John A. Kukowski
William R. Boulton

In the consumer electronics industry, precision processing technology is the basis for enhancing product functions and for miniaturizing components and end products. Throughout Japan, manufacturing technology is seen as critical to the production and assembly of advanced products. While its population has increased less than 30 percent over twenty-five years, Japan's gross national product has increased thirtyfold; this growth has resulted in large part from rapid replacement of manual operations with innovative, high-speed, large-scale, continuously running, complex machines that process a growing number of miniaturized components.

The JTEC panel found that introduction of next-generation electronics products in Japan goes hand-in-hand with introduction of new and improved production equipment. In the panel's judgment, Japan's advanced process technologies and equipment development and its highly automated factories are crucial elements of its domination of the consumer electronics marketplace - and Japan's expertise in manufacturing consumer electronics products gives it potentially unapproachable process expertise in all electronics markets.


Building the Manufacturing Infrastructure

The Japanese government began in 1951 to provide special tax incentives for the import of new or highly efficient production equipment that was not produced in Japan. Beginning in the mid-1950s, the government began subsidizing research and development for advanced production equipment. By 1984, Japan was the undisputed world leader in machine tool sales; its sales totaled $4.4 billion, compared to $2.9 billion for the USSR, $2.8 billion for West Germany, and $2.4 billion for the United States.

Development in Japan of production technology for electronics began with passage of the Law on Temporary Measures for the Promotion of the Electronics Industry in 1957. This law was enacted to overcome problems of low productivity and small-scale production. Low-interest-rate loans were provided for modernization of equipment and upgrading of process technology. The law continued to be renewed and updated to encourage development and application of advanced production systems. Any equipment that utilized computer control technology for automation received special tax incentives and accelerated depreciation. By the late 1970s, Japan was the world leader in industrial assembly robots, and in 1992 it operated over 69% of all installed industrial robots in the world, compared to 15% operated by Europe and 12% operated by the United States.

Manufacturing processes in Japan are becoming unmanned, automated, and continuous flow operations. Nonstop operations are even more difficult in discrete assembly industries than in process industries, since hardware must deal with different shapes and sizes of components. To cope with the demands of nonstop operations, engineers must address problems of parts feeding and orientation, line balancing, cleaning, and parts ejection and dislodging. Although machines are not absent from work, their reliability or mean time before failure suffers from parts variations and defects. General wear affects equipment precision and product quality, and low precision affects product quality. The growing application of sensors is an attempt to ensure that equipment is meeting specifications at all times in order to meet product quality requirements.

Continuous innovation in manufacturing equipment and processes requires companies to promote on-site engineering know-how to increase the reliability of equipment with regard to its quality of output products, avoidance of breakdowns, maintainability, safety, and operability. Japan's leadership in manufacturing technology, therefore, depends on competency in factory automation, equipment development, production engineering, and equipment-oriented management. All these capabilities have been developed in Japan over the past four decades.

Japanese-made products have often been able to outperform the same products made by the inventors or innovators. Japanese firms have achieved these results through continuous improvements of the basic technologies and processes used for manufacturing. Within two years of the time that Kawasaki Steel licensed the Unimation robot technology, the Japanese version of the robot was outperforming the American robot in reliability. World-class Japanese manufacturers are continuously learning how to take advantage of their process improvements in order to upgrade their products and components. In this way, Japanese firms have taken the lead away from U.S. firms to become the market leaders. Nowhere is this more evident than in manufacturing technology for consumer electronics.

Achieving Production Efficiency and Quality

Engineering innovations in equipment have resulted in simplified manufacturing processes, improved product designs and quality, and a lower skill level requirement for those operations still done manually. Furthermore, advanced machines and equipment have been developed to process an increasing number of part shapes and sizes, requiring more advanced management methods to improve machine reliability and to prevent breakdowns. For example, there are hundreds of parts in radios, thousands of parts in televisions, tens of thousands of parts in automobiles, hundreds of thousands of parts in jet aircraft, and millions of parts in an Apollo spacecraft: If there are five hundred parts and 99.99% reliability per unit of time, combined reliability is reduced to as little as 96.24%. It is therefore imperative to ensure not only that parts are designed to be reliable, but also that preventive maintenance of automated machinery is undertaken with precision and that maintenance personnel receive the increased level of training necessary.

Beginning in the 1950s, the Japan Management Association developed practices to improve the efficiency of Japanese manufacturing companies. One of the pioneers in this activity, Yoshikazu Takahashi, established the Institute of Productive Maintenance Technology to provide principles for improved productivity, quality, cost, safety, and motivation. Such principles include the following (Takahashi and Osada, 1990):

Innovative technologies have been aggressively implemented in Japanese manufacturing operations. However, to stay cost-competitive, companies have also been careful to restrict unnecessary equipment investment, to ensure maximum utilization of existing equipment, to reduce personnel through equipment enhancements, and to reduce the costs of energy and source materials through innovations in equipment design and use. All these tasks require total employee participation and are fundamental to reforming a company's manufacturing structure.

Research and Development in Manufacturing

Throughout Japan, research and development in production engineering focuses on computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM), factory automation (FA), electronic packaging, precision machining, and inspection/recognition technologies. In 1985, Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) produced a roadmap for the development of computer-integrated manufacturing in Japan. The overall roadmap is shown in Figure 5.1.

Figure 5.1. Japan's development of computer-integrated manufacturing ( MITI).

Computer-Integrated Manufacturing. In 1985, the Japanese initiated a project to develop a standard protocol for factory automation. The International Robotics and Factory Automation Association was established that year for the purpose of setting the standard for communication between equipment used on the factory floor. The approach, called miniMAP, was based on the lower four levels of the MAP manufacturing automation protocol introduced by General Motors in the 1980s. The first prototype demonstrations were made in 1992 and 1993 at the Japan Exhibition Center at Makuhari Messe, where over twenty equipment makers demonstrated factory integration of their equipment using the miniMAP standard protocol. To quote Hitachi's literature, "CIM is the only technology capable of handling the explosive diversification of consumer goods in today's fast-paced market environment driven by increasingly shorter concept to finished product."

The development of Japan's factory automation capabilities began with Toyota's prototype integrated factory in 1972. In 1978, MITI initiated a national R&D project to develop a flexible manufacturing factory, which was demonstrated in 1985 at MITI's mechanical engineering laboratory in Tsukuba. The problem of standardizing the communication interface between equipment vendors was then addressed by the International Robotics and Factory Automation Association. By 1990, Japan was the world leader in installed flexible manufacturing system (FMS) lines and industrial robots and was working to develop full CAD/CAM (computer-assisted design/manufacturing) capabilities for computer-integrated manufacturing. FANUC, a major supplier of industrial robots and control systems for General Motors, began implementing full CAD/CAM capabilities for its own factory automation in the late-1980s.

Leading Japanese electronic manufacturing and assembly companies have developed their own advanced production and computer-integrated manufacturing capabilities. In-house capability protects intellectual property, assures timely delivery, reduces costs, and reduces response times required for new product introductions. Such capabilities provide the Japanese with self-reliance and the ability to implement real "concurrent engineering" methodologies. Most companies, however, are selling their proprietary manufacturing technology in the open market in order to increase the return on their equipment investment. The availability of the equipment in the open market is usually preceded by long periods of utilization in Japanese facilities. Sony demonstrated to the JTEC panel a full range of production and assembly equipment developed for component manufacturing and final assembly applications. Sony's equipment sales now represent 2% of the company's sales. In the United States Polaroid Corporation has installed a complete assembly line that uses over 100 Sony robots.

Production Engineering Capabilities

Production technology is a key strength of Japanese firms. Most leaders in the electronics industry have established separate organizations to manage developments in production technology. Their goals are to maximize manufacturing efficiency and high-quality output. On a corporate level, production engineering research laboratories provide the critical link between product development and the development and application of advanced production equipment and processes. Every major business unit within a firm has its own production engineering staff and production engineering laboratory to develop process design and process technology. Production technology development drives concurrent equipment, component, and product developments - final product design and development are synchronized with production technology development. The importance of production engineering in Japanese firms is demonstrated by the fact that in companies like Hitachi and NEC the production engineering departments report directly to the company presidents, alongside the other company research laboratories.

Most leading Japanese electronics companies also have materials characterization laboratories. Expertise in both materials and manufacturing processes guarantees high-quality outputs and improved reliability. It was evident to JTEC panelists that in Japan both are the focus of attention when quality or reliability problems occur; likewise, improvements in materials, package architectures, and manufacturing processes remove the failure causes.

Equipment Development Capabilities

Without exception, every company visited by the JTEC panel has its own equipment development teams for designing and building production equipment. Sony's factory automation and precision products group includes a thousand members. The FA systems division makes advanced equipment to manufacture new products developed within Sony. The robotics and FA components division developed Sony's Multi Assembly Robot Technology (SMART) systems. In addition, Sony has another three hundred people working within the machine tool, production technology, and production engineering divisions to develop production systems for customers. In 1993, Nippondenso, Japan's leading auto electronics firm, has over two hundred people at its Kota site to develop production equipment and processes. This commitment has led to advanced production systems. Nippondenso's main four-story building at Kota handles chip assembly, hybrid manufacturing, SMT board, and also final assembly, burn-in, and testing for more than 120 models of engine controllers on one 100-meter manufacturing line. The production line was replaced or upgraded every three to four years. Most of the Kota plant's equipment has been produced in-house. JTEC panel members have never seen such levels of commitment to process development in U.S. electronics firms.

Japanese industry as a whole has focused massive resources on the design and development of complex automated equipment, and the range of equipment development expertise within individual companies is tremendous. That expertise covers all the technological areas required to be self-sufficient and dominant in electronics manufacturing. The consensus in Japan is that equipment provides a major competitive advantage and that equipment development technology is mandatory in order to lead in the introduction of new products. Japanese drivers for equipment development include cost reduction, machine accuracy, reliability, speed, flexibility, peripheral integration, ease of operation, and links to CAD (CAD-CAM integration). Numerous Japanese companies are aggressively producing and marketing electronics manufacturing equipment worldwide.

Equipment Development Teams. The Japanese approach to equipment development is built on the team concept. Numerous individuals with varied technical backgrounds are teamed together during the development process. Members of the development team are ultimately transferred to the manufacturing facility for implementation and to continue equipment enhancements to maximize production efficiency. This ensures highly skilled technical personnel to operate, maintain, and continuously implement changes required to enhance the equipment.

Modular Systems. The concept of modular equipment, both in hardware and software, has become a prime objective for the Japanese equipment developers. Their goal is to design independent subsystems that can be quickly reconfigured to meet the demands of rapid product change with minimal cost. Sony's Multi Assembly Robot Technology (SMART) has a modular architecture and is presently being marketed worldwide.

Development Priorities. The JTEC panel observed equipment development activity in the following key areas:

Advanced Electronic Assembly

Japanese equipment makers have striven to produce the most advanced production systems for high-volume, low-cost manufacturing. For example, the manufacturing equipment division of Matsushita Electric provides "total production efficiency" through development and sale of electronic components insertion and placement machines, assembly processing and fastening robots, and FA systems and controllers. Most firms are seeking to provide the 24-hour, unmanned, integrated factory of the future. Matsushita's electronic components insertion and placement machines apply advanced circuit board assembly technologies for fine-pitch circuitry and ultrasmall components in a 24-hour non-stop CIM environment. This advanced assembly technology is based on surface mount (SM) devices and developments in application equipment. As Figure 5.2 shows, a wide range of SM devices, including passive, structural, and active devices, are available for low-cost, high-volume production of lighter weight electronic packages with improved reliability.

Figure 5.2. Japan's surface mount devices (Nikkei Electronics).

High-volume consumer electronics markets have stimulated rapid development of passive devices for SM applications, as Figure 5.3 shows. Structural devices are being redesigned for SM applications.

Figure 5.3. Japan's SM applications of major components ( EIAJ).

The number of companies supporting SM developments in Japan has given the country a competitive infrastructure. As shown in Figure 5.4, there are 29 companies providing surface mount equipment and 32 companies providing surface mount devices. Companies like Hokuriku, NEC, Panasonic (Matsushita), Sanyo, Taiyo Yuden, Tamura, TDK, and Toshiba have expertise in developing both SM devices and SM equipment.

Figure 5.4. Major companies comprising Japan's surface mount infrastructure (Nikkei Electronics).

Advances in electronic packaging technologies and related factory automation are shown in Figure 5.5. According to Matsushita, the evolution of component and production systems through the year 2000 will move to further miniaturization and direct connect technologies. For example, insertion assembly will continue to be applied to packages that do not require miniaturization or cost reductions; however, current "package on board" will be enhanced with tape-automated-bonding applications and a growing number of chip-on-board wire-bonding applications. It is expected that direct chip-on-board flip chip bonding will be used for most miniaturization before multichip modules become the standard for next-generation miniaturization.

Figure 5.5. Japan's surface mount developments (Matsushita Electric Co.).

Surface mount technologies will continue to provide the low-cost solution for consumer electronic products. Figure 5.6 provides the roadmap for surface mount technologies through the year 2000. Mounting methods will include greater levels of chip integration as designers move to bare-chip and three-dimensional mounting techniques. Mounting densities will increase to 50 components per square centimeter. Passive parts are expected to reach their limit at 0.8 mm x 0.4 mm before they become integrated into modules. Active parts will move in to meet miniaturization requirements with pin pitch levels approaching 0.1 mm as advanced direct mounting technologies lead to low-cost multichip modules. Board technologies for low-cost resin boards will become standardized at eight layers before built-in chip solutions become common practice. Ceramic substrates will become more common as multilayer, high-performance techniques are implemented to make them cost-competitive.

Figure 5.6. Next-generation surface mount technology (Nikkei Electronics).

Published: February 1995; WTEC Hyper-Librarian