Altwork plans dozens of hires in shift to Rohnert Park plant
Being laid back while highly efficient is what has made Altwork’s space-age robotic workstation a sensation since it debuted last year. But the bucolic environs of an artist barn in the hills of northern Sonoma County won’t do for the flood of incoming orders.
So the startup is planning to shift to a 35,000-square-foot plant at 1500 Valley House Dr. in the SOMO Village development of east Rohnert Park in coming weeks so preorders can ship to U.S. customers by the end of this year and to international locations next year, according to Che Voigt, CEO, a serial local high-technology entrepreneur and chairman of funding group North Bay Angels. To start out, Altwork (altwork.com) will be employing dozens in Rohnert Park. If market acceptance is as deep as early inquiries and orders suggest, the venture could require hundreds of workers.
“We need the Rohnert Park plant for scale,” Voigt said.
For the past five years, the automated stand-sit-recline workstation has been in conceptualizing, development and testing. So far, three prototypes have rolled out of the steel and glass workshop where Voigt’s late father and local high-tech icon, Al Voigt, created large metal sculptures, some of which are on display at Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa. But Altwork will need much more room than the art barn to stage the nearly fully assembled workstations for shipment to customers, and the winding one-lane road to the property near Geyserville doesn’t help with getting suppliers in and product out, Che Voigt said.
The integrated monitor, desk and chair moves with the user’s body, allowing work in a variety of positions: sitting, focused reclining and standing. Each workstation takes up about 24 square feet. It measures 36 inches wide by 55 inches long when the seat is upright and leg rest is curled out - 72 inches when fully reclined - and it’s designed to easily fit through a 36-inch-wide door. The custom-crafted monitor, keyboard and mouse arm is engineered to hold up to 250 pounds. The workstation is designed for 5-foot-1-inch to 6-foot-4-inch users.
While Codding Construction prepares the Rohnert Park space for Altwork, the startup has been busy at the barn, dialing in lean-manufacturing processes that will be used to make the first production stations. Prototype production cells are be configured and tested to allow assemblers to have arm’s-length access to all the parts needed for a given stage. The current plan is to have four such cells, or modules, in Rohnert Park, but the prototype modules will be ready for meeting ship dates if the plant buildout schedule differs, Voigt said.
“From our experience, you can never start early enough,” Voigt said of implementing lean manufacturing systems for production. “It’s critical to standardize as early as possible.”
The starting retail price for the Altwork Station is $5,900. The standard series comes in basic light and dark grey colors, and the signature series offers more colors and all options.
“If the employee is comfortable, productive and creative, it pays for itself,” Voigt said.
The target employee for these workstations are high-intensity computer users, such as computer-aided design technicians, software programmers, writers, financial analysts and researchers, according to Voigt.
“We’re trying to make the most effective tool for these professions,” Voigt said.
Creating local jobs has been a priority for Altwork co-founder John Speicher. Al Voigt and Speicher started Versatron and moved it to Healdsburg in the early 1980s. Their legacy remains as local operations now owned by General Dynamics and L-3 Communications.
“Things may seem expensive in Sonoma County, but on a relative basis, they are cheaper,” Voigt said. “The cost of doing business in Sonoma County is dramatically lower than in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.”