This article is a continuation of "Multilayer Ceramic Capacitors: Downsizing Challenges 1." Please read "Challenges 1" first to gain an overall perspective of our challenges.
Synopsis of "Challenges 1"
"There might be new applications for even smaller capacitors. Look into it, will you?" the general manager of the Development Department requested. Thus began our challenge to produce even smaller capacitors than those that existed at the time--
After a little more than six months headlong into producing the capacitor, we finally succeeded in producing 50% acceptable products. From this point on we needed to improve the non-defective rate while at the same time exploring characterization methods, mounting methods, and other such matters that pertain to providing usability to customers. We therefore commenced joint development with our production technology department, as well as with an outside measuring instrument manufacturer, taping machine manufacturer, and mounting machine manufacturer...
Through our struggles to develop the 0.6×0.3×0.3mm capacitor, we had somehow reached the point of producing the capacitor at reliability levels that could be guaranteed, even though the defective rate was still relatively high. However, the cost of the 0.6×0.3×0.3mm capacitor was still tens of times higher than the 1.0×0.5×0.5mm capacitor, and troubles occurred so frequently that our facilities were stopped for almost longer periods of time than they were in operation. Although we had achieved a valid performance design, we had no idea at this point of the commercial viability of the 0.6×0.3×0.3mm capacitor. Nevertheless, we took the risk of investing in a production line. I trembled, both with the grave responsibility of having to recover the investment and with awe at the top management's magnanimous decision to authorize the investment.
Having invested in a production line and installed it in a corner of our plant in Fukui Prefecture, we directed our efforts to simultaneously launch the line and business under the production department. My mission was to get production running at a capacity of a hundred million units per month and establish a successful business. Until I accomplished my mission, I was told not to return to the development department. Nor did I intend to. I had three manufacturing managers and two manufacturing engineers working with me by this time (although for some reason or other, S, the employee I mentioned earlier, remained in development). With zero orders, however, we continued to be a burden to the manufacturing department and frequently received an earful, but basically we were allowed to go on as we pleased. For that, we are truly grateful.
Just when the line was about to be launched, we received word that an order for 0.6×0.3×0.3mm capacitors might come in--an order for 300,000 units per month. The customer simply could not achieve the target size of its substrate design, and wanted to use two 0.6×0.3×0.3mm capacitors on the substrate to achieve the intended design. I felt my spirits soar. We had been working precisely for times such as this, to deliver satisfaction to customers who are in need of a solution. I firmly resolved to do everything possible to respond to the customer's needs. Frequent machine troubles made it difficult to produce even a mere 300,000 capacitors, and there were times when all of us worked through the night to meet the delivery date. However, by the time the order had diminished due to a model change, we had achieved a considerably well-developed manufacturing system, and were fairly confident of reducing costs. Our mounting system was also beginning to run stably thanks to the efforts and cooperation of the mounting machine manufacturer we worked with. So we took the opportunity of this upward momentum to launch full-scale PR activities, and as a result, orders began to trickle in, little by little.
We stepped up our efforts to reduce costs and increase product varieties, and gradually began to receive larger-quantity orders mainly from our module customers. In 2001, we surpassed the 100 million mark for the first time and even began to produce some profit. Today, 0.6×0.3×0.3mm capacitors are becoming the standard size in the cell phone market. Staff members who participated in its development from the very beginning and personally struggled to overcome the many hurdles are no doubt feeling exuberant with a strong sense of achievement. Global markets are already trending toward the 0.4×0.2×0.2mm capacitor, as if challenging us to see how small we can downsize our multilayer ceramic capacitors. But at my age, my eyesight is not what it used to be. I will pin my hopes on Murata's younger engineers, who I expect will strive to pave the way for the development of even smaller capacitors.
Written by: T.N., Murata Fukui Manufacturing Co., Ltd.