Pushing the boundaries

Posted on 22 Dec 2011 by Tim Brown

As a fast growing contract electronics manufacturer based within the UK, Axiom Manufacturing Services is supported by more than 25 years of history in manufacturing printed circuit board electronics and electromechanical assemblies. As managing director, David Davies, explains to Tim Brown, the company’s longevity can be traced to a core focus on developing new technology, supported by a dedication to skills and environmental sustainability.

Axiom Manufacturing Services or, Axiom, was established in south Wales in the late 1980s, and is located in the purpose built Technology Park in Newbridge. The electronics manufacturing company was created as a result of the demise of Aiwa, before becoming Axiom in 2001, and changing its business model from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to a contract electronics manufacturer.

The company’s service offering appeals particularly to OEMs that realise the quality and cost benefits which can be achieved by outsourcing some or all of their electronics manufacturing. While few high-volume electronic subcontractors exist today in the UK, Axiom offers a manufacturing service for businesses with low to medium volume and high technology requirements. Through this service, Axiom has developed a proven track record manufacturing for the medical, defence, aerospace, industrial and transport markets and enables customers’ products to get to market faster, cheaper and with a promise of unsurpassed levels of quality with guaranteed security of component and product supply, while protecting customer IP.

Axiom’s core business culture is a commitment to ensure that its customers’ expectations are surpassed with what David Davies refers to as an “extreme customer focus”. This is supported by the company-wide philosophy of ‘total quality, total excellence’. Through the deployment of this model, Axiom provides solutions for clients throughout the UK and Europe, from product realisation through service and repair to end-of-life management.

This commitment to its customers has led to the attainment of required accreditations, for example, ISO14001, an industry standard awarded for sustainable credentials, the Green Dragon level 5 environmental accreditation and AS9100, the international aerospace industry quality standard and EN13485 the medical quality standard. Strategic implementation of the EFQM business excellence and ADS Supply Chain 21 business models ensure continuous improvement which are also underpinned by best practices in quality. According to Mr Davies, Axiom believes in satisfying a customer’s requirements first time, on time, every time so as to achieve the highest levels of customer satisfaction.

According to Axiom, the quality management system, working practices and leadership culture, ensures:

  • Total customer satisfaction
  • Continuous improvement
  • Emphasis on error prevention in both product and working practices
  • Waste elimination by empowerment of a dedicated customer focussed cross functional workforce
  • Security of supply

Axiom provides a complete range of electronics manufacturing services including:

  • Custom design and manufacturing
  • Design support
  • Design for manufacturing (DFM)
  • Prototyping
  • New product introduction (NPI)
  • Printed circuit board assembly (PCB assembly)
  • Sub assembly
  • Full product assembly
  • Testing
  • Supply chain management
  • Warehousing and logistics
  • After market services which includes repair and rework

Axiom Manufacturing ServicesTechnology as a driver

“Our customer base is highly varied where we go from manufacturing medical equipment through to the products for the defence industry,” says Davies. “We have a full range product portfolio but there is no one product or market that dominates its business.”

There is approximately an equal split between Axiom customers requiring printed circuit boards and customers looking for electromechanical assembly or ‘full-box-build’ assemblies for direct dispatch. The latter is what Axiom refer to as its full turnkey solution where the customer can concentrate on design, finance and generating IP while Axiom focus on the manufacturing.

Some examples of products using Axiom technology include:

  • Infusion pumps to dispense fluid into a patient during surgery
  • Safety doors on the edge of a subway or train station platform
  • Detection equipment for locating utility infrastructure (particularly pipes) beneath the ground
  • Encrypted communication systems for the defence industry

Davies says that to compliment the company’s focus on customer service it is also completely engaged in developing its technology further. “One of the reasons we engage with the customers that we do is because we also push the technological boundaries and offer new and innovative solutions,” he says.

In recent years, Axiom has pioneered package on package (PoP) technology, which involves the stacking of silicon semiconductors directly on top of each other to facilitate smaller and lighter final units, higher-speed processing and improved reliability. PoP technology can eliminate circuitry to reduce the board space required by up to 43% and enable higher-speed processing, given that memory and processor components are positioned in much closer proximity. “In terms of the defence industry for instance,” says Davies, “this is very important as they want everything to be as light and powerful as possible.”

Another area where PoP will also take a central role is within the telehealthcare market. This is where information and communications technology make it possible to transmit and receive complex medical data in various formats across long distances between patients and medical staff. The new PoP technology will not only benefit the telehealthcare market but will hopefully mean more technically advanced equipment is readily available in hospitals. As medical equipment becomes more advanced it could mean that there will be less of a need to go into hospital for minor procedures that could be done by nurses in the home or by the patient themselves.

At present, the Axiom team is working with two stacked components but, as the technology develops, the company foresees customers asking for three or four components stacked vertically. This is an area that Japanese manufacturers are already developing.

As further evidence of forward thinking attitude of Axiom-MS, the company has long recognised the value and good business sense of responsible environmental practices. As David Davies explains:

“We are at the forefront of the ROHS and WEE directives when it was first issued nine years ago. Most of our large customers now insist on the satisfaction of the sustainability issue in terms of recycling and the reduction of waste and energy consumption.

“You can’t separate environmental requirements as a separate function, it needs to be built into your processes and everyday life. Historically many of the employees worked within a Japanese methodology, so elimination of waste and loss through kaizen and real time lean (RTL) activities is second nature. Therefore recycling and waste reduction is inbuilt into this company. When the ROHS and WEE directives came in, you had the whole supply chain progressing towards more sustainable practices and that change has been driven greatly by the component suppliers.

“Through our foresight we made the decisions many years ago to pursue the sustainable avenue and that is why Axiom has been awarded several awards including the E Legacy award and the green apple award which have all endorsed our sustainability programme.”

People power

While investment in equipment has been important in the development of technologically improved offering at Axiom, Davies says that it is really the people at the company that are its greatest asset. “Our advancement is really driven by the people within the organisation,” he says. “Looking after our key people right throughout the manufacturing and supply chain processes is vital. What differentiates Axiom is ultimately its people and it is in the people where our IP is held.”

This focus on people has been further strengthened in recent times with a greater focus on the development of skills. Amongst the 25 new members of staff which have joined the company this year include two apprentices taking the current number to three with more to join.

Axiom apprenticesApprentices Alex Lewis, 20, from Tonypandy and Shawn Philips, 22, recently joined the team at Axiom Manufacturing Services after a rigorous selection process as the company’s first two recruits. The company’s apprenticeship programme will not only help kick start careers in the electronic manufacturing industry, it will also help cement the relationship between Axiom and local further education college, Coleg Morgannwg.

The apprentices, who are recruited and trained in conjunction with Coleg Morgannwg, will undergo a training programme lasting up-to four years. This will include working in every department within the company before choosing a specialism. The two new recruits will also continue in education on a day-release basis once a week.

“We have three apprentices at the moment and have committed to more in the coming years,” says Davies. “Effectively they will become the sustainable indirect workforce where they will get a grounding in quality, software, IT, test development, purchasing and business development. I am an ex-apprentice myself and it is important to give the apprentices a good grounding the entire business and when they have strength in a particular area then they will be encouraged in that direction.”

Tackling common issues of innovation, skills, customer service and the environment head on has allowed Axiom to develop and maintain strength in a fast evolving market. Its long-term approach to many of its practices marries well with its focus on future technological developments and with its newly strengthened focus on its future workforce, UK OEMs will have an important resource on which to rely for years to come.