My experience with Bepi Circuits Ltd

Quality Manager: 1987–1989

From 1987 to 1989 I was Quality Manager for Bepi Circuits, then one of the four largest UK printed circuit board fabricators and the largest company in the Cambridge Electronic Industries group. Two-thirds of the company’s products were exported—some as far as Australia—to customers predominantly in the telecommunications, industrial electronics, and military sectors.

Bepi, in common with many companies in the industry at the time, laboured under an outmoded quality system that was originally conceived to satisfy the needs of the BS9760 series of standards to which it held capability approvals for its multilayer and double-sided PCB products. It was weighted towards inspection, and the mandatory maintenance testing required to demonstrate ongoing capability. I set out to shift the balance from inspection towards quality engineering and assurance. To that end, I

  • added to the department’s engineering resources;
  • trained the department and educated the wider company in modern quality management concepts and ISO9000 requirements;
  • tasked key staff with liaising with other departments to overhaul the quality system, bringing it into compliance with ISO9000, and revising all of the documented procedures;
  • rewrote the company quality manual and succeeded in having the quality system certified for the first time to ISO9000 by BSI;
  • reorganised the activities of the quality engineering laboratory such that it maintained its responsibilities for process monitoring and routine capability approval testing, but increased its focus and formalised its methods for investigation of customer complaints;
  • ensured that findings from customer complaints and routine testing led to appropriate corrective action and feedback to eliminate technical, pre-production or production errors and to improve product quality and customer experience;
  • strengthened customer relationships through proactive visits and meetings to explore how we might better satisfy customer needs;
  • instituted a programme of audits and regular meetings with suppliers of key materials to better understand their processes, with the aim of receiving from them a more consistent, stable product on which we could reduce or eliminate the need for incoming inspection and testing.

In addition to circuit boards with printed wiring, Bepi was one of only three fabricators in Europe to produce Multiwire™ discrete wiring boards for defence and other high-end applications. I was concerned to see development of this technology and improvement of the manufacturing process, and while with Bepi I sat on a UK Ministry of Defence standards committee to develop and agree a Defence Standard for discrete wired boards, Def. Stan. 59-48.

Finally, I introduced a wholly new approach to staff development for the department, giving individuals greater responsibility and authority, and agreeing clear and specific individual objectives (related to department and company goals) and the support needed to achieve them, which served as the basis for performance appraisal.