In the global electronics market, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are creating the technology of the future, but at the same time, technology is completely transforming the way products are made. Industry 4.0, also known as Smart Factory, is changing production by leaps and bounds, and the trend will likely accelerate.
Industry 4.0 refers to smart factories that leverage a network digital devices to communicate with an enire ecosystem of raw materials, semifinished products, machines, tools, robots and people. The end result is that resources are used more efficiently, production is more flexible, and customers and partners are closely integrated into critical business processes. People are increasingly working with robots. Embedded sensors constantly gather information. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies further enhance these efforts.
We sat down with François Monette, chief sales and marketing officer at Cogiscan to get his thoughts about where smart manufacturing is going and how technology is going to transform the supply chain. Cogiscan provides track, trace and control (TTC) solutions for the electronics manufacturing industry. Monette graduated with a degree in manufacturing engineering from McGill University in Montreal. He started his career at IBM, and worked at contract manufacturer, C-MAC (Solectron), before joining Universal Instruments as a senior sales engineer.In 1999, he co founded Cogiscan with André Corriveau and Vincent Dubois.
EBN: What are the most significant ways that the factory of the future and Industry 4.0 will shape the supply chain of the future? How do you see the processes of materials management being impacted?
Monette: I think one major issue at play is traceability up and down the value chain. OEMs or brands are insisting on it. First with product and parts but increasingly with machines, processes and operators. We’ve all seen what can go wrong for a brand when problems are found several layers down the supply chain. Industry 4.0 and Smart Factory delivers full traceability.
This can also help with the counterfeiting issues the industry is experiencing, not to mention the massive cost of recalls. If you can trace an issue to a process or a specific batch of parts you can reduce the number of recalls, delivering a massive cost saving, and perhaps reducing the impact on the brands market position.
Lastly all that data delivers feedback along the value chain. That might help in vendor selection, process control and even design improvement.
EBN: Since you focus on the electronics industry, what are the ways that the biggest trends (such as Industry 4.0, IIoT, Big Data/Analytics) can be leveraged to capture a leadership position? And what are the biggest pitfalls or risks that you see on the horizon?
Monette: There is always pressure from up the value chain from customers. OEMs are putting pressure on their manufacturing partners and they in turn put pressure on their vendors. But being the smartest manufacturer is an exciting prospect for any manufacturer and is increasingly the battleground beyond price and scale.
It is also true that more data is shipped with a product than ever before, so having the ability to deliver that data in a manageable way is essential. A smart factory strategy really is table stakes for a modern electronics manufacturing services (EMS) company now.
EBN: What technology trends are most likely to further transform factories in the coming years? And what are the greatest impacts that OEMs can expect from them?
Monette: There’s a lot of talk right now about AI and its potential to transform the world and indeed the manufacturing process, but we shouldn’t think of it as a silver bullet. There is a lot of factory intelligence that needs to be implemented before we start to let artificial intelligence make decision for us. Virtual reality too has a limited appeal in manufacturing. It’s wonderful for design, where sharing a virtual vision of product can speed the ideation and iteration process and allow multiple stakeholders to share a vision from afar.
Probably one of the bigger trends is digital twins. Using all the data collected to create digital twins of products, lines, even factories, where the data collected informs decisions in the factory and in the supply chain. The ability to use a digital twin to emulate changes to volumes, supply chain disruption or the introduction of a new product could add real value.
EBN: The circular economy, environmental awareness, and reverse supply chain are topics that address the need to design and build products more consciously, reduce waste, and focus on product lifecycle, and more. As organizations work to build toward smarter factories, what are the biggest “green” gains and how do you see organizations translating that into giving the customer what they want, improving efficiency, reducing waste, and capturing business value?
Monette: This is a timely one for Cogiscan. We have recently reviewed our mission statement and one of our objectives is to “make a better world, by enabling the factory of the future”. This means reducing waste wherever possible, be it in labor, materials, transport, or waste through product failure. Much of what is mentioned above has a positive and sustainable impact. Everything we can do to lean out the supply chain and manufacturing process should also be green.
Beyond that, better data can help us to shorten the supply chain and remove risk, all having the impact of fewer goods being moved around using expensive (financially and environmentally) transport methods like airfreight. It could also lead to the design of shorter, greener supply chains.
EBN: How are track, trace and control systems being improved? For electronic EMS who want to implement these types of technologies, what process for choosing and implementing a right fit system would you suggest? And what are the best business arguments for investing in these areas?
Monette: The potential for improvement is always there in every element of factory automation, be that in terms of equipment, software and systems. Improvements come from many places, some from new technologies, like sensors, scanners, etc., others come from the incremental improvement of every element, from machine to process to materials. The important thing is to have a plan for those incremental improvements and a structure that encourages ideas and implements them when appropriate.
Creating a roadmap is the first step to take and if that hasn’t been done then you’re already behind your competitors. It doesn’t make sense to wait for technologies like AI, or for standards to be implemented before you get started. What’s needed is pragmatism and the ability to take what’s available now and use it practically, while keeping a watchful eye on what’s coming next.
With respect to the second part of your question, right fit is important. The needs of a tier one vendor with 100 factories, and a tier two or tier three vendor with a single SMT line are very different. Choosing the right solutions and vendors is essential. We work with the largest and the smallest EMS companies and help them navigate their way through the planning process. It is important to understand objectives and where they are starting from, as well as recognizing where the most impact can be had and the best return on investment achieved.
EBN: A variety of markets (i.e. defense and aerospace, automotive, and industrial) are increasing their use of electronic content. How are these manufacturing organizations having to evolve to create supply chains that meet the demands of the electronics market?
Monette: It is always going to vary from industry to industry.The auto industry for example collects a high volume of data and needs to maintain that data for traceability and compliance! Other industries have different demands.
But if you’re an EMS provider, it’s not easy to have one system for one customer and another for someone else. The optimal solution must be very flexible and easily configured to adapt to the specific needs of each line, product, and customer requirements.
— Hailey Lynne McKeefry, Editor in Chief, EBN