AI-NC’s technology is revolutionising the software infrastructure of automated manufacturing – and if that doesn’t mean much to you, you’re not alone.
But a big shake-up in this niche industry could have far-reaching effects in all manner of other sectors, all over the world.
Ultimately, it could make bespoke goods – from lamps to engine parts – much cheaper and more accessible.
Co-founder Max Myer describes AI-NC as “spellcheck for engineering designs”.
Engineers upload their designs, and the software detects any flaws that will affect how well the end product works. It means fundamental issues will be picked up before anything is manufactured and already failing.
Max, who heads up the business alongside co-founders George Juliff and Tom Miles, uses the analogy of an architect and a builder.
Architects design by principle, and when they create something that can’t be built in practice, lead times and budgets can be blown out significantly.
That’s also true in the design and manufacturing process for anything from plastic cups to mobile phone casings to the turbines in a jet engine.
“We’re creating the mid-layer of expertise for the architect,” Max explains.
Currently, the team is targeting large engineering consultancies – businesses with teams of designers taking products from an idea on a piece of paper to something physical.
Being able to tweak their designs earlier allows them to iterate more quickly, reducing lead times and cutting the cost of bringing the final product to market.
The seed of the idea for AI-NC came when Tom was working for another startup in the industrial design space, manufacturing prototype parts at low volumes.
This exposed a pain point, Max explains.
“Manufactured goods are really expensive at low volume.”
Tom and George are both engineers, while Max’s background is in business, supply chains and finance. They all shared the conviction that high-quality, machine-manufactured parts should be more accessible.
So the trio put their heads together to try to solve the problem.
Max, George and Tom have been friends since high school, and they’ve lived together on-and-off for the past eight years. They know each other incredibly well, they share their niche passion, and boast complementary skill sets.
But there was no lightbulb moment; no night in the pub where the vision became clear.
Rather, having worked in this space, they simply identified the pain point and set about trying to solve it.
“One thing led to another and we ended up having this company,” George says.
The three founders also have great respect for each others’ domain expertise, and a way of communicating that means any disputes are generally resolved before they get serious.
Living together breaks down the barriers between the founders’ personal and professional lives, and Max believes that has ultimately been good for the business.
“There was a continuous flow of communication, and we were always brainstorming,” he says.
“How quickly you can iterate when everyone’s in the same place is leaps and bounds ahead.”
That’s not to say there were no boundaries. One founder in particular drew the line in the sand.
“I wasn’t allowed to talk about work after dinner,” Max laughs.
“Otherwise George would crack it.”
Ultimately, the founders want AI-NC to provide a whole new layer of infrastructure for computer-aided design, creating a new global standard for the middle layer between design and manufacture.
Currently, that mid-layer exists as what George describes as “pdf, but for 3D models”. According to him, it’s out-dated and difficult to use collaboratively.
“Our goal is to become a new standard for that middle layer, where if you want to send something to get made you use our file formats and our platform.
“We can bring it into the 21st century, as opposed to from the 70s.”
To those outside of the manufacturing trade, this is all a little obscure. But according to Max, it would “fundamentally change the way parts get made”.
It opens up possibilities for custom and personalised parts to be made in low volumes, at costs comparable to mass-manufactured goods.
“The amount of customisation you can do on individual products goes up massively, which is really unique and special.”
AI-NC presents a new way of working for engineering consultancies, and the team has found it can be hard to get them over the line to invest in new tech.
Winning them over has meant customised case studies and very personalised sales pitches, in order to demonstrate the value of the software.
It’s been important to build rapport with early customers, allowing them to influence the solution and tailor it to their own needs. Ultimately, that should put them on the road to being long-term clients, Max says.
“You want to grow alongside them, at the end of the day.”
In the broader community, the founders also face a barrier of understanding.
They admit theirs is a passion not widely shared. In fact, they say there’s not much local knowledge in this industry at all.
“In Australia, we lost so much manufacturing, and there’s been quite a large hesitancy to lean back into it,” Max explains.
“At the end of the day, no one’s really that excited or interested in this field.”
This has been a hurdle to overcome, but it’s also perhaps been a blessing in disguise. When so few people understand the scope of a problem, those who do are all the more willing to listen to a scrappy startup trying to solve it.
“It’s never too soon to do customer discovery,” Max says.
“If it’s a really valuable problem, they will spend the time talking to you and sharing their pain points.
“You really just have to throw yourself into that process. Once you get to the people who are willing to talk to you, you will learn an unbelievable amount.”
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