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The recent SMT Hybrid Packaging show in Nuremberg, Germany, marked the second opportunity for IPC to showcase its new Connected Factory Exchange (CFX) initiative. In an interview with I-Connect007, David Bergman, VP for international relations at IPC discusses the overall reception of CFX and the benefits users are seeing thus far. He also provides an update on what’s next for the open source standard.
Barry Matties: We're in Nuremberg at the IPC Europe Booth. We seem to meet all around the world throughout the years, David. It's always a pleasure to see you. Can you give us an overview of what's going on here for IPC?
Dave Bergman: Thanks, Barry. I appreciate the opportunity to share how IPC is supporting electronics manufacturing in Europe. You may know that IPC has an office in Brussels and several staff members that work for us out of that office. The Brussels team provides IPC association services and some government relations activities. We have a standards staff person who works for us out of Estonia and he supports all of our European committees developing standards. We also have some consultants. Fortunately, Lars Wallin is still helping us, even though he's retired, with things like the hand soldering competition and some of the marketing efforts for the organization. We're here to have a presence in the show, talk to people about IPC and how we can support electronics manufacturing, and have some fun with the hand soldering competition as well.
We're also having our second CFX showcase. We launched the showcase at this year’s IPC APEX EXPO in San Diego, California. CFX is the Connected Factory Exchange. It's an IPC initiative made up of software providers, equipment providers and users with the goal to build a solid foundation that can support the vision of Industry 4.0. We want to be able to have machines talk to each other bidirectionally and input into enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems so you get business analytics that work. We have been working for two years on IPC CFX and we're getting pretty close to releasing the standard. Our goal is to publish the standard by September of this year.
The purpose of doing these showcases is to let people see the power of the standard even in a draft stage. While we're still in draft, we're able to do some analytics. We were able to get 52 pieces of equipment on SMT’s show floor to participate in the CFX showcase. This showcase represents a 30% increase in size over IPC APEX EXPO and everything seems to be working very well at this show so far.
Matties: With CFX, we talk a lot about data exchange and analytics. What does that mean to a company? What's the real value that they're getting out of that in everyday terms?
Bergman: It depends on what part of the supply chain you're in. In the end, if you're trying to build a manufacturing line, at some point you have to get the machines to communicate to each other. Let’s say you want to put in a new piece of equipment. You might be able to simply plug them in to each other, but you're certainly not going to get information back and forth right out of the box. From a software or communication standpoint, the goal of CFX is to have every machine be able to communicate messages in the same fashion.
The committee working on CFX broke the messaging types down into the smallest pieces, so if you have a camera on an inspection machine, you've got the camera putting out some messages. The pick-and-place machine has multiple messages from a start and stop to placing components, etc. The goal would be to have every machine understand the machine next to them.
If you're able to communicate in that same format as an equipment manufacturer, you have legacy equipment. All of these interfaces need to be supported. The goal is to say, "We want to do everything in the CFX language. We don't have to spend time with all the legacy support for each machine talking to each legacy machine." Everything talking in CFX saves everybody a lot of money.
Matties: And it's open source?
Bergman: Yes, it’s open source. We came out with a donated software development kit (SDK). It's on GitHub, which is public domain. The goal of that was to make it freely available so that anyone can take it and minimize the time and effort required to get a piece of equipment to be able to output CFX. This saves time and money.
Matties: What sort of resistance are you meeting in the industry, if any?
Bergman: We’ve had some chicken-and-egg situations. We're still in draft standard stage with a goal of publishing it by September, so we'll see after the standard is published. What comes first? Is the customer asking for it? Is the standard done? We have equipment providers that aren't all on board yet. We have a growing support list, but we hear a lot of, "My customers aren't asking for it yet," and then you have the customer saying, "My equipment guys don't support it yet." Classic chicken-and-egg scenario.
We are working on ways to deal with that. I'm going to line up a series of users and explain the vision behind IPC CFX. We will be able to provide the software information so they can see the intent and how easy it is to output CFX. If the users are truly interested in Industry 4.0, we will ask them to start asking for implementation roadmaps for IPC CFX. That's something I'm working on right now.
Matties: When a manufacturer fully adopts CFX, the efficiencies they gain should be enormous.
Bergman: Yes, they should be great if you're doing any kind of line configuration. Really, the cooler stuff is what comes from the use of IPC CFX messaging. The real vision of Industry 4.0 is to have a smart factory, which gets built on top of CFX. IPC is not building all the bells and whistles, like loopback systems and self-corrections. Machine vendors will be able to do this by importing and exporting CFX messages. IPC CFX provides the solid foundation that facilitates the whizz-bang stuff.
Matties: The operating system, if you will.
Bergman: Yes. The committee has also worked hard to lower the barrier to entry for IPC CFX participation. Some companies came last minute to try to get into the demonstration. At IPC APEX EXPO, they did it a week before and said, "I just heard about this. I'm late, but can I still get in?" We said, "Yeah, sure." They turned it around and participated in a day or two. It's really a minimal commitment of a software engineer's time to be able to get to the table, and that was the intent. Again, we believe that everybody should save time and money.
Matties: As the need for data increases, like seeing 5G coming online, we're going to see a lot more opportunities to utilize data and this is going to be an important foundation to support it.
Bergman: Yes, business analytics. I know we were talking about Michael Ford giving presentations about this. Sometimes you get a new idea from somebody when they're talking about board or component orientation and the reels change over because when it's a different vendor, the orientation is different. But properly set up, CFX handles all of that and it should be seamless. Smart factories should be smart enough, so you don't have to worry about that. The line should be smart enough to deal with that.
Matties: I think there are a lot of gains that we don't even understand yet. As it comes online, people will be blown away by it.
Bergman: As we've been able to spread the word, we've had some unexpected wins. By putting the standard out there on the shareware and software development websites, somebody came up, liked us, and submitted a series of messaging for a piece of equipment we hadn't even included. They just popped it in, it was completely populated, and the committee looked at it and said, "Hey, this is a great submission!" Again, I think we're going to have more of that as people find out about it. We just have to keep spreading the word.