Smart factories are the new reality in the manufacturing space across the globe. Soni Saran Singh, executive director, NMTronics India Pvt Ltd believes that traditional automation requires considerable human input. In comparison, smart factories reduce operating costs by digitising production. In a conversation with Baishakhi Dutta, senior business journalist, Electronics Bazaar, he shares how he is doing his bit to bring about a change in the Indian electronics manufacturing domain.
EB: How is the Indian equipment industry performing compared with the rest of the world?
The equipment industry is very evolved in Japan, Korea, USA and Europe. While China has become the biggest user of such equipment, India is currently just halfway into the game. While equipment manufacturers have also set up their manufacturing bases in China, this is yet to happen in India. Today the Indian manufacturing base is just one-tenth that of China’s. Once that happens, the real change will come about. Presently, we have a handful of companies that are making conveyor belts, but their quality is questionable. I will be really happy to see the manufacturing base, or at least the supply base, mature enough to make these machines in India. This is definitely the next big thing, but is dependent on government policies, which we are keenly watching.
EB: What is the role of rapid manufacturing and rapid prototyping in smart factories?
Smart manufacturing is entirely different from rapid manufacturing. And rapid prototyping has got nothing to do with the smart factory. A smart factory is all about artificial intelligence. All the leading machine manufacturers are already in AI or what we call machine learning technology. Every machine manufacturer is opening up a database to collect critical data. It is a very complex process. The customers decide when we need to synchronise different machines for our factory. That’s how all different equipment vendors work together and help set up smart factories.
EB: What is the progress of smart factories globally?
The smart factory is an extension of Industry 4.0 and is a concept which is not only applicable for electronics manufacturing but across all industries. This is a change that no one can avoid. Globally, this concept has evolved to a level where there is no looking back. People can also use a mobile app to keep an eye on the entire shop floor. So things are getting smarter and different machines have started interacting with each other. You can say that smart manufacturing is in the middle stage of development now. People can view the data collected, but analysing the data and taking corrective action is something that is still being worked on.
EB: How is the technology evolving?
In electronics manufacturing, machines are becoming better and smarter every year, even while prices have remained the same. So if we evaluate the cost of placing just one chip, using new technology or the old, we will find that it is much higher in the latter case. Initial capital outlays may be low on the older machines, but when you look at the cost per placement, the newer machines are more cost effective.
EB: Tell us about your plans to invest in a smart factory.
We have some heavy investment plans chalked out. By the first quarter of 2018, our Noida unit is to have a smart factory concept open for customers. We will offer nearly all the high-end processing equipment, which will help us to get various special manufacturing processes together on a common dashboard from where one can select what equipment is needed.
EB: What is the infrastructure required to set up a smart factory?
A smart factory, which is primarily a M2M (machine-to-machine) solution, can be set up inside a small factory as well as a large one. There is nothing called ‘minimum infrastructure required’. You can just set up the machine and have the M2M interface. Making large factories smart will involve more complexities since multiple platforms will be required. Keeping in mind the current scenario, i.e., the equipment being used in SMT lines – you need an area of approximately 278.70 sqm for one SMT line. But each additional line will require only 50 per cent of this area, since some spaces are common to all lines.
EB: What is the estimated investment in the smart factory?
NMTronics is building a brand new facility to demonstrate smart factory implementations. We have invested US$ 2 million exclusively for new high-tech equipment and we have also set aside another large chunk of investment for infrastructure.
EB: What are the benefits expected out of these investments?
The smart factory trend is being adopted globally. I don’t want India to lag behind. All of our Indian customers are very keen on understanding the smart factory concept. Therefore, we are keen on showcasing it to them through our demo setup so that they can understand the advantages that it can provide them. Nearly all our customers are using high-tech machines. It’s time to show them how they can customise these and make their factories smarter by optimising their investment. Different customers have different needs. After approaching us at NMTronics, we can discuss, visualise and then implement our tools to make their factories smarter.
EB: What are the challenges encountered in setting up a smart factory?
When setting up a smart factory, different machine manufacturers should work in a collaborative manner and develop smart factory solutions for the customers. It is going to be more like complex networking, where on one side you have to protect your intellectual properties and on the other, you are opening up a database which other companies can also view. Equipment manufacturers need to walk a tight rope here in order to overcome this challenge.
EB:Have you opted for any subsidies from the government?
NMTronics has not applied for any kind of subsidy till date and we don’t intend to, either. We want to be a pure technology partner for our customers.
EB: With smart automation coming into play, is the requirement for testing equipment increasing?
Testing is an integral part of electronics manufacturing. Very rarely will you see a product where the power function is not working properly, be it a mobile device or any other instrument. This is because technology has reached that mature level, where one cannot do away with testing. So in the smart factory, testing will also definitely play a crucial role.