SMT-AI Show Rosemont & CFX Update


Michael Ford, Sr. Director Emerging Industry Strategy, Aegis Software

SMTAI Rosemont seemed a fair bit busier this year as compared to the previous two years. A lot of technology going on, much of it now in the digital domain as interest in Smart, digital  factories and even a hint of Industry 4.0 moves forward. IPC meetings, were especially well attended, a focus of the combined know-how from leaders in the industry to form consensus based standards for the benefit of us all.

There are always some surprises at trade shows. At SMTAI this time it was not just that they ran out of food halfway through lunch-time (it was that busy!) on the first day, but also new technologies such as Block-Chain. To be fair, there were more questions than answers, but a few ideas now going forward as to how this ultra-secure technology can help for materials qualification and traceability data.

It is really great to see new ideas and technologies coming forward, and being put together to create world-changing solutions. Off the show-floor itself, a highlight of the event were the IPC meetings.  Many of these meetings often feature heated debates as ideas and expert opinions from all over what is really a quite diverse industry, are put together. One of the key meetings was the Connected Factory Initiative committee, who are currently putting together the new CFX (Connected Factory Exchange) standard for digital data transfer and exchange across the whole PCB, electronics and related assembly operations.

At previous trade-shows, a lot of attention has been focused by the media on the potential conflict of  standards in this area and how they “compete” rather than the scope and value that each one brings. Refreshingly, this time, the focus has changed significantly on to the values that such standards bring as people are now really looking forward to what they can achieve by digitalizing their operations.

The progress of CFX is now maturing rapidly. With the decision of protocol (AMQP v1.0) and data encoding (JSON) decisions made, attention has turned to the data content definition. Starting out with a “blank sheet of paper” was never going to work, so a small “A-team” within the task-group was assigned and had been working on getting started with the content definition, such that the look, feel and structure of the specification could be understood by the wider content task group, who would then find it more practical to be able to contribute their information. Having posted the draft working document within the IPC, everyone attending the meeting had been given a heads-up on the progress so far. This was very well received by the attendees of the meeting, inspiring many to sign-up for making contributions that will help complete the specification. There are many different types of machines and processes that CFX will support, it is down to task group members from the individual companies that perfectly know their niche of technology to be able to help define the area of the specification that is applicable to them.

In addition to the messaging and data specification, focus was also placed on the values that CFX has to offer. Most people can think immediately of the many uses of CFX data within manufacturing, On the show-floor, there was a lot of talk of traceability, and the storage of such data using the new Block-Chain technology. Utilization of data by virtual reality and augmented reality were also discussed, as possibilities which once were considered deeply impractical in the past are now on many companies radar. An interesting aspect of CFX is the ability to bring information about the whole of manufacturing to each and every machine on the shop-floor, the reverse of what most people immediately think. There are so many ways in which processes can be further optimized when they are made aware of the live condition of manufacturing, both up and down the line, as well as having MES data related to schedule, materials and resources etc. Smart solutions within machines and processes will greatly benefit from CFX, as it creates a true IIOT environment. CFX champions everyone in manufacturing, companies large and small, vendors and manufacturers, to achieve practical Smart processes and operations.

Another key surprise for many was also in store. The intention to have demos of CFX ready in time for the Productronica trade-show in November was announced, as well as the intention to have working CFX trials in key manufacturing operations completed in time for the APEX show in February 2018. Aegis Software announced that an SDK for CFX messaging would be donated to the IPC as a completely open-source code-set. Anyone wishing to implement CFX communication can take advantage of the free for all software development kit. This will certainly help to expedite the demos and trials of CFX.

CFX data also supports traceability, specifically the IPC-1782 standard. With this traceability standard already published, the next focus for the traceability task-group is to create the hand-book, which will guide adopters of the standard to be able very quickly to achieve their desired level of traceability, without the burden normally associated with extensive data gathering. Not only will the CFX standard automate the gathering of data, but the various uses of such live trace data enables advanced uses such as active quality management, bringing continuous value. Expansion of the traceability standard to cover the fabrication of PCBs is also now planned.

Please take a look at the recorded interviews taken during the show related to these technologies (we will add more to this list as they are published):


WNIW - SMTAI 2017 Interview: Jason Spera, CEO Aegis Software:

Iconnect007 / SMT Magazine: Michael Ford:

WNIE - Michael Ford "The Factory of Tomorrow's Reality!":

Don’t forget that you can also contribute to these IPC standards. Your company has to be an IPC member, and you too should apply to join the relevant task group. Be a part of the solution!

Productronica is now only a few weeks away, which will bring unprecedented news of CFX development, especially in relation to application with Industry 4.0.

See you there!

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