Written by Hitesh Gupta | March 8, 2021
The electronics industry is an integrated branch of production engineering. The electronics manufacturing unit involves many different production steps and engineering activities. Some of its activities are product design, prototyping, modeling, simulation, inspection, and quality control. The semiconductor sector also involves monitoring and controlling manufacturing processes and the assembling of electronic systems. There is an extensive range of automation and power in production engineering for all these reasons.
Automation in the field of electronic manufacturing is not new. One example is the semiconductor industry’s sustained success, which uses a lights-out manufacturing strategy, wherein machines and robotics fully operate a factory without any humans on-site. Some other instances include smart electronics production units utilizing automated injection molding and the automatic coating process of various housings and enclosures.
Several electronics manufacturing industry processes are slowly but steadily getting automated. Some of these operations include fabrication of circuit boards, electronic components, inspection, test equipment, and software testing and packaging.
With the rising demand for electronics products like cellular phones, some mechanical assembly processes get automated. Even after so many technological advancements and recent product teardowns, some products’ key components still require s manual assembly of parts. The majority of current discussions are about the need for further automation of the electronics manufacturing sector. This involves an enhanced focus on reduced dependence on manual intervention for regular and repetitive tasks and shifting the human talent and adaptive skills for other critical processes that require much mindfulness.
A fundamental law of economics states that product demand drives the supply or a price increase. The main objective behind it is to improve customer value and keep up the shareholder interests; this can be through enhanced margins or penetration of brand presence.
For instance, microelectronics’ use drives the shift from manual to semi-automated processes in the cell phone industry. These semi-automated processes fueled the change from through-hole assembly and wave soldering techniques to surface mount technology (SMT). This transition aided the increase in consumer electronics supply and at the same time ensured a balance between product availability, customer demand, and market price.
This automation of the assembling process further supported component innovation that enabled smaller packaging. This rising demand is met by increasing automation in the electronics manufacturing domain. Initially, SMT was responsible for the automation of solder paste printing and component placement. Various automation solutions migrated to the manufacturing sector intensively from testing to assembling, followed by automated final inspection.
By making innovative products by employing automated alternatives for manufacturing processes until the final marketing, manufacturers could successfully extend their product’s portfolios, offering a wider variety of options for consumers from all financial backgrounds. This business model adds to the company’s potential for revenue capture as automation has gotten very pervasive in manufacturing these electronic products. Thus the automation of discrete processing steps has proven its ability to cause market expansion.
The inclusion of automated alternatives for the electronics manufacturing sector can be broadly divided into discrete phases. Three of these main phases are manufacturing, test, and business systems. This shift in manufacturing strategies has leveraged automation extensively in each of these phases, defining individual roadmaps. These roadmaps have aligned the necessary resources and invested capital to cause technical advancements. Because of these technology platforms’ broad applicability, some of these automated technology developments are prevalent across the phases.
Various expert system tools have automated the designing process of VLSI circuits. Some of these are:
CRITTER, an expert system that ensures correctness, timing, robustness, and circuit speed, results from circuit diagrams defined by the circuit input-output specifications.
PEACE supports electronic circuit design by analyzing circuits based on the functional description of the primary circuit components and other factors.
REDESIGN, an expert system helping to redesign digital circuits to meet the required functional specifications, makes local changes within the circuits.
DAA translates the algorithmic data flow. It transcribes a VLSI system’s presentation into a hardware allocation, mainly as a technology-independent list of registers, data paths, and control signals.
PALLADIO, a circuit design system that designs and tests new VLSIs, particularly of nMOS circuits, using interactive graphic editors, a rule editor, etc.
SADD enables the designing and testing of digital circuits using a frame-based model and knowledge of components and overall circuit behavior.
FOREST, an automated tool, isolates, and diagnoses various electronic circuits’ shortcomings are employing automatic test equipment diagnostic software. These results are based on experimental knowledge, library knowledge, circuit diagrams, and heuristic knowledge collected during electronic troubleshooting.
Machines are not entirely error-proof, but they make fewer mistakes than humans. For instance, devices are not distracted by environmental and other work area distractions, and most importantly, they do not get fatigued. All these reasons account for the fact that these machines complete more work with enhanced accuracy and efficiency and the shortest time possible. But devices, however, lack human skill and creativity. Industrial automation is utilized in domains requiring top-notch accuracy, mainly physically tiring tasks, and is carried out in dangerous environments with monotony.
If required electronic manufacturing steps are completed with speed, then the remaining time is used for tackling other demanding complexities. For this reason, electronic manufacturers focus on higher-value activities like automated methods resulting in high-quality products. Even after high automation methods, the human touch is essential to boost innovation and skills in the electronic sector.
The customized and personalized products cater to personal tastes, preferences, and market requirements. For this, manufacturers must meet such demands and retain high quality and product safety standards, avoiding incurring losses. Smart factories enable manufacturers to improve production flexibility. Additionally, robots and sensors on manufacturing assembly lines increase automation. These advancements allow mass-production of products designed to meet specific demands.
Industrial automation triggers the development of a wide range of updated electronic products and systems. An example of this is the unveiling of 3D printing prototypes developed by Siemens in April 2016; these prototypes print surfaces and structures. Such advancements in technologies boost the company’s revenue and OEM recognition. These play a significant role in enhancing automation.
Industrial automation primarily focused on cutting down manufacturing costs and also boost the pace of productivity. The emphasis has now shifted dramatically towards enhancing products’ quality and production flexibility. As explained by the benefits above, industrial automation provides manufacturers an opportunity to explore endless possibilities.
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