Industry 4.0—known to some as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or smart factory—promises to transform the manufacturing and production infrastructure in profound ways. Its name derives from its potential to usher in the fourth industrial revolution—a bold objective when one considers the magnitude of the revolutions in steam power, assembly-line production, and computer automation that preceded it.

Much has been written about the envisioned technology framework that will enable Industry 4.0 to be fully realized. This effort has required a complete rethink of legacy production processes and is accelerating the transition from analog, centralized workflows to digital, decentralized production processes. The ultimate end goal of this digitalization effort is to create autonomous “cyberphysical” production systems via which customer orders will be able to steer themselves throughout the supply chain and manufacturing processes with little to no human intervention. This new framework will enable breakthrough gains in production efficiency and agility, boost overall yield, and lower production costs substantially.

We have a long way to go before this vision is achieved, but continued innovations in manufacturing automation, sensor technology, the IoT, and big-data analytics are accelerating the Industry 4.0 transformation. Key to this effort is the capability to source, aggregate, and analyze production data at real-time speed, with end-to-end pinpoint-precision visibility into the production line. Production data must be shared at every point across the manufacturing line and harnessed in a manner whereby high-value data can be readily understood and acted upon immediately.

Orbotech’s role as a provider of automated manufacturing equipment gives us unique insight into these processes, particularly when it comes to the production of printed circuit boards (PCBs). Widely regarded as the fundamental building blocks of electronic devices, PCB production provides a good window into the technological evolution that’s now underway on the path to Industry 4.0. Among our observations and recommendations:

  • Quickly extract the most valuable data. PCB manufacturers often struggle to make sense of the huge amounts of data flooding in from a multitude of sources across the factory floor, particularly when there’s wide variance among the data attributes than need to be analyzed. By leveraging an integrated network of manufacturing and IT systems that can seamlessly share data and parse and assess all known data parameters in real time, PCB manufacturers can more quickly extract the valuable data they need to make more informed decisions. Digital processes such as direct imaging, inspection, laser drilling, and legend digital printing are accurately measuring and inspecting the PCB panels in different production stages. The capability to extract and understand the relevant data from the vast amount of data attributes supports intelligent analysis capabilities that allows the PCB fabricator make smart decisions on process improvements.
  • Real-time, high-precision inspection shortens decision-making cycles and improves yield. If repeated defects in the PCBs aren’t detected quickly and accurately, hundreds of processed panels may ultimately need to be scrapped—this is wasteful and expensive. Automated optical inspection systems can help eliminate this issue by quickly identifying recurring defects and localized defect distribution, alerting the manufacturer in real time to halt the line and/or troubleshoot the preceding processes such as etching or environmental conditions. Using direct imaging systems, PCB manufacturers can quickly identify and measure panel dimension instability, such as stretching, and make the necessary image adjustments. Over time, these measurements can be averaged together to better plan the production parameters and materials used for later batches.
  • Track everything. Product recalls are a fact of life, affecting everything from baby cribs to automobiles to artificial hearts. But recalls are expensive, and they needn’t be so prevalent. In the electronic device domain, it’s far more cost-effective in the long run to implement RFID and 2D barcode tracking at the PCB panel level to ensure that every PCB can be traced throughout the production process, identifying when, where, and how the PCB was handled at every single touchpoint. With a complete record of the production process, defective PCBs can be identified and isolated early—long before they’re built into the end device.

PCB manufacturers are, of course, just one subset of the manufacturing community, but the core concepts that underpin these best practices are widely applicable and can provide manufacturers with the intelligence they need to make faster, better decisions. Looking ahead to the future, decision-making responsibilities will increasingly be transferred from humans to machines, and the frictionless, omnidirectional flow of data across the supply chain and factory floors will enable the real-time responsiveness and agility that make Industry 4.0 a reality.

Shavi Spinzi is the industrial marketing director for Orbotech’s Printed Circuit Board division. Spinzi has more than 25 years of experience in the PCB industry at Orbotech in a variety of product management and marketing roles. He has an M.B.A. from the VUB in Brussels and a B.Sc. in electrical engineering from the Tel Aviv University.


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