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18 SMT Magazine • March 2016 Automation for PCB assembly processes in 2016 is a world away from where it started in the 1990s, when high-volume production was still enjoyed by most operations. The idea of replacing remaining manual operations with automated processes that offered a compel- ling return on investment, reduced variation, and higher reliability seemed like a great idea, although the technology at the time did not quite deliver on expectations. Fast forward to today, and the same ideas and goals for automation are once again in play; but this time, although technical capabili- ties have vastly improved, little high-volume is left. Automation now has to be part of a high- mix production environment, with flexibility as factories are called on to be more responsive to shorter term changes in demand. Manual processes are the most flexible of all, so now the stakes for introducing automation are higher. This high-mix environment has created an irony in PCB assembly manufacturing with SMT. Automated SMT machines are faster and smarter, with wider capabilities and efficien- cies, and they are generally more flexible in how they can be used. However, some engi- neers are embarrassed when showing visitors (or top management) around the SMT area because many of the machines appear to not be working. Productivity levels of higher than 80% are commonly reported, which would im- ply that the machines should be working 80% by Michael ford MeNtor Graphics the buyer's guide to automation thE ESSEntIal PIonEEr'S SurvIval guIdE 18 SMT Magazine • February 2016

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