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Equipment Manufacturing Industry Takes on the Challenge of Machine Interaction

The first step in realizing Factory 4.0 is upgrading non-automated equipment to automated equipment and upgrading existing standalone machines and equipment to enable mutual interaction.

The first step in realizing Factory 4.0 is upgrading non-automated equipment to automated equipment and upgrading existing standalone machines and equipment to enable mutual interaction. Symtek, an automated equipment manufacturer, followed these steps to establish their first smart factory.

Established in 1988, Symtek Automation started out producing automated equipment for the printed circuit board (PCB) industry. Over the past 30 years, Symtek has established itself in the automated equipment manufacturing industry, developing automation markets in many industry sectors, including ceramic substrates, electronic assembly, LEDs, IC packaging and semiconductors. They are particularly focused on equipment manufacturing for handling automation, and occupy a 70% market short of the Dina and Taiwan markets. However, a few years ago, Symtek sensed that the environment and requirements of the market were slowly changing. Customer demands were shifting toward small-quantity and diversified custom orders, presenting a range of new challenges. Symtek needed to be able to respond swiftly to market requirements, provide more diversified production and design smart production processes that both forecast and integrate before and after process feedback in order to provide high-value products.

Enabling “Mute” Machines to “Speak”

At the TPCA exhibition held in October 2015, Symtek exhibited a dynamic unmanned smart factory that occupied an area of 81 m2, showcasing its vision for future smart factories with automated warehouse management systems, automatic transfers between stations and integrated factory information flows. Such factories would allow for more flexible loading and unloading, and, with the implementation of smart manufacturing units, truly realize the concept of smart manufacturing without requiring substantial human intervention. Industry 4.0, which integrates new technologies such as automated production, robots, and the Internet of Things (IoT), has become the foremost trend in advanced manufacturing worldwide. The transformation of traditional production lines into next-generation of smart factories represents an upgrade opportunity for electronics manufacturers such as Symtek.

The first step in realizing a smart factory is to make formerly “mute” equipment “speak”. Symtek’s representative explained that this process involves first upgrading non-automated equipment to automated equipment, and then transforming existing standalone machines and equipment by interlinking them. Symtek asserted, “Only by making the machines interact can we collate and integrate a factory’s information flow. However, executing this step was a major challenge. The process of obtaining all the data read by the numerous types of sensor interfaces in the various machines is difficult, which hinders data collection. As for replacing all the equipment, frankly speaking, this would definitely not be a smart way of doing things.”

Since Symtek launched its smart factory, identifying the best solution that could allow new and old equipment to co-exist and interact smartly represented the key breakthrough for implementing Industry 4.0. Such a solution would enable “mute” equipment to instantly report its operation and production status and “blind” equipment to sense the things it is doing, thereby transforming machines that could not make decisions into smart machines. Symtek said, “This is a very challenging job. A good platform and tools are required to achieve the best results with minimum effort. Advantech has developed the cloud services software platform WISE-PaaS, which includes its Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) and Data Flow Management of production data and reduce development time by two-thirds. Of course, a stable hardware system that is widely available in the market is another important factor for consideration.” To be specific, new equipment must be “intelligent” and existing equipment must be equipped with “plug-in upgrades”. In addition to the WISE-PaaS/RMM platform for creating data processing services, Advantech’s WISE-Agent has become Symtek’s key software for implementing IoT.

At the production and maintenance site, an open and standard information architecture was created using WISE-PaaS, allowing formerly standalone equipment to achieve cross-device data acquisition and communication after integration. In this case, previously manual and paper-based tasks become digitized, reducing costs and significantly increasing efficiency. Connecting the machine to facilitate communication I order to make them “intelligent” was the first step in realizing a smart factory.

Progressing Towards Smart Production

“Establishing a truly automated and smart factory is not about pursuing brand new equipment. Intelligent production must come from an intelligent enterprise,” Symtek emphasized. According to Symtek, their smart factory strategies are being progressively implemented. Currently, they are engaged in the first stage of implementation, which involves upgrading non-automated equipment to automated equipment. For the second stage, this automated equipment will be made to communication that is, interconnected. The third stage would be data collection, in which data is collated for all linked automated equipment. The fourth stage would involve building a databased for processing big data, analyzing data, and conducting predictive maintenance and monitoring. Symtek’s intelligent transformation is occurring gradually.

Over the last two years, Symtek first committed itself to developing smart automated equipment and integrated products and services, such as smart warehousing systems, automated guided vehicles (AGV) and rail guided vehicle systems, as well as integrating robots and data collection. Symtek then proposed Productivity 4.0 solutions and began to actively establish PCB 4.0 intelligent system integration applications. However, Industry 4.0 is not simply about replacing humans with robots. Instead, it utilizes man0machine cooperation to realize intelligent production. “We use robots to replace humans for tasks that are vulnerable to error, and assign humans to more innovative jobs,” Symtek said. In smart factories of the future, every machine in the manufacturing process will be able to interact through the IoT, or even collate data from upstream raw material supply units, allowing staff to determine the raw material supply status and make real-time adjustments. Whether processing a last-minute order or fulfilling urgent orders, staff can have a complete understanding of the production line status.

Acknowledging the trend towards intelligence in industry and upgrading to Industry 4.0 represents the collaborative vision of the entire industry. “Within the industry, upstream and downstream partners should collaborate on implementing technology integration, rather than trying to do everything on their own,” Symtek emphasized. Indeed, with the increasing development of intelligent manufacturing technologies and solutions, Industry 4.0 looks set to penetrate the entire manufacturing sector. After which, the work of the entire industrial chain will be reallocated and traditional industry boundaries will disappear.

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