The Future is Driven by Data


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When we visited Rocket EMS in 2013 to observe a DIY 4.0 factory data collection and management system in action, we were very impressed. This was clearly a factory of the future, even back then. We recently followed up with Rocket’s president, Michael Kottke, to discuss how this work has given the company a huge advantage over the competition. The moment he realized he’s now in a data collection business that happens to build printed circuit boards, everything changed. Is this where all companies should be headed? Perhaps, but you’ll want to take a cue from this type of innovative thinking.

Barry Matties: When we ask for a definition of Factory of the Future, we see it boils down to the data—incorporating it throughout the equipment, the facility, and your management, as well as interpreting and utilizing the data. There’s also the mechanization of process, which is the automated aspect of the machines doing the work, moving material, and so on. When I visited Rocket EMS back in 2013, you were already well ahead of the curve. 

Michael Kottke: The most important thing about the Smart factory is building the factory to what you need to support. I hear everyone talk about the Smart factory, the connected factory, but depending on what you’re doing and what customers you’re supporting, it means two vastly different things. If you’re building 40,000 boards a month of the same thing, it looks a lot different than having 100 different customers a month. We want to look forward to what the customer needs and support that by building a factory that supports a high amount of change, very fast turns, and lots and lots of data. That’s probably what has driven us, and it’s such an incredible ride right now.

Our new facility is in Carson City, Nevada, and it’s significantly bigger than our Santa Clara, California, facility. Carson City will do more production than the one in Santa Clara because building production just isn’t economically feasible to do in the Bay Area. It’s significantly more expensive to build in Santa Clara than Carson City for many reasons, including power, insurance, and so forth. The overhead is a drop in the bucket. We can be much more competitive because we can do production in Carson City and leverage all the tools of Voyager, our software platform. We are actively extending Voyager to support multiple locations and full-blown production.

Matties: Michael, when did you start or bring your Carson City plant online?

Kottke: We secured it two years ago, started with the logistics and system integration, and added SMT mid last year. It’s just awesome.

Matties: You’re filling it to capacity, or do you have more room?

Kottke: I have so much more room.

Matties: Please talk about your software platform and how you decided to be a data-driven factory.

Kottke: Data is everything. I tell everybody that we’re not a manufacturing company, we’re a data collection company that builds printed circuit boards. It’s gotten to the point now where there’s so much data in Voyager that it drives every decision and predicts solutions. Now we have so much data that we can take it and look at everything from quoting and pricing a job, to equipment selection, and defect prediction scenarios where we can flag, “These components are something that we see a higher number of defects on. It’s in a new design, so how do we prevent it?” 

Matties: Now, your platform considers the work coming in, looks at the components and other factors, then optimizes the flow in your factory for the day, the hour, or the minute. You would be able to shift work around on the fly.

To read this entire conversation, which appeared in the April 2022 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.

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