I was reading an article on Evertiq (www.evertiq.com) a while ago and it was commenting that there was an incredible lack of innovation in the USA and that was the reason that the US electronics industry in particular was not doing well in recent times. After years of selling Automated First Article Inspection Systems (FAI) I tend to agree that the article was fairly accurate in its assessment. The more I speak to people the less I think they are aware of what goes on in their own factories.
In particular a lot of companies believe that FAI is something that is simply done but does not hold a high importance to the outcome of their SMT operation. I guess I hold a vested interest in this opinion but I also have run a CEM in Australia for the past 25 years so I have knowledge pertaining to this subject from a users aspect as well. We originally designed the Automated FAI for our own use in our facility. We recognised that there were 2 distinct problems due to FAI that we needed to tackle. One was a QA issue in that we had at random times loaded incorrect parts on PCB's. The 2nd issue was the time it took to perform the manual FAI and the disruption to the production flow being the SMT loaders were idle during this process.
The QA issue was attempted to be tackled by increasing inspection of the manual process of conversion of data by having someone checking the data. This had limited effect and reduced the problems but they still occurred at random times due to human error. The other QA issue was attempted to be resolved by again, more inspection. A 2nd person double checked the feeder setup. This seemed to work but after time the problem was that the personnel in the SMT area were double checking their friends work and could not be 100% effective. We thought of barcoding but came to the conclusion that this would only push the problem upstream to the people placing the barcodes on the reels, they can still make the same mistake as anyone. Everyone knows that you cannot inspect quality into a product, they must be designed in.
The 2nd issue of time was a substantial one which seemed more difficult. Every time the lines were changed over there was several hours during which the manual FAI was done that the lines were idle. Because we had 4 SMT lines being changed a minimum of 2-3 times a week it seemed as if half of our lines were down waiting for FAI permanently. Like all CEM's we are under ever increasing pressure to keep costs down and machines laying idle did not fit this mode. We designed our first Automated FAI machine to fulfil this purpose for our own use and then later on started to sell the system worldwide. In my discussions with other CEM's around the world the most accepting and innovative companies seem to be from Eastern Europe and China in particular. This fact actually bucks the so-called perception that in China they simply copy things and do not innovate their processes. Companies in China have a real handle on the problem and are actively seeking solutions to those problems. In the USA there is a distinct attitude that if they did not think of it then it is not useful or it is not what they want. A lot of companies do not believe there is a problem, it is either being hidden, or not highlighted by staff. There are even some who think it is not even necessary to check the the first PCB assembled and it is a waste of time!
One leading CEM evaluated our system a long time ago and wrote a glowing report that the system would save $70KUSD per week in the one factory premises only, which put the ROI on the system at 2.1 days, and then promptly sent the demo unit back to us. It took an unbelievable 3 months before they purchased it and the reason was that there was no other system of its kind at that time to compare it to and their rules were that there must be minimum 2-3 quotes to purchase. During those 3 months we sold 5 units to their other facilities(same company) in Hungary, Israel and China before they authorised the purchase for themselves. Based on the report they distributed internally their overseas counterparts felt they could not wait for the red tape to resolve and authorised and purchased the systems locally.
Innovative behaviour is what made the United States unique and strong, if innovation is lost then I cannot imagine what may happen to the manufacturing base, or for that matter, the country. As the USA comes out of the GFC it is time to re-evaluate innovative behaviour in every aspect of their business. Maybe it is time to reinvent themselves as their historical counterparts did, this will be the only way to survive.
Complaining that the work is disappearing to China or wherever will not bring it back, innovation is the key. Customers recognise value added in their suppliers, they just have to be shown that it exists.The problem in a lot of cases is that the innovation is just not there.
Cluso Vision Systems