NXP Semiconductors (Eindhoven, Netherlands) manufactures nearly a third of all the mobile-phone loudspeakers used worldwide, despite having to compete with an increasing number of companies in China and other low-cost Asian countries.

NXP has been successful thanks to its highly efficient cross-functional product development program and the fact that its manufacturing processes are highly automated. For example, its assembly plant in Vienna, Austria, requires about two-dozen people to operate. To do the same work manually in Asia would require approximately 1,000 employees.

In addition to lowering labor costs and improving quality, NXP’s automated processes allow it to ramp up assembly of new products much more quickly than is possible when employing hundreds of manual workers who must all be individually trained. In fact, the company cites its low time to volume as being critical to its success.

“Given the short innovation cycles prevailing in the industry, cross-functional product development processes play a key role,” says NXP Semiconductors automation manager Friedrich Barisits. “The development of the products and technical processes, their integration into the product design and then the incorporation of the product design in the automation system are all closely intermeshed. Every single step in the entire development process is assessed and undertaken in the light of the available technologies.”

Central to this business plan are the 40 separate production lines the company operates at its plant in Vienna. Each line employs test and assembly equipment from Mikron Corp. (Aurora, CO), including Mikron’s Flexcell linear assembly systems and machines from Mikron’s new G05 product line. The latter, in particular, have allowed NXP to reduce its cycle times from 3 seconds to 0.6 second, even as the size of the loudspeakers has shrunk to just 7 by 10 by 2 millimeters.

Recently, the company began transferring some of its older automated lines to its facility in China. NXP’s automated loudspeaker production systems are amortized in about 2 years, so the longer the products are successfully marketed, the more profitable production becomes. By transferring its older lines to its subsidiary plant in Beijing, NXP also gains the added benefits of the lower wage rates there.

To ensure that each transfer goes smoothly, the company sends a number of its Chinese employees to Vienna to learn firsthand how the equipment functions. When the training is complete, the Chinese workers return to Beijing with their new equipment. The time between stoppage of production in Vienna and ramp-up of production in Beijing is generally between 12 to 16 days.

All told, NXP manufactures 600 million speakers a year. Its production lines are both robust and stable, with overall equipment efficiency (OEE) values of about 80 percent. As the company’s product lines continue to develop, it has also found it is able to reuse about 25 percent of its Flexcell units and about 50 percent of its G05 units on it new production lines.

For more on automated assembly,visit www.mikron.com.