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


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Goldman: Where is your customer base right now? Is it mostly local or across the country?

Koenig: When we started out it was mostly local. There’s still a substantial Bay Area segment, but that’s less than half our business now—it’s spreading across the country.

Goldman: How's that happening? Is it word of mouth?

Koenig: Yes, plus we have salespeople, and marketing. We do trade shows. We don't have a booth at this show, but we do maybe eight shows a year that our sales and marketing people go to.

Goldman: What kind of trade shows?

Koenig: Medical electronics, aerospace electronics, manufacturing and design. We just had a booth at PCB West down in Santa Clara.

Goldman: But it sounds like your real strength, though, is in your software so you can provide this kind of turnaround for your customers and remove frustration.

Koenig: Absolutely. Turnaround is a big part of it, certainly. I think the software and automation goes into two broad categories. One is customer experience, and there are a lot of facets to that. The other is operational efficiency. The one that's more fun to talk about is customer experience, unless you're an investor or an accountant, and then they like to talk about operational efficiency so that we can have better operating margins, because manufacturers oftentimes don't have great margins; the more automation, the better the margins.

The customer experience is everything that we've been talking about, so the fastest turn time, customers love that of course. And spending less of their time on phone calls and emails because they can self-service their jobs. They can get the design right the first time because of the transparency that our software gives them during their design process. They can be designing and using our web application as a tool in that process.

Then automation leads to higher quality, and that leads to a better customer experience of course.

It also gives more education for them, so they understand not to do certain things. They don't have to put a blind or buried via in there or they don't have to make a trace as thin, and it's going to save them a lot of money or save them turn time. They may not have known that. There are a lot of electrical engineers who are smart, who really understand circuits, but they don't know manufacturing implications. They don't realize it's going to make their board take three days longer or cost twice as much when they put in these features. We give them education and transparency on these topics. So all of that goes into customer experience, and it’s really exciting to see how much our customers appreciate it.

Goldman: Excellent. Tell me a little bit about the other side, the operational efficiency side.

Koenig: Sure, absolutely. With that, a lot of it goes pretty much hand in hand. If the customer is getting a better experience by not having to do phone calls and emails over two days, that's also our people saving time not having to do those phone calls and emails. Saving time not having to figure out what they meant about an MPN that wasn't typed in properly or other mismatch in the BOM or parts that are not available. We don't have to spend our time there.

Now that we get the bill of materials that's already been processed by the customer through our software, we know it's all available and we can automatically order those parts. If we get board specs that we know our bare board manufacturer can make, we can automatically send them that order without a lot of back and forth with them. That saves us a lot of time.

We can automatically program our machines because we already know the specs fit with our machines’ capabilities and we can make our machines talk the same language. A lot of times in electronics manufacturing operations each of the machines is sort of an island unto itself. The operator goes in and programs this machine and spends a couple of hours and then goes to the next machine and they're inputting a lot of the same information.

One of the things our software engineers are working on is getting into the digital workflow of these machines, finding how these program files are formatted that go into the machines, and figuring out how much of that we can automatically generate based on the data that's coming into our web application. That leaves a lot less for the operator to do, which makes for a lot less labor going in the first time, and far fewer mistakes. Mistakes cause either quality problems and/or rework for us, whether it's reprogramming machines or physically reworking boards, which costs a lot and kills margins. These things together make for a process that has less labor and less rework, which does great things for margins.

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