(Image: ©ASM Assembly Systems)
Equipment suppliers for the SMT factory of the future all claim that their products and solutions are smarter, more intelligent and more Industry 4.0-ready than those of their competitors. But how smart are their own factories? To find out the answer, I talked with Jörg Cwojdzinski, Vice President SCM at ASM.
Mr. Cwojdzinski, what comes to your mind first when you hear the term Industry 4.0?
Jörg Cwojdzinski: For me, Industry 4.0 is a very far-reaching term, highly political, very abstract and overused by consultants. To be honest, terms this broad don’t mean much to me. I need concrete ideas that are feasible and workable. They’re the only ones I can try to implement.
And how do you come up with concrete ideas among all this marketing hype?
Jörg Cwojdzinski: For me, it is similar to lean manufacturing. The smart factory is a giant toolbox we can – and should – use. Just like with lean manufacturing, it is not an end in itself. Each step we take towards the smart factory must make us better, faster, more productive and more competitive. At ASM we have conducted a project with a highly respected German university in this field. We asked the team to investigate the market for smart solutions, analyze the degree of maturity of these solutions and separate the wheat from the chaff. We also wanted to identify solutions we can deploy in the coming months, or at least in the next one to two years, to improve our machine production.
How are you putting the results to use?
Jörg Cwojdzinski: We try things out and learn. I am convinced that smart manufacturing has a learning curve on all levels of a manufacturing plant – just like lean production, which you cannot order top-down either. You have to live it. As a result, we initiated a new multi-year strategy cycle: the smart supply chain.
And now you just run experiments all over the place?
Jörg Cwojdzinski: No, of course not. Don’t forget that we already have a factory that works very well. Together we have defined four lines of attack for smart products: smart assembly, automation, 3D printing, and digitization/IT systems. We are currently defining concrete projects which we will implement.
Do you already have some concrete results to show? Do you manufacture differently than a few months ago?
Jörg Cwojdzinski: We do, in some areas. For example, in the way workers are guided in hose assembly. We have produced all our machines individually for quite some time now. We call this concept “lot size 1”. Some of our employees now see digital work instructions for the specific order on screens installed at their workplace. In the hose assembly area, we also project an image of the next hose to be installed directly onto the work surface. In other areas, pick-by-light systems guide the employees through the material collection process. Each workplace has a specific color, and the signals on the Kanban rack vary accordingly. We also guide people through the assembly processes. The first assembly stations use intelligent and networked cordless torque wrenches. When the order data is received, the system sets the proper torque automatically and guides the user to the right key via pick-by-light or by blocking the keys that are not needed. The goal is to have zero mistakes or defects.
What about robots?
Jörg Cwojdzinski: We also came up with our own solution for automating with robots. Wherever we can, we will avoid custom solutions and instead deploy flexible robots that we can program for different applications. For example, we are currently upgrading our gluing stations, where employees at semi-automated workstations had to apply glue and components with extreme precision – very demanding and exhausting work. A super-accurate robot will replace an entire carousel of gluing stations in order to relieve these people. But the robot can also be deployed somewhere else in the future. What’s important to us is that large portions of the robot programming will be done in-house, because we consider this to be a core competency for manufacturing companies that we want to acquire at an early stage. By the way, we will also deploy such robots in our highly flexible production of THT boards for placement machines as well as to replace Kanban containers with automated material trains.
You mentioned 3D printing. What are you doing in this field?
Jörg Cwojdzinski: It is still too early to print components for our own machines. The process still requires too many tests for quality, durability, etc. But we plan to print toolings for our own production. This is where my teams see huge potential, for example to produce special tools and equipment at low cost and with great speed and flexibility.
What else can you tell your colleagues?
Jörg Cwojdzinski: The degree of maturity of our initial solutions is sufficiently advanced to start some experiments. Because only by trying our new things can you learn what really works for your company. In addition, we have defined the previously mentioned lines of attack and made them part of our strategy. We also appointed people who are in charge of Industry 4.0 and digitization in our company. You cannot manage something this important that involves such profound changes as a side job in addition to your everyday duties.