Modern manufacturing demands drive growing reliance on factory software tools
29 January 2018
OEMs and contract assemblers are constantly pursuing a technological edge over their competitors, investing in better, more modern machines, to win new business and grow their market share.
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A high level of automation is now applied at each point in the surface-mount assembly flow, from program generation through solder-paste deposition, component placement, inspection, reflow and test.
Production planning, on the other hand, is still often regarded as a fundamentally manual affair. Although software tools are available to help assign work orders efficiently, namely to utilise capacity and minimise changeovers, and to help manage production as it happens on the factory floor, some manufacturers are not taking full advantage of their power. Times are changing, however, and the assistance of software tools is becoming an increasingly important part of work delegation, the utilisation of capacity, and overall improvements in productivity.
Market demands drive manufacturing changes
Today’s manufacturing businesses must be ultra responsive to market demands. Product lifecycles are becoming shorter, first-to-market advantage is critical, customers often demand a broad choice of product variants, and individual customisation is often expected. At the same time, manufacturers increasingly seek to build to order, in order to minimise unused inventory and associated costs. As a result, lot sizes are becoming smaller and assembly activities are increasingly moving towards high-mix and mid-to-low volume. In the past, a large site could be making a few different types of products in large volumes of several thousand or tens of thousands at a time.
Today, the same factories could be building hundreds of product types, in small batches, using many thousands of different component part numbers. In this business environment, production planning responsibilities, such as assigning work orders optimally to balance the load across machines and lines, minimising changeovers by arranging feeders optimally (Figure 1), and ensuring that the required number of components are available for the right feeders at the right time, start to become increasingly difficult to handle using human brainpower alone. Time pressure is an important factor here: since the plan is determined according to the current status of resources – such as capacity requirements ofall upcoming projects, delivery dates for the various products, and component inventory
available – the production plan must be completed and actioned quickly.
Software-assisted planning and management
The role of high-quality offline software tools that aid with planning and line balancing is set to become more important to the assembly businesses of the future. Manufacturers may choose third-party software to help assign work orders, group products on lines to allow optimal feeder and component assignment (with minimal changeovers), and balance the work to make best use of available capacity. This approach can appear sensible, particularly if the various machines in the line are from different vendors and therefore require a neutral software executive that can interact with all machines equally.
On the other hand, a unified approach based on key items of equipment and overseeing software from the same vendor can also deliver advantages. Yamaha’s P-Tool, which is part of the Yamaha Factory Tools suite, is fine-tuned to exchange data efficiently with Yamaha printers, dispensers, mounters and inspection stations in the surface-mount technology (SMT) line.
Essential processes for product preparation, such as CAD-data conversion and reverse Gerber engineering, for example, produce programs that are ready to run on the machines with minimal additional manual fine-tuning. Moreover, features of the software such as the visual editor, which supports program verification, is designed using intimate knowledge of the machine features and capabilities. The programming features for optimisation and balancing, also, take into account the individual features of the machines, such as the sizes and movement of placement heads or nozzles, to avoid interference and create programs that are right first time.
Because software-assisted planning will take an increasingly important role in the SMT lines of the future, Yamaha continues to develop and extend the features of P-Tool and the entire Factory Tools suite, to deliver the capabilities that tomorrow’s manufacturers will need. In addition, users can extend P-Tool with extra Pioneer Options utilities, which include features such as fast automated generation of precision board data from Gerber data, board images or CAM files (ODB++, GenCAD, or FABmaster, for example). In addition, a new mounting-variation creator responds to manufacturers’ need to build multiple versions of a common base board, by automatically importing multiple bills of materials (BOMs) and managing mounting variations for up to 254 variants of one board (see Figure 2).
Other packages within the Factory Tools suite help to verify machine setup and manage materials and components, including LED binning (S-Tool), support traceability and reporting down to individual component level (T-Tool).
Monitoring status in real-time
While software-assisted planning is essential for consistent on-time delivery and cost effectiveness, managing each build as it happens on the line brings a different set of challenges. Operational efficiency and process control are critical, to complete work orders on time and maximise end-of-line yield. Coordinating the execution of large numbers of work orders, often for small batch sizes, distributed across multiple SMT lines, challenges traditional production management techniques that rely on local machine monitoring and tower beacons. Production managers need quick updates on the status of individual jobs, and to be ready when feeders need replenishment or changeovers are due.
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