Real Time with...SMTAI 2020: Creative Electron Moves Toward Autonomous Systems



Andy Shaughnessy recently spoke with Dr. Bill Cardoso, CEO of Creative Electron, a provider of advanced X-ray inspection systems. Bill discusses some of the new technologies the company will demonstrate in their virtual booth at SMTAI, including a next-generation X-ray parts counter and a new software platform that offers better automation than ever. He also explains the company’s plan to migrate from automation to autonomous systems by using AI to help remove humans from the process.

Andy Shaughnessy: Hi, I’m Andy Shaughnessy for Real Time with… SMTAI. Here with me this afternoon is Bill Cardoso of Creative Electron. How are you doing, Bill?

Bill Cardoso: I’m doing great. It’s actually a good morning for me.

Shaughnessy: Bill is the CEO and founder, and according to the website, benevolent overlord of Creative Electron. I understand you all are going to be at SMTAI, the virtual show, which starts today. Why don’t you start off and give us a little quick background of the company?

Cardoso: Creative Electron is the company I founded here in San Marcos, California, in 2008. And we grew from the modest beginnings of my garage to a large facility, where I’m talking to you from today, and to being with the largest manufacturer of X-ray machines. We’re proud all our manufacturing happens right here in San Marcos. For all our supply chains, as a matter of fact—in about 600 miles in radius—with sheet metal and everything else—we get from local suppliers, if we can. “Made in U.S.” for us is a big deal, and we live what we preach.

Shaughnessy: Give us a little rundown of what you are presenting or demoing at SMTA.

Cardoso: Exciting, right? It’s the first virtual SMTA International. We would both be in Chicago right now in the same time zone, chatting about our products and new things we’re bringing to the show. This year, we’re bringing in a new or evolutionary step in our parts counter. It’s an X-ray parts counter. We take an X-ray, and we can automatically count how many components you have on reels, trays, or a cut tape. We have a new generation that we virtually will bring to the SMTA International show.

We also have a new software platform that, again, is another TrueView 11, which comes after TrueView 10, which has been an evolution of our software platform. It has better automation and analysis, and we’ve been, over the past decade, working really hard to move from automation to autonomous systems. Instead of just collecting images and having a human being having to interpret them, we’ve been working hard on removing human beings from the equation using artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the autonomous system. You push a button, walk away, go get a cup of coffee, and when you come back, your boards are all inspected.

Shaughnessy: Right. That seems to be one of the things that we hear a lot about is that the data is the thing, all this data swirling around and being able to present it to the user in an actionable format.

Cardoso: Exactly. For many years, the data has been collected in individual boxes on the line, and then an individual operator had to go from box to box or equipment to equipment to figure out what the data was and try to bridge the gap between data and information. You can do something with that information. Data that’s not used has a different name. It’s called noise, right? We’ve had a lot of noise in the SMT line for the past few decades, and the evolution of communication protocols and computing power has allowed us to do some of that heavy lifting for our operators. We’re really excited to keep bringing innovative and creative solutions for that.

Shaughnessy: What do you think of the whole virtual format, or is this something you’ve been doing?

Cardoso: Yes, we’ve been doing that. We had a few shows we’ve done virtual and attended even more trade shows and conferences virtually. There are mixed feelings, Andy. I miss being face-to-face, shaking hands, and being able to have impromptu conversations on the aisles of trade shows with many people who I hadn’t seen in 10 years. Virtually, that’s a little more challenging. There wasn’t a platform that can successfully replace that. They try, but it doesn’t work. On the other hand, we have an opportunity to reach people who would not be able to travel to Chicago. It’s that blend of pros and cons of not having to be on a plane and in a hotel or rental cars. I love that part of it—don’t get me wrong. It’s good to go to a trade show during the day and then have dinner with your family. That’s huge.

Shaughnessy: I hear some people saying that maybe they’ll get people who just don’t ever go to trade shows because we see the same people a lot of times at trade shows. There are a lot of people that it’s just not in the cards for them. Maybe they’re going to attend when they’re in the office.

Cardoso: Exactly. I think this is an opportunity to reach a wider audience, and we’ll have to figure out how to replace or improve that face-to-face communication we lost. Maybe something else is going to happen, or we just figure out how to do it without it.

Shaughnessy: Right. You’re in one of the fun areas—X-ray inspection. That’s a lot of stuff going on there though.

Cardoso: A lot of pretty cool stuff, especially having the ability to add AI to improve, because that’s one thing that X-ray has been. A lot of companies see X-ray or inspection data as a cost center. Why? Because the data was noise. There’s just a bunch of data being collected, and you don’t do anything with it. Now we can provide a meaningful interpretation of the data so people can figure out your stencil’s broken, or you need to tweak your reflow profile. If we can give them meaningful information, data is becoming more relevant. And if you think about it, data is actually the currency of the SMT line, right? It is what drives this SMT line in smart companies. Especially with COVID-19, the fact that fewer operators are allowed on the floor or engineers are working from home. The ability to collect the data and share it in a meaningful way has been strongly driven into overdrive now with COVID1-.

Shaughnessy: Right. That’s something. Well, is there anything else you want to add?

Cardoso: That’s it, man. I’m sorry we’re not together and having a cup of coffee in Chicago, but we’re looking forward to a very successful with SMTA International. We think it’s going to be a very cool event with a lot of participation. So far, it has been phenomenal. We look forward to a successful week.

Shaughnessy: All right. Well, best of luck. And maybe we’ll actually get to see each other at a show sometime.

Cardoso: I look forward to it, Andy.

View more videos and show-related content at Real Time with… SMTAI 2020 virtual.

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