Electronics manufacturing is a fast-paced world. With the demand for consumer electronics exploding, the luxury of having months to gear up for a new product run is long gone. High growth and short product lifecycles mean that electronics manufacturing processes must be designed to deliver the next generation of smart devices in an accelerated timeframe.
These challenges place a huge burden on electronics manufacturers to standardize and update work instructions faster than ever. Employees must now be trained quickly on new products and their many variations and customizations. Plus, high employee turnover adds more complexity to training the workforce for the next product and adding new employees to existing runs. And with a complex global supply chain where much of electronics manufacturing is contracted out to partners, electronics manufacturers are pressed to find new tools to help them improve efficiency while maintaining high quality standards.
To get ahead of these challenges, electronics manufacturers are using augmented reality (AR). AR transforms pages of complex work instructions into a series of interactive visual cues that guide workers through each step of a manual process.
Electronics manufacturers are using enterprise AR software to:
- Streamline the deployment of work instructions
- Improve training effectiveness
- Standardize assembly processes for enhanced quality control
3 Challenges Electronics Manufacturers Face
1. Keeping Up with New Product Launches
Electronics brands and contract manufacturing companies are grappling with constantly shifting consumer preferences, forcing them to introduce new products at a faster pace than ever before. Shorter product lifecycles, coupled with increasingly higher levels of innovation, are leading to an explosion in the sheer number of products and their variations. For example, iPhones are highly customized with different capacities, capabilities, and colors, which add complex variations to electronics manufacturing processes. In the last quarter of 2021, more than 84 million iPhones were shipped—10 million more than the last quarter of 2020.
In order to meet quality standards, electronics manufacturers are challenged to keep work instructions updated and train workers on new products and variations. Traditionally, work instructions have been deployed as instruction manuals or displayed for workers on paper, tablets, or computer screens. But it’s nearly impossible to update these at scale to keep up with the pace of new products. In addition, when employees are constantly referencing paper-based instructions, they’re distracted from their work, leading to inefficiencies such as longer cycle times, increased opportunities for error, and ultimately, lower yields.
2. Maintaining High Quality Standards
Because electronics brands contract out much of their manufacturing, electronics contract manufacturers are under pressure to deliver extremely low margins of error as a condition to keep their manufacturing contracts. When processes and work instructions aren’t standardized for each product and variation, it’s difficult to ensure consistent quality across manufacturing facilities. In addition, high turnover naturally leads to quality issues without a foolproof training process and clear, step-by-step instructions for each part and assembly.
3. Handling High Turnover
Employee turnover in the electronics industry is keeping electronics manufacturing companies at a chronically low level of productivity. Often, workers are trained through tribal knowledge that is passed down by more experienced personnel. This method always leaves gaps. And as older workers retire, tribal knowledge will be more difficult to rely on. Inconsistent and incomplete training can leave new workers frustrated in their jobs. Replacing these workers is always expensive and time-consuming, both in recruiting and training.
The need to continuously retrain workers is making it difficult for electronics manufacturers to maintain quality standards. To stay competitive, electronics manufacturers must find a way to deliver comprehensive training and work guidance in a way that will encourage employees to stay with their job for the long term. The training must also be efficient and fast enough to keep pace with product changes.
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Benefits of Augmented Reality for Electronics Manufacturing
AR can fill many gaps that electronics manufacturers are eager to close and help manage the breakneck pace of change. At the same time, the discipline and consistency that AR provides in manufacturing improves quality and ensures that your company is always at the top of the list for OEM contracts.
Standardized Work Instructions for Consistency
Many electronics manufacturers have multiple factories and locations that must be brought up to speed with each new product launch. Augmented reality helps electronics companies handle rapidly changing product designs with ease by providing standardized work instructions in alignment with new product launches and product schedules.
As new designs are released into production, the best augmented reality solutions enable electronics manufacturers to quickly update work instructions across all manufacturing facilities, providing enterprises with complete consistency in instructions for every worker in every location.
AR systems that include intelligent integrations with leading manufacturing execution systems (MES) and factory automation platforms, such as Siemens Mindsphere and Inductive Automation’s Ignition, enable electronics manufacturers to create digital work instructions on the fly as new CAD files are released and the Bill of Process is updated.
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Tackle Turnover with Faster Training
It’s clear that low-tech, “old school” methods of training and guiding employees are not keeping up with the high-tech needs of electronics manufacturers. Younger workers are accustomed to technology aiding their personal lives. By adding a high-tech touch to your training and electronics manufacturing processes, you’ll engage younger workers faster and gain an edge in retention and production quality.
Projection-based augmented reality puts the right information in the right place at the right time for each worker. With consistent, up-to-date information at the fingertips of every employee, the ramp-up time for each worker can be significantly reduced, especially for employees with no previous manufacturing experience.
Work instructions guided by augmented reality train and upskill workers in a simple, agile way. For example, systems like LightGuide’s TrainAR can train production workers directly on the factory floor. AR transforms text instructions into visual cues that can be projected onto any work surface. This enables manufacturers to distill pages of complex work instructions into visual step-by-step instructions that are easy to understand and follow. Manufacturers can create and update instructions centrally and quickly deploy new and updated instructions across the enterprise. This gives every employee in every location the same set of instructions to work from and ensures consistency across the enterprise regardless of scale.
With work instructions visualized on a work surface, assembly instructions are much easier and faster to comprehend when compared to reading instructions from a screen or sheet of paper.
Augmented reality in electronics manufacturing enables workers to learn faster and without error, leading to consistently high product quality, lower assembly times, and higher yields.
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Visual Guidance for No-Fault Forward Assembly
Inspection and verification are extremely important for ensuring quality, but it’s not uncommon for inspections to take place at the end of a manufacturing process. The best solutions provide the ability to inspect and verify each step of the process so that mistakes are nearly impossible to introduce.
For example, LightGuide’s AR software and supplemental hardware includes cameras and sensors that identify errors such as improper torque and part placement. In addition, augmented reality solutions from LightGuide enable a no-fault forward assembly process that ensures each step is completed correctly before allowing the worker to move to the next step. This builds quality into the manufacturing process, preventing defects rather than simply detecting them, and leads to higher yields and the added benefit of decreased assembly times.
Traceability for Improved Quality
Traceability enables electronics manufacturers to capture the complete history of a part’s production. From the moment an employee starts their shift to the point where an assembly or product is completed, the best augmented reality systems capture and store every assembly operation as data that can be tracked, analyzed, and reported.
This gives manufacturers real-time visibility into manual processes and operations. Traceability data can be used to better understand manual processes and identify areas for improvement that can lead to dramatically higher efficiency while quality issues can be easily pinpointed and addressed.
The ability to optimize existing processes will help electronics manufacturers make a strong case to their OEM partners that they can consistently meet OEM specifications for production volume and quality standards.
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Manage the Challenges of Electronics Manufacturing with Confidence
The electronics industry is booming. That means the flood of new products will continue and the need to train and retain workers will become more crucial to success.
Augmented reality from LightGuide can help electronics manufacturers gain a competitive edge by improving training, standardizing work instructions, and ensuring error-free manufacturing with no-fault forward processes. Traceability provides the added benefit of data that can be used to improve processes for peak efficiency and quality.
In combination, the benefits of AR for electronics manufacturing can help your company win more contracts and become the go-to supplier for quality and volume.
Interested in learning how augmented reality solutions from LightGuide can improve your electronics manufacturing processes? Contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our AR experts.