Zexiang Li, Professor of Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the School of Engineering and who is the Director of Automation Technology Center at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, talks about the future of automated labor.
Automation Technology Cooperative Research Center
We propose to establish a university/industry cooperative research centre to develop automation technologies for electronic manufacturing. The mission of the Centre is:
to develop critical automation technologies needed for electronic manufacturing and demonstrate the technologies in prototype products.
to transfer the technology know-how to local industries,
to provide in-depth training to local technical staff and engineers in the areas of automation technologies.
In recent years, Hong Kong's electronics industry has been faced with serious challenges. First, the international market demands high product diversity, rapid product introduction, high product quality and low price.
Second, the electronics industry had to cope constantly with the problems of rising labor and land costs and high turnover of technical staff, problems that have subsequently caused low assembly yield and poor product quality (See Roadmap for Electronics Packaging and Assembly for Hong Kong, produced by the Hong Kong Electronic Industries Association). In response, many electronics firms have become increasingly interested in adopting state-of-the-art automation technologies for their manufacturing operations. But this effort is hindered by several major roadblocks including:
lack of technology know-how;
shortage of experienced engineers and technical staff capable of designing and maintaining modern manufacturing operations; and
lack of local manufacturers of high-end equipment.
By combining the vast technical expertise and other resources of the University and the important product development experience of the industry, the proposed Centre can help overcome these difficulties. First, an Industry Advisory Board (IAB) will be formed with members from all participating companies of the Centre. Engineers from the member companies will be actively involved in deciding new projects. Second, projects will be initiated to develop core technologies for manufacturing automation. These technologies will be demonstrated in the form of semi-product (or "product-like") prototypes. Member companies will be kept informed on the status of these projects and will be provided with full access to these technologies. Finally, seminars, workshops and demonstrations will be organized on a regular basis to disseminate these technologies quickly to member companies. By using these technologies, which are already in semi-product form, member companies can develop their full product prototypes at a substantially reduced cost, cycle-time and engineering complexity.