Quality is associated with the degree of conformance of the product to customer requirements, and thus, in a sense, with the degree of customer satisfaction. Implicit in Japanese quality products is an acceptable amount of reliability; that is, the product performs its intended function over its intended life under normal environmental and operating conditions. Reliability assessments are incorporated through simulation and qualification functions at the design and prototyping stages. With basic reliability designed in, quality control functions are then incorporated into the production line using in-line process controls and reduced human intervention through automation. Since the mid-1980s, Japanese firms have found that automation leads to improved quality in manufacturing. They have high reliability because they control their manufacturing lines.

Reliability assurance tasks such as qualification are conducted (1) during the product design phase using analytical simulation methods and design-for-assembly software, and (2) during development using prototype or pilot hardware. Once again, it is the role of quality assurance to ensure reliability. Qualification includes activities to ensure that the nominal design and manufacturing specifications meet the reliability targets. In some cases, such as the Yamagata Fujitsu hard disk drive plant, qualification of the manufacturing processes and of the pilot lots are conducted together.

Quality conformance for qualified products is accomplished through monitoring and control of critical parameters within the acceptable variations already established, perhaps during qualification. Quality conformance, therefore, helps to increase product yield and consequently to lower product cost.

Quality Assurance in Electronic Packaging

Japan has a long history of taking lower-yield technology and improving it. In the United States, companies change technology if yields are considered too low. The continuous improvement of quad flat packs (QFPs) in contrast to the introduction of ball-grid arrays (BGAs) is an example of this difference. Both countries are concerned with the quality and reliability limits of fine-pitch surface mount products. The Japanese continue to excel at surface mount technologies (SMT) as they push fine-pitch development to its limits. Many Japanese companies are now producing QFP with 0.5 mm pitch and expect to introduce 0.3 mm pitch packages within the next several years. As long as current QFP technology can be utilized in the latest product introductions, the cost of manufacturing is kept low and current SMT production lines can be utilized with minimal investment and with predictable quality and reliability results.

Japan's leaders in SMT have introduced equipment for placing very small and fine-pitch devices, for accurate screen printing, and for soldering. They have developed highly automated manufacturing and assembly lines with a high degree of in-line quality assurance. Thus, in terms of high-volume, rapid-turn-around, low-cost products, it is in their best interests to push the limits of surface mount devices. Furthermore, QFPs do not require new assembly methods and are inspectable, a factor critical to ensuring quality products.

The United States is aggressively pursuing BGA technology; Hitachi, however appears to be applying an on-demand approach. It has introduced BGA in its recent supercomputer without any quality problems and feels comfortable in moving to new technology when it becomes necessary. Since Hitachi's U.S. customers are demanding BGA for computer applications, Hitachi plans to provide BGA products. However, Dr. Otsuka of Meisei University, formerly with Hitachi, believes that for Japanese customers that are still cost driven, QFP packages will reach 0.15 mm pin pitch to be competitive with BGA in high-pin-count, low-cost applications. Dr. Otsuka believes that Japan's ability to continue using QFP will allow Japan to remain the low-cost electronic packaging leader for the remainder of this decade. Like the United States, Japan is pursuing BGA, but unlike the United States, Japan is continuing to improve SMT with confidence that it will meet most cost and functional requirements through the year 2000. Matsushita and Fujitsu are also developing bumped bare-chip technologies to provide for continued miniaturization demands.

Similar differences in technical concerns exist for wire bonding and known good die (KGD) technologies. The U.S. Semiconductor Industry Association's roadmap suggests a technology capability limit to wire bonding that is not shared by the Japanese component industry. The Japanese industry continues to develop new wire materials and attachment techniques that push the limits of wire bonding technologies. The Japanese consider concerns with KGD to be a U.S. problem caused by the lack of known good assembly (KGA); that is, U.S. firms lack the handling and assembly capability to assemble multiple-die packages in an automated, and thus high-quality, manner.

With productivity and cost reduction being the primary manufacturing goals, increased factory automation and reduced testing are essential strategies. As TDK officials explained to the JTEC panelists during their visit, inspection is a critical cost issue:

It is TDK's QA goal to produce only quality products which need no inspection. At TDK, it is our goal to have no inspection at all, either human or machine. Our lowest labor cost in TDK is 32 yen per minute, or one yen every two seconds. If one multilayer semi-capacitor takes roughly one second to produce, then it costs about 0.6 yen in direct cost. If someone inspects it for two seconds, then we add 1.2 yen in inspection cost. That means we have to eliminate inspection to stay competitive. If we can reduce human and machine inspection, we can improve profits. Inspection does not add any value to the product.

Quality control is implemented in the manufacturing lines to ensure that the processes stay within specified tolerances. Monitoring, verification, and assessment of assembly and process parameters are integral parts of the manufacturing line. Quality control ensures that all process variabilities beyond a specified tolerance are identified and controlled.

The key focus of parameter variability appears to be in manufacturing process parameters and human errors and inadequacies, rather than in materials or parts. Incoming inspection is negligible because of the view that the quality of suppliers' products can be trusted, and perhaps more importantly because the inspection process is not considered cost-effective. The global move to ISO 9000 certification helps guarantee supplier quality to further reduce inspection costs.

Selection of specific quality control methods is dictated by product cost. Hidden costs associated with scheduling, handling, testing, and production yields become critical with increasing global competition. As more components are sourced from outside of Japan, these cost factors become increasingly crucial in maintaining competitive costs.

Automation and its impact on quality. The Japanese have determined that manual labor leads to poor-quality output and that automation leads to higher-quality output. Sony's automation activities have reduced defect rates from 2000 to 20 parts per million. Quality has, therefore, become a key driver for factory automation in Japan. In addition, factory automation also adds the benefits of improving productivity and improving flexibility in scheduling the production or changeover of product types. Thus, whenever automation is cost-effective, it is used to replace manual assembly, handling, testing, and human inspection activities. This approach is applied to each new product and corresponding production line that is installed. For example, the old printed wiring board assembly line at Fujitsu's Yamagata plant used extensive manual inspection, while the new line is in a clean room and is totally automated, including final inspection and testing.

All of Nippondenso's plants have now implemented factory-wide CIM systems. The system at Kota, for example (see Chapter 5), uses factory-level data to meet quality standards and delivery times. Boards are inserted into metal enclosures, sealed and marked, then burned-in and tested before shipping. Out of several hundred thousand units produced each month, only a couple of modules failed testing each month, according to JTEC's hosts.

Inspection and screening. As noted above, incoming inspection was negligible at most of the companies that the JTEC panel visited, because of the view that the quality of suppliers' products could be trusted. Since the 1950s, the Japanese government has set quality requirements for any company that exports products from Japan. Suppliers have progressed in status from being fully inspected by their customers to being fully accepted. Qualified suppliers are now the standard for Japan, and most problems come from non-Japanese suppliers. Akio Morita of Sony lamented that finding quality U.S. suppliers was a major challenge for the company. Japanese suppliers were part of the "virtual" company, with strong customer ties and a commitment to help customers succeed.

Components were not being screened at any of the printed wiring board (PWB) assembly, hard disk drive, or product assembly plants visited by the JTEC panel. Defects are seldom found in well-controlled and highly automated assembly lines. Where specific problems are found, tailored screens are implemented to address specific failure mechanisms at the board or product assembly level. For example, Fujitsu noted that today's components do not require burn-in, although at the board level it conducts some burn-in to detect solder bridges that occur during board assembly. But with the increasing cost of Japanese labor, the greatest pressure is to avoid unnecessary testing activities. Suppliers simply have to meet quality conformance standards to keep customers satisfied. Lack of conformance to requirements would be considered noncompetitive.

With reliable components, assemblers must concentrate their efforts on the assembly process. Within a company's own production lines, automated inspection is central to factory automation activities. Older lines, like the 31/2-inch disk drive line the panel saw at Fujitsu, have extensive 100% manual inspection of PWBs. Fujitsu's new line has fully automated inspection and testing. At Ibiden, automated inspection is part of the automated manufacturing process as a technique for alignment and assembly as well as for tolerance assessment and defect detection. Microscopic mechanical dimensioning is conducted on a sample basis. The newer the line, the greater the automation of inspection and testing.

Reliability in Electronic Packaging

In terms of reliability, the Japanese proactively develop good design, using simulation and prototype qualification, that is based on advanced materials and packaging technologies. Instead of using military standards, most companies use internal commercial best practices. Most reliability problems are treated as materials or process problems. Reliability prediction methods using models such as Mil-Hdbk-217 are not used. Instead, Japanese firms focus on the "physics of failure" by finding alternative materials or improved processes to eliminate the source of the reliability problem. The factories visited by the JTEC panel are well equipped to address these types of problems.

Assessment methods. Japanese firms identify the areas that need improvement for competitive reasons and target those areas for improvement. They don't try to fix everything; they are very specific. They continuously design products for reduced size and cost and use new technologies only when performance problems arise. As a result, most known technologies have predictable reliability characteristics.

Infrastructure. The incorporation of suppliers and customers early in the product development cycle has given Japanese companies an advantage in rapid development of components and in effective design of products. This is the Japanese approach to concurrent engineering and is a standard approach used by the companies the JTEC panel visited. The utilization of software tools like design for assembly allows for rapid design and is an integral part of the design team's activities. At the time of the panel's visit, design for disassembly was becoming a requirement for markets such as Germany. Suppliers are expected to make required investments to provide the needed components for new product designs. Advanced factory automation is included in the design of new factories.

Training. The Japanese view of training is best exemplified by Nippondenso. The company runs its own two-year college to train production workers. Managers tend to hold four-year degrees from university engineering programs. Practical training in areas such as equipment design takes place almost entirely within the company. During the first six years of employment, engineers each receive 100 hours per year of formal technical training. In the sixth year, about 10% of the engineers are selected for extended education and receive 200 hours per year of technical training. After ten years about 1% are selected to become future executives and receive additional education. By this time, employees have earned the equivalent of a Ph.D. degree within the company. Management and business training is also provided for technical managers. In nonengineering fields, the fraction that become managers is perhaps 10%.

Ibiden uses "one-minute" and safety training sessions in every manufacturing sector. "One-minute" discussions are held by section leaders and workers using visual aids that are available in each section. The subjects are specific to facets of the job like the correct way to use a tool or details about a specific step in the process. The daily events are intended to expose workers to additional knowledge and continuous training. As a consequence, workers assure that production criteria are met. Ibiden also employs a quality patrol that finds and displays examples of poor quality on large bulletin boards throughout the plant. Exhibits the panel saw included anything from pictures of components or board lots sitting around in corners, to damaged walls and floors, to ziplock bags full of dust and dirt.

The factory. Japanese factories pay attention to running equipment well, to continuous improvement, to cost reduction, and to waste elimination. Total preventive maintenance (TPM) is a methodology to ensure that equipment operates at its most efficient level and that facilities are kept clean so as not to contribute to reliability problems. In fact, the Japan Management Association gives annual TPM awards with prestige similar to the Deming Prize, and receipt of those awards is considered a required step for companies that wish to attain the Japan Quality Prize. No structured quality or reliability techniques are used - just detailed studies of operations, and automated, smooth-running, efficient production.

Safety concerns appeared to the JTEC panel to be secondary to efficiency considerations. While floor markings and signs direct workers to stay away from equipment, few barriers keep individuals away from equipment. In the newest production lines, sensors are used to warn individuals who penetrate into machine space, and the sensors even stop machines if individuals approach too close. Factories provide workers with masks and hats rather than safety protection like eye wear. In most Japanese factories, street shoes are not allowed.

Most electronic firms the panel visited were in the process of meeting new environmental guidelines. Fujitsu removed CFCs from its cleaning processes in October 1993. CFCs were replaced by a deionized-water cleaning process. In the old assembly process, the amount of handling required for inspection reduced the impact of cleaning. The new line had no such problems.

To provide high reliability, Japanese firms create new products using fewer components, more automation, and flexible manufacturing technologies. For example, TDK is striving for 24-hour, nonassisted, flexible circuit card manufacturing using state-of-the-art high-density surface mounting techniques and integrated multifunction composite chips. It has developed true microcircuit miniaturization technologies that integrate 33 active and passive components on one chip. This will reduce the number of components required by customers during board assembly, thereby reducing potential assembly defects.

In addition, the application of materials and process know-how provides a fundamental competitive advantage in manufacturing products with improved quality characteristics. Nitto Denko, for example, has developed low-dust pellets for use in molding compounds. Ibiden has developed an epoxy hardener to enhance peel strength, thus improving reliability of its plating technology. The new process reduces cracking in the high-stress areas of small vias. Ibiden also uses epoxy dielectric for cost reduction and enhanced thermal conductivity of its MCM-D substrate. At the time of the JTEC visit, the company was also attempting to reduce solder resist height in an effort to improve the quality and ease of additive board assembly. It believes that a product with a resist 20 mils higher than the copper trace can eliminate solder bridging. Sony developed adhesive bonding technologies in order to improve the reliability and automation of its optical pickup head assembly. It set the parameters for surface preparation, bonding agents, and process controls. Sony used light ray cleaning to improve surface wetability and selected nine different bonding agents for joining various components in the pickup head. It now produces some 60% of the world's optical pickup assemblies. The continuous move to miniaturization will keep the pressure on Japanese firms to further develop both their materials and process capabilities.

Quality Improvement Through Comprehensive Waste Reduction

Fundamental improvement means working to eliminate wastes that can negatively affect product quality, cost, and delivery time. The Japan Management Association published a book describing the activities of Canon Corporation, Canon Production System: Creative Involvement of the Total Workforce, that outlined a number of approaches to improve quality and reliability through "waste reduction" strategies (JMA 1987, 19-22). These include the elimination of waste associated with defective products, systems planning, work-in-process, human resources, equipment, expenses, and excessive startup time for new products. Most Japanese electronics firms now incorporate waste reduction as a central part of their TQM programs.

TQC Management Strategies

The total quality movement in Japan has lead to pervasive top management involvement. Many companies in Japan have extensive documentation on their quality activities. With Koji Kobayashi, NEC's retired chairman, providing early leadership in Japanese TQC development, NEC has a comprehensive quality strategy. In 1965, NEC initiated its TQC movement under the name of zero defects (ZD). In 1972, the NEC Corporation formally initiated its total quality strategy, which included the following components:

By the early 1980s, NEC had over 3,000 ZD groups in operation that were generating over 43,000 suggestions, and it had received over 14,000 commendations for goal achievement. One of NEC's major divisions or subsidiaries typically received the Deming Prize each year.

Tadahiro Sekimoto, NEC's current chairman, continues to embrace the TQC philosophy in order to ensure the continuing survival of today's corporation. He argues that such survival requires that companies be thought of as eternal organizations. He was critical of U.S. companies:

In America, the eternal continuity of a company is not always a consideration. If I may remark in my own words, it seems that in America, companies are continually subleased. A company is purchased. It is made over, restructured and though purchased at $10 billion, it is sold for $10.5 billion - this is considered a way of management. Whether this is proper or not is another question. In Japan, however, most companies, and especially NEC, must be eternal (Sekimoto 1992, 220).

Sekimoto further argued that eternal management requires effective management of people - people who have hearts and minds, who must be motivated in the workplace, and who are empowered to accomplish visions of the future. The Deming Prize is simply one method of testing the organization's capability to perform at higher and higher levels in the future.

Published: February 1995; WTEC Hyper-Librarian