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Flexible soldering cells for agile electronics (FLEX-EMAN)

Final Report Summary - FLEX-EMAN (Flexible soldering cells for agile electronics)

The goal of FLEX-EMAN project was to develop and demonstrate a novel, scalable manufacturing technology of several Precision Reflow Soldering Chambers (PRSCs) arranged in a cell and supplied with products by means of an automated handling system. The integration of PRSCs required intra-cell communication and supervision system as well as inter-cell communication with other facilities in the production environment. This scalable manufacturing technology should be cost effective for SMEs, capable of high quality manufacture, fault tolerant, eco-friendly, suitable for lead-free soldering and inherently agile to allow effective manufacturing of mixed product types and/or batch sizes.

The FLEX-EMAN system also provided remote monitoring and 3D visualisation of the operation (through a human machine interface - HMI) of the several PRSCs and automated handling system within the cell. The system was highly reconfigurable so that it could be scaled up or down to cater for different needs and production capacities.

The work that was performed during the project was divided into eleven work packages (WP).

WP1: Project Management
This workpackage provided the project with management, quality control and a common framework in which partners could communicate efficiently and a base for monitoring overall progress of deliverables, costs and documentation. The secure web facility was used to share documents extract other partners' information, begin forums, follow the project plan - updating tasks and allowing real time conferences between partners as well as instant messaging.

WP2: System Specifications
This work package provided a preliminary understanding and guideline for the FLEX-EMAN cell. The envisaged automation system consisted of a robot, column of stacked T-Track PRSC ovens and conveyors for PCB transportation. The automated FLEX-EMAN cell would have the capability to be monitored and controlled via an Ethernet network interface.

WP3: Business Processes
This work package involved the understanding of typical current manufacturing processes, formalising current processes and developing appropriate models (i.e. business processes and discrete event production simulations). Appropriate change scenarios and metrics were determined to enable the effect of change on the current process to be evaluated. The PRSC oven process was formalised and modelled and the same change scenarios applied to enable relative measures of agility, cost and time to be determined.

WP4:Supervisory Control System
This work package addressed the detailed definition, implementation and test of a supervisory control system for the multi-oven PRSC implementation. The supervisory control system enabled product identification, optimum profile selection, oven selection based upon user selectable strategies and monitoring of the system performance to be presented in appropriate user specified formats.

WP5: System Automation
This work package addressed the implementation and test of a transfer mechanism from the input and output conveyors as well as part recognition. A PCB carrier was designed which was transferable by the robot to and from the conveyor as well as directly being placed into the PRSC oven. The PCB handling system that was the robot was capable of transferring PCBs from a pickup point and distributing them to ovens selected by the supervisory control system and then removing them from the oven and delivering to an exit point.

WP6: PRSC Engineering
This work package involved modifying the PRSC oven (T-Track) so as multiple units could be integrated into an automated system. The oven cavity was also modified to as the PCB carrier that the robot would use to transport PCBs to and from the oven was implemented with ease. A retro fit door and PCB carrier were designed to meet the requirements imposed by the automation system. The modified oven was tested by Seremap to ensure that the PCB handling system (robot) could manipulate the door design. The modified design also included open and close door switches which were inputed into the firm-ware of the PRSC oven.

WP7: PRSC Process Optimisation
Workpackage 7 was concerned with deriving a detailed understanding of the process physics, process-product interactions and process-materials interactions and thereby optimising the PRSC oven for a variety of production scenarios. A model of the PRSC was constructed to allow the exploration of process setups and configurations with their impacts on product processing.

WP8: PRSC Lead-free Soldering
The aim with W8 was to derive a detailed understanding of the optimum operating conditions of the Precision Reflow Soldering Chambers (PRSC) oven for lead-free soldering, in which the main deliverable was a process operational profiles cookbook to enable first time process set up of a lead-free product within the PRSC oven and to provide guidelines in process setup for a variety of product types. Chalmers University in collaboration with FOAB ElektroniK AB studied oven profiling, board cleanliness, solder wetting, solder joint strength and void content of the solder joint.

WP9: Application testing
The objective of WP9 was the construction of a demonstrator system consisting of a number of ovens and handling systems, including integration of the supervisory control system. A prototype of a robotic flexible soldering cell was developed and tested in Seremap premises in France to investigate the applicability of the new soldering approach within the industrial environment. This prototype comprised of:
- A PRSC oven provided by Planner.
- A robotic automation system capable of feeding 4 ovens, designed and built by Seremap.
- A set of software applications to control the flexible soldering system developed by Loughborough University.

WP10: SME training
This work package was to provide and ensure that the SME partners had a full understanding of the underlying science and technology of the T-Track oven, agile automation and the lead free soldering technology.

WP11: Exploitation and Dissemination
The main objectives with WP11 were to ensure the ultimate commercial and technical success of the project by detailed market research and identification and resolution of all apparent areas of risk, to disseminate the results in trade, through professional and academic press and to produce and exhibit a demonstration at an international trade fair.

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