SMTA Guadalajara 2022: Mitch DeCaire talks about iTAC Software's & Cogiscan's new technologies

October 4, 2022
Interview Transcript
T. Galbraith:
So, since the acquisition of Cogiscan by ITAC software last year what things have changed? What has ITAC brought to Cogiscan’s table?
M. DeCaire:
Yeah, it's a very exciting time for us here at Cogiscan. We were acquired by iTAC in February 2021. There were a lot of things that were very familiar to us because we had partnered with iTAC for more than 10 years. We already had joint customer sites where our systems were integrated together - we were capturing traceability data on SMT lines and feeding that to the iTAC MES and responding to requests from the MES when we need to interlock operations on the lines to ensure that mistakes are prevented and things like that.

So, we've been doing that for some major clients around the globe for many years. They were a great partner before and they knew us well and acquired us so that we can continue these synergistic activities, which is great and from my perspective is really exciting because I feel like a kid in a candy store as I mentioned to you before. We have all the iTAC products now that are in our portfolio and we’re selling these products. For now, we’re focusing on the America’s Market on promoting iTAC from a sales and Business Development perspective which is one of my new responsibilities.
T. Galbraith:
Right, that's an interesting area. So, looking at the ITAC software portfolio. It is actually fairly modular so people don't have to take the entire MES system: they can take components that they could then fold into their existing MES system?
M. DeCaire:
Yeah, that's correct and that's something that you know was kind of a fun surprise for me to learn as we were getting more involved in becoming part of the iTAC Suite. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of modularity and scalability that we can offer.

For example, we have tools and products available for business intelligence. So, let’s say a company wants to have in-depth analytics and do-it-yourself customizable dashboards looking at factories from different parts of the world at the same time. This is a product of iTAC’s that we can support here because oftentimes Cogiscan Connectivity Solutions are the data source for these. But then again you don't need to have the complete iTAC MES suite for that product.

And another very exciting product that we're seeing a lot of traction on is what we call IIoT.Edge, which is an iTAC product. It's an artificial intelligence and machine learning platform that again relies on our traditional connectivity solutions as a data source and it can be used to basically help with a progression from displaying and reacting to data based on something you see on a screen to actually predicting and prescribing what's going to happen down the road based on data models.

This piece can also be sold and deployed without the iTAC.MES.Suite, and so that really opens up a lot of doors for even small- to mid-sized contract manufacturers who maybe have their own MES system (or even large ones that have their own custom MES system) and they may not be looking at or replacing their MES system now. However, everybody's looking at IIoT right now.

So, we can provide solutions that enable them to use our best-in-class solutions for IIoT without having to replace Legacy systems that they're very happy with.

T. Galbraith:
Right, so on the Cogiscan side I mean you've been historically known for Track, Trace & Control and Connectivity systems. But you do a lot more than that. Tell us about some of the other things that you're offering from Cogiscan.
M. DeCaire:
We've promoted our connectivity platform a lot over the past few years and it's a very important part of our product line now because iTAC is relying on it so anytime iTAC needs connectivity to a machine, what they call SMT Edge which is our Co-NECT piece built into the iTAC workbench. So that continues to be more and more important.

However, we’re seeing some recent trends in the industry, for example supply chain challenges & material shortages that are due to a variety of global reasons. It's forcing people to really look more closely at their inventory management and materials more carefully and that's part of the core tradition of what Cogiscan has always done.

  • For example, guiding the operators and guiding the production staff to kit materials efficiently without having any sort of downtime on the line while you're waiting for a kit to be prepared,

  • Knowing what materials are available and where, so that you can actually kit effectively and ensure that you're optimizing the setup of the line at the same time as you're picking the materials.

  • For example, by kitting them in the sequence that the reels will later go on to the feeder slots on the machine, so it saves setup time for the operators.

It's always been a very important part of our product but, given what's happening in supply chains these days, we're seeing a real increased emphasis on material control and it couples very well with iTAC because iTAC has an advanced production & scheduling module, or APS module, which is just a natural tie-in because now we can provide the scheduling system with all the information about what materials and what feeders are available in real-time, and that makes the APS system more capable of optimizing the production schedule for the factory floor.

T. Galbraith:
I didn't realize you went into that much detail, but so you’re really the key link between a lot of these storage systems, component counters and the machines on the line essentially.
M. DeCaire:
Yeah, that's a part of our traditional bread and butter and you know a lot of storage companies are doing very well and it’s tied to that same industry trend of everyone wanting to manage their materials more carefully. So, more and more companies are investing in the storage tower, they're investing in the counting systems (the X-ray counters). Those are also just synergistic pieces as we don't develop those systems, but we connect to them and connect them to the physical SMT lines. In other words, we take systems that otherwise would not be talking to one another and get them all on the same page.
T. Galbraith:
And what I was going to say is the attraction to these equipment vendors is that they're not having to sit and write lines of code for whatever machine configuration you're going to be working with. You've already done that, and you've got a drop in a system to handle that.
M. DeCaire:
Yes, that's a very valid point and you know that's one of the reasons we still have our equipment partnership program. One of the key reasons iTAC bought us is because they saw the value we bring to the equipment suppliers and that’s something that they're going to continue to encourage us to invest in. You mentioned CFX, we’ve helped many of the equipment vendors at this show to deliver a CFX offering to market and that’s another nice complement.
T. Galbraith:
That's interesting because a lot of those equipment suppliers professed an intention to adopt CFX but quite a few of them haven't implemented it yet. You know, one way they can do it is by coming to you and you doing an interface for them.
M. DeCaire:
Yeah! And now that we've done it for several of them, we have a bit of a recipe in place. We understand the standard intimately and we’ve been doing machine connectivity since our inception over 20 years ago so for us to work with one of our existing partners or a new equipment partner and develop that CFX solution, it's really a baby step from our perspective.

And of course, all these equipment companies have their own software people, and they could do it on their own, but they kind of view it as a make versus buy study. They look at their internal resources and what features they are focusing on. For example, if I’m an AOI company, I want my internal software people focusing on something that's more specialized in AOI rather than on an industry standard. Since we can help them achieve the industry standards, it really comes down to cost and also lead time. Because we do this all the time, our ability to deliver a new interface to an equipment partner is relatively quick.
T. Galbraith:
Interesting. We've packed a lot in there, Mitch. I mean, you must be a busy guy these days.
M. DeCaire:
I am indeed yes. And I'm learning a lot too. I mean, especially with the business intelligence platform and the IIoT.Edge. Or the artificial intelligence stuff… this is something that I personally had no background in, and fortunately at iTAC we have a team of data scientists. We have PhD-level people who are experts in this. So, I love sitting in on meetings when we bring those people to our customers and talk about what's possible. At first, I was a little concerned that they would be a bit daunting to our customer base. But our guys are good at bringing it down to a pragmatic, practical perspective. We also offer our customers a data science course to help them learn some of the capabilities and some of the theory behind what we're doing.

That helps them later to become more self-sufficient. I know a lot of people are talking about artificial intelligence and I always like to ask the question like “OK, what have you done in a real factory? Give me an example that I can understand.” In our case, we have a use case library that we're building up based on actual customer deployments using the artificial intelligence. One simple example, which I think is cool, is for AOI machines. You know, you can talk to any engineer in a factory and what they want to do at AOI is filter out the false calls as much as possible because when you have false calls, you tie up time either on the line or at an offline station having an operator manually go through and figure out what's a legitimate false call and what's not. Therefore, they're always tweaking their programs try to minimize false calls without having any escapes of real defects getting through.

With the AI engine, we're capable of training an algorithm to learn what is a false call
and what's not – this is installed in real customer settings where we've reduced the amount of time taken to filter out the false calls by the operator by about 60%. In other words, that's 60% less manpower being wasted filtering out these false calls and 60% less time filtering them out. So, this is something that we can now package as a recipe and because Cogiscan can connect to any type of AOI machine, we combine our connectivity with the IIoT.Edge product from iTAC and solve real-life problems immediately on the shop floor.

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