In light of recent emphases on Industry 4.0, digitisation and increased connectivity, Jonathan Plummer has written this article, in the hopes of spreading the word on how important Industry 4.0 could prove as our technology becomes smarter, more durable and less weighty: the smaller the components become, the larger the industry expands as sectors take on a new lease of life, heading into the future.

The electronics manufacturing world is evolving. Recent years have seen significant changes, thanks to the adoption of innovative technologies, which are encouraging manufacturers to re-imagine how products are designed and produced in the smart factories of tomorrow. Since the 18th century, we have moved through various revolutions, shifting from farming to industrial production to the IT revolution, enabling automated production through the advent of electronics and technology. Now, as digitisation takes hold, we face the dawn of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. But how will this impact electronics manufacturing?


The Fourth Industrial Revolution

During the 18th and 19th centuries, rural societies across Europe and North America became more industrial and urbanised, in what was known as the First Industrial Revolution. This was then followed by the Second Industrial Revolution between 1870 and 1914 – a period of growth for pre-existing industries and expansion for new ones such as steel, oil and electricity – which saw electric power used to create mass production. Major technological advances during this period included the telephone, light bulb, phonograph and the internal combustion engine.


Starting in the 1980s, the Third Industrial Revolution has seen advancements including the personal computer and the internet, as well as information and communications technology. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) builds on this, transforming technology to become further embedded within societies and even the human body. This new era is marked by emerging breakthroughs in a number of fields, including robotics, AI, nanotech, renewable energy, quantum computing, 5G networks and IoT, decentralised consensus, 3D printing and autonomous vehicles.


Not just a label

When computers were introduced in Industry 3.0, they were disruptive as a result of the implementation of entirely new technology. But Industry 4.0 has been identified as an evolution rather than a revolution: it’s not just another label or another technology.


The underlying basis for Industry 4.0 lies in advances in communication and connectivity, rather than technology. These technologies have great potential to connect billions of people through the web, drastically improving the efficiency of businesses and helping regenerate the natural environment through better asset management.


This rise in digitisation opens up new ways to respond effectively to customer needs, enabling machines, computers and even data itself to have an active role in the manufacturing and production processes, reducing the need for human involvement and bringing the smart factory into view on the horizon. 


Optimisation and automation in electronics manufacturing

The current trend of automation is still evolving, and we might not have a complete picture of what that means for electronics manufacturing until we look back 30 years from now. But in the coming years, the industry is likely to see widespread adoption of automated equipment and smart technologies on the factory floor. These optimised technologies will help to automate recurring tasks, transform communications and allow operations to be executed with minimal manual intervention, resulting in enhanced productivity, better allocation of resources and faster process cycles with greater quality control.


For example, 3D automated optical inspection (AOI) machines could replace 2D systems, and augmented reality could be used by production managers to monitor and report on a range of factory floor metrics. Smart materials and intelligent labelling could also improve speed and agility by enabling manufacturers to track deliveries in real time and automatically notify operations of delays.


Embracing new ways of working

Industry 4.0 and digitisation are set to cause even more disruption in the decades ahead, making it crucial for the current workforce to continuously adapt skill sets and embrace the changing landscape.


At EMS, we are constantly growing and moving forward in our industry – integrating new technologies into our processes to make them more effective and efficient. As standard, we offer Automated Optical Inspection (AOI) of all SMT components and production batches – including component package recognition, part number check, and solder joint inspection. We also provide a range of automated test solutions for PCB assemblies, cable assembly, and final product test. For more information on what we at EMS offer, click here.