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Rich Heimsch, director of the Americas for Super Dry-Totech, sits with me during the recent IPC APEX EXPO in Las Vegas to discuss the latest product developments at his company, as well as opportunities they are looking at.
Andy Shaughnessy: Rich, we talked last year at APEX and I understand that you've got some updates on what's been going on in the company. What's the rundown?
Rich Heimsch: Absolutely. Nice to see you again. We're consistent with our "More than just dry air" slogan. The rate of product development has continued along the lines of moving beyond dry cabinet and moisture-sensitive device storage.
The clock reset options have been greatly expanded. Now, the entire logistics management process is inside of that realm. We won a major technology award last fall at Productronica for our Dry Tower, which is a fully automated component management and logistics system that handles, in some cases, 30,000–50,000 reels and trays, with multiple inputs and outputs. Parts come in, they're automatically recognized as either trays or reels—7-inch reels or 13-inch reels—and the details of the part on those reels are recognized. The amount of floor life left on the part is known and the system automatically seeks out the most efficient place to store the part.
That might be a temporary floor life reset area, or it might be simple dry storage; maybe the same storage area. It might not be a moisture-sensitive device and doesn't require any controlled RH but nonetheless it’s optimizing the space. The system maintains track of every part, and dynamically calculates the remaining floor life time as it is either increasing while in reset or decreasing while out on the floor. The location of any given item can be determined. Absolute, complete and error-free traceability is a significant benefit of a system like this. It’s Industry 4.0 being executed, in short.
Shaughnessy: You were talking before about the differences between Europe and the Americas and how it's like a completely different ballgame.
Heimsch: As moisture management goes certainly the Europeans, Northern Europeans in particular, are five or six years ahead of us here as far as implementation of the most imaginative solutions. A lot of that time lag was triggered by the RoHS legislation that went into effect some years ago. Lead free increases the urgency of proper moisture management. A lead-free device is typically two MSLs higher than that same device in the lead process, and triple the saturated vapor pressure. A much greater percentage of the typical European shop had to be tracked. Thus the need to fine tune the solutions was in earlier and greater demand there than here.
The nice point is that the North American market has mature, developed products to pick and choose from that are also extremely leading edge. Whether it be the accelerated drying cabinets or these fully automated logistics systems and complete warehouse management, or the software that is the brains of the automated system which is available in a reduced form for people with two or three cabinets and a few hundred or 1,000 reels to keep track of. They can manually barcode parts into and out of their dry storage systems and know the location, know the time at which it came in and out, and keep the floor life time dynamically calculated the same way the automated system does -- but without the robots.
Shaughnessy: Where do you see the next opportunity for the company?
Heimsch: We have actually begun to deliver our first automated system to a company that has yet to begin producing their first surface mount devices but recognize that the automated inventory management was a key place for them to start. The average customer who has taken delivery of the Super Dry Tower has redeployed between 30 and 40 employees as a result of the systems. A quick and enormous payback.
Labor savings have for many, many years been at the forefront of European manufacturers' thinking. The level of automation present in German factories, for instance, is very amazing. From an electronics assembly standpoint, it's way beyond anything you see in most of North America. You would be very hard-pressed to find any electronics manufacturing as highly automated. High labor rates probably drove that though they to sent some things outside. There's plenty of product, plenty of manufacturing that went to Central and Eastern Europe in the way that a lot of ours went to China years ago.
On the other hand, there is still a very, very robust, sophisticated manufactured goods economy in Europe that is the backbone of economies such as Germany. They are globally competitive and I submit that the level of automation and commitment to that automation is in very large measure responsible for it. We're in the middle of it and enjoying it.
Shaughnessy: That sounds good. Is there anything you want to add?
Heimsch: Just that being able to migrate downwards to less fully automated situations with the documentation, the traceability and the labor savings that some of the software tools provide is the next important step, I think, for most of our U.S. customers, and many of them who are looking at interim automation solutions. They’re beginning to recognize that once you stack two, three or four of these in a row, it’s now creating another less than manageable situation logistically, and that's how our tower developed in the first place. I see it happening here, perhaps evolving more quickly than it did in Europe, especially when there's something tangible for you to look at and visualize. And Industry 4.0 is a global initiative and it's a global requirement. We'll be seeing it here too.
Shaughnessy: Well, you have a plan it seems like.
Shaughnessy: That's good. Alright I appreciate you talking to us, Rich.
Heimsch: Thanks a lot.