Smart Factory Insights: Fractional Materials and High-Mix Manufacturing

We used to discuss manufacturing paradigms in terms of high- or low-mix, coupled with high- or low-volume, with many shades of grey in between. Now, we have a new dimension, that of high-volatility, as key dependencies on labour, materials, and logistics contribute challenges to production, which in turn, is subject to the volatility of customer demand. More than ever, material management is either the key enabler for business success, or your nemesis in not being able to achieve the necessary recovery plan if not thought out properly.

One unique aspect of electronics manufacturing is that there are simply too many materials to individually manage. Obviously, we use carriers for those materials, whether collected on reels, in trays, bags, boxes, or other containers. These are used not only for discrete components, but also for materials measured using fractions of their initial content, such as volumes of liquids for dispensing, coating, cleaning, and solder paste, as well as lengths of wires and cables. For mass production, carriers are very convenient for simple logistics, but as you look deeper at other production paradigms, these carriers introduce a very complex logistical challenge.

Other than high-volume manufacturing, production often does not consume the entire quantity of materials within each carrier, leaving partly-used carriers of remaining materials, and which require specialist management. This very simple fact greatly contributed to productivity levels decreasing from 90% with high-volume production, to some extreme, high-mix cases of only 10%. Whatever benefits have come from mechanically automated production (the dream of the third industrial revolution) have become the proverbial nightmare.

As the market has slowly transitioned from high-volume to high-mix, manufacturing has become gradually accustomed to tweaking existing operations and practices. It creates continuous strain but never breaks. Today’s sudden increased volatility in the market takes us beyond that point. As many manufacturers face mounting questions daily of what can or should be built, the least concern should be how—but that is not the case. Consider the increased overhead on what has become routine decision-making in terms of material management:

  • Which carriers of material are the most suitable carriers to use?
  • What quantity/length/volume of material is remaining, and will it satisfy the needs of the work order without lost time of additional replenishment?
  • How accurate is that assessment, bearing in mind the many opportunities for spoilage over the times that this material carrier has been used? There are cases, for example, where a reel of specialized chips was used once a week over a period of several months, each time using a very small number of pieces. Each time the material was set up, spoilage occurred, resulting in around 30% true spoilage rates. It is very challenging to find out that suddenly there are no remaining materials for the next few months of committed production, and nothing on order in the supply chain.
  • How “old” are the materials, bearing in mind the many transportations and changing environments that they have been put through as part of their unused collective whilst in their carrier? Moving between environments with different humidity and temperatures causes issues with many types of material.
  • Where are the carriers? Most often, partly-used carriers of materials remain in manufacturing between work orders. These are being managed, more often than not, by a team people who are working different shifts, moving things around, and using materials for other work orders. It is extremely difficult to keep track of specific partly-used material carriers, especially with most ERP and MES solutions not keeping track of such materials to this degree of granularity.

These used to be minor, infrequent issues, mainly occurring in between very long production runs, and therefore deemed insignificant. Today, these issues occur frequently, even daily. The management of these issues impacts our decision-making process in terms of deciding what products can be made, and affects the quality with which those products are made. Work that has been absorbed in outdated practices and procedures is human-augmented material management: those few people who could be relied on to find and make things happen. With the current levels of volatility, this coping mechanism is no longer a viable model.

This situation highlights the need and value of digital transformation. Having a modern MES that understands every idiosyncrasy of the complexities of material management provides the software-based automation that is required. Bear in mind that there are many other complexities involved, such as the management of moisture-sensitive devices and end-of-life materials, as well as multiple part-numbers, owners and statuses for identical materials belonging to different customers in, for example, the EMS environment. These things are currently being managed, and are dependent upon, in most cases, by an extremely undervalued human resource, or by artificially imposed, complex inefficient restrictions and practices that have invisibly accumulated over time.

Digital transformation may appear to be a big step to take at a time when other challenges are pushing the limits of what can be coped with, but this must be seen from the point of view as the compelling need to change, rather than something that is put off until things settle down. The market does not appear to be going back to what it was any time soon, and whenever that is, the recovery opportunity may well have passed by for those who continue to wait.

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

 

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2022

Smart Factory Insights: Fractional Materials and High-Mix Manufacturing

05-25-2022

We used to discuss manufacturing paradigms in terms of high- or low-mix, coupled with high- or low-volume, with many shades of grey in between. Now, we have a new dimension, that of high-volatility, as key dependencies on labour, materials and logistics contribute challenges to production, which in turn, is subject to the volatility of customer demand. Material management more than ever before, is being either the key enabler for business success, or your nemesis in not being able to achieve the necessary recovery plan if not thought out properly.

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Smart Factory Insights: Has the Industry 4.0 Gold Rush Ended?

04-06-2022

Industry 4.0, though only five years old, already has a checkered history. With buzzwords flying, existing technologies—re-branded as Industry 4.0 solutions—have been in demand. Manufacturers embarked on the Industry 4.0 “gold rush” to gather as much data as possible, and by whatever means necessary, to get those nuggets of smart manufacturing credibility. Today, the more mature approach of Industry 4.0 is emerging with consideration of a real return on investment (ROI) as well as sustainability. Taking advantage of such maturity may have been the smartest option all along.

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Smart Factory Insights: CFX IIoT Open-Source Hardware

03-09-2022

The IPC Connected Factory Exchange standard, CFX, has triggered a revolution in the way that industrial machines communicate in a secure, IIoT-based, plug and play environment. Attention now is on how CFX can be connected to older, “dumber” machines, bringing 100% visibility and control across the whole manufacturing floor, thereby avoiding the numerous technical and financial pitfalls historically experienced.

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2021

Smart Factory Insights: Digital Transcendence—Fear of The Unknown

12-22-2021

The first three industrial revolutions have brought us automation of physical tasks through adoption of mechanical and electrical machines, the benefit of which has been quite easy to appreciate. Industry 4.0 automation, however, is driven almost exclusively from the digital realm, representing a whole new world of intangibility. With manufacturing being rather averse to unplanned change or risk, unless there are very compelling reasons, how do we get to fully trust digital technology needed for our businesses today, taking us toward manufacturing digital transcendence?

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Smart Factory Insights: The Costs of Legacy Thinking

12-01-2021

As humans, we learn facts, gain impressions, create solutions, put practices into place, and move onto our next challenge. Over time, our intent is to create a legacy of value, but in many cases, we are creating legacies in a different sense. Our knowledge, experience, and creations age or become superseded, but there is resistance to replace or update. An increasing gap develops between perception and reality. Younger, more agile peers take advantage, get ahead, and we look away, thinking that they don’t know what they are doing. Though a natural human phenomenon, decision-makers in manufacturing today need to bear this mind more than ever.

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Smart Factory Insights: Hands-off Manufacturing

07-12-2021

The use of automation has not eliminated causes of unreliability, nor defects, which ironically continues to drive the need for humans to be hands-on, even as part of SMT operations. There is clearly something missing, so cue our digital twin.

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Smart Factory Insights: Me and My Digital Twin

04-12-2021

A fully functional digital twin involves more than it may initially seem. At first we tend to think about access to information. There is a great deal of trust to be taken into account when creating a digital twin, as there is scope for its use both for good and evil.

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2020

Smart Factory Insights: Changing Roles in the Digital Factory

12-01-2020

Experts once required to have a knowledge of specialized materials and processes are giving way to those experienced in the application of automated and computerized solutions. Michael Ford describes how it is time to reinvent the expectations and qualifications that we seek in managers, engineers, and production operators to attract and support a different kind of manufacturing innovation.

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Smart Factory Insights: Smart Factories—Indirectly the Death of Test and Inspection

11-04-2020

In the smart factory, test and inspection are reinvented, contributing direct added value, playing a new and critically important role where defects are avoided through the use of data, and creating a completely different value proposition. Michael Ford explains how the digitalized Deming Theory can be explained to those managing budgets and investments to ensure that we move our operations forward digitally in the best way possible.

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Smart Factory Insights: Trust in Time

08-05-2020

We’ve all heard of “just in time” as applied to the supply chain, but with ongoing disruption due to COVID-19, increasing risk motivates us to return to the bad habit of hoarding excess inventory. Michael Ford introduces the concept of "trust in time"—a concept that any operation, regardless of size or location, can utilize today.

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Smart Factory Insights: It’s Not What You Have—It’s How You Use It

06-03-2020

According to the reports, all the machines in the factory are performing well, but the factory itself appears to be in a coma, unable to fulfill critical delivery requirements. Is this a nightmare scenario, or is it happening every day? Trying to help, some managers are requesting further investment in automation, while others are demanding better machine data that explains where it all went wrong. Digital technology to the rescue, or is it making the problem worse?

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Smart Factory Insights: Seeing Around Corners

04-20-2020

Each of us has limitations, strengths, and weaknesses. Our associations with social groups—including our friends, family, teams, schools, companies, towns, counties, countries, etc.—enable us to combine our strengths into a collective, such that we all contribute to an overall measure of excellence. There is strength in numbers. Michael Ford explains how this most human of principles needs to apply to IIoT, smart manufacturing, and AI if we are to reach the next step of smart manufacturing achievement.

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Smart Factory Insights: Size Matters—The Digital Twin

02-01-2020

In the electronics manufacturing space, at least, less is more. Michael Ford considers what the true digital twin is really all about—including the components, uses, and benefits—and emphasizes that it is not just an excuse to show some cool 3D graphics.

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Smart Factory Insights: What You No Longer Need to Learn

01-14-2020

Naturally evolving layers of technological applications allow us to build and make progress, layer by layer, rather than staying relatively stagnant with only incremental improvement. To gain ground in manufacturing, Michael Ford explains how we need to embrace next-layer hardware and software technologies now so that we can focus on applying these solutions as part of a digital factory.

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2019

Smart Factory Insights: Dromology—Time-space Compression in Manufacturing

11-25-2019

Dromology is a new word for many, including Microsoft Word. Dromology resonates as an interesting way to describe changes in the manufacturing process due to technical and business innovation over the last few years, leading us towards Industry 4.0. Michael Ford explores dromology in the assembly factory today.

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Smart Factory Insights: Trends and Opportunities at SMTAI 2019

10-14-2019

SMTAI is more than just a simple trade show. For me, it is an opportunity to meet face to face with colleagues and friends in the industry to talk about and discuss exciting new industry trends, needs, technologies, and ideas.

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Smart Factory Insights: Recognizing the Need for Change

09-24-2019

We are reminded many times in manufacturing, that "you cannot fix what you cannot see" and "you cannot improve what you cannot measure." These annoying aphorisms are all very well as a motivational quip for gaining better visibility of the operation. However, the reality is that there is a lot going on that no-one is seeing.

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Accelerating Tech: Standards-driven, Digital Design Flow for Industry 4.0

04-24-2019

The term “fragmented manufacturing” is a good way to describe current assembly manufacturing challenges in an Industry 4.0 environment. Even in Germany, productivity reportedly continues to decline. To reach the upside of Industry 4.0, data flows relating to design play a major role—one that brings significant opportunity to the overall assembly business.

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The Truth Behind AI

02-28-2019

The term "artificial intelligence" or "AI" has become a source of confusion for many—heralded as part of Industry 4.0, yet associated with the threat of automation replacing human workers. AI is software rather than hardware, and it's time to put these elements of AI into context, enabling us as an industry to embrace the opportunities that so-called AI represents without being drawn in, or pushed away, by the hype.

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2018

Resolving the Productivity Paradox

12-22-2018

The productivity paradox continues to thrive. To a growing number of people and companies, this does not come as a surprise because investment in automation alone is still just an extension of Industry 3.0. There has been a failure to understand and execute what Industry 4.0 really is, which represents fundamental changes to factory operation before any of the clever automation and AI tools can begin to work effectively.

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The Truth About CFX

10-23-2018

A great milestone in digital assembly manufacturing has been reached by having the IPC Connected Factory Exchange (CFX) industrial internet of things (IIoT) standard in place with an established, compelling commitment of adoption. What's the next step?

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Advanced Digitalization Makes Best Practice, Part 2: Adaptive Planning

08-27-2018

For Industry 4.0 operations, Adaptive Planning has the capability of replacing both legacy APS tools, simulations, and even Excel solutions. As time goes on, with increases in the scope, quality and reliability of live data coming from the shop-floor, using for example the CFX, it is expected that Adaptive Planning solutions will become progressively smarter, offering greater guidance while managing constraints as well as optimization.

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Advanced Digitalization Makes Best Practice Part 1: Digital Remastering

07-02-2018

As digitalization and the use of IoT in the manufacturing environment continues to pick up speed, critical changes are enabled, which are needed to achieve the levels of performance and flexibility expected with Industry 4.0. This first part of a series on new digital best practices looks at examples of the traditional barriers to flexibility and value creation, and suggests new digital best practices to see how these barriers can be avoided, or even eliminated.

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Configure to Order: Different by Design

01-15-2018

Perhaps in the future, sentient robots looking back at humans today will consider that we were a somewhat random bunch of people as no two of us are the same. Human actions and choices cannot be predicted reliably, worse even than the weather. As with any team however, our ability to rationalize in many different ways in parallel is, in fact, our strength, creating a kind of biological “fuzzy logic.”

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2017

Counterfeit: A Quality Conundrum

10-01-2017

There is an imminent, critical challenge facing every manufacturer in the industry. The rise in the ingress of counterfeit materials into the supply chain has made them prolific, though yet, the extent is understated. What needs to be faced now is the need for incoming inspection, but at what cost to industry, and does anyone remember how to do it?

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