The RFQ process for prototyping or production orders is a drawn-out experience; one that often starts with an email.
Next thing you know, you’re caught in a loop of sending drawings and files, asking for quantities and waiting for feedback over the course of days to weeks -- just to get one quote. Now imagine this process multiplied half a dozen times as you compare prices between shops.
On the flip side, job shops are spending just as much time and energy to churn out these quotes, many of which never turn into orders.
This complicated and time-wasting experience is one that two men set out to correct with the 2013 founding of Xometry, a manufacturing-on-demand platform and industrial engineering firm.
Answering the Lead Time Question: How Fast?
“Our CEO, Randy Altschuler, was a successful entrepreneur in business services before looking at the manufacturing world and realizing that there was not yet a platform that could unlock the industry for customers,” said Bill Cronin, SVP of Marketing at Xometry.
Altschuler and Laurence Zuriff, the company CFO, set about rounding up the smartest minds they could find in machining, 3D printing and computational geometry. The goal was to discover how to give people feedback quickly so that parts can be made when they wanted.
The duo quickly accumulated a pool of experts and began making their first parts for customers in early 2014. Their quoting platform has enabled rapid company growth ever since.
“The quicker someone can get a quote, the less likely they are to shop around, because there is a value in convenience,” said Greg Paulsen, director of the project engineering group at Xometry. “When you’re on our site, the minimum requirement we need is a 3D CAD file and login information.”
Xometry’s quoting platform accepts CAD files up to 300MB in size, in formats including, but not limited to:
When a 3D CAD file is uploaded to the platform, users can select materials and features such as tolerances, threading and tapped holes, finishes and quantity. As the platform updates according to user inputs, the price of the job is listed within the platform.
“As you quote, you have instant visibility on what you’re looking for and the ordering process can be done entirely online,” said Paulsen.
Paulsen leads a project engineering team, which also acts as live customer support that can be reached over phone, email or chat.
“With us, you can interact as much or as little as you want,” Paulsen added.
Prototyping and Part Production with Xometry
For Xometry, every customer is different, as the company serves manufacturers looking for everything from general mix, to low-volume, high-customization and high-volume, low-customization for applications including CNC machining, 3D printing, urethane casting, sheet metal fabrication and more.
“Our main demographic are engineers and CAD users, so we have a pretty savvy audience,” Paulsen said. “That being said, however, not every customer knows every process and we don’t expect them to.”
To assist their customers, Xometry provides material data sheets and design guides, as well as additional tools and content online, such as formal guides and features on their blog.
Xometry also offers feature feedback on their website to help refine the designs submitted.
“When you upload that CAD file, we actually look at that geometry,” Paulsen explained. “Say you select a CNC component and you have a right angle or acute angle or corner that’s inside a pocket – we’re not going to be able to take a round tool and get you a triangular edge, so we highlight those features and we call them inaccessible corners.”
In situations like the “inaccessible corner” scenario, Paulsen’s team at Xometry brings design issues to the attention of the customer, and works with them to achieve a more efficient and economical design.
“We very politely and candidly talk to our customers and give them design advice,” Paulsen said. “We will never deny an order, within reason, but we will offer an alternative instead.”
Xometry also provides guidance on issues pertaining to material types in design. If the material first suggested isn’t practical, a discussion to determine a more effective alternative can begin.
For manufacturers looking for quotes involving specific materials that are not listed in Xometry’s website, manual quotes over the phone, email or chat can be done to customize the order.
“Our goal is to try and earn the customer’s business and if we see demand grow for a particular material or feature, we will look to add to our capabilities,” Paulsen said.
In an instance where a part needs a serious redesign, Xometry offers a markup program to illustrate what’s going wrong with a design. Drawings and CAD files are sent back from Xometry’s team marked up, with an email describing in detail what could be done to improve the design. Customers can then send a revised CAD file back.
Xometry has also released a SOLIDWORKS add-in, to bring their instant pricing capabilities into this software platform.
Manufacturing Partner Network
To maintain their fast turn-around, low prices and fast delivery, Xometry operates a Manufacturing Partner Network.
This network allows job shops with excess capacity across the United States to work with Xometry, at no cost, in mutually beneficial relationships.
Potential partner companies are screened through a vetting process and upon approval, can begin taking jobs from Xometry’s job board and Android app. The first network partner to take the job carries it out and makes the delivery to the customer.
“As we’ve grown, we review the parts before they are sent out and after a period of time where partners have proven their quality, we allow them to be shipped directly,” Cronin explained. “We are building a nationwide presence, because what we heard from customers that one of their biggest frustrations with a lengthy quoting process was that by the time they had made a decision, the lead-times would change because the shop they had chosen often had capacity filled by another customer.”
Xometry’s Partner Network also offers a geographic advantage, to help ensure a customer gets their order delivered as quickly as possible.
In return, many job shops in the partner network turn to Xometry.
With a wide range of partners, a diverse pool of experts in-house and an even greater variety of customers, Xometry covers applications across the industry, including aerospace, medical and automotive.
Assembly, however, is a new application the Xometry team is working toward.
“Assembly jobs are starting to come in more often, and we’re starting to look at new ways for tackling that in automating our process,” Paulsen said. “Our most basic assembly that we do are Helicoils, inserts and things like that, but from a spec assembly. We’ve done a little bit of work in that field and its something we’re very interested in.”
Xometry also takes on jobs from product design shops and entrepreneurs.
For more information about Xometry, their instant pricing system and SOLIDWORKS Add-In, visit www.xometry.com.
Xometry has sponsored this post. All opinions are mine. --Kagan Pittman