Interview with Francisco Almada Lobo from Critical Manufacturing

  • Francisco Almada Lobo - Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder

GoPhotonics interviewed Francisco Almada Lobo, the Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Critical Manufacturing. Almada Lobo is recognized as a top strategic thought leader and evangelist on digital transformation, specifically Industry 4.0, manufacturing operations and the factories of the future. He holds an MBA and an Electrical Engineering Degree from the University of Porto and started his career in a CIM R&D Institute and joined Siemens Semiconductor in 1997. Throughout his tenures at Siemens, Infineon and Qimonda, Almada Lobo specialized in optimizing highly complex, discrete manufacturing operations. In 2004, he led the first migration of an MES system in a running high-volume facility.

Q. Can you give us a brief history of Critical Manufacturing? When was the company founded? Where are you located? And what is your objective? 

Francisco Almada Lobo: Four manufacturing software entrepreneurs with experience in semiconductor manufacturing founded Critical Manufacturing in 2009 with the objective of empowering manufacturers of complex, high-tech discrete products with manufacturing execution and intelligence capabilities that help them operate efficiently and profitably.

By 2011 a Fortune 500 company had implemented their manufacturing execution system (MES) and recognition grew steadily from there. In 2018, ASM Pacific Technology Limited (ASMPT), a leading integrated solutions provider in the semiconductor and electronics industries, learned of their innovative technology and acquired them to bolster their Industry 4.0 solutions portfolio.

In addition to its headquarters and main technical center in Porto, Portugal, Critical Manufacturing has subsidiaries in Dresden, Germany, Suzhou China, Austin, USA, George Town, Malaysia, and a branch office in Taiwan.

With more than 400 employees and a rapidly expanding channel of partners and integrators, Critical Manufacturing’s success continues. In 2021, 2022, and 2023 Gartner has named them a leader in its prestigious Magic Quadrant for MES.

Q. Can you tell us more about the software solutions you develop?

Francisco Almada Lobo: Critical Manufacturing’s MES is the most modern, flexible, and configurable manufacturing execution system available. It is a highly sophisticated, fully-integrated, modular solution with strong data management and analytical capabilities. This includes Augmented RealityDigital Twin, and extended MES functionality, running on a platform that manages both IoT and transactional MES data using the same data model. It is highly configurable and designed to resolve the complex operational challenges faced by modern manufacturers.

The modular system helps manufacturers stay ahead of stringent product traceability and compliance requirements; reduce risk with inherent closed-loop quality; integrate seamlessly with enterprise systems and factory automation and provide deep intelligence and visibility of global production operations. This makes manufacturers Industry 4.0 ready and better able to compete effectively and profitably by adapting operations to changes in demand, opportunity, or requirements, anywhere, at any time.

Q. Are there any specific Industry segments that you cater to? Which segment is the largest for you?

Francisco Almada Lobo: The largest segment for Critical Manufacturing MES is semiconductor and we believe it’s because of our knowledge and deep experience in this segment. Nevertheless, the electronics segment is growing at a fast pace, and we expect it to soon be another major segment in our business.

 CRITICAL MANUFACTURING operates in the following industry segments:

  • Semiconductor manufacturing, where they manage advance scenarios with edge capability for innovation and efficiency. 
  • Electronics manufacturing, where they upgrade process capabilities and management capacity and quality while driving costs down. 
  • Medical device manufacturing, where they focus agility and product quality more than on managing compliance and risk 
  • Industrial machinery manufacturing, where they accelerate digital automation across complex discrete industries

Q. Can you tell us more about the “MES & Industry 4.0 International Summit”? What is the aim of the summit, and which are the major sectors covered in the event?

Francisco Almada Lobo: The MES & Industry 4.0 International Summit will take place on September 7 – 8, 2023 at the Alfândega Congress Centre in Porto. With the conference theme “Connect to a Smarter Future,” it intends to help manufacturers of semiconductors, electronics, medical devices and industrial machinery manufacturing to leverage increasing connectivity and intelligent operations emerging from Industry 4.0 related advancements. The international event will feature a comprehensive program of conferences, round table discussions, demonstrations, interactive sessions, and case studies to help industry professionals navigate their way to Industry 4.0 and the multitude of benefits manufacturing software can deliver.

There will also be “Expert Lab” areas that house the latest factory automation solutions and a virtual reality experience, in which visitors can walk through a model factory of the future. There will be events for medical devices, semiconductors, electronics, and industrial equipment and discussion of topics that apply cross-sector, such as the path to an autonomous factory; the role of data platforms and IIoT in building a resilient, data-driven enterprise; and achieving multisite operational excellence. There will also be an enlightening interactive session exploring Industry 4.0 vision vs reality/maturity assessment, in which participants can assess their organization’s Industry 4.0 readiness and receive insights into how they might bridge the gap between their status and their ideal vision.

Q. What did your company showcase at Hannover Messe 2023?

Francisco Almada Lobo: At Hannover Messe 2023, CRITICAL MANUFACTURING showcased its advanced IoT platform capability and how it facilitates the adoption of Industry 4.0 manufacturing technologies with complete, real-time visibility into global manufacturing operations, including its extended supply chain. The company also demonstrated the benefits of complete integration with new devices and legacy systems and how this enables manufacturers to navigate the pathway to smart manufacturing at a pace that suits their business model.

Demonstrations at the Hannover Messe stand included end-to-end material traceability, bill of material (BOM) variation management, data management tools, advanced analytics, and a complete digital twin of the shop floor to ensure total visibility of operations and performance against key performance indicators (KPIs).  The stand also featured a robotic arm that simulated an assembly station, allowing visitors to try the MES themselves by assembling a product via an intuitive dashboard. This provided first-hand experience of how MES helps with work instructions and quality management via intuitive dashboards.

Q. What are the specifications of Critical Manufacturing’s MES for Medical Device and Diagnostics?

Francisco Almada Lobo: Critical Manufacturing’s MES for Medical Device and Diagnostics is a unified application with the latest technologies that enable Industry 4.0 related digitalization. It helps drive control, resilience, collaboration, and agility across the entire value chain, from raw materials to patient, enabling the following capabilities:

  • Maintain end-to-end traceability, 
  • Complete equipment tracking
  • Operational data analysis
  • Continuous quality improvement

Q. What is ‘fabLIVE Digital Twin’?

Francisco Almada Lobo: fabLIVE Digital Twin is a real-time virtual window into the shop floor, with interactive performance monitoring and real-time enterprise-wide visualization and monitoring. It helps manufacturers overcome financial or human resource constraints by enabling them to step toward a complete MES solution at an affordable pace using real-time 3D plant/line monitoring.  It enables them to interact with a realistic model of their operations, which assists with product design, process planning and validation, and production execution. Through intuitive dashboards, users can see and interact with 3-D simulated factory objects, such as equipment and areas, and get a wealth of information about each, such as its uptime history or the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

This helps with product design by monitoring and controlling design, specification, and variations. It helps with process planning and validation by testing manufacturing scenarios. And it helps in modelling the connections between modern and legacy IoT, in the context of shop floor data, turning that data into valuable information upon which strategic decisions can be made. It also simulates mapping of physical or business processes to provide overall coordination and to ensure critical business systems, such as quality control or statistical process control, are integrated and cannot be bypassed.

Users can zoom in or zoom out to greater or lesser levels of detail, the digital twin can be used not only to represent a piece of equipment but an entire process line, complete shop floor, or even multiple factories located throughout the world, connected via a single, powerful operator interface. ‘Zooming out’ to such a level, provides management with a quick visual overview of the status of operations and can help identify problems or bottlenecks before they occur.

Q. Can you tell us more about Critical Manufacturing’s Factory Automation solution?

Francisco Almada Lobo: Critical Manufacturing's Factory Automation solution offers a powerful framework for real-time monitoring, data acquisition, and analysis, providing manufacturers with complete visibility into their production lines.

Critical Manufacturing's solution can help manufacturers identify and address bottlenecks, track key performance indicators, and make data-driven decisions to enhance efficiency and productivity. One of the key strengths of Critical Manufacturing's Factory Automation solution is its flexibility and scalability. It can adapt to diverse manufacturing environments across industries such as electronicssemiconductormedical devices and discrete industries.

The Factory Automation solution seamlessly integrates with existing manufacturing systems and equipment, facilitating smooth connectivity and interoperability. It enables manufacturers to leverage Industry 4.0 principles by incorporating emerging technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Big Data Analytics. This integration empowers predictive maintenance, optimizes resource allocation, and enables intelligent decision-making.

By automating critical manufacturing processes, Critical Manufacturing's Factory Automation solution improves resource utilization, reduces downtime, and enhances overall productivity and quality. It serves as a catalyst for operational excellence, enabling manufacturers to stay competitive in today's rapidly evolving market.

Q. Can you tell us more about the latest version (V9) of your modern, fully integrated MES for the entire electronics factory? What updates were made?

Francisco Almada Lobo: MES version 9 integrates a DevOps Center, container technology, and streamlined remote access to enable rapid MES deployment in the cloud, on-premises or across hybrid infrastructures, anywhere. This not only facilitates implementation, but also provides a single, enterprise-wide continuous improvement platform.

Version 9 also supports decentralized logic to enable dynamic production with smart products and materials automatically interacting with intelligent machines to ensure optimized production efficiencies. It incorporates an IoT Data Platform for fully scalable, real-time data processing and a Connect IoT module that accelerates the integration of devices and equipment into the platform. It also provides a complete 3-D digital twin of the shop floor to ensure total visibility of operations and performance against key performance indicators (KPIs). It supports augmented reality (AR) scenarios and provides tools, controls and agility that can help businesses manage uncertainty in changing times.

Critical Manufacturing has also announced V10 MES, which takes manufacturing operations to the next level. It provides includes real-time views of operations, with instant, clear guidance for operators and technicians. This makes it easier to manage mange varied products and provides decision support to improve productivity and reduce errors.

V10 includes system enhancements making it more user-friendly and accessible. Adaptive scheduling flexibility and multi-level order and material scheduling capabilities make keeping up with ever-changing products and order mixes easier. Improved BOM variation management comes from using electronic computer-aided design (ECAD) for defect detection, and side-by-side visual comparisons of objects. Support for substrate mapping standards SEMI E142 support translates into exceptional usability.

Combined with the existing statistical process control (SPC), these new features simplify material qualification, bills-of-materials handling, processing parameters, recipe management, and equipment integration. Also, an integrated alert and notification center and low-code ERP integration ensures effective information sharing between users and systems, which further increases utility and agility while speeding reaction time to actionable events. Further enhancements include low code ERP integration and a new, AI-driven, natural language interface that enables simple voice access to system functionality. New accommodations for users with visual impairments also comes with V10.

Overall, the system’s advanced design will ensure that the latest technological advancements and upgrades can be readily incorporated, and innovations embraced. It is a fully- integrated and adaptable MES for modern manufacturers, with powerful features and clear visual representations of the entire scope of the production line. 

Q. What is your company roadmap for the next few years?

Francisco Almada Lobo: CRITICAL MANUFACTURING will continue to lead the MES space to enhance industrial productivity and front-line worker empowerment. We are actively incorporating the following technologies into our MES platform: 

  • Natural Language Processing (NLP) Interfaces, which use AI for more intuitive and efficient human interactions with MES systems, including using voice commands or chatbots to input data, retrieve information.
  • Analyzing extremely large data volumes to detect data patterns that will lead to enhanced accuracy in predicting equipment failures, production bottlenecks, and quality issues. 
  • Further development of algorithms that adjust production parameters automatically, based on real-time data inputs and predefined rules.
  • Increasing support for cyberphysical collaboration on the shop floor, integrating with intelligent robots or cobots that work alongside human operators.

The Critical Manufacturing MES platform is designed for maximum scalability and adaptability to support changing business and production challenges. And as always, we will continue to evolve that platform based on our deep understanding of, and commitment to customer needs.

About Critical Manufacturing

Critical Manufacturing is dedicated to empowering manufacturers of complex, high-tech discrete products with a manufacturing execution and intelligence system to achieve their goals. It’s ready for a data-driven future and scales to operations, gives clear insight and guidance on any desktop or mobile device, drives visibility of global production and its costs across your supply chain, and it integrates seamlessly with enterprise systems and factory automation.

Click here to visit Critical Manufacturing's Profile on Gophotonics.