When Tektronix engineers designed the TDS1000 and 2000 Series Digital Storage Oscilloscopes, they had one goal: develop the world's most affordable scope. And to get the most functionality at the lowest cost, Tektronix took the project to China.
The result: LCD oscilloscopes with up to 200 MHz bandwidth and 2GSamples/sec maximum sample rate with FFT (fast Fourier transform) math functionality.
From conception to product, the entire project took only 14 months. Such an effort required project engineers "to wear a different designer hat," says Jim McGrath, mechanical project leader. Basically, one has to keep three things in mind to manufacture efficiently in China, he notes:
Understand supplier capabilities, i.e. fabrication processes.
Develop a concurrent design effort with your supply base.
Set up a good communication system.
Simplify the design
"In China, labor is not an issue," says McGrath. "They can hire as many people as they want for such low wages that assembly costs are basically nil. Here in the U.S., we tend to design complex part assemblies," with fewer parts and fewer assembly procedures. Components are snap fit in order to reduce the time on assembly line.
"In China, you go back to the basics of designing very simple parts which require many assembly operators," notes McGrath. Take for example a sheet metal part such as a chassis. "If the part were manufactured in the U.S., engineers would design one complicated tool and one press to fabricate that part," he says. "But for China, we break that component into six simpler parts. The fabrication process involves one or two people who stand in front of each of six presses and hand transfer the piece of sheet metal through the process."
Material selection is also critical, notes McGrath. In China, companies use EG (electro galvanized) steel for 90% of their sheet metal needs. In the U.S., engineers primarily choose aluminum because it is lighter weight, more environmentally friendly, and doesn't rust.
"But if we want to use aluminum in China, we would have to import the material," says McGrath. After all the costs were added up, Tektronix found they would have to pay four times the equipment cost to import aluminum. So Tektronix engineers designed the product using materials that the Chinese commonly manufacture.
In addition, "China is still young from a technical standpoint," notes McGrath, "which means we have manufacturing processes that they don't have yet." For example, the Chinese do not have vacuum metalization coating capabilities. "If we have a plastic part, we have to find an alternative solution such as a different kind of paint or a foil adhesive."
Tektronix has a Global Design Team that developed and now manufactures the scopes. A core of designers, manufacturing and material commodity teams, buyers, marketing, and materials trackers reside in Oregon. The manufacturing site is in Yangzhong, China. And materials and parts came from all over China.
To coordinate such a far-flung team, "It is critical to have a working relationship with your suppliers," says McGrath. "You need to understand their capabilities so you don't design something beyond what they can do. And they need to understand your expectations and what quality means."
To facilitate communication, Tektronix engineers send their electronic Pro/Engineer files via the Internet to a point person in China who coordinates the design process. "It is better to have one person who speaks the language be the focal point," says McGrath. Nancy Kwok, McGrath's commodity manager in Hong Kong, fires off the electronic files to the vendors and when questions come up, she translates them to English and sends them to me."
Pleased with the oscilloscopes' outcome, Tektronix plans on exploring new manufacturing endeavors in China.
Contact Jim McGrath, Tektronix, Inc., 14150 SW Karl Braun Dr., Beaverton, OR 97005, Tel: (503) 627-5570; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Enter 555; www.tek.com.