Cost-effective integration of SMEMA into the Hermes standard

Putting SICK’s clever retrofit solution to the test

The Hermes standard (IPC-Hermes-9852), the open, non-proprietary protocol based on TCP/IP and XML for M2M communication along SMT production lines, is becoming more and more popular in the integrated smart factory. For fairly new machines, it is easily implemented, but integrating older machines which only have a SMEMA interface has been quite complex – until now. SICK AG, the developer of innovative sensor technology based in Waldkirch, Germany, now offers a reliable and cost-effective retrofit solution, and ASM is already using it in its production.

Automation and the digital transformation under the umbrella of Industry 4.0 are major drivers in SMT production. They result in manufacturing operations that are more cost-effective, efficient and flexible while turning out higher-quality products. Under the motto ‘Open Automation for the Integrated Smart Factory’, ASM has developed a comprehensive, modular and non-proprietary concept that represents an alternative to inflexible and expensive fully automated shop floors. The innovative approach combines seamless M2M communication with the integration of third-party solutions and existing systems. One of its essential features is the inclusion of open interfaces such as the Hermes standard for horizontal and the IPC-CFX standard for vertical communication.

Hermes standard has many advantages
Compared to SMEMA, the Hermes standard offers many advantages for electronics manufacturers. It minimizes the initial investment, reduces the length of the production line, and optimizes the frequency of operator assists – improvements that are made possible by collecting and forwarding board-related information down the line. Since each process step gets recorded, the respective machine knows exactly what to do with each board. At the same time, the boards provide the machine with instructions and trigger changes, such as the automatic adjustment of the conveyor width or a program change. In addition, the data collected for each board can be forwarded to a higher-level MES for analysis or tracking and tracing.

Traceability also important for internal logistics processes
“The introduction of the Hermes standard has definitely improved the production processes on our SMT line,” says Alessandro Bonara, who heads ASM’s electronics production. “Traceability in particular is a factor that should not be underestimated. I am thinking not only of the individual manufacturing steps, but above all of our internal logistics processes. Thanks to this continuous traceability, we know at all times where a particular magazine is located and which boards it holds. Time-consuming searches are now a thing of the past in our factory,” Bonara explains.

How to make the integration of SMEMA work
At the start of the conversion process, integrating machines that only have a SMEMA interface turned out to be a problem. “We use a conveyor module between the laser marker and the DEK printer. While the laser marker generates the Hermes data we need for traceability and automatic program changes including the width adjustment on the line, the SMEMA-equipped conveyor module was unable to make this data available to the other machines in the line. As a result, the information stored on each board did not make it to the DEK printer, which is why we had to find a special solution for the communication between the laser marker and printer. On the one hand, this gave rise to the possibility that the printer would not recognize a program change and operate incorrectly as a result. On the other hand, I did not want to establish another standalone solution in my line in order to keep everything future-proof. What to do? The machine was far away from reaching the end of its life, making a new investment much too expensive. We also did not want to make expensive modifications to its internal components.” In his search for a practicable solution, Bonara came across SICK AG, which had already proven to be a reliable partner in the implementation of magazine tracking and tracing on the factory floor. The specialists for factory, logistics and process automation based in Waldkirch move entire industries with their intelligent sensor solutions.

Hermes SMEMA Connect from SICK – the gateway to the Hermes world
SICK has long been an active member of the Hermes Standard initiative and supports system manufacturers and operators of SMT lines in converting to the Hermes standard. Their innovative Hermes SMEMA Connect solution is specially designed to integrate machines with a SMEMA interface into the Hermes communication system. At ASM, Hermes SMEMA Connect closes the gap in the Hermes communication between the laser marker and the DEK printer, thus making it possible to keep using the valuable product data downstream. It represents a typical application of the flexibly deployable solution.
Hermes SMEMA Connect can be configured for a wide range of applications. For example, a loading unit with a SMEMA interface can be easily integrated into the Hermes network, just like the conveyor at ASM described above. If no inline laser marker is in use, SICK’s Hermes solution can be expanded with an identification sensor to read the barcode on the circuit board and forward the information to the other machines in the line via the Hermes interface. Expanding the unloading unit with identification sensors is also recommended, because Hermes SMEMA Connect makes it possible to supplement the magazine IDs read by the identification sensors with the corresponding Hermes board records and make them all available to the higher-level IT system – an important building block for the ability to track magazines in subsequent processes.

“With their retrofit solution, the experts at SICK have opened the door to making existing ‘SMEMA machines’ part of the Hermes world. The link works perfectly, costs less than new equipment, and can be quickly implemented,” says Alessandro Bonara.

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