How the electronics industry is keeping up with short innovation cycles

Electronics vendors are all facing the same challenge of short innovation cycles. To keep pace, it’s not uncommon for an entirely new production line to be installed every two years. With help from Siemens, producers of high-end smartwatches can keep their brands up to date and gain market share.

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Smartwatches. Whether built for the sporty set or designed to appeal to the fashion-conscious, they have one thing in common: At the heart of all smartwatches is a printed circuit board (PCB). Equally important is the casing, which has to withstand shocks and water but still allow sensors to do their job, such as measure heartrate. Smartwatch vendors need a high degree of expertise to create the printed circuit board (PCB) and the casing. Plus, they have to be able to react quickly to short innovation cycles. Because those who can keep up with fast technology developments have a better chance at retaining customers and increasing market share.


Digital tools from Siemens help smartwatch manufacturers stay ahead at every step by simplifying the entire process – from initial design all the way to box build assembly. Plus, they help keep operations running smoothly. Follow the digital journey of a smartwatch:

Prototypes were yesterday

All successful products start with a solid design – and in today’s world, the only option is to employ digital design tools. At most vendors of small electronics, teams work in parallel on the PCB and the casing. 

 

All data produced with the different software-based design tools is brought together with the product lifecycle management software Teamcenter. Among others, it allows teams to more easily collaborate across locations. Plus, digital mock-up capability shows planners the impact of changes in real time.

 

“This and more speeds up cycle time and improves quality – two very important aspects to hold ground in the face of short innovation cycles,” says Tobias Fengel from Siemens Digital Industries. The assembled data is the source of the digital twin of the product, which is essential for the next step of designing production processes.

Faster to production

All data created in the design phase – including the digital twin of the product – is handed over to the electronics manufacturer as the basis for planning production. The start is a virtual model, or a digital twin of production, which assists with planning, simulation, and optimization.

 

Digital tools also help to develop the production lines. The Tecnomatix portfolio, for instance, lets engineers simulate different aspects of the manufacturing process – from the whole line down to individual cells. The ultimate goal is optimization and maximum output.

Virtual commissioning

The digital twin of production is also valuable for commissioning. The manufacturing operations management (MOM), for example, can be virtually commissioned and validated – before production even starts. “The MOM is connected to the virtual electronics line and it ‘learns’ the line before the actual machines are set into motion. Physical commissioning is thereby expedited,” explains Fengel.

 

Another trend in electronics production sees more and more manufacturers introducing a higher degree of automation in final box build assembly processes: PCB lines are traditionally integrated into the MOM with Valor IoT Manufacturing. But because box build machines operate with different protocols and controls, a different communication standard has to be used.

 

The answer is a solution that integrates box build assembly into the MOM using the OPC UA standard. Data in the digital twin of production has a further use for production lines – namely to help individual machine manufacturers program and design their machines.

Digital twin of performance

When real production has commenced, the resulting performance data give rise to the digital twin of performance. This starts a continuous optimization loop to further increase efficiency through innovative services.

 

One example is predictive maintenance. Here sensors on machines collect data that is assessed with artificial intelligence (AI) to identify anomalies so that corrective action can be taken in time and thereby avoid unplanned downtime.

 

Another example is to use AI to analyze machine data to determine which PCBs are likely have faulty solders. The PCBs requiring X-ray testing can then be narrowed down. With this solution, costly X-ray examinations can be cut by up to 30 percent while keeping quality high.

Shortening time to market

All in all, thanks to end-to-end digitalization, electronics vendors win on many levels. They become more flexible – for example, they can better react to short-term changes if a design has to be modified just before production. With faster commissioning, new lines can be deployed more quickly to ensure a short time to market.

 

Finally, the digital twins that emerge from one product generation can be employed for following generations. That makes it easy to reuse proven concepts and ensures that all acquired experience and knowledge flow into subsequent products.

 

Fengel concludes: “The good news is that no matter what you’re producing – whether smartwatches, smartphones or computers – the principles described here can be extended to all players in the electronics industry. Short innovation cycles become a manageable challenge.” 

Faster cycle time and improved quality are two very important aspects for smartwatch manufacturers to hold their ground in the face of short innovation cycles.
Tobias Fengel from Siemens Digital Industries

September 2020

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