Case Study 5: Many happy returns

A successful business offering fast-turn assembly of surface mount prototypes to the highest quality standard using the finest placement equipment.

Currently unable to undertake test to the same capability of some of their customers, the business experiences a level of Return Material for repair, both under warranty and at customer cost.

Although historically the business has turned a Returned Material in 4 hrs - the overall performance of the process does not routinely meet business or customer needs.

The activity, from initial notification to return and report to customer, operated in series with poor communication links within the system.

In some instances, material was received unidentified adding to the delay in fulfilling customer expectations.

Corrective action reports were not initiated until post recovery and dispatch of the product to customer.


The existing process was evaluated to identify the value adding and waste elements using flowcharts, string diagrams and process activity charting techniques.

This evaluation provided the necessary information to develop an enhanced process, optimising information flow and minimizing people and material movement.

With minimal disruption to manufacturing, the improvement team dismantled and re-located the Return Material and Repair area in line with the overall site floor plan developed by the Operations Director.

The new process was documented on a flow chart, incorporating swims lanes to depict responsibilities, and the supporting procedures amended in readiness for submission to Quality Management for approval and release to operation.

In addition, the team drafted a briefing notice for customers advising them of the new process and the part they play in ensuring a timely response on returned components.

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From initial contact with the customer, the process can now capture and disseminate the essential information to key elements of the business in short timeframes.

This allows concurrent preparation of job packs and a replacement component stock check in advance of the product arriving on site.

The information capture form is sent to the customer for confirmation and includes a delivery label containing contacts details and a unique reference number to speed up on-receipt activity.

The system created links with the business scheduling mechanism providing a means to track and progress Repairs through the process, and a series of measures were created to capture and display performance metrics.

Customer Profile

Surface mount prototypes & PCBs

Main focus of activity
Process Analysis, 5S (Customer returns)

Reduction in leadtime from 40 days to 5 days
Reduction in Operator movement from 997m to 340m (66%)
Visual management system implemented




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