In this blog series we have established how a modern MES forms the foundation for Industry 4.0 in the PCB and electronics industry. We have covered some of the critical functionalities the MES must possess to deliver the flexibility and efficiency expected from a highly automated and modern manufacturing facility. Everything from master data management to end-to-end product traceability is essential for the MES to handle while providing actionable inputs intuitively and providing users with a seamless, mobile experience working with the application.

In this article, we look at other critical capabilities, but most importantly we look at the role of the MES in NPI and people engagement. The ability of an MES to engage the workforce transforms the manufacturing process and offers a competitive advantage. User acceptance is a primary consideration when installing an MES to prevent expensive pilot purgatory.

The following explores the must-haves for modern MES capabilities.

Critical Capabilities Explained

Sampling and reaction limits

Test and inspection operations can be expensive and time consuming so, unless it’s strictly required by customers, not every PCB is tested and that’s why manufacturers rely on sampling and AQL to ensure the product meets performance specs. In SMT the most common sampling methods are either time or counter based.

Fig. 1 Time-based and counter-based PCB sampling

Figure 1 depicts both time and counter-based sampling methods. The challenge of sampling is that it should be dynamic with changes made based on sampling results or based on a sampling strategy depending on the product’s criticality. The operations team should be able to implement the sampling plan and verify its execution.

A modern MES should be able to accommodate dynamic and static sampling plans down to the frequency which sub-assemblies might need to be tested and how often depending on product specs. Once rules of sampling are defined in the system, the actual sampling must be executed, enforced, and recorded automatically by the MES.

Golden board run

It is common in electronics assembly to use ‘golden’ or test boards for critical production processes to ensure they are within specs. Process and equipment are adjusted to ensure golden boards meets the tolerance limits and then the rest of the lot can be released.

Fig. 2 SEMI E10 equipment state models

The MES allows a clear definition of golden or test boards and the remainder of the lot, it also ascertains that the remaining lot is not released for processing until the golden board quality is approved.

It is the application’s responsibility to either adjust the process equipment or release a new golden board in case of a failed measurement. It is also the application’s imperative to release the lot for production only when the golden board measurement is a success for the given critical production process. Figure 2 illustrates this logic in a simplified manner.

Analytics / Data silos

Data analytics determines the efficiency and agility often associated with Industry 4.0. data in a typical electronics assembly operation flows from multiple systems, ERP for orders, PLM for product information, DFM for manufacturability analysis, and ECAD for design and specifications. This data is not always easy to harmonize and analyse in a manner that results in improvements.

Another challenge in electronics plants is the fact that each piece of equipment has its own software, with a mix of modern and legacy equipment, gathering data and harmonizing it such that it delivers actionable insights becomes a challenge. If data isn’t contextualized in order that it can be analysed properly, it can impact production uptime and product quality, increasing cost and reducing the bottom line.

Fig. 3 Integrated MES SMT solution

The MES integrates the manufacturing plant with the enterprise applications and delivers actionable data, effectively and efficiently. Equipment and sensors generates widely distributed data so, through IOT MES connects with equipment and systems to process data at the edge, delivering actionable inputs. The way in which MES acts as the interface and single source truth is portrayed in figure 3.

A modern MES goes beyond standard production reports and creates live dashboards, factory digital twin, and enables advanced alarm management. Besides collecting and analysing edge data the MES also equips the workforce with mobile connectivity, making AR a reality for them.

Insights from the MES establishes a manufacturing data management platform that benefits process managers, organizational leaders, sales team members, suppliers, and customers. All of this strengthens collaboration and improves the product portfolio.   

New Product Introduction (NPI)

Multiple engineering stakeholders contribute to a new product’s design. However, the design intent can be lost if a gap exists between design engineering and production. Creating a manufacture-able design is a part of the challenge, the other part is ensuring the design is translated to spec that can be manufactured and measured for performance by operation personnel.

Another challenge often encountered, especially given the current component shortages in the market, is that the actual part and components available might not meet the design spec. When this happens BOMs need to change and with frequently changing BOMs there is a rise in failure rates and delays in NPI. 

Fig. 4 PCB BOM and ECAD view

New product trial runs often compete for manufacturing capacities which would otherwise be utilised to produce high-volume products. Managing production lines such that the interruption caused by new product trials is minimal is another challenge.

An MES plays a major role in speeding up NPI by allowing engineers to upload, interact and associate ECAD files with the corresponding product to be produced, as depicted in figure 4. All layers of a PCB are visible with a clear definition of the applicable BOM providing to engineers the complete product tree with all the components and corresponding reference designators. ECAD files can also be used to create work instructions and checklists for operators, reducing the opportunity for errors to occur.

NPI speeds improves the competitiveness of an organization, and the MES plays a critical role. Since the BOM, ECAD files and product routing exist within the application, data integrity is maintained. Also, the MES provides deep quality, WIP tracking, and operator guidance to help NPI trials proceed, which means more time available on production lines for orders of high-volume products.

People Engagement

People will always be the key to successful operations in manufacturing irrespective of how automated operations become. Production software is sometimes viewed as an impediment by operators and the workforce, especially when performance is evaluated based on throughput and efficiency. There is also the challenge of replacing knowledgeable long-time employees with skilled workers to learn organizational knowledge. 

An MES application needs to be one that conserves existing tribal knowledge of the current experts and transfers this knowledge to a newer and less experienced workforce. If an MES not accepted by the workforce and seen as a hindrance rather than support, chances are that the implementation will fail.

This is where a modern MES can have an impact, by adding tangible value to the user’s ability to perform his/her tasks. A solution that allows people to use their mobile devices and request instant updates and configuration changes may increase MES adoption.       

For the MES to deliver this perceived value, it needs to have a modern cloud and container-based composable architecture. Having a DevOps environment coupled with the ability to deliver on-premises, cloud, and hybrid hosting options enables faster deployment of change requests while maintaining the amount of security and speed is vital to an application’s acceptability.

The most important aspect of implementing an MES within the electronics manufacturing, irrespective of the application’s capabilities, should be the realization from leadership of the importance people have in a project’s success . Also, the involvement of actual users in the project pilot and subsequent deployment process. For better understanding the critical capabilities the MES must possess and its impact on product quality, decision making, NPI and people management, download below our technical guide and / or read Advanced MES Critical Capabilities for Electronics Manufacturing Part 1 and 2.