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factory? Is becoming a smart factory a good strategy based on what the U.S. market is now asking of its electronic manufacturing indus- trial base? Is there a middle ground between traditional manual processing and smart facto- ries, say with smarter processes? You need to answer a few basic questions to know how far to take automation. How di- verse is your product mix? What are your vol- ume requirements? How quickly and often will your manufacturing environment be required to pivot significantly? Is it important that your factory can readily produce one-off designs? Are the product types being produced stable or rapidly evolving as you work to meet cus- tomer need? When producing stable designs at high vol- umes, a smart factory with automation offers efficiencies. When operating in an environ- ment with high design diversity and continu- ally evolving complexity, especially at low vol- umes, excess automation may reduce efficien- cy, agility, and flexibility. Meredith LaBeau: I don't believe the future of electronics is going to be reliant on robot- ics as a holistic system. We've always talked about utilizing an employee's mind over their body, intelligence over labor. This allows a du- ality, more advanced robotic processes with the intelligence of the human who's making the choice, "Okay, this lot needs a little more thickness. This does not need…" and so on. To me, that's the real advancement in smart man- ufacturing for the future. Questions like: What is the right chemical to use? What is the right brush to use for this process? Are the brush and chemicals meant for a commodity-based product, or are they intended for a high tech- nology product? How do you tune those pro- cesses with constant process control to ad- vance the technology that the customer needs? That direction is not going to come from a fully automated machine. It's going to come from the use of a specifically tuned chemistry, process control, and a complete understand- ing of the process's limitations. It's going to come from operators and engineers utilizing their critical thinking skills to tune processes, Lay Mayra, a research and development engineer, works with the French fusion press in the lamination department. fense, aerospace, and even some commercial U.S. OEMs are casting about the country seek- ing circuit board manufactures that can pro- vide viable technological solutions for novel leading edge electronic systems to fulfill their government contract commitments within the next two to three years. Often, with little suc- cess, according to their representatives on the calls. Money solves problems by enabling man- ufacturers to acquire modern equipment, at- tract talented people, and sustain a capable workforce, but unlike the state-sponsored cir- cuit board manufacturers common in China, the U.S. government cannot and will not come to rescue the U.S. circuit board manufactures with a sweeping injection of funding. Manu- facturers must play with the "cards they been dealt" and make incremental improvements from there. How then can U.S. circuit board manufactur- ers begin the journey toward becoming a smart 14 PCB007 MAGAZINE I JANUARY 2021

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