New Demands on PCB Manufacturing
Industries are now embracing the Industry 4.0 standards in a big way. This is because of the huge gains Industry 4.0 promises them. The gains are mainly in automation of factory data in efficiency and productivity. This also includes artificial intelligence or AI and the Internet of Things or IoT. The future envisages industrial processes where machines are responsible for learning specific tasks. Expect machines to exploit closed feedback loops for monitoring and reporting highly detailed production data in real time. This enables detecting deviations, and automatically triggering adjustments for source parameters.
It is natural for such processes to harness tremendously large volumes of data for analysis. Although this is an intimidating challenge, it is necessary for machine learning. The design of AI systems allows machines to absorb and learn from this huge store of information. Although the electronics industry has yet to reach the level of intelligence and automation that engineers would like it to achieve, it is steadily but definitely moving towards Industry 4.0. Trends in the PCB manufacturing industry bear out this shift as evidence.
Newer Demands on PCB Manufacturing
There is intense pressure on the PCB manufacturers to provide detailed information on each finished PCB they produce. This data allows their customers to identify, to keep track, and to troubleshoot defects quickly on their PCB assemblies all along the supply chain with high levels of data granularity.
Rush PCB meets this challenge by undertaking process modifications for capturing PCB production data and root cause analysis at every step in the manufacturing process. Our processes generate large amounts of manufacturing data. This ultimately helps to deliver a high level of visibility into our manufacturing processes. Simultaneously, it also asses the functional integrity of each individual layer within a multi-layered PCB, while monitoring the status of the board as it proceeds through the production line.
In addition, Rush PCB is also using smart manufacturing in new ways for improving the overall process. This also helps in identifying problem areas in factory systems. In this strategy, we are using advanced process control and visualization applications as key components. This is our precursor to becoming a fully automated factory in the future.
Precision Tracking Each Step
Core tenets of Industry 4.0 require process control and traceability capabilities, but at the same time, they also offer many benefits. Traceability is the ability of the customer to track any defect all the way through to the PCB manufacturing unit. Traceability offers increased process visibility via digital data collected throughout the production process. It involves channeling this data to the manufacturing execution system or MES of the factory, and its IT department.
Traceability also enhances the efficiency of all manufacturing equipment, as it requires the establishment of a central collection point. It helps make the establishment more cost-effective, as it takes advantage of analytical tools for improving yield and process management.
Implementing PCB Traceability
Commercial establishments track their material and merchandise regularly through barcoding and software. In practice, PCB traceability is not much different. However, unlike most commercial items, PCBs are far more complex. Failure of a PCB in the field can have disastrous consequences, depending on its application—in an unmanned vehicle, a defibrillator, or a smartphone—and anything in between.
Rush PCB understands traceability is not only reading and tracking a barcode fixed to a finished PCB. The information is not only inadequate, but also lacks the ability to pinpoint problems that have their origins in an internal PCB layer. Therefore, following the spirit of Industry 4.0, we individually code each layer of every PCB in sophisticated barcode markings and track them via software, finally linking them to the rest of the PCB’s layers.
Although our method generates highly detailed data, it allows for end-to-end traceability, including root cause analysis of each specific PCB manufacturing process within our production line. For this, we track granular data such as:
- Machines used
- Machine parameters
- Machine activity
- Pictures of inspection
- Date and time stamp
- Operator name
- Batch number
Not only is the above information valuable for historical records, but we use the tracked data by processing it, analyzing it, and immediately feeding it back to the MES, even before the PCB has left the factory.
Accessing the data and acting on it in real time, allows us to use it effectively for identification and correction of process issues as they happen. This helps us tremendously in limiting the propagation of any defect. We are also moving towards implementing ML and AI technologies for closing this real-time closed feedback loop that will essentially enable automated learning and decision-making processes.
Future of Traceability
With the implementation of Industry 4.0, there is increasing demand for deeper understanding of the PCB manufacturing processes, offering full visibility into each step. This, in fact, goes well beyond traceability of PCB units.
Use of advanced visualization and process control can generate highly detailed and automated production reports. These will provide us, the manufacturer, with a real-time view of a defect distribution map across the inspection and manufacturing stages. Analytics collected through production monitoring will enable PCB manufacturers to identify defects and trends quickly and accurately throughout the manufacturing process.
Generation of real-time production data will provide the manufacturer with actionable insights, which can be useful for carrying out root-cause analysis for closing out the feedback loop with the PCB designer. Not only will this improve management of the overall production floor, but also result in fast, more informed, and efficient decisions for improving the production process. Benefits to the manufacturer will include reduced downtimes, lower maintenance costs, higher productivity, and improvement of overall effectiveness.
Rush PCB has mass-market ambitions in premium electronics industry like smartphones. Therefore, we are accelerating our trend towards production digitization. We are targeting next-generation PCBs with embedded components for servicing the fast-growing market for autonomous vehicles. This is a market that allows only razor thin margins for device errors and passenger safety.
This market is likely to propel automation requirements of PCB data in the future. Rush PCB is preparing for PCBs and process integrity, as autonomous vehicles carrying passengers, including the robots that assemble them will be subject to the utmost stringent specifications.