Technical Track Opportunities at IPC APEX EXPO 2022


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Matt Kelly, IPC chief technologist, discusses the growth of the technical conference tracks in this year’s IPC APEX EXPO program, as well as market dynamics that are influencing the topics presented at this year’s event. 

Nolan Johnson: Matt, thanks for taking the time to talk with us about what’s coming up at IPC APEX EXPO 2022. The theme is the drive for digital transcendence. Can you walk us through your thinking on that theme? 

Matt Kelly: Sure. When you look at the breadth of the technical topics embedded within Industry 4.0 or Factory of the Future, the number one topic that’s long overdue and ready for operational execution is digital transformation. For example, it’s amazing how many different processes within a factory are still monitored and controlled using basic software functionality such as Microsoft Excel. 

Let’s break it into a couple of different areas. One area is the manufacturing floor where most people think to apply digital transformation. This is where products are built using statistical process control methods. There is tremendous opportunity to improve all process steps and to significantly improve key production metrics including productivity, efficiency, increased yields, reduction of scrap, and, most importantly, highest quality/reliability product assurance. 

There’s also logistical digitization, things like track and trace, so you can understand where things were built and when, so you can track when things go wrong. On the positive side, people are looking for demand forecasts: “I need to ship X number of pieces by these dates. Where are the parts in my line, how far into are we in that job or build?” But on the opposite side, and this happens a lot, (albeit not widely communicated), these cases are generally quiet, because this is where task forces get initiated. It’s problem resolution and containment; an issue will be found, and the line may be stopped. “When was it built? How much of this problem affects what I already have now sitting at the end of line?” There is a lot happening. There is work in progress (WIP), in addition to what has already gone through the line. There’s containment and maverick lot containment. The value of digitization is that collected data can help engineers and operations management understand where things are and quality impacts of what’s happening. 

Lastly, the supply chain management portion of this is coming to the forefront because of electronic component and mechanical part shortages. “Where are my components? What are my lead times? Who are my approved vendors? Has there been a natural disaster and I need to engage second source supply? Which suppliers have been qualified? Am I getting hit with tariffs? Should I consider switching to a regional or alternate geography source? 

Believe it or not, digitization at an industry level is still in its infancy. It needs to be utilized and applied in the factory, in the supply chain management, and most importantly, between companies. This is where things really start to gain value. 

If you look at topics that encompass Industry 4.0, specifically things like digital twin, AI, and machine learning, they are wonderful enablers that will provide value. But they cannot—and will not—happen if you don’t have a proper data infrastructure. These are prerequisites. Industry 4.0 will take off when we can digitize and have the data collected. Digitization is the number one topic for Industry 4.0. 

Johnson: Can we expect to see more research papers submitted on Factory of the Future type topics on digital transformation at the APEX EXPO Technical Conference? 

Kelly: We are thrilled with the number of abstract submissions we have received. As of today, we have over 150 submissions, which may be the highest number we’ve ever received. It shows the appetite and the interest people have to present and share their knowledge. 

Last year was our first year for Factory of the Future, and it was offered in a virtual format. This year, we have a full track of 29 papers with contributions from IBM, Omron, MTC, Lockheed Martin, Continental, and ASM to name a few. 

To read this entire article, which appeared in the December 2021 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.

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