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'Choosing to lead': how Guenter Lauber and Siemens A & D plan to achieve "sustainable value far into the future.".

It is no secret that the placement equipment market is brutally competitive. It is characterized by at least seven major players, not to mention many smaller ones, and pricing for high-end machines has been under extreme pressure since the last downturn.

This month Siemens Automation and Drives will debut the D-Series placement platform in North America. This move is notable because historically high-performance machines have made their debut in North America or Europe. The D-Series, however, was originally launched in Asia--specifically, in Shanghai during Nepcon China last April--and has since migrated West.

The D-Series features a sophisticated vision system capable of recognizing flipped parts, incorrect pickups and component defects such as missing contact faces and balls. The software and feeders are common to the X-Series. Going forward, new features will make their debut on the X-Series and then be passed to the D-Series.

Last month CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY spoke with Guenter Lauber, vice president of Siemens A & D, about the new platform, the customer evaluation process and RFID component attachment.

CA: You are rolling out the Siplace D-Series this fall in North America. What can you tell us about the platform and the features?

Lauber: The new D-Series was designed as a direct response from the industry to offer a highly innovative platform with clearly defined value for the customer. The D-Series can support all aspects of manufacturing from NPI to medium- to high-volume production. Supporting this are technologies that Siemens has become renowned for such as the robust linear motor gantry systems of our X-Series platform.

The D-Series is also equipped with a new digital vision system to ensure maximum placement accuracy and reliability. It expands the component spectrum because the sensors in the digital vision system recognize components based on their geometry and color. The camera can be optimized for the next measurement and detect faulty components quickly and reliably. Users need only a single component description for the entire D-Series platform. This level of consistency significantly lowers the costs of managing and maintaining component specification data.

Also available with the D-Series is an external Vision Teaching Station. This allows users to program new components offline, while the production line keeps running, and download them when needed. Since the Vision Teaching Station's camera and lights are identical to those in the machine, all components are measured the same as on the actual production lines.

Additionally, the flexible dual-conveyor transport also makes it easy to process circuit boards of different sizes and adapt from one to another product fast and easily. Its ability to seamlessly switch from single to dual lane mode enables boards to be produced in the most efficient way possible.

CA: One of the main features of the D-Series is the ability to switch from what you call asynchronous and synchronous modes. Could you elaborate on how it works, and what this means for users?

Lauber: Asynchronous and synchronous modes are driven by customer's production strategy. We support a variety of operational strategies including the ability to run motherboards and other PCBs simultaneously as well as top- and bottom-side simultaneously, increasing the efficiency of the line. Customers are able to run in either single lane or dual lane modes. With this feature customers are no longer restricted by board width or PCB size. The D-Series platform can be completely adjustable, enabling customers to achieve significant savings in transport time.

CA: Some other machines on the line (for example, printers) are adding higher end inspection capability. Do you foresee this becoming commonplace with placement machines? And would inspection be performed as product exited the machine or as an in-process feature?

Lauber: There are many different viewpoints on when and where vision inspection should be applied, but Siemens understands that we need to address this requirement with the flexibility our customers need. Vision inspection will be based on the parameters of process design and this will determine the steps to be taken. We clearly recognize that zero-defect manufacturing and a higher level of intelligence is becoming critical to manufacturing in today's marketplace.

CA: In early 2005 you officially unveiled the X-Series platform. How would you characterize market acceptance?

Lauber: The launch and customer acceptance of the X-Series has far exceeded our global expectations. This platform has proven to be the ideal platform for our global customer base and we have had a record number of sales.

CA: Speaking of the X-Series, Siemens recently scored a major win from a Tier One EMS company in Mexico. To what do you attribute that?

Lauber: This project is global in scope and we attribute this win to our ability to provide the customer with a total value-added solution.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Our product portfolio speaks for itself. However, customers are now realizing that Siemens has much more to bring to the table. Siemens has a reputation as a global organization with a sound global structure framed around clearly defined global quality standards. We are in a unique position because we are able to offer our customers not only world-class SMT machines, but also a fully integrated logistics solution. Our goal with every customer is to make sure that we not only deliver the value when the equipment arrives, but that sustainable value is achieved far into the future.

CA: Time was, equipment technology would be introduced into North America or Europe, then moved elsewhere. How would you characterize equipment rollouts now?

Lauber: As you know, the electronics manufacturing market has gone through many global changes over the past decade. High-volume manufacturing companies in North America and Europe are moving their production to Asia in significant numbers. However, many headquarters remain in North America and Europe.

Siemens is a global company and we roll out products based on the needs of the global market. Local and regional needs of our customer base are considered in all product rollouts. For the next few years the Asian market will have the highest growth rate and will be more than 50 to 60% of the overall market. The U.S. and European markets will be the smaller markets in terms of percentage, but in terms of actual units, they still represent substantial markets of significant strategic importance. Also, in terms of importance in new product introductions and high-tech production, the U.S. will still have a leading and important role.

Our network of assembly centers and factories in Bruchsal, Munich, Singapore, Shanghai and Atlanta work very closely together and according to global quality process standards. For us, most important when rolling out a new product is the "Made by Siemens" quality certificate, which ensures that the strict Siemens global quality requirements are complied with.

CA: How would you describe the differences in how companies conduct equipment evaluations, both regionally and by company size? What are the types of tests or questions potential customers ask that lead you to believe they are conducting a thorough and objective critique?

Lauber: Many companies around the world conduct equipment evaluations with a matrix comparing prices and specifications. At times, purchasing decisions are made based solely on the matrix.

However, in other instances vendors must meet the requirements of the matrix to get to the next stage of the evaluation. In this next stage factors such as marketing strategy, overall cost of ownership, changeover times, commonality of the platform, ease and efficiency of new product introductions, redeployment options and ease of reconfiguration are considered. Also, potential customers may require you to run their product in real production to see how your equipment performs.

We often see lower-tier suppliers trying to manage a global account with a regional mentality and this simply doesn't work very well at all. In fact, we see some suppliers from time to time who have difficulty articulating value to the customer and resort to incredible offers such as free equipment for extended periods of time. Consequently, at the end of the day the ultimate common denominator will become price instead of value. Because there are so many value-added factors that should be considered when choosing a supplier, the manufacturer is left with an incomplete solution when price becomes the common denominator. Value-added solutions that provide unparalleled efficiencies, global quality standards, advanced technologies and continuous increased productivity should be the underlying factors considered before making a purchasing decision.

CA: The placement market has reached an unprecedented level of competitiveness. Can all the current players survive?

Lauber: We do anticipate further movement into niche markets by some suppliers. But more importantly, we believe technology and innovation will be the drivers and the determining factors as to who survives. In today's competitive marketplace you are either a leader or a follower; Siemens chooses to be a leader.

CA: What are Siemens' thoughts on plans for the RFID component attachment market?

Lauber: The Siplace team believes that RFID technologies offer a large potential for cost savings. However, there are still some issues regarding production processes and missing standards that need to be resolved for this technology to truly take off. One highly sensitive issue is the cost per label incurred during the manufacturing process; other issues are mainly production-related.

There are many technologies emerging for RFID tags. Those that use a silicon-based technology become an ideal candidate for our solutions. Our placement equipment is designed for advanced technologies and we will be prepared for the requirements of RFID placement for the low-end segments as well as the high-volume users.

As a matter of fact, one of our current customers, Neology, is a San Diego-based vertically-integrated provider of passive RFID-enabled solutions. They perform microchip and scanner design as well as RFID tag manufacturing. Neology chose Siemens because our roadmap fit perfectly to the core competencies of their business.

By the nature of RFID tags, they will typically be manufactured and consumed within the same geographic regions. That makes Siemens the ideal global partner for RFID customers.

Mike Buetow is editor-in-chief of CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY; mbuetow@upmediagroup.com.
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Author:Buetow, Mike
Publication:Circuits Assembly
Article Type:Interview
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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