The heart of Fujitsu ICL Computers' Professional PC unit is its manufacturing facility near Helsinki.
The plant uses a highly flexible manual production line, which manufacturing director Timo Kahelin says is now attracting attention from the operators of highly automated robot-based production lines in Japan. "The clear reason behind that is the very short life cycles of products and the number of changes within them," says Kahelin.
Manual production line
With a manual production line new PC configurations can be implemented with only a few hours' retraining, a significant cost-saving when compared to the same task on an automated line.
"We have more people, and a very low investment in the production lines, but we have a very flexible way of working," says Raimo Puntala, vice-president of personal systems. "And when we have looked at the comparisons between various plants, this model that we have here doesn't cost more than the fully automated lines, when you take the full cost of capital, etc into account. What we have here is that at any time at any hour of the day we can change the line. With an automated line if you have disturbances the whole line stops, and that increases the cost."
Puntala sees more and more questioning in Japan by large electronics companies of the value of highly automated production models. "And they are going more and more into this cell-based manufacturing which we have here."
The Helsinki plant began life under NokiaData, which was purchased by ICL in 1991, and features a complete printed circuit board manufacturing operation in conjunction with the assembly lines.
When Fujitsu acquired ICL the plant took on responsibility for manufacturing the company's professional PC units. The line is currently turning out 1,300 PCs per day, but could produce as many as 5,000 per day if running multiple shifts. At present it employs around 400 people, and the company boasts a 24-hour lead-time on standard models.
As well as low cost of manufacturing through its manual lines, the Helsinki plant also prides itself on its high-quality output and adherence to environmental standards. "Quality has been very important for us from the very beginning as NokiaData," says Kahelin, a statement supported by Fujitsu's use of X-ray test systems for motherboards, and a defect rate of less than 1 per cent.
High quality is achieved also through a high level of training and constant monitoring of staff. Employees must complete a probationary period before they are allowed to assemble PCs and receive their manufacturing licence.
Even after a licence is gained, monitoring ensures quality does not fall below standards.
While the standards may seem tough, workers do reap the rewards. "We have a bonus system," said Kahelin, "so they have a base salary and then they earn a percentage based on quality, efficiency and manufacturing costs."
The Helsinki plant has also been designed to be very environmentally friendly, with such initiatives as use of reusable solder and closed environmental systems certified to European standards.