A Working Definition of Automation


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Editor's Note: Parts of this article include excerpts from and expansions of Automation and Advanced Procedures in PCB Fabrication.

Automation in a working context means more than just automatic machinery. Machinery implies mechanization. Automation also means the system information directs and controls people, materials, and machines. This concept is also known as systemization [1]. Therefore, automation is made up of two components, like a vector: mechanization (material flow) and systemization (information flow).

Mechanization Classes

Happy-Chart1_SMTMar19.jpgMechanization can be divided into six classes that indicate the amount of sophistication of machines and machine interactions with humans. The classes are rated based on the percentage of the work done by machines (Chart 1).

Systemization Levels

Similarly, systemization can be divided into six levels that indicate the amount and sophistication of blueprints, information, data, scheduling, and control that take place (Chart 2).

Each level has an increasing percentage of machine/computer content handling the information required to fabricate, schedule, test, or move a product.

Happy-Chart2_SMTMar19.jpgAutomation Matrix

When both measures are applied to any activity in the process to tool or build a printed circuit, an automation matrix is created about that work center. This matrix allows for the current situation and future objectives or plans to be appraised, even if it is all manual (Figure 1). It is quite common for automation objectives to be made up of a number of steps or phases, allowing each step to be stabilized before the next one is taken. The automation matrix lends itself to this step approach.

Contrary to popular belief, the real work in automation is getting started. The time for management to start is now. In general, there will be five challenges that executives need to concentrate on if an automation program is to take root and flourish:

1. Commit to being the best

2. Build the team

3. Tear down traditional barriers

4. Gain knowledge of the tools and philosophies that create excellence

5. Use leadership to execute the strategies

Happy-Fig1_SMTMar19.jpgFigure 1: Automation vector is defined as systemization and mechanization, including material handling and networking between work centers.

Commitment

The first step is a commitment; more precisely, a shared vision is the most important step. The vision that must be shared is that of being the best and creating a roadmap for achieving that major goal. There will probably be changes along the way. The general manager can best affect major changes from the top, whether they are the head of a standalone company or of a major manufacturing division. Only the general manager can make a long-term commitment to being the best. This vision is shared because it will also require others to be committed to manufacturing and engineering excellence.

Building the Team

Successful automation can only result from a professional team effort. How can a company get everybody pulling in the same direction? Part of the answer is education through sharing information about technologies that are galloping out ahead of the decision makers. The general manager must hire people who can do the job when they think their team is internally or externally deficient. They must also adequately train the whole team, including the production workers, who are too often left out (Figure 2). The technical demands may require at least a temporary boost in engineering power or consulting. In many cases, the lack of adequately trained numbers of engineers limits the rate of improvement and increases the risk of failure.

Tearing Down Traditional Barriers

To build the team that is required, the general manager must tear down the traditional walls that have isolated the various functions that participate in manufacturing and engineering. They must build a strong partnership of equals from marketing, R&D, purchasing, production, engineering, manufacturing, sales, distribution, and after-sales service. These related functions should work together as a closely-knit team to achieve the overriding goal of being the best. These walls are not only barriers to the shared vision but also to the understanding and consensus of what information is needed to develop the strategy for automation.

To read the full article, which appeared in the March 2019 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.

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