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JANUARY 2021 I SMT007 MAGAZINE 9 Nolan Johnson is managing editor of SMT007 Magazine. Nolan brings 30 years of career experience focused almost entirely on electronics design and manufacturing. To contact Johnson, click here. that is, until a few weeks into the first U.S. lockdown in March. At some point, organi- cally, cameras started lighting up, and faces became a part of our meeting, adding body language to the conversation as well. And that was the environment in which this video call I first mentioned took place. Our I-Connect007 editorial team was discuss- ing process improvement. As a theme in our current market, process improvement seems to automatically trigger visions of automation and smart factories. If you're a Star Wars fan, how many times has a movie included a scene in which one of our heroes finds themselves on a moving conveyor belt, sweeping along through a life-threatening series of automated robots manufacturing big iron? Our hero ducks, dodges and shimmies through the gauntlet of swinging robot arms, laser welders and massive die stampers, emerg- ing unscathed at the end. Thankfully, we were not discussing that sort of automated factory. Instead, we were hashing out the implications of digital twin and process control. The question was asked from someone in one of the multiple little squares of video feed on my screen, "If you could reduce a PCB design project by just one spin, how much would you save?" "Twelve million dollars," replied someone, almost immediately, from a different square, continuing "that's the number I've heard from someone at a large international firm. For their big projects, the total cost, direct and indirect, for one design spin is $12 million. If they can reduce the design cycle by one, it's worth that much to them." "Not everyone will save that kind of money," said someone in another square. True. Many design teams are working on much smaller scales than this particular company, but it's reasonable to assume that, while the raw dol- lar amounts aren't the same, the percentage of the design budget is likely to be consistent. "You know, reducing a spin in a design pro- cess has nothing to do with smart factories. It has everything to do with working smart, with using smart processes," piped up another per- son from their video square. And that got us on our way. Here at I-Con- nect007, we wholeheartedly agree that factory and process control automation have a crucial place in our industry. But we also posit that simply automating is insufficient. If you auto- mate inefficient and wasteful processes, you only solidify and perpetuate those inefficien- cies in your business, thereby throttling down your company's ability to grow in the digital age. Smart factories are only partially about digitalization; at the core, smart factories are about smart processes—efficient and flexi- ble processes. We even tagged this idea with "X=X c – 1" wherein X c is your current pro- cess, and X is your new, incrementally opti- mized process to replace X c . The video call in which this conversation took place was a clear example of digitalizing how our team functions, removing the over- head of commuting and travel. Our work team has made changes to how we hold our meet- ings online. Sure, we've done this type of group meeting for years, but the dramatic increase in use of videoconferencing has caused the whole team to look hard at how to be more efficient with our meetings. It's a process of continual improvement: Make your processes smart, then make them smarter still. In this issue of SMT007 Magazine, we kick off our continuous improvement cover- age throughout 2021. We'll explore smarter processes, smarter equipment, automation, and operational efficiencies. We will consider "X=X c – 1" from all angles. This month, we begin by establishing why continuous improve- ment is so critical to our industry; why does this matter? As always, we value talking to our readers. If you have a story of your own related to "X=X c – 1" to share, we'd love to hear it. Reach us at SMT007

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