How is cloud manufacturing being disrupted and how are the companies currently viewed as ‘disrupters’ likely to establish themselves as leaders in the sector?
Robert Henzel Msc is a University of Stuttgart PHD student. He is writing a dissertation about cloud manufacturing.
Robert has compared and analyzed three companies in the sector; Techpilot, 24/7 Tailor Steel and Fractory, to assess the emerging opportunities in more detail.
“It’s an interesting comparison, as the companies currently setting the pace have some varied characteristics despite competing in the same space.”
The analysis Robert conducted was designed to identify a set of industry standards. He’s based his analysis around three key themes, business model, order process flow and in some cases, the standardisation needs of the respective platforms.
Techpilot was founded way back in 1999, before cloud manufacturing was in any way an established concept. The firm provides a B2B marketplace for procuring mechanical parts. They have approximately 15,000 customers and 23,000 suppliers in Europe, despite not owning any machines.
The platform is relatively simple. It supports the interaction and transaction between suppliers and buyers of mechanical parts. They act as matchmaker between provider and supplier, delivering a shortlist to the customer based on their technical requirements. It’s a simple business model but it’s popular.
This simplicity means it’s a scalable model, they can simply bring in more vendors and more customers.
The ordering process and customer journey is relatively simple too, but not without limitations. Techpilot either introduces a buyer to matched suppliers on a shortlist generated from the buyer’s requirements, or it conducts a custom product search based on a request for quotation derived from a technical drawing.
Because they have no machines, the need for standardisation isn’t as urgent, as Techpilot can simply facilitate a link between buyer and seller.
The second firm Robert analysed was 24/7 Tailor Steel.
“Founded in 2015 in the Netherlands and operating there and in Germany, this is a virtual marketplace with 24/7 availability every day of the year.
“One distinction here is that 24/7 Tailor Steel does own a number of machines.”
24/7 Tailor Steel’s business model relies on them achieving a high rate of automation for bending, laser and tube cutting. The platform automatically captures orders which which it then matches and schedules.
“Scalability suffers because of the capacity of resourcing” explains Robert.
“The order process and customer journey requires the following. For 2D metal sheets users upload a DXF 2D file, including any necessary information. They will then receive their quotation in a matter of minutes.
“For customized tube fabrications, users must upload them via a proprietary tridimensional CAD / CAM application.”
The third company Robert analysed was Fractory, based in Manchester and founded in 2017 in Tartu Estonia. Fractory is already an award-winning tech company, having scooped “Best Use of Tech’ at the 2019 British Chamber of Commerce awards. Their CEO was listed in Forbes Magazine’s 30 under 30 for manufacturing and industry.
Like Techpilot, Fractory has no machines. But unlike Techpilot, they don’t merely ‘matchmake’, they manage the relationship from a technical standpoint to ensure quality of outcome.
“Fractory is based jointly in Estonia and one the UK, with their headquarters now in Manchester, UK. Their operate mainly in the Baltic and Scandinavian states, the UK and America, regularly shipping to 15 other countries too,” explains Robert.
Fractory provides an integrated service, from quotation to production fulfillment, including delivery.
Fractory assumes the role of custodian of the manufacturing process, taking responsibility for processing, quality and delivery. There is huge potential for scale, because the firm can easily bring more vendors and buyers on board.
In terms of standardisation, Fractory can only automate orders as STEP and .DXF files. They accept other file types but someone has to manually evaluate them, which takes around a day.
In terms of order processing and customer journey flow, if the user uploads a .DXF or .STEP file, they receive a quotation for manufacturing instantly., With other types file, it is evaluated manually before the users receives a quote, normally inside 24 hours.