A passion for finding better and easier ways to do things led Greg Ross into the world of computer systems and his pivotal role at Circuitwise over three decades.
Greg joined Circuitwise a few years after his wife Roz founded the business, then Tresmine, in the late 1980s. Greg had previously worked in roles as diverse as installing military radar systems in Iran, through to designing fluoroscopy machines for Siemens. In these roles, Greg often had to invent new ways of doing things, including making his own solder paste for thick film hybrids in a precursor to modern PCB assembly techniques.
Greg joined Circuitwise as the business expanded and the explosion in demand for ISO 9001 quality. With many more customers, keeping track of customer orders, different builds, component supply, and delivery deadlines was a challenge, requiring much better systems for managing all the information and inventory.
“With the ISO 9001 standard, you had to have a certain amount of control over customer documents, how you were building things, and how to build them consistently”, Greg said.
Greg threw himself into building a manufacturing resource planning system for the business. Computer systems and programming tools such as Visual Basic and dBase were just becoming available. Given his penchant for ingenuity, Greg just started coding and building the system himself.
The big driver at the time was to build quality control systems that practically implemented the intent of the ISO 9001 quality assurance procedures. Previously, quality systems were paper-based which made it hard to control documents.
“In any organisation, people would inevitably photocopy what was meant to be a controlled document and take it back to their area where it could go out of date.
“So we made this system called Zones, where all customer documents are distributed electronically to where they are needed, at the workstations. Everybody has the most current version and we can update it at any time. We were probably one of the first in the world to distribute electronic documents into an electronics production environment”, Greg said.
Looking back, Greg said Circuitwise was fortunate to build their system at a time when commercial Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP) systems were not available.
“It meant our systems were flexible and customer focused. When MRP systems came out, they were hugely expensive and focused around accounting – on time, money, parts and inventory, etc. Their goal was to optimise margins and had a strong internal focus.
“By contrast, our systems are customer focused – on the requirements, the documentation and ensuring that all processes align with delivering exactly what the customer wants, consistently.”
For example, when Circuitwise packs up a box of assembled boards, we take pictures of it. When we confirm the customer has received the goods safely, we can ensure the next time we deliver a batch we pack the board in the same way, as it obviously worked well last time. Having a picture is much more efficient that reading instructions on how to pack correctly.
Over time the system, known as INVMAN, has developed into a sophisticated platform which is very stable, delivering what is needed. Circuitwise can add new features at anytime in contrast to commercial MRPs which as Greg says, need a “huge wallet” to pay the vendor to customise their system for you.
“I guess you'd call us production crazy. We always want to build things faster, easier with higher quality. I get a lot of satisfaction when all the systems work well together. It's a challenge in this business because the target's moving all the time. Every time we improve something, it makes you aware of something else that you could be focusing on. That’s what continuous improvement is all about.”