Digitalised smart manufacturing for electronics

11th February 2020
Alex Lynn

As users of electronic devices, we can all appreciate the excitement of a new smartphone launch, the holiday availability of a new video game platform, or the introduction of a wearable device that promises to enhance our well-being in some way. Breakthrough innovations in electronics come rapidly, and we have come to expect that. 

By Caren Potter and Louisa Lou, Siemens Digital Industries Software

If you look at this development as a consumer, it’s positive and exciting. But as someone who manufactures electronics, your view is probably more mixed. Although there is the potential for incredible success in this market, the challenges of competing are daunting, but smart manufacturing can help.

Not only do your customers expect new devices from you at an ever-accelerating pace; they want to choose a customised version from dozens of options. Eventually they’re going to expect their devices to be personalised, if they aren’t already. Increasingly, they expect new devices to connect to all of their other devices via the Internet.

Additionally, there is the expectation of flawless quality. In this age of immediate and potentially viral negative product reviews on social media, a minor malfunction or a significant launch delay can doom a product to a premature death.

Practical implications for manufacturers

As electronics manufacturers struggle to meet today’s market demands (rapid new product introductions, high expectations for quality, personalisation/customisation, internet connectivity, etc.), manufacturers must con- tend with:

Greater product and process complexity: Newer technologies such as 3D printing, knowledge automation/digital assistants, big data/data analytics and advanced robotics have emerged to enhance innovation and accelerate manufacturing processes. Although these offer significant advantages, they also increase the complexity of both products and the pro- cesses required to manufacture them.

Cycle-time pressures: Today’s short time-to-market makes it difficult to prove in advance that manufacturing processes will work, while the increasing volume of production ramp-up cycles leaves little to no room for error.

Difficulty shifting from mass production to mass customisation: The inflexibility of current manufacturing systems pre- vents them from supporting mass customisation.

Strict data and documentation requirements: Proof of compliance is essential for doing business in industries such as automotive and medical, and also for working with strict original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that require high levels of quality and standardisation.

Globalisation’s effect on labour resources and material replenishment: Decisions about where to manufacture have become more complicated as some low-cost regions have been unable to keep pace with increased product demand and/or cost expectations. Profit margins drop when low-cost labour sites are no longer as cost effective, and also when shipping costs counteract labour-cost savings. Global sourcing offers the potential for cost savings, but also makes it harder to optimise material replenishment.

How the industry has responded

Most electronics manufacturers have applied digitalisation to various stages of their product development process. These efforts include one or more of the following solutions: 

  • Integrated planning and management for PCB assembly and test
  • Production ramp-up, virtual design and process verification test management and execution
  • Production optimisation with integrated layout and simulation
  • Model-driven processes for advanced part and mold manufacturing
  • Supplier collaboration for PCB contract manufacturing
  • Manufacturing execution system (MES) for box build and shop floor connection

Digitalisation clearly supports better planning and faster validation of production alternatives, increasing the effectiveness and performance of manufacturing operations. However, research by CEB Global (now Gartner) indicates that so far, digitalisation is not having the anticipated bottom-line impact.

In a 2017 survey, the firm found that more than 80 percent of the senior executives they contacted had some sort of digital initiative underway, yet 44 percent also noted that digital investments were not improving net profit.

“Digitalisation success depends less on having the most advanced technologies and more on having the right operating systems,” Gartner concluded. “Business skills, incentives and operating models have 15 times more impact on the likelihood of success in digitalisation than changes in digital technologies.”

What more is needed

Realising the full potential of digitalisation requires a new manufacturing operating model. At Siemens, we call this paradigm the Digital Enterprise, which is an integrated platform that unites all of the domains required to engineer, manufacture and deliver today’s smart products.

The foundation of the Digital Enterprise rests on two concepts, the digital thread and the digital twin.

Digital thread: The digital thread is a chain of information that connects all of the participants and information involved in designing, building and supporting the product. A collaboration backbone, such as Teamcenter software, weaves the digital thread through all of the involved disciplines, applications, tools and systems.

Digital twin: This is a highly accurate virtual model of either the product (the digital product twin) or its manufacturing process (the digital manufacturing twin). These models are used to simulate real-world conditions prior to building a product or designing manufacturing operations, with the goal of optimising as much as possible in soft- ware, in which multiple what-if scenarios can be evaluated relatively inexpensively.

Thanks to information coming from the digital thread, digital twins can be constantly updated for maximum accuracy. For example, customer feedback can be captured to inform the design and testing of future products. Similarly, by collecting information from real-life manufacturing processes, manufacturing simulations can be improved, resulting in more efficient manufacturing processes. Digital twins are also an excellent way to capture and replicate manufacturing best practices.

Why smart manufacturing for electronics?

Smart manufacturing for electronics is how Siemens PLM Software has tailored the Digital Enterprise for electronics manufacturers. The smart manufacturing for electronics strategy is the outcome of incorporating Mentor into the Siemens family, and our subsequent efforts to merge the two companies’ solutions into a comprehensive, cohesive platform that provides value for you.

Siemens PLM Software has been covering the mechanical flow from end-to-end for many years. Mentor provided solutions for the printed circuit board industry, covering the electronics flow from design to manufacturing.

There are many differences and similarities between the electronic and mechanical flows, but as products in general have become more complex and contain more electronic content, we saw the need for tighter convergence between the flows. This is why we created smart manufacturing for electronics, making us the only company to offer a solution that supports both the electronics (PCB) and the mechanical aspects of product development, all the way from design to manufacturing.

With smart manufacturing for electronics, Siemens is allowing electronics manufacturers to realise greater efficiencies by merging the real and virtual worlds.

Tangible factory floor advantages

Smart manufacturing for electronics eliminates physical prototypes, disconnected systems, paper-based work instructions and silos of information to enable a continuous, integrated flow from design to planning to production.

The difference between this approach, which generates and distributes accurate, validated product and process models across the company, and current piece-meal digitalisation strategies, can be seen at every stage of product development. Some key differences include:

  • More reliable and manufacturable designs
  • Better collaboration among design, engineering and manufacturing departments
  • Less data redundancy
  • Fewer shop floor planning mistakes
  • Less error-prone manual data entry
  • Optimised inventory and JIT use of materials
  • Enforced manufacturing best practices
  • Accurate and up-to-date work instructions
  • Plug-and-play data collection and key performance indicators (KPI) monitoring
  • Fast time to root-cause identification
  • Transition toward higher product mix without loss of factory performance

Competitive advantages and business value

By digitalising the entire product development process – from design to production – and connecting a digital thread through all the steps in between, the smart manufacturing for electronics strategy lets you know a design can be made, the manufacturing plan is up-to-date and synchronised, and the production system is optimised and performing as you planned it.

This information delivers significant competitive advantages over conventional, partially digitised approaches, including:

Faster time-to-market and more frequent new product introductions: Product development activities that used to take weeks can now be done in hours when connected by a digital thread. Simulations and analyses performed on digital twins ensure right-first-time production. Overall, because a smart manufacturing strategy can reduce time-to-market by as much as 50 percent (see next page), it allows you to succeed in a market that demands frequent innovation.

Quality improvements through left-shift: Left-shift refers to performing tasks that would normally occur later in the design process at an earlier stage. An example in electronics development is PCB design for manufacturing (DFM) analyses, which are performed early and regularly rather than waiting until the design is complete. Each time an analysis is performed, the overall design improves, and the greater the degree of the shift, the greater the benefit.

More responsive manufacturing: With a digital thread linking product design and manufacturing, planning can be performed earlier in development so by the time the design is complete, manufacturing can quickly follow. This opens the door to product customisation and personalisation.

Smarter decision-making: More informed decisions are made possible by better visibility into manufacturing and the availability of analysis tools that fully exploit manufacturing data.

Cost control: By improving the efficiency of your manufacturing processes and materials – at individual sites as well the global enterprise – the smart manufacturing for electronics strategy can help reduce overall manufacturing costs, ultimately keeping your products affordable for your consumers.

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