As the supply challenges continue, we see a trend in taking control of manufacturing. Many companies that have been contracting out their assemblies are battling both the supply and labor shortages by buying their own components and acquiring SMT lines to bring manufacturing in-house. Companies already doing assembly in-house are now updating their production lines to reduce labor hours needed and investing in tools to get the most out of their inventory.
Tightening Inventory Control
Preserving parts is critical to secure SMT production. If you don't account for and protect your company's investment in components, you can lose any advantage you hoped to gain.
Pro Tip 1: Track your components throughout your production cycle.
Don't guess; use a component counter to provide an accurate accounting of your reeled parts. Inventory should be taken at incoming inspection and again in the stockroom for spot checks of ongoing inventory.
It’s recommended to use a component counter with pocket check verification to ensure there are no missing components in the middle of the reels. Pocket check verification also guarantees the counter will stop when it reaches the empty pockets at the end of the reels, giving a 100% accurate count.
Component counters are also available with bar code readers and label printers to make the job more efficient.
Pro Tip 2: Protect your moisture-sensitive components from moisture damage. When moisture-damaged components are exposed to reflow oven temperatures, the moisture trapped inside the component expands, causing internal damage that can lead to early product failure in the field.
To prevent this outcome and save your company money in warranty repairs, you simply need a dry box or cabinet that meets J-STD-033 standards. With an IPC-Standard dry box, your components are safely stored below 5% relative humidity to make sure the components are not susceptible to moisture.
What if you're reading this after your moisture-sensitive devices have already been exposed? No need to eat those costs. You can restore those components using a baking dry box that conforms to the J-STD-033B standard for floor-life restoration and storage. These dry boxes bake at a safe 40°C to reset the shelf life of the component. For the required time, check Table 4.1 of the J-STD-033B standards.
Table 1: IPC J-STD-033B Standards Table 4-1, Reference Conditions for Drying Mounted or Unmounted SMD Packages (User Bake: Floor life begins counting at time = 0 after bake).
Pro Tip 3: Rework, reclaim, reuse. Problems happen. Don't just toss bad boards in the trash. Investing in a rework station is the best way to rework boards in need of repair and to reclaim good components to be reused on new boards. This is especially beneficial for hard-to-find components or components that have a 12-month lead time, and it minimizes the need to source new parts.
Recently, we've had customers inquire about reclaiming old parts off boards to start a business selling used components, so there’s no reason why OEMs shouldn’t do this with their own products.
Meeting Increased Demand With Less Labor
In addition to the parts shortages, companies have been struggling with labor shortages and keeping up with demand. To combat the labor shortages and meet higher demand, companies are turning toward machines that increase production volume without an increase in operators.
For instance, selective solder machines for mixed technology boards with through-hole parts are becoming more popular in the SMT industry. A selective solder machine can essentially do the volume of five to six hand solder technicians, with more consistent quality, all while needing only one operator. You may not have considered how easy it is to justify the cost of a selective solder machine until you realize you are saving five to six additional salaries, or that you can reallocate technicians to another area and increase overall productivity.
OEMs have been pushing to bring SMT lines in-house to avoid many of the issues the markets are facing today. However, they often don’t realize it doesn’t need to be a difficult process, and connecting with the right people can make it even easier. It is wise to look for a manufacturer that sells full lines of SMT equipment to receive support on the entire process from one group of experts. Working with a one-stop-shop for an equipment provider avoids being tossed around, such as when a stencil printer company says the problem is related to the reflow oven company, while the reflow company puts the blame on your prints. Working with a manufacturer with expertise in full lines is the best way to get the support you need.
When choosing a manufacturer of SMT equipment to work with, make sure they are responsive and attentive to your needs. Don’t get stuck working with a company that waits weeks or months to send you a quote.
A company that offers extended support services will help you determine the volumes required, gather information about your products, and offer to review your BOMs to determine the equipment best suited for you now and in the future, based on projections. It is also vital that they ask about your area for the SMT line. The space you have available for a line has a big impact on which equipment makes the most sense. Once the equipment and configurations are decided on, your supplier should be willing to generate line drawings that show the equipment in line with dimensions, to give you the full visual of how much space it takes up. Some SMT lines cannot be laid out next to each other in a straight line due to space constraints, which is reflected in the line drawing.
A good supplier should be able to give you rough costs for budgeting purposes over the first quote request and get firm numbers to you within days of receiving the BOMs to analyze. They should always have service technicians available. It’s even better if they have a dedicated service number that is answered directly, so you don’t need to jump through hoops just to get support.
As we continue to battle the supply issues and labor shortages, taking control of manufacturing and bringing SMT assembly in-house is becoming a more popular solution. Maximizing efficiency and keeping costs down by preserving existing parts, reworking placed parts, and beating the labor shortage issues are critical to maintaining increased productivity. Working with a responsive, qualified, equipment supplier reinforces these concepts and provides you with the support you need, every step of the way.
This column originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of SMT007 Magazine.