Surveying the Fab Landscape: Where to Find ROI

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Torsten Reckert and the team at all4-PCB have a uniquely broad view of what’s happening in the industry. When we asked Reckert about the hottest areas for return on investment, his answers were insightful and sometimes surprising. Readers will note that this conversation includes multiple references to Alex Stepinski and his approach to developing paradigm-shifting processes at GreenSource Fabrication LLC. Reckert worked closely with Stepinski during his time at GreenSource, and just as Reckert is an expert on the current market, Stepiniski is a thought leader on how to optimize processes, making his mention in a return-on-investment conversation particularly valuable. 

Nolan Johnson: From your perspective at all4-PCB, what are your pain points?

Torsten Reckert: The biggest pain point is automation, since we don’t have access to people to operate the machines. If it’s work process equipment, loading a machine, unloading a machine, any kind of process tool, the availability of personnel is very difficult in most parts of North America. Chicago is a significant example. For years, little investment took place to address automation, and now the situation is urgent, since finding and retaining labor has become very challenging. 

It’s not necessarily always individual loading/unloading machines that you attach to a piece of equipment, it’s potentially pieces of equipment with automation already integrated. We’ve sold several V-scorers with automatic load and unload, where the customer can put a stack of circuit boards on the front of the machine, walk away, have the job (or jobs) processed, then come back and just pick up the panels on the other side of the machine.

Barry Matties: Torsten, when you say automation, is it merely to the extent of loaders and unloaders, or are they looking for a digital factory as well?

Reckert: With existing PCB factories, it’s primarily about adding a loader and an unloader to a piece of equipment that is already integrated by the equipment supplier. Like the V-score example, manufacturers are offering new equipment with an integrated loader and unloader, or adding an optional loader/unloader. This is much more important than the overall plant automation at present. I think plant automation only works in the case of a greenfield facility where you have the space to design everything. Taking an existing factory and automating it, from a product tracking and overall automation standpoint—similar to what Alex Stepinski did at GreenSource—is almost impossible in existing circuit board facilities.

To read this entire conversation, which appeared in the May 2022 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.


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