I had a chat with the friendly folks at MakerOS to learn about their new “V2” software.
MakerOS produces a cloud-based system designed to assist companies “making” things for others. While that sounds straightforward, it’s actually quite a complex set of tasks: product designs must be iterated, discussed with clients, invoices sent, files shared and more. All of this must be tracked as well, and done at scale. MakerOS provides a platform where all of this can happen.
In a typical small manufacturing operation, the process of managing an order through its entire lifecycle at the company tends to be done in multiple tools, some of which can be rather manual. I’m told MakerOS often encounters clients that still, to this day, record orders by hand with a pen and a binder.
With that level of process, it’s hard to see how a small manufacturing business might be able to scale to a larger size. As the number of transactions grows, so too does the amount of administrative work involved.
That’s the problem that MakerOS is addressing, and it’s definitely present in many small 3D print services, or even larger ones that involve manufacturing processes beyond 3D printing.
The company began by addressing small 3D print shop market, but over time gathered additional clients from the professional service bureau space. It’s not only the small operations that have administrative challenges, the larger ones do too.
But now with V2 released, they have a significantly broader function set, and this capability positions them to address and even larger market.
One of the main features present in V2 is the ability to handle more than just 3D printing processes. MakerOS is now able to handle transactions around CNC machining, injection molding, laser cutting, and much more. This, I feel, is a very strategic move because a number of 3D print bureaus have added more making services to their portfolios. MakerOS is essentially doing the same thing.
MakerOS seems to look at the administrative tasks as a whole within an operation, and that’s quite different from the typical tools used. A company might use a CRM tool to collect orders from clients, but then use another tool to work with the client, and yet another tool to schedule production. When an order traverses between these environments, that not only creates inefficient workflows, it can also introduce opportunities for errors.
Those mistakes could be quite costly.
MakerOS’ approach is to unify all this administrative activity into a single environment. This dramatically simplifies workflows for literally everyone in the company, and also significantly reduces the probability of transaction errors. MakerOS says this “synchronizes sales, engineering and clients”.
The dashboard of MakerOS V2 (which now includes a dark mode, like many new applications these days), shows a visual representation of the workflow.
What’s important to know is that this workflow is not fixed; MakerOS users can design their own workflows easily. While it may visually appear like a Kanban style process, like you’d see in Asana or Trello, it can be adapted to almost any conceivable workflow a company might be using.
This is significant, as every company has somewhat different workflows, due to client types, project structure, or internal organization. MakerOS V2 allows a company to set up the workflow in exactly the required configuration.
MakerOS V2 Features
I’m told the most popular feature of V2 was also present in V1: the ability to integrate and track conversations with clients. While internal staff clearly have access to a project, in MakerOS it is also possible to have the client directly connect to MakerOS and see portions of the project. This allows for direct conversations between parties to convey comments or design adjustments.
For example, a client can annotate a view of a design and suggest a change. This is a feature directly built into MakerOS and can be used from within the conversational system. It’s much like having a dedicated Slack system just for an individual project.
There are tons of new features in MakerOS V2, but there are a couple I’d like to mention here.
First, the system now has the ability to handle virtually any typical engineering file format. While V1 could handle only STL and OBJ files, V2 can handle STEP, IGES, SOLIDWORKS, and many more.
This means users of MakerOS can cut out a workflow step that would have had them convert a design into .STL or .OBJ formats to fully use MakerOS.
A second really interesting feature of V2 is an embedded 3D file viewer. Such things are common on websites, but not so common in workflow systems. The idea is that when participants encounter a 3D file, it can be immediately inspected with the viewer.
The viewer is not simply showing the surface; there are several modes, such as “x-ray”, where interior details of a 3D model can be observed.
Why is this important? It’s because of the file formats involved. Consider the case where a project is using SOLIDWORKS files. If a new version is submitted, normally one would have to use a PC with a licensed SOLIDWORKS installation to view the file. That’s not very useful if the PC with the license is far away at the office. However, with MakerOS V2 you can simply crank up the viewer and overcome the problem.
This feature alone could save some clients considerable cash, as some companies buy extra licenses of their CAD systems just for this reason.
The auto-quoting system on MakerOS V2 has been significantly improved. Quoting is one of the biggest issues with 3D print services, as the methods of calculating the cost of a job can be exceedingly complex.
While most quoting systems simply provide a series of choices for technology-based options, MakerOS V2 goes a bit further and instead asks the user for specific functional requirements. This allows the system to automatically guide users towards a sensible request that is more likely to be accepted.
I’m quite impressed with what MakerOS has done in V2, and if you are running any kind of workshop that accepts jobs to make things, MakerOS is definitely something that should be considered.