While Darien Spencer’s title may only be comprised of the words “manufacturing and operations,” his responsibilities at Enphase encompass much more, including supply chain management, process development, IT and program management. The company VP has a unique and broad perspective on ongoing quality and reliability efforts.
He brings with him years of experience from the manufacturing trenches of the hard disk drive industry, which was one of the first high-tech sectors to implement manufacturing execution systems and full factory automation. “My philosophy is that you can’t rely on inspecting and testing quality in the product, you have to design and build it in,” says Spencer. “We take a proactive approach to managing manufacturing, instilling lean manufacturing and Six Sigma statistical process control systems in the factories.”
“We work with the engineering and the quality teams, and early on in the development cycle of the product, we come up with critical characteristics of the product, the system and of the components, and how they fit into the overall product,” he continues. “We then implement a process for the supply chain as well as in the factory that measures the distribution of each critical parameter with the aim of minimizing variation.”
Enphase develops and owns the entire manufacturing process, then collaborates with Flextronics to execute that process on the factory floor, he explains. “They are experts in volume operation but they’re not necessarily experts on our products. There’s still a lot of collaboration that needs to happen, to instill the right knowledge and right approach with them for our particular product. They’re a great partner, and do a great job for us.”
A highly automated production flow enables a high degree of process control and reliability, thereby improving product quality. Enphase has made significant investments in processes employed in the factory as well as in the supply chain tools in use. China-based Enphase employees control and manage the supply chain, including the Flextronics factory, and run a robust automotive-style supplier quality process, incorporating rigorous reliability monitoring of suppliers, according to Spencer. “I have my own staff in the factory and in supplier engineering, and they’re spending 100% of their time at the factory and at the suppliers helping them to develop and improve their process.”
Spencer has an added mission-critical capability in his operational toolkit. “We’ve developed our own manufacturing enterprise system, which we call Enable,” he says. “It connects every step in the value chain together from a supply and factory perspective, and then onto post-shipment and distribution. We build intelligence and oversight into our manufacturing system, so any issues experienced in the production process won’t be repeated.”
The era of big data has arrived at Enphase, and the quality team is spearheading the effort to turn all those zeroes and ones into enterprise gold. “We’ve put a really huge cross-functional focus into turning data into information, and then into lessons learned, and then implementing preventive and corrective actions. We’re constantly learning from the data and the information that we’re getting and incorporating those learnings into our development processes, our quality processes and our manufacturing processes.”
From a quality perspective, the rewards of this data harnessing can be profound. “We have to make sure the data that’s generated from all the great tests that Ciaran Fox’s team does for us gets turned into actions all the way through a preventive methodology,” he says, “so that we’re not only looking at corrective action, but also to ensure that we’re enabling a long-term systemic fix that won’t allow the process to create that issue again.”
As Enphase ramps up its production capacity from run rates of a couple million units per year to tens of millions units per year , the implementation of these highly automated operational systems will help Enphase continue to match the quality standards set by the likes of Apple, Cisco, Seagate and other high-volume manufacturing technology companies.