’ve talked to.

Phil Zarrow:
So I’m sure a lot of that’s established lines, but there’s probably a lot of green fields as well, so it’s been challenging. The other aspect is a lot of our work is workshops. And I guess I’m old school, I so much prefer doing it live. It’s good to tell because even now as we’re addressing you guys webinars and such are so two dimensional, but for example, when you’re doing it live, you can tell people are paying attention, getting my crappy jokes, whatever, but here we don’t know.

Phil Zarrow:
I mean, for all I know you guys may be eating lunch, reading a book, God knows what you’re looking on the internet. But it’s so much better, it’s so much more dynamic. So I really miss that, and I’m really looking forward. We were able to do some with the proper social spacing and I’ve got another one scheduled in a couple of weeks, and man I’m looking forward to it. I mean, let’s face it, we’re social animals. I’m glad we have the technology we have today, just present tense here.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah. I don’t think the technology… I think one of the issues, one of the problems we get in is when we think technology replaces the human interaction. I think it’s a compliment, compliments human interaction. It makes conversations like this possible, but it does not replace the face to face, the handshake, and live streaming of horrible jokes you have, but-

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Those you just do it anyway in online and in-

Phil Zarrow:
Yeah that’s right.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
How do you think we changed as an industry after COVID or during COVID? I mean, what… The things you’ve seen, I mean, you’ve been around for a couple of years now doing this. Do you see some of these new practices sticking around after COVID, or are we going to flip back to the way we were?

Phil Zarrow:
That’s a really good question. I mean, yeah. How did the words go to the old door sign, the future’s uncertain, the past this close behind.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Exactly.

Phil Zarrow:
Really difficult, though I think a lot of people were working from home, that type level have got used to it and got used to the autonomy. Those that were able to adjust, a lot of people can’t work from home. I’ve been doing it for the last 30 odd years so it’s nature of the beast and I got to tell you one of the things I love about my job is the autonomy. But with regard to most of the people that we work with, assembly people are essential people, and they’ve been coming in and working the lines, and in many cases, multiple shifts. There was product to be built, it had to be done. And a number of my customers, one particular that I worked extensively with was building mission critical level class three medical equipment, ventilators. And, these poor guys had to go from building about 350 units a year to about close to two or 3,000 a month.

Phil Zarrow:
So now it’s leveled off, but we had to go, we had to find contract assemblers, we had to validate the processes. But those guys, on the one hand, the companies, actually, I was able to go visit and that was far and few. A lot of this had to be do remote and doing validation remotely. It’s a good thing we had some pretty good tools. We live in the age we live in, but it was really rough, but the ones I went on site we did the social spacing and things like that, and you get used to it. So a lot of us, a lot of people listening to us today nothing really changed, they still had to go in. But yeah, I got high hopes, whatever the new normal is going to be that we can all deal with it.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah. Well, one thing we can rely on, right. People are incredibly adaptive and flexible and find a way. And our company, we had people coming into the office every day through all the pandemic, and I’m incredibly thankful them wearing masks every day. It’s not easy, it’s a pain. Nobody likes wearing a mask. I mean, I like it because I don’t like to show my face in public, but I don’t like scaring kids like I do every day.

Phil Zarrow:
I have a face made for radio not here man so I relate.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
But it’s with a lot of gratitude that I say that right. Now, I think we’ve been spoiled right over the past two decades with our supply chain almost just in time. Do you think, and now there’s been a massive disruption, right? Starting with the beginning of the recovery last year and after summer in Q3 and that shockwave has been just falling. Now we’re feeling it everywhere. Do you think companies will review or re-engineer the way they see the supply chain, or we just go back to this just in time the good old Toyota days?

Phil Zarrow:
Yeah. I would have to guess it’s going to be a combination of both Bill. And I think it’s going to be specific to the industry, the application of what they’re building things along the line. So I think we’ll see a combination of it, but as far as rethinking, of course we’ve seen more of a surge towards on sourcing, whatever you want to call it, but more localized builds, but by the same token, there’s still obviously a lot going on that isn’t remote to the different locales that we’re all located in today. So it’s been interesting that way. Of course, you see some stuff that it just shows naivety. People say, “Well from now on let’s build our semiconductors and our IC stuff in the United States or build it here. Yeah. Samsung should build a foundry.” Yeah. That’s going to happen overnight.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Honestly who doesn’t have a few billion dollars laying around right in the couch that you can just do that?

David Kruidhof:
You have expertise on hand that hasn’t been doing anything-

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
That’s the other thing, right.

David Kruidhof:
Yeah. Not even.

Phil Zarrow:
Yeah, and that’s the other challenge. I mean, I can speak of certainly United States, and I know of a lot of the other areas in North America, possibly even Asia, is the generation of people and getting them trained and up to speed on the processes we have. And it’s in of course in times of budget restrictions or abnormality, and then the first thing that goes is education. So yeah, I’m tooting my horn because I like to do workshops, but the fact is that we have a new crop of people that are inexperienced in this area, and what are you going to do? I mean one thing we get called on when we… this is just over the years, on process, failure analysis, a lot of calls we get is on wave and selective soldering. Wave soldering’s has been around almost 70 years, and yet it’s still not going away.

Phil Zarrow:
I mean, we have selective soldering, which is good. There’s always problems, things along those lines, and we still haven’t rectified. Even with a better technology, one of the long lasting problems we have is DFM. That’s still what… I mean, I can give you statistics on how much printing contributes to the overall defects or reflow. But boy, when it comes down with DFM, there’s this big fog there. And even though the CAD programs have got better, it’s amazing that there are still gaps and things along those lines.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
What’s DFM Phil?

Phil Zarrow:
Designed for manufacturability. So we want to use the F for something else, but it’s designed for manufacturability.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
If you talk about DFM right, when should a company think about DFM before or after designing and trying to manufacture products?

Phil Zarrow:
Yeah. Actually before. Designing it for manufacturing, but that isn’t always the case. A lot of it is an afterthought. Awe shoot, now I’m going to go back. So that’s where the problem begins. But again with strides made in continuous improvement in feedback loops in design and trying to get design people a little bit more, not savvy, certainly familiar with our world. That’s the stride we want to make, but just being conscious of DFM. I always said having been involved in quite a few design reviews, particularly when I worked for the contract assembler, a design review is a terrible time to find out you can’t build that board. So it’s got to be from the inception. And I’ve seen a lot of innovations, I’ve seen a lot of things with Lean Six Sigma, continuous improvement, a lot of innovation going towards detecting problems in reactive but even better proactive. And certainly you see that you’re in the X-ray world, but nothing replaces a good design, getting it right in the first place as much as possible.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
We talked about designed for x-ray inspection, which is a similar concept. When you design a board is the best time to make sure that capacitor is not perfectly aligned with the balls or the BGA. Just offset it by a little bit so when you X-ray, you can actually look at the balls or the BGA and the capacitor on the side, right. It’s not a complete overlap, because of course we have a solution for that. We can do a tilted view or you can do 3D, but the price will go up exponentially and the speed would be crazy-

Phil Zarrow:
That’s exactly right.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
So why not get it done when you’re designing the board? I’m very interested you have this range, like work with large companies, small companies. And so you have quite a bit of visibility unique perspective in the industry. The good old days where the SMT line, that process was a bunch of machines, a bunch of boxes that stored collected data and left inside this box. And now we’d be talking about for a while now industry 4.0, connectivity of equipment. And I was wondering too, if you shared the feeling I get sometimes that we’re expecting connectivity to replace this feeling that you need to… that understanding of the process. Right? So almost using data as a crutch to replace the experience that you have to have, otherwise the data is going to take you very dangerous places if you don’t understand data.

Phil Zarrow:
Right. Yeah. I guess it’s a multifold question Bill, because as you said, the data capturing capabilities of so much of the equipment these days, one of it’s been there for a while, but it’s got so sophisticated. And yet one of the biggest problems we see is people not using the data, or not using it properly, as you mentioned, or they have the equipment and you’re not using the equipment properly. I wish I could tell you how many lines we’ve audited, both here and Asia, to an extent where we see a nice automated line, high-speed line, and they’ve integrated SPI, which we’re big fans of solder paste inspection. And they have the in line, they have the expensive KonYong the Parmi in there, and as we get closer to it, we see every board passing.

Phil Zarrow:
Then we look at it and we see the parameters are basically the four values that were set for. The problem was, whoever was trained on this machine has either gone to another position, left the company, got hit by a bus. And so basically the thing comes, it becomes a $250,000 pass through conveyor. So we see that a lot on what they’re doing, or people that don’t even look at the data. So is industry 4.0 going to force that issue or do it, I don’t know. One of the observations, one of the guys in my crew, Dr. Lasky, Ron Lasky, like I said, we’ve declared that we don’t think most of the industry’s even at industry 3.0 yet, but there’s a lot of innovation.

Phil Zarrow:
But the concept of, for example these things come and go, there is a concept that was experimented by MPM a deck back about 25, 30 years ago. And it was called, I think, closed loop adaptive intelligence. And the idea here is, dig this guys, your printer would be, basically, you’d have a menu, and the operator would put in size of the board, find this quota, largest quota, yada, yada print area, things like that, type paste I’m using. And then the machine would use its knowledge base to basically do the primary design of experiments, set the settings. It would then print a board and then pass it onto a 3D automated SPI inspection, analyze it, go back, critique what it did and make the adjustments all hands off. They were really… And part of me was like, “Wow, printing hands-off autonomous printing. Wow, teaching your printer to do that must be like teaching a car how to drive.” Five years later, autonomous cars.

Phil Zarrow:
So the technology was moving on very nicely that way. The problem was, it was so expensive. Nobody was going to wait in line to pay $300,000 for a printer to do that. There are other concepts, the whole idea of the lights out factory. It was a program, I’m thinking it was 30 years ago or so it was called C Caps . And it was initiated by the Navy, I don’t know why, but the idea was the lights out factory and everything would be totally automated, all lines. And the joke was that you’d have a man and a dog would be the only people in the factory, and the dog’s job was to wake up the guy, when it was time to eat his lunch. So I’m seeing strives in that direction, and again, I think one of the links that you’re relating too, Bill, is artificial intelligence. So can they learn what we’re doing manually? And I think there’s a lot of potential there, but there’s a lot of other fundamentals that I think we got to take care of like using the data that we already have.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Exactly, and that’s where that we can’t emphasize enough the importance of education, and the importance of a trained and competent workforce. Remember interview with Tim Cook CEO of Apple. And so the reporter’s giving him a hard time, because they make stuff in China. And he said, “You know what, even if we want to bring this stuff to US, there’s no people to run those factories.” If they want to have a conference for all the jig makers, to make those special specialty jig for those very precise manufactured for cell phones in US you’re going to fill up a hotel room. In China, you fill up a stadium with people who can do that.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
People who’ve been in the industry for a while, we do have to keep emphasizing the need to get people trained and educated. Otherwise, you can’t make stuff if you don’t know what you’re making, and then just relying on a computer software to do that, I think is dangerous. If you don’t have the underlying understanding of what’s happening, you just look at a number and trust it, I think it can be very dangerous.

Phil Zarrow:
Well the good thing is that you guys specifically too are acting on that. I worked with really in deep with X-ray when I worked for the contract assembler. And this is right about 1990, 1991, we had this big X-ray system, it was top-down only, very 2D, we didn’t have oblique angle viewing, let alone 3D or tomography, and this thing cost a quarter million dollars, and you really had a learning curve on it. I mean there was a lot of gray area besides black and white, and I could do the fundamentals, but basically it took what I call a radiologist for circuit boards to really understand what you’re seeing. From looking at how the learning curve has been so truncated and improved, and yet the capabilities equipment has gone up and price wise it’s so much more feasible. You get so much bang for your buck, and it’s absolutely amazing. So I think you guys are a great example of that to be honest with you. So cool.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
That’s interesting. Now you touched on something that’s dear to my heart, which is innovation. And why do you think, oftentimes we see smaller companies being able to innovate faster than large companies? Why is that the case, or that’s not the case? What’s your experience?

Phil Zarrow:
Yeah, I think that is a case, and it’s funny because it’s changed. Years ago I think what it took and I’m talking maybe decades ago the resources of a big company had to do that. So we go back to like the 60s, the 70s, you had the big OEMs: IBM, Hewlett Packard, TI , Bell Labs. Oh my God, all the innovation. I love the throw things at it. When do you guys, rhetorical questions like, not so rhetorical, when do you think this concept was invented? Like the idea of the BGA, the collapsible wall concept? “Uh, I don’t know” And I said, “Okay, 1965.” “What?” “Yeah.” “Who?” “IBM.”

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
IBM.

Phil Zarrow:
They were building, I think it was a resistor array or something on their MST card. I don’t even know why they were doing it, surface mount didn’t exist. But I always like to say, “Hey, if somebody asks you a question like that, just say, ‘IBM, 1965,’ or if that doesn’t, say ‘Oh, I meant Bell Labs, ATT.'” So we had these big OEMs with this incredible innovation. But I think that faded with couple of things. One was the move towards outsourcing, which we started to see in the 80s. And some of the bigger CEMs are somewhat innovative, but not really paid to be innovative. The old mantra, build it cheaper, faster, quicker, less expensive. So there’s less money for that. Also, I think what you have in the mid 80s, certainly in the United States, was the loyalty to the companies.

Phil Zarrow:
Things changed and I think that affected morale. For example, prior to that, if you worked for a big company, like the aforementioned ones or any of those guys, you get a job for life. You get a job for life, and not only that, they paid your education and things like that. And about the mid 80s that changed and no you didn’t, they were letting people go and things like that. And I think the employee attitude also changed, like do it to them before they do it to you. So you had a lot of mobility that way.

Phil Zarrow:
So I think that was one of the other contributors. And I think the other notwithstanding one is bureaucracy, what you could do, and some of that is probably legal aspects too. So I think the agility of smaller companies to get it done, to do it and how can I say respect their workers as well? The employees say, “Wow, that was a good idea for a kind of thing.” So I think that’s a lot of it and I think that’s why we’re seeing it. So I totally agree with your observation Bill. Yeah.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah. Now hearing you talk reminds me, at night I read Aesop Fables to the kids, I’m sure you guys do the same for your kids, you know The Aesop Fables. And there’s one Aesop Fable that came to mind as you’re talking is I think they called the Hound and the Hare. And it’s about this dog that goes in pursuit of this hare, and the bunny runs away. And there’s a fox that makes fun of the dog. “Ah, look at this, he’s much faster than you are.” And then the dog says “What you don’t realize is that I’m running for my lunch. He’s running for his life.”

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
We are working for our lives. The big companies are running for lunch, right. And I think that’s what the shift related to innovate or die. And it can’t be more true than what it is today where like you were saying, the barrier of entry for data for information is very low, right? Internet has socialized access to that information, and your ability to process that data and innovate on it became the major differentiator that sets you apart from everybody else. And you don’t need a huge market for that, right? You don’t need 500 executives with white shirts and black ties to vet that for you, right?

Phil Zarrow:
That’s right, that’s right.

David Kruidhof:
Well, gentlemen, it is after 10:30. This is the first time where I almost missed it. One of my main jobs is to end this on time.

Phil Zarrow:
Oh, okay. Well, you’re doing a good job, Dave. We appreciate it.

David Kruidhof:
I almost missed it this time.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Well Phil was one of my mentors. Thank you so much. Thank you.

David Kruidhof:
Yeah, this has been awesome.

Phil Zarrow:
Yeah.

David Kruidhof:
Good to have you on-

Phil Zarrow:
Hopefully to be continued. I look forward to our next one.

David Kruidhof:
Yeah we’ll have to have you on again.

Phil Zarrow:
And thanks so much for everybody who tuned in. We appreciate it a lot. So thank you.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
I’ll talk to you later.

Phil Zarrow:
Great.

David Kruidhof:
Talk to you later guys. Bye all.

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