SemiconductorFactory ManagementManufacturing AutomationManufacturing Optimization

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

by Vern Puchalski, on February 19, 2019

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.

You’ve been the Automation/IT Manager at your site for more than a year now and have a head full of possible improvements. The problem is that FAB Management usually doesn’t acknowledge you even exist or assumes that your department is full of game playing teenagers with little actual value to daily operations. How can you worm yourself into daily decision making and make your department the invaluable service partner it should be?

Step 1: Step back and access the situation

More to the point … “It’s you! Even if this is not fair or deserved – it’s still you!” In any situation where two parties are not connecting, the only guaranteed way to induce a change is for you yourself to initiate the process. Fair or not, the FAB Manager probably thinks that you share a few characteristics with Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory and should, therefore, be ignored. The FAB Manager is busy with the business of running the factory and you need to demonstrate keen business sense as well. We’ll discuss how to get started below.

Step 2: IMHO, 86 the TLAs

OK. Forgive me for being cute here. Take the time to learn the language and the real issues in the FAB and how they affect the bottom line. You may not be familiar with FAB Lexicon (or worse) don’t understand the processes. Get a book on basic electronics manufacturing and get an idea of what the equipment actually does. For instance, you’ll do much better asking a Process Engineer about the “Problems encountered changing the target on an implanter” versus “What does THAT thingy do?” Try to see every issue in the factory by root cause and expressed in terms of dollars to the bottom line.

At the same time that you’re trying to learn about the factory processes and connect with key players, take a minute to actively clean-up your own language. TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) are a daily part of the IT/Automation environment – we wear them as a kind of badge of honor. The trouble is that these IT TLAs are often used as a weapon to keep others at a distance. Do everyone a favor and just stop using IT TLAs and do your best to describe all issues in plain, functional and descriptive English. Don’t “talk down” to people, just be plain and clear.

Step 3: Find a way into the daily decision making process at the FAB

To be seen as critical to the operation of the factory, you need to actually be seen! In almost every factory, there is a morning production meeting where timely factory issues are discussed. You (or occasionally a delegate) should attend every week-day meeting. This is as much for your benefit as for anyone else. You may need to just listen for the first few weeks but, when you become comfortable, start by announcing any IT issue that may affect the day. Server downtime or upgrades are a great place to start. Just remember to speak clearly and to the point (with no TLAs!). When you are asked most days whether you have any issue to report, you’ll know that you now have the needed visibility.

Step 4: Develop a relationship with the FAB Manager

As soon as you are comfortable, reach out directly to the FAB Manager. Make an appointment to speak with them and intentionally keep the first meeting short (<10 mins). Ask specifically what the major issues are and how your department could help. You should repeat “How can we help?” a minimum of three times in this meeting. Invite them to a short meet-and-greet of your personnel, include a 1 minute tour of the computer room and briefly describe any physical automation you may be responsible for. Keep everything you say intentionally brief – then cut it in half again.

Quick note on physical automation: Should you be operating an automated factory, ask the FAB Manager whether an Equipment Maintenance Manager could be suggested as a mentor to help you organize an effective and professional maintenance plan. Include hardware servers and system upgrades in this maintenance plan then make it public.

Step 5: Make your department invaluable

FAB Managers don’t care about IT Technology levels, patches, cool software, etc. They think in terms of tangible financial results. So, present your ideas in terms they can relate to. Factory Automation is unique in its ability to positively pay back on certain projects. Overlay software can be as effective as spending tens of millions on stepper upgrades. Physical transport/automatic Load and Unload can reduce direct labor costs by 50%, dispatching, process capabilities and automatic equipment operation can further reduce costs, misprocessing and cycle times. Look around at other factories and how they are surviving in today’s world and work with the FAB Manager to make your facility the best it can be.

In Conclusion

You may never fully understand or even like the FAB Manager but it’s critical that you reach out and open lines of communication. The FAB Manager is directly responsible for the performance and economic viability of the factory. Aligning your activities towards making a difference in real-world manufacturing issues is not only very personally satisfying but will have a direct bearing on your factory and departments’ job security.

Don’t expect any of this to work overnight! The FAB Manager really does think you’re from another planet and that will likely never change! Keep focused on tangible business issues, stay positive & engaged and speak plainly and you’ll be surprised at the eventual level of mutual trust.

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