(image: copyright ASM)
I covered the subject of interfaces for robots and operators in a previous blog post. After raising many questions in this regard during several presentations, I would like to talk about a few details today.
Most IoT discussions of interfaces are limited to data interfaces. Unfortunately, this excludes many challenges on the road to the smart SMT factory. Networking the hardware in the smart factory requires the standardization of interfaces in many different areas. Here are some examples:
This short list already shows that interfaces involve more than data standards.
I had mentioned in my earlier blog post that today’s SMT lines are designed for human operators. The splicing process demonstrates this perfectly. People have repeatedly asked me about auto-load feeders and their role in the factory of the future. It is true that this technology can extend reloading times and reduce the likelihood of material-related line stops. On the other hand, auto-load feeders automate only a single splicing interval and are still designed for human operators. Steps during refilling such as unlocking and locking, cutting, punching, inserting the tape into the feeder and removing waste are a cinch for humans, but herculean tasks for robots. In short, auto-load feeders aren’t suitable for advanced automation tasks in the smart SMT factory.
The new SIPLACE BulkFeeder with its tapeless component supply is much more advanced. Replacing cartridges with loose components is much easier for a robot and therefore much more easily automated. Even single steps in the BulkFeeder’s workflow like the refilling of cartridges can be automated.
A few words on employing RFID technology for identifying workpieces or circuit boards. At its core, RFID technology seems well-suited for the PCB identification, but the devil is in the details.
Don’t get me wrong. This is no rejection of RFID technology, but merely a detailed look at the challenges involved in electronics production. Only someone who is aware of them can resolve them.
We in the ASM development departments are working continuously on matters involving robot interfaces and RFID. Our experience with ongoing customer projects shows that the use of RFID requires close coordination between the electronics manufacturer with his specific process requirements and the machine supplier. Our teams can provide lots of help and expertise in this regard.
As far as robot interfaces are concerned, we are running several evaluations to determine in which areas of warehousing, setup, production, testing, etc., robots make economic sense and which interfaces can be adapted and put to use. These assessments are happening in addition to the “abstract” activities and tests in our development departments as well as in concrete customer projects in cooperation with robot manufacturers. The standardization of robotics-compatible interfaces for electronics manufacturing applications is still far off, but in specific projects they make a lot of sense – both technologically and economically. See also the post by Alessandro Bonara.