Technological progress in automation, communication, and computing has made smart manufacturing a reality. Due to the Industry 4.0 revolution, many Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and Electronic Manufacturing Services (EMS) are adopting smart factory systems to intelligently network humans, machines, and products. A smart factory engages cutting-edge technologies to accomplish a defined task by optimizing planning, production, transport, and management processes. Digitally connected systems are now enabling manufacturers to build smaller volumes as per customer requirements.
The concept and application of smart factories have successfully penetrated several manufacturing sectors due to the excellent advantages offered, like improved coherence, increased yield, and long-term cost reductions. The introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big data, Cloud computing, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) have influenced the electronics industry to adopt smart factories in their manufacturing units. Continuous optimization of the production line to achieve an exceptional yield is the key feature that has largely impacted the electronics manufacturing process.
The structure of a smart factory includes three stages: data acquisition, data analysis, and intelligent factory automation. Sensors and indicators are used to gather valuable data from the supply chain. The AI-powered system sorts the information related to performance, logistics, trends, etc. Machine learning tools interpret data and provide necessary suggestions and warnings. It can indicate if a machine requires repair or maintenance. Operational data can detect any risk or scope for improvement in the system. Once the data analysis is done, instructions and procedures are documented and shared with all the connected machines in the network to automate the process. The workflow is monitored and updated regularly.
Smart Factories in PCB Manufacturing:
A typical smart factory for PCB manufacturing will include IoT sensors and machines connected using cloud services. AI systems monitor the process data to evaluate line efficiency. They suggest corrections if required and reduce downtime significantly. Predictive AI technology can highlight manufacturing issues and mitigate delays or financial expenses.
Machine-to-machine communication is a salient feature of smart factories that can tremendously impact the PCB manufacturing process. The assembly lines include multiple repetitive tasks that can be simplified by process automation. In complex scenarios like bulk productions or high-mix low, the volume builds, these features are very helpful in reducing overall manufacturing costs. Machine learning algorithms in assembly equipment and industrial robots can minimize errors by avoiding human intervention.
Intelligent Surface Mount PCB Assembly:
The Surface Mount Assembly (SMA) technique has made huge progress due to the introduction of Intelligent devices. They can collect immense data using IIoT technology. Each assembly stage impacts the final PCB quality. As per the existing data, around 60% of the soldering defects are traced back to the solder printing process. The solder paste applied on the PCB pads should be adequate and consistent to avoid board rework or failures.
Programming the Pick-n-Place machine for accurate component placement, setting the precise reflow oven temperature, and detailed inspection of PCB assemblies are critical tasks that determine the quality and reliability of the board’s performance. Smart factories equipped with AI and data analytics can monitor and control SMA process parameters in real time by implementing a closed-loop feedback system. The captured data also assists in responding to dynamic environmental inputs and makes the complete assembly process intelligent and flexible.
Intelligent Software in Electronics Manufacturing:
An enormous amount of data is accumulated by using multiple IoT sensors in manufacturing, which will require intelligent software to deduce meaningful insights. An ideal software provides a dashboard with real-time performance indicators that can lead to easy tracking and detection of faults on the shop floor. The comprehensive reports generated by this software can assist in the root cause analysis of the failures. This will mainly improve decision-making and further reduce the cost and material wastage in the manufacturing process.
Benefits of adopting smart factories in Electronics manufacturing:
The smart electronics manufacturing system is connected to digital devices for real-time tracking of production parameters. It offers several advantages as follows.
- Increased efficiency due to process automation and advanced production capabilities, and this supports the quick adaptability of assembly lines for new products.
- Reduced manufacturing costs as the real-time data assists in calibrating the machines for optimized output. This reduces material wastage and improves equipment utilization.
- Improves lead time by minimizing process bottlenecks. A closed-loop system provides a quick response to any change in the parameters and avoids assembly line shutdowns.
- Ensures process quality as each manufacturing stage is standardized by a set of work instructions. This improves product repeatability.
Smart factories have made electronics manufacturing units intelligent, flexible, and well-connected. Each task can be accomplished through a connected network, from getting quotes to product shipment.
Challenges in implementing Smart Electronics Manufacturing:
A fundamental change in the operating process is compulsory to integrate automation and intelligence into the electronics manufacturing unit. Communication and managing numerous machines in a huge setup can be intricate and challenging.
A seamless network, including PCB fabrication, assembly, and shipment, along with the new product introduction to the market, has to be verified and authorized by an intelligent system. To ensure production quality, the entire process must comply with industry standards.
The initial setup cost for smart factories is quite expensive, and this capital amount may not be within the budget for small and mid-size companies.
The increasing performance requirements in industries like healthcare, automotive, and aerospace are driving OEMs and contract manufacturers to embrace Industry 4.0 standards. Electronic manufacturers can easily adapt to market trends as smart factories will enable them to stay profitable and competitive.
Smart factory implementation need not be done altogether and can be achieved in stages. The intrinsic nature of smart factories to gather and analyze data enables them to understand the impact of new technologies integrated with engineering setups. Due to these significant merits offered by smart factories, electronics manufacturing is witnessing a rapid digital transformation.