by Scott Bronstad | May 5, 2023 | How To, Technology
How Automated Programming Aligns with Your Vertical Manufacturing Strategy
Why In-House Device Programming is the Future of Vertical Manufacturing
Learn how in-house programming can improve cost, time to market, and quality. See how an automated programming system can pay for itself compared to outsourcing.
Programmable devices power our modern world, from smartphones to computers to electric cars. But have you ever stopped to think about how these tiny chips are programmed and manufactured? In recent years, there has been a growing trend toward in-house offline device programming as part of the movement toward vertical manufacturing. In this article, we will explore the advantages of this approach, with a focus on cost per device, time to market, and quality.
Device Programming and Vertical Manufacturing
To understand the benefits of in-house programming and vertical manufacturing, let’s start with a real-world example. Imagine a company that designs and manufactures sensor assemblies for the automotive industry. The company relies on programmable devices to power its assembly, and it needs to program these devices with custom firmware before they can be integrated into the product.
In the past, the company outsourced the programming of these devices to a third-party supplier. This meant it had to wait for the supplier to program the devices and ship them back, which added time and cost to the manufacturing process. It also meant that the company had limited control over the quality of the programming and the security of its intellectual property. What’s worse, periodic and sometimes rapid design changes mean the devices in transit have to be reprogrammed, delaying production and ballooning costs.
Now, the company has invested in in-house off-line device programming. This means that it can program the devices themselves “just-in-time” using its own equipment and personnel, before integrating them into the sensor assembly. Let’s take a closer look at the advantages of this approach.
Cost per device
One of the biggest advantages of in-house off-line device programming is cost savings. By bringing the programming process in-house, companies can eliminate the markup third-party suppliers charge for their services. This can translate into significant savings, especially for companies that produce high volumes of devices.
In our example, the company can now program its own devices for a fraction of the cost of outsourcing the process. This has helped to improve its profit margins and make it more competitive in the market.
Time to market
Another critical advantage of in-house programming is faster time to market. By eliminating the need to wait for third-party suppliers, companies can speed up their manufacturing process and get their products to market more quickly. This can be especially important in fast-paced industries where timing is everything.
In our example, the company can now program its devices on demand, without having to wait for a supplier to do it for them. This has helped to reduce its lead times and ensure that it can meet customer demand in a timely manner. Plus, it reduces the likelihood of re-programming when designs change because the parts are programmed within days or hours before integration into the product.
Quality and Security
Finally, in-house programming can improve the quality of the programming and the security of the intellectual property. When a company outsources its programming to a third-party supplier, it loses some control over the quality of the programming and the security of its intellectual property. In-house programming, on the other hand, allows companies to maintain complete control over the process and ensure that their devices are programmed to the highest standards. And, they maintain complete traceability, controlling the exact quantity of devices programmed.
In our example, the company can now ensure that its devices are programmed to their exact specifications without relying on a third-party supplier. This has helped to improve the quality of its products and protect its intellectual property.
A system that pays for itself
Now, let’s take a closer look at how an offline automated programming system can pay for itself compared to outsourcing the device programming piece. An offline automated programming system can significantly reduce the cost of device programming while improving the quality and speed of the manufacturing process. By eliminating manual programming, an automated system can reduce the likelihood of human error and improve overall efficiency. In addition, the system can be programmed to automatically detect and correct errors, further reducing the likelihood of defects.
Furthermore, the advantages of vertically integrating device programming into your factory process extend beyond the cost savings and quality improvements. By having complete control over the programming process, companies can better protect their intellectual property and trade secrets. They can also more easily adapt to changes in customer demand or industry standards since they are not dependent on a third-party supplier.
In conclusion, in-house off-line device programming compliments the trend towards increased vertical manufacturing capability. Especially when paired with an automated programming system, this value-add process can offer significant advantages to companies in terms of cost savings, faster time to market, improved quality, and greater control over the manufacturing process. These benefits can help companies stay competitive in a rapidly changing market and continue to deliver innovative products to their customers while safeguarding their intellectual property.
by Scott Bronstad | Apr 28, 2023 | How To
In-House Programming: Crucial Process in Electronic Device Manufacturing
Semiconductor device programming is a crucial process in the manufacturing of electronic devices. It involves the creation of firmware that runs the device and enables it to perform various functions. The firmware is essentially the software that is installed on the device’s microcontroller or microprocessor, and it contains the code that controls the device’s operation.
Device programming is important because it determines how the device will function and how it will interact with other devices and systems. The firmware must be programmed correctly to ensure that the device operates as intended, and any errors in the programming can result in malfunctions or even device failure.
Circuit boards traveling down the SMT line at BPM Microsystems manufacturing facility in Houston Texas.
Why you should think about bringing device programming in-house
With the global supply chain becoming increasingly complex and vulnerable, many manufacturers are looking for ways to reduce their reliance on third-party providers. By bringing device programming in-house, manufacturers can have greater control over their supply chain and reduce the risk of delays or disruptions caused by external factors.
In-house programming facilities allow manufacturers to have complete control over the programming process, from design to testing and verification. This control can help manufacturers identify and resolve issues more quickly, reducing the risk of delays in the production process.
Additionally, by bringing semiconductor device programming in-house, manufacturers can reduce lead times and time-to-market. In-house programming facilities allow manufacturers to program devices on demand, reducing the need for large inventory stockpiles. This reduction in inventory can help manufacturers respond more quickly to changes in demand, ensuring that they can deliver products to market faster and with greater flexibility.
Challenges of In-House Device Programming
“I can’t afford to bring programming in-house”
For many years, outsourcing device programming has been the norm for most manufacturers. Outsourcing allows manufacturers to leverage the expertise of third-party providers with specialized equipment and personnel to perform programming services. Outsourcing can be a cost-effective option for small manufacturers who need to program only a few devices.
However, more manufacturers are now considering bringing semiconductor device programming in-house. In-house programming gives manufacturers more control over the programming process and allows them to tailor the programming to their specific needs. Additionally, in-house programming can be more cost-effective for larger manufacturers who need to program a large number of devices.
One way to overcome the challenges of in-house device programming is to use device programmers manufactured by BPM Microsystems. Their device programmers offer a range of benefits that can help manufacturers overcome the challenges of in-house programming.
BPM device programmers are designed to deliver consistent high-speed performance, accuracy, and speed, with on-the-fly alignment capabilities that guarantee fast, reliable programming. Additionally, their systems are designed to be easy to operate and maintain, maximizing uptime and productivity.
BPM programmers deliver return on investment in (usually) months, not years (see ROI article). One SMT manager described their BPM Automated Programming System (APS) as his “money printer.”
Outsourcing vs. In-House Programming
“I don’t have anyone with the technical expertise to run an in-house programmer”
In-house device programming offers numerous advantages, but manufacturers must also tackle certain challenges to establish a successful operation. Two primary concerns include costs and complexity. Establishing such an operation typically involves capital investment in specialized equipment and skilled personnel.
The programming setup process demands meticulousness and precision, as all input and output locations must be accurately “taught.” This can be a significant challenge even for experienced technicians, as an incorrect “teach” can result in wastage and failed operations.
BPM Microsystems: Transforming Challenges into Opportunities
For over three decades, BPM Microsystems has been a stalwart ally for manufacturers, helping them surmount these challenges and reap the benefits of in-house programming. Over the last three years, there has been a notable increase in smaller electronics manufacturers leveraging automated programmers, demonstrating the effectiveness of BPM’s solutions.
BPM Microsystems’ systems stand out for their efficiency and quick setup, thanks to their unique, patented WhisperTeach™ auto Z-teach technology. This innovation enables perfect setups in under 15 minutes, allowing you to start programming with the highest real-world throughput. Additionally, their universal site technology guarantees exceptional programming speeds with a single Generation of site technology, adeptly meeting your production demands.
When considering the Return on Investment (ROI), the value of BPM’s solutions becomes clear. While other systems require the expense of hiring and retaining a skilled technician, BPM Microsystems’ systems are designed for ease of use. They significantly reduce the need for specialist personnel, which translates to substantial cost savings over time. Although the initial investment in high-quality equipment might seem steep, the long-term benefits, including reduced labor costs and increased productivity, can offset these expenses.
BPM device programmers offer versatility and are upgrade-compatible with future device technology, ensuring your investment is future-proof. This access to cutting-edge programming capabilities, coupled with their award-winning support for systems, software, and sockets, delivers industry-leading assistance whenever needed. By choosing BPM Microsystems, manufacturers are not only overcoming the initial capital investment hurdle but also positioning themselves for considerable returns over time.
In conclusion, the robust design, ease of use, and upgrade compatibility of BPM’s device programmers provide a compelling solution for manufacturers looking to navigate the challenges of in-house device programming. Their investment in BPM Microsystems’ solutions not only safeguards their operations against future technological advancements but also promises a significant return on investment, making it a wise and profitable choice in the long run.
by Scott Bronstad | Feb 22, 2023 | How To, New Device Support, News, Technology
Unlocking Faster Turnaround Times
Device Support Engineers are crucial to the development of accurate and reliable programming support for programmable devices. Their role involves researching the device’s architecture, understanding its programming requirements, and developing algorithms to program the device. Here’s a closer look at the key responsibilities and skills required of DS engineers:
Responsibilities of DS Engineers
- Research device specifications: DS engineers must research and understand the specifications of the device to determine its programming requirements. They must analyze the device’s architecture and functionality to develop accurate and reliable support.
- Develop algorithms for programming devices: DS engineers use their knowledge of programming languages, scripting, and automation tools to develop algorithms for programming semiconductor devices. They write code optimized for performance and accuracy based on the device’s architecture and functionality.
- Collaborate with other teams: DS engineers work closely with hardware and software engineers to troubleshoot issues and ensure that the device functions correctly. They collaborate to ensure that the device meets performance specifications.
Skills Required of DS Engineers
- Programming proficiency: DS engineers must be proficient in programming languages such as C, C++, Python, etc. They must be familiar with scripting and automation tools to optimize the programming process.
- Analytical and problem-solving skills: DS engineers must have strong analytical and problem-solving skills to identify the root cause of issues that arise during the programming process. They must be able to develop solutions to fix problems (“bugs”) quickly.
- Communication and collaboration skills: DS engineers must have excellent communication and collaboration skills to work effectively with other teams. They must be able to communicate complex technical information effectively and work collaboratively to ensure the device functions correctly.
Investing in DS Engineers
Companies that invest in developing their device support engineers can develop accurate and reliable support faster and more efficiently, leading to a competitive advantage. With new devices and technologies constantly emerging, DS engineers must continuously stay up-to-date with the latest programming languages, tools, and hardware platforms to adapt quickly to new development environments and technologies.
BPM has invested heavily in developing its DS engineer teams, doubling resources over the last 2 years. Becoming proficient in this role can take months of on-the-job training, working with other more experienced engineers. BPM’s investment is working: development times for average complexity projects have dropped from 10 or more weeks to an average of 2 to 4 weeks!
Device support engineers play a critical role in developing accurate and reliable support for programmable devices. They must have a deep understanding of the device’s architecture and functionality, as well as proficiency in programming languages, analytical and problem-solving skills, and communication and collaboration skills. Companies that invest in developing their DS engineers can develop accurate and reliable support faster and more efficiently, leading to a competitive advantage in the market.
Mastering eMMC Device Programming | White Paper: Semiconductor Device programming | Production-Level Support from BPM Microsystems | Apply for BPM Software Engineer
by Scott Bronstad | Jan 26, 2023 | Cybersecurity, How To, Technology
Cybersecurity is a critical concern to secure data for offline device programming, as it ensures the integrity and confidentiality of the programming process. Below are several ways to implement cybersecurity in device programming, with tips on what you should be doing today, including access control, encryption, software updates, risk assessment/management, audits, and education.
Implementing strict access controls can prevent unauthorized access to the programming equipment and software. This can include physical security measures to secure data, such as security cameras and access cards, as well as software-based security measures, such as password protection and multi-factor authentication.
- Use security cameras to monitor access to the programming equipment and software.
- Use access cards or biometric authentication to control access to the programming equipment and software.
- Implement software-based security measures, such as password protection and multi-factor authentication.
- Regularly review and update access controls to ensure they are still effective.
- If possible, remove outside access to networks and the internet. No access makes it almost impossible to hack.
- Deeper dive here
Secure Data with Encryption
Encrypting the programming data and communication between the programming equipment and software can secure data against data breaches and unauthorized access to the programming data.
- Use strong encryption algorithms to protect the programming data.
- Implement key management to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to the encryption keys.
- Regularly review and update encryption methods to ensure they are still effective.
- 9 best encryption software programs for 2023
Secure software updates
Regularly updating the programming equipment and software is important for keeping them secure. However, it’s important to ensure that these updates are coming from a trusted source and are properly authenticated before installation.
- Ensure that updates are coming from a trusted source and are properly authenticated before installation.
- Keep track of software version and updates history.
- Verify the authenticity of software updates and the update process.
Risk assessment and management
Conducting regular risk assessments and implementing a risk management plan can help identify and mitigate potential vulnerabilities in the programming process.
- Implement a risk management plan to mitigate identified vulnerabilities.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the risk management plan and update it as needed.
- Deeper dive here
Regular security audits
Regularly auditing the programming process and equipment can help identify and address any security weaknesses. Treat cyber threats as you would an ISO audit.
- Use both automated and manual testing methods.
- Use third-party security experts to conduct regular security audits.
- Keep records of security audits and implement recommendations.
Employee education and awareness
Educating employees about the importance of cybersecurity and how to properly handle and protect programming equipment and data can help prevent human error-based security breaches.
- Provide regular cybersecurity training to employees.
- Create and implement security guidelines and policies.
- Encourage employees to report any suspicious activities or security breaches.
- Run regular cybersecurity drills and simulations.
Implementing these security measures can help ensure the integrity and confidentiality of the offline semiconductor device programming process and protect against potential cyber threats. While this article focuses on offline programming, many of these principles apply to other types of device programming as well. In short, it’s important to regularly review and update these security measures to ensure they stay effective in protecting against evolving cyber threats.
by Scott Bronstad | Jan 24, 2023 | How To, Technology
Which is best for your application?
Programming semiconductor devices is a crucial step in ensuring their proper functioning in electronic devices. There are several methods available for programming these devices, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we will discuss three popular methods: in-system programming (ISP), offline programming, and Inline SMT Programming.
ISP Device Programming
Bed-of-Nails fixture connects the PCB to the final test
In-system programming (ISP) is a method that involves programming the device while it is still in the final application or system. This can be done by connecting the device to a computer or other programming device through a specialized interface, such as a JTAG or SPI interface. ISP is a more cost-effective option for high-volume production as it eliminates the need for a separate device programmer. However, it can be more complex and time-consuming to set up and use. IPS programming is more difficult to scale production. As volumes and/or programming memories increase, the line may turn into a bottleneck.
Off-Line Device Programming
The most common method for programming semiconductor devices is “offline.” This method involves the use of a specialized piece of equipment called a device programmer that is used to transfer data or code to the device. The programmer or development kit connects to the device either directly or by a socket and writes the code or data to the memory of the device. This method is relatively simple and straightforward, but may not be suitable for high-volume production.
To overcome the limitations of manual device programming, automated device programming systems can be used for high-volume production. These systems typically include multiple device programmers that are integrated into a single robotic platform, which can be controlled by a computer and a central controller. Automated device programming systems can significantly increase the efficiency and speed of programming semiconductor devices. They can also improve the accuracy and consistency of the programming process by automating repetitive tasks. Additionally, automated systems can be equipped with advanced features such as data logging, monitoring, and testing to ensure the quality of the programming process. Marking and media transfer are also possible.
A gang programmer has multiple sockets to program multiple devices at once. It can program a wide range of devices, from small microcontrollers to high-density flash memories. This makes it a versatile option for high-mix production environments where different types of devices need to be programmed.
Inline SMT Programming
Yet another method for programming semiconductor devices is through the use of Inline SMT Programming method. The process involves programming the devices during the Surface Mount Technology (SMT) assembly process. This method is suitable for high-volume production as it allows for the simultaneous programming and assembly of the devices. It is also cost-effective as it eliminates the need for a separate device programmer or ISP process. However, it requires specialized equipment and knowledge to execute properly; in addition, changes to existing workflows are expensive, time-consuming, and require testing to ensure everything is working correctly, delaying production until everything is checked and ready.
Which Method is Best?
There are several methods available for programming semiconductor devices, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. ISP is a cost-effective option for high-volume production but can be complex to set up and use. Off-line manual device programming is straightforward and easy to use but is not a good candidate for high-volume production. Automated device programming systems can significantly increase the efficiency and speed of programming semiconductor devices, improve the accuracy and consistency of the programming process and ensure the quality of the programming process. Inline SMT Programming is a cost-effective option for high-volume production with no changes to the boards, eliminates the need for a separate device programmer or ISP process, but requires specialized equipment and knowledge. The choice of method will depend on the specific requirements of the application and the resources available.