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Since the EMS landscape has become so competitive, staying on top of new advances in technology and being able to rapidly adapt to changing customer needs, market demands, trends and technological advances is critical. The following are some examples of how electronics assembly technology developments have impacted the EMS industry in recent years and will likely continue shaping the industry in the future.
Layers of Verification
Today, recent advances in testing and inspection technology enable a robust quality review process with layers of verification, providing a much more reliable product to customers.
It starts in the very beginning with scanning in bar codes rather than typing in numbers and eliminating the opportunity for human error. This process offers efficiencies and at the same time provides a layer of verification.
The layered testing process continues with automated SMT set up verification and solder paste inspection. Then, an automated optical inspection (AOI), X-ray and visual inspection is used to assure the product meets customer requirements. ICT, flying probe and ESS tests add to the reliability of the products being built. Many EMS’s also continually invest in their employees by training them in Lean manufacturing techniques, SPC, regulatory requirements, along with certifications to standards like IPC workmanship, J-STD, etc.
One of the newest technology advances on the market in the last year was an automated router for printed circuit boards. The automated router allows the ability to de-panel boards without stressing the components on the board from a manual de-penalization process.
The other new technology that is popular includes automated conformal coating equipment to eliminate hand spraying and manual masking process. Additionally, 3D AOI technology provides a much better understanding of the quality of product being produced.
New equipment that is currently in development is designed to give faster results and include more capabilities, streamlining and improving on current technology and processes. Any new technology that EMS providers are looking at investing in should add to product reliability or provide flexibility to customers.
Paperless Work Shops
Many modern EMS shop floor systems are now paperless, where all the work instructions and routing steps are online. Most are forced routing processes, where you have to scan the product in and out of the work cells. It’s also how quality and test data is collected with pull down menus and all the reference designations of components, that feeds all the real-time data being provided to the work cells and customers.
The Demand for Smaller Technology
One recent trend, especially in the defense industry, is a focus on man-portable electronics. Everything is shrinking, which affects the size of products and the footprint available to place the components in, so any new technology investments going forward must be geared towards smaller technology, with reliability in mind.
Since everything is getting smaller, we’re having to place .01005 components on some products now. Technology like wearable electronics, vision goggles, and wearable medical devices, among others, are driving smaller and smaller platforms, which means electronics manufacturing services have to be more diligent, with profiling of thermal properties of the product recipes and equipment that can handle and verify the smaller scale components.
Using smaller components has really driven the industry to be more focused on the upfront quality of the paste, the placement accuracy, and the verification of those components.
Real Time Results
Customers now want to be more involved in monitoring the process and are demanding more feedback and analysis. They want to be able to see real-time results as the product is going through the process.
Customers also want to see real-time feedback on yields and test data, so they can see how their products are performing in reference to the specifications. Customers are paying much more attention to analysis in engineering towards process capabilities and where their products fall in line with those process capabilities.
To meet this demand, most EMS companies are now providing customers with capabilities of their test systems talking back to them directly or indirectly or being able to provide outlets to them through their test systems and online shop floor systems. Reports can be set up to pull yields off the floor and send them via e-mail directly to customers, which gives them all the pareto analysis of their products, the yields, any defective components, and the EMS partner’s actions taken to correct any problems. In contrast, the old way of doing things included monthly or weekly data reports that summarized the EMS firm’s observations.
Customers enjoy that kind of open communication. They gain confidence in knowing that if a problem arises, they will be notified. It’s another way to provide transparency to customers.
Adaptability to Change
Rapid adaptability to new technology and capability is a must in today’s EMS environment. The days of hundreds of mom and pop EMS companies are gone. Now, most EMS providers are top rated and competing aggressively for customers. So getting the new technology and becoming knowledgeable of that technology is a must. Being able to continually improve processes to be more efficient and show customers the added value you can provide through quick turnover capabilities and flexibility is the only way to survive.
This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of SMT Magazine.