Network equipment manufacturer gains flexibility with smart automation

Networking Equipment  

A major networking equipment manufacturer found itself up against a (fire)wall as it fielded a team of human operators for tedious heat sink assembly. The manufacturer turned to Bright Machines Microfactories to re-imagine and re-energize its pick-and-place processes. 

The Problem  

The installation of heat sinks are a common time suck on the factory floor because of the manual processes used to attach them to the circuit board, which typically involves either screwdriving them into place, affixing them with pushpins, or fastening them with clips. One networking equipment manufacturer of firewalls relied on 10 workers per shift across 2 shifts to install heat sinks on 18 firewall assemblies per hour. This equated to 72,000 units per year. 

The placement and mounting of heat sinks within the firewall is critical to the performance and quality of these high-end products, which can cost upwards of $1,000 each. Responsible for 12 different product SKUs, reflecting various combinations of heat sinks and other key components, human operators had their hands full with precision, and sometimes painful, picking and placing activities. At $1,000+ per firewall, any mistake – be it an incorrectly placed or cracked heat sink – is a costly one resulting in high-end scrap.  

This manufacturer needed a cost-effective way to reduce its reliance on human operators.  

The Solution  

The manufacturer deployed a Bright Machines Microfactory comprised of four Bright Robotic Cells (two for heat sink placement, two for DIMM card insertion) to transform its heat sink assembly process by removing the need for manual labor.  

In the first automated cell, a robotic arm places four pins into the circuit board and pushes them into place using an end of arm tool developed for heat sink installation. DIMM card insertion is done in the second and third cells. In the fourth cell, the robotic arm mounts the heat sinks in place. 

The Results  

By automating the heat sink assembly process for the company’s firewalls, the company has seen noteworthy results including dramatic cost savings and a decrease in defect rates.  

Previously, over the course of one shift, a 10-person human operator team could place heat sinks and DIMM cards into firewalls at a cost of $13.89 per unit. With the microfactory, that cost dropped $1.06 per unit to $12.83. Compared to the original two-shift, 10-human-operators-per-shift scenario, the automation solution shaved off $7.00+ per firewall. Finally, over three shifts, avoiding the need to hire 10 additional human operators, the efficiency and scalability of the microfactory kicked into overdrive, lowering the cost per unit to $4.28, a 69% reduction. 

Meanwhile, error rates dropped, and yield improved from 92% to 95% thanks to the microfactory’s computer vision capabilities. With the microfactory handling precise assembly tasks, costly scrap was significantly reduced.  

Most notably, the process to integrate Bright Machines’ next-generation automation took only 5 months – a fraction of the deployment time required for traditional factory automation solutions.  

For this networking equipment manufacturer, automation has been critical in alleviating the painstaking tasks associated with heat sink assembly and in doing so, has brought greater cost savings and productivity to this important step in the electronics assembly process.  

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