Today, mass-market electronics are manufactured almost exclusively on high-performance assembly machines. Time is literally money. Therefore, two aspects are of particular importance: maximum quantities and minimum changeover time. When it comes to the necessity of counting components before or after the assembly progress most manufacturers are still using the old-fashioned approach of manual counting devices. VisiConsult, as a specialist for X-ray systems and automation, developed the XRHCount in order to speed up this time consuming process.

In times of an increasing demand for faster customer turnaround times and higher flexibility, almost every PCB manufacturer is trying to reduce the unproductive overhead to a minimum. While the accurate counting of thousands of tiny components with manual counting machines may seem trivial, the time it takes to perform these tasks without automation can cause a bottleneck in the production chain. Even worse is the high amount of personnel bound just to perform this basic task.

The common workflow with the manual counting machine is that an employee takes a component reel and chucks it together with an empty reel into the machine. The next step is to thread the carrier strip carefully through the counting mechanic and to attach it on the empty reel. As soon as this is done the counting progress begins, whereas the components are pulled through the counting mechanic from the old reel on the empty reel. This takes more than two minutes and is obviously scaling linearly depending on the amount of components.

VisiConsult X-ray Systems & Solutions GmbH is a family owned company from northern Germany and a leading manufacturer of custom tailored X-ray test systems. Mainly based in the field of Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) of all kind of materials, VisiConsult got approached by a well-known PCB manufacturer with the inquiry to develop a system that speeds up the cycle time an accuracy of component counting through the usage of X-ray technology and a completely automated software suite. The outcome was the XRHCount. Here XRH stands for X-ray Handling-System.

The workflow of the system convinces with pure simplicity. One drawer, one button and a clear output. The operator has to put the reel inside the drawer, press the green start button and a few seconds later the result is shown on the display. Just in case of an automatic warehouse update, which is possible through a software interface, the user still has to scan the abstract warehouse barcode. Most manufacturers need to charge external customers and compensate external suppliers with in-house warehouses. This depends on the material consumption, which demands a counting before and after the assembly process. Even if that is not the case, it is necessary to count at least after assembly in order to have correct stock numbers.

The uniqueness of the system lies in the world-first automated component estimation (ACE) system that makes a prior type selection obsolete. This decreases the handling time and leads to robust counting results. The consequence is that even new types can be processed by the system if a similar type is already implemented in the type database. The system will just detect the similarity and automatically use the best solution. In case of a completely new type a warning is shown and a trained supervisor can usually teach this new type in less than 15 minutes into the system database. With every new type the system efficiency increases as the self-learning neural network is growing. Noteworthy is also that the counting time of the XRHCount does not scale with the number of components – 50.000 components just take slightly longer than 5.000. This is a huge advantage to manual counting.

The result is a cycle time of round about 15 seconds – compared to over 120 seconds with manual counting, which increases the overall efficiency by the factor ten. In the development reference project this fact led to a reduction from 8 to 2 persons responsible for counting with even more room for optimizations. As a consequence of this impressive performance the Return of Invest (ROI) for this system will be around 12 months, depending on the wages and workload.

Due to its simplicity the XRHCount  almost needs no maintenance. The small footprint of just 1.25m x 0.85m makes the setup very easy – just plug in the electrical connection and the system is ready. Of course TÜV, CE and other German standards are fulfilled, which guarantees a safe handling, no X-ray leakage and an ergonomic operator position. Combined with an international service and sales network every customer can count on a reliable and fast support that guarantees a 24/7 uptime of the system.

As the next logical step VisiConsult will develop a completely automatized counting process where robots do the reel placement and the growing neural network of classified component types provides a solid decision base. These are ambitious plans for the future, To see the present state make sure to visit VisiConsult on the productronica 2015 in Munich. You will find a completely functional demo system on their booth A2/138. The CEO Hajo Schulenburg and his team will welcome you and are looking forward to give you a demonstration and in-depth consulting regarding a possible use for your specific workflow. Lennart Schulenburg, responsible for the international sales at VisiConsult, states:

We got an overwhelming feedback and an impressive amount of interested companies even before the official product launch. It seems like everybody wants to reap the advantage of being an early adaptor in order to get ahead of the competition.