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64 SMT Magazine • May 2016 by Michael Hansson INTEGRATED MICRO-ELECTRONICS INC. For an EMS provider, it is a given that the front-end board assembly process needs to be automated. Regarding the back-end final assem- bly process, however, the situation is often less clear. There are often many advantages to auto- mating the final assembly process, but how far does it make sense to automate? Is a fully auto- mated process better than a semi-automated, or partially manual process? advantages of automation Let's start by reviewing some of the advan- tages of an automated final assembly process. First of all, an automated process is much more repeatable and will thus allow a much higher quality level to be attained. Today's require- ments for the assembly of automotive-grade electronics require a hands-off approach to handling, with robots and automated handling preferred by most tier 1 customers and OEMs. In addition to improvements in quality, we can expect a reduction in the total cost of a project—assuming that the volumes are rela- tively high. Savings come from a reduction in the cost of non-quality, which includes the cost of analysis, inspection, scrap, education, train- ing, field returns and loss of reputation. Fur- thermore, an automated solution frequently takes up less floor space than a manual process. Flexible automation can be designed to be uti- lized for multiple programs thus reducing the cost per individual project further. Finally, with the ability to provide an automated final assem- bly process, an EMS provider can typically at- tract higher value-add projects that it otherwise would not have been considered for. Personally, I do not think that automation will lead to a mass displacement of human work- ers. There will always be new goods that need to be manufactured. The stations that will be au- tomated first will be those where more critical process steps are executed, allowing production operators to fill in the gaps where automation How Far Does it Make Sense to Automate? FEatuRE

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