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Is 42Q Really the Answer to Everything?

A big question surrounding Manufacturing Execution Systems is if they are worth the investment. For global electronics maker Sanmina, its internally developed subscription-based solution proves that answer is a resounding “Yes.”

You may not have heard of Sanmina, but the advanced systems and printed circuit board assemblies (PCBAs) it manufacturers are all around you, MRI machines to electronics in Apache helicopters to ATM machines and advanced telecommunications infrastructure. Some of its electronics, launched into space within the Voyager 2 space probe forty years ago (Aug. 20, 1977), are still in use and transmitting data back to scientists today, even after traveling 11 billion miles.

NASA

The Voyager 2 was launched 40 years ago and is still sending data back to Earth.

The Fortune 500 company has a wide reach on Earth as well, running 75 factories in 25 countries, launching an average of 10 new products a day. To ensure its 2,000 production lines run smoothly and efficiently, Sanmina developed its own manufacturing execution system (MES). Development began 20 years ago, and Sanmina's MES systems became the backbone for their online factory management systems.

With the advent of the cloud, Sanmina expanded this MES, evolving it from a plant factory management and analytics tool to a powerful global, real time Software as a Service, called 42Q. Now, 42Q as a cloud solution is capable of taking action independently, or alerting plant personnel of a problem.

"Our real-time implementation in the cloud has many advantages," says Gelston Howell, senior vice president of Sanmina's corporate marketing." Real-time alerts improve line-up time and reduce costs because WIP and yield data at literally hundreds of data collection points worldwide are being constantly monitored, and if one falls below a certain limit, the right person is alerted to fix the problem."

As far as MES choices go, this is the wave of the future. In 2016, the year 42Q launched, cloud SaaS was worth $38.6 billion, or 18% of all cloud ($209 billion), according to Gartner. The analysis firm projects that by 2020, the cloud and cloud SaaS will nearly double.

This cloud solution has the added benefit of being subscription-based, so instead of paying up to a $1 million upfront for a traditional MES software license, you can prove the value of 42Q on a more limited basis, and then expand deployment.

"Because you don't have to buy IT hardware, hire IT personnel, or spend a lot of money upfront on a software license, the time for implementation and the time to value is much shorter," Howell says. "Instead of 9 to 18 months, our customers have deployed in six to eight weeks."

You can also roll out this MES gradually, without impacting production. Immediate and easy-to-deploy features include electronic work instructions, component traceability and electronic travelers.

With electronic travelers, the system logs who performs critical operations, such as installing electronics in a X-ray system. If that device happens to fail later, complete records are immediately available online, showing for example that the technician was certified and correctly performed the task. You also can set workstations to prohibit non-certified workers from completing actions for greater quality control.

As a cloud solution, 42Q also shares data between manufacturing facilities.  For instance, the supply chain manager at the Johannesburg logistics facility could be alerted if their Singapore PCBA factory is low in finished goods inventory, and course correct as necessary.

"If you're a VP of ops, this is very valuable," Howell, who was previously a senior VP of medical manufacturing for Sanmina. "You know of critical WIP (work in process) and inventory levels in all of your factories.  With 42Q, you can log in from anywhere in the world and see equipment status, yields and WIP levels in real time."

In a PCBA factory for example, 42Q knows when a SMT (surface mount technology) machine's reels are low on components and automatically takes action. In some of Sanmina's factories, an automated warehouse system dispatches components to the SMT line using autonomous guided vehicles, based on automated commands from 42Q.  Fifteen minutes before the reel runs out, an alert goes to the technician's mobile device, so he or she is at the SMT machine when the guided vehicle arrives with the new components.

Deploying 42Q has led to a 6% increase in asset utilization for its SMT lines using this feature. Howell says each of these lines can cost about $5 million, so that seemingly small improvements in productivity result in significant cost savings.

Sanmina was able to develop this solution, leveraging the experience gained during deployment in dozens of their factories, ensuring 42Q is scalable for other large global manufacturers.  Now, Sanmina has over 26,000 pieces of its own equipment connected to the cloud with 42Q.  This equipment ranges from bar code scanners to fully automated "lights out" production lines.

The only barrier now is to overcome the cloud's "trough of disillusionment," the lowest ebb of Gartner's hype cycle. After so much excitement over what the cloud can do, will it match expectations?

"There has been a lot written lately about the hype of IIoT and Industry4.0, but people have to realize that there are many forward thinking companies already seeing a return using these technologies," Howell says. It's not as hard as people think. You need a partner that has the experience deploying a solution like this with the many types of equipment interfaces in use today.  Once deployment has been completed in a single factory, our customers routinely self-deploy in their other factories. And deployments are typically weeks, and not months."

So the final question is, what does that name mean?

While some mistakenly related an early unfortunate 42Q logo to the number "420," the true name takes you to an even higher plane.

The name is actually an homage to the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy franchise.

If you didn't know, 42 is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, as calculated by a universal MES called Deep Thought that's been running for seven million years.

So does 42Q live up to its name?

"Well, for Sanmina, it has had real meaning," Howell says. "Without it, global cloud access to real-time data and automatic alerts from 26,000 pieces of manufacturing equipment would have been impossible,"

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