The Cobot Revolution
There is a quiet revolution taking place in our factories. Driven in part by Industry 4.0 and ‘smart factory’ automation and the need to optimize manufacturing in a high-mix environment.
In a departure from the typical EMS factory with production lines running in parallel across the building, modern, high mix factories are complementing lines with production modules providing a range of services that can be used, depending on the requirements of the product being manufactured. This modularized approach does seem to occupy more floor space, but the tradeoff is you have more efficient production and faster changeover between jobs.
The revolution started with moving supply chain materials such as component reels and trays closer to the pick and place machine by locating storage towers adjacent to the line.
The revolution started with moving supply chain materials such as component reels and trays closer to the pick and place machine by locating storage towers adjacent to the line. Today, this has expanded to vending machine style units holding a wider range of materials used in the manufacturing process.
The next step was to introduce offline process areas. Some examples of processes that might be located on modules close to the manufacturing line are:
• x-ray inspection
• Batch cleaning
• Device programming
• Testing services
• Adding shields to protect sensitive components during reflow
Typically, many of these functions are difficult to integrate into the line, or if they are integrated for certain production runs, it takes time to reconfigure the line before the job starts and time to disassemble it after the job has finished.
Cobots are slowly find their way onto the factory floor. Starting with simple, repetitive functions such as hand soldering applications it is slowly integrating into materials management and keeping the line continuously fed. By locating materials closer to the line and strategically placing many of these processes offline, the manufacturing line speed can be maintained and machine uptime is maximized.
– Trevor Galbraith Editor-in-Chief