Starting to Make Your Factory Smart

Conveyor systems have undergone a few revolutions since inline assembly systems were introduced into electronics manufacturing factories. Probably the most significant of these changes was the introduction of the IPC-SMEMA 9851 standard that harmonized the height, width, spacing etc. of conveyors in EMS factories.

Up to five years ago, conveyors were regarded as dumb sections of metal rollers used to transport boards from one part of the process to the next. Typically the market was very commoditized and conveyor manufacturers struggled to keep up with aggressive pricing from their counterparts in Asia.

Today the story is very different. For a start, we no longer call them conveyors; they are now referred to as ‘materials handling systems’. Armed with an increasing array of sensors and vision systems, they are also intelligent and perform an important role in the new smart factory, identifying, inspecting and directing boards down the inline assembly line, or to offline cells for specialist assembly operations or repairs. Some systems go further by offering 3D bar-coded pallets to pass instructions to the next workstation of exactly what work is needed and where. This not only makes production more efficient, but also improves reliability, yield and traceability.

Communicating seamlessly with the factory MES systems, the handling systems also integrate with cobots that keep the line fed with materials, reducing downtime and improving the workflow of the factory.

So when you start planning your smart factory layout, don’t just focus on the production equipment, but pay close attention to how you will make the flow of materials and assemblies reduce the bottlenecks in your production. This increased uptime will go straight to your bottom line.

– Trevor Galbraith