We had the rare opportunity to sit down with Mcor Technologies' CEO, Conor MacCormack at CES and find out what’s been happening with the company in recent months. This is part 1, part 2 is coming up tomorrow.
Fabbaloo: We have been attending a number of shows lately and we haven’t seen you. What’s going on?
Conor MacCormack: We’re allergic. (Laughs) It’s a bit strange being here and not exhibiting, but last year we launched the ARKe here at CES we had a big booth and such, and we won the Best of Innovation, it was fantastic!
But now the good news is the machine is shipping! We have partnered with Flex, formerly known as “Flextronics”. But in that period of time we’ve built up a big backlog, so we have a lot of printers to deliver; a lot of customers, a lot of dealers that are waiting for their printers! Literally we’ve just been focused on getting the printer out as fast as we can.
CES is a brilliant show to launch a new product and shows have always been a very important part of our marketing activity and we have strategically selected shows over the years to obtain the best exposure possible. Focus has temporarily shifted to production and shipping. We are also working closely with our dealers who will be active at tradeshows and other marketing activities this year. But you will certainly see us on the circuit again soon!
Fabbaloo: What does that mean, “Getting the machine out”? What sorts of things must you deal with to accomplish that?
Conor MacCormack: Yeah it’s a very generic term, but working with a company like Flex, it’s a big step up.
We have always outsourced the manufacturing; we’ve always known that what gets us excited is inventing the next thing. You build the first run of the printer in-house; it could be ten, twenty or fifty. That’s a combination of CNC vendors or local buyers of cable, local suppliers of printed board. Then you hand it over to a manufacturing partner who opens the tap so to speak. For the Mcor IRIS we had a company in the UK that built all the printers for us but for the ARKe we are moving to higher volumes so we knew that we would have to partner with a company with expertise in this.
But to do this right takes time as it requires another level of documentation and process. All their engineers and their diagnosticians needed training and procedures needed to be written to do the diagnostics. So it’s not just a case of writing the software for diagnostics, it’s a whole new level of complexity. It’s more horsepower; you need more people to get the job done. If you don’t have those people it slows down the process. It’s a case of getting those people on board and doing all the preparation and development.
Going from just an idea to making it an actual product is an amazing journey. But going to high volume manufacturing is a discipline – from a design point of view you need something that snaps together. Once the design is frozen, there is no changing or tweaking it when it’s in full production. And you can take a lot for granted in the knowledge and expertise we have built up in Mcor over the last 11 years – we have a resource of very good people: engineers, technicians, people on our own staff, who, over the years have great, “know how”. But when you hand that over to a big company like Flex, you realize that you really have to break it down into very simple steps.
Fabbaloo: I’m glad you did that because we’ve seen several companies get to the stage where they need to “Go Big” and they must integrate with a proper manufacturer, and that’s a really hard thing to do. Some companies can’t get there, but it sounds like you’ve taken sufficient time to work that out.
Conor MacCormack: Sometimes I think there is a lack of understanding and appreciation for the work involved in taking an idea from an idea to a true product with a manufacturer like Flex. We spent a lot of time, even in the development of our beta machines, rather than making them just work, we actually thought about how this could be made at high volume. We could have gotten things to work at low volumes, but we said “That’s not going to work at high volumes”.
When moving to high volume manufacturing having a very good idea is not enough, you must have that engineering knowledge and expertise with which to bring it to the next level and into full production with a company like Flex. We did all the prototyping and testing but we integrated with them for their high volume die casting, injection molding and manufacturing expertise.
And as you say it has paid to do all this work now so we are ready to roll out – its full speed ahead!
Fabbaloo: You actually increased the quality of the machine by using this manufacturer (Flex)?
Conor MacCormack: Yes, with their expertise, for example, they’d know what the correct “draft angle” is in a situation or the “right alloy” to do die casting, etc. Rather than us trying to re-invent the wheel, we used Flex. This makes a lot of sense when our focus as a company is innovation, R&D and filing patents not manufacturing.
Flex offered us access to engineering teams with expertise in die casting, injection molding and certain areas of high volume manufacturing design. For example, we designed our own voice coil instead of using solenoids on the machine for accuracy. The voice coil means we can activate in 2ms instead of 150ms and also know where it is in its travel. Whereas with the solenoid you fire it and hope after 150ms it’s come back. So you wait 150ms and just assume it’s home. Whereas in the voice coil you know that the actuator is there and back. This bespoke design was implemented in connection with Flex.
Fabbaloo: This is kind of like having the tech team you always wanted?
Conor MacCormack: Yeah, it’s nice to have that in our operation. The teams that we worked with learned a lot from us too. It was a cost effective and efficient way for us to proceed. And there is no doubt that these teams were made up of the ‘Best’ engineers you could get and this should speak volumes to the type of product the ARKe is – the Best!
Fabbaloo: After going through all this, at some future date when your team is designing the successor to the Arke, you’re going to be a lot better off, having gone through this experience?
Conor MacCormack: Yes, indeed! We have learned a lot of best practices in terms of high volume manufacturing and adding this to our already strong engineer knowledge here gives us a head start for the next products we roll out from the Mcor stable.
We are glad we took the time to do this properly – next time it will be second nature!
That’s the end of part 1. Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow.