Intelligent automation • Reshoring • Viewpoints

Asteelflash Executive Talks Automation and Partnering with Bright Machines

From the desk of Justine Crosby, Director Corporate Marketing, Bright Machines

I recently jumped on Zoom with Albert Yanez Sr., Corporate EVP & President of the Americas at Asteelflash USA, for a quick Q&A about factory resiliency, reshoring manufacturing, and why the company is betting on Bright Machines to support their move to automation for assembly. 

Q. Tell me a bit about Asteelflash and your global footprint. 

AlbertWe’re a global EMS company serving multiple industries, including industrial, medical, defense, and aerospace. In addition to printed circuit board assembly (PCBA), we provide full box assembly, building to our customers’ requirements by continually improving our processes and putting excellence at the center of everything we do. Because of this, we’re the second-largest EMS company in Europe – our HQ is just outside of Paris – and we rank among the top 20 worldwide. We’re proud to have operations in 18 countries, totaling approximately 2 million square feet and 6,200 employees.

We know that bringing a new product to market takes more than just a great concept — it requires expert teams to execute a range of complex processes. Collaborating with the right people at the design, industrialization, and manufacturing phases all contribute to our customer’s success – this is where we excel – it’s also a reason we’re excited to work with Bright Machines. 

Q. We’re equally excited to work with Asteelflash to help move your assembly operations to a more automated approach. What drew you to Bright Machines? 

Albert: I knew Bright Machines was the right automation partner for us when your team shared your simple but very thoughtful approach. By ‘simple,’ I mean it’s not like other automation options I’ve seen in the past that are overly complex and slightly clunky, resulting in an inflexible product that cannot scale effectively. We were particularly attracted to Bright Machines’ solution because of the prospect of quickly changing product variations produced on a line or changing that line’s capacity. Flexibility is paramount to our operations. 

It was evident from day one of our conversations that the Bright Machines team comes from the world of manufacturing and knows my business. This goes a long way in building upfront trust. 

Q. What’s your take on electronics manufacturing evolution and how smart manufacturing brings about a shift on the factory floor? 

Albert: It’s no mystery that the cost to manufacture in China is rising quickly, and the ongoing tariff wars only present more limitations to manufacturing abroad. Most manufacturers are looking to reshore or get their products closer to their end customer, but only where the labor costs are competitive with historically low labor cost countries. So, the question has always been, when do you automate? When the labor content is very high, and the product’s quality is stringent, it is time to consider and evaluate an automation solution, whether semi-automated or fully automated. The key is to find a pragmatic approach.

This is where Bright Machines presents a significant advantage. Microfactories make manufacturing more resilient to disruptions because you help remove our reliance on people, physical space, and large, centralized factories halfway around the world. 

Q. Sourcing for automation equipment has increased 147% year-over-year and is up just over 20% compared to averages only a few quarters ago. How has Covid-19 changed the way your team is looking at advanced technology, including industrial automation?

Albert: Well, if we had been automated, I would not have had to shut down our factories during the initial COVID crisis. I would have just run them from my desk at home! I think it was a wake-up call for many businesses, and I am sure no one had “pandemic” in their disaster recovery plan. As for advanced technology, automation, whether a simple transfer conveyor or a pick and place system, will become more and more necessary, especially where you have employees working shoulder to shoulder. An excellent example of this is a meatpacking plant. They typically have 4,000 to 5,000 employees, and 50% of them are working shoulder to shoulder – this is not social distancing, and automation will play a huge part in this type of industry. 

The same can be said for EMS companies that have large assembly lines with hundreds of people working so close together.  

Q. What role do you believe today’s automation, applied to the back end of production, i.e., assembly and inspection, will have on reshoring operations to the US and other countries? 

Albert: I think it will have a considerable impact. But the only way to reshore manufacturing is to make automation cost-effective, and until recently, that hasn’t been feasible. With today’s automation, we can drive high costs out of the process because deployment, configuration, reconfiguration, and management of lines are simplified with modern technology. And with new business models, such as what Bright Machines offers, manufacturers can avoid the high, up-front capital expenses that typically come with automation investments. 

In this changing world, a localized approach to manufacturing is imperative for companies to succeed. Intelligent automation will enable companies like Asteelflash to embrace localization and build closer to our customers than previously possible. 

About Albert Yanez Sr.

Albert is a senior manufacturing executive with decades of experience running global operations for world-class manufacturing companies. Currently, he is the Corp. EVP & President of the Americas at Asteelflash. A strategic leader, he’s known for his progressive Lean Manufacturing expertise and proven ability in removing obstacles to raise profitability. He started his career in the semiconductor industry, working with General Instruments, Western Digital & Hewlett Packard. Albert learned the Toyota Production System and has become an expert in Lean Manufacturing, Supply Chain, New Product Development, and Quality Systems. In addition to sitting on the Asteelflash USA board, Albert sits on the board of directors at Ascendo.io, dotin.us, and the Fremont Chamber of Commerce.


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