Sanmina Bulgaria Prepares Plant for Automotive Production

Peter Nicolson
Peter Nicolson

EU Regional Quality Director

Sanmina’s facility in Plovdiv, Bulgaria is the company’s newest addition to its global footprint, joining Sanmina on April 2, 2021, after an acquisition from LED-lighting maker Osram. Within just a handful of years, the team in Plovdiv was instrumental in helping Osram grow the site into a state-of-the-art factory that Sanmina found attractive to enhance its European presence and extend support for new and existing customers.

The Plovdiv team has a strong background in electronics, with engineers, technicians, administrators and production staff well versed in all of the logistics that come with developing complicated electronics products for LED lighting solutions. Sanmina decided to augment the facility with automotive production capabilities to capitalize on growing adoption of smarter cars that are increasingly using more electronics to support new driver assist features, infotainment and energy efficient designs.

“The automotive sector is going through a major transformation from combustion engines to electric vehicles. This has significantly increased demand for electronic manufacturing services that Sanmina has been providing for several decades,” said Sean Moran, SVP of EMEA Operations at Sanmina. “With the addition of the Plovdiv site, we are well positioned to serve this market and also support the progression to autonomous vehicles.”

Sanmina’s manufacturing plant in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

Many Moving Parts

While the opportunity to forge into the automotive arena is exciting in concept, setting up a factory to support these capabilities, while also complying with strict regulatory requirements, is no simple task. It typically takes organizations at a least a year to implement all of the systems, processes, procedures and training. At the same time, employees had to absorb and adapt to all of the new operational and cultural changes that come with being integrated into Sanmina. Add to the mix the fact that the team still had to ensure quality production of LED lighting products for Osram. And lastly, they had to abide by ongoing Covid travel restrictions, limiting the number of team members from other sites that could be on the ground in Plovdiv to aid with the implementation.

“It was definitely a rollercoaster experience because suddenly we had to switch to a completely different way of working, embracing a new culture, new terminology, technologies and processes,” said Bilyana Hristova, Plant Quality Manager at Sanmina Bulgaria. “We were certainly all outside of our comfort zone but we had to adapt quickly. It’s been an intensive year of discovery, planning and training to ensure that we are prepared to support automotive customers.”

With strong leadership at the plant level, the team was able to collaborate with experts from Sanmina’s sites in Fermoy, Ireland and Tatabanya, Hungary to leverage best practices for setting up procedures and process support. The deep expertise across Sanmina’s global quality organization also helped to ease the burden, due to their decades of experience and best-in-class practices.

“We had great support. There was an immediate willingness for other Sanmina colleagues to help us answer questions, resolve arising issues and share their previous experience and insight. Apart from all of the hard work we put in to set up the program, the fact that we were able to easily access this support across Sanmina was critical to our success,” said Bilyana.

Some of the hardworking staff take a moment for a photo opp.

Clearing all of the Regulatory Hurdles

After seven months of intensive effort, the plant is now primed and ready for its first automotive customer, so that the final steps to complete the automotive certification can be performed. At the same time, the plant has successfully supported continued production of lighting products for Osram without any issues. Key milestones achieved during this time frame include:

  • ISO 14001 certification audit – July 2021. As part of this audit, the team had to illustrate how operations would minimize any negative impact on the environment, comply with applicable requirements/laws and continually improve over time. The audit was clean with zero findings.

  • ISO/TL 9000 pre-assessment – Aug. 2021. After the acquisition, the team had only three months to set systems and processes in place that successfully supported assessments related to internationally recognized standards for quality assurance and management in the telecommunications industry. Seven concerns were found that were quickly addressed and resolved.

  • IATF 16949 pre-assessment – Aug. 2021. This pre-assessment determined conformance of the management systems to the requirements for automotive certification. Only thirteen concerns were identified. This was a major achievement, given that the team had only four months to set up all of the systems and processes. Sanmina Tatabanya’s QMS model was used as the model to successfully achieve this standard.

  • IATF 16949 stage 1 audit – Oct. 2021. Only two concerns were identified and resolved.

  • ISO 9001 surveillance audit – Nov. 2021. The ISO 9001 standard is used to demonstrate the ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements. The team worked hard to successfully address several process gaps within its pre-existing ISO 9001 setup.

  • IATF 16949 stage 2 audit – Nov. – Dec. 2021. Five minor concerns were identified and addressed.

  • 42Q implementation phase 1 – Sept. 2021. The initial pilot of the 42Q cloud-based MES platform was implemented to ensure full traceability of materials and parts during production. The launch was a major success and provided a new, more efficient approach for staff to digitally manage operations.

  • 42Q implementation phase 2 – Feb. 2022. The second pilot of 42Q was performed to ensure process control and measurement.

  • Oracle and Maestro implementations – Feb. 2022. In parallel with the quality management system implementation, the team rolled out Sanmina’s Oracle platform to organize processes and developed work instructions, trained operators and debugged any software issues.

  • Letter of Conformance (LoC) IATF 16949 certification – Feb. 2022. The Letter of Conformance was issued by regulators once the team presented its root cause analysis, actions and evidence that everything was performed correctly with no returns. It represents the final confirmation that Sanmina Bulgaria is ready for its first automotive customers, which will then enable the team to complete the automotive certification.
Plovdiv employees hold signage that outline Sanmina’s corporate quality and environmental standards, as well as company values and beliefs.

Invaluable Contributions

In addition to the tireless efforts of every single one of the staff in Plovdiv, there were so many individuals involved in helping Sanmina achieve this major effort that it’s hard to name every contributor. Instrumental to the project were Bilyana Hristova, Nik Raev, Tedora Gocheva, Matt Baragona, Csaba Paloczi, Gergely Laszlo, Leo Zapata, Alicia LamFineke, Steve Greene, as well as the plant QMS team and the corporate and regional IT teams.

“What the team achieved in such a short period of time is remarkable. There wasn’t a set precedent to rely on for a plant that was simultaneously acquiring additional market certifications while also transitioning to Sanmina systems after an acquisition,” said Anca Thompson, Chief Quality Officer at Sanmina. “The way that the rest of the Sanmina EU teams and corporate functions rallied to support our new sister plant is an example of extraordinary teamwork!”

Congratulations to everyone involved in reaching this impressive milestone.

An inside view of the state-of-the-art production floor in Plovdiv.
Some of the invaluable team members that went above and beyond to prepare the plant for automotive certification.