There are many debates going on about the best way to implement the smart factory. One thing the experts agree on, however: the flexible solution of tomorrow requires transparency. Operators must be able to check its status at all times and down to the smallest detail. Without this real-time status information, electronics manufacturers (or the smart autonomous planning systems of the future) will be unable to make the necessary adjustments when things like quantities and/or deadlines change.
This brings us to a critical problem: SMT lines consist of a multitude of machines from different manufacturers. To this day, they form standalone solution cells with almost no data interchange. And the existing integration and data interchange standards are ancient. For example, do you know a factory that is comfortable with SMEMA and others of its like?
While many equipment makers advertise their own solutions and their ability to transfer data between machines and software tools, hard and fast modern standards developed by organizations like the IPC are not only still missing, they are also a long time coming. The standardization procedures are extremely slow and are frequently steamrolled by technological developments and requirements. They are also being slowed down by the special interests of companies and experts. In short, the industry has not yet learned its lesson with regard to the importance of interfaces.
As long as no standards exists, any electronics manufacturer who wants to network his production generally has to do it on his own at considerable expense. A chart based on a recently published Gartner study confirms this:
(graphics published in CIO (german))
Although the smart machine market defined by Gartner comprises much more than smart automation solutions and expert systems, that data shows that electronics manufacturers cannot shoulder the integration process without outside help from specialists. Also interesting: according to Gartner, the implementation costs will be double the consulting expenses as early as in 2021.
No one knows what the future will look like, but most likely it will be a mix of various models.
This list of options does not claim to be complete, particularly since most projects will be some mix of these models. What’s important to keep in mind, however, is that the longer we wait with the standardization process (whether through classic committees or proprietary de-facto standards), the more expensive it will become for the electronics manufacturers. Equipment makers will suffer, too, at least indirectly, because the more expensive networking and integration become, the longer electronics producers will wait to invest in smart factory technology and the less money will be available for their machines and/or solutions. The industry should not take comfort in this, but see it as an obstacle to investment that must be overcome as quickly as possible.