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Automation Cuts Costs of Surface Mount Assembly

5th November 2014

Growing demand for smaller and cheaper electronic devices has meant that assembly-line managers face a challenge in bringing down costs. One of the major costs has been the manual testing of printed circuit board assemblies.

Manufacturers have adopted a new strategy of bringing down labour costs by replacing the manual testing with a variety of automatic systems. Some of these have been more successful than others.

One of the most popular solutions has been to replace the manual labour with a robotic arm, while another is an automated inline circuit tester for surface mount assembly.

In this first system, the robotic arm loads the printed circuit board assembly on to the circuit tester. Once loaded, a top cover on the fixture closes automatically and starts scanning. The problem here has been that if the board is misplaced on the tester, it can be damaged by the misalignment. So an operator has to be on hand to adjust the placement manually.

The top cover is pneumatic and also uses a vacuum to ensure that the circuit board is in firm contact with the line. This makes for a very heavy system with a long set-up time.

In addition to the obvious extra labour costs this system entails, the operator is also in danger of being injured by any automatic closing of the top cover. The robotic system also took up more space than the original manual system.

There are also potential human-error problems with the automated inline circuit testing system. The circuit board is carried by a conveyor to the inline testing handler, where a scanner reads the board's barcode. If this is accepted, testing proceeds and the board moves on to the next station on the surface mount assembly line.

This system occupies very little space and is light and easy to assemble. Unlike the robotic arm, it does not require constant supervision by an operator. The problems begin if for any reason the inline circuit tester breaks down. This means that operators must remove all the circuit boards scheduled for testing so that the production operations are not disrupted or the testing procedure has to be bypassed altogether.

However, manufacturers conclude that the automated systems do represent considerable cost savings. The bulk of the costs are in the initial capital investment in equipment.

Feel free to contact us if you need further information.