Electronics have been playing an integral role in human life for over seven decades. Electronics industry’s pivotal role is reflected in the following industry segments: High reliability application electronics – e.g. electronics for aerospace and healthcare industry; Medium reliability application electronics – e.g. industrial electronics, automotive, security systems; Lower reliability application electronics – e.g. household appliances. The guidance/distinction made here is only for illustrative purposes since equipment are cross-functional for e.g. a tablet computer used in a petrochemical complex will be considered a medium to high reliability application electronics.
Electronics manufacturing in the overall Electronics System Design and Manufacturing value chain becomes or can potentially become a bottleneck due to its physical nature. Hence, it becomes even more important to understand the different aspects involved in electronics manufacturing.
Following block diagram helps understand the scope and pivotal position of electronics manufacturing within Electronics System Design and Manufacturing industry.
The above value chain depiction is highly iterative in nature as well as concurrencies are followed in order to reduce time to market as much as possible. As illustrated, electronics manufacturing typically happens during: prototype manufacturing and during ramped-up manufacturing. However, beyond physical manufacturing electronics manufacturing has successfully backward integrated in the design phases of product as well as forward integrated in the product distribution, shipping and post End of Life (EOL) management.
Electronics manufacturers ensure availability of basic infrastructure which are common for all types of electronics manufacturing. Further, the manufacturing companies are segmented in various ways as below:
Based on industries served: In addition to the basic manufacturing infrastructure and know how additional capabilities are required to serve certain industries. Electronics for Space applications requires manufacturing in a dust-free atmosphere, hence for handling such electronics cleanroom facilities which has a typical dust-count of <10,000 ppm which are monitored using dust-count meters. On the other hand, Industrial electronics specially for power applications requires assembly and soldering of heatsinks which requires deposition of special thermal conductive material followed by heat application which requires additional equipment. Consumer electronics pressed by the demand to reduce equipment footprint requires use of smaller component which has lesser inherent protection mechanism from electrostatic discharge, in such cases factory infrastructure needs additional ESD process capabilities. Further, majority of electronic systems at present uses various types of bottom termination components (BTC’s) which requires special inspection like x-rays with multiple dimensions. Such facilities require audit and recertification or in some cases regulatory licensing and re-licensing ensuring their service capability for the various industries it targets to serve.
Based on scale & flexibility available: Electronic meters are installed in every house, factories and other types of premises. The design of the meters also does not change very often. Considering the requirement of product in millions along with stable design such products are manufactured in manufacturing facilities which are capable of handling high manufacturing but a low mix.
On the other hand, during early design phases multiple revisions are created and each revision of the design needs to be verified before finalizing on a design. Hence, few quantities of each design need to be manufactured, such scenario requires manufacturing flexibilities which are achieved in high mix and low volume manufacturing.
Based on background integration: Mobile phones are manufactured in high volumes; for such products in addition to the core electronics of logic, memory and power supply circuits various semi-passive or passive components are used. Passive components are like displays and certain types of switches. Passive components are connectors, heatsinks and other mechanical parts. The mobile phone companies in order to avoid supply chain risks tries to identify manufacturers who in addition to assembly capabilities has the capability to source some of the semi-passive or passive components from within the organization. In such cases the mobile phone companies tries to identify backward integration capabilities.
Based on forward integration: Some companies have core design capabilities and wants to stay restricted & focussed on such capabilities. However, they want to enter various markets considering relevance of their product. In such cases, these companies look for partners who can help provide various services required for entering such identified markets like necessary regulatory support by liaising with specific agencies. Further, such companies also look forward to logistics and distribution channels. These companies try to identify manufacturers who can provide such additional services like have liaison capabilities with local regulatory authorities, providing in country logistics support etc.
Based on geographical location: Some companies want to mitigate the risks involved in concentrating all manufacturing from a single location. Also, for various products types, governments mandate local sourcing or a certain percentage of value addition within the country where the product has to be deployed, resulting in demand for manufacturing partners. In such cases, companies try to identify manufacturing partners who have the capability to handle their design and manufacturing in various locations.
A combination of the above options are typically considered for selection of manufacturing companies. Weighted score decision matrix are used by companies to identify manufacturing partners based on requirement of their product, markets they want the product to be deployed and other such important decision metrices.
Now let us briefly review the core manufacturing functions of an electronic manufacturer and the peripheral services such manufacturers provide, laid out in the following illustration. Selected services and manufacturing processes within core manufacturing services are reviewed separately.
PCB design services: Printed Circuit Board (PCB) is the interconnect structure which supports tracks carrying power and signals across various components of an electronics system. Some of the designs are very complex in nature hence design talent is retained within the organization as a department, this is specifically noted in Telecommunication industry, Aerospace industry, Healthcare industry etc. On the other hand, the designs are generic in nature and can be outsourced to generalist PCB design professionals rather than being designed by highly experienced and expensive resources. Electronics manufacturers provide such design services as a part of their extended portfolio of offerings. Considering such design is performed within the manufacturer’s organization results in higher confidentiality of information within the manufacturer’s organization. Further, the manufacturing constraints of the manufacturer are already featured in the design process resulting in a manufacturable design.
Component selection: Electronic systems have defined dimensional footprint, further the device is expected to work in certain conditions of humidity, temperature and other ambient conditions. The components which are selected for design of such system need to exceed such conditions in terms of ambient capabilities or smaller than the physical dimensions. Further, components with similar function are manufactured by various companies. Electronics manufacturers maintain a huge database of such components including non-technical details like minimum order quantity, lead time, pricing etc. This data is extended as a service to companies along with active professional support of professionals like component engineers.
Regulatory compliance: Depending on the type of electronic system and geography it is expected to operate the device need to get certified by appointed agencies to various requirement like Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), Electromagnetic Interference/Electromagnetic Compliance (EMI/EMC) requirement, Federal Communication Commission (FCC) requirement etc. Electronics manufacturers because of their long-standing presence in industry knows the requirement to attain such compliance; further the manufacturers through close coordination with the compliance agencies ensure successful completion of regulatory compliance and thereby achieve necessary certification.
Component obsolescence & product data management services: Electronic products typically has a short lifecycle which can be as short as 18 months. Components used in such products have an even shorter life-cycle hence obsolescence tracking becomes very important for such products. Existing components in the design needs to be tracked, alternate components having similar functionalities needs to be identified and tested for compatibility on existing design. Sometimes this may require changes in other design circuitry resulting in redesign of the PCB. The qualification results post testing needs to be approved which will lead to a new revision of the Bill of Material (BoM). Such versions of the BoM for each product type needs to be closely monitored and various department within the company like procurement, shipping, manufacturing engineering, field installation etc. need to be notified through Engineering Change Orders (ECO’s). All such services are offered by electronic manufacturers as part of Product Data Management (PDM).
DFx services: Electronic manufacturers before accepting to manufacture a product verifies whether the design provided can be manufactured or not and whether there can be any changes that can be made in the design which will increase the manufacturing yield, so that the customer can review such suggestions and implement such changes in the design.
This review cycle to improve manufacturing yield and resolve any manufacturing issue resulting from design is called Design for Manufacturability (DFM) review. The products that are manufactured needs to be tested. Hence, using Design for Testability (DFT) review it is verified whether 100% of the components that are assembled can be tested or not and if few components cannot be tested electronically then what is the alternate verification mechanism. Like DFM and DFT described above there are various other reviews conducted by electronic manufacturers based on their experience and are categorized as DFSS – Design for Six Sigma, DFU – Design for Usability, DFP – Design for Packaging, DFR – Design for Reliability. All such services are packaged as DFx services.
Sourcing: Identification of new components to backfill the components which are becoming obsolete is performed by Sourcing department in coordination with component engineers. Sourcing team also continuously identifies alternate sources or develops new sources for components which are already under potential supply chain risk. For example, during the event of tsunami in Japan in 2011, certain high speed PCB laminate materials which were qualified and single sourced from factories in Japan was not available for prolonged period of time. Sourcing department of various companies stepped up effort in identifying equivalent alternate materials from Germany and USA and subsequently got then qualified for use in product manufacturing. Sourcing department also does the initial price agreement and puts effort for long term agreement depending on the type of component.
Procurement: Based on operational requirement in the manufacturing process procurement department manages availability of optimum levels of inventory managed through enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems available within the organization. Procurement department works closely with sourcing team to leverage the pricing agreed with the suppliers along with other commercial terms and thereby manages the overall requisition to pay process. Procurement team also plays an important role in long term sustainability of relationship with suppliers.
Warehousing – Manufacturing – Shipping: This is the core functionality of the manufacturers where optimum inventory of the components and other materials required for manufacturing is maintained; manufacturers as per production requirement prepared by planning team manufacture the products followed by storing the finished goods and then shipping to the required destination as specified by the customer. The manufacturer uses various innovative techniques during this process like plant automation, remote inventory monitoring etc to bring in efficient to the various processes involved at this stage.
Local programming: Some electronic systems needs to function in different ways depending on the geography where the product is being sold. There can be requirement like availability of specific language, on the other hand certain product functionalities needs to be restricted in some countries. Such changes on the same hardware device is implemented by charging the software in the device. Manufacturers through their local presence in countries or through regional hubs provides such services.
Product upgrade: Some electronic products are designed with the intention of field serviceability. Such products have Field Replaceable Units (FRU’s) which on being changed results in upgradation of functionality of the product. Manufacturers maintains an inventory of such FRU’s and has trained personnel who makes necessary changes in field and ensures product continues to function without disruption.
Reverse logistics: Due to functionality of certain electronic systems or the type of raw materials used in a system, regulation mandates the systems are retrieved from the field once the product reaches its End of Life (EoL). This requires a complex track and trace mechanism during the initial shipping of the product and use the same tracking mechanism to retrieve the products from the field. Electronic manufacturers implement such tracking system during manufacturing as well as provide logistics support in the reverse value chain of the product.
e-waste: Due to environmental causes there are various regulations being implemented globally for disposal of electronic waste in a safe manner. One such regulation is WEEE – Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. Electronic manufacturers are forward integrated with such e-waste processing firms, thereby ensuring environmental safety. In this retrieval process precious raw materials like gold, copper, aluminium, various forms of resin and plastics are obtained and reprocessed for making new products.
The electronic manufacturer provides these services in various forms for the customers to choose. Few peripheral services which we did not review but will be part of subsequent elaboration are Failure Analysis, Research & Development services, implementing future electronics like 3D printing, wearable electronics, handling and prevention of counterfeit electronic components.
By: Ankan Mitra
The author is the Ex-president, SMTA INDIA CHAPTER