New solutions for new markets and industries

Across the globe, the need of automation is increasing in every industry. Due to its special requirements, as well the electronics industry has a special need to raise the level of automation. New, tailored solutions can change that – around the world. 

The growing number of new products, the ever faster pace of development, and short product life cycles require increasing flexibility in production. This offers great potential for automation solutions.

Automation is growing in importance in every industry and market. However, the level of automation varies greatly from industry to industry. According to the 2014 IFR Report, there are 1,100 robots for every 10,000 workers in the automotive industry in Germany, while in General Industry the number is only 147 robots. In 2013, 9,373 industrial robots were sold to the electronics industry (which is part of General Industry). By comparison: the automotive industry ordered almost 60,000 units over the same period. The report also documents large regional differences. In China, for example, the ratio in General Industry is 11 robots for every 10,000 workers.

The figures clearly indicate the untapped potential for modern, future-oriented automation solutions in the electronics industry. In this respect, the industry is still behaving like a slumbering giant. However, forecasts indicate that this will change in the short to medium term. For example, Morgan Stanley anticipates a yearly increase in the use of robots of more than ten percent in China alone. As a result of rising wages in almost every country and growing quality requirements, the automation of production and the efficient use of robots are unavoidable in the electronics industry.

At the same time, efforts to automate pose challenges for the industry and its special characteristics. In the past, product series remained the same for years. These days, in contrast, product models are modified after just a few months. Product life cycles are becoming markedly shorter. What is trendy today is water under the bridge tomorrow. This fast-paced environment requires an extremely high degree of flexibility. Manufacturers must cover an increasing variety of models and efficiently compensate for fluctuations in production batch size. Automation of the production for a specific product type is thus becoming increasingly unprofitable. Because of that maximum flexibility and modularity is being expected by corresponding automation solutions to be able to use production systems easily and individually for different tasks – such as assembly, testing and inspection, materials handling, loading and unloading of machines – during non-productive times and to be able to react quickly to changes in production and process sequences.

Flexibility as the benchmark for the electronics industry

KUKA aims to offer every industry tailored, robot-based automation solutions. In the electronics industry, the flexible use of robots is unavoidable. The return on investment is the key factor in determining whether to automate since investments must pay for themselves within a few years to months. Naturally, our robots are operational for longer than two or three years. Nevertheless, the philosophy of this industry is: There are only few long-term investments; there are ideally acquisitions for a specific project.

In light of this, KUKA has developed the latest member of the KR AGILUS family of small robots: the KR 3 AGILUS. As the fastest six-axis robot in its class, it not only masters tasks required for the electronics industry and beyond (such as handling, component tests and packaging applications), but also meets the special requirements of the 3C sector (Computer, Communications and Consumer Electronics). Its reach of 540 mm enables automation in cells with dimensions of just 600 x 600 mm. Beyond handling small parts and pick & place tasks, it is thus also suitable for assembly tasks. For assembly, there are many varied fields of application – such as joining processes, brazing and adhesive bonding as well as screw-fastening processes.

Automation can decentralize global production

Today, the workload in the globally operating electronics industry is divided: for the most part, research and development is still carried out in Europe and the US, with production in Asia. While electronics manufacturing in the US, Japan and Germany is rather capital-intensive, it is still very labor-intensive in China. Many renowned brands have outsourced individual manufacturing steps or even the entire production process, for example in the 3C market. Thanks to the automation of production, it is now possible (in China, for example) to continue producing efficiently despite rising wages. On the other hand, steps in the manufacturing process can now also be brought back to Europe or the US. Robots now enable very flexible, smart and cost effective solutions, thus making it worthwhile to automate locally. A great number of different, appealing ideas and business models can be developed in conjunction with the keywords “decentralization” and “mass customization”. In the future this allows new and decentralized production concepts and plant for electronics production outside of Asia.

Nevertheless, China will further on remain the production powerhouse of the electronics industry.

You want to know more about KUKA automation solutions for the electronics industry? Then visit our website at https://www.kuka.com/en-de/industries/electronics-industry

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