What was the process of evolving your company's capabilities from small-batch prototype manufacturing to an assembly-line production?

Here’s the original link to our interview with Wouter from Sento: What was the process of evolving your company's capabilities to assembly-line manufacturing? - YouTube

One of the biggest problems that I encountered when I got started at Sento is that the way of assembling products was very individual. All the workers did assembly in their own way.

So if we were making a scale, or a Smart Weight, or a Pig Vision at the time we could actually have various variants - and not only from the outside but from the inside. Our people would do the soldering in their own way and put in the silicon through different methods.

And what the guys also did at the time - they would work the whole week on their program, all the products that they had to assemble, and then on Friday they would hand over all the products to quality control. So you would see the quality control desk empty for the whole week and then on Friday it was overloaded with equipment. So there were various bad consequences from this, and one is, of course, that if everybody does it in their own way, there is no good way. Further, there’s probably a lot of the products that are below the average quality and that’s what you don’t want. You want them at least all the same quality, and preferably all of the highest quality.

Another problem is if you assemble products throughout the whole week, and then only at the end of the week perform quality control and encounter a problem in the product - you have to do everything all over again.

So that is a huge disadvantage of individual assembly. In contrast, with the assembly line methodology if we have something wrong in the assembly line, there will be immediate feedback from quality control. And the biggest risk that you run there is that we maybe you have to re-run a few products that were already on the line, but that is it. It’s manageable.

So when we moved to the assembly line model, I discovered that it was very beneficial to work in a tax free zone. So we opened Sento in the tax free zone in Medellin Colombia. It’s the same company but because we are in a tax free zone we had to create a different entity.

This was the point in our growth - that most hardware startup founders will probably recall - where we were too big for a kitchen or a garage but too small to take our production to China. That’s where most startups run into problems because at that point they need quality and control over their manufacturing process, however they also need flexibility. And that is very hard to find.

So we decided to do the whole assembly line ourselves for efficiency and economical reasons.
But we also decided, “hey, we got all this cool stuff already in a tax free zone and we’ve got all this experience with building and scaling our products. Why don’t we share all of this knowledge that we have with other companies and they don’t have to worry about this problem of needing both flexibility and control in manufacturing”.

The cool thing I think is that because we went through the startup and ramp-up processes ourselves. We really know what we’re talking about when it comes to helping startups ramp to their first several batches of production units. They require a lot of flexibility. We are already prepared with every new product that we are going to have like 30 changes. So we are used to working that way with our clients and I think it’s a big advantage.