SMT Solver: Industrial Revolution 4.0—Hype, Hope, or Reality?

If you are in the electronics industry—and I am assuming you are because why else would you be reading this column—you cannot help but notice the discussion about Industry 4.0, whether you are reading technical magazines or attending physical or virtual shows or conferences. No matter what the subject, if it piques your interest, some of you may move from noticing it to wondering about it and may even graduate to digging deeper into that subject. 

This is what happened to me when I attended IPC APEX EXPO 2019. If you attended the same conference in 2020, you may have noticed a very prominent focus on Industry 4.0 and extensive effort by IPC on developing multiple standards to make the transition to Industry 4.0 faster and easier. In this column, I want to discuss Industry 4.0 as I understand it. I welcome your comments about my interpretation of Industry 4.0.

As we all know, standards make the transition to any new technology faster and cost-effective for the entire industry. The core mission of IPC is to build electronics better by developing standards. As we also know, IPC does not discover anything—the members do—and when they decide to share their knowledge, IPC develops standards to make progress faster and easier so that everyone in the industry benefits. IPC has released multiple IPC standards related to Industry 4.0 (Table 1). Some of them are old and going through revision, and others are new. 


Historically, it took about 100 years to move from the First Industrial Revolution or Industry 1.0 (use of steam power, mechanization, weaving) around the time of the American Revolution and its resulting independence (during the 1780s, give or take few years) to the Second Industrial Revolution or Industry 2.0 (introduction of electricity, assembly lines, mass production) around the time of the abolishment of slavery (not the real end, but at least on paper) from 1860–1870.

We had to wait another 100 years before transitioning to the Third Industrial Revolution or Industry 3.0 (introduction of the integrated circuit by Intel; use of electronics, computers, automation) in the 1960s, around the time my generation was graduating from high school or college, moving to Canada, or finding some medical excuses or admission to higher education to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War.

Now, we have been in the Industry 3.0 era for about 50 years. If history is a good guide, you would think we need to wait for another 50 years before talking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0, but we don’t want to wait for anything. Whatever we need, we need it now. We don’t have time to go and pick it up; someone had better deliver what we need to us at our doorstep. We are busy at home, doing what we do, such as writing columns, or attending Zoom meetings.

This is why the title of this column is “Industrial Revolution 4.0: Hype, Hope, or Reality?” Before I expand on my point of view on Industry 4.0, here is my take. At this time, we have all three elements when we talk about Industry 4.0: some hype, a lot of hope, and a little bit of reality. I do not think it will be a reality in the next 3–4 years, but maybe in the next 10 years, and it is an optimistic view. However, it is still a very fast transition to a new way of doing things, considering the history of the previous two revolutions of Industry (1.0 and 2.0) that I mentioned.

The main reason for a much faster transition from Industry 3.0 to Industry 4.0 (about 60 years instead of the usual 100 years) is that the First and Second Industrial Revolutions were all about hardware change. The third revolution—Industry 3.0 about electronics and computers—started as a hardware revolution but has been morphing more and more into a software revolution. From the same hardware coming out of Intel and other semiconductor companies, the software companies are able to get more performance, and it is reflected in their relative stock prices. And this Fourth Industrial Revolution is essentially all about software. 

I should also note that this Industry 4.0 is not a drastic change if you really think about it since this change in software has been with us for the last 30–40 years. All we are trying to do is let the software play a major role in making the hardware do things faster with no waste. It is a lot easier to make things in your head before really making it. In Industry 4.0, we are not only trying to imagine and build digitally but even test it digitally to make sure it works, costs less, and is of high quality before really making it. 

What Is Industry 4.0?
Both manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning software (ERP) have the ability to work together. Since both types of software bring different capabilities to the forefront, using them together can help bring your business more well-rounded results. ERP knows why decisions need to be made, while an MES knows how to make those decisions. Both systems have their own purpose, which can make them complementary components. This is what we are doing while we are in Industry 3.0 today. 

Industry 4.0 connects ERP and MES to the machines on the shop floor, creating a two-way information-sharing system among all three layers: ERP, MES, and shop floor. It will connect suppliers, logistics, networks, and the industrial internet of things (IIoT) to physical manufacturing to collect and use data to make decisions—with or without human intervention—to improve quality and reliability and reduce cost. Think of Industry 4.0 as a digital factory that connects every layer of business to enable a lights-out factory to be possible someday. 

Here is a simple example. In a 4.0 Factory, an AOI system will detect a problem and then tell the offending machine to automatically take corrective actions without human intervention. I don’t think anyone is really there today. In addition, machine vendors are not happy—in normal cases—when customers want automated adjustments; they prefer that a trained operator would confirm where a pattern has emerged, but we are far from that destination. It is better to think of Industry 4.0 as a journey and not a destination.

Let us take an example of what happens in a typical SMT line. In SMT assembly, there are three major process steps: print paste, place components, and then solder. On a manufacturing line, the defects could be caused at any of these process steps (and many other things, such as DFM and incoming material quality, that we are not even talking about, to keep this example simple). It is possible that an AOI machine can detect misplacement and give instructions to a placement machine to take corrective action without human intervention. Some AOI and some placement machine companies work together to provide an auto solution without human intervention. Some companies are working on these features, and I am sure we will all hear when and if they work. 

It is possible to take corrective action in the pick-and-place machine, but most of the SMT defects don’t come from a pick-and-place machine. Most defects are related to paste volume, which is controlled by the stencil. It is very difficult to take corrective action on the spot for the paste printer from the feedback it may get from paste inspection systems. And it would be even more challenging to take corrective action in a reflow machine. 
But we don’t need to set the bar so high either, considering where most companies are today. For example, many companies collect lots of data, plot charts and graphs, and hang them on the wall, and leave them hanging there for the visitors to see but not necessarily diagnose the problem or take corrective action.

Let me conclude on a positive note. Manufacturers often collect descriptive data (“What happened?”) and diagnostic data (“Why did it happen?”) about their machines and devices, but with Industry 4.0’s end-to-end digitization, they can also gain predictive (“What will happen?”) and prescriptive (“What action should I take?”) insights into the status of their operations. We all know it is not a reality today, but I don’t think it is total hype either. 

My sense is that it is a genuine hope based on some insights into what is possible. This is why IPC is doing its best to pave the way for the transition to Industry 4.0. I also want to mention one other organization—the Manufacturing Technology Center (MTC) in the U.K.—where member companies have put in considerable resources and brainpower to work on Industry 4.0. You can learn more about what they’re doing here.  Also, if you are interested and want to learn more about Industry 4.0 or actively participate, contact Chris Jorgensen at IPC.

This column originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of SMT007 Magazine.



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