Electronics production is constantly changing. Ever smaller electronic components and an increase in the variety of components force the continuous optimization of the own production. However, the challenges for EMS providers do not just begin with the actual production of the customer's product. Long before production a lot of time is spent on bid proposal management and process planning. In particular, the tender preparation can be a real cost driver. In order to prepare a competitive offer, it is always necessary to research current prices and availability of components based on individual customer data. With an average success rate of 20% this department works 80% of the time without corresponding revenue from an order. If the desired order is placed, the work preparation department has to process the customer data with a different focus and in much more detail. Now, the emphasis lies on identifying and correcting any errors that may exist, as well as on preparing the data for production. The time required for preparing quotations and work preparation is independent of the batch size. The smaller the production lot, the more significant the cost of this workload per board.
Challenges in practice
The customer data of the product always builds the foundation of each order. This data is usually available in a proprietary, non-standardized data format. The clever handling of this imaginative customer data is an important process in the run-up to production. The first steps in preparing a quotation therefore include importing the customer data, comparing it with the in-house component library and validating the data. Customer data is usually processed using conventional means such as various office applications. Since these programs do not contain functions for the special requirements of summarized BOMs for example processing them usually takes a long time. It is not uncommon for entire customer lists to be copied from the printout.
In order to keep the costs of preparing a quotation as low as possible, detailed data preparation and validation is carried out by the technical work preparation after receipt of the order. This department prepares the assembly plans for production, corrects incorrect or missing data and creates work instructions. Since production machines are used less frequently for small batches, the work preparation department prepares detailed work instructions for manual work steps. During processing, the customer is consulted in order to discuss any ambiguities or errors. Subsequently, it is not unusual for extensive changes to be entered and documented. The production department also prepares the customer data again, so that they are suitable for processing in the production machines. If errors or changes are only insufficiently documented for production or are only discovered during machine setup, the entire line is at a standstill until final clarification.
The software solution
In order to avoid such expensive incidents LEBERT Software Engineering has been continuously working on the further development of the software solution EFA SmartSuite for ten years now.
"Just as the Swiss Army Knife is a synonym for usefulness and adaptability, EFA SmartSuite has become a comprehensive solution tool for the electronics industry."
In the course of the development, the problems of EMS providers in the preparation of offers, work preparation and production that occur most frequently were addressed. The software is to be understood as a layer above the existing software applications of the respective EMS provider. It manages all customer data and is adapted to the existing in-house applications via import and export interfaces. EFA SmartSuite thus supplements the established process and supports it with automated procedures at the respective problem areas (Fig. 1).
The individual functions are coordinated with each other. During the offer phase an EFA project is created with the customer's bill of materials. The order preparation complements this with coordinate data, assembly plans, and if necessary, changes and corrections. Depending on the progress in the processing further data is added. For production an export for the production machines can then be generated with a mouse click which contains all the necessary data. In the future, the progress of the production of the customer's product can be monitored in real time through central storage in an SQL database. All in all the linking and visualization of the data offers a completely new view of the customer's product and thus contributes significantly to early error detection and error prevention.
The customer bill of material is used here. Due to the many special functions the import of the parts list is completed in a few minutes even with unusual formats. From EFA SmartSuite the corresponding part numbers are then searched from the connected ERP material database. The software always displays qualified results since it interprets and thus knows the required values. In addition the system searches for a multitude of component information simultaneously. The part number search of EFA SmartSuite is thus clearly superior to any search function of an ERP system. Automatic processes, a fuzzy search function and the online search round off the functionalities.
In the case of an order it is possible to continue working with the already known data in this process step. If the customer sends new, updated data it can be re-imported into the system. The software highlights differences in comparison to the previous bill of materials in colour so that changes in the data can be easily identified (Fig. 2). Typical work preparation tasks such as combining bills of materials and assembly data or preparing assembly plans can be carried out semi-automatically in the software. This not only brings a great time advantage. It also prevents errors that could arise from a manual process. All information about the product is available uniformly and centrally at any time.
In addition to the preparation for production, a validation of the customer data can be carried out in the work preparation with EFA SmartSuite. Any errors can thus be clarified and eliminated with the customer in advance. With one click, the production department receives a validated data set. Any ambiguities can be analyzed independently by the production staff using the software.
Once an EFA project for a product has been completed it can also be used in production to support manual activities. An example of this is the first article inspection. With a high-resolution image of the first assembled board, a first article inspection can be performed according to part numbers. All components of the same part number rotated to zero degrees are displayed together. Twisted, missing or incorrect components can be identified at a glance (Figure 3). Component information from the parts list is automatically displayed for each component. The alignment can also be checked at a glance using the assembly plan displayed in the image. A first article inspection with this system saves on average 85% of the previous inspection time.
The system can also be used for a manual assembly process such as for small batches. If colored assembly plans are produced for manual assembly, manual drawing processes are often used. Here, the software can automatically mark components with the same part numbers in the same color. This process step also saves time and is much safer than marking with pens. The printout of the placement instructions can be customized (Figure 4).
Software solutions are like good wine - they mature. So does the EFA SmartSuite - in the last ten years, users from more than 100 companies have made positive experiences with the daily use of the solution. Especially the standardization of processes and the achieved time savings are regularly highlighted. Up to 50% time optimization in the area of offer preparation is not uncommon. Work preparation also benefits from time savings of around 60%. In production, the time for first article inspections can be reduced by up to 85%.
"The users are at the centre of our software development by regularly integrating their experiences and ideas into the software. This is the only way to create a practice-oriented application "from users for users", in which each company can realize its individual solutions through personalized processes."
Today it is important for a flexible production from batch size 1 to combine the strengths of machine and human. In this way processes can always be simplified that combine human know-how with computer automation - and thus bring significant time savings to the human being. This is fully in line with Industry 4.0.
- Industry 4.0