Jul 18, 2006

Frost & Sullivan Movers & Shakers Interview with Jason Spera, CEO & Co-Founder

By Keith Robinson, Industry Manager, Frost & Sullivan

Jason Spera is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Aegis Industrial Software Corporation (Aegis). A former electronics assembly industry manufacturing engineer, Mr. Spera’s factory-floor experience compelled him to create software solutions for his industry. His experience with real-world productivity problems has shaped a suite of tools for improving efficiency throughout the electronics industry and in factories worldwide.

Jason Spera
Keith Robinson (KR): What are some of the key differentiators in the solutions that Aegis has to offer compared to its competitors?

Jason Spera (JS): There are two major differentiators. First is the issue of product scope that we offer and the other is the data depth we go to.

We have a strong presence in MES as well as new product introduction (NPI) markets for electronics assembly. Our product scope begins with NPI functionality in the factory office at the point of data interception from the design labs. This is something MES systems simply do not normally encompass, and yet it is absolutely critical to delivering what customers need today. We convert the CAD design and the Bill of Materials into a full product routing, create visual aids automatically, generate and optimize all required machine programs, setup logic decisions for quality, repair loop automation and test. Essentially, we prepare all the data needed to produce a product properly and to drive the MES system, including the bill of process, for shop floor material control. The product-intelligent data model this process populates in our system is a significant reason why Aegis MES is so much more capable than competitive offerings.

Another difference is our definition of what MES should include. We begin our definition of MES with a version-controlled, paperless document that is delivered to every station on the factory floor, product tracking for performance and bottleneck detection of serialized product all the way from birthing through system integration and ultimately to pack-out. We actually address all shop-floor issues all the way into the final packaging and support them through intelligent visual of the product that is made possible through our inherent connection to the design data from the front-end NPI systems. We also consider shop-floor material control, the capability of physically controlling conveyorized line flow, and data acquisition adapters to a vast variety of production and test machines. Aegis offers more out-of-the-box connectors to the machines on the market than anybody else. So this, when combined with the total solution that has an analytics engine, enterprise level visibility and browser based tools, results in a much broader solution set for an electronics assembly factory.

This scope and depth of coverage yields specific and unique benefits that have real value for customers. It makes possible pin-level visual defect collection, unprecedented depth of analytics, and perfect component-level materials traceability. It offers the ability to validate all tools, chemicals, consumable and feeding devices at every single station factory wide. So our system not only tracks what occurred, it assures that everything was setup properly before it actually does occur. It’s a matter of risk mitigation. Aegis doesn’t just monitor production activities, it keeps mistakes from occurring in the first place.

There is no other system on the market that can touch our traceability depth. In order to go to our level, you need product data intelligence, real time data connection to the robots and the machines, complete shop floor material control, as well as a tracking system with quality and test. Before Aegis, in order to meet the regulatory requirements from the FDA, military and automotive sectors, people would be left trying to put together multiple solutions to match our functional scope. But the value proposition for the customer to get everything they need from Aegis, instead of multiple vendors, is obviously much more compelling.

KR: What is the unique selling point of your company?

JS: At the business level, both the co-founder, who is our CTO, and myself were actually manufacturing engineers. So technologically, we know what our customers want from personal experience and are not merely driven by focus groups or product managers to determine the challenges existing within our customers’ production floors. That is a big differentiator for our customers. It allows them to communicate with our company better because we hire people who come from manufacturing engineering backgrounds. We have a greater understanding of the needs of our customers and that allows our engineers to build better solutions.

Functionally, we have particular selling advantages. We offer a greater scope and depth of coverage of factory floor information and control issues than any single vendor. Our solution is also more rapidly deployable because it was built to accommodate a great number of installations, out-of-the-box. Aegis’ systems offer a significantly lower level of integration challenges than competitors and require little to no customization by engineers.

KR: What are the advantages of using third party software in the SMT industry versus a company developing in-house software?

JS: When you have an in-house department building a custom software solution, they generally do not look at the users within their own company as their ‘customers’. So they are not as responsive to their own company’s needs as a third-party provider will be. Our motivation, and it is a powerful one, is the customer. They are the driving force in the evolution of any software product and their needs are why commercial products move quickly forward.

When you invest in Aegis you are inheriting the results of enhancement requests from countless other production environments in which the system has been deployed, and in our case, that is over 1100 different sites and thousands of enhancements. Servicing so many customers with one design leads to a solution that accommodates a vast array of different conditions, often supporting capabilities the customer does not even yet require when they purchase it. Conversely, in-house solutions while usually having rich functionality and a very specific function set, they are designed around a narrow view of one manufacturing environment at one time in the history of the company. For this reason they typically do not adapt well to changes in the company’s functional needs or manufacturing environment. This leads to an endless cycle of ‘patch’ responses to each newly arising need rather than a holistic solution.

KR: How strong is your R&D, and what are some of the measures that you have taken to address customer needs like data sharing, visibility, reducing down time etc. to improve customer satisfaction?

JS: In the Aegis model, the MES system physically controls and also monitors all shop-floor activities. In such an MES system, system failure stops product movement and can damage traceability integrity, and therefore is just not acceptable. This demands data acquisition systems and a server software architecture that both deal seamlessly with inevitable network or server failures.

Our entire system offers architectural benefits delivering assured uptime, but also recovery from the inevitable. It has unlimited lateral scalability and automatic fail over at the business logic layer. Customers may opt for arrays of servers that offer automatic failover in the case of individual server failure.

Our technology for the data collection side is also quite advanced and is actually adopted widely by some of the top machine vendors like Speedline and PHILIPS. This data acquisition technology ensures that even when the network fails in the factory, our data adapters for machines cache and time synchronize the data. The moment the network comes back up, data is resynchronized on the server side. The fact that our data connections to the machines, and the operator interface browsers both have this "cache and forward" technology, basically assures the customer that data will not be lost even in the event of connectivity and infrastructure problems beyond the software’s control.

KR: What are some of the challenges you see facing software vendors that are participating in the SMT Industry and how has your company overcome some of these challenges?

JS: Currently, the greatest challenge is the issue of traceability, which is a super set of RoHS. Regulatory demands for declaring the record of assembly and the material content of everything could prove to be a costly challenge for the industry.

During the last 18 months we have observed a surprising upswing in the demands for new levels of traceability. Now, we are actually delivering systems that take care of this through real time data acquired from the machines for every critical parameter possible like oven temperatures, the maximum time the units were in that oven, and the peak temperatures they experienced all the way down to the unit, because they need to know the experience of every component on it. Our system is focused on getting customers through the nightmare of the lead-free transition and the greater issue of process-wide product content and process traceability.

KR: What are some of the growth strategies that your company has implemented to foray into untapped markets and expanded client base?

JS: We have a few historical milestones that we are quite proud of that illustrates why our competitors are often following us. When we were only in the NPI market, we were the first company to get to the 32-bit platform. When we expanded into factory floor functionality we were the first to go to a multi-tier, totally web-based system. We were also the first to use a standards based XML data acquisition system for real time communication machines based on an IPC CAMX standard. Also, most recently, we moved into full factory floor for shop floor material control before anyone had really envisioned the joining of NPI, MES, and Shop Floor Materials Control into one massive solution.

Aegis is actually quite unique in that we encompass the entire shop floor management issue. We believe there exist two axes of information control and visibility required to fully support a factory. The first axis, and the one that most MES providers focus on, is simply product movement and perhaps data acquisition along that movement. However, the other axis requires the system to control the interception of materials to the right process station at the right time. What makes our system unique is that we control both axes of all the material and product movement, which yields a new level of control and total traceability. The only boundary that we see as limiting our directions of growth is our intent to avoid encroaching on the roles of ERP. But, when you are on the shop floor or factory office, Aegis wants to control all the data flow of the company and act as the data provider to the upper layer systems.

KR: If you are looking into the crystal ball, where do you see the SMT industry five years from now?

JS: SMT is an interesting industry. When compared to the semiconductor industry it leaves a lot to be desired in the area of factory floor information management. I also think the market has to mature in order for it to get to the point where regulatory demands for traceability and process control will cause more widespread demand for total factory information systems in the market.

I also believe there will be a shift in the next five years. Manufacturers will begin to expect the level of process integration, control and data management, which is considered normal in semiconductor, to migrate into electronics assembly. This is going to require a synergy of the machine vendors and the software providers. This is why Aegis built the xLink data acquisition technology in conjunction with the machine vendors because we see it as the first movement towards attaining this goal. Rather than trying to append things to the machine and compete with the machine vendors, we work with them because without that cooperation you cannot really deliver what the customer wants. Customers are beginning to want total factory information systems and we intend to be their solution.

For additional information contact:

Deb Geiger
VP, Global Marketing
Phone: +1 215.773.3571 x 1106
Email: dgeiger@aiscorp.com