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Production Column

Aiming to Be a Trusted Fabless Maker. The Aspiration of the Quality Control Group

You might not be familiar with the term “fabless maker.” It is an established concept and business model in the American and European semiconductor industries. From the term “fabless,” you might think that such a maker tends to entirely rely on a manufacturing partner for quality control in the manufacturing process of semiconductors. We must stress that this is totally wrong as far as THine Electronics is concerned. We constantly collect quality control data related to manufacturing from manufacturing partner and monitor them. Thus, we have earned the profound trust of our customers. In this column, Mr. Kazuyuki Omote of the Quality Control Group in the Production Department and Mr. Hiroyuki Noji of the Production Department talk about how THine Electronics, a 100% fabless maker, maintains its world-renown high quality.

To maintain the trust of customers, THine Electronics thoroughly pursues the cause of any problem in detail.

For a fabless maker that does not have a manufacturing facility of its own, what proves quality? It requires that all chips delivered to customers must fully and reliably meet their expectations. Only the performance of every single product proves their peerless quality. In 1997, THine Electronics established its business model as a fabless maker and began full-scale manufacturing of mixed-signal LSI under its brand name. Since then, we have obtained strong trust of the international markets by painstakingly managing quality.
zoom “If we think there are problems in all of the stages from planning, designing, manufacturing, and after-sale-follow-up, we pursue their causes without giving up until everything is clarified. We then focus on solving them. This is the only way,” says Mr. Kazuyuki Omote about his commitment to quality control.

The Production Department consists of the four groups; Quality Control (QC), Quality Assurance (QA), Production Control, and Process Engineering. They team up and secure high quality in a unified manner.

Mr. Omote continues, “Observing ISO9001 from the stage of planning and designing, we establish a manufacturing system matching our operations and proceed to manufacturing in line with the PDCA cycle. For example, if a problem happens at the manufacturing stage with a manufacturing partner, they immediately report it to us. Then, we give them appropriate instructions to solve the problem and manage manufacturing by joining forces with them. After completion of the manufacturing process, we build an after-sales-follow-up system so that we can immediately respond to any trouble and thoroughly clarify factors behind it.”

zoomHere, QuEST, the manufacturing process monitoring system that THine Electronics developed, functions as the key to the management. Mr. Noji says, “We collect manufacturing data every day by cooperating with a manufacturing partner and save it on a server. It clearly shows how the manufacturing management has been conducted. If there is something dubious, we mine relevant data and analyze it. We provide our customers with the results of our investigation as evidence.”

When there is a problem such as discrepancies and dispersion among mass-produced wafers and lots, abnormal products, etc., this data enables us to confer and talk with a manufacturing partner on an equal footing. Working on an equal footing is the key that leads to generation of trust.

Mr. Omote points out, “In essence, there’s no short cut. We monitor the manufacturing process, check it, and if necessary, take appropriate action every time to make improvements. This is steady, step-by-step work. But because of that, our customers don’t have to worry unnecessarily. That’s our belief.”

How to build a collaborative system. How to become true partners.

zoomMost manufacturing partners are foreign companies that are located overseas. At the beginning, we had a lot of trouble, including language. Mr. Noji once stayed in Taiwan for four months and he was virtually “confined” to the worksite for some weeks. 

Looking back at that time, he says, “I was involved in a difficult project. A test operation didn’t go smoothly with a manufacturing partner in Taiwan, which inconvenienced customers. They joined me in Taiwan, and I totally devoted myself to being able to start manufacturing for as many as 100 days. At one stage, the manufacturing partner didn’t even let me use their facility. I had a lot of difficulties just to work out a plan or make necessary arrangements in advance so that I would be able to start to work myself in real terms. Honestly speaking, first, the manufacturing partner didn’t seem to take any notice of me. But they gradually changed their attitude by seeing me working very hard and began to offer cooperation. Now, we have a very favorable relationship.”

We at THine Electronics often take on the challenge of developing new technology. More often than not, we say to a manufacturing partner, “Let’s join forces to overcome problems and make technological advances.”

In some cases, we ask a customer for cooperation because failure occur only within the customer’s use environment. Through a discussion with the customer, we build an identical environment internally. Creation of a very similar environment is sometimes the first and most important step to conduct a proper test to find failure.

zoomMr. Omote says, “We cannot make a high-quality product unless we obtain their trust and ask them to disclose their application information as much as possible (which they don’t really want to do), e.g., how they use our products. In some cases, we fully utilize our experience first, and then ask the customer for cooperation. In this way, we have found failure.”

We spare no effort to obtain a customer’s trust. Last year, we took a customer to a manufacturing partner’s factory in Taiwan to let them audit the factory. This is a rare case. But we always give willing cooperation whenever and wherever it is required.

THine’s policy for reliability is also reflected in its education of new employees. During the education that lasts six months to one year, the company has new employees experience a manufacturing site in Japan or overseas. It invests a lot of time and effort to bring up young employees because it sincerely hopes to maintain the steadfast trust that it has gained from its customers.



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How to trust the production process of a fabless semiconductor company.
THine Electronics has QuEST for production management.