One Year On: An Interview with Assembleon CEO André Papoular


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André Papoular started with Assembleon about one year ago, though he’s been with parent company Philips for about 29 years, in business management for components, systems and finished products. He’s joined the electronics assembly equipment market at a tough economic time, but Papoular sees this as an opportunity to focus the industry on the way forward, identifying signals of opportunity. The company introduced a printing system at productronica 2009, and also announced a collaboration with Valor to integrate their equipment into a complete suite of software and tools for electronic equipment assembly. These will automate machine-, line- and factory-level workflows and business processes. SMT sat down with the Assembléon team during productronica 2009 in Munich to assess where the company is and where they see placement technology headed.

“We are on a continuous journey to become customer-centric. As the industry changes, equipment suppliers need to better accommodate their customers’ needs,” Papoular says. “Equipment selection committees are a thing of the past, so the supplier should understand the assembler’s needs and core goals. Different divisions within a company may have radically different needs. Similarly, one company may have extremely different volumes throughout the year, due to a large customer order or seasonal fluctuations.” Equipment providers should educate their customers about pitfalls like over- or under-capacity investments, the dangers of knock-off feeders, lacking process control, etc. Assembleon also offers a Capacity on Demand service, increasing customer’s placement robots per machine during peak seasons. This keeps line footprints the same, and since the heads are entire units, not installed within the machine, hook up/removal is easy and fast. A combination of capacity flexibility and feeder set can make one machine — with a constant footprint, single pick/single place heads, and one user interface — suit low-volume/high-mix (LVHM), high-volume, and most situations in between.

The latest addition to Assembleon’s offering is the MCP screen printer. This is not a one-size-fits-all addition, Papoular noted. “It is an excellent match to our pick-and-place offering, only when it makes sense for the user’s production needs.” The printer has an 11-second print cycle including stencil cleaning. Its single-swing squeegee has a self-adjusting blade that measures the diameter of solder paste for even distribution. This, combined with stable board clamps, allows 01005-size paste bricks. 

Assembleon's booth at productronica 2009.

Modern assembly systems from Assembleon will be flexible and designed to streamline manufacturing and limit downtime, either as a stand-alone system or with the help of equipment, inspection, software, or other partners where appropriate. Placement machines cannot be islands, Papoular said, and need to make the entire line better.

Partnerships better serve customers, which is where the Assembleon relationships with Valor, Yamaha, and CyberOptics come into play. “The collaboration with Valor is a good example. It offers customers more than an isolated placement machine, adding line management, traceability, etc.” said Papoular.

“A key benefit of the Valor software suite is to integrate business planning and logistics systems with systems on the shop floor,” said Papoular. Real-time machine data communicates transparently with the line- and factory-level controls in the Valor Manufacturing Execution System (MES) suite. This improves parts management, logistics, and quality improvement systems. The suite automates process preparation and engineering, work-order and workflow control, and tactical-level scheduling. There are modules for quality, test, inspection and repair, real-time performance management and reporting, as well as materials flow and replenishment management. Specific tools cover process preparation for new product introductions (NPI), real-time performance monitoring, and assembly traceability. For NPI, vPlan-Lite is a dedicated version of Valor’s vPlan platform. It generates run-ready optimized programs and set-up instructions for Assembléon’s A-Series. vPlan-Lite handles all parts-data management requirements of the Assembléon machines, and can be upgraded to the full vPlan platform to address complex multi-vendor lines and factory-level engineering requirements. For performance monitoring, Assembléon demonstrated a real-time dashboard for machine and line performance display and management of alerts and exceptions during productronica. Developed jointly with Valor, the Performance Monitoring dashboard provides immediate visibility of all operational information. For traceability, Assembléon offers a comprehensive reference-designator and serialized-reel I.D. solution that connects into a complete build-record strategy at the factory and supply-chain level. 

Papoular sees the modern assembler as more aware of their entire line’s cost and impact. This includes integration into factory-/company-wide software (as described in the Valor partnership), and operational costs such as electricity use. The single pick/single place concept requires less vacuum power than a revolving head placement system, Papoular asserted, lowering electricity requirements. The heads also do not have to be changed out for flip chips, 01005s, or other extreme form factors, limiting system downtime.

What should the industry be working on in the future? Papoular sees value in a changeover time standard, similar to IPC’s CPH standard IPC 9850. Standards help inform the consumer and keep machine specs accurate. Correct changeover time estimates will help dissolve bottlenecks in a line, Papoular noted. More information on Assembleon is available on the company's Website, www.assembleon.com

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