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10 SMT Magazine • May 2016 Stephen Las Marias is managing editor of SMT Magazine. He has been a technology editor for more than 12 years covering electronics, components, and industrial automation systems. companies cannot justify the ROI on automa- tion. And that is true. In his column for the March 2016 issue of SMT Magazine, Michael Ford of Mentor Graphics wrote that in the 1990s, when high-volume production was still en- joyed by most operations, the idea of replacing remaining manual operations with automated processes seemed like a great idea, although the technology at the time did not quite deliver on expectations. Today, the same ideas and goals for automation are once again in play, but this time, although technical capabilities have vastly improved, little high-volume is left. Ford added that 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. Of course, the trend is toward automation, es pecially if you aim to reduce the handling er- rors in your production lines and improve the overall efficiency of your facility. However, many companies cannot afford to acquire new and more advanced equipment just to say they are automated. There are many al- ternative strategies to help assemblers improve their process and reduce errors along the way. This idea leads me to this month's issue of SMT Magazine, which features other aspects of the assembly line where improvements can be made to increase the efficiency of the process. For starters, Donald Naugler, president and gen - eral manager of Massachusetts-based VJ Electro- nix, discusses in an interview the strategies to help customers reduce handling errors in their rework processes as well as material handling. I also interviewed Bjorn Dahle, president of KIC, during IPC APEX EXPO, to discover more about the technology improvements being made in reflow ovens that ensure visibility, traceabil - ity, and reduce handling errors in the process. Handling errors can also be reduced through shortening the time it takes to set up a system. So from his perspective, Bob Bouchard, corporate marketing manager at BTU, explains how ad- vances in thermal processing systems for reflow ovens can help users reduce their setup times, handling errors, and total cost of ownership. While automation is arguably the popular answer to really eliminating the handling errors in a process, justifying investments in automa- tion is getting more difficult, as the stakes are higher now for introducing automation. Circling back to Michael Ford, he writes about understanding the cost of automation when it comes to the EMS industry, the flexibil- ity it can offer, and deciding how much to invest in automation. Michael Hansson, director for global auto- mation at EMS firm Integrated Micro-Electronics Inc., writes that for an EMS provider, it is a given that the front-end board assembly process needs to be automated. For the back-end final assembly process, however, the situation is often less clear. In his article, he explains how far it makes sense to automate, and what type of automation—full, semi or partial—is better. Following up on his article last February, our technical editor Pete Starkey interviews Ron Jakeman, group managing director of Electrol - ube, during the recent productronica China in Shanghai to discuss the company's activities in the region. Dave Becker of All Flex Flexible Circuits LLC—who is also our expert columnist for The PCB Magazine—explains how coordination be- tween flexible circuit makers and the electronics assemblers can have a significant effect on costs based on material/panel utilization. Finally, SMT Magazine is not complete with- out our columnists. For this issue, Robert Voigt of DDM Novastar continues his discussion on selecting a selective soldering system. Tom Borkes of The Jefferson Institute, mean- while, writes about the production model based on Henry Ford and his assembly line idea. That's it for this month. Next issue, we will talk about the challenges surrounding solder paste printing amid the tighter tolerances and finer lines and spacing due to the continuing miniaturization trend in the electronics industry. Enjoy! SMT StRatEgiES to REducE Handling ERRoRS

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