Sunday, 28 August 2011

When "copy exactly" pays off in KM

How do you transfer knowledge and practice from a development site to mass production sites?

This is a big problem for Intel - chip manufacture is a compleex process, and errors need to be avoided. It is essential that technology transfer to mass production takes place as quickly as possible, without disruptive quality issues, and with the highest possible need.  No time is available to debunk new problems that occur during the transfer.

Intel came up with a solution that at first sight is counter intuitive - a solution designed to avoid making improvements. 

But you know the old phrase "if it works, don't mess with it"?

What Intel found was that if it's really complex and works, then seriously don't mess with it; not even to the tiniest amount.

According to the article "the evolution of Intel's copy exactly technology transfer method" by Chris McDonald, Intel have tried many different transfer strategies.
For the 1.5 micron chip, work process flos were far simpler than they are today, Intel used a small band of technical experts to orchestrate successful technology transfer, often introducing improvements to the equipment process on the way.  Because of the small number of variables, it was simple to troubleshoot any results that did not come acts as expected.

For the 1.0 micron chip, started get more complicated and a structured method was introduced, where changes could still be introduced.  Figure one shows how the first production factory, Fab 1, delivered yields there were similar to the development plant, but the second and third factories which make changes to the process and equipment gave much poorer yields, and it took years to catch up.  The same learning curve was repeated independently by every factory.

For the sub micron chips, Intel introduced their "copy exactly" principle for technology transfer.  In its simplest for this says that "everything that might affect the process, or how it is to be run, is to be copied down to the finest detail unless it is either physically impossible to do so, what there isn't a overwhelming competitive benefits to introducing change.  This is a very different philosophy, and quite difficult for engineers to follow, because engineers are typically trained in rewarded for making improvements.  However Intel found that almost every "improvement" led to a decrease in yield. As a result , they ensure rigid copying; the same pumps, the same length of hoses, the same raw materials, the same manufacturers and so on.  You can see the results in figure three and figure four, where the first and second fabricator plants were able to match the development plant exactly.

Here's what the author concludes

The Copy EXACTLY! method has proven itself as a technique for semiconductor technology transfer. A new process flow and products can be introduced to production in minimum time with equivalent yields and without the introduction of product-quality issues. Both manufacturer and customers can reduce their time to market. This approach could equally be employed in other industries where the technology is complex and has many interacting variables affecting the end result

Copy Exactly is obviously not the answer to every knowledge transfer problem for technology transfer problem, but it shows that in one context at least, there is benefit in cloning rather than reinventing.

1 comment:

Nick Milton said...

My friend Vince Polly added this by email

Today's New York Times magazine has a story about Lithium battery plants moving to the US from Korea:

"Repatriating a high-tech manufacturing plant to the United States is not simply a matter of hiring the local talent. It requires good-old foreign know-how. “We call it ‘copy exact,’ ” Forcier said. “We bought a company in Korea that had the technology around this type of battery and had developed the manufacturing process there. We basically brought that here, copied it exactly and scaled it up.” A123 also brought a team of six Korean engineers to help transfer the technology to the U.S. and sent a team of Americans to Korea to learn."

The complete story is here:

All the best,


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