The Mannifest: Optimize Throughput for High Mix, Low Volume Manufacturing

For manufacturers who have high-mix, low-volume production, there are certain pieces of equipment that can help optimize your throughput potential. For an application with high-mix boards, the most important thing is to choose a pick-and-place machine that can support many feeders. If you are unsure of the number of feeder slots your production level requires, it is best to speak with an expert who will review your bill of materials (at no extra charge) to determine exact equipment requirements.

In general, our team recommends pick-and-place machines with 128 feeder ports or higher for high-mix production. This number of feeders (or higher, if needed) allows for optimized throughput potential. For example, one company was able to have all the feeders needed for six different products loaded onto a single pick-and-place machine, thanks to its 128 feeder ports. This allowed them to do very short runs and quickly change from job to job.


A high-quality batch oven can simulate a much larger oven while taking up a fraction of the space. Choose a model that is single phase, simulates up to five zones, and uses around 30 amps of power. A small, manual stencil printer will meet the needs of low-volume, high-mix applications without breaking the bank; just choose a printer able to accommodate a stencil up to 29" x 29" and that provides fine-pitch printing (down to 12 mil recommended).

To get an upgrade, choose a quality oven with inline ability. It will help improve speed and reduce the number of boards wasted during testing through features like predictive profiling software. To boost throughput even further, you can go with the two-head pick-and-place. Robert Keeley Electronics runs the two-head version of our 128-feeder-port machine, with great results for its on-demand-production guitar effect pedals.

Another equipment line option for high-mix, low-volume is what music company Critter & Guitari is currently running. It has a standout pick-and-place option for high-mix applications since it can handle up to 160 feeder ports (96 feeder ports when used as inline). This allows their operators to have feeders for multiple jobs resident on the same machine, thus reducing changeover time. 

When asked about their lineup, designer and founder of Critter & Guitari, Owen Osborn said, “This mix of equipment provides us with a small-footprint PCB assembly line. It really only took a few days to set up and it is easy to get up and running each day.”

If inline ability is important to you, but you don’t want to sacrifice feeder ports, you could go with a larger pick-and-place that allows for 250+ feeder ports when used as a batch machine, so it will still have 190+ ports available when operating with inline capability. Having this high number of feeder ports is a game changer for high-mix applications, and the ability to have conveyors can reduce the number of mishaps that can happen on boards during transport to the oven.

Expert Tip: Choosing a Smart feeder can help you get the most out of the feeders you use with your pick-and-place machine. Having a built-in screen for monitoring part quantities, feeder slot locations, part numbers, part values, and more—all while the machine is in-use or offline—can greatly improve throughput.

By choosing equipment that can help maximize your feeder capacity, you will be able to optimize your throughput ability.

This column originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of SMT007 Magazine.



The Mannifest: Optimize Throughput for High Mix, Low Volume Manufacturing


For manufacturers who have high mix, low volume production, there are certain pieces of equipment that can help you optimize your throughput potential. For an application with high mix boards, the most important thing is to choose a pick and place machine that can support many feeders. If you are unsure of the number of feeder slots your production level requires, it is best to speak with an expert who will review your bill of materials (at no extra charge) to determine exact equipment requirements.

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The Mannifest: Reduce Costs with In-House Production and Out-of-the-Box Thinking


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The Mannifest: New Feeder Design for Eliminating Errors Prior to Placement


As new technology and methods have emerged, companies in the electronics manufacturing field now have new options to consider for improving their best practices. These practices have helped influence the design of new equipment with ground-breaking capabilities. One recent industry advancement is the design of feeders with built-in OLED screens. This innovation helps create a pre-inspection stage that allows for operators to review components before they enter the machine. By having pre-inspection capability at the feeder stage, companies running in-house equipment can avoid manufacturing hiccups before they occur—providing better turnover and less downtime.

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The Mannifest: A How-to Guide—Avoiding Pitfalls When Purchasing SMT Equipment


When weighing your equipment options, you first must decide what you want more: a lower up-front cost or ensured reliability. Choosing used equipment will save your company money, but unexpected problems with the purchased machine may occur. With new equipment, the initial investment will be more, but you can set high expectations for the longevity and quality of the machine.

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The Mannifest: Solutions for Customer Support During Social Distancing


In this difficult time caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, businesses are being forced to adapt. Business is not as usual, but we have come to appreciate the benefits of remote services. Chris Ellis explains how this recent crisis has also led to their team brainstorming some innovative new ideas.

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The Mannifest: Faster, Cheaper, Simpler


Looking at the SMT industry right now, I see some very interesting things going on with shifts in production locations, ease of manufacturing, and intellectual property (IP) protection. OEMs are bringing production back to the U.S. in greater numbers—some even back to Mexico. A significant driver of this over the past year has been the tariffs. For the majority of OEMs I speak with, it’s becoming clear how manufacturing in China is affecting their bottom line.

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The Mannifest: Custom Reflow Ovens and Curing


It seems that a lot of companies in today’s market are buying specialized ovens for curing. Did you know that most SMT reflow ovens can be modified by the manufacturer (and quite easily too) for curing applications? In most cases, these ovens will also still work for SMT reflow, eliminating the need to waste precious floor space on a second oven.

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The Mannifest: Common Machine Errors and How to Avoid Them


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The Mannifest: First Time With In-house SMT Assembly? Start With a Great Design


One of the best ways to eliminate possible production issues when you handle your SMT work in-house is to ensure that you have a manufacturable design. Thus, there are several factors to keep in mind when reviewing your designs before bringing your production in-house or starting your first run of in-house prototypes.

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Managing Your Double-sided Assemblies


Using a double-sided board in your finished application allows you to produce more complex circuits while saving space, offering an array of benefits for high-tech applications and electronics. But challenges to double-sided board implementation are plenty, including placement questions, solder processing challenges, and heat dissipation. Read on why planning out a double-sided assembly is not substantially different from handling a single-sided board assembly.

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The Mannifest: When Is It the Right Time to Automate?


How can you increase your production to keep up with rising demand while keeping your operating costs reasonable? While it can be tempting to go all-in and convert your entire production process to a fully automated assembly line, it may be more advantageous to start with low-volume assembly and convert more gradually.

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