Happy’s Tech Talk #16: Protocols for a Smart Factory Future

Karl Dietz never wrote on automation and the Smart factory, but these topics have been a priority for larger OEMs since the early 1980s. I became involved in automation planning after designing and building Hewlett-Packard’s printed circuit fabrication facility in Sunnyvale, California. This was the first fabrication facility to demonstrate the capability of computer process control and management planning. Soon after, I moved into the role of automation consultant for HP with its introduction of the Manufacturing Productivity Network (MPN) for a product line of computers, software, and data acquisition systems.

Happy_fig1_0123.jpgStarting the Process
The journey to a Smart factory is evolutionary; it starts with a thorough business plan that charts a roadmap for your enterprise into the future. That roadmap will have six stages (Figure 1):

  1. Environmental assessment
  2. Program strategy
  3. Conceptual design
  4. Detailed design and requirement specifications
  5. Development
  6. Implementation

Mechanization was the primary focus of automation in the 1980s and ‘90s, with an emphasis on robotics and continuous product flow. The focus of Industry 4.0 has been on sensors, data collection, data aggregation, data analysis/analytics, business intelligence/corrective actions, and predictions (digital twins) or systemization. As seen in Figure 2, the emphasis is now on analytics and optimizations in all forms.


Smart Factory Protocols
When considering automation and data in the electronics manufacturing factory, three protocols stand out as de facto standards (Figure 3):

  1. PLC protocols
  2. IPC-CFX

PLC Protocols

Programmable logic controllers (PLC) came about in the 1960s and have steadily grown in use and popularity.

PLCs, like those produced by Siemens and Allen Bradley, have extensive networking capabilities. There are at least six to eight open, but proprietary, messaging and protocols used by PLCs, with the ModBus TCP being the most popular and largest installed base. These are used in automation protocols as seen in Figure 3.

Four of the most popular protocols for PLCs are:

  1. ModBus TCP
  2. Profinet
  3. OPC-UA
  4. MAPS

For electronics assembly, over 300 corporate IPC members came together to create the connected Factory Exchange (CFX) in 2018. The IPC-2591 is an open-source standard for “plug-and-play” connectivity for electronics assembly.

It establishes three critical elements for plug-and-play industrial IoT:

  1. A message protocol using AMQP.
  2. An encoding mechanism using JSON.
  3. A specific content creation element-structured topics and messages.


These elements allow for the creation of automatic decision making, dashboard displays, alerts, and reports. Applications that improve productivity, efficiency, capacity planning, and quality while lowering costs can be seen in Figure 5. It allows the full traceability of components (IPC-1782) and feedback to design (IPC-2581).

Happy_fig5_0123.jpgTypical CFX topics and messages are shown in Figure 6. IPC has established the “CFX Message Submission Process,” a methodology to add/edit new messages for the CFX standard, which allows the standard to grow and be applied by more machines and processes. There is even CFX messaging for hand soldering.

To facilitate adapting machines and applications, there are free software development kits (SDK) available for Windows, .Net, Linux, LabVIEW, JAVA, etc. Already, hundreds of machines have been adapted and demonstrated with native CFX. Figure 6 is an overview of the CFX SDK life cycle. The goal of the IPC committee is to facilitate a fully functioning Industry 4.0 Digital Manufacturing World.

Happy_fig6_0123.jpgExample (Figure 6)

The IPC-CFX standard allows inspection data (2) and (3) from devices to be uploaded to MEM software where compensation data (2) and correction data (2) are determined and downloaded to the screen printer and pick-and-place machines to improve quality and reduce downtime.

The third standard protocol is SEMI’s SECS/GEM standard. This standard was established in the 1980s and ‘90s by the semiconductor industry (SEMI) and has been continuously updated. There are over 900 English SEMI standards, with many more in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. SEMI also has standards for other industries, including photovoltaic and liquid crystal display fabrication. The standards are open and non-proprietary. SEMI’s documentation is useful to establish messages and responses for PCB fabrication protocols. Like IC fabrication, the PCB fabrication process is thermodynamic, so the IC fabrication model is very useful for PCB fab and is different from the kinematic PCB assembly model. It has been updated with current wireless networking and security and is a convenient model for additional PCB automation. The PCB fabrication standards are under development by the Taiwan Printed Circuit Association (TPCA); its model is shown in Figure 7.

Happy_fig7_0123.jpgSEMI has PCB fabrication and assembly advisory boards working to connect the entire electronics supply chain into one digital thread. Because of accessibility, originality, and security, SEMI is looking at “distributed ledger technologies” (blockchain) as a possible technology to include in its General Equipment Model (GEM-E30) protocol. Find the SEMI standards on its website6.

The automation planning methodology is detailed in Automation and Advanced Procedures in PCB Fabrication1. By breaking down all work into time spent by a worker and by the machines for mechanization and systemization at various levels and classes, a plan can easily be prepared for new performance stages. The material handling of products from operation to operation (Figure 8) is benchmarked, as well as the networking of information.


  1. Automation and Advanced Procedures in PCB Fabrication, by Happy Holden, June 2018.
  2. “Building An AI Ready Culture,” keynote address by Irene Petrick, SMTA eSmart Factory Conference, Detroit, 2019.
  3. “IPC CFX: Plug and Play Equipment Messaging Supporting the Factory of the Future,” IPC.org, 2022.
  4. “The Smart Factory Program,” at IPC APEX EXPO in San Diego, CA, 2022.
  5. “SEMI SECS/GEM Presentation,” translated from Chinese at the TPCA Conference in Taipei, Taiwan, November 2021.
  6. SEMI website, www1.semi.org/standards.

Happy Holden has worked in printed circuit technology since 1970 with Hewlett-Packard, NanYa Westwood, Merix, Foxconn, and Gentex. He is currently a contributing technical editor with I-Connect007, and the author of Automation and Advanced Procedures in PCB Fabrication, and 24 Essential Skills for Engineers.

This column originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of PCB007 Magazine.



Happy’s Tech Talk #16: Protocols for a Smart Factory Future


Karl Dietz never wrote on automation and the Smart factory, but these topics have been a priority for larger OEMs since the early '80s. I became involved in automation planning after designing and building Hewlett-Packard’s newest printed circuit fabrication facility in Sunnyvale, California. The journey to a Smart factory is evolutionary; it starts with a thorough business plan that charts a roadmap for your enterprise into the future.

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Happy’s Tech Talk #15: Printed Electronics Using Flex


The printed electronics sector is presently an area of great interest to many in the electronics manufacturing industry. Because of their incredible utility, printed electronics are poised to generate tens of billions of dollars in the coming years. According to IDTechEx, the total market for anticipated and potential printed electronics was near $62 billion in 2019 and expected to grow to nearly $81.8 billion within ten years. Earlier projections of a $300 billion market were floated a few years ago, but the $62 billion figure is still considerable and roughly equal to the current value of the global printed circuit market.

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Happy’s Tech Talk #14: Palladium as a Final Finish


Karl Dietz never wrote on the topic of palladium as a final finish, but he did write about gold plating as a final finish and had an excellent discussion on copper plating. But palladium now has a renaissance as a final finish. It was very popular in the 1970s, as the only other final finishes were tin-lead reflow-Ni/Au-OSP or immersion tin. Palladium was very popular with the automotive industry then and a major supplier of boards was Photocircuits of Glenn Cove, New York.

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Happy’s Tech Talk #13: Direct Imaging Revisited


It is hard to believe we have had direct imaging for 40 years, starting with Excellon’s introduction of its DIS-2000 argon laser imager. Since then, companies in 11 countries, ranging from Israel to Norway1, have developed various digital direct imagers. Karl Dietz wrote about this technology several times in his columns2, noting early on the skepticism that laser direct imaging would hit a Golden Age. So, where are we at now?

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Happy’s Tech Talk #12: Nano-Cu Paste for Microvias


Complex build-up HDI technologies continue to expand in applications. Copper electroplating of vias has been perfected but the process is yet another electroplating solution to maintain and can sometimes be a lengthy process. Current conductive paste fills are not as conductive as solid copper but provide reduced cycle time, are still highly conductive and are cost effective.

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Happy's Tech Talk #11: An Update on Inkjet Technologies


Since the first inkjet printer appeared from Hewlett-Packard in 1980, engineers have been trying to use it in printed circuit manufacturing. The first successful application was by HP PCB engineers in 1983 that created an inkjet printer mechanism to serialize each PCB with a unique S/N for traceability. They used one of the UV inks HP developed that worked well on circuit boards but not suited for use on paper.

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Happy’s Tech Talk #10: Optical Alignment/Coupon Welding for Stackups


In this month’s column, I will discuss optical alignment for pinless lamination stackup, a topic that complements the induction lamination in my November 2021 column. Pin tooling plates have been used for lamination since it first started sometime in the 1960s. I first encountered multilayer stackup when I was assigned to increase capacity for our multilayer output in 1972. This was to accommodate the growth of our computer business. Unfortunately, the explosive growth of our calculator orders in 1973 required that we look for numerous vendors to produce the six-layer logic board in the HP-35 calculator.

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Happy’s Tech Talk #9: Radars, Missiles, and the World’s Costliest Computer


Let’s have a little fun and walk back nearly 70 years into the history of electronics and computers. What was the world’s costliest computer and why? The answer is not today’s supercomputers, nor computers built during World War II. Instead, it lies in a real-time air defense radar system built during the height of the Cold War of the 1950s that had left the U.S. extremely vulnerable to a Soviet bomber attack. This was the beginning of a North American strategic defense system, eventually known as the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment System (SAGE).

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Happy's Tech Talk #8: Copper Etchant Regeneration


Copper has become a valuable metal, and with the growth of EV has come higher currents needed in PCB with increasing weight of copper in PCBs. This creates the need for increased copper etching and consumption of copper etchants. Today, in an effort to recoup some of that cost, increasingly more extraction and recovery units are being installed in PCB facilities around the world. Annual profit generation from recovering copper and regenerating PCB etchants has the potential to reach six figures.

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Happy's Tech Talk #7: Next Generation Application Specific Modules


In 1965, Gordon Moore predicted that the number of transistors that could be packaged into a square inch of space would double every year for the near future. Although his projection was later revised to every 18 months, Moore’s Law has withstood the test of time for five decades. Today, we are beginning to see obstacles to this type of exponential growth due to the inherent limits associated with silicon lithography, packaging of the devices, and component placement on PCBs.

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Happy's Tech Talk #6: Looking at the Process of Repanelization


I have spent many years in printed circuit fabrication, including nearly 20% of my career in Asia. One problem that concerns all fabricators is the issue of “How many ‘X-outs’ are allowed per assembly sub-panel array? Here are a couple of solutions I have used and encountered in my travels.

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Happy's Tech Talk #5: Advanced Boards for Heterogeneous Integration


The expansion of IC functionality usually progresses with the shrinking of IC geometries, called “Moore's Law” after Gordon Moore who first coined the phrase. But now that geometries are below 5 nm, the costs and difficulties are creating a barrier to much further advances. So, the solution seems to be to mix IC die on the same substrate as a system-in-package (SiP) that is now called heterogeneous integration (HI).

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Happy's Tech Talk #3: Photonic Soldering


Printed Electronics (PE) continues to be a growing technology. But one of the advantages, as well as a drawback is using low-cost substrates, like paper, that cannot take the temperature of solder paste reflow. Also, the inks need to be cured. One current way to cure the printed inks is with ultraviolet radiation curing, such as used with solder mask or legend inks.

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Happy's Tech Talk #2: Induction Lamination


Multilayers have been around about as long as the printed circuit. The industry has always used heated hydraulic lamination presses to produce these multilayers, with the introduction of vacuum assist in the 1980s. But recently, with the encouragement of GreenSource Fabrication, induction lamination has been perfected by Chemplate Materials of Spain. Chemplate had introduced the use of induction-pinning by optical alignment of innerlayers for multilayer stackup in the early 2000s. This was to go with another innovative way to laminate innerlayers together—the Italian CEDAL resistance-foil vacuum-press, which had some early adopters.

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Happy’s Tech Talk #1: Vertical Conductive Structures (VeCS)


The industry has not had many new structures in the last 60 years. Multilayers have continued to evolve with thinner materials, smaller traces / spaces as well as drilled vias. It’s been nearly 40 years since Hewlett-Packard put their first laser-drilled microvia boards into production for their innovative Finstrate process.

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Happy’s Essential Skills: Tip of the Month—The NIST/SEMATECH e-Handbook of Statistical Methods


In the 1990s, the National Bureau of Standards was distributing a popular statistical document, the Handbook 91, written by Mary Natrella of the NBS Statistical Engineering Laboratory. A request by Patrick Spagon of the Statistical Methods Group of SEMATECH to update the NBS Handbook 91, Experimental Statistics, led to the creation of a project team from NIST and SEMATECH to create a new web-based statistical handbook including statistical software.

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Happy's Essential Skills: Understanding Predictive Engineering


New product realization and design for manufacturing and assembly (DFM/A) have now started to become more visible as programs that can improve a company’s time-to-market and lower product costs. Many programs are underway by many companies and what is now needed is a framework to coordinate the application of these programs. This column will cover the interactions of DFM/A and the need for development of a new framework to coordinate the trade-offs.

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Happy’s Essential Skills: Technology Awareness and Change


From Happy Holden: A long-time printed circuit-industry friend of mine, Martin Tarr, an instructor at University of Bolton, UK, is a leading expert on change. He wrote an excellent tutorial for his university course on electronics manufacturing. With permission from Tarr, I am including a portion of it here as the basis of this column, starting after the graph in Figure 2. But first, a few thoughts of my own.

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Happy's Essential Skills: 10-Step Business Plan Process


It takes more than just a good idea to exploit that brainstorm of yours. Hewlett Packard’s “10-Step Business Plan Process” is the format to present an idea or product in a fashion that will answer most questions that management may have about a product or idea.

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Happy's Essential Skills: Lean Manufacturing


Lean doesn’t have to exist in manufacturing alone. Lean is a fairly recent principle that can apply to all of our goods and services. For those of you not familiar with Lean, I recommend the free E-book "Survival Is Not Mandatory: 10 Things Every CEO Should Know about Lean" by Steve Williams, a regular columnist for I-Connect007.

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Happy's Essential Skills: Metrics and Dimensional Analysis


After 20 of my columns, readers probably realize that I am an analytical person. Thus, I dedicate this column to metrics—the method of measuring something. I mentioned the four levels of metrics in my June column "Producibility and Other Figures of Merit." I also introduced the five stages of metrics in the second part of the column "Design for Manufacturing and Assembly, Part 2." This column completes the discussion with a look at dimensionless quantities.

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Happy’s Essential Skills: Recruiting and Interviewing


Hopefully, your career has progressed to the point that you are empowered to recruit your own team or a key person for your team. There are always technical people looking for better jobs, but many times, the most talented are busy doing their work and not looking for a new opportunity.

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Happy’s Essential Skills: Computer-Aided Manufacturing, Part 2 - Automation Examples


Semiconductor fabs like to avoid writing custom software to fit all of the idiosyncrasies of individual processing systems. So HP developed PC-10 to handle IC process equipment by separating it into general classes. SECS II was a mandatory prerequisite of the equipment before an interface to PC-10 could be developed.

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Producibility and Other Figures of Merit


Metrics are data and statistically backed measures. It is always expedient to base decisions on data and metrics, for example, in PCB design. These measures can be density, first-pass yield connectivity or in this context, producibility. These measures are the basis for predicting and planning a printed circuit design. But what if a metric doesn’t exist? Then you can create the next best measure, the Figure of Merit

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Learning Theory/Learning Curves


Learning is not instantaneous! Nor is progress made in a steady manner, but at a rate that is typified by one of two basic patterns. In some cases, plateaus will be seen in learning curves. These are caused by factors such as fatigue, poor motivation, loss of interest, or needing time to absorb all the material before progressing to new. This column will not go into details of how learning is achieved, but will summarize some of these theories.

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Happy’s Essential Skills: Project/Product Life Cycle


The product, and or project (process) life cycle (PLC) is fundamental to a corporation intent on developing new products or processes. It sometimes is called the new product introduction (NPI) process but that is only half of the life cycle. There is product support, enhancement and eventually, obsolescence.

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