Advance Your Company Through Automation


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Goldman: It’s a critical mass thing. So, you’ve started with automation mainly for load-unload?

Sutariya: Yes, we started it with just simple load-unload—nothing complex—because anything that’s complex has a higher likelihood of breaking, such as a robotic arm, which people are pushing for $60,000. When you have a simple inclined loader and unloader—everybody’s probably thinking about the old Loehr & Herrmanns and the AMTECHs made back in the ‘90s—the new ones are actually quite nice; they’re delicate with the materials. They have double panel sensing, PLC controls where you can program dwell times, and exit speeds that vary once the material reaches a certain spot. They’re fantastic. In-house maintenance can address most issues if there are any.

The set I had for hot air leveling has been running eight months straight. I had two problems: one was because we installed it crooked, and the other was because an operator smashed the PLC screen with a panel when taking panels off manually instead of pulling the cart. We’re not used to having the ability to pull the cart out of the unloader because we haven’t had new automation, just what we picked up at various auctions. We started with that, then it’s getting into wet processes, which are easier and cheaper to fix. Then, your ROI is less than a year.

Goldman: And have you improved production throughput?

Sutariya: Throughput per man-hour doesn’t change because the throughput is dictated by the machine, but if I have to have an operator loading and unloading panels, not showing up, falling asleep at the wheel, and crunching up panels, it doesn’t do me any good; that means I’m not making product. This automation has enabled me to make product consistently. Now, as we get into wet processes, we’ll be taking more handling and labor out, so you’re talking the dual effect of lower cost and higher quality plus less scrap.

Goldman: So, that becomes part of your ROI.

Sutariya: Absolutely. I only count ROI on simple stuff. I don’t believe the models that companies give me with all this fluff in there to juice the ROI. Give me the hard costs, and I’ll take the fluff as a back-end benefit. I used to say I need three-year ROIs, but five years is fair. Five makes me a 20% ROI, and typically, equipment is outdated after five years in our industry anyway, so that’s a break even. Now, if I get some yield improvements, that’s additional ROI. So, if we’re bringing that 20% up to a 25% or 30%, now I’m talking serious dollars above and beyond what I could get in the bank, stock market, etc.

Goldman: You said wet processes are next. What’s your plan there? Are you thinking a DES line load-unload?

Sutariya: Right now, we’re working on metallization. We just had a two-hour meeting with Circuitech, and it’s their first time at the show. They’re great. We started talking last year, but it’s a little slower process for the Shadow LE—the new chemistry from MacDermid Alpha Electronics Solutions—so there are very specific design requirements. MacDermid has been great working with us, using their Asia counterparts to interface with the factory. We finalized it in our meeting, and we’re probably going to issue that order within the next few weeks; then, it’s about a six-month lead time until it gets here. We’ll check on the progress in three months. It’s looking good, and everybody is confident. Our schedule is Shadow, SES, DES, and then oxide; those are the biggest bang for our buck, as well as my oldest equipment.

Goldman: Are you planning on putting in conveyorized equipment and pulling out tanks?

Sutariya: No, we have all Hollmueller [conveyorized] right now. They’re gone, and we ran our stuff really hard. Even though the brochure said two mils, I don’t think it transported four mils without a leader from day one. Now, you have advancements, a knowledge base, interdigitated wheels, the wheel structures, the way you transfer from one module to the other, and the drying chambers, which have extra supports for the material so that they’re not flopping around and going to get wound up. That’s quite a few advancements since they’ve done mass production in China where they can’t leader anything. They’ve had a lot of resources to put into figuring that issue out, and having MacDermid come out here opens that door for us.

Once we go from that, we’ll start hitting the higher dollars. We already have higher speed drills coming in. Next, we’ll look at imaging. ROI is just not there yet for automated direct imaging, but it will get there. We’re a hair away from meeting our threshold.

Goldman: How about your drill area as far as automating?

Sutariya: That’s a tough one. I saw Alex’s idea about what he’s done to automate. It’s cool, but my footprint just doesn’t support it. That’s an area where we’re trying to get more throughput per square foot of floor area, which means faster drills and also getting smarter. We have fast technology software, but we don’t use it. We bought it and use some of it, but we don’t use it—not just tracking machine optimization, but cassetting and using resident tooling to the best of its ability. That minimizes my swap-out time between part numbers, so we’re starting the program to take a deeper look. We brought on a great process engineer over the past year, and apparently, I must have had more problems than I thought I did because he has been a very busy guy, but we’re only going to get smarter.

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