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Flextronics designates $20 million for product-innovation center

By: Roger Renstrom

June 14, 2013

MILPITAS, CALIF. — Flextronics International Ltd. has ordered two 110-ton Engel injection molding machines that will be placed with a manufacturing partner in Minnesota.

"In addition to our manufacturing partner in Minnesota, we have injection molding capabilities in Asheville, N.C., focused on the medical market, and also in Mexico, Europe and Asia," said David Jewell, Flextronics vice president for integrated communications and marketing.

Flextronics had thought about using the additional molding equipment at its Milpitas complex. The company opened a new "product-innovation center" there recently with advanced 3-D plastic printing, surface-mount assembly, X-rays and tests. The center also has restricted-access work areas for confidential customer trials.

Flextronics has invested about $12 million in the center, and intends to spend $20 million more for further upgrades.

The center's principal customers deal with consumer products, computer-server and storage devices, and industrial products, said Zahid Hussain, site general manager, during a plant tour. Nine buildings on the Milpitas campus occupy 280,000 square feet of space.

The company employs about 2,500 at Milpitas and other Silicon Valley-area locations: Morgan Hills, San Carlos and San Jose. The company has a global workforce of 200,000.

Hussain said the company has 350 customers within 50 miles of Milpitas. About 20 percent of those are startup firms.

Flextronics also has complete infrastructure to do product upgrades elsewhere. In Europe, a product innovation center is located in Althofen, Austria, and a design center in Milan. Both innovation and design functions exist at other sites in Zhuhai, China, and Guadalajara, Mexico.

The Milpitas operation in building No. 4 focuses on systems integration and lean methodologies such as a simple piece-flow concept. A wall sign reads: "The line that stops the most is down the least."

Building No. 8 has a Connex500 multimaterial, 3-D photopolymer printing system from Objet Ltd.

Using the technology starting in September, Flextronics will be able to turn a computer-aided, 3-D design into a plastic prototype in two to 14 hours, compared with about two weeks to machine a metal version. A 40-micron-thick layer of Objet's Vero-brand polymer in any of eight colors can be applied on each pass-through. After the resin cures, high-pressure water streams remove the structure's support elements.

Also in Milpitas, Flextronics produces solar-cell panels in a project for Sun Power Corp. of San Jose. Using Sun-owned equipment, Flextronics manufactured the first panel in December 2010. In that operation, equipment applies ethylene vinyl acetate coatings on glass, and robotic systems deal with layup require¬- ments.

The automated solar-cell-panel line in Milpitas employs 16. A previous Sun Power panel production location in Asia required 35 people.

Other recent Flextronics projects in Milpitas include a circuit board with a molded plastic housing for hybrid-car charging stations, a test bed with integrated semiconductor circuits for a medical customer, and components for automated retail kiosks for a major renter of digital media.

Singapore-based Flextronics primarily manufactures electronics. For the fiscal year ended March 31, Flextronics reported profit of $270 million on sales of $23.6 billion. The firm's main U.S. office is in San Jose.