Foxconn Test the Limits of Automation

In an interesting article in the South China Morning Post (July 29th), it appears that Foxconn is pulling back on it initial target of installing one million robots over three years. To date it has installed 40,000.

Robots are being viewed by many as a key component in the increasing automation of EMS factories across the world. According to a recent report, every fifth factory in Germany is already equipped with some form of factory automation.

Foxconn appears to have found limitations with current robotics when it comes to human dexterity and the high number of turns and changeovers in today’s manufacturing environment. After all, if the setup time for instructing robots to perform certain human-like functions is excessive, then it makes little sense to replace the line worker.

Robots are being viewed by many as a key component in the increasing automation of EMS factories across the world. According to a recent report, every fifth factory in Germany is already equipped with some form of factory automation.

As one report put it, this is only “a bump in the road”, because ultimately the robot, when programmed correctly will have fewer DPM (Defects Per Million) than their human equivalent, but setup and teaching times will be critical.

Industrie 4.0 and the full implementation and optimization of the factory using robotics, metrology driven inspection systems and standardized software using big data is widely viewed as a journey….. and we are only at the beginning of that journey.

SMT assembly line technology is developing fast. We already have competent SPI systems auto-correcting the stencils, squeegee pressure and offsets in printers. There has also been recent improvements in the AOI before reflow, sending instructions back to the pick and place machine and collaborating with the SPI system.

The biggest impact for robotics in the factory will be in the final assembly area (box build), where combined with 3D printers, many high volume operations will be transformed.

But, we still have many challenges in front of us before we can reach as state of ‘Nirvahna’, not least of which is the size of our widgets and the number of turns and customization required.

Trevor Galbraith Editor-in-Chief editor@globalsmt.net

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