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Real-time data collection and analysis: enterprise productivity software can be used to address numerous data collection and analysis problems faced by electronics manufacturers.

Part 1 of this series was featured last month.

Many electronics manufacturers are currently evaluating their production information in a pursuit of greater efficiency. They seek visibility to the actual performance of their process, while eliminating the overhead required to compile product flow and quality information. Other manufacturers want to improve their factory information management because their customers require such capability.

Many manufacturers are also grappling with traceability requirements for mission-critical devices. Their customers require efficient recall of every process a single product experienced, the data for each component added to the product, the operators who worked on it and its rework history. Often, these customers also expect the data to be immediately accessible, sometimes over the Web.

Even manufacturers not required to maintain traceability data want to learn from product movement. This information is very useful for identifying and resolving bottlenecks in production. Labor tracking and the ability to refine future quoting and scheduling practices also depend on such information. The ability to electronically access a single product's location in the factory can eliminate wasted time and effort (Figure 1).


Perhaps the greatest challenge faced by electronics manufacturers is the effective collection and analysis of quality data and the tracking of rework. Many generic software systems exist for managing quality data. However, electronics manufacturers typically require solutions that extend beyond defect collection through onscreen forms. Instead, they require graphical means of collecting defects, simply because product density in electronics is so much greater than most other discretely manufactured products.

Traditional solutions involve paper or online forms into which operators enter defects manually. This information is later compiled and analyzed. Unfortunately, such systems preclude real-time analysis and alarms, and often the analysis occurs so long after the actual process that the information is relatively useless. These systems also demand significant labor overhead.

Rework and repair is another process in the factory that is made more difficult by information access challenges. Systems collecting defect data by form entry make the subsequent localization of defects at the rework bench time consuming and difficult, as no graphical record of location exists.

The Web-Centric Solution

Manufacturing execution systems (MES) have been used for many years to fulfill these requirements. Manufacturers often employ several client-server applications to help satisfy their requirements, or they use an extension of a manufacturing resource planning (MRP) system.

Unfortunately, several factors limit the value of these traditional solutions. First, the information technology (IT) architecture of such systems makes them difficult to maintain and deploy, and they often require customization. In addition, traditional MES solutions are generic in that they lack inherent knowledge of the product and process. Therefore, these systems cannot associate collected information to rich product data and imagery. In contrast, Web-centric systems offer functionality beyond these systems to better fulfill the requirements of electronics manufacturing (Figure 2).


To understand why the Web-centric system works so well, consider a simple rework station at which the operator scans a PCB to recall inspection information. At this moment, a traditional quality system might display a form of text-based defects and require the operator to manually search for the defects on the physical product. Such software cannot open accompanying data such as the appropriate process instructions or specification drawings because it has no connection to revision data. Also, the system cannot present drill-down data to approved vendor list (AVL) and approved manufacturer list (AML) data because the relationship of this information to this particular revision product is not available to it.

In contrast, the Web-centric system can display the proper product revision, highlight the defects, present interactive AVL/bill of materials (BOM) drill down on each part, and allow access to all controlled documentation pertinent to that product version. Defects can be reworked and then graphically "closed" to aid efficient troubleshooting.

Now the product exits rework and re-enters the flow for reinspection. Traditional quality systems might present the inspector with table entries for collection. Because this system contains only the basic routing, but not the actual processes within each point, it cannot limit access to defect attributes pertinent only to that point in the flow. Without knowledge of the process engineering decisions made during new product introduction, this system cannot even filter an image to display only components populated up to that station in the routing. In fact, most systems cannot display an interactive product image at all.

Disconnecting BOMs, process and revision management systems from tracking and quality systems limits the information presented to the factory for use by operators and the information derived from the process for use by management. Web-centric solutions incorporating process and BOM data preparation solutions solve these problems.

The Factory Floor Experience

A Web-centric tracking and quality system interacts with factory personnel through its Web-browser interface or through Web-based automated data collectors. These browsers present all product and process knowledge that the factory engineers wish to make available at each routing station. For example, consider the process followed when an operator scans a product with a barcode reader or enters a batch movement into the browser.

At the moment of product scanning, the software resolves the barcode against job, revision, schedule and floor location to access the appropriate documents for that location, opening and displaying them to the operator. Simultaneously, the software logs data about the scanning event into the database including product, operator, time and other factors. If the system is running in batch mode and the operator finds a problem, it allows that individual product to be serialized for subsequent tracking through rework. If the system has inboard and outboard station scanners, it can literally resolve product location down to an individual machine or operator station by accessing its serial number lookup. If the product has variable parameters such as trimming settings or other unique data, the tracking system allows this information to be collected at each station for instant recall in the future.

When a product arrives at a rework terminal, it is scanned to display all appropriate documentation, part data and graphical maps of the defects located for resolution. Depending on configuration, manufacturers can move the product through multiple states of rework, allowing closed-loop rework validation rather than only "defective" and "fixed" options. When finished, the system again makes logical decisions based on its setup to re-route the product back to the primary flow. These systems allow unlimited nesting of logic decisions for such points.

Analysis for the Factory Office

Besides managing data on the factory floor, the Web-centric system also allows this data to be analyzed by engineering and management. For example, consider the analysis of production performance and flow data.

Tracking product movement enables "snapshot" views of product locations and analysis reports of bottlenecks. Serial number lookup for product history, contents and present location is also possible. This information is often used to build exact retrofits for field failures that had unique properties collected during initial manufacturing.

The system's virtually unlimited analysis possibilities enable production planners and foremen to improve scheduling, quoting and management practices. Production management has access to the information they need to improve the way the factory operates.

In addition, quality personnel can configure such systems to remove most paperwork from their duties, freeing them to focus on analysis and on providing feedback for the actual improvement of process. Unlimited numbers and types of customized analysis reports, along with real-time drill down tools for instant diagnostics, give quality engineers the information they need to offer recommendations to process engineering or management.

Sophisticated logic-building tools enable the construction of completely automated routings, rework loops and alarms (Figure 3). Real-time monitoring and reaction to process issues can identify and resolve problems before they escalate and become serious. Thus, quality engineers are liberated from clerical work and can analyze the real quality information being derived from the factory.



Web-centric manufacturing execution systems harvest information needed to improve efficiency and meet customer demands. They deliver these benefits without the overhead of manual quality data collection and product genealogy logging, within an easily deployed and maintained architecture. The synergy of prepared process and product data with manufacturing execution systems offers new levels of capability for electronics assemblers.

The next article in this series will describe the data preparation, paperless, tracking and quality functionality of enterprise productivity software as applied to real-time production monitoring and remote Web-based process visibility.

Jason Spera is the chief executive officer of Aegis Industrial Software Corp., Horsham, PA; e-mail:
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Title Annotation:Data Management
Author:Spera, Jason
Publication:Circuits Assembly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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