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ASM Assembly Solutions was one of the 30+ companies participating in IPC’s CFX (Connected Factory Exchange) showcase at the recent SMT Hybrid Packaging show in Nuremberg, Germany. I spoke with ASM’s Thomas Marktscheffel, who shared his perspective on CFX and its current challenges, and he dispelled the notion that CFX might be a cookie-cutter approach to the smart factory.
Barry Matties: Thomas, you’re taking part in the Connected Factory Exchange. Michael Ford suggested I talk to you and hear what you think about it, and then see some of the demos you're doing.
Thomas Marktscheffel: We are committed to standards at ASM because we have a lot of customer integration products, and much of the work with custom integration so far is just data manipulations. Instead of focusing on features, we're spending a lot of effort on transforming data from one form to another and transforming from one protocol to another protocol. When the IPC CFX committee started, we were interested in that from the beginning because we saw an opportunity to get away from all this data handling and transformation and focus on new features.
Matties: When you look at CFX, what does that mean to a fabricator today?
Marktscheffel: I think it will dramatically lower the integration effort and also open doors for using different equipment for existing workflows. If all the machines speak the same language, then it is possible to pick those machines that best match the factory demands. All these machines can be connected to MES systems or they can talk to each other. For example, for process optimization, there’s usually a sensor, like an inspection system or a placement system, and they need to talk to each other. The inspection system analyzes the placement process and might provide corrective data to the placement system.
Matties: In real time.
Marktscheffel: Yes. And if they speak the same language, we don’t need to worry about how this corrective data is transmitted—it will just be sent and the placement machine will listen and understand.
Matties: So this is self-correcting manufacturing?
Marktscheffel: Yes. We need self-correcting processes for printing and placement, for example. Since processes are becoming faster, more sophisticated, and increasingly more accurate, the demand for these closed-loop systems is getting higher and higher. Closed-loop systems can be better implemented using one communication standard.
Matties: I see you're part of the Hermes standard as well. There has been some confusion about these two standards. Some think there are conflicting or multiple standards happening. How does Hermes connect to CFX?
Marktscheffel: Hermes is a machine-to-machine communication standard. CFX is a standard for machine-to-MES systems or line software, whereas Hermes is used for horizontal communication. Simple board handling equipment can implement Hermes. It targets the tracking of boards. Meanwhile, CFX can also be used for machine-to-machine communication, such as closed-loop applications, but then it uses highly complicated processes and the data transferred is much more than on the Hermes side. CFX is typically used for vertical communication, so from machines to the MES layer.
Matties: What's your position here at ASM?
Marktscheffel: I am product manager for the software integration platform. It's not just one platform, but rather an integration from the machine level up to MES level, so between machines or from machines to the MES system. I deal with Hermes on the factory level and CFX on the MES level.
Matties: You mentioned the real focus is around data, right? The processes that you sell are the processes, but the demand is now in the data world?
Marktscheffel: The data is the currency that we need to work with, and the better this currency flows, the better the machines work that we are selling.
Matties: Some people look at CFX as a cookie-cutter approach and everybody will now have the same data because it's all connected to CFX. The understanding I have is that CFX is a foundation and that each supplier, ASM or whoever it might be, chooses the data that they want to make available to the fabricator.
Marktscheffel: That is right. Every supplier will send the data that is relevant and available with the machines of the supplier. They could also be a software supplier. For example, software optimizing a process also deals with that kind of data. The important thing about CFX is that the language is the same. There's different kinds of data available, but the language and how to exchange it is always the same so different vendors can talk to different software and it will work. They will understand each other although they didn't know each other before.
Matties: Right, so a factory that thinks they may be losing a competitive advantage actually isn’t, because it's not copied from one factory to the next—everybody's unique.
Matties: I was surprised that I heard people saying they thought it was going to be a cookie-cutter approach.
Marktscheffel: I don't think so. Let’s say 1 billion people speak Chinese, but they all have different feelings and thoughts. They use the same language but speak different things. We are now speaking about factory processes. The other people also speak English, but they may be speaking about going on a trip or vacation—something totally different. Speaking the same language enables communication but doesn't mean that the data is the same everywhere. It's just a means to facilitate the exchange of data and information.
Matties: The other thing I’ve heard is that this is a moneymaker for IPC since they're coming out with CFX, but my understanding is that it's zero cost.
Marktscheffel: That's my understanding as well. CFX is using AMQP as communication protocols and there's open source message programs available for AMQP. Maybe this is a discussion that comes from CAMX, but this is not true for CFX and the standard itself. Everybody can download and implement it for free. The message program is open source so everything you need for CFX is free.
Matties: When we talk about CFX, you know the phrase “follow the money.” Who is making money off CFX?
Marktscheffel: I don’t think anybody is making money for defining the standard, but later on, everybody who uses and offers it will make money because CFX will enable more sophisticated manufacturing solutions.
Matties: It's the users.
Marktscheffel: It will be the users and the companies that offer it.
Matties: When you evaluate all of this, what are the greatest challenges to this whole CFX smart factory?
Marktscheffel: The biggest challenge right now is to introduce it. As with all of the upcoming standards, there are people looking at it and waiting. Who will be first to implement it? Nobody wants to be first. We have the typical hen and egg problem where everybody is waiting for someone to do it, but communication always needs at least two partners, otherwise there isn't communication. These first two partners have to be found and then CFX will start.
Matties: The show we're at is a connected show and you're taking part in the CFX demonstration here, right?
Marktscheffel: Yes. We are taking part in a simulation of our machines. We could connect CFX to the machines here at our booth as well, but we chose the simulation because then we can show more different kind of situations. For people who want to see CFX in action, we can show them everything that is possible. We are promoting CFX and showing it here with the simulation.
Matties: When people see the simulation and results, what are their reactions?
Marktscheffel: A lot of people ask, "Okay, what is the status of this?" Some people have not yet heard about it and want to know when it will be available. The plan is to have the first release very soon in September of this year. The next question is, “Who will be doing that?” There are a lot of companies here at the trade show participating in the demo—more than 30—that are now looking for pilot customers.
Matties: Have you had any customers step up with interest in being a pilot customer?
Marktscheffel: So far, we have yet to find a pilot customer, but we're working on that.
Matties: What would be the risk for somebody to be a pilot customer?
Marktscheffel: I don't see a big risk because a pilot customer would have a software system, probably an MES system, and some machines that are most likely connected today. We would just replace the other connection with CFX. That would be the easiest step because we would know everything is working and we'd only change the communication. There would be very limited risk introduced by this change.
Matties: To make that change, what sort of timeframe would you estimate the factory would be looking at?
Marktscheffel: For a complete factory and connecting an MES system, it would be a project of several months.
Matties: Seems like a lengthy process but it doesn't interrupt their current production flow, it would just be behind the scenes.
Marktscheffel: It would be behind the scenes. Step by step, we would switch from the existing flow to the new CFX.
Matties: Very good. Is there anything we haven't talked about that you want to share regarding this?
Marktscheffel: No, I think we covered everything quite well.
Matties: I certainly appreciate your time.
Marktscheffel: Thank you very much.