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The FAB Manager’s Guide to the Automation Staff’s Universe

by Vern Puchalski, on October 30, 2018

Production personnel are from Jupiter, automation personnel are from Saturn and never shall the two begin to understand each other and work together. This article attempts to show areas of common interest where the two can finally gain a little understanding, speak the others language and work together to improve factory performance.

Keeping the FAB running smoothly is taxing every last skill you have. Managing personality conflicts, constant demands from the Vice President and excuses for why they can’t perform and/or need downtime to keep the factory running. On top of that, you’ve got an IT/Programming/Automation group that looks to be from another world. How can I understand them better and get the best performance for the factory as a whole?

Step 1: Invest a little time

The first step in any relationship build is always the hardest. There’s a good chance that your IT staff chose the profession partially because they can generally work quietly as individual contributors while you were chosen to lead based on more gregarious behaviors. Schedule a few one-on-one meetings with your automation team and discuss the problems you deal with on a daily basis, then ask what they can do to help. Get a tour of the server room, physical automation (stockers, transport, etc.) in the factory, and a high-level explanation of how the automation software works. A little familiarization and fear-reduction on both sides will work wonders.

Step 2: Tackle the hardware conundrum

Modern automation systems require extensive hardware installations that require quite a lot of maintenance. If your factory is significantly automated with stockers, transport, and automatic lot load/unload, then your automation manager may actually have the largest equipment maintenance department. If so, acknowledge this fact and turn it into an asset. Make sure your automation manager is fully aware of equipment maintenance best-practices and include him/her in all FAB maintenance discussions. Most FABs are forced to stop if key hardware (MES server, lot transport, others) are offline. The automation manager is likely overwhelmed by the sheer number of devices involved and may benefit from a mentor relationship from a FAB equipment manager.

Finally, even those invisible software servers need maintenance. Patches and upgrades must be applied, hardware can fail and require downtime. Demand a formal PM schedule of all systems (hard and soft) and be open to the need for central system downtime. Understand your automation team’s need for periodic maintenance and plan for it during any available shutdowns. Set and explain up-time requirements to your automation staff and insist on maintenance schedules, disaster recovery plans, etc. to meet these goals.

Remember that your automation manager may need help with risk, economic and maintenance analysis, and needs you to support improvement projects.

 

Don't panic

 

Step 3: Get the automation team’s buy-in to FAB goals

The typical automation manager has no idea how to directly support factory goals and needs to be invited into the fold. The best way to do this is to require your automation manager to attend the weekday morning production meeting. Make it a point of asking whether there is anything automation related at each meeting (new features, transport issues, software issues, etc.). Once the automation manager has attended for several weeks, start asking whether he/she has any ideas to address common-cause problems. Include the automation manager in ALL discussions of lot misprocesses, bottleneck tool performance, etc.

Step 4: Encourage the automation team to “think globally” in the factory

You may never fully understand any of “those people” in IT/Automation but you can use them to your best advantage. IT teaches Systems Thinking and this is one of the few departments in the factory that sees the entire end-to-end process and can address a “problem created by Area/Group A that affects Area/Group B”. The same MES and Automation software is in place across the factory and very often software is the only way to address issues that span both time and work-areas.

Don’t expect any of this to work overnight! Automation/IT people tend to be cautious but will soon respond well to consistent efforts to understand their world. Automation/IT has the potential to slash costs and improve factory efficiency and will repay your time and effort investments many fold.

Vern Puchalski

Written by Vern Puchalski

Vern joined SYSTEMA in 2007 with 20 years’ MES and automation experience in silicon wafer and chip manufacturing. He has been involved in numerous projects concentrating on automation-friendly MES implementations and extensions, dispatching, recipe managers and process-capability solutions.

Topics:Smart ManufacturingFactory ManagementSemiconductor

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