ASM PT, the world’s largest equipment supplier to the electronics manufacturing industry, is investing in the Portuguese company Critical Manufacturing, a developer of state-of-the-art MES software. Both companies signed a deal to that effect in late July in Porto. We talked with Guenter Lauber, CEO of ASMPT´s SMT Solutions Segment, responsible for software activities and Industry 4.0 alignments within the ASM PT Board, and Francisco Almada Lobo, CEO of Critical Manufacturing, about their shared goals.
Mr. Lobo, with more than 14,000 employees and sales of US$2.3 billion, ASM is very well known in the SMT and semiconductor industries. What does your company do?
Francisco Almada Lobo: With almost 120 employees and offices in Portugal, Germany, China and the U.S. we develop Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) for companies in the electronics, semiconductor, medical device, automotive and other complex, high-tech industries. The company was founded in 2009. My colleagues and I came from software teams at companies like Siemens, Infineon and Qimonda.What sets our software apart is the fact that its underlying architecture and technology are state-of-the-art, which means: modular, highly flexible, and scalable. A lot has happened in the software field – we offer a foundation that is modern and future-proof. Many industry leaders agree, which is why we have grown quite rapidly in the past years.
Mr. Lauber, why do you, as a mostly hardware developer, invest in an MES software developer like Critical Manufacturing?
Guenter Lauber: Our history is hardware, that is correct. But ASM is not a pure hardware supplier anymore. Our focus is the Smart Factory of our customers, globally. This requires integrated solutions and a comprehensive understanding of the processes of our customers. In recent years, we have made major progress in the development of line software and pushed industry-wide initiatives like The Hermes Standard or ADAMOS as an industrial IIOT platform. But since our mission is ‘Enabling the Digital World’, we want to further push for Smart Factories and implement Integrated Digital Factories. To achieve this goal, we must become faster and offer perfectly integrated hardware and software solutions. Software is becoming more and more important all the time.
In many current projects, hardware- and software-only suppliers dump the integration effort on the customer, which makes implementing the smart factory more expensive. As a technology leader, we decided to take a different path and offer customers seamlessly integrated solutions for a faster, more effortless and ultimately cheaper introduction of the smart factory. With its skills in modern software technologies and agile development methodologies, its expertise in production processes and its ability to integrate a wide range of machines and systems, Critical Manufacturing will help us to succeed in this endeavor.
Franciso Almada Lobo: As software experts, we also see the need for perfect interaction between all system components to realize the smart factory’s potential in terms of cost, flexibility and quality.
Does this mean that customers will have to buy all their hardware and software from ASM?
Guenter Lauber: No, it doesn’t. Good networking requires openness and connectivity. Just like they can currently combine DEK printers with other placement machines and SIPLACE placement equipment with other printers on the same line, customers will continue to be able to use the software or hardware of their choice. After all, one reason for buying Critical Manufacturing is the fact that customers can use their MES software to combine hardware from different manufacturers. We have partnerships with many MES makers and have worked with them to create open interfaces to our machines, and this is something we will continue to support. We don’t select the optimal hardware and software – the customer does.But we support them with integration and connectivity.
Francisco Almada Lobo: Our software is capable of integrating a wide range of hardware and software. This applies not only to typical electronics manufacturing and chip assembly equipment, but to systems in many other industries. Needless to say, combining ASM’s hardware and Critical Manufacturing’s software will provide customers in the electronics industry with many more functions and usability features, but this is still optional for them – something they need to be convinced of.
Back to the integration process. What will it look like organizationally?
Guenter Lauber: As you know, ASM PT has plenty of experience with successful mergers and acquisitions: the Siemens placement machine business, the DEK printing business. This year Amicra and NEXX, and now Critical Manufacturing. It is important to keep new group members strong and make them full contributors to ASM PT as a whole. This acquisition will be no different. We will keep the brand name, the management and the entire team with its existing partnerships, contracts, structures and procedures. In shared development and customer projects we will then see, step-by-step, how we can further improve these structures and procedures.
Francisco Almada Lobo: That’s what made ASM so attractive to us as an industrial investor. As a successful software company, we had many offers in recent years from other companies, financial investors, private investors, etc. But only ASM offered us a convincing integration concept that would allow us to further enhance our strengths as a software developer.
Mr. Lobo, what does Critical Manufacturing expect from this deal?
Francisco Almada Lobo: We have always been able to impress potential clients with our software expertise and the capabilities of our MES. But let’s not fool ourselves: when people buy software, they look at more than just features and functions. MES is critical for the user’s success and for many large customers we were simply too small as a potential partner. Large customers want their partners in this field to demonstrate a certain size in terms of project capacities and financial resilience. Being part of ASM PT will put an end to these questions. The deal will also be welcomed by our existing customers, because each additional client and integration makes our software better and more powerful.
Will you continue to serve customers in other industries?
Francisco Almada Lobo: Of course. We follow a very ambitious roadmap in the development of our MES software. As an independent unit under the ASM umbrella, we will not only fulfill our existing contracts, but expand our activities into other industries. Our goal is to become the leading MES supplier in our target markets, and our cooperation with ASM opens the door to new opportunities in this area.
Guenter Lauber: We also want Critical Manufacturing to stay active and even enhance its activities in industries other than electronics and semiconductor manufacturing. I am confident that we will benefit from their experience in other industries, because many of them are more advanced in the implementation of Industry 4.0 concepts. Looking beyond your own industry is interesting and can be eye-opening, and I am convinced that the experience you collect from a wide range of projects is instructive. That’s why I believe that our strategic investment in Critical Manufacturing will make us stronger and serve as the core of our future business with comprehensive software solutions.
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