A Recap of Global SMT & Packaging’s Panel Debate

Global SMT & Packaging conducted a Panel Debate on January 12, 2021. The focus of the debate and views of the SMT industry experts revolved around the future of line management in the SMT, Packaging and Electronics manufacturing industry, with a specific discussion on how line management technology can help to optimize production flow and yield.

The discussion covered areas beyond line management and gave deeper insights into how SMT manufacturers, OEMs and the entire supply chain can benefit from Industry 4.0 foundational technologies such as MES.

The areas covered were:

  • Are experts seeing an uptake in Line Management Automation?
  • Which areas in the plant are companies focusing on?
  • How important is security?
  • Home-grown IT applications: are they a realistic prospect for the future?
  • What is the ideal approach to implementing a Smart Factory?
  • Digital Twins: how effective is the model, and what are the benefits?
  • Process management in Box Build

Let’s look at the summaries.

Line Management

The experts unanimously agreed that there has been an uptake in Line Automation and Management Technologies, such as MES. The automation and digitalization of manufacturing and assembly lines is seen as a priority by industry leaders, and those who have acted now stand to gain far more than ones who choose not to. Dave Trail, from Critical Manufacturing, spoke of a widening of the gap between the ‘Haves’ and ‘Have Nots’: companies with a long term plan considering digitization and automation have a far greater chance of succeeding. Foundational technologies like MES are viewed as a strategic, long-term investment and are the priority of the management and personnel alike.

Focus areas in a SMT plant for Line Management

There are many areas in a manufacturing unit which can benefit from digitization and the use of MES and related technologies, as long as it is focused on creating a more data-driven operation. Data gathered from the extended supply chain—including operations, vendors and customers, can be transformed into meaningful information to enhance decision making. This leads to better control, faster decision making and improved performance. Trail stated that rather than going for point solution and focusing on individual pain points, manufacturers in the SMT space need to look for holistic solutions like MES, since the single application can provide tangible goals in the short-term, whether it be related to component management or enabling preventive maintenance through AI/ML. 

How important is Data Security?

The panel emphasized that for the electronics industry security was, is and will always be an extremely important aspect. Most factories are quite secure (especially where they have their data on their own servers). In the case where data resides on the cloud, in the unlikely event that anyone gains access to it, unless it exists in a contextual form, the data itself will not be of much use. Standards and protocols like CFX enhance data protection when transferred, adding a layer of security. 

Applications like ERP and CRM which house business-sensitive information need more protection and insulation from malicious attacks. For the shop floor, the copious amounts of data generated require controlled access to this data, using necessary levels of encryption and establish secure communication channels, especially when the communication involves sensitive data.

Home-grown IT applications: a solution for the future?

Home-grown systems may not include the new technology Industry 4.0 brings. Accommodating market variables, customer preferences, industry standards and new functionality may be too much for even the best home-grown application. They may lack the ability to accommodate features of modern packaging and platform-based applications for shop floor management like an MES, and in not doing so, may hinder the interoperability among systems which is critical for Industry 4.0 performance.

MES ‘build or buy’ is no longer a consideration; manufacturers need to focus their IT and management resources on developing capabilities which would enable a comprehensive external packaged application, like the modern, modular MES platform, to solidify their advent towards Industry 4.0. Their recommendation is to choose a MES which is capable of replacing any home-grown application, by integrating with equipment, IIoT devices and enabling the creation of a single application on the shop floor for gathering, manipulation and presentation of data, along with context gained from ML and Edge data analysis.

Ideal approach to implementing a Smart Factory

When it comes to the Smart Factory, SMT manufacturers should focus on the bigger picture: rather than automating an single aspect of the process through point solutions, such as delivering better SPI (Solder Plate Inspection) or AOI (Automated Optical Inspection) or material flow/management, the focus should be to improve the entire operation, utilizing the full spectrum of modern and digital technologies.

Modern MES applications play a fundamental role in realizing a Smart Factory vision. When it comes to a Smart Factory, the critical factors are to see the long-term scenario, invest in a platform solution like the MES, involve all departments and stakeholders and derive value through an implementation which focuses both on eliminating pain points and addressing the long-term strategic vision of the company.

Digital Twins

Digital Twins is a very broad term and may have a different interpretations based on a given scenario. A digital twin can provide most value, especially in SMT, by reducing prototyping efforts by bridging the gap between design and manufacturing. Another example of digital twins is in process management and line configuration.

Trail stated that while digital twins may have many definitions and interpretations, as long as they allow for data to be used and visualized in the most effective manner, irrespective of the area of implementation, they will create value.

While a digital twin can be implemented in Product Design, Process Planning and Manufacturing Execution, in fact it can be a comprehensive replica of the end-to-end manufacturing process as well. The way in which a digital twin may be deployed in your organization might be based on the requirements and improvement areas as selected or prioritized by the management and Industry 4.0 teams.

Process management in Box Build

With so much focus on SMT manufacturing, what about the Box Build area–does it get the attention deserved?

The experts agreed unanimously that while SMT gets most of the attention, and there has always been a virtual wall between the SMT and Box Build process, it is extremely important that any differences be eliminated and the whole manufacturing process be aligned under a single MES like application.

While Box Build has been traditionally a ‘dark area’ of sorts, when managed through the MES, there are high efficiencies to be gained even in operations which create more customized offerings than others. The more data that is captured from the entire process, the more efficiency and quality will improve, so for Electronics manufacturers, it is time to consider process improvement and automation beyond SMT and consider the whole process including Box Build.


Overall, the panel was aligned in the challenges, and solutions brought by Industry 4.0 technologies to ease line management and optimize production flow and yields. MES, especially a #modernMES with its accompanying data platform, edge computing and plant model, is the basis for a comprehensive solution to solve the data management challenges and operations alignment needs for the semiconductor and SMT industry.

To view the entire discussion, please click here. For more information on a Modern MES for Semiconductor and SMT, click here.