The business social company Confed collects printed circuit boards (PCBs) at its location in Amersfoort. Because the associated SMD production line was becoming obsolete, the company decided to invest in a modern, fully automated line. The pandemic made it difficult to find the right partner, but it succeeded. The German branch of the Japanese Juki Automation Systems proved to be able to translate the company’s requirements and wishes into a technical solution. This has not only increased production significantly, but also expanded the number of production opportunities.
Building trust in the corona era
The automated assembly of PCBs at Confed consists – in a nutshell – of delivering PCBs, accurately applying solder paste at the right points, placing the electronic components and then the soldering process itself, which takes place in a temperature-controlled oven. Confed assembles the printed circuit boards in its own plant in Amersfoort, and delivers them separately to the customers or uses them for the assembly of various customer-specific electrical engineering modules. Confed controls the entire process: from design and prototype to series production of the printed circuit boards.
Manager Peter Hobbelen: ‘Our company has for some time used an automated line, which in itself delivers excellent products. However, in the light of the new development, it became slower and slower, and maintenance costs also increased. In addition, the quantities ordered by our customers at one point reached the limits of our production capacity, while we were no longer able to follow the trend of miniaturization. The line was simply not suitable for this: it made it more and more difficult to make money on it. And that while the market is good. This is partly due to the fact that we are seeing a turnaround in the production of printed circuit boards in Asia. It is increasingly being brought back to the west. ‘
Higher speed and better efficiency
Among other things, the company made an analysis of the situation and the necessary steps to achieve a higher output. Improvements that would enable Confed to meet current market demand. Cto Marcel Lentfert: ‘We concluded from this analysis that an investment in a faster and smarter production line would lead to an improvement in efficiency, shorter conversion times and ultimately a (much) higher output.’
‘The quantities ordered by our customers reached the limits of our production capacity’
In order to make a good inquiry, Confed carefully formulated its requirements program and distributed this to three potential suppliers. This involved not only the delivery of the production line itself, but also a component storage system, integration with the line management software and integration with the ERP system. Confed has previously invested in the ERP system to optimize various processes. For example, all packaging of components receives a unique QR code on arrival, to which different data can be linked. For example, date and time of arrival, the supplier, the place of storage, the product for which the specific part is intended, etc. The components are then stored automatically in conditioned cabinets in which they are ESD-safe. (electrostatic discharge) Keep. Lentfert: ‘It was an important requirement that the new production line should be seamlessly connected to our system. It was also necessary that it would be suitable for possible future expansions in terms of quality or efficiency, such as an automatic inspection system. ‘
Find the right partner
It was hard to find the right partner in the corona era. The Hobble: “Contacts often occur when you actually meet each other. For example at a trade fair. You then have the opportunity to shake hands, really see and hear each other and develop the right gut feeling. The digital is much harder. Nevertheless, we were reasonably confident when we chose the German division of the Japanese company Juki Automation Systems. ‘ Juki Automation Systems develops, builds and delivers SMD production lines worldwide and also automates the surrounding processes if desired. The company can supply both individual modules and complete lines, including all necessary software. sales manager Thomas Kempf began working on Confed’s request. “In the beginning, I only knew the company from their website and was curious about the exact ideas and wishes. I quickly got an impression of this when they shared their own analysis with us and sent us an overview of the products they make in Amersfoort. ‘
Start with the basics
The companies agreed that it was wise to start with the basics. That meant: an automated production line that starts when the PCBs are fed and ends when the circuit board is cooled down from the oven. The idea was first to make this foundation work properly in the production environment and then to think further about expansions and optimizations. Lentfert: ‘It was clear that Juki could provide an automated line. For this, the company had sufficient references from other companies. For us, it was more exciting if it would be possible to integrate the line within the agreed time in our environment, in which the ERP system, among other things, runs. They were confident that they would succeed and also guaranteed this. ‘
Confed was not disappointed. The line ran its first products before Christmas 2021. A few months later, Confed can determine that the automated line – which runs alongside the old production line – lives up to the requirements program. The actual output also corresponds to the calculated output: Confed can actually run the larger quantities that customers demand. Very small parts can also be installed that fit into the miniaturization trend.
The Hobble: ‘We are impressed with Juki’s performance. The company has fulfilled its agreements and has endeavored to have the machine running at the agreed time. During installation and commissioning, you will always encounter problems that still need to be resolved. They also provided all the support. And not just technically. For example, several people have been on training. One of them got corona and therefore could not attend the place. Juki ensured that he was able to connect fully online and complete the training. ‘
And all this at a time when almost all companies were having trouble receiving ordered goods on time. The Hobble: ‘Looking back, I can honestly say that we have managed to build a bond online where we can communicate openly with each other and trust each other. An excellent basis for continuing with the next steps: writing programs and formulating wishes for extensions that help us produce even more efficiently. ‘