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Let’s face it, in the past, electronics manufacturing has not been a big business for North America. A majority of electronics are assembled in Asia where supply chains and operating costs offer many economic advantages. In North America, the electronics manufacturing industry has been generally focused on lower volume, high-cost devices, while higher volume products are produced elsewhere. However, the COVID pandemic and various legislation in the U.S. are changing the situation, making electronics manufacturing in North America a more attractive option.
How can factories in North America compete for the same type of manufacturing traditionally performed in lower-cost regions? The answer is that they will not be competing, because they will not be performing the same type of manufacturing. Manufacturing is changing, and companies in North America are well positioned to work differently and surpass their global competitors.
What’s changing in manufacturing? Consumer trends related to the specialization and customization of products are moving the industry toward much smaller lot sizes. With a historical focus on higher mix production, manufacturers in North America have mastered the ability to provide their customers with responsiveness, flexibility, and quality. Carrying these capabilities forward is important to support the next generation of manufacturing.
How do manufacturers adapt? On the shop floor, manufacturing lines will become more modular to accommodate a higher mix of product on the same equipment, but what will really differentiate manufacturers is how they use data to support their operations. Leveraging data and digitalization will be the only way to maintain responsiveness, flexibility, and quality while supporting an increasing volume of high-mix products.
Boosting prediction accuracy is one of the key benefits of using data effectively, but this requires domain expertise and a deep understanding of the data. It also requires access to the data in the first place, and this is not always a trivial task. Many intelligent machine interfaces today will describe the processes and production operations occurring on the machine and allow for interlocking the equipment with external management systems. Most machines today do not provide information about their internal operation, and it is this detail that is needed to drive the next level of performance improvement, where a motor drawing extra power or a sensor operating marginally can signal a problem with the performance or reliability of the equipment. If that data is not available, companies can invest R&D resources to determine how to get to it.
To differentiate themselves from their competition, companies must provide intelligent, responsive, and supportive productization. Effectively balancing customization with complexity costs will allow companies to maintain profit margins significantly higher than their industry peers. Utilizing improved workflows and technology to maintain high output can provide a cost savings as compared to a mass production environment.
To read this entire article, which appeared in the April 2022 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.