Making Systems Smarter to Gain Visibility, Traceability, and Reduce Handling Errors

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Based in California, KIC is focused on the thermal process—basically making reflow ovens smarter through profiling, automation, data analytics and sharing, and optimization solutions. The company essentially has three product categories. The first is a manual profiler. If you look at a reflow oven and ask yourself, “What is the job that the reflow oven is supposed to do?” It is to process an assembly within the specifications set by the solder paste components and so forth. That’s matched up with a profile—KIC’s system measures that profile manually and can compare that to the required process window.

The company also has software that can optimize the oven setup. Last, but not least, KIC offers automation solutions. The company integrates sensors into the oven to enable on-the-fly measurement of the profile for every assembly going through and checking to see if it’s in spec.

At the recent IPC APEX EXPO event in Las Vegas, I interviewed Bjorn Dahle, president of KIC, to learn more about his views on automation, the technology improvements being made in reflow ovens, and strategies to reduce handling errors in assembly lines.

Stephen Las Marias: How is your technology improving the reflow process?

Bjorn Dahle: The thermal process has kind of been seen as the black box process in a production line. You don’t really know what’s going on inside there. You hope for the best, and traditionally you check that once a day or once a month, and hope that in between your spot checks that everything is doing okay. More and more now, customers want more transparency; they want to know what’s going on, not once a day or once a month, every single board. Is it being processed in spec? They want to have access to that information so there’s process traceability available later on. Transparency and traceability are very big. There is now a number of new needs developing as people are getting into more smart machines and smart factories.

When we install sensors in the oven, it’s almost like installing a video camera. We film, if you will, the thermal process and, in real time, we can then make sure that no boards are being processed out of spec. You get an instant alarm, and we can provide SPC charting and CPK numbers, so you also get an early warning when your process is out of control. Historically this information has been contained at the oven, on the oven PC.

More and more now, you want that transparency to go beyond just the operator or the process engineer on the line, so we can send this information on to, let’s say, an MES system where now the information is shared with up and downstream the production line, and with all the other production lines. Clients now have access to this for their own products if they use an MES, and you get full traceability and transparency.

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Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of SMT Magazine.


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