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SMT topics in focus

Fully automated THT assembly with ASMPT machines at Siemens

THT production lines with SIPLACE SX

Siemens’s Electronics Plant Amberg (EWA) in Amberg, Germany has a line on which THT components are placed, soldered and inspected full automatically with no manual intervention. The concept demonstrates how traditionally manual processes such as the placement of OSC components or selective wave soldering can be successfully advanced and automated. Siemens’s innovative step combines and automates conventional SMT placement and THT technology in a single line. As a result, any further component fastening measures and soldering frames can be dispensed with.

Siemens’s Electronics Plant Amberg was founded in 1989 to produce SIMATIC programmable logic controllers (PLCs), among other things. The plant churns out one product per second for a total of 17 million last year, and the trend is rising. The World Economic Forum (WEF) named the plant a “Digital Flagship Factory” in 2021.

SIMATICs produce SIMATICs

The versatile SIMATIC controllers produced in the plant actually control the machines and automate the production. Accordingly, the level of automation is high. The machines and robots handle more than 75 percent of the value chain with more than 1,000 product variants on their own. “The EWA produces with a quality level of 99.999 percent on the connection level,” says Philipp Fischer, production engineer at the EWA. “We benefit from sustained quality operations, comprehensive data integration, and high industrial production benchmarks.”

Integrative manufacturing concept

“We want to exploit synergies,” continues Philipp Fischer. “We currently operate 71 SMT machines from ASMPT in 17 lines along with the complete software architecture. With roughly 350 product changeovers per day, we require maximum flexibility and transparency in setup control, material management and traceability. To meet these needs, we have many complex, event-controlled interfaces between the various systems.

“Since the realignment of our production with a consistent focus on technology three years ago, the EWA has used the resulting capabilities to further increase its degree of automation. After evaluating several suppliers, we chose ASMPT for the automatic assembly of THT components because we saw clear advantages in terms of technical availability and process robustness. In addition, using ASMPT machines allowed us to easily integrate them into the existing data infrastructure since we already had the necessary know-how.”

Flexible machine concept

The actual placement of the components is carried out by a SIPLACE SX system from ASMPT. It operates in single-conveyor mode and is currently equipped with a SIPLACE VHF TwinStar head. This head places components that are up to 200 by 125 millimeters large and 50 millimeters high with a maximum force of 100 N.

The SIPLACE SX is a standard SMT placement machine that can be flexibly enhanced with additional options to process odd-shaped components (OSCs) and THT components. The options include:

  • Component supply (feeders)
  • Component handling (nozzles and grippers)
  • Component measurement (3D stereo measurement)
  • Component assembly and fastening (SIPLACE Glue Feeder X and/or Clinching Tool)

“What I particularly liked about ASMPT’s approach was that it let us determine the degree of implementation ourselves and make any necessary adjustments during the project’s execution phase. This allowed us to consider many outstanding impulses and ideas, which we analyzed and further developed in parallel and ultimately incorporated into the project.”

Integrative supply with free choice of cooperation partners

Many OSCs and especially THT components require special feeder capabilities due to their geometric diversity and packaging types.

ASMPT offers the so-called Feeder Development Kit, which basically allows any supplier to seamlessly integrate his feeding solution into the various SIPLACE placement systems. The Feeder Development Kit provides all the information needed to integrate a feeder solution, ranging from a 3D model of the machine and the installation space to the hardware for controlling the feeder to the complete interface protocol. The degree of the implementation can largely be determined by the user.

For Philipp Fischer, the Feeder Development Kit was exactly what he needed: “Our system administrators have a very large area of responsibility today. This is another reason why we have high requirements regarding the communication between human and machine. It is time-consuming and uneconomical to have to search for the cause of a known problem just because the machine does not output it properly. The Feeder Development Kit enables us – together with the feeder’s manufacturer – to define device-specific error and status messages which are then displayed on the placement machine’s user interface. Such features regarding the communication between machine and feeder are just as important as well-functioning hardware.”

Gentle transport

Another innovative feature of the new production line is the fact that it does away with fastening the components on the circuit board prior to the soldering process. Normally, THT components get clinched after they have been inserted into the circuit board. The Amberg plant, however, also installs relays that cannot be clinched because the mechanical stress would damage the components’ legs.

Together with the experts at the SMT Centers of Competence, Siemens’s engineers tested various solution approaches. In a first trial, wet bonding was used. Philipp Fischer explains the procedure: “First attempts to secure the components with glue for the transport turned out well, but we noticed over the course of testing that the transport itself usually does not cause a problem, but the abrupt starts and stops of the circuit boards do. Fortunately, we were able to keep components from tilting or tipping over by adjusting the acceleration and braking movements after the placement process. We discussed this concept with the team from Seho, the maker of our soldering system, which also offers a so-called soft-stop option. Today we populate and solder these products fully automatically without any special aids such as gluing or clinching, and without solder frames.”

A brush module for cleaning the underside of the circuit boards and a solder joint inspection system have also been integrated into the soldering system so that the completed boards can continue to be processed without any additional manual processing steps.

A safe investment

Despite the specialized production process, no expensive special placement machines or robots are needed. The ASMPT concept calls for enhancing standard systems with sensible options or for expanding their application spectrum as needed. The SIPLACE SX placement machines can also be redeployed in the “pure” SMT production environment at any time – an important contribution to investment protection.

Another aspect that is highly important for Philipp Fischer: “Due to the volatility of markets, being able to flexibly adjust your production is now more important than ever. Based on the concept of market-oriented production, it must be possible to easily ramp products and production volumes up and down at your various locations. To be able to react to such requirements, you must have increasingly flexible production systems that can operate without special equipment such as individual soldering frames.”

A successful joint project

“Our fully automatic THT production line shows how efficient electronics production works today,” summarizes Philipp Fischer. Machines from different manufacturers cooperate seamlessly on his new line. It also demonstrates how important close and early development partnerships are and how much such projects depend on the reliability and creativity of all the companies involved. “Our long-term partner ASMPT plays a critical role in this. They supply us with precise, fast and space-saving machines as well as with functional software while giving us the degrees of freedom we need for our highly flexible and cost-efficient production. Without the machines and the know-how of ASMPT, this pioneering project would not have been possible.”

Best-in-class solutions

As the industry’s technology leader, ASMPT offers a broad portfolio of best-in-class products. Our solutions stand out with their perfect interaction of hardware, software and service components – powerful, smart, and ready to raise your production to a new level.

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