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Cree Lighting Point of View Series: Delivering Market-Leading Innovation and Reliability.

Our VP of Operations, Brian Kinnune, gives his take on meeting this challenge.

Three years ago Cree Lighting committed to create a quality assurance program far beyond the lighting industry status quo, and tapped our very own Brian Kinnune, a lighting veteran with 20 years of product design experience, to lead the initiative.

Today Brian is a constant presence on the production floor – reassuring, motivating, troubleshooting and inspiring his teams. Brian’s approach combines equal measures of obsessive focus, a big-picture perspective and an unflagging sense of humor (especially helpful during the stress of a global pandemic). Together, he and his team bear the responsibility and emotional weight of ensuring impeccable quality – no  matter what.

Brian Kinnune, Vice President of Operations at Cree Lighting

Let me start by saying that as the leader of Cree Lighting’s Operations team, I wear lots of hats.

I directly oversee our 650,000-sq.-ft. production floor in Racine. I also manage the finishing team and now our new state-of-the-art Surface Mount Technology operation. My responsibilities also include what most companies call “continuous improvement” – the never-ending feedback loop to improve operational practices.

What ties all of these roles together is commitment to a single company-wide goal: ensuring that every Cree Lighting solution exceeds the expectation of the customer. 

My teams and I look closely at how we perform on every single line, on every single day, on every single work order. If we have first-pass issues, we don’t just address and solve it for that specific order - we go back and uncover the root cause.  To do this, we engage all team members to help us learn what happened, and create the right solution to the problem.

This constructive, dynamic, team-centered approach gives our employees the opportunity to take a deep dive into how problems arise, and to take ownership of the kind of corrective actions needed to prevent those problems before they reoccur. The intense scrutiny is necessary to protect quality in an innovation-driven environment like Cree Lighting, where our design and engineering teams are working at the leading edge.

Here’s an example. When one of our popular products began experiencing failures in the field many years ago, the team quickly traced it to a driver produced by an outside supplier that failed to meet specifications.  Back then, it was not a standard industry practice to independently validate parts purchased from outside suppliers. It was a critical lesson learned that helped shape today’s rigorous standards. Now, materials and parts supplied by others are individually tested as meticulously as components that we designed and built in-house.

As Cree Lighting began expanding our in-house manufacturing capabilities, we began looking to locally source as many materials and components as possible. While this kept our supply chains short, it also enabled faster communication and action with our suppliers, giving us much more direct control over our supplier quality.

This positions Cree Lighting as one of the only lighting manufacturers with the majority of products sourced and built here in the United States. My team and I are very proud of this fact, but while “Made here in the USA” is powerful, our main purpose is to maintain optimal accountability and reliability that’s the best in our industry.  After all, we can manufacture anything anywhere, but if we don't make it well, it doesn't really matter where we make it. The most important thing is that it's made with rigor, which is why we’re especially proud of our ISO 9000 certifications and those of our suppliers.   

People are often surprised to learn that our manufacturing process is similar to the made-to-order model that Dell pioneered in the PC industry, allowing buyers to customize even the smallest orders without creating manufacturing delays, provided, of course, that we have reliable access to parts and supplies to keep our production line working smoothly. To that end, we’ve expanded our insourcing and reduced our reliance on key materials and components formerly provided by outside suppliers.

Maintaining exceptional levels of rigorous quality testing – especially while also providing production flexibility and fast turnaround - would test the mettle of any production team. But Cree Lighting teams do it enthusiastically and they do it every day. In fact, our team recently completed a continuous 10-week production drive against a hard deadline to meet the unique specifications of a customer, and did so with flying colors.

I’m proud to say that the manufacturing floor at Cree Lighting is an energizing, positive place to work. Our people understand that we’ve created something special here, and they’re excited to be a part of it. Instead of quality and innovation colliding like they do at so many companies, here they converge, and our solutions are the better for it.

In the end, there’s a simple standard behind it all: do things the right way. That’s how we consistently meet and exceed customer expectations. We all take a lot of pride in that.

Our new Point of View series features company team leaders talking about their perspectives on the lighting industry and how Cree Lighting is helping to light the way forward. Look for a new post every month.

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