4 benefits of industrial automation in electronics manufacturing

by John Mayes on 25 Aug, 2016

Industrial automation is a complex and mammoth topic covering areas ranging from simple control systems handling processes and machines, through to digital manufacturing, the much-hyped "smart factory" and Industrie 4.0.

In a nutshell, industrial automation is a step beyond mechanisation; it is about using control systems and technology to replace human physical and mental labour in the manufacturing and engineering sector.

Products and systems that combine mechanics, hydraulics, pneumatics, plus electrical and electronic components, can be used to automate tasks previously carried out by humans. These are just some of the technologies that are paving the way for the next industrial revolution: Industrie 4.0, an initiative to revolutionise manufacturing and engineering by combining the digital world and that of industrial production to create "smart" manufacturing facilities.

The term Industrie 4.0 was initially used as a reference to one of ten "future projects" included in the German government’s High-Tech Strategy 2020 Action Plan back in 2012.  Industrial automation is used across a wide spectrum of sectors, from the automotive and aerospace industries; to the FMCG and oil and gas industries – to name but a few. In this blog post, we will consider four of the resulting benefits for electronics manufacturers.

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Topics: Engineering, Industrial Automation, Manufacturing

The benefits of 3D printing within contract electronics manufacturing

by Neil Sharp on 18 Aug, 2016

The buzz around 3D printing, or additive manufacturing as it also known, continues to grow day-by-day and it is regularly hailed as a revolutionary "new" process. But did you know 3D printing has actually been around for over thirty years?

That’s right, back in 1984, a patent was filed by three French inventors for the stereolithography process and then in the late 80s, Charles W Hull founded his company 3D Systems in California - and Scott Crump at Stratasys, another of today’s leaders in the field, launched his first 3D printer.

Fast forward to 2016, and the market has grown exponentially with 3D Systems now employing over two thousand people with revenues in excess of $660m. And according to McKinsey Global Institute research, the economic implications of 3D printing could be up to $550 billion a year by 2025. So it’s fair to say we should probably believe some of the hype.

In this blog post, we will discuss the basics of 3D printing and the different types of printing processes that exist, along with the benefits these bring to contract electronics manufacturers (CEMs) and the customers they serve.

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Topics: EMS

3 common fears about outsourcing your outbound logistics

by Neil Sharp on 11 Aug, 2016

If you have already outsourced elements of your manufacturing to an electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider, you will be familiar with the benefits. Namely, that outsourcing frees up your time, allowing you to focus on designing, marketing and selling your products.

Many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) outsource just part of the manufacturing process, like PCB or cable assembly, while others go one or two steps further by outsourcing the complete value chain from supply chain management to product assembly and test, etc. These are all proven strategies for OEMs and, clearly, different approaches suit different companies.

Nevertheless, if you are still responsible for shipping finished product to your end users, you may be facing difficulties that are distracting you from your core activities. Working more closely with your EMS partner could provide you with the solution you require.

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Topics: Outsourcing

How to prevent solder bridges during printed circuit board assembly

by Richard Barratt on 04 Aug, 2016

Solder bridges (or "shorts" as they are also known) occur when solder unintentionally connects one electronic component lead to another.

Unfortunately, these are bad news for electronics manufacturers.

They can be difficult to spot - particularly where fine pitch components are involved -and, if unresolved, can end up causing serious damage to the component and/or circuit board.

Thankfully, a large number of solder bridges can be easily prevented. And while preventive measures may end up costing you a small amount of additional time and money, the long term payback can be significant. In this blog post, we will look at some of the most common root causes that lead to solder bridges and how to prevent these from occurring.

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Topics: EMS, Best Practice

Why flexibility is crucial to the success of your outbound logistics

by Neil Sharp on 28 Jul, 2016

When it comes to outbound logistics - i.e. the processes involved in controlling the shipping of application-ready products to their end users - the ability to adapt, in order to reach new markets and meet ever-changing customer demands, is vital.

In order to succeed, there are some important questions that you should ask yourself about the future direction of your company. Where in the world is your target market based? Where will it be in five years’ time? What specific geographical and time considerations do/will you need to take into account if you need to ship to a variety of locations? What additional products or services will your future customers demand? 

By thinking ahead in this way, you can begin to work out what logistics arrangements you will need to have in place, to meet shifting requirements. If you are growing and targeting new opportunities, you will likely be coming up against specific challenges. For example, perhaps you don’t have the space into which to expand. Or maybe you need to ship products from different divisions of your organisation at disparate times. 

Outsourcing your outbound logistics could be the solution that you require, enabling you to overcome any obstacles you are facing. In this blog post, we will explore how partnering with an electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider will help to ensure you are fully equipped for change in a fast-paced global environment.

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Topics: EMS, Outsourcing

Understanding how EMS companies view capital investment decisions

by Russell Poppe on 21 Jul, 2016

One of the great benefits of outsourcing your manufacturing is that it can largely remove the need to continually invest in expensive capital equipment. On the face of it, it’s much easier for an EMS company to justify having the equipment because, after all, that’s their business, and the cost can be justified against work from many customers across multiple products.

From an OEM’s perspective, this can lead to quite high expectations about what equipment their EMS provider should have, in order that the OEM can eliminate the cost of having to purchase or contribute towards equipment for their own products- other than for dedicated tooling where non-recurring engineering charges (NRE) are expected.

Of course, all equipment still needs to be paid for one way or another, and for EMS companies working in diverse markets it’s not always an easy process to decide what to - or not to - invest in. This blog post will look at how EMS companies make these decisions and what you might expect when evaluating EMS providers’ equipment lists.

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Topics: EMS, Outsourcing

The robots are coming for UK manufacturing

by John Mayes on 18 Jul, 2016

There was a time when robots were simply the stuff of science fiction – entities that veered towards the terrifying and would take over the world. While it appears that we haven't all entirely moved on from that attitude, robots have now become an accepted part of the world we live in – bringing great benefits with them.

In the manufacturing and engineering sector, robots are enabling automation – thereby increasing productivity, efficiency and driving down costs. Despite this, the UK invests less in robots than other big players in Europe. According to the 2015 IFR World Robotics report, there are only 31 robots for every 10,000 employees in non-automotive sectors in the UK, compared to 161 in Germany, 142 in Sweden, 117 in Italy, 74 in Spain and 71 in France.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that this will need to change, in order for UK manufacturing and engineering to grow and prosper.

So, the robots are coming – but what does it mean?

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Topics: Industrial Automation, Manufacturing

The importance of electrical safety testing in manufacturing

by Russell Poppe on 14 Jul, 2016

Electrical safety testing is an essential step in the manufacturing process for any product that uses electricity.

According to Ellis Whittam, around 25 people die every year as a consequence of electrical accidents in the workplace - and 1,000 electrical accidents are reported annually to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Therefore, it is imperative for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to do as much as they can to reduce the risk of electric shock from their products. Electric shocks not only cause injuries and deaths directly, but also indirectly – for example, construction workers may fall from ladders or scaffolding if they receive a shock while using faulty equipment.

OEMs that manufacture electrical equipment that is designed or adapted for use between 50 and 1,000 volts (in the case of alternating current) or 75 and 1,500 volts (in the case of direct current) must comply with the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994. You can read about the relevant requirements in detail here.

In this post, we will consider three different types of electrical safety testing that OEMs should be implementing as part of a robust electrical safety testing strategy. 

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Topics: Testing

Why functional testing should not be your go-to test strategy

by Russell Poppe on 07 Jul, 2016

As an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), testing is absolutely critical to everything you do. This means that throughout the manufacturing process, you should be seeking to identify product faults before they become real problems that have the potential to damage your reputation and bottom line - and, in the worst case scenario, cause accidents or injuries.  

In previous posts, we have discussed a number of different test methods, including:

However, some OEMs believe there is only one test method worth implementing: functional test.

But we believe this is a misguided viewpoint and this blog post aims to explain why we feel this way.

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Topics: Engineering

5 myths about electronics manufacturing outsourcing

by Neil Sharp on 30 Jun, 2016

Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have been outsourcing their electronics manufacturing and test for decades. So it’s perhaps surprising that a number of myths relating to outsourcing still remain today.

Of course, there is no smoke without fire. I’m sure some of these are the result of bad experiences, which have then been shared time and time again. That's why I thought I would try and tackle some of these head on so that anyone considering outsourcing to an electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider can base their decision on facts and not fiction.

Here are five common myths relating to outsourcing and my advice to anyone grappling with these or similar questions.

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Topics: EMS, Outsourcing