Tempo Automation: Setting the Pace for Low-Volume, Quick-Turn Assembly


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While on the SMTA International show floor, my good friends Michaela Brody and Paul Benke tracked me down and suggested I talk with Jesse Koenig. They told me he had an intriguing story, and sure enough, he did.

Patty Goldman: Hi Jesse, please tell me about your company, Tempo Automation.

Jesse Koenig: We started the company mid-2013, so it’s relatively new. We had the same overarching goal then that we have now, which is to make electronics development much easier and more seamless for our customers, electrical engineers, to let them spend their time on what they're good at, which is designing electronics, instead of on manufacturing logistics. That's always been the goal of our company.

We started by riding the wave of the 3D printer revolution to make a desktop PCB assembly machine that would do solder paste deposition, pick and place, and optical inspection. We spent about a year and a half developing those robots. Many engineers were excited about it, but after a lot of research and talking to customers and testing out that robot with customer jobs, we began to realize there's a much bigger market for taking care of the entire process for the customer and making it more integrated into their workflow.

When we were going to build and sell these robots, a lot of what we were doing was developing the software to run the robots and making it much easier for that process to fit into the customer’s CAD design process. We're still focusing heavily on software but now we're selling our service instead of selling a machine. We're buying what we find to be the best available hardware, the best available machines, and then focusing our engineering resources on software development. So, we’re building our own software for the customer to interface with, and to run our factory.

Goldman: What is your position in the company?

Koenig: I'm a co-founder and VP of Technology. I oversee our facilities, equipment, PCB vendors, and some aspects of software development. I work with our software engineers, doing product management for the software that will interface with the various machines, robots, manufacturing personnel, and PCB vendors, making sure the proper data and algorithms are being manifested in the software.

Goldman: And what does your factory do?

Koenig: Our service is turnkey PCB assembly, so a customer uploads their CAD design to our web application and they get information like DFM feedback and they can process their bill of materials themselves. Our software has access to the inventories of our distributors so we can go through a customer’s BOM, make sure the part numbers are real part numbers, that there are no inconsistencies in their BOM. For example, a quantity that doesn't match the number of reference designators in their BOM—we point out things like that, which would normally be a phone call or email a couple days later.

We display these things in real time, tell them if a part is not in stock at distributors and let them select a different, equivalent one from a list we display or choose to send us the part. Then we give them a quote that shows them why it costs what it does and why it takes as long as it does. So we give them opportunities to make changes, make it faster or less expensive. And then they press the order button and three days later they have the boards in hand, assembled and inspected by X-ray and AOI.

Goldman: Who makes the bare boards?

Koenig: We have a few partner companies with arrangements to get the fastest turn times. We're getting most of our bare boards with a one-day turn time, and we have arrangements with these partners where we have our systems synchronized so we can send them orders without getting quotes first, to make it even faster.

Goldman: Is this largely for prototypes?

Koenig: Yes, largely prototypes. Our quantities are one to 250. Someday in the future I think there may be applications for the kinds of technology and software and automation that we develop to get into higher volume projects, but right now we're just focused on being the absolute best at low volume.

Goldman: You see a need there.

Koenig: We see a huge need there and the difference is greater there. In other words, when you're only making 10 boards, if you have to do a ton of manual set up, if there's a lot of human labor that goes into it at the front of the process to get 10 boards made, that hurts a lot more than if you're making 10,000 or 100,000 boards. That upfront cost is not as bad then. The difference with our software and automation is you get a bigger delta on smaller jobs. That's where we focus now because we can give customers a dramatically better experience than they have at other places.

Goldman: How long have you been doing this part of it? I know you were working on something else before.

Koenig: We set up in our current facility in the first quarter of 2016—that’s when we set up the SMT lines that we now have. We're growing now; we just raised a financing round and so we will be hiring more software engineers. There’s a lot of technology that we want to add to make the customer experience even better, to make turn times even faster, and to make quality even higher. Then we will be adding equipment, too—adding SMT lines. And we’ll be moving into a much larger facility in 2018.

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