The electronics assembly industry, just like other high-tech manufacturing industries, is going through a fundamental change. The pandemic’s effects of a destabilized supply ecosystem, coupled with the demand for customized products, are major contributors. But other factors like the evolving regulatory landscape, customer needs for eco-friendly supply, protectionist tariffs and regional/global trade wars are all shaping the way in which the industry is evolving. External factors notwithstanding, most manufacturers realize that there is an evident and urgent need to modernize their own operations. IIoT and AI are the top priorities when it comes to having a more efficient and intuitive manufacturing set up.

From a manufacturing technology perspective, the increased use of embedded systems, the popularization of miniaturized electronics and advanced IC packaging all signal changes in process technology and execution, which then add complexity in existing set processes as the system adapts to a new way of doing things without having disruptions during a full or partial transition. All the trends which shape the electronics assembly industry in 2022 point towards the need to update and upgrade process technology and the way in which data is handled within each individual organization and their extended supply chain.    

A report from Fortune Business Insights highlights that communications and automotive sectors are driving the electronics market, with increasing demand for novel features and more customized parts. ‘Electronics in everything’ and the need for devices which communicate better creates the need for electronics manufacturers, from OEMs to CMs, to transform their operations to enable faster delivery of technologically advanced, highly customized products, dealing with lower volumes and yet providing competitive prices in order to survive in these new, highly demanding market conditions.

2022 and Increased Optimism

Forbes published a post which shows that leaders in the industry are optimistic for 2022, even though they realize supply chain disruptions may persist. Companies have devised localization strategies and are depending more on smart technology-driven innovation in their supply chains. Digitalization is seen as the number one priority in manufacturing, which translates to applications of IIoT, AI, AR, VR, Additive Manufacturing, Cloud and automation within their own and supply partners’ operations. Manufacturers see the need for end-to-end visibility in the factory and drive to establish a state of hyperawareness when it comes to the ways in which their operations function.

Shorter supply chains, with better visibility into the many tiers of supply chain partners, are also gaining importance in the corporate strategy mix. The pandemic and geo-political activities of the recent years have clearly underlined the lack of resilience which exists in the global electronic supply chain structure and has thereby made visibility and connectivity across the supply chain a top priority. Sustainability too is gaining priority across the board, which means there is an evident need to be more energy efficient, waste less and increase the use of components which cause minimal harm to the environment. This is in line with the trends discussed above; green technologies will most definitely gain prominence in the Electronics industry.

The need to have digitally-savvy talent is also gaining importance, and companies are trying to get skilled personnel either through new recruitments or re-training/re-orienting their current employee base.

Another step being taken is to secure ‘tribal knowledge’ of employees for operations improvements. Production efficiency can be improved by looking for automation strategies which augment the workforce and enable them to work more efficiently, rather than a blanket replacement of manpower.

Be Future Ready with MES

For 2022 and beyond, the priorities for the Electronics Assembly and SMT industries seem to be focused on digital transformation, increased supply chain visibility and improved organizational results in efficiency, cost and sustainability. All these priorities then translate into a convergence of IT and OT, with a sort of hyper-connectivity and hyper-automation across manufacturing, supply chain and business orchestration.

MES is the foundational technology piece which enables electronics assembly manufacturers to meet or even exceed their expectations from an Industry 4.0-based transformation. With the right MES, manufacturers are able to bring new products to the market faster, standardize production practices and flow, apply advanced scheduling to meet shorter, more demanding lead times, manage material flow through increased visibility across the supply chain and within their own operations, respond to disruptive events within and beyond the operation confidently, and have a complete equipment-to-enterprise connectivity for real-time decision making.      

How does MES do it?

MES as a core manufacturing platform connects with all critical automation applications, equipment and IIoT sensors, along with PLM applications allowing for an end-to-end visibility of all operations, from experiments to prototyping and from production to packaging, within and beyond the plants. Further, with IIoT comes edge computing, enabled through an AI-based advanced decision support system, which helps personnel take proactive decisions, making activities like maintenance predictive in nature. Scheduling and process execution are automated to a large extent with advanced end-to-end scheduling and process/workflow standardization across plants.

MES also brings AR and VR into the technology foray, with AR being used to provide insights from process to personnel directly on their smart glasses or mobile devices, enabling them to resolve issues on the go and before major breakdowns occur. VR helps create digital twins of operations which enable better design of experiments, training of new personnel and allows for superior decision making when disruptions occur or rapid transformation or changeovers are required to deal with external developments.

Full machine connectivity helps unleash the power of IoT, Advanced Analytics and Big Data on the shop floor, with complete visibility of each transaction. MES also tracks the way in which material moves on the shop floor, virtually eliminating idle time and ensuring that mass customization needs are easily met with the placement of the right material at the right place in the right time.

The modular nature of the application allows MES project teams to implement the application in a manner which best suits their needs, and where the business case justifies the fastest possible ROI. With the ability that modern MES platforms have to either integrate with, or eliminate dependence on legacy applications, data no longer remains in silos and can be used to deliver faster, more accurate results to enable better business decisions. This is what sets the stage for meeting industry needs for 2022 and beyond. MES supports and helps incorporate faster changes to the process and allows for new technologies such as 3-D printing, or modifying the process for manufacturing and assembling micro-electronics.

MES underpins the drive for digitalization, standardization and customization that the SMT and Electronics Assembly industry face. It is vital that industry leaders choose the right platform, which can act as the foundation upon which they build their successful transformation and Industry 4.0 journey. What is needed is a solution which not only helps automate and streamline current operations, but also provides supply-chain wide integration and allows for new technologies to manifest seamlessly, while improving current operations. That is the focus of an MES.