ROI optimization in SMT manufacturing

Intelligent Factory: The next level of digital transformation

For many years, ASMPT has been consistently driving process improvements in SMT manufacturing, as economically viable production automation based on standardized interfaces and the open and modular automation concept from the global innovation and market leader have led to the Integrated Smart Factory. The next logical step is the Intelligent Factory. It builds on this strategy, focuses on continuous process optimization through intelligent data analysis and use, optimizes the material flow throughout the factory, and ensures effective personnel deployment. Maximizing the return on investment, however, remains the overarching goal.

SMT production has always been characterized by high cost pressures and a wide variety of highly complex production with strict quality specifications. Manufacturers are constantly on the lookout for innovative technologies to increase their yield, reduce waste and lower costs – in short, to achieve the maximum return on investment.

From manually assisted production to process automation

A look back illustrates the development in SMT production. Before the first wave of improvements, SMT production facilities were still characterized by numerous manual auxiliary activities. This often led to unnecessarily high personnel costs and susceptibility to errors. In addition, filling all advertised positions became more and more difficult due to the increasing scarcity of skilled labor. To meet these challenges, ASMPT developed the concept of the Integrated Smart Factory in close cooperation with its customers. It offered a variety of automation options for the DEK solder paste printers and SIPLACE pick-and-place platforms, all of which were widely used in the industry. On the hardware side, automated material handling systems and autonomous mobile robots for material transportation were integrated. On the software side, applications from the WORKS Software Suite contributed to the control and optimization of all workflows on the shop floor.

This development boost was made possible by standardized interfaces for the electronics industry:

  • IPC-HERMES-9852 for the seamless machine-to-machine communication, and
  • IPC-2591 CFX for connecting machines, conveyors and AMRs with higher-level systems such as MES and ERP.
The Integrate Smart Factory

Horizontal and vertical integration of hardware and software systems through industrial standard interfaces also enable the integration of third-party systems and retrofits.

These standards make it possible to easily integrate third-party systems and to retrofit existing equipment. To this end, ASMPT has developed an open automation concept that gives electronics manufacturers the freedom to choose the degree of automation and the speed with which they want to implement it. As a result, the deserted “lights out” factory is not a sensible optimization goal for economic reasons alone because automation lowers unit costs only to a certain degree, and over-automation drives up costs. In practice, the Pareto principle also applies here: 80 percent of the results are achieved with 20 percent of the resources employed. Each additional percentage point of improvement requires disproportionately more resources.

Optimum degree of automation

From a certain point on, the costs of even more advanced automation increase the total unit costs despite falling labor costs per unit. Source:

This laid the foundation for ASMPT's flexible, modular and manufacturer-independent automation concept, which is strictly based on ROI aspects in terms of its degree of digitalization and automation and is precisely geared to the needs of customers and markets.

Today, the use of software solutions for material flow and personnel management has increased considerably, and machines can communicate with each other to a certain extent along the line. A good example of this is ASMPT’s Process Lens SPI system, which can automatically trigger offset corrections or cleaning cycles in the solder paste printer without user intervention.

Over time, the Integrated Smart Factory with its software solutions and the large numbers of sensors, cameras and readers in its machines and systems has developed into a highly networked and largely automated operation that continuously produces huge amounts of data – a very valuable asset for increasing productivity and efficiency that was often unused in the past.

The Intelligent Factory

In light of the developments laid out above, the time has come to take the next step and raise electronics manufacturing to the next level of the digital transformation: the Intelligent Factory, where big data is the key to further ROI and process improvements. Existing data is collected, processed, and made available wherever it improves the bottom line. With this approach, the Intelligent Factory addresses all challenges in electronics manufacturing, such as the ongoing shortage of skilled labor, increasing cost pressures, obstacles in material logistics, and the need for digitalization. In short: In the Intelligent Factory, all resources – people, equipment, materials, and processes – are optimally connected and synchronized based on data.

Intelligent data analysis and use

Whereas in the past only the individual process step, machine, setup or product was considered, ASMPT is now pushing for a holistic, data-based view of electronics manufacturing that encompasses further interactions on the line, factory and corporate levels, thus improving the return on investment even more.

Digital transformation

Big data processing to automate and optimize processes and synchronize all resources: people, processes, materials, and equipment with a holistic view from the machine to the enterprise level.

The Intelligent Factory brings together what belongs together. It analyzes the placement process systematically and in detail. Intelligent software collects information from all machines across products and lines and thus identifies causes of malfunctions that often go undetected when viewed in isolation. As a result, the Intelligent Factory puts the goal of zero DPMO within reach.

What could be the reason why a line is not running as fast as expected or is not delivering the expected ROI even though all the indicator lights on the machines show green? To answer this question, the software in the Intelligent Factory first compares the actual values of the various processes with reference values from the production simulation. If it detects any deviations, correlation of the data across products and machines is used to determine where and why time losses occur. With the help of such in-depth analyses, a lot of optimization potential can already be leveraged.

Quality control, which was previously limited to individual data islands, can now be ensured along the entire SMT line. As result, expert systems no longer optimize only the printing process in cooperation with SPIs in a fully automated and manufacturer-independent manner – they also perfect the placement process in cooperation with AOIs.

These new Intelligent Factory strategies eliminate manual errors and waste and ensure that the manufacturing equipment delivers the exact performance that is being expected and demanded from an ROI point of view based on the planning and simulation data.

Optimized material flows throughout the factory

In order to determine the actual material requirements on the line, the Intelligent Factory brings together data streams from production planning and the machines on the shop floor across lines and products. The software analyzes the actual material consumption and compares it with the specifications from planning and the inventory on the line in predefined time slices. Based on the results, it generates material requests that ensure that the right material is delivered in the right quantity at the right time to the right place.

If you look at the setup and tear-down of placement machines purely on a product-related basis, you realize that there are many unnecessary setup, transport and storage processes. In the Intelligent Factory, the setup process is organized across all products based on real-time data. The system distributes the production jobs efficiently over the existing manufacturing infrastructure. This approach makes it instantly apparent where a family setup makes sense and which component reels should be temporarily stored in the setup preparation area because they will be needed again shortly.

Automatic control and optimization of the material flow

The data from the requirements calculation form the basis for the basis for automatic material flow control and optimization, for demand notifications to central and intermediate to central and interim warehouses and time-controlled transport orders.

The comprehensive and seamless integration of automated storage and transport systems as well as the connection to enterprise software solutions with the help of standard industrial interfaces enable the holistically automated flow of materials to and from the factory floor. This ranges from the receiving of raw materials and consumables to the delivery of the finished product – the fully assembled and ready-to-ship circuit board.

Effective deployment of workforce in all areas

The Intelligent Factory’s use of data extends to more than machines and logistics. It replaces line-bound operators with a pool of experts who are scheduled and deployed across multiple lines. Each specialist receives precise instructions on a mobile device based on his or her qualifications. The work orders appear prioritized and with plenty of lead time so that the staff can be deployed highly efficiently. A performance monitor on the shop floor displays all relevant production KPIs clearly and in real time.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Only those who keep a constant eye on all key performance indicators (KPIs) know whether your lines are achieving maximum performance - and therefore maximum ROI. WORKS Monitoring ensures transparency in real time: all relevant KPIs are clearly listed and constantly updated.

Collecting data from different sources and making it available where it is needed is a basic principle of the Intelligent Factory. This also applies to a new personal assistant: an AI and NLP-based app that provides technicians with manuals, maintenance plans and step-by-step video instructions from a wide variety of sources on their smartphones. Instead of having to wrestle with standardized request formats, users can simply direct their inquiries to the virtual assistant in natural spoken language. In this way, even newcomers can quickly get the information they need to do their job.

Factory-wide asset and maintenance management also gets automated in the Intelligent Factory. As a result, teams of technicians can easily reconcile demand-oriented or customer-specified maintenance and repair processes with the ongoing production. The software knows and documents the location and maintenance status of each piece of equipment down to the smallest detail, even for individual nozzles and feeders.

Factory Equipment Center

Complete maintenance cycle, using the example of a feeder. As a central management instance, Factory Equipment Center continuously controls and monitors the asset’s location and status – even if it is no longer on the shop floor.

Thanks to all these capabilities, the Intelligent Factory uses scarce skilled labor much more effectively. Workers no longer waste time by manually combining line data, creating maintenance schedules or gathering information for their everyday work from various sources. In the Intelligent Factory they can fully focus on their core tasks, thus making the entire operation much more productive.

The market leader’s unique process know-how

There are many more examples of ways you can increase the return on investment through the integrative use of data. The concept is so plausible that one wonders why the smart factory has not long become the standard. The answer is easy: Most software manufacturers understand various individual processes but not the overall relationships on the line and factory level. ASMPT, on the other hand, has successfully covered almost the entire SMT manufacturing process with its market-leading product portfolio on the hardware and software side for many years. This has led to the comprehensive, integrative wealth of knowledge and experience that makes a concept like the Intelligent Factory, which is as consistently centralized as it is detailed, possible in the first place.

Increasing ROI

Manufacturers who use the software solutions of the Intelligent Factory in their company today are often surprised to discover the enormous potential that lies dormant in their existing investments and their employees. Without having to raise their employees’ workloads¬¬¬, their earnings increase while their costs decline. Of course, the ASMPT principle of ‘Everything is possible, nothing is mandatory’ also applies in the Intelligent Factory. But once you have seen how quickly this concept pays for itself, how quickly it generates new ROI from existing equipment and how perfectly it optimizes and stabilizes processes, you can usually hardly wait for your own Intelligent Factory to become a reality.

Big data points the way to the Intelligent Factory

The integrative use of data across lines and factories is the key to the advancement of the Integrated Smart Factory to the Intelligent Factory as well as the guideline for the further development of our portfolio. We will continue to digitize and automate where it is necessary and makes sense. Building on this, the Intelligent Factory will set new standards in terms of staff deployment, material flow, quality control, and process optimization. Above all, the goal is to maximize the return on investment.
Sven Buchholz, Head of Product Portfolio and Product Management at ASMPT

The Intelligent Factory concept

Based on ASMPT’s Integrated Smart Factory concept, the Intelligent Factory keeps its essential elements: user-friendly digitalization and automation, but it expands the integration strategy to include the use of data across machines, lines, factories and companies. As a result, SMT manufacturing reaches the next level in the digital transformation, making it more profitable, more productive, more resilient, and thus more future-proof.

Five key points of the Intelligent Factory concept:
  1. The Intelligent Factory is a software-oriented, integrative approach that incorporates existing hardware and software systems.
  2. The Intelligent Factory is a logical advancement of the Integrated Smart Factory.
  3. The Intelligent Factory addresses all current challenges in electronics manufacturing: rising cost pressures, the persistent shortage of skilled labor, obstacles in material logistics, and the need for digital transformation.
  4. The Intelligent Factory strikes the right balance between increasing efficiency through automated processes and greater flexibility through effective personnel deployment.
  5. The Intelligent Factory optimizes the use of data and enables more efficient production while never losing sight of the overarching goal: maximizing the return on investment.