In-house electronics repair saves large LCD production line from being halted by programmed obsolescence.
Since 2016, one of the world’s top 10 largest LCD and AMOLED panel manufacturers that we will refer to as TG Optronics in Southeast Asia has been investing time and effort into finding a new, long-term solution for a regular electronic problem they were experiencing in their assembly line robotic equipment.
TG Optronics had found itself having to obtain costly electronic part replacements since 2013. Since then, however, the company has transformed from not having any in-house electronic repair facilities, to having 8 dedicated repair stations across their numerous factories – with 2 more to open soon. This massive development in their strategy to resolve electronic faults in-house has saved them unimaginable amounts of money and significantly reduced machine downtime, with the added benefit of helping the company become more sustainable and shrink its E-Waste footprint.
Before TG Optronics became ‘Repair, Don’t Waste’ advocates, they faced numerous challenges whilst trying to maintain the operation of hundreds of crucial servo motors or ‘robotic arm’ systems used in each plant. A servo motor is a closed-loop servomechanism that uses position feedback to control its motion and position. This machine is commonly found in industrial and commercial applications where complete accuracy and high levels of productive capacity are required. Its controller circuit board commands the position for the output shaft. In the more common AC servo motor, speed is determined by the frequency of the applied voltage and will withstand higher current, making it a versatile product that can be used across many industries. The lesser-used DC motor has a directly proportional speed. Both AC and DC motors are self-contained electrical devices that rotate sections of a machine with high efficiency and with precise control of any angle, position, and velocity.
Most people have never heard of the servo motor system; however, most will have heard of the robotic arm. The servo motor driver and controller boards are essential components to the robotic arm system, allowing it to function properly. Every joint of a mechanical robot has a servo motor; its importance in automated production cannot be understated. They are also commonly used in robotic vehicles, metal cutting and forming machines, and antenna positioning systems.
TG Optronics first began to experience problems with their servo controller boards and drivers in 2013, however, the manufacturer was still able to support them in replacing the vital controller. Yet just two years later, the parts for this specific controller ceased production, resulting in TG using a third-party repair company that was soon found to be unable to meet demand. Having significant disruption to production due to the delays, TG began sourcing used controllers and drivers from the grey market. Alas, there is no guaranteeing authenticity and quality of these grey market products, leading to further losses of the company’s time and money.
As the problems with the servo drivers and controllers began to increasingly affect productivity levels, TG realised that the only viable solution was to stop seeking replacements and outsourcing the repair work. After being disappointed so many times by external influences, TG moved to invest in their own repair facilities and equip them with specialist test and measurement equipment BoardMaster and trained technicians.
Despite being an industry giant, businesses such as TG Optronics clearly benefit from the ‘Repair, Don’t Waste’ approach. Their timely and costly problem has been solved by investing in the BoardMaster equipment that has been customised to their specific needs, and by investing in training their engineers to get optimal results from the in-house repair facilities. But the Repair Don’t Waste approach does more than just solve specific problems – it can transform companies into sustainability leaders.
Car giant Renault has reported savings of 1 million USD in just 18 months following their investment in just a 2-person electronic repair lab at a Latin American assembly line. The centre was established to support the production soldering robots, which soon saw gains in productivity as the assembly line was more readily supported and had less downtime. By investing in diagnostic and reverse engineering products from ABI Electronics, the repair engineers were able to create comprehensive, predictive, and corrective maintenance programmes. These programmes increased machine uptime, reduced the stock of spare parts and E-waste. This hands-on approach also reduced Renault’s reliance on the manufacturer of the robots to provide support and replacements; something that is increasingly difficult to access as machines get older and replaced with new ‘upgrades’.
Drivers and controller boards such as the one shown below are widely applied in the production of robotics, pharmaceuticals, food production, in-line manufacturing, and other industrial applications, where high repetitions and high precision are required. The scope of this technology extends far beyond production lines; they are employed by militaries around the world for handling explosives and flying drones and airplanes, the automotive sector, and manufacturers of high-end electronic goods such as Yamaha, Fuji, Siemens, Mitsubishi Electric, to name a few. As shown by TG’s experience, maintenance problems are virtually unavoidable, and companies often do not have the most successful and reliable solution at hand. With planned obsolescence, part shortages, and supply chain issues becoming more prevalent in recent years, the adoption of in-house repair facilities can at the very least alleviate, and at best eliminate, these 21st-century issues that modern organisations face.
TG’s struggles with their electronic maintenance are common, however, their successful solution over the past 8 years is still unrecognised by many companies. By developing in-house repair solutions and employing specialist test and measurement equipment to be used by trained staff, TG has defied the all-too-common attitude of ‘waste and replace’. Not only are they actively combatting planned machine obsolescence and supply chain issues, but TG Optronics is also saving money, time, and the environment in the process. The massive investment they have made in the ‘Repair, Don’t Waste’ attitude over the past 8 years is a true testament to our belief that repair is a working model that can and should be used by companies of all sizes, in all industries.