The topic of the July issue of PCB007’s China Online Magazine is “Automatic PCB Factories,” focusing on the pressures of cost, delivery time and process, and the irreversible trend toward automated PCB factories. Centering on this theme, we interviewed Andy Zhou, COO of Victory Giant Technology (HuiZhou) Co. Ltd., the first domestic PCB manufacturer who carries out large-scale implementation of intellectualization throughout the factory. As there are various opinions about how to build a smart PCB factory, we invited him to give us some ideas.
For quite a long time, Victory Giant Technology (HuiZhou) Co., Ltd. acted as the world’s largest PCB provider of high-density multilayer VGA (video card). The company’s layout also covers high value-added application areas like new energy automobile circuit board, server, industrial control, etc.
Benefiting from the smart manufacturing shop, which came into use in 2015, and gradually reaching target output, it brought huge growth in capacity and saved more labour cost. Most obvious, the price increase of copper-clad laminate and copper foils started from last year, instead, completely reflected the advantage of the supply chain.
Figure 1: Automated horizontal plating line at Victory Giant Technology.
Tulip Gu: As a forerunner of PCB smart factories, what kind of actions on the smart factory project is Victory Giant Technology taking, and what are the results?
Andy Zhou: Globalization is putting more and more pressure on market competition, and the life cycle of electronic products is becoming shorter and shorter. The market is requiring more and more from the PCB manufacturers. To conform to the times, Victory Giant Technology now has invested 1.12 billion yuan to build a smart factory based on Industry 4.0, thus we can fully realize “Production automation, unmanned logistics, intelligent scheduling, and digital management.” By making comprehensive innovation and intelligent reconstruction in the production process, we need only 350 people to fulfill 10 billion output value, and we have shortened the delivery time from 57 days to only 36 hours.
Gu: Do you agree that high-starting-point automation leads to high-production benefits? As we know, talking about “using machinery to replace people,” Victory Giant Technology is the leading player in the industry. You have mentioned that you need just 350 people to fulfill 10 billion output value, so do you think per-capita output value is good criteria to measure the success of automation? Or do you think there are other factors which are more important? (e.g., the perfect combination of people, machinery, information exchange is the very essence of automation.)
Figure 2: The LDI room at Victory Giant.
Zhou: High-starting-point automation does not always lead to high production benefit. High production benefit comes from system engineering. We started from the whole planning of IE, and used automation and informatization to achieve overall lowest cost, highest productivity and best quality. Per-capita output value is one of the key criteria to measure the success of automation, yet we regard return on investment as the most important one. If investing in automation could bring “lower cost, shorter delivery time, and better quality,” that means the project has succeeded.
Gu: Some experts think that the overall level of automation in China lags, but we should not improperly belittle ourselves, for we have the best manufacturing ecosystem in the world. What is your opinion? Along the way Victory Giant Technology pushing smart factory forward, what kind of problem you have encountered and how do you solve them? Could you please give us some real cases?
Zhou: China does have the best manufacturing ecosystem in the world. In the construction of the whole Victory Giant Technology smart factory, we can find 80% of equipment vendors that we need for our project within Pearl River Delta, a two-hour economic circle. And they are very willing to innovate and upgrade the equipment together with us. This is the important foundation which can ensure the success of our project. Along the way as we were pushing smart factory forward, the biggest problem we met is the standardization. In the past, when we talked about automation, we only focused on partial automation, but now we focus on whole automation. If we cannot realize the standardization of loading before and after the procedure, we cannot realize the logistics of automation. If we cannot realize the standardization of communication protocol between equipment from different vendors, we cannot realize perfect informatization. So standardization is always the stumbling block on the way of pushing smart factory forward. Based on “Collaborative Innovation,” we discuss with our vendors and we together work on standards. For example, we have solved the problem of feeding and unloading vehicles during different procedures, and we have also solved the problem of communication protocol between equipment from different vendors. Working together, collaboration innovation, and interconnection must be the inevitable choice of future intelligent manufacturing.
Figure 3: Robot in the exposure area.
Gu: From the external environment, Chinese local manufacturers also meet some unfavorable factors in factory system management automation. How does Victory Giant Technology solve them? And do you have some good advice for the system manufacturers?
Zhou: You are right. Currently, some of our core production facility still rely on foreign vendors. It is more difficult to cooperate and communicate with foreign vendors. Regarding these factors, we clearly state our requirement of intelligence during the equipment procurement. As a user, the most important suggestion we give our system manufacturers is “develop together, and win the future.” For the PCB industry, automation vendors of different segments should form an alliance, and take part in overall R&D and innovation together.
Gu: Prof. Tang Min, consultant of the State Council, once said that, in the future, the labor-intensive industry relying on mass production and low cost is bound to be emigrated from China to other Southeast Asia countries, and only small batch, customized flexible manufacturing would be kept in China. For some of the manufacturers, pure pursuit of automation equipment, mass production and reducing manufacturing costs oriented “using machinery to replace people” might be risky. Because the key point is how to take advantage of the industrial robots, the automated management platform, and the information technology to help the companies realize flexible manufacturing and agile manufacturing. By “using machinery to replace people” we mean realizing the flexibility of the software, agile programming, or automatic programming. Just like the quick die change in TPS. What do you think of this? And how is Victory Giant Technology doing?
Zhou: We agree that we need to combine automation and flexibility while using machinery to replace people. Purely using automation to realize mass production cannot maximize the overall benefit. In the smart factory of Victory Giant Technology, what we emphasize is intellectualization. The production line we designed can not only realize mass automated production, but also be compatible with small batch, customized flexible manufacturing. Currently, all the production equipment we planned has achieved information networking. Starting from giving manufacture order, giving process parameters, quality control of production process, warehousing and transportation, to feeding and unloading process, we have all realized digital control, and that means the whole production line could realize “Quick die change and mixed production.”
Gu: As a forerunner of the new round of Industrial Revolution, do you have some advice for the whole industry chain? For vendors, do you have any suggestion regarding what kind of model they could use to catch up to the trend of the smart factory?
Zhou: For the whole industry chain, what I would like to say is “Opening-up, interconnection, and coordination.” As a PCB manufacturer, we hope we could work together with our upstream and downstream firms. The future competition is bound to be the competition between the industry chain, so we need to work closely with each other and set up an industry sharing platform. It will be networked collaborative manufacturing in the future. Manufacturing firms need to be further transformed into firms using manufacturing platform. We need to build a company like Alibaba in the PCB manufacturing industry. Turning different demand and resources for production as a node on the platform, achieving optimum allocation and coordination of the whole social resources.
Being the forerunner of smart factories, Victory Giant Technology would like to share our experiences and model with our peers, to help the whole PCB industry improve and develop. And meanwhile, we would establish an intelligent manufacturing innovation research institute for the PCB industry, integrate resources and make sustainable Innovation.
Figure 4: Automated solder mask printing at Victory Giant.
Gu: After reading the introduction of the Whelen factory, do you have any thoughts to share with us?
Zhou: After reading about the Whelen factory, we have mixed feelings. We are happy that global manufacturing upgrading is a trend that cannot be halted, and we are just following the trend. In the PCB industry, Victory Giant Technology is supposed to be the first company in the world who “carries out large-scale implementation of intellectualization in full process and the whole factory.” We hope that by sharing our experiences with our peers, we can inspire the evolution of PCB industry in China. But we are also worried about the global industry competition. We are facing the challenge from our peers in U.S. Only by continuous learning and innovation, can we keep up with the times.
Gu: As a pioneer of PCB smart factories, for sure, Victory Giant Technology should take on the great task. Thank you very much for the unique insights and ideas. We believe that the PCB smart factories in China will become better and better!
Zhou: Thank you!