‘Can Do’ in CAM Outsourcing: CAM Engineering – Automation
In my last column, A Case for Outsourcing CAM Engineering, I laid the groundwork for why outsourcing is so important. As volume production in PCB has shifted significantly to Asia, manufacturers in Europe and North America have been focusing on high technology, quick-turn, prototype, and lower volume production.
Thus, most are producing a much larger number of parts placing a very high burden on their front-end processes. The need for more capacity in technical sales, responding to higher volume of request for quotes, and CAM operators to cope with large part numbers is very real. Many companies struggle to hire and keep the talent required to keep up with demand. This is exactly where outsourcing of CAM and related front-end work can help a struggling manufacturer not only stay in business but also help them thrive.
I discussed six critical ways in which a company can significantly benefit from outsourcing. These are:
- On-demand capacity
- Improved automation
- Fast turn-around
- Reduced costs
- Improved quality
- Building redundancy in critical areas
The first column addressed the need for on-demand capacity. In this column, I will focus on improved automation.
In my experience, having designed, sold, and implemented “rules based” systems, the challenge was to initially develop a solid set of automation to handle a large part of your product mix as well as to keep up that automation over time. CAM systems today offer extensive automation capabilities that many PCB companies hardly take advantage of. The ones that do usually end up with outdated automation and shift to old habits of doing things manually using “tribal knowledge” acquired over the years.
A solid outsourcing partner will not only use automation for their own engineers but can help PCB companies both develop, update, and maintain automation. One of the key benefits of up-to-date automation is the amazing impact it has on quality. Manual procedures and processes often result in relying too heavily on tribal knowledge and at times missing critical areas that usually result in bad output and rejects on the shop floor. This is especially the case when new CAM engineers are brought in and they lack the unwritten, undocumented rules that seasoned engineers “just know.” Automation can solve a large part of this problem.
Another important benefit of automation is a tremendous reduction in cycle time. Many manual operations, once automated, result in time savings that are orders of magnitude. It’s not unusual to reduce the time it takes to perform a certain process from 30 minutes to an hour down to a minute or two.
In my experience, the main reason why some don’t create automation in the first place and why a majority don’t keep their automation updated is lack of time and focus. In an environment where scarce resources get dragged into fighting fires, there isn’t time to devote to automation. This is where outsourcing this activity is an ideal solution. To make this work well, you should have your outsourcing partner be engaged in doing your CAM work so they are very familiar with your jobs and processes. This makes creating and/or updating the automation much more easy and successful.
In summary, building and maintaining your CAM automation using an outsourcing partner can result in many benefits:
- No reliance on “tribal knowledge,” which can walk out your door
- Automation results in better quality of CAM output and thus reduces shop floor rejects
- Cycle time through your front-end engineering is reduced dramatically—both for your own engineers as well as your outsourced engineers
- Easier to add new engineers so they get productive quickly by using up-to-date automation
- Frees-up critical engineering resources to help generate more sales and interact with customers on technical sales
- Grows your business and enables scalable font-end engineering resources to fulfill your changing requirements.
Mehul J. Davé is CEO of Entelechy Global Inc.