A Look Inside SEL’s New PCB Factory
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A Look Inside SEL’s New PCB Factory

Apr 12, 2024

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After years of planning, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories is now manufacturing printed circuit boards in its new $100 million captive facility in Moscow, Idaho. I recently toured the facility with Engineering Director John Hendrickson, who managed the design and setup of the greenfield site, along with Mike Brask, president of Integrated Process Systems (IPS), a key supplier for the new Moscow facility.

Mike Brask (left) and John Hendrickson pose in front of the 81-foot ENIG line supplied by IPS.

The facility showcases the latest technology in PCB fabrication, along with a zero-liquid discharge water treatment system. The site is surrounded by wheat fields—not a location where you would traditionally expect to find a PCB manufacturing facility. However, with their environmentally friendly factory, the city officials have welcomed SEL, and the facility has already been honored with the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry Environmental Excellence Award.

The manufacturing area is set up on an open floorplan with only a couple of processes—drill and route—in closed rooms. As you would expect, data automation is in full use here. Each panel starts off with a serial number read by scanning equipment that connects with the MES to identify the job and program, and then loads that program onto the machine. SEL’s in-house software team builds and maintains these systems. They also employ automation/integration software engineers as well.

Barry Matties: Now, the goal of automation here was not to reduce headcount?

John Hendrickson: Correct. That's not why we focused on automation; we automated first to drive quality. The number one defect at board shops is typically handling damage. So, how do you reduce that? You put in equipment, like we have from GreenSource and others, to help eliminate handling. Quite frankly, now our operators aren't just feeding panels on a line. They're managing an entire line, and they're learning more about how those lines work and how to maintain them. They have a lot more ownership of that, even more than our maintenance team on a day-to-day basis.

All our lines are integrated. One of the cool things we’re doing here is using SEL equipment to collect real-time process data. We have a product called RTAC (Real-Time Automation Controller) that communicates with PLCs, and we use that to get information using a range of industrial communication protocols. Using our Software-Defined Network, we control all network traffic between MES, RTAC, and equipment. This increases the security between our systems and our equipment in case there's ever a security vulnerability with each piece of equipment.

To read the rest of this in-depth conversation, which appeared in the August 2023 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.

Barry Matties:John Hendrickson: