By Greg Benoit, Director of Business Development, Cogiscan
Complete and accurate traceability is no longer optional in electronics manufacturing. The nature of this ever-changing, fast paced, reactive environment requires a robust traceability solution to help manufacturers better manage the production environment by making detailed material, product and process information readily available.
And while a thorough traceability system should be required for every electronics manufacturer, it’s not something regulated industry wide. Rather, these requirements are currently customer-driven or specific to certain safety-critical markets such as products for the automotive or medical sectors.
In the past five years, a lot of electronics manufacturing has shifted to Mexico thanks to strong trade agreements, low cost of business, and close geographical proximity to the United States. In light of the recent coronavirus outbreak in China, near-shoring is getting another exponential surge from OEMs that can’t sacrifice any further impact to their bottom-line. While at APEX in San Diego, I had numerous discussions with customers and partners that are either actively quoting a new manufacturer or have already started moving production to a manufacturer in the Mexico region.
This trend of “near-shoring” is favored by major corporations such as Samsung, Foxconn, Sharp, Intel, and many more. As these Tier I and Tier II manufacturers invest billions of dollars into the Mexican electronics manufacturing market, they’re also shifting the culture in manufacturing requirements raising the bar in terms of the types of capabilities they expect from their suppliers. They can’t risk widespread defects that result in large recalls with any of their products, so they tend to choose Mexican manufacturers that can offer and support detailed traceability.
I’ve personally seen a direct increase in Mexican OEMs and EMS providers requesting traceability information and quotations for a traceability solution. Within the dynamic Mexican economy, many of my Mexico-based customers are asking for traceability to not only meet customer’s requirements, but to also protect the longevity of their business. Employee turnover is high. With the manufacturing economy booming, job candidates have more and more options – established plants are expanding, new plants are opening daily, and they’re all competing for talent in the same pool.
To ensure a smooth-running plant day in and day out you need to know exactly how your products were built, and the right traceability solution creates a “single source of truth” for what happened to products during production. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call it Truth (with a capital T). With the appropriate system defining the Truth for production, it no longer matters if Julian, a long-term employee of 5 years, or Enrique, hired one month ago, is running the line. The Truth will be automatically logged in the system for future reference so that you can know what happened when in the event of a failure or return, or if a recall is required.
With billions of dollars of goods in the electronics manufacturing supply chain alone crossing the oceans and skies daily, we’re in a world where visibility and quality tracking is a given. As a consumer in your day to day purchasing, you automatically expect tracking and visibility of your online purchases. Why wouldn’t we expect the same for circuit board manufacturing? It’s only a matter of time before more and more end customers are requiring detailed traceability analysis of their product’s entire production process.
A leading EMS provider in Mexico recently conducted a survey of their customers to find out what they wanted. More than 70% of the respondents indicated they wanted a thorough quality management system and traceability solution. This EMS provider currently uses Cogiscan’s Traceability application and uses this differentiator as a key selling point when talking to potential customers.
What is traceability?
A misconception in our industry has focused on material traceability alone. But material traceability isn’t all that’s required when we talk about traceability in SMT manufacturing. Without also verifying detailed process and product information, material traceability is a small Band-Aid when a more rigorous healing regiment of a full cast and physical therapy is needed.
A proven traceability solution will equip manufacturers with detailed reporting of the complete production process – who touched the product and when it was in process, what operations and equipment it went through and how that process transpired, what materials were used and where they came from – showing end-customers why they can trust in the quality produced. Anything less isn’t a complete traceability solution.
A robust traceability application proves a thorough quality management system – allowing end-users to trust that the products they receive will work correctly. Additionally, in the case of an unforeseen product warranty claim, traceability data can help find, mitigate and correct the root cause issue. And crucially, in the unfortunate event of a product recall, a strong traceability solution can narrow down the scope to necessary units, potentially saving an OEM millions of dollars.
Most importantly, a traceability solution protects both your business and your brand by mitigating the risk of any type of recall. Keep your name out of the media for an embarrassing and public product recall! Remember the car manufacturer, Saturn? Probably not because they had too many unnecessary recalls.
How a traceability solution is built and collects information is critical to the overall success. Anyone can create aesthetically pleasing traceability reports to send to end-customers, but is the data accurate? Is it easy to collect? Does it reflect what actually happened? Does it require an Engineer to review and make adjustments?
A traceability solution should be powered by a strong connectivity and data management infrastructure. At the base level, connectivity to all of the machines used in production should be completed is a necessity, and the system must be able to harvest this machine data in real-time to automatically record everything that happens to the product.
Considering SMT manufacturing moves at such a fast-paced, ever-changing dynamic, all fed data should be managed by a reliable and scalable database that quickly and efficiently processes, stores and shares large volumes of data. With granular data automatically fed into a traceability application, real-time reports of the production process and materials used and consumed will be available in a web-application with a single click of a button.
Traceability: Make or Buy?
As mentioned earlier in this article, I’ve been fielding a lot of new requests for a thorough traceability solution from Mexico-based manufacturers. Many of these potential leads are facing internal company disagreements amongst management as to whether it would be better to buy a traceability solution from a trusted third-party provider, or to make a custom traceability solution in-house.
I’ll keep this simple. From my direct experience – buy.
To play devil’s advocate, let’s take an imaginary journey down building a traceability solution internally. Do you have at least four full-time employees to dedicate to this project? Can you guarantee they will stick around to see this project to completion? Do they have IT/code writing experience the skills necessary to develop a scalable enterprise platform that will meet off of your current and future needs? Do you have access to all of your machine data? In a format that’s readable? How about a reporting feature in a web-based application to easily share with your customers?
Developing a traceability solution in-house and from scratch is not only a major time and financial investment, but an additional liability risk to your company. The longer it takes to build a system internally, the more time lost to close deals with customers and expand market share. Furthermore, what if the system turns out to be less reliable than anticipated? A loss of traceability data will not only cause chaos to production and booked orders, but it could cause established customers to leave too.
Off-the-shelf, proven solutions exist for traceability in SMT manufacturing. Don’t waste your time trying to reinvent the wheel. Leverage a modular and flexible solution that can be up and running in a matter of months, and that offers long-term support and maintenance. Consider a third-party vendor with a traceability offering that exists within a larger connectivity and data management ecosystem so you can easily expand to other products to improve manufacturing analytics and intelligence. Focus your internal talented resources on adding value instead of wasting energy on learning machine data code, and how to create complex databases and reports.
Traceability is a requirement, not a nice-to-have, and it’s not as simple as tracking material. A complete traceability solution will include detailed and accurate tracking and reporting of the entire production process including material, product and process information. The perfect solution will also easily complement existing systems. Be wary of a complete overhaul – look for a third-party provider that’s willing to offer scalable and modular options to your manufacturing tools.
Cogiscan was one of the first software companies in the SMT industry to offer traceability to electronics manufacturers. Now recognized and respected as one of the leading connectivity and track, trace and control providers, hundreds of plants across the globe rely on our Traceability application. While I may be biased, it’s one of the best traceability solutions I’ve come across in my twenty-year career in this industry.
Recognizing the surge in Mexico-based SMT manufacturing, Cogiscan partnered with Interlatin in 2015. Interlatin is a sustainable and high-tech company offering intelligent and integral solutions for Mexico-based manufacturers by providing commercial and technical advice, software application development, as well as consulting and training. Our strong collaboration continues today and we’re currently working on a variety of projects geared toward connectivity, data management, and traceability.
“We partner with Cogiscan because of their robust traceability and data management solutions provide competitive advantages for Mexico manufacturers who are interested in achieving the highest levels of quality and customer satisfaction,” says Jim Villavazo, Director of Interlatin.
Curious to know more? Still unsure of what traceability could mean for your production process? Reach out to me directly on LinkedIn or send me an email at email@example.com. I love to talk about all things traceability.
You can read and download the PDF of the magazine article HERE
Originally published by SMT Today HERE (pages 26 to 29)