Electronics Manufacturing (R)evolution


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For sure, 2018 is going to be the year of Industry 4.0, where we will see how enabling technologies including sensors, big data, analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT), will transform the electronics manufacturing landscape.

But what’s driving the electronics assembly community in this direction? The continuing rising costs, OEM price pressures, ever shorter product lifecycles, and continuously changing customer demands are clearly contributing. On top of that is the continuing evolution in electronics design and increasing integration and complexity initiated by expanding functionalities being packed in more and more compact devices and systems. These have been the key challenges of the last decade, that are, in turn, being addressed by the continuing manufacturing technology and equipment developments and advances.

But this time is different. I would say it’s sort of the culmination of the underlying development that has been happening all along, but hasn’t really reached the fore due to varying and differing interests and viewpoints of most stakeholders in the industry. Everyone, finally, has come to the same page, towards a new chapter in the evolution of electronics manufacturing.

The pieces—equipment, systems, and software—have been present here all along. What has been lacking is a communications standard that would enable the legacy and the more advanced smarter systems to talk to each other regardless of their vendors or their place in the electronics assembly line (be it in paste printing, inspection, pick and place, or reflow or wave).

CFX Demo at IPC APEX EXPO 2018

For the first time in the industry, a common machine communications standard for the electronics assembly supply chain—manufacturers, equipment suppliers, and solutions providers—is a reality.

At the recent IPC APEX EXPO in San Diego, California, the Connected Factory Exchange (CFX) standard was showcased, supported by more than 25 vendors who, in the words of Aegis Software’s Michael Ford, “have stepped up to create the world’s first conversion of a show-floor into a digital factory shop-floor.”

According to Ford, this is the industry’s induction to what the difference is with a true Industrial IoT standard. “Rather than being constrained by legacy data formats and content that machine engineering teams created many years ago, which were all OK in their day—before the modern digital needs of customers was conceived, IoT data is now available that can support the most ambitious of Industry 4.0 projects,” he says. Aegis Software built the CFX toolkit that was fully donated to the IPC and the industry without cost or license.

In my recent interview with Nancy Jaster, the manager of design process at IPC, she said that she hopes to be able to demonstrate at the IPC APEX EXPO show floor how simple and easy it is to use the CFX messaging library and the transport mechanism AMQP 1.0—the building blocks of the CFX—to run the machines. She also hopes to be able to release the CFX standard this year.

In this Industry 4.0 vision, we are entering an era where we see new technologies transforming the look, systems and processes of what we consider as a modern factory. This CFX demonstration at IPC APEX EXPO 2018 is just that—imagine having these vendors integrated together towards one common manufacturing goal. A true industry evolution.

To read the full version of this article, which originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.

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