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34 PCB007 MAGAZINE I JANUARY 2020 Stepinski: Automation has many potential ben- efits. You can use automation to more effi- ciently move product through your factory by removing human error or the human compo- nent in general. Machines don't take breaks, so that's one benefit of automation. Another benefit is, when you have automation, you can think, "What are the possibilities that I didn't have before?" For instance, on a plating line, can I come out in the middle of the cycle and have a robot arm turn the panel upside down and front and back and get a better dis- tribution profile than I ever could if I let it sit in the tank? Because you can't trust a person to do this repeatedly all the time, but the ro- bot can. There are other aspects of automation, such as hold times, that are not well-controlled in our industry. You can put a buffer at the end of your line, where you have a hold time specifi- cation, and say, "This product cannot proceed to the next step until this much hold time has elapsed." You could also say, "I will not pro- cess this product to the next step until it reach- es a certain temperature," because registration is going to be influenced. What happens with automation is you get much more consistent. You get much better registration and plating results. There's a value-added by-product—not eliminating people; it's eliminating all of the challenges related to people in general. How- ever, it's not just labor costs; it's all the indirect costs of people. Matties: Again, it's the process control automa- tion. You're talking about a software-driven, recipe-driven digital factory. Stepinski: Exactly. It's improving your process control. Matties: Why is there so much uncertainty about this approach and bringing it down to a lot size of one, as you've done? Stepinski: Europeans are more open to it. We've had more Europeans come to our factory than people from the U.S. We recently became ITAR- certified, so things are somewhat locked down now. But, in general, there aren't many people that are open to new things. It's one thing to not be open; it's another thing to not even be interested in visiting when they're invited to get some ideas to improve. A few companies are benefiting from what we've done, directly and indirectly. There's a lot of investment go- ing on in the Northeast with our equipment company and other companies that are here based on stuff we've done in GreenSource. Matties: You've created the model of the cap- tive shop. Again, that makes sense for large OEMs, such as big electric car companies that would be interested in this sort of thing. My guess is they're spending billions of dollars a year on electronics. Stepinski: I think it's the quality and cycle time issues. Matties: All of the benefits that go along with it. Stepinski: For companies that are very innova- tive and want to leverage circuit board technol- ogy to improve their end product, or make a new end product, this is a very attractive thing for a lot of OEMs. When you work with a board shop, it's very challenging, and because board shops are job shops, they build to a specifica- tion. And to do R&D and help a customer make a new product line, the customer has to be in your factory, or they have to have their own factory working and moving things fast down the field. Matties: Is your shop now a job shop, and are you bringing in outside work? Stepinski: Yes, and no. At first, we planned to be a job shop, but then we took a turn when What happens with automation is you get much more consistent.

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