For many engineers and developers working in a hardware startup, getting ideas from paper to prototype can be the rockiest part of the manufacturing process. MacroFab is working to make small-batch manufacturing of printed circuit boards easier and more affordable through the use of what it calls "cloud manufacturing."
"We are eliminating humans as much as possible," Chris Church, founder of MacroFab told EBN. " We see ourselves as a manufacturing platform that allow customers to back end systems automatically. It takes out sales field application engineers and sales reps out of the process as the customer sees fit and lets them get real time pricing and adjust designs."
Startups trying to bring their products to the next level are faced with a variety of challenges: dealing with operations, working with manufacturers, trying to figure out pricing, trying to figure out lead times, and more. "I looked at my background in cloud software and thought we could make it easier on startups," he said.
The contract manufacturer's technology uses a Web interface or API to take information directly from the designer and sends it to the manufacturing floor to reduce cost and complexity. The company performs all assembly in its 5,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Houston, TX. Currently, the plant has the capacity to make several hundred boards a day but plans to reach a capacity of 800 boards per day this month.
His goal was to let customers control the manufacturing process in an up-front and visible way, without demanding a lot of interaction over the phone or using email. "Our systems automatically process the design files and pulls out a bill of materials, allows the user to interactively search for parts, and then provides pricing and labor cost to allow the user to make decisions about whether to use the part," Church said.
In addition, the designer can make minor adjustment to the board for manufacturability. Orders are fulfilled three weeks after being placed. For those willing to pay to get products quickly, MacroFab offers a five day turnaround option.
The company helps product designers control costs by combining manufacturing orders of multiple customers and split the non-reoccurring engineering costs among them, Church explained. It also encourages them to plan the manufacturing process earlier in the process. Church said:
It's not unusual that designers and makers worry first about getting to market then figure out how to make it happen. Often, that's the worst decision to make. We want to tackle that problem head one. We want to make process easier to go through and far more transparent so innovators will have tools and be encouraged to use them before thy go to market with their products.
Last month, MacroFab received its second round of funding since it's founding in 2013. Techstars led the $2 million seed-funding round, which the company intends to use to improve service and expand capabilities for makers and hardware startups, Church said.
— Hailey Lynne McKeefry, Editor in Chief, EBN