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Interview with Todd Rountree, President & COO, Austin American Technology

Based in Burnet, TX, Austin American Technology (AAT) is an innovative, market-leading company, engineering and manufacturing production and assembly systems for the electronics manufacturing industry. From general-purpose to high-reliability requirements, AAT systems are design-driven by the science of cleaning. Providing more than 30 years of experience, the company offers excellent product quality, dedicated customer service, and efficient cleaning system designs. We recently met with President & COO Todd Rountree to discuss his fifth anniversary at the company as well as AAT’s newest machine, Aqua ROSE 4.0, and the technology behind it.

Todd, we hear that congratulations are in order! Not onlycompany? does 2021 mark Austin American Technology’s 35th anniversary, but it also marks your fifth year at the helm of the company. How did you become a stock holder inthe 

After only a very short time working at AAT, I realized the potential for growth and industry strength that the AAT brand possessed. I knew I wanted to be a part of the company’s future and decided to invest financially to show my commitment to grow AAT to the potential I knew it could reach.

What is your history with AAT?

I started with AAT a little over five years ago as the National Sales Manager working closely with Steve Stach, founder and majority owner. Steve has had a wonderful career as a process engineer, chemist and founder of AAT, but was looking to put a plan in place to move closer to retirement. Steve and I clicked immediately, and he decided to promote me to President & COO to lead the company long into the future and grow AAT through reliable, innovative products and superior customer service. Steve is now our CTO and Chairman of the Board, but he does enjoy some reduced hours and a little more time on the golf course.

How has AAT changed since you became the President & COO?

When I first came to AAT, I faced some difficult challenges. Unfortunately, the AAT name was a little tarnished due to lackluster customer service. My first mission was to turn our service department around and regain the confidence of our customers. Our service department is now the best in the industry, and our customers will attest to that. We are responsive, skilled, efficient and fair. AAT also was known as a custom manufacturer. We built anything a customer needed,and this contributed to our service woes. It is difficult to service a one-off machine. I implemented our new model of standard machines with standard options. It allows us to control costs, keep inventory, and always provide THE BEST customer service. Our standard line is now built to accommodate most customer needs; however, the custom projects are always welcomed. Fortunately, we have been successful at addressing custom jobs with thorough science and technology.

What are your plans for the future of the company?

AAT has always been a technology leader, and that will not change. It’s what sets us apart from our competitors. We do things differently because the science tells us to. We do not add features unless they have real benefits. We focus on environmentally safe “green” technology because it is important to all of us here to do what we can to help preserve our great planet. All of these things that have propelled AAT to its current place in the market will continue, and we do have some amazing plans for the future. We are now focusing on Industry 4.0 and the new CFX protocol. We have a new cleaner coming out that is Industry 4.0 compliant, and we will continue this path on all of our equipment. Additionally, we arefocused on growth. AAT is in a unique position right now and is ready to explore new opportunities and growth strategies.

We also understand that the Aqua ROSE system for batch cleaning and ionic contamination testing has recently received its fourth update, making it the Aqua ROSE 4.0. Can you briefly explain to our readers the benefits of the Aqua ROSE system?

The Aqua ROSE is the only batch cleaner on the market to incorporate a ROSE test on every cycle. It uses the exact same formulas and methodology as a traditional ionograph, but uses 100% DI water as the solvent. It provides the best process control method available on the market today. The Aqua ROSE also is the smallest footprint batch cleaner available today without limiting capacity. In fact, we have two racks in the Aqua ROSE, doubling the capacity of other manufacturers.

How did you know it was time for a system refresh?

We have noticed customers trying to get the absolute most out of their batch cleaners in respect to throughput. They also want to retain as much floorspace as possible and benefit from superior cleaning. This drove us to focus on makingsome changes to the Aqua ROSE to make it faster to address these throughput issues. So, we figured while making some new process improvements, why not give it a facelift, too?

What new features and advantages does the 4.0 address?

The new design was all about speed first, and we also made some slight tweaks to improve cleaning. We noticed the longest part of the process was drying. We wanted to improve this portion to shorten cycle times. We tripled the size of our heater to address this issue. It now heats up three times as fast to shorten that portion of the cycle. It also benefits the other stages by heating the process fluid much quicker. Overall, this upgrade reduces cycle time by 30%. The Aqua ROSE also received some upgrades to the spray wands to increase coverage and eliminate shadowing.

How will this version best help customers’ cleaning and testing needs?

AAT’s cleaning technology has always been second to none. This continues in the Aqua ROSE with the new advancements and now provides super-fast cycle times. And since we are the only manufacturer to include a ROSE test on every cycle, cleanliness verification has never been easier. Data logging is standard on all models, so having that process documentation ensures compliance for both OEMs and CMs.

AAT has a reputation for valuing its people, performance and technology. How does this focus help the company be successful?

Steve Stach instilled in me that our employees always come first. We are truly a family here at AAT. It was one of the things that most attracted me to this company. I have built on that foundation since joining and continue to add members to the AAT family. Performance and technology are always at the front of every product discussion. I encourage all of my employees to participate in machine design, function and testing. I look for diverse employees that may not be “from the industry” because they bring a fresh perspective to our equipment that otherwise may have been overlooked. Each employee brings an outside view of how our equipment works and how the user interacts with the cleaner. These inputs are invaluable as we constantly look to improve our entire line.

In your opinion, what are the most significant ways that the pandemic changed the way we do business today?

The traditional traveling to businesses and facetoface meetings all stopped immediately with COVID-19. The way we normally did business was changing so rapidly as companies changed their policies to protect their employees. I remember I was on a flight to meet with a customer at the beginning of the pandemic. By the time I deplaned at my destination, the customer implemented a novisitor policy, and I had to conduct my visit via online presentation. After this experience, it was tough to imagine how my representatives were going to cope with this change. I wanted to help them be successful and ensure AAT remained a valuable partner. This is when I decided to go completely virtual at AAT. I realized our sales presentations, service, installs and rep meetings needed to take place online. I was searching for a new business development manager at the time and decided to include some marketing and virtual experience in my job description. I was very fortunate to find Justin Worden, who possessed the skills necessary to lead AAT to the next level. Once I brought Justin onboard, he quickly assisted in setting up a virtual demo room. We invested in several high-definition cameras, microphones, and lighting to provide our customers the absolute best experience in this new virtual age. With Justin’s expertise, we actually were able to grow sales in an economic downturn.

So the virtual demo room came about because of the COVID pandemic?

The virtual demo room absolutely came about due to COVID-19. When I first started at AAT, I noticed that we were disadvantaged because we did not have a demo room for customers to visit. I quickly convinced the board of directors that we needed to invest in a room to showcase our products. It worked brilliantly. Until the pandemic. Then it was just sitting with hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment and no one to interact with them. Thus, the virtual demo room. We invested in a new digital microscope with the capability to broadcast images during a Zoom meeting to show customers actual test results as their part comes out of our cleaners. Our customers are treated to a live oneonone demonstration of our equipment running the parts they shipped in. They can ask questions, point out areas of interest, and give us feedback just like they were standing in the room. It is much more personal and informative than the PowerPoint presentations of the past.

What other benefits does the virtual demo room provide?

Besides hosting live, oneonone, interactive demos of our equipment and testing customer boards in real time, it has improved service and installations. Now my service techs get in front of the cameras with a machine similar to our customers’ and actually show them what to test and how to troubleshoot issues. We also can perform machine installations this way. Our service techs could do their normal full onsite installation using a demo machine to show how the customers’ equipment operated. From a sales and service standpoint, the virtual demo room has completely changed the way we do business and support our customers.

Is the actual demo room still available?

The actual demo room is still here and available for visitors. We always enjoy hosting customers at our facility to show off our equipment and prove our technology. And it allows us to introduce our customers to Central Texas BBQ, which we all know is the best!

What would you most like the industry to know about AAT?

AAT is changing. We are customer service focused now. Our cleaning technology is superior with a strong focus on energy efficiency and costsaving features. If you haven’t looked into Austin American Technology equipment lately, invite us into your office (virtually) for a fresh look at some of the most impressive cleaning solutions on the market.