Smart Factory Insights

Column from: Michael Ford

Michael Ford passed away on January 27, 2024. He was the senior director of emerging industry strategy for Aegis Software. Working for Aegis Software provided Michael the opportunity to apply his 30+ years of experience of the electronics and assembly manufacturing industries where he brought both business and technology solutions and innovations that satisfy evolving needs in the market. Michael had established thought leadership in the areas of the Industrial Internet of Manufacturing (IIoT), Industry 4.0, and smart factories. He was also actively working on industry standards with the IPC chairing the new traceability standard—IPC-1782.

January 24, 2024

Smart Factory Insights: Making Rework a Smart Business Opportunity

Rework in manufacturing can bring waste, unplanned responses to an error, or too much variation. You also have to retain specialist skills to perform the work. Since rework cannot always be completely eliminated, let’s consider how we can create a new business opportunity.
January 02, 2024

Smart Factory Insights: The Sustainability Gold Rush

A gold rush represents an opportunistic, get-rich-quick scheme. With just one or very few potential winners in each case, most participants are left disappointed with their share, especially when compared to how much effort they put in. These scenarios are usually not thought through very well, even by the winners. When it comes to sustainability in manufacturing, I’ve seen a gold rush of sorts to find solutions, but the pieces are disjointed and not uniform. Sustainability needs to be a forever thing—not a race to find gold, but rather a race to work together.
November 10, 2023

Smart Factory Insights: Today’s Manufacturing Jobs Require a New Skill Set

Manufacturing encompasses a great number of roles, each requiring different strengths, skills, and personalities. Now, each of these roles is being transformed and elevated by computerization, software, and AI. It is natural then, that to attract people to take on these roles, we must include those who are strong in the application and use of modern software, and which complements their incumbent skills and experience.
October 30, 2023

Smart Factory Insights: Compose Yourself, Mr. Ford

In his time, my “Uncle Henry” Ford sparked an industrial revolution; efficiency in mass production enabled the manufacturing of common products that everyone could enjoy. However, this ideological approach to manufacturing has been refined to such an extent that it’s no longer viable. When it comes to efficient manufacturing technology, there is a new generation in town, and it is music to my ears.
September 27, 2023

Smart Factory Insights: The Smart Business Case for Local PCB Manufacturing

The PCB has become a neglected component from the Smart assembly manufacturing perspective, wrongly regarded as just a “given” material. We need to put it right. PCB manufacturing needs to become Smart in order to make the local fabrication business model work as part of the holistic electronics’ “smarter, secure, and sustainable” approach—what I’m calling the new three Ss of manufacturing.
August 08, 2023

Smart Factory Insights: Manufacturing Digital Twin—Spanners in the Works

Current thinking says legacy simulation of manufacturing is obsolete and the use of operational manufacturing digital twins is too expensive. The technology that replaces these approaches, however, is somewhat exciting. In the manufacturing world, we all know that unexpected changes are unwelcome, yet we endlessly strive to control them. The new normal of frequent product revision updates and more personalized production renders the optimization of continuous flow obsolete.
July 24, 2023

Smart Factory Insights: Machines, People, and AI

Aspiring Smart factories seem to care, perhaps a little too much, about the differential effects of automation vs. people vs. AI. Rather than obsessing over the differences, let’s focus on what they all share, since our Smart manufacturing operations require all three to work together in harmony, combining their strengths as they support our business goals.
June 13, 2023

Smart Factory Insights: Is Sustainability in Manufacturing a Benefit or Burden?

The electronics manufacturing industry has a choice when it comes to sustainability: Be led by incentive and motivation from customers who require it or be forced to comply by governments. If we act together now, we can address sustainability in a beneficial way for our businesses, rather than allowing it to become yet another burden. Let’s discover the global challenges and opportunities.
April 19, 2023

Smart Factory Insights: Manufacturing Meets the Flintstones

As a kid, I loved “The Flintstones” cartoon series. Recently, I watched some of the old shows and as I listened to the dialogue, I saw how our social landscape has changed significantly, except for one character, “Bamm-Bamm Rubble.” Pounding things with a club, like Bamm-Bamm, appears to be the enduring default approach of our sustainability and recycling industries, yet I believe a business opportunity exists in the form of reverse manufacturing where EMS companies and others can potentially double the scale of their activities and value in an area that appears currently to be locked into the Stone Age.
March 08, 2023

Smart Factory Insights: Differentiation, Community, and Composability

Are progress and evolution in the industry driven by collective hive minds, business opportunity, and thought leadership, or is it just through random events? I believe it’s all the above. The real question about progress is better related to the strategy of how we balance differentiation with our contribution to common industry goals that bring about business opportunity, and then how we apply that same strategy to the tools and services that we use. Let’s look both internally and externally into how we control and actively reduce risks and threats to our business.
January 11, 2023

Smart Factory Insights: An Unblinkered View

For many, blindly going where no one has gone before is just a normal day in the factory. As new products are introduced, manufacturing is expected to provide perfect products based primarily on assumptions and reverse engineering. Without accurate and complete product data, there can be no engineering automation, which results in a complete waste of energy. This should no longer be acceptable in the industry. A lack of adequate contextualizing product information creates unnecessary cost and risk in manufacturing operations, thereby limiting competitiveness. What’s behind the industry’s reluctance to change on this matter?
December 14, 2022

Smart Factory Insights: AIs Without Context Are Dumb

We often discuss the emergence of artificial intelligence in terms of how it will save us or, if movies are to be believed, how it might terminate us. The countless annoyances AIs inject into our daily lives can make us wonder: Do they already have a plan? We need to adequately consider context versus privacy when deciding how to integrate AI technology into our lives, especially within our factories.
November 22, 2022

Smart Factory Insights: Clinging to Best Practices in Worst-case Scenarios

We develop best practices to ensure consistent and optimal operational performance, quality, and consistency. The nemesis of this activity is change, which leads to those best practices becoming stale and eventually becoming shackles to the operation. We must take a more modern approach to best practices, one that embraces the ability to change, and is flexible and adaptable to cope with the unexpected (which are actually expected) issues. Knowing how to create change-centric manufacturing best practices comes from experience.
September 27, 2022

Smart Factory Insights: The Progress of Machine Intelligence

Adversity drives focus, realization, and then innovation. This is especially true in manufacturing, which has felt the effects of recent challenges. For decades, manufacturing has been overly focused on short-term business objectives, with little regard for risk and adaptability. This oversight has persisted into automation projects and digital transformation initiatives. Innovators today realize that there is no way back, that we must embrace the intelligence—the silver linings—that we must have learned.
July 20, 2022

Smart Factory Insights: Zombie Cars: The Next Pandemic Is Digital

In the manufacturing world, we increasingly rely on internal and outsourced security partners to keep our IT networks safe. One report stated that as many as 50% of manufacturing companies have already been the target of ransomware attempts. Therefore, there is more work to do, especially on the neglected OT network. Industry requirements, such as CMMC, invoke costs and difficulties. But like traceability in the past, with the right preparation, this “burden” can be turned around to become a near zero cost, or even a benefit.
May 25, 2022

Smart Factory Insights: Fractional Materials and High-Mix Manufacturing

We used to discuss manufacturing paradigms in terms of high- or low-mix, coupled with high- or low-volume, with many shades of grey in between. Now, we have a new dimension, that of high-volatility, as key dependencies on labour, materials and logistics contribute challenges to production, which in turn, is subject to the volatility of customer demand. Material management more than ever before, is being either the key enabler for business success, or your nemesis in not being able to achieve the necessary recovery plan if not thought out properly.
April 06, 2022

Smart Factory Insights: Has the Industry 4.0 Gold Rush Ended?

Industry 4.0, though only five years old, already has a checkered history. With buzzwords flying, existing technologies—re-branded as Industry 4.0 solutions—have been in demand. Manufacturers embarked on the Industry 4.0 “gold rush” to gather as much data as possible, and by whatever means necessary, to get those nuggets of smart manufacturing credibility. Today, the more mature approach of Industry 4.0 is emerging with consideration of a real return on investment (ROI) as well as sustainability. Taking advantage of such maturity may have been the smartest option all along.
March 09, 2022

Smart Factory Insights: CFX IIoT Open-Source Hardware

The IPC Connected Factory Exchange standard, CFX, has triggered a revolution in the way that industrial machines communicate in a secure, IIoT-based, plug and play environment. Attention now is on how CFX can be connected to older, “dumber” machines, bringing 100% visibility and control across the whole manufacturing floor, thereby avoiding the numerous technical and financial pitfalls historically experienced.
December 22, 2021

Smart Factory Insights: Digital Transcendence—Fear of The Unknown

The first three industrial revolutions have brought us automation of physical tasks through adoption of mechanical and electrical machines, the benefit of which has been quite easy to appreciate. Industry 4.0 automation, however, is driven almost exclusively from the digital realm, representing a whole new world of intangibility. With manufacturing being rather averse to unplanned change or risk, unless there are very compelling reasons, how do we get to fully trust digital technology needed for our businesses today, taking us toward manufacturing digital transcendence?
December 01, 2021

Smart Factory Insights: The Costs of Legacy Thinking

As humans, we learn facts, gain impressions, create solutions, put practices into place, and move onto our next challenge. Over time, our intent is to create a legacy of value, but in many cases, we are creating legacies in a different sense. Our knowledge, experience, and creations age or become superseded, but there is resistance to replace or update. An increasing gap develops between perception and reality. Younger, more agile peers take advantage, get ahead, and we look away, thinking that they don’t know what they are doing. Though a natural human phenomenon, decision-makers in manufacturing today need to bear this mind more than ever.
July 12, 2021

Smart Factory Insights: Hands-off Manufacturing

The use of automation has not eliminated causes of unreliability, nor defects, which ironically continues to drive the need for humans to be hands-on, even as part of SMT operations. There is clearly something missing, so cue our digital twin.
April 12, 2021

Smart Factory Insights: Me and My Digital Twin

A fully functional digital twin involves more than it may initially seem. At first we tend to think about access to information. There is a great deal of trust to be taken into account when creating a digital twin, as there is scope for its use both for good and evil.
December 01, 2020

Smart Factory Insights: Changing Roles in the Digital Factory

Experts once required to have a knowledge of specialized materials and processes are giving way to those experienced in the application of automated and computerized solutions. Michael Ford describes how it is time to reinvent the expectations and qualifications that we seek in managers, engineers, and production operators to attract and support a different kind of manufacturing innovation.
November 04, 2020

Smart Factory Insights: Smart Factories—Indirectly the Death of Test and Inspection

In the smart factory, test and inspection are reinvented, contributing direct added value, playing a new and critically important role where defects are avoided through the use of data, and creating a completely different value proposition. Michael Ford explains how the digitalized Deming Theory can be explained to those managing budgets and investments to ensure that we move our operations forward digitally in the best way possible.
August 05, 2020

Smart Factory Insights: Trust in Time

We’ve all heard of “just in time” as applied to the supply chain, but with ongoing disruption due to COVID-19, increasing risk motivates us to return to the bad habit of hoarding excess inventory. Michael Ford introduces the concept of "trust in time"—a concept that any operation, regardless of size or location, can utilize today.
June 03, 2020

Smart Factory Insights: It’s Not What You Have—It’s How You Use It

According to the reports, all the machines in the factory are performing well, but the factory itself appears to be in a coma, unable to fulfill critical delivery requirements. Is this a nightmare scenario, or is it happening every day? Trying to help, some managers are requesting further investment in automation, while others are demanding better machine data that explains where it all went wrong. Digital technology to the rescue, or is it making the problem worse?
April 20, 2020

Smart Factory Insights: Seeing Around Corners

Each of us has limitations, strengths, and weaknesses. Our associations with social groups—including our friends, family, teams, schools, companies, towns, counties, countries, etc.—enable us to combine our strengths into a collective, such that we all contribute to an overall measure of excellence. There is strength in numbers. Michael Ford explains how this most human of principles needs to apply to IIoT, smart manufacturing, and AI if we are to reach the next step of smart manufacturing achievement.
February 01, 2020

Smart Factory Insights: Size Matters—The Digital Twin

In the electronics manufacturing space, at least, less is more. Michael Ford considers what the true digital twin is really all about—including the components, uses, and benefits—and emphasizes that it is not just an excuse to show some cool 3D graphics.
January 14, 2020

Smart Factory Insights: What You No Longer Need to Learn

Naturally evolving layers of technological applications allow us to build and make progress, layer by layer, rather than staying relatively stagnant with only incremental improvement. To gain ground in manufacturing, Michael Ford explains how we need to embrace next-layer hardware and software technologies now so that we can focus on applying these solutions as part of a digital factory.
November 25, 2019

Smart Factory Insights: Dromology—Time-space Compression in Manufacturing

Dromology is a new word for many, including Microsoft Word. Dromology resonates as an interesting way to describe changes in the manufacturing process due to technical and business innovation over the last few years, leading us towards Industry 4.0. Michael Ford explores dromology in the assembly factory today.
October 14, 2019

Smart Factory Insights: Trends and Opportunities at SMTAI 2019

SMTAI is more than just a simple trade show. For me, it is an opportunity to meet face to face with colleagues and friends in the industry to talk about and discuss exciting new industry trends, needs, technologies, and ideas.
September 24, 2019

Smart Factory Insights: Recognizing the Need for Change

We are reminded many times in manufacturing, that "you cannot fix what you cannot see" and "you cannot improve what you cannot measure." These annoying aphorisms are all very well as a motivational quip for gaining better visibility of the operation. However, the reality is that there is a lot going on that no-one is seeing.
April 24, 2019

Accelerating Tech: Standards-driven, Digital Design Flow for Industry 4.0

The term “fragmented manufacturing” is a good way to describe current assembly manufacturing challenges in an Industry 4.0 environment. Even in Germany, productivity reportedly continues to decline. To reach the upside of Industry 4.0, data flows relating to design play a major role—one that brings significant opportunity to the overall assembly business.
February 28, 2019

The Truth Behind AI

The term "artificial intelligence" or "AI" has become a source of confusion for many—heralded as part of Industry 4.0, yet associated with the threat of automation replacing human workers. AI is software rather than hardware, and it's time to put these elements of AI into context, enabling us as an industry to embrace the opportunities that so-called AI represents without being drawn in, or pushed away, by the hype.
December 22, 2018

Resolving the Productivity Paradox

The productivity paradox continues to thrive. To a growing number of people and companies, this does not come as a surprise because investment in automation alone is still just an extension of Industry 3.0. There has been a failure to understand and execute what Industry 4.0 really is, which represents fundamental changes to factory operation before any of the clever automation and AI tools can begin to work effectively.
October 23, 2018

The Truth About CFX

A great milestone in digital assembly manufacturing has been reached by having the IPC Connected Factory Exchange (CFX) industrial internet of things (IIoT) standard in place with an established, compelling commitment of adoption. What's the next step?
August 27, 2018

Advanced Digitalization Makes Best Practice, Part 2: Adaptive Planning

For Industry 4.0 operations, Adaptive Planning has the capability of replacing both legacy APS tools, simulations, and even Excel solutions. As time goes on, with increases in the scope, quality and reliability of live data coming from the shop-floor, using for example the CFX, it is expected that Adaptive Planning solutions will become progressively smarter, offering greater guidance while managing constraints as well as optimization.
July 02, 2018

Advanced Digitalization Makes Best Practice Part 1: Digital Remastering

As digitalization and the use of IoT in the manufacturing environment continues to pick up speed, critical changes are enabled, which are needed to achieve the levels of performance and flexibility expected with Industry 4.0. This first part of a series on new digital best practices looks at examples of the traditional barriers to flexibility and value creation, and suggests new digital best practices to see how these barriers can be avoided, or even eliminated.
January 15, 2018

Configure to Order: Different by Design

Perhaps in the future, sentient robots looking back at humans today will consider that we were a somewhat random bunch of people as no two of us are the same. Human actions and choices cannot be predicted reliably, worse even than the weather. As with any team however, our ability to rationalize in many different ways in parallel is, in fact, our strength, creating a kind of biological “fuzzy logic.”
October 01, 2017

Counterfeit: A Quality Conundrum

There is an imminent, critical challenge facing every manufacturer in the industry. The rise in the ingress of counterfeit materials into the supply chain has made them prolific, though yet, the extent is understated. What needs to be faced now is the need for incoming inspection, but at what cost to industry, and does anyone remember how to do it?
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