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Delivering on Industry 4.0 Takes on Fresh Urgency at Productronica

Despite it seemingly having had a far longer lead time than most revolutions, exhibitors at the Productronica electronics manufacturing expo appeared newly confident that the dawn of the smart factory was now just a diode or two away.

Photo: Robotic arm-ageddon: Is the digital revolution set to shutter analogue factories?
Robotic arm-ageddon: Is the digital revolution set to shutter analogue factories?
Photo: Robotic arm-ageddon: Is the digital revolution set to shutter analogue factories?
Robotic arm-ageddon: Is the digital revolution set to shutter analogue factories?

Billing itself as the world's leading electronics production show, Productronica never fails to attract exhibitors and visitors from across the world. For 2020, the Munich-hosted event was spread across several halls and divided into a number of industry sector clusters, including Printed Circuit Boards and Electronics Manufacturing Services; Cables, Coils and Hybrids; Semiconductors; Future Markets and Support.

Within the semiconductor cluster, Festo, a Stuttgart-based manufacturer of process control and factory automation systems, was showing just a small selection of its 30,000-strong product range. Particularly keen to demonstrate the company's proportional directional control valve, Head of Marketing Martin Lohr said: "As it utilises state-of-the-art valve technology, it's easy to vary its direction of movement. Its core strength, though, is its incorporation of a digitalised data transmission integrated interface."

A third-generation family-owned company, Festo currently claims sales in excess of €3.2 billion. Operating from 250 locations across the world, it has a total workforce of some 21,200.

Over on the Siemens stand, meanwhile, Markus Birkham, a Sales Manager for Mentor Graphics, a subsidiary of the Munich-headquartered manufacturing giant, was keen to turn the talk to Industry 4.0, the long-looming revolution in automated systems.

Championing the Siemens Valor IoT manufacturing analytics suite as a key enabler for any factories looking to sign up for a smart manufacturing transformation, he said: "Using our system makes meeting the requirements of Industry 4.0 possible without the need to invest in new machinery, processes or production practices. Our hardware is strictly plug-and-play and can deliver connectivity across the whole of any shop floor."

The integrated smart factory of the future was also the primary focus over on the stand of ASM Assembly Systems, a Munich-headquartered supplier of surface mount technology (SMT) equipment, software, and services to the electronics assembly market. Its impressive display was pretty much the centrepiece of Productronica, while its continuous live demonstrations virtually functioned as shows-within-a-show. These practical presentations ran throughout the event, in German and English, and set out to show the benefits of a fully integrated smart factory.

In one such demonstration, Alexander Hagenfeldt, the company's Solutions Manager, detailed how production-line data could be harnessed as a means of optimising automated workflows. To this end, he highlighted the role such data could play in the programming of Autonomous Intelligent Vehicles (AIVs) – essentially mobile robots – which could then be deployed to undertake a range of production-related tasks.

Subsequently turning to the company's perspective on Industry 4.0, he said: "For us, a truly integrated smart factory will be a symbiotic ecosystem of intelligent machines and smart operators, all working together to deliver manufacturing excellence. Essentially, it will be a data-driven system that is all held together by a digital thread. It will also be a system that only operates flawlessly when all suppliers and partner companies commit to working together seamlessly."

Photo: Commanding presence: ASM’s unmissable display.
Commanding presence: ASM's unmissable display.
Photo: Commanding presence: ASM’s unmissable display.
Commanding presence: ASM's unmissable display.
Photo: LaserJob: A legend in laser-cut stencil circles.
LaserJob: A legend in laser-cut stencil circles.
Photo: LaserJob: A legend in laser-cut stencil circles.
LaserJob: A legend in laser-cut stencil circles.

One of the most visible manifestations of Industry 4.0 technology was the plethora of robotic arms on offer across the show floor, with many of them prepped to demonstrate their considerable dexterity. This saw Mycronic and Eletronic arms frenetically filing discs and PCBs, while the KUKRA arm – perhaps more cannily – simply served beer to passing attendees.

Some exhibitors, however, were more intent on highlighting the role such automated limbs can play within a wider integrated set-up. One such evangelist was Krzysztof Pyclik, a Project Manager with Fideltronik, a Polish energy management system specialist.

Clearly viewing smart factories as his company's primary targets, he said: "Sophisticated technology, capable of analysing and effectively utilising data, is at the core of our intelligent manufacturing offer. Overall, we believe our system scores above anything else on the market in three key ways – its integration of AI-driven machines and processes, its array of dedicated IoT-enabled sensors and its adoption of AI-driven industrial analytics."

With Koh Young Technology, a Seoul-based provider of 3D measurement and inspection technology for the micro-electronics industry, none too subtly sub-branding itself as Ksmart, it was clear that it too was focusing on the intelligent-manufacturing market. Confirming this, Managing Director Peter Shin said: "For us, our Ksmart initiative brings everything together – our full range of integrated inspection systems, Solder Paste Inspection (SPI), Automated Optical Inspection (AOI) and AI-powered production analysis. Taken together, it's a combination that will boost productivity while minimising costs in real time."

Focusing on a different aspect of smart innovation, Dresden-based 3D Interaction Technologies was keen to demonstrate the benefits of its newly launched Govie 3D Editor. Outlining its application, Managing Director Henry Wojcik said: "Our virtual 3D models provide an authentic rendering of how a product is made up. The 3D image and its constituent parts can then be examined and analysed by rotating, zooming in or via a number of other available options.

"This allows the user to develop a multi-dimensional understanding of the product, its function and the technology behind it. Overall, we see the system having a wide range of applications in any production environment, including training and testing."

Another ancillary service provider exhibiting at the event was LaserJob, apparently the first company in Germany to produce laser-cut stencils. Looking to build on this claim to fame, PR and Marketing Manager Carmina Lantzsch said the firm now manufactures SMD-stencils and step-stencils under the PatchWork branding, while also producing a nano-coated stencil under the trade name NanoWork.

With Brexit, perhaps, preoccupying them, there was noticeably few UK businesses exhibiting this year. One of a small contingent to undertake the 2,600km round trip was Electrolube, a Leicestershire-based specialist in the electrochemicals sector.

Detailing how the business has evolved, Chief Executive Ron Jakeman said: "Our involvement in this sector goes back some 80 years. Originally trading as Kingsbury Components, we produced a specialist oil designed to enhance the electrical performance and lifetime of any contact surface, while also reducing friction across all moving parts.

"Today, we see ourselves more as global specialists in the delivery of formulated chemical products for the electronics industry. Our core offer includes thermal management materials, conformal coatings, encapsulation resins, electronic cleaning solutions and general maintenance products. At this event, we've also debuted an innovative new UVCL range. with its curing properties allowing for immediate board-handling."

One of the few other UK companies to put in an appearance was the Peak Group, a Letchworth-based supplier of automated test solutions. Expanding upon its repertoire, Technical Sales Manager Karl Miles said: "Our product portfolio runs from simple test boxes for sub-contract manufacturers to stand-alone high specification test racks for the aerospace and defence industries."

With a few diversions and digressions, the key takeaway from Productronica was the immediacy of the smart factory / Industry 4.0 challenge. With many suppliers counting on it as a key revenue stream and more and more businesses waking up to its potential benefits, there is now a clear urgency about its implementation. Indeed, by the time Productronica returns to Germany – 16-19 November 2021 – it could well be that the focus is more on refining systems than installing them.

Photo: Productronica 2019: The perfect four-day break for any lover of the printed circuit board.
Productronica 2019: The perfect four-day break for any lover of the printed circuit board.
Photo: Productronica 2019: The perfect four-day break for any lover of the printed circuit board.
Productronica 2019: The perfect four-day break for any lover of the printed circuit board.

The 2019 edition of Productronica took place from 12-15 November at Messe Munchen.

David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, Munich

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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