Using track, trace & control to succeed in today’s volatile economy

W. Scott Fillebrown, President & CEO of ACD, and François Monette, Co-President of Cogiscan Inc.

To survive and be successful in today’s economy, manufacturers must assemble high-quality products at the lowest possible cost. The total cost of production must take into account the complete product lifecycle including warranty, recalls and repairs. Track, Trace and Control (TTC) systems are an essential element of success in achieving these objectives. TTC solutions are designed to ensure that the right material is in the right place at the right time, with historical data to prove it. These solutions are designed to achieve optimal use of materials and resources throughout the manufacturing process.

Importance of traceability for OEMs
Traceability should be required when an OEM choses an EMS provider. Without traceability, there is no real way to perform a thorough defect analysis. In some instances a defect may appear to be an assembly issue, but once a date/lot code comparison across all affected serial numbers is performed, a pattern of date/lot codes appears, showing that it actually is not an assembly issue. An example of this may be that the dewetting on solder joints turns out to be a bad alloy on the leads themselves as opposed to a bad board or solder from the EMS company.

As complexity increases, the need for traceability also increases. The more complex the component, the more likely that a recall will occur from the component manufacturer. Without traceability, there is no easy way to locate and recall the affected product. Traceability is more than just a component issue. When properly implemented, it includes the answers to the four W’s: who, what happened, where and when. This means that there is a record of who did the work, what machine was used to do the work, where and when the work was done, as well as the outcome. With that information at your fingertips, it is easy to create a performance cross-reference chart to track defects back to the operator and the machine, thereby locating trends. Once the trends are found, the employee can be trained or the machine can be fixed.

Traceability can increase quality, which increases productivity—and increased productivity results in a faster and higher return on investment (ROI). The following three examples illustrate this:

• Traceability can be used to better direct capital purchases for an EMS company.
• Traceability allows users to recognize their specific defects and to purchase equipment to prevent them, or to catch and correct the issues before they occur.
• A report about a specific board manufacturer and related assembly defects can be run to flush out hidden issues with that board manufacturer.

Strategic value of ttc software for emS providers In addition to providing value for OEMs, TTC presents numerous benefits to EMS providers. A properly designed TTC system allows manufacturers to offer traceability down to the panel ID as opposed to the work order and, under the right conditions, to the actual circuit board.

The software also provides automation that delivers true traceability: it quickly presents the who, what, how and where of the flow. Paper-based traceability is cumbersome and does not have the ability to force operations, lowering confidence that a required process actually happened.

TTC aspects and features
TTC software offers numerous features that can be beneficial to a company. There are many advantages to implementing TTC software; however, the three key aspects include the following:

Knowing where product is on the shop floor
At any time, manufacturers can locate product and trace inventory. Materials in different quantities and with varying characteristics pose challenges that are magnified when coupled with manual procedures.

With TTC software, it is possible to track products and material in real-time, anywhere in the factory. Additionally, it reduces costs associated with waste. TTC software provides the physical location and quantity of all inventories, both on and off the manufacturing line. This enables operators to perform a search to instantly locate specific materials or tools. The system significantly reduces waste of time by locating and replenishing materials and by providing the exact location of materials as well as the precise remaining quantities. The solution tracks the remaining floor time for moisture-sensitive devices (MSD) and other time-sensitive materials, ensuring that expired materials are not used in production.

Knowing how a product was assembled
TTC software records every step of the assembly process, including inspection and test results. As a result, it is possible to go back and identify the root cause of any issue in order to implement effective corrective action or at least a precise control/recall of affected units. Having this information is important because it allows users to correct these issues before they become customer problems. It also reduces waste and increases yield.

Preventing human errors during production
The third, and perhaps most important aspect of a TTC system, is the ability to prevent human errors. Each time that a product or material is moved at a specific location the TTC software will compare this information with the work instructions and prevent operators from making mistakes. Warning and alarms will be generated, in association with light tower and physical interlocks.

TTC software integration with production equipment
A TTC system relies on various types of data acquisition hardware, with a combination of linear barcode, 2-D data matrix, RFID and other technologies. These elements can be configured in a standalone configuration by treating each machine and workstation as a black box with product and materials coming in and out. In some cases, it can be beneficial to also integrate the TTC system with the actual machines software for two-way communication. The TTC software can automatically upload the correct machine program based on the product waiting to be processed and it can physically prevent the machine from starting production if one of several elements of the process is outside of specifications.Additionally, the machine software can provide additional process information that can be used for quality, process control and traceability. In the case of ACD, its TTC software already was integrated with its Juki placement equipment since the same vendor developed the Juki intelligent feeder system. This higher level of integration enables real-time inventory tracking, low-level warnings and the highest level of component lot traceability down to the reference designator.

TTC software provider considerations
There are some important aspects to consider when selecting a TTC software provider. While there may be numerous companies that offer this ability, not all of them can provide it to your specific standards. When searching for the TTC provider that best fits your company’s individual needs, consider the company’s stability. Also, make sure that it provides an open source database for data mining and understands the long-term cost for adding people and equipment. Finally, be sure to ask about its roadmap for new releases. Staying up-todate with new systems and technologies is a big part of the software’s traceability rates.

Open platform vs. fully integrated MES
An open platform format provides users with increased flexibility as well as the ability to purchase best-in-class tools and then integrate them into the platform. These are several types of manufacturing software which fall in the general category of manufacturing execution systems (MES). At one end, you have highly flexible development platforms that provide the plumbing without any accessories. Each user has to develop individual applications and is left with the difficult task of collecting the data from the manufacturing line and populating the MES database with accurate data.This first approach provides the ultimate flexibility but also the highest cost of ownership. At the other extreme are highly specialized and fully developed MES solutions that do not require any software development and customization. The problem with this approach is that there is no flexibility to adapt to specific customer requirements. Each time that a small change is needed, the software vendor must be contacted and you must adhere to whatever cost and lead time they ask for, and that is if they are even willing to quote it.

ROI benefits of RFID technology in electronics manufacturing
In some applications, RFID can replace or complement barcode technology to provide a higher level of automation. This removes the need for an operator to scan a barcode label, thereby saving time and further reducing the risk of human errors.

ACD is using RFID tags on tape feeders and other types of tooling like stencils. This removes the need for operators to scan barcode labels on the feeders and feeder slots when they load feeders on trolleys.

Additional benefits include accurate, fast offline setup, reduced machine downtime and reduced chance of human error, especially with swapping components. Another important benefit is the fact that it makes the TTC system more user friendly, thereby increasing its acceptance by line operators.

The TTC solution can cover all material, including printed circuit boards (PCBs), electronic components, tooling, consumables and more from receiving to shipping. Implementing real-time TTC at the shopfloor level allows users to identify and correct errors before a defective product is produced. This results in reduced defects, reduced product variability, increased firstpass rates, improved yields and reduced waste.

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