Testing Todd: Preparing Employees for the Long Haul

Rebuilding our workforce after the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge. Nationwide, we downsized to combat market conditions and ultimately lost good employees due to either the virus or them finding new work elsewhere. That has left some rather large gaps in our manufacturing workforce. Human resource departments are scrambling to find new employees, while the manufacturing base struggles to educate and bring new employees up to speed. If not handled correctly, this scenario could create even greater problems for manufacturers.

While automating menial or repetitive tasks is one way to quickly fill the gaps at low- or entry-level positions in the workforce, filling more complex roles can be more challenging, and is where many companies fall short.

Companies find new candidates, send them into the workplace jungle, and assign them a supervisor who instructs them on their tasks or duties. Realistically, new employees are often overwhelmed and may struggle to master the assigned tasks. In many cases, the supervisor is also over-tasked with other duties and responsibilities and cannot provide the over-the-shoulder experience that is required for good oversight.

Employees learn in different ways. Some of them are visual learners, grasping new tasks and instructions on the fly, while others need to read instructions and commit them to memory. This is why long-term success for employees relies on a robust training system that connects to different types of learners.

Those involved in quality management systems will see that this is nothing new. They know that having a truly functional training system is essential to guaranteeing the long-term success of employees. An effective training system must do more than just satisfy a requirement.

Developing strong, documented processes is a must. They must be “ready for pickup” by new employees so that they can learn and understand the process in which they will be involved. Furthermore, the work instructions associated with the tasks must be mature and bulletproof.

The overall training process can break down when a supervisor, who may not be well versed in the process, assigns another employee the task of showing the ropes to new hires. In my experience, this is not a good practice. This is when missed steps or manufacturing-floor “voodoo” may come into play, setting up the new employee to fail or become the fall guy.

Here are some tips that can help you achieve long-term success in filling either vacant or new positions as workforce conditions improve.

  • Document your processes and, at a minimum, review them annually.
  • Designate trainers for each department and, if necessary, for each task level.
  • Train the trainers. Make sure they know the process inside out. Be sure to document employees’ knowledge.
  • Train new employees; don’t just show them the ropes. As I mentioned, effective training that utilizes different ways of learning will ensure long-term success of new employees. Document their knowledge level and then review (and document) it again 60 to 90 days after hiring as a way to validate their progress. Finally, discuss with them any concerns you may have.
  • Review an employee’s knowledge retention at least annually. This ensures that no irregular habits have been introduced into the process and that employees are progressing well. Perhaps they have mastered the tasks and are ready for a new challenge. You can backfill their current position and move them into a more challenging role in the company.

The post-pandemic years have been challenging. Effectively rebuilding the workforce for the long haul requires some fundamental steps, such as training new employees and reviewing their knowledge over time. Whether this is new to you or just a review of standard practice, I hope you now have some tools to help your organization grow effectively as you face challenges ahead.

This column originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of PCB007 Magazine.



Testing Todd: Preparing Employees for the Long Haul


Rebuilding our workforce after the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge. Nationwide, we downsized to combat market conditions and ultimately lost good employees due to either the virus or them finding new work elsewhere. That has left some rather large gaps in our manufacturing workforce. Human resource departments are scrambling to find new employees, while the manufacturing base struggles to educate and bring new employees up to speed. If not handled correctly, this scenario could create even greater problems for manufacturers.

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Testing Todd: Where Can We Improve?


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Testing Todd: Turning Into the Wind


The last three years have been a challenge, from the pandemic to the circus of shenanigans in Washington, neither of which have been pleasant. So, it’s not hard to figure out why we are all in this current situation. We’re not quite in a recession but rather a stagnation. The winds of change have come, but many are still Wilson looking over "Tool Time" Tim’s fence to see what he is going to do. It’s time to go back to our sheds and sharpen the saw.

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Testing Todd: Coming Back to Life—Design Recovery


Although iconic, when I say “coming back to life,” I’m not talking about a Pink Floyd song, but rather about printed circuits. Bare boards have been in production for decades—from single- and double-sided breadboards to the impressive multilayer designs of today—and we all agree that the PCB is here to stay. With today’s technology, designs are archived and realistically available forever. However, much of the legacy product of decades past is long forgotten. These rugged PCBs have been in service for years; their spare parts are full of dust on a forgotten shelf, ultimately obsoleted and scrapped.

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As they struggle to keep delivery times competitive, manufacturers are faced with a decision: Do I invest, or should I delegate? To stay competitive, a large percentage of capital must be slated for PCB manufacturing equipment. This is understandable as that is where the revenue is generated. Newer equipment begets higher technology builds and thus, more revenue. The drawback is knowing how to get this product out the back door. There are delays in electrical testing due to long test times using equipment that is not best suited for today’s demand.

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Testing Todd: Induction Junction, What’s Your Function?


Historically electrical test has processed product with passive inductor features without really knowing what they were, other than causing continuity threshold violations. This is usually due to the long traces that exhibit higher resistance than the 10- or 20-ohms threshold. Typically, these have been delaying traces or heater traces. Usually, a waiver of allowance is made for these high resistive traces and business carries on as usual.

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Testing Todd: Breaking the Void


Electrical test is best known for identifying routine opens and shorts. But what has plagued ET, and manufacturers in general, is the barrel void. These voids are breaks in the plating of the drilled barrel that result in circuitry “opens” that pass through the stackup from one layer to another. In some cases, the break in plating is severe and results in an immediate open condition that is detected during electrical test. However, certain plating anomalies can be present that will go undetected during standard ET. What we must remember is that electricity must follow Ohm’s Law no matter what conditions exist. That is: V = I x R, where V = Voltage, I = Current, and R = Resistance.

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Testing Todd: ET and the DoD


Building printed circuits can be a tricky business. There are many attributes that go into the production process. Initially the sales interface with the customer, the receipt of the data for the initial quotation. Then there is the procurement process for raw materials. This has to be done to the customer specifications. The list goes on. Now if that isn’t enough, throw in DoD or aerospace specifications. This month lets dive into the DoD and how this effects electrical test.

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Testing Todd: Optimize Your Training Time


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Testing Todd: Has Universal Fixture Testing Gone the Way of the Dodo?


Although flying probe testers have become common place in today’s manufacturing theatre, one must wonder if the fixture tester, specifically the universal grid or “pin in hole” fixture has any valuable use in the electrical test arena? The advancements in flying probe technology are undisputed with the new abilities to do many of the tests that benchtop testing historically required.

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Testing Todd: Why, Why, Why—Never Stop Questioning


If you have been around young children, I’m sure you have fallen into the “Why” game or “Why” loop with the young’un. I’m now a grandfather and the game started again a long time ago. “Grampa? Why is that man limping?” “Well, he has a cast on his foot.” “Why, Grampa?” “Well, it looks like he was injured.” “Why?” And so it goes. These brilliant young children have mastered root cause analysis and they don’t even know it.

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The New Electrical Test—Riding the Wave


Many years ago, when electrical test (ET) was necessary on a bare printed circuit board (PCB) you would build a dedicated fixture with spring pins and mount the box fixture to a machine interface and perform the test. However, back then there were no preconfigured netlists, and the machines were only capable of “learning” the board. This was known as the “self-learn” or “learn comparison” test. At the time, all you could do is prove that all the boards of the test lot were the same. The risk was that if there was a film defect and all boards had the same fault, the test would still pass even though all boards were defective.

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Testing Todd: Is Your Process Cluttered? Supercharge It!


Recently I came across a posting on social media regarding process development in the eyes of Elon Musk. Although there are many philosophies with regard to process development, I found Elon’s insight particularly interesting. Let’s design a process, shall we?

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Testing Todd: Design for Manufacturing? Don't Forget Test!


Design for manufacture (DFM) is a great discipline for creating designs that provide optimum performance while still maintaining affordability. However, what can be, and does get overlooked is the DFT (Design for Test) variable. As greater manufacturing demands are put to the manufacturer it also creates challenges to validate the electrical deliverables that may be required.

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Testing Todd: The PCB Limbo—How Low Can You Go?


Columnist Todd Kolmodin takes a stinging look at the price of printed circuit boards over the past 30 years. What caused this "downward spiral" in the industry?

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Testing Todd: Meet Mr. Henry and Do Not Blow a Fuse


Columnist Todd Kolmodin explains the connection between electrical test and Joseph Henry. Can you figure it out?

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Testing Todd: Keeping the Tools Sharp


Quality is not just an action; it is a way of life. We can say we are quality conscious but as the days pass the discipline can fade. The tools become worn, dull and finally discarded. So, we must revisit the tool shed periodically to make sure our tools are razor sharp and at the ready.

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Testing Todd: A Point of Order—Do Not Just Rearrange the Pencils!


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Testing Todd: Homing in on the Target


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Testing Todd: Owning Your Processes


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Testing Todd: Training the Force or the Few


As with any business, the quality of goods and/or services is of the utmost importance. Company reputations are gauged by the success or failure in maintaining high-quality outputs. Todd Kolmodin explains how maintaining high-quality and on-time delivery depends on multiple factors: first, equipment and tools to produce the product or service, and second, the power of the workforce behind the product.

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Testing Todd: Don’t Get Pickled by the Barrel


Whether you have two layers or 50 layers, it all comes down to how the layers communicate. Otherwise, you just have a bunch of two-dimensional layers, and that isn’t practical. Todd Kolmodin describes how the practical magic, of course, is plated drilled holes.

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Todd Kolmodin originally thought of discussing roadmaps and how they pertain to our industry and analyzing trends. However, it’s difficult to work with the roadmap when you cannot find the road. Todd shares his thoughts and experiences regarding the wildfires in Oregon and the West Coast of the U.S.

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Testing Todd: It’s Not Easy Being Green (or Is It?)


“It’s not easy being green,” are well-spoken words from our amphibian friend, Kermit the Frog. Now, more than ever, there is a focus on being green. Todd Kolmodin explains how one of the largest—if not the largest—contributor to waste is paper, but the difficulty is letting go of it in the consumer and manufacturing segments. For the workplace, this can be more difficult, or is it?

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Another decade is coming to an end, so, forward thinkers, let's take this time to review the past, evaluate past decisions, and hopefully make prudent decisions to move forward in the ever-changing marketplace in which we exist. There has never been a Magic 8 Ball to predict what is going to happen, so we all do our best to calculate, look over the fences, and aim to remain in this competitive meat grinder we call “the market.”

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As 2019 comes to a close, Todd Kolmodin addresses the importance of standardization, which comes down to an agreement that we are to perform a task or set of tasks the same way every time. Putting your engineering hat on, this provides predictability with a high degree of accuracy.

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Testing Todd: What Do You Mean 'Passed' Isn't Enough?


From a reliability standpoint, we need to quickly assess what risk we may have uncovered when faults are detected during electrical test (ET). "Passed" is not always passed. We must be diligent to scrutinize the failures found during routine ET as a high yield may not indicate high reliability.

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Testing Todd: The Evolution of Probers and Fixture Testers: Blinded by Science


The evolution of the PCB has come a long way in the last 30 years. The science of electrical test has had to travel that road as well. It's not just a question of screening for opens and shorts. Today, the library extends to interrogating passive components, efficiently and cost-effectively evaluating dielectrics with multiple planes and pairs involved, and adhering to strict requirements from the military, export regulations, and OEMs alike.

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Confidence in Inspection


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