Why Smart Manufacturing?

Digitalization spells opportunity for electronics manufacturing

4 min read

In an industry that demands new products at an unprecedented rate, electronics companies are increasingly relying on “smart manufacturing” to address the challenges of complexity, customization, compliance, globalization and customer expectations for near-perfect quality.

Smart manufacturing – employing computer control and high levels of adaptability – takes advantage of powerful information and manufacturing technologies that enable flexibility in physical processes for a dynamic and global market.

The foundation of smart manufacturing is an integrated platform that unites all of the domains required to engineer, manufacture and deliver today’s smart products. Smart manufacturing is a digitalized development strategy that encompasses the entire process, from PCB design and factory floor optimization to incorporating customer feedback in new designs. This approach can reduce time-to-market by up to 50 percent, shrink development costs by as much as 25 percent and enable electronics companies to deliver near-perfect product quality.

A digitalization strategy is aimed at creating digital twins of products, production, and performance – detailed and accurate replicas that help accelerate the development, manufacturing, delivery, and service of their real-world counterparts. The digital twins and all their stakeholders are connected through a digital thread of information. The availability of actual manufacturing and in-service data makes it possible to continually refine the accuracy and fidelity of digital twins.

Digitalization has enticing benefits. It clearly supports better planning and faster validation of production alternatives and increases the effectiveness and performance of manufacturing operations. Electronics companies are investing heavily: nine out of ten companies are investing in digital factories, according to the PwC consultancy. Deloitte notes that sharp price declines in digital technologies make it possible to invest less and still reap benefits on a wider scale.


According to industry and technology research firm Gartner, digitalization success depends less on having the most advanced technologies and more on having the right operating systems. Business skills, incentives, and operating models have 15 times more impact on the likelihood of success in digitalization than changes in technologies. Eighty percent of companies have digitalization initiatives underway, with 69 percent indicating that they must become more digital, Gartner reported from the 2017 survey. It’s important to note that a successful transition into the digital factory relies not only on the technology but also on the level of acceptance, training, and personnel at the factory.

Fragmented Digital Initiatives

Most electronics manufacturers have digitalized their operations in a piecemeal fashion over time. Their digital landscapes have expanded as the technologies and their business cases have evolved, and manufacturers have applied solutions for a range of individual functions. These include integrated planning and management for PCB assembly and test, production ramp-up and optimization with virtual design and process verification, part and mold manufacturing, supplier collaboration and manufacturing execution, among others. This fragmented approach has resulted in multiple disconnected systems and information silos that prevent digitalization from delivering on its promise.


Integrated Solutions Build the Digital Enterprise

To reap digitalization’s potential benefits, electronics manufacturers need integrated smart manufacturing solutions that break down the silos. Such solutions use product lifecycle management (PLM) technologies to link design verification, manufacturing planning and process engineering, allied with electronics-specific manufacturing execution systems (MES) that unite production scheduling, production execution, and manufacturing analytics. An integrated solution that spans the entire electronics development and manufacturing lifecycle can establish the digital thread of information that supports collaboration and horizontal integration across all disciplines

Proving Business Benefits of Smart Manufacturing

As a major industrial electronics manufacturer and the world’s leading supplier of programmable logic controllers (PLCs), Siemens has fully embraced the smart manufacturing approach, with quantifiable shop floor and business benefits.

The Siemens Amberg Electronics Plant (German abbreviation: EWA) is the company’s showcase plant for smart manufacturing systems. EWA manufactures 12 million PLCs per year, or one control unit every second. The plant’s real and virtual manufacturing worlds are completely integrated. Product codes communicate requirements to production machines and dictate sequences of production steps. Products and machines determine the selection of items and production lines needed to meet delivery deadlines. Independently operating software agents monitor each step to confirm compliance with regulations.

These practices rapidly turn innovation into products.Between the use of digital prototypes and the ability to simulate and optimize production processes in software, the time it takes for EWA to introduce new products is reduced by 50 percent. Changeover time is also half as long. New order lead time is 24 hours, with the ability to handle 1,000 product variants and a lot size of one. Production quality at EWA is 99.99885 percent, and a series of test stations detect the few defects that do occur. This digital enterprise has seen cost savings of up to 25 percent.

New Technology for Electronics Manufacturing Execution

Another case study that illustrates the power of smart manufacturing is the Siemens electronics manufacturing facility in Fürth, Germany. The plant recently underwent a digital transformation that included integration of mechanical and electronics development and manufacturing processes, Internet of Things (IoT) manufacturing data acquisition through plug-and-play real-time data acquisition and control, and systems integration with the company’s PLM and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

The new digital landscape enables a seamless flow of product and production data from PLM to manufacturing execution. A key component of the solution is a leading-edge MES developed specifically for electronics manufacturing. The MES supports process preparation for both PCBs and mechanical components, as well as scheduling, materials management and manufacturing analytics. Through a PLM pipeline, the MES is directly connected to all product design data, electrical and mechanical, and extends the digital thread to the ERP system. “Today we have a true one-stop-shop solution for managing electronics manufacturing that covers all process areas, as well as material flow and integration with PLM and ERP,” says Hermann Kraus, manufacturing manager at Siemens Fürth. Migration to the new MES “introduced a layer of value that we could not have achieved with a disconnected set of tools through custom integration.” The ease of connection to production machinery made it easy to deploy the solution across Siemens Fürth’s assembly lines.

To learn more about smart manufacturing for electronics, see the resources below.


How best-in-class companies use digitalization for smart manufacturing

The Role of MES for Smart Manufacturing in Electronics

Electra Meccanica goes electric with digitalization

Siemens and DMDII: Bringing the Digital Enterprise to Life

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