How does software automation enhance the PCB assembly process?


What you will learn:

  • Software automation in PCB assembly.
  • Advantages and disadvantages of software automation in PCB assembly.

The PCB assembly process (PCBA) is becoming more complex with changing market trends such as IoT, augmented and virtual reality devices, and cloud applications. As such, PCBA contractors are exploring new ways to streamline and control their manufacturing processes. Today’s compact and miniature products can only be mass-produced and assembled by automating the whole thing Printed Circuit Board Manufacturing process.

Automation brings many benefits such as lower cost, better quality, faster circuit assembly, and minimization of manual errors. Additionally, an automated assembly line can sort components, place components on the bare PCB, inspect assembled boards, perform functional testing, and package the final product for deployment.

The automation ecosystem

Usually, the word “automation” conjures up an image of robotics on the PCB assembly line. But a subcontractor may have multiple configurations to support automation at different stages of PCB assembly, including:

  • Sort and place components into assigned bins.
  • Labeling of components for correct identification.
  • Pick-and-place machine for SMT components.
  • Soldering of components in reflow ovens and wave soldering units.
  • Isolation of individual boards from the panel and routing for inspection.
  • Visual inspection of profiled bare boards using optical machines.
  • In-circuit test to check the build quality of the board.
  • Functional test of the “Inspection-Pass” cards.

In the PCBA process, materials and panels are continuously moved from place to place. First, materials are moved for assembly, inspection, and testing. Then the boards are taken out to be packed and shipped. This is usually automated using conveyor belts. The manufacturing facility must include automation for identifying and tracking raw materials, components, and assembled boards. The packaging and storage of final products are also organized to successfully handle mass production.

Industrial automation includes computers, robots, advanced machinery, control systems, and software to perform all processes with least effort and highest productivity. A software automation system in the PCB assembly The process offers several advantages and enables the creation of a smart factory capable of converting available data into meaningful information. The analyzed data can then be used to respond effectively to market demands.

Benefits of software automation for PCBA

  • Increased productivity: The software automation solution enables continuous mass production of PCBs with minimal downtime. It speeds up discrete processes and improves line productivity.
  • Reduced cost: One of the best benefits of using software automation is that it reduces the cost of PCB production. Introducing technical solutions such as smart machines, robotics and AI support can significantly increase production output and improve business profits.
  • Safe workplace: Deploying robots and machines to operate in hazardous conditions and eliminating human interaction in accident-prone areas can turn the assembly shop into a safe one. Reducing human exposure to harsh conditions will likely also improve staff efficiency.
  • Improved quality: Reducing human interaction in complex segments of the production line (handling miniature components, in-depth inspection, etc.) can significantly reduce defects and damage in PCB assembly. This improves product consistency and quality.
  • Flexible to upgrade: Software automation offers the advantage of rescheduling and updating the automation process based on changing needs and feedback. This feature is a huge advantage in the increasingly changing demands of the market.
  • Enables data traceability and aggregation: With the introduction of software automation process in PCB assembly, the vast data available on the shop floor can be aggregated and used to make strategic decisions. It also supports traceability of components, bare boards, assembled boards, etc., and reduces possible waste.
  • Continuous monitoring and rapid correction: The latest industrial automation includes advanced machines with high quality sensors. They provide continuous data on all running processes and allow early detection of possible failures. Appropriate corrective actions can be taken immediately and debugging time will be reduced.

These advantages can enable the PCBA process to achieve higher productivity and profit.

Fixed, programmable and software automation

Fixed or hardware automation has been part of the PCBA process for a long time. It is best suited for repeating a single process that may not require any changes. An automated conveyor belt is a typical example used to move assembly parts or finished products.

Programmable automation, which can perform multiple functions, is controlled by computer code. Programmable logic controllers and machine vision-based quality control systems used for PCB inspection are examples of programmable automation techniques.

Flexible or software automation is designed to interconnect and control the process with the necessary feedback. Robots and configurable handling systems are examples of software automation used in the PCB assembly industry. In addition, software automation can be installed and controlled by a local server, called on-premises industrial automation. Recently, cloud-based industrial automation is all the rage, where software is run on a solution provider’s server.

The Industry 4.0 solution

Industry 4.0, aka the fourth revolution in global manufacturing, is a performance solution. It offers substantial improvement in all manufacturing processes, starting from material sourcing, supply chain management, product design, assembly and delivery with on-time monitoring real of all systems.

Interconnectivity, automation, IoT, and real-time data analytics are the primary goals of Industry 4.0, and they provide benefits in terms of revenue growth, risk reduction, and security assurance. competitive advantage in this space. Software automation is one of the essential requirements for a successful Industry 4.0 solution implementation in the PCBA industry.

IoT devices include sensors, computing devices, and software technologies to interconnect and exchange data. As part of the Industry 4.0 solution, these devices play an important role in industrial automation. Hence, Industrial IoT (IIoT) is an extended functionality of IoT devices used in different manufacturing industries for automation purposes.

PCBA service providers should also speed up their installations based on the latest technology trends. The choice of a fixed or flexible automation method depends on the assembly requirements. But the latest technological innovations highlight the importance of software automation in the PCB assembly process. Suppliers that are adapting to such digital transformation through software automation are at the forefront of the PCB market.

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