EKRA: Printing Becomes Smart – the future of fully-autonomous printing

When it comes to smart factories, the ASYS Group is ahead of the game with its broad product portfolio. With its product range the group of companies covers more than two thirds of the equipment of an SMT production line and is a strong partner in process and handling issues. The portfolio is rounded off by software solutions that control material and data flows in production. In addition, ASYS has built up a strong base in material logistics over the last two years. This comprehensive company image is compressed in the communicated mission “Automate, Digitalize & Connect”. The core of ASYS – automation – is supplemented by two further dimensions.

Today’s factories are flexible, clearly structured and cost-efficient. In addition to short cycle times, traceability and flexibility on the line are key requirements.  The production of batch size 1 and changeability is increasingly in focus. Due to increasing traceability and verification requirements, new elements are being added, shopfloor layouts are becoming more complex and so are the demands on the operators.

This is where the strength of Asys in the field of material logistics comes into play, because the automation experts look at all process chains in the factory during the initial consultation meetings in order to be able to design them in a coordinated and autonomous manner. Individual, scalable concepts are on the agenda in order to be able to realize Material Logistics solutions in various degrees of automation. So, existing factories can be adapted and optimized to the desired requirements based on the currently prevailing situation.

Smart Factory? Smart Machines!

The first step was to introduce the DIVISIO 5100 depaneling system as a smart machine of the new generation. It scores with functions such as closed-loop for cut control. The deviation from cut to pre-milling is continuously controlled and compared with preset limit values. The machine itself checks whether the tolerances have been exceeded and, if necessary, actively counteracts them. Another smart function: the Predictive Setup Control. A camera checks which grippers are set up and compares them with the current job. If the components used do not fit or are incomplete, the machine is able to order its equipment independently. The entire ASYS Group portfolio is being successively converted to smart in line with the three guiding principles of Access 360°, 24/7/365 and Care0.

Fully-autonomous Printing Platform

With the Serio printing systems EKRA has always focused on highest precision and flexibility. A feature of the printers is the dynamic scalability. It is possible to integrate any options and features in order to customize the systems individually and according to your needs. The company has shown foresight in its developments, and features of an autonomous machine were successfully placed on the market by EKRA six years ago. The Serio printing systems run fully autonomously for up to eight hours and enable product changeovers in less than two minutes, while NPI is achieved in less than ten minutes without Gerber data. Different print formats up to 610 x 510 mm can be processed at constant cycle times. In view of the increasing challenges in the shopfloor, EKRA is working on extending the autonomy of its facilities.

The aim is to completely separate the setup processes from the operator. The machines will be able to perform order changes independently without requiring significant manpower and time from an operator. The machine simply calls the operator to the right place at the right time, for example by connecting to the Pulse system. A new feature here is the Pulse-Pro concept, in which all previous, new and further developed software solutions of the Asys Group are combined in a modular software suite. This makes it even easier to control and visualize automated material flows in the entire shopfloor, to achieve a dynamic just-in-time supply for each production step and to map all data flows. This is an essential step on the way to an autonomous, smart factory. The aim is to reduce the workload of the employees in electronics production, especially when orders are changed frequently.

For the printer, this means: the stencil used, the squeegee, the print media must be removed from the printer and the printer must be completely retooled. In simple terms: everything from the previous job must be removed, the material required for the new job must be returned to the printing system, and the whole procedure must take place at a precisely defined time and as quickly as possible. In addition, the operator at the printer should be relieved, he is basically separated – keyword asynchronous setup. Asys is already using driverless transport systems, so-called AIVs (autonomous intelligent vehicles) in warehouse logistics. The goal is an intelligent factory with smooth production processes and seamless traceability to optimize processes.

The use of an AIV at the printer is therefore obvious. The trick here is that the small transport vehicle not only delivers material, i.e. stencil, squeegee and paste, to the printer just-in-time, but also plays a key role in retooling the machine. The AIV can orient itself freely within a stored “map”. The machines are equipped with electronic entry aids so that it can find the right machine with the help of magnetic strips.

A certain sequence must be observed during assembly in the machine so that setup control is possible at all. EKRA uses RFID technology for this process. The setup components are tagged and then assembled in the machine. All components are read and compared with the loaded production program – if everything is correct, production can start immediately. Set-up control is automatic and simple, effectively preventing errors. RFID communication is carried out in such a way that only those tags are recorded that are located in the process area. For example, the system can track how many printing cycles a stencil has already passed through and provide a preventive indication that it needs to be replaced before any loss of quality occurs. The material code in the RFID tag can also be used to monitor the solder paste cartridges and read out storage data and paste levels.

Printing becomes smart

At the ASYS Group Technology Days, 11. – 12. November 2020, autonomy in productive operation beyond the product change until the next predictive maintenance phase is demonstrated: https://www.asys-group.com/en-de/landingpages/event/program/

About EKRA Automatisierungssysteme GmbH

EKRA specializes in high-quality, high-performance screen and stencil printing systems, as well as services and products related to all aspects of the printing process. Since 2005 the company is part of the ASYS Group. The unique portfolio includes products and solutions for applications in the fields of SMT, hybrid thickfilm, and advanced packaging. The portfolio ranges from manual laboratory printers through fully automatic inline systems and flexible dual-track solutions to complete customized production lines.