I was recently able to interview Hubert Egger, the person in charge of software development at equipment maker ASM.
Here are some excerpts:
You are one of the people responsible for product developments at ASM Assembly Systems. To what extent does the vision of the smart SMT factory affect your work today?
Hubert Egger: Very concretely, and it has done so for many years. We started very early and as one of the first major equipment makers to focus our development activities on Industry 4.0 and the concept of what we call the Smart #1 SMT Factory. In addition to making further improvements on our placement solutions we push important innovation areas like automation, process integration and material logistics.
What is your current position? Do you already have products or are these still projects or technical visions?
Hubert Egger: We have the whole spectrum. For example, we introduced at last year’s Productronica some concrete solutions with the SIPLACE BulkFeeder, software products like our integrated production and setup planning system, or our SIPLACE ProcessExpert system. All of these are important components and steps that move customers toward the smart SMT factory and that already pay for themselves today. In other areas we are conducting intensive tests with customers. One of our questions is: how can technologies and devices like smart watches, data glasses or augmented reality be put to use more effectively to guide employees through process steps or keep them informed on what’s happening on the line?
Where do you see progress with regard to the connected factory?
Hubert Egger: A lot is happening there, also with regard to standardization. The Americans have surged ahead with their IIC (Industrial Internet Consortium and MTConnect, which is no surprise because of their competencies in the field of Internet technologies. With their OPC UA (Open Process Communication Unified Architecture), the European have also presented a very interesting XML-based approach that focuses on the automation domain. These are areas in which we must continue to make progress. The proprietary formats being pushed by some software companies are less promising, I believe. As a machine manufacturer, we face the difficult task of opening up our machines’ interfaces without blocking the path to the adaptation of future standards.
What other challenges are you facing?
Hubert Egger: There are many. As you know, the devil’s in the details. At the moment I am very interested in data interpretation. I recently read that the Internet adds 1.8 sextillion bytes of data each day, over 90 percent of which is unstructured, and as you know, the Internet of Things is still in its very early stages. As a maker of electronics manufacturing solutions, we have extensive expertise in our domain. We know how data is related to each other, how to interpret it, what it means, and how we can use it to make improvements on the production floor. On the other hand, we also know that we must build alliances with new partners in order to be able to build the IT infrastructures at our customers that are capable of collecting and processing these huge amounts of data effectively and in real time, if possible.