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40 SMT Magazine • September 2014 feATure For years, the production line back ends at most EMS companies have been primarily manual. While board assembly technology has undergone many improvements in terms of equipment automation, from faster pick-and- place machines and smarter reflow ovens to 3D inspection and flying probers, the back-end operations for final assembly and testing have remained largely non-automated. Many reasons have been proposed to ex- plain this reticence, including the high up-front cost of automation, a lack of standards, the wide variety of components and processes required, and decreasing product life cycles. There are, however, numerous reasons for EMS provid- ers to look more closely at automating their back-end production lines—if not completely, at least partially. Not only are labor costs rising worldwide but quality requirements are getting more stringent as well. OEM customers con- tinue to demand single-digit DPPM (defective parts per million) and continuous cost reduc- tion programs. Adding value with Automation In the end, the value of automation boils down to decreasing costs and increasing rev- enue. Let us look a little closer at both, starting with costs. If implemented judiciously, automa- tion will increase throughput, improve quality, increase repeatability, and reduce labor-related costs. The traditional reason that manufacturing engineers have long offered when attempting to justify automation has been the reduction in the number of manual operators. But this is no longer sufficient. Not only is it unfair to the project proponent, since the project might actually be more attractive than he is able to present it, but it is also unfair to the company, since it cannot reap the benefits of an automa- tion project that is wrongly pushed aside. At Integrated Micro-Electronics, we devel- oped a financial tool for evaluating the return on investment on proposed improvement proj- ects such as the automation of an assembly sta- tion, taking into account also the reduction in cost of non-quality due to factors such as yield improvements, lower inspection costs, lower rework costs, and fewer field returns. One chal- lenge with such a tool is often the availability by michael hansson InTeGrATeD MICro-eleCTronICS Reducing Total Manufacturing Cost with Automation

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