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12 The PCB Magazine • May 2016 by Mark Wegner, NoRThFIElD AuTomATIoN SySTEmS and Patrick Riechel, ESI Introduction The growing market demand for mobile de- vices, wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) devices continues to create new challenges for suppliers and manufacturers in the electronics value chain. Along with this market demand comes a challenging set of market requirements for the underlying circuits and components that drive such devices. These requirements are primarily related to functional attributes such as speed and functionality, and to form factor constraints such as size, build quality and du- rability. At the same time, the big brands—the manufacturers' customers—are not only bat- tling to differentiate themselves among myriad alternatives, but are also striving to be the first to address new and broader markets with a wid- er range of devices. Effectively responding to these new re- quirements—and doing so profitably—requires that manufacturers continually innovate, but with a focus on maintaining processing qual- ity without sacrificing throughput or increas- ing costs. They must adopt new processes, new techniques and new technologies, and be will- ing to creatively adapt their production capa- bilities to match the changing needs of their customers. In their drive to aggressively cut costs out of their business, manufacturers are looking for more creative ways to optimize production, in- crease efficiency and improve yields. All factors that affect a lower cost of ownership for capital equipment. One of the ways flexible printed circuit (FPC) manufacturers have been effective in staying ahead of the throughput/cost curve is through the deployment of appropriate automation. Yet, although automation may be one of the low- hanging fruits for flex PCB processors, its ap- plication should be viewed in the context of a production flow that may already include other innovations. feature

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