Reflecting on industry changes
01 August 2010
You may recall that I introduced a summer season of anniversary celebrations a couple of weeks back with a look at the emergence of electronics outsourcing in Western Europe. The series continues with a look at how globalisation has altered the face of electronics outsourcing.
The anniversary, some may say, is self-indulgent as it is to celebrate 30 years of publishing in the electronics market. But that is where the self-indulgence ends – the content is all about the industry, not our magazines, newsletters and web-sites. I have asked each of our global correspondents to give their views on the past present and future of the electronics industry, or a specific part of it, relevant to their geographical region. This week our American corespondent, Susan Mucha, needed no second invitation to tackle the evolution of the EMS sector, a part of industry that she has worked in for 29 years. To read her excellent article click here.
Thirty years is quite a neat timescale – and I mean neat in terms of ‘nicely compatmentalised’. Thirty years is approximately the life of the modern computer, just a bit longer than the mobile phone, is the length of time industry has used surface mount and, more generally, covers the explosion in electronics in almost every walk of life. It also covers the entire careers of ‘people of a certain age’, which includes Susan Mucha and myself.
It also includes Peter Marshall of UK-based Process Support Products, who on hearing of our anniversary kindly submitted his own reflections on how the business has changed over the past 30 years.
“My first time working on an exhibition stand at an UK Nepcon show was in 1974. Some 18,000 engineers passed through the halls and warrens of the Metropol in Brighton to view predominantly PCB manufacturing technology, an array of manual assembly tools plus a few automatic insertion machines chomping away in the background. How times have changed. At Nepcon 2007 in Birmingham 2500 new generation engineers visited a show now dedicated to SMT with little sign of any PCB manufacturing and only a handful of lead forming tools. This “new” SMT technology is nearing its 30th birthday and is now considered a mature technology. From the rear window sticker culture of 1984 “Surface Mounters do it on Top”, it’s a simple process just three steps - Print / Place / Reflow. When you get it right the process runs like a dream, get it wrong and you have a bag full of bits with no hope of economical recovery.
The biggest change in SMT production has been the decrease in engineers on the shop floor as companies run “lean” manufacturing. There is often no spare internal support or engineering resources leaving engineers overstretched. Yes the level of automation has improved, the reliability of the equipment is robust and rarely questioned, but component sizes have reduced and packing density has increased leading to more pressure for an engineer to get it right first time. Advances in AOI can support engineers to pick up errors sooner rather than later and provide the ability to track error trends but in many instances errors trace back to a slip in basic principles. To run a reliable process, engineers must maintain good housekeeping (cleanliness), maintain discipline and have the proper training so they know what makes the process tick. When engineers were in abundance so were the basic training courses, remember the EP Master classes, SMT Club and SMART Entry Level Days; all drove home the basics, but now as a mature technology often the basics are some how smoothed over. SMART is the only surviving forum to support SMT engineers and to endorse the basic principles, by popular request, they are resurrecting the core workshops that address Printing / Reflow / Rework / Inspection.
So when your process goes out of control rather than tweak and make a quick temporary fix, instead take a step backwards review the basics and you’re almost certainly guaranteed to resolve any issues, after all it’s only a three-step process.”
Thank you to Peter for this - and if anybody would like to add their own reflections to this column please just send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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