Electronics manufacturers have always needed to be agile; now new business models, markets, and materials are putting even greater pressure on manufacturing operations. That means it’s no longer adequate to manage the SMT lines perfectly. The entire plant must have access to the data it needs at all times, from any area of the facility and beyond. Plus, anywhere in the enterprise might need access to accurate, timely, and in-context data from production.
Manufacturing Data Continuity
SMT lines may be the heart of many electronics operations. However, SMT lines nearly always have essential operations upstream that supply them and other operations, such as box assembly or packaging downstream that they, in turn, supply. Expanding the scope of software for visibility, control, and enforcement to include the entire production facility is now crucial.
What do we mean by manufacturing data continuity? Data continuity is the ability to accumulate and maintain digital information so it is available, as needed, throughout the company. It ensures that information is complete, available, in context, and usable. Ideally, the history is available from multiple data sources, ready for replay and analysis. This is particularly challenging in manufacturing. Why? Because both IT and IIoT, equipment, or operations technology (OT) data must come together to create that complete view. Most companies have many IT and OT systems, and the data from each have different formats and original purposes.
MES and New Strategies
Modern industry-specific MES encompasses more than simply WIP tracking or track-and-trace. The single system was built to include master data management, work instructions, data acquisition, planning and scheduling, materials management, recipe management, BOM validation, equipment and process monitoring, SPC, sampling, maintenance management, and analytics. Data continuity is a significant benefit of this broad-based manufacturing software suite.
To maintain a strong market position, companies are deploying one or many new business strategies and expanding their portfolio simultaneously. As the electronics market shifts and opportunities emerge, companies are creating new programs and strategies. We will explore how manufacturing data continuity can support success in initiatives to meet specific trends in the electronics market.
Quality Impacts Product-As-a-Service
Increasingly, the subscription model for high tech products is attractive to both buyers and sellers. What product-as-a-service (PaaS) means is:
- More companies are creating offerings that bundle product + platform + service + experience1 OEMs, sub-system suppliers, and EMS must work closely together to ensure the offering unlocks its profit potential.
- In-use product quality or performance problems hurt the OEM and its brand and subscription renewal revenue directly and obviously. So, the onus is on the production facility to ensure quality in every unit they ship.
Product quality relies not just on the board’s specs out of the SMT line but on all materials that go in, test and sampling management, and all final products shipped. Collaboration across the ecosystem also demands timely and accurate data sharing between partners. This points to a need for greater data continuity.
Today, most electronics companies have many software systems running in each plant. As a result, they spend inordinate amounts of time and effort integrating data from equipment and other systems.2 This complete data set is needed both to ship with products and to run the plant efficiently. A single system for manufacturing data continuity ensures that all test, process, equipment, and materials data are in context. This supports analysis for rapid issue resolution and faster improvements to prevent future problems.
The electronics industry has seen the fragility of its supply chain during the semiconductor shortage. According to the KPMG/GSA Global Semiconductor Industry Outlook 2023, most semiconductor executives believe the shortage is past or will end by mid-20233. Yet other supply chain challenges exist: new sustainability regulations and expectations mean seeking responsible sources and not only designing but manufacturing for longer lifecycles4. New technologies and processes may also require changing suppliers regularly.
Supply changes put enormous pressure on production. New materials need to be tested, typically with more rigorous sampling strategies. Alternate materials often have different parameters, making processing, documentation, and traceability more challenging. Even experienced employees may not know how to handle boards, components, and other parts from new suppliers to ensure top quality and compliance with all regulatory and customer requirements.
This industry needs MES that can manage all variations of suppliers, components, boards, and parts. If the process needs to change slightly, the system must manage it and enforce correct handling. Ideally, MES for electronics offers easy ways to change and execute in-line sampling plans and make them dynamic to ensure top quality, too.
AI & ML Everywhere
Everyone is talking about ChatGPT and new applications for artificial intelligence (AI) – whether in consumer or industrial environments. As a result, electronics manufacturers are making it a top priority to add intelligence and advanced analytics such as machine learning (ML). This is excellent news for demand. Yet, it again presents new needs to the manufacturing plant. Adding this intelligence typically requires product modifications, special processing, or testing. AI-and ML-based applications demand specialized AI microchips to handle complex calculations and data processing.
Over time, the demand for products that use energy-efficient, powerful AI chips will likely continue to rise. Demand for certain other products that use traditional chips may decline. So, the product mix through many electronics plants is also shifting due to this trend. Manufacturing plants are the proving ground for ramping up the quality and performance of products that incorporate AI and ML.
AI and ML open tremendous new growth opportunities for electronics manufacturers who can adapt to the new chips, architectures, and products that result. One of the keys to that may be using AI on the electronics manufacturing floor to support the workforce. MES will ideally support process enforcement, collaboration, notification, and bots to accelerate plant workers’ tasks.
With new opportunities in many segments, companies need to improve NPI further. Manufacturing data continuity is essential to accelerating both design and ramp to full volume and quality. Production data needs may also look different for offerings that include a platform and services. Electronics used in new markets will also require complete manufacturing data be shared with customers and other ecosystem partners.
Providing rapid feedback from production to design about printed products is crucial to NPI speed and success. Similarly, having access to original design files and data for those in production can ensure smooth handoff and scale-up of printing processes.
Seek out an MES that includes special capabilities to view bills of materials (BOMs) and details in ECAD files, such as specific components, measurements, and layers, to reduce opportunities for error. In some systems, advanced capabilities are also available for manufacturing engineers to create clear work instructions and checklists.
One of the most pressing issues in electronics manufacturing is the skills shortage. In most countries, there is a shortage of people wanting to enter manufacturing industries, and finding and recruiting employees is difficult. Whether new to the industry or experienced, onboarding new employees and training them as operators, technicians, or associates is critical to their success and engagement.
Adding AI to manufacturing software can also support production associates. The new generation of digital natives may even expect chatbots and intelligent, situation-based guidance. Less experienced workers will have an easier time navigating if the software can add its intelligence in supporting those team members.
A broad-based integrated MES for electronics can also support the workforce more fully. Some MES has specific support for trainees (whether new employees or cross-training), alerts and notifications, collaboration, and capabilities to support those with vision issues. This is in addition to the fundamental error-proofing for processes, recipes, and sampling procedures.
Continuity beyond SMT
McKinsey says, “Tech companies are at a turning point right now. Investing in internal data initiatives provides a significant opportunity to maintain consistent growth, adopt new business models to support cash flow, improve efficiency, and provide the level of data security that customers demand.”5
Better data continuity can enable success in addressing these market trends. Because the production facility is the center of the supply chain, the product lifecycle, and the hierarchy from IoT to enterprise systems, data continuity there is crucial. Comprehensive MES specialized for the electronics industry can offer that.