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What we think we know is a less dynamic concept than actual reality. So many things progress so quickly, that we either as individuals or organizations, simply cannot keep up any longer. How then do we know whether the grass is really greener on the other side if we are not able to see clearly what is happening? Our retained impressions, experiences and knowledge of software solutions become quickly out of date, which can be a major issue as software starts to drive our Smart factories. Time to have another look at the importance of software in manufacturing.
Since the dawn of software implementation in manufacturing, the popular focus has been to “follow the data”. It seems quite logical to utilize as much information as is already available in digital form to help resolve issues in manufacturing. Data from design is critical if the product that is to be made can be understood. The successful preparation and conversion of data for production processes drive the degree of success in terms of efficiency and quality. Data must be obtained, qualified and supplied to machine platforms such that systems can optimize their operation and run smoothly. Data coming back from machines in terms of a real-time flow of messages is of equal importance, so as to visualize, understand and refine the production operation, fine-tune engineering models, as well as providing a high degree of traceability and proof of conformance.
The SMT element of electronics manufacturing is clearly important, and is somewhat unique to the electronics industry in terms of speed, size and complexity of materials and degree of automation, as compared to the majority of other industries. SMT can place well over 80% of the total materials on a PCB in a few seconds, consuming and providing a wealth of data about the process. Any MES system that is to add anything to SMT beyond superficial value has to be an integral part of the SMT processes themselves, understanding the complexities and nuances of such data.
While SMT may be significant regarding volume of materials and complexity of automation, from a management perspective, with of course the right software in place, SMT has become an easier area in the electronics manufacturing factory as compared to the manual and semi-automated processes that follow SMT. The inspection, test, assembly, configuration, personalization, packing and shipping processes can in many cases be far more complex to manage than SMT. The typical factory now makes not only many different products but also several variations of each product, all of which translates to an increasing mix of operations to be performed. In many cases, these operations are similar from one variant or related product to another.
A simple mistake, for example not realizing a small difference in the needed operation from one product to the next, can be catastrophic. For SMT, these variations are critical to the optimization of the machines, but product differences are simply coded into the data provided, the machine does the rest with ease.
For manual and semi-automated processes, MES functionality is essential to ensure the correct operation. Within the electronics manufacturing industry, these extra-SMT operations can be complex and quite bespoke. The ability of the MES system to provide support for these specific production technologies is critical. Beyond electronics however, this has also become the case. In every manufacturing process, technology related to the product, the process or the operation has risen rapidly in recent years. More and more operations are becoming automated, but more in the sense of the adoption of complex, yet simple robotics rather than the relatively fixed automation such as the SMT machine. The challenge for MES in this decade has been how to address the demand for technology support in these manufacturing areas, being able to combine the depth of support for critical or specialist areas such as SMT, yet providing the breadth and continuity all the way from initial raw materials through to final shipping.
This challenge is not unique to electronics, though the experience of providing this kind of MES environment in the electronics industry sets the bar for other industries, who can now have the opportunity to skip the learning curve and migrate to systems that focus on such technologies, that can truly introduce Smart, Industry 4.0 concepts right “out of the box” today.
Companies looking to differentiate their operations with the latest software manufacturing technologies have had a variety of choices for quite some time. The vast majority, however, seem limited in their approach, either in terms of breadth or depth, than might have been expected. Some solutions focus and specialize in great detail on a part of the factory, such as SMT for electronics with little support elsewhere, while others provide a complete end to end solution a without significant depth of understanding of the processes themselves. In both scenarios, there is no holistic solution, which brings the need for either complex and unmanageable hybrid solutions, or the hit from lost opportunity, where valuable data simply goes unrecorded or is retained in “off-line” repositories, essentially making it unusable.
The principles behind Aegis' FactoryLogix offer an alternative to these scenarios, in which detailed and in-depth support for processes, including SMT, is provided as well as support for the complete breadth of the operation. While many solutions in the industry are fighting against each other for supremacy as key industry acquisitions have taken place, the FactoryLogix MES suite stands alone as being dependable to deliver solutions for the needs and pains of the industry today, as well as the technologies to drive success in our smart factories future.
It is, therefore, time to take a fresh, in-depth look, at today’s solutions, to see how they address the needs of today. The grass has been becoming greener and greener, and it is time to take another look over that fence!
Michael Ford is the European Marketing Director for Aegis Software Corp.