The Swiss Army Knife for EMS providers

From the offer to the production with a smart software suite

Electronics manufacturing is constantly changing. Electronic components that are getting smaller and smaller and an increase in the variety of components force the continuous optimization of our own production. In addition, EMS providers have to face the high demands of their customers. The desire for a prompt offer at attractive conditions with short delivery times, even for small batches, presents supply management, work preparation and production with ever new challenges. The EMS software EFA SmartSuite offers a sustainable solution for this.

published in SMT insight 07/2020

The challenges for EMS providers do not start with the actual production of the customer product. Long before production, the preparation of the offer and the work preparation involve a lot of time. The preparation of offers can be a real cost driver. In order to create a competitive offer, current prices and availability of the components must always be researched based on the individual customer data. With an average success rate of 20%, this department works in 80% of time with no corresponding revenue from an order. If the desired order is obtained, the work preparation department has to process the customer data in a much more detailed manner from other points of view. The focus is now, among other things, on the detection and correction of any existing errors, as well as on the preparation for production. The time required to prepare an offer and work preparation is independent of the batch size. The following applies: The smaller the production lot, the greater the costs for this workload per board.

Practical challenges

The basis of every order is always the customer data for the product. This data is usually in a proprietary, non-standard data format. The clever handling of this imaginative customer data is an important process in the run-up to production. The first steps in the preparation of the offer therefore include the import of customer data, the comparison with your own component library and validation of the data. The processing of customer data is usually carried out using conventional means such as various office applications. Since these programs e.g. For example, if there are no functions for the special requirements of totals BOMs, processing takes a lot of time. Whole customer lists are often copied from the printout.

In order to keep the costs of the quotation as low as possible, the detailed data preparation and validation takes place after the order is received by the technical work preparation. This department prepares the assembly plans for production, corrects incorrect or missing data and creates work instructions. Since the production machines are rarely used for small batches, the work preparation prepares detailed work instructions for manual work steps. During processing, the customer is consulted to discuss any ambiguities or errors. Afterwards, it is not uncommon for extensive changes to be entered and documented. Manufacturing also prepares the customer data again, so that it is suitable for processing in the manufacturing machines. If errors or changes are only insufficiently documented for production or only discovered during machine set-up, the entire line stands still until final clarification!

The EFA concept

To avoid such expensive incidents, LEBERT Software Engineering has been working continuously on the further development of the EFA SmartSuite software solution for 10 years now. Just as the Swiss Army Knife is synonymous with its usefulness and adaptability, EFA SmartSuite has become a comprehensive solution tool for the electronics industry. In the course of the development, the problems of EMS providers in the preparation of quotations, work preparation and manufacturing that most frequently occur were addressed. The software is to be understood as a layer over the existing software applications of the respective EMS provider. It manages all customer data and is adapted to existing in-house applications via import and export interfaces. EFA SmartSuite thus complements the established process and supports it at the relevant problem areas with automated processes.

The solutions in detail

In the offer phase EFA SmartSuite uses the customer parts list. The import of the parts list is done in a few minutes due to the many special functions, even with unusual formats.

The customer parts lists can be read "as they are" into the EFA SmartSuite software, explains Theo Schelasni Operations Manager at R&D Electronics.

EFA SmartSuite then searches for the associated part numbers from the connected ERP material database. EFA SmartSuite always shows qualified results because the software interprets the required values and therefore knows them. It also searches for a large amount of component information at the same time. The item number search in EFA SmartSuite is clearly superior to any search function in an ERP system. Automatic processes, a fuzzy search function and online search round off the functionalities. (Illustration 1)

Figure 1: Part number search with EFA SmartSuite. The values from the BoM list are automatically interpreted and qualified results are displayed within fractions of a second.

“By linking to our component database, the creation of parts lists is much faster. We can save at least 50% time in this step, ”confirms Thorsten Libera from Fercad Electronics' work preparation.

Figure 2: BoM list comparison: changes are highlighted in color

In the case of an order, the work preparation continue to work with the already known data. If the customer sends new, updated data, it can be imported into EFA SmartSuite again. The software highlights differences in comparison to the previous parts list in color, so that changes in the order can be easily recognized. (Figure 2) Typical work preparation tasks, such as combining parts lists and placement data or preparing placement plans, can be carried out semi-automatically in the software. This not only brings a great time advantage. In addition, errors that could arise from a manual process are also avoided. All information about the product is available uniformly and centrally at any time.

"With EFA we can convert the various formats of customer data into a standard format for production," explains Marco Schönefeld, managing director of proServ electronic.

In addition to preparation for production, validation of customer data can be carried out in work preparation with EFA SmartSuite. Any errors can be clarified and eliminated in advance with the customer. Production receives a checked data record with one click. The production employees can independently analyze any ambiguities with the help of EFA SmartSuite.

"The digital preparation for production has become significantly more reliable and enables a completely new view of the customer's product," explains Timo Stöhr from Sumida Lehesten's technical work preparation.

Once an EFA project for a product is available, it can also be carried out in the production to support manual activities. An example of this is the initial sample inspection. An initial sample inspection according to part numbers can be carried out with a high-resolution image of the first populated board. All components of the same part number are shown rotated to zero degrees together. Twisted, missing or incorrect components can be identified at a glance. (Figure 3)

Figure 3: Inspection grouped by part number - All components of a part number are shown and evaluated jointly. The image sections of the components are rotated to zero degrees for easy assessment.

Component information from the parts list is automatically displayed for each component. Alignment can also be checked at a glance using the placement plan shown in the picture. An initial sample inspection with EFA SmartSuite saves an average of 85% of the previous inspection time!

EFA SmartSuite can also be used for a manual assembly process, such as for small batches. If colored assembly plans are made for manual assembly, manual drawing processes are often used. The software can automatically mark the components with the same part numbers in the same color. This process step also saves time and is significantly safer than marking with pens. The printout of the assembly instructions can be designed individually. (Figure 4)

Figure 4: Exemplary assembly instructions. EFA SmartSuite automatically colors components with the same part number in the same color.

10 years of EFA SmartSuite

The EFA SmartSuite software celebrates its 10th anniversary this year! It has been continuously developed since 2010 and is now used daily by over 100 companies in 7 European countries. The users always report on their positive experiences with the software solution. The standardization of processes and the time saved are highlighted regularly. Up to 50% time optimization in the area of quotation creation is not uncommon. Work preparation also benefits from time savings of around 60%. In production, the times for initial sample tests with EFA SmartSuite can even be reduced by up to 85%. The software solution can be extensively tested with your own data at any time.

The software company LEBERT Software Engineering puts the user at the center of software development and has been doing this for years with a unique concept that regularly integrates the users' experiences and ideas into the software. In this way, a practical application "from customers for customers" is created, in which each user can find their individual solutions through personalized processes. It is always important to combine the strengths of machines and people for flexible production, even from batch size 1. In this way, processes can be made easier that combine human know-how with the automatic nature of the computer - and thus bring significant time savings for people. In the spirit of Industry 4.0!

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