Intelligent Production Logistics

Philipp Mutz, Strategic Industry Manager – Electronics & Solar at SICK says production and intralogistics in the electronics industry are currently undergoing significant changes. He reveals why.

The result of rising cost pressures and the need for greater automation as well as increasing product variants and customisation has led to significant changes. Added to this, there are new requirements arising from digitalisation in dynamic markets with ever shorter development cycles.

“From silicon to smartphone” describes the value chain in the electronics industry. It encompasses the manufacture of semiconductor chips based on silicon wafers as well as electronic components such as connectors and capacitors, their placement on printed circuit boards, as well as the mounting of subassemblies and electronic devices.

Whereas the ongoing move towards automation and digitalisation previously focused on individual processes and machines, the emphasis these days is increasingly on production logistics solutions between machines as well as between production and purchasing or distribution logistics. The various affected industry sectors are seeking to achieve more transparency and efficiency in the flow of materials and information. Whether it be by fully linking production lines or with the help of modular manufacturing cells: intelligent sensor solutions allow new logistics concepts or extend existing ones in the electronics industry.

From manual to fully automated manufacturing

The following graphic illustrates various manufacturing concepts based on four different production lines in a factory: Depending on whether numerous variants or high quantities are being produced, you can use either modular manufacturing cells or fully linked production lines. Manual manufacturing is suitable for the production of small quantities or a large number of product variants. Robot assistance allows machines to be loaded automatically, for example in machine parks. Logistics areas such as goods receiving and dispatch are located either upstream or downstream of the manufacturing lines.

If you consider the entire value chain of the electronics industry, you will find that all four manufacturing concepts are used in this industry. The particular level of automation in material transport as well as in other areas of production logistics can vary greatly depending on the type of manufacturing.

The semiconductor industry has been characterised by a high level of automation and productivity for many decades. Fully auto¬mated material transport to the process machines has been standard practice in the industry, in particular in the manufacture of semiconductor chips based on silicon wafers. When using surface-mount technology (SMT), these semiconductor chips and other components are placed on printed-circuit boards. This is done on linear manufacturing lines. From loading to unloading, the process machines in these lines are connected by conveyor belts.

An extremely diverse manufacturing landscape exists in the manufacture of electronic devices and components. In this case, (partial) processes, for example in mounting, continue to be performed by manual or semi-automated means. On their path to fully automating the manufacture of electronic assemblies and devices, manufacturers are choosing either fully linked manufacturing lines or modular manufacturing cells.

The particular manufacturing concept chosen depends in particular on the volume and number of variants of the product being manufactured. Fully linked manufacturing lines are generally preferred when producing few variants and high quantities, while modular manufacturing cells are preferred when producing many variants.

Production and logistics: two disciplines merge together

Production logistics encompasses all the processes between purchasing and distribution logistics that ensure that the machines and workstations are supplied with the right materials or products at the right time and in the right quantity and quality. The progressive automation and digitalisation of manufacturing can help make the material flow from the delivery of materials to the shipping of the finished product fully transparent. This is where the sensor solutions from SICK come into play.

Smart shelf

The digitalisation of shelf systems, frequently referred to as “smart shelf”, is becoming more and more commonplace in various areas of the value chain: sensors, identification solutions, and status indicators are increasingly being used, for example, in SMT manufacturing for the storage of printed circuit board magazines or for the provision of production materials for the assembly of electronic devices.

For the automated demand notification in a Kanban system, the empty container is either identified by a worker with the help of codes, or the identification occurs automatically using an RFID transponder as the container is returned. A further possibility is to monitor the quantity of the containers using sensors mounted directly on the shelf: when the level falls below a predefined value, a replenishment is triggered automatically.

SICK is responding to these application requirements with image-based code readers and RFID read/write devices. It also has cascadable detection solutions for monitoring stock levels.

SICK offers 2D LiDAR sensors for checking withdrawals from the shelf and comparing them to the production order. These sensors can be programmed for the customer-specific application with the help of the SICK AppSpace eco-system. The same applies to programmable Sensor Integration Machines (SIMs) such as the SIM1004, which are suitable for combining, evaluating, archiving and transferring data from multi-sensor systems. The SIMs collect sensor data, for example the shelf contents detected by the FlexChain automation light grid, or the container identification number identified by UHF write/read devices. SICK AppSpace can be used to process the data, communicate with higher-level shelf management systems or an MES, and control external status indicators. The latter use visual indicators to tell the worker from which shelf compartments they need to withdraw materials, or where to replenish materials.

Digitalised supermarket

In electronics manufacturing, after withdrawing material it is necessary to refill the material stock. Employees pick mate¬rials for production from the containers in the so-called FIFO lines based on the “first in first out” (FIFO) principle, or replenish the FIFO lines with material containers. Digitalisation also offers potential opportunities for optimisation in this area, both in regards to transparency and also in the form of optimised space utilisation; for example using RFID-based identification and line allocation.

The RFU65x RFID read/write device identifies RFID tags on material containers and at the same time detects their location in the reading field. The device transmits the respective data to a warehouse management system. So you always know which container is pushed into or removed from which FIFO line. The amount of containers in the FIFO line is also transparent at all times.

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