Material Handling

It's Time to Invest in Material Handling

Material handling systems can provide manufacturers with huge gains in efficiency with relatively small investments

In the past 30-40 years of electronics manufacturing, nearly every aspect of the production process has seen incredible advancements. High-speed placement machines have largely replaced manual assembly lines, 3D AOI has largely replaced manual visual inspection, and X-Ray inspection is detecting faults that humans never could have seen in the first place. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg, and don't even touch on the billions of dollars in software that has been produced to support these technologies. 

While machines are getting faster and faster at picking, placing, inspecting, and so on, most understand that they will never achieve the true advertised speeds of any automated equipment. For example, pick-and-place component per hour (CPH) figures generally assume an ideally populated board with easy-to-pick components. Those same CPH figures will also assume that boards are entering the machine perfectly on time, that solder paste inspection or AOI are not creating bottlenecks, and, perhaps most importantly, that the feeders are always loaded with the right parts.

Real-world inefficiencies mean that many manufacturers will reach (or have already reached) the point of diminishing returns, where investing in newer and better production equipment will give them smaller marginal benefits over time. However, there is still one area where manufacturers can find truly game-changing returns on relatively minimal investment: material handling.

Material is the most important aspect of manufacturing; without material nothing can be produced in the first place. The latest and greatest production equipment still grinds to a halt when the feeders are empty. And yet most manufacturers are still using the same racks and bins they've used for decades, still spending hours to kit parts from their stockroom, and still searching for the right parts while their production lines sit idle.

Because of the overall lack of investment in this area, the potential returns are staggering. In moving from the same old rack-and-bin solutions to a modern material handling system, manufacturers can significantly reduce or even eliminate kitting times, reduce storage space by 90%, eliminate operator picking errors, automate manual data entry, and more.

In today's electronics manufacturing world, where everyone has high-speed production equipment, material handling is where manufacturers can find their edge over the competition. Imagine what your production operation would look like if you always had the right material in the right place.


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