There is little doubt that all manufacturing industries are going through a digital revolution, collecting and interpreting large amounts of raw data and using AI (Artificial Intelligence) to create and optimize the ‘smart factory’ of the future. In the electronics community, ASM is leading the way with an strategic restructuring of its business segments to better address the needs of its customers tomorrow.
Unlike more traditional OEM equipment manufacturers who typically invest around 2-3 percent of turnover in R&D, ASM regularly invests up to ten percent of its turnover into developing the tools and software that keep their customers at the very forefront of technology. The company has over 1,100 patents in key leading edge technologies and employs over 1,700 R&D staff at its six R&D centers.
ASM Assembly Systems forms one part of the successful ASM Pacific Technology Group, headquartered in Singapore; the other two being ASM Materials and ASM Back End Packaging Equipment. Headed-up by Günter Lauber, ASM Assembly Systems combines SIPLACE placement equipment with DEK printers, SMT line solutions and ASM Smart Factory tools and services. Together, they contribute over 40 percent of the ASM PT turnover.
Going forward, ASM aims to focus on the latest trends and develop tools and processes for the ‘smart factory’. These include the materials flow and developing ASM’s Process Expert to create greater closed-loop optimization between the printer, SPI and the placement machine. Process Expert is also designed to use AI as a self-learning tool to further optimize the process.
But in the ‘smart factory’ environment; it is almost impossible to operate alone. To this end, ASM has partnered with ASYS and 15 other companies to generate a standard for machine-to-machine communication, called ‘The Hermes Standard’. This will create a software packet of data that follows each board through the process and passes on information to the next machine, while controlling many independent factors, including the belt speed of the line. The Hermes Standard will be officially debuted at productronica in November (see interview on page 40).
The reorganization of ASM’s business units is centered around their four SMT Centers of Competence in Munich, Germany; Atlanta, USA; Shanghai, China and Singapore. The Singapore and Munich sites both have manufacturing and R&D on site, offering an added level of expertise when needed. Munich has the added value of housing ASMs own PCBA facility, where it assembles boards for use in their own machines. Each Center of Competence has a full calendar of training workshops, open days and other events throughout the year. Customers are welcomed to discuss projects, troubleshoot issues, design specialized tooling and even run prototypes.
ASM’s approach to Industry 4.0 is strategic and based on four main innovation drivers:
• Advanced Production Capabilities – using best-in-class equipment that are faster, self-diagnosing and more responsive, creating less machine downtime.
• Automation – reducing repetitive works with bulk feeders and other less labor intensive solutions.
• Process Integration – using ASM Process Expert to continually optimize the process and target zero defects by monitoring in real time, providing higher yields with less scrap.
• Materials Logistics – ensuring the constant flow of materials to the line using strategically placed storage towers and cobots.
ASM are very aware that they have a huge role to play in educating customers and encouraging them to embark on the ‘smart move’ – the journey towards full factory automation. The first steps are illustrated in ASM’s pyramid diagram above, but customers can start their journey from any level.
While the smart factory will reduce much of the manual labor on the line, it will require smarter, more experienced engineers that can interpret data and use the new tools such as Google glasses, smart watches etc.
An important new department in smart factories will be the Digitalization and Strategy Department, responsible for digitizing many of the processes on the line and interpreting the data to produce actionable instructions and results. Every manufacturer in the future will need to become more data driven.
ASM plans do as much as it can during this transition with its own internal resources, however, where it makes sense they will make strategic partnerships. The Hermes Standard is a typical example. The introduction of more robotics and cobots to streamline the supply chain between the warehouse and placement machines is another area where they will cooperate with partners.
The end result of this digital revolution will be to make manufacturing processes more traceable and transparent, improve quality, reduce machine downtime and increase yield. Along this journey, there will also be efforts made to make things easier. A good example is today’s cellphone. Ten years ago it was possible to do many of the functions our phones do today, but it took a lot of wading through menus and understanding the phone software structure to achieve this. Today, almost every function is GUI driven and performed in the minimum amount of button pushes. One day SMT manufacturing may become that commoditized and easy, I hope I will be around to see it!