What was new from Aegis at SMT Nuremberg last month?
At Aegis, we continuously develop and provide new functions that bring enhanced customer value as part of our FactoryLogix digital MES solution. Many of these new functions were seen for the first time at SMT. I guess that is because the industry has always focused on hardware technology; the approach to software in the industry is also very technically driven. We are happy to show off all of the new and unique features of our software which we believe differentiate us clearly from our competitors. Often however, the real values and points of differentiation of MES software are overlooked, as technical evaluation is based on preconceived functional “tick-boxes” of functions, done prematurely before the holistic understanding of the potential values and benefits that each specific solution represents. This year, our focus is to help the highly skilled technical manufacturing people who visited SMT, both understand and be able to communicate to their management, the huge opportunity that investment in software represents for them to achieve their operational and business goals.
Another new and exciting thing for us at this show was our participation in the European debut of the IPC Connected Factory Exchange (CFX) demo. Together with many other participating companies, we were a part of the show-wide demonstration of the value and ease of use of CFX within a factory, which in this case was the SMT show-floor. People came from all over the world to see the premiere of this demo at the APEX trade show last February, and were amazed at how they could access live data from so many different machine vendors continuously through the show, by doing nothing more than reading a QR code on their phones. No software to install or configure. This is a real-world demonstration of what we will be seeing everywhere in assembly manufacturing in a very short time, as the CFX standard is expected to be published by the end of this year. CFX will become the critical component for the realization of Industry 4.0 in assembly manufacturing.
Q2: Industry 4.0 started in Germany; is the region further along the journey in your opinion, and what does the deployment of these smart manufacturing techniques look like on the ground?
There is a broad range of experience today with how Industry 4.0 is being adopted. Not all are good. In some cases, the industry is being set backwards, as investment for innovation is on-hold until Industry 4.0 values and future-proofing are made clear. It takes a large company to be able to speculate with investment to create smart factories by themselves, so in reality we have not seen many of these in Germany, and far less elsewhere in the rest of the western manufacturing world. In China however, things are a little different. I have recently seen an outstanding example of a fully functional closed-loop SMT production line, on which the quality and performance improvements have been astounding. Both compensation and correction of paste and SMT placement and inspection have been fully automated through a solution that features multiple upstream and downstream closed-loops. The know-how to do this is evolving rapidly, but at a great cost when created, and much more seriously, when scaled. For mass adoption of any Industry 4.0 related technology by a typical SME company in Germany, we first need the free and open IoT exchange of information, such as through CFX, plus, modern, standard “off the shelf” MES software that is structured to not just store more and more data, but with the ability to make decisions and take actions automatically in real-time using the whole wealth of data available. All of this has to be cost-effective in terms of ROI, to be within the reach of the whole industry, which we at Aegis are leading the industry towards.
Q3: You talked about FRACAS and CAPA in a recent article, is that a topic you explored at SMT?
Aegis has recently added support for Administrative Quality Management with the latest release of FactoryLogix. This addresses a major frustration in the quality management area of manufacturing, where traditionally, a complex CAPA/ FRACAS package, or whatever similar defined acronym, sits apart from regular quality data management tools. In order to effectively apply and maintain corrective or preventative actions, there must be digital integration with the systems that manage and monitor the processes, otherwise there are many actions to be done manually, incurring costs and engineering time. Our integration of these functions then changes the perception of Administrative Quality Management functions, like CAPA and FRACAS, from being somewhat esoteric and relevant for only the highest product quality requirements, to being something that every manufacturer can utilize to help achieve a step-change improvement in their quality performance. This is an example where Aegis is seeing value from the business perspective as being far more important than the differing somewhat artificial academic arguments that are debated as differentials of expensive isolated solutions.
Q4: Can you give us a state of the market update for Europe and specifically for Germany from your perspective along with your view on what will change in the coming year or so?
There are business opportunities out there today for companies to take. More electronic products are being produced than ever before, witnessed by the current strains in the supply-chain. Digital control of material supply, performance, flexibility and quality are now being seen as mandatory across the whole industry, but as we said earlier, there is still reluctance to invest until the way forward with Industry 4.0 is clear. The delay however, plays into the hands of Asian competitors who are making moves to become smart themselves. The geographical advantage of local manufacturing here, with new technologies for key components such as additive manufacturing, needs to speed up rapidly if Germany and Europe as a whole expect to gain advantage from it. Government support for Industry 4.0 is there in many countries, but such incentives are not being made accessible enough to have a significant effect. For any one company to stick their neck out and invest heavily in making their operation smart by themselves, carries risk. Many key and influential companies now need to work together, even competing manufacturers, to raise the overall level of Industry 4.0 in European manufacturing using the new standards and modern digital solutions. Within the IPC CFX committee, we have seen competing machine vendors working together side by side to create the CFX specification. They know that the result will benefit them all, rather than taking away something from one another. If we can see manufacturers doing this over the next year with industry 4.0, we will see major improvements in Germany and Europe’s global manufacturing market share and absolute performance. Otherwise, we face another year moving along the statistically proven path, which now has been in place for decades, of overall gradual decline. It is in the hands of manufacturers now.