Many of our childhood sci-fi movies are filled with robots taking over the world, usually acting as the villains in the story. In the electronics manufacturing world, this couldn’t be further from the truth — without automation, there would be very little growth and innovation.
Ever since the first assembly lines Henry Ford installed for the mass production of cars (which reduced the car assembly process from 12 hours to one hour and 33 minutes), automation and robotics have been on a quest to continuously improve the manufacturing industry’s efficiency. Through automation, many industries have streamlined their processes and significantly decreased the cost and time needed for production.
As the needs of consumers rapidly change, so too does the manufacturing process. Electronic devices, the Internet of Things (IoT), and various wearable devices got so small and complex that at a certain point, humans couldn’t physically manufacture and assemble printed circuit boards (PCBs) and electronics to keep up with the consumer’s demand.
Taking a look at the numbers, one ABB report shows that industrial robot implementation could increase manufacturing GVA in the UK by 21% in only a decade.
PCB assemblies continuously seek new and better ways to enhance their manufacturing technology to meet the demands of today’s market. Here are the benefits of using automation in electronics manufacturing.
Removes Human Error
As with any process when humans are involved, errors inevitably occur. Concentration slips easily when it comes to monotonous and repetitive tasks, which are usually crucial in manufacturing. Using automation in electronics manufacturing increases quality assurance and significantly reduces the possibility of errors.
The assembly of printed circuit boards and other electronic components is highly delicate, and not a single error is tolerable. Faulty connections or incorrect soldering can lead to malfunctions and even more significant hazards like fires or explosions. With such a high demand for perfection, it’s clear that human error just can’t be a factor.
Humans get tired and naturally start to make mistakes when such attention to detail is required. On the contrary, machines are specifically designed to carry out repetitive tasks with little to no room for error.
Automating these tasks also means that companies can direct their human workforce toward more creative tasks that don’t require such extreme accuracy.
Automating the PCB assembly process significantly lowers electronics manufacturing costs. Once you eliminate human error, you don’t need to spend any money fixing problems that lead to higher costs.
Many electronics manufacturing services (EMS) companies use software for quality control that allows assemblers to digitally build printed circuit boards prior to manufacturing. At this point, PCB designers may correct any design flaws before production — this eliminates many potential challenges and errors that can occur during that phase.
Still, obstacles will sometimes come up. When the automated system notices something wrong, it will send an alert. This stops production immediately so the problem can be fixed and companies don’t spend money on a full shipment of faulty parts. When you prevent these issues, it’s much easier to stay on a planned budget.
Automation means fewer employees are needed for the assembly line — this decreases labor costs, too. Besides eliminating human errors and requiring less of a workforce, automated machines also cut costs by making the assembly process incredibly fast, especially when compared to human assembly.
PCB manufacturing is highly complex, with over 50 required steps. Imagine if human hands manufactured every circuit board — with today’s consumer demands, it simply wouldn’t be possible.
When assembly times are shorter, production throughput increases. Higher rates of production equal more revenue and business growth.
With the world of IoT flourishing, there is high consumer demand for electronic products to get smaller and smaller — lightweight and super-portable computers, less noticeable wearables, different IoT devices that improve our everyday life, and more.
At a certain point, humans are physically incapable of assembling such small circuit boards and products. When a human workforce can’t keep up on assembly lines, the only option left is automation and the implementation of next-generation robots. It enables miniaturization and keeps up with market needs.
Keep Workers Safe
As with any pcb assembly manufacturing process, there are always safety concerns. The PCB industry uses a large number of harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde, dimethylformamide, and lead. For decades, chemically demanding and frequently poor manufacturing processes exposed tens of thousands of employees to a wide range of chemicals now recognized as reproductive toxicants.
Toxic metals, solvents, acids, and photolithographic chemicals have been used in the printed circuit board business, exposing employees to high toxicity levels. Only recently has there been a concerted attempt to reduce the amount of lead supplied globally by the electronics industry.
The automation process makes it safe for the human workforce, as they don’t have to be exposed to potentially dangerous chemicals and toxic metals.
On a smaller scale, automation and software can check for machinery malfunctions to warn workers when something is wrong, enabling them to fix the problem before anyone is harmed.
Upgrading Automation With an EMS Partner
Automation in electronics manufacturing comes with great benefits, and it sits at the core of today’s manufacturing industry. Without automation and robotics, it wouldn’t be possible for a PCB company to meet consumer and market demands for the mass production of small electronic devices.
Automation has also helped streamline production processes, significantly decreasing costs and almost entirely eliminating human error as a factor.
These automations are best combined with a team of professionals who are highly skilled in operating those systems and leading the production process.
By outsourcing the production phase to a trusted EMS partner, you will cut costs and sleep soundly knowing that if any unexpected problems arise, they will be handled by those who’ve been through the process many times.
Handling production and getting all the necessary equipment is extremely expensive, and costs only multiply when machines need regular maintenance. Partnering with an electronics manufacturing expert means your project will be handled by professionals who have perfected their skillset. They already have the entire infrastructure and staff that would work on your project.
Partnering with an EMS company will also give you time to focus on what matters — growing your business.
Here’s what to consider before partnering with an EMS partner.