Fictiv CEO Dishes on DfM, Agile Supply Chains

A Q&A with Fictiv CEO Dave Evans on how the importance of design for manufacturing principles

Dave Evans, CEO of digital manufacturing company Fictiv talks to about the innovative use of Design for Manufacturing (DFM) methodology to create complex components for various markets including medical, aerospace, and consumer sectors.

Evans addresses how Fictiv mitigates potential supply chain disruptions, emphasizing their agility and resilience. He also discusses their approach to service models, focusing on transparency and flexibility in pricing. Evans provided insight into the strategies that define Fictiv’s role in the digital manufacturing landscape.

The following has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity. Please tell me a bit about yourself and the work you do at Fictiv.

Dave Evans: I’m CEO of our company, which began nearly a decade ago. Our goal has always been to simplify sourcing for the high-tech products being manufactured today. With a background in mechanical engineering from Stanford and a start in the automotive industry at Ford, I experienced firsthand the challenges in building physical products. This led to the creation of our business, aiming to ease these difficulties and spur more innovation in the market.

Over the years, we’ve assisted in building a variety of products, from robots and rockets to surgical equipment and cars. To date, we’ve made over 20 million parts. Despite these achievements, it feels like we’re still at the beginning. There’s much work to be done to make manufacturing easier, and we’re committed to making progress every day.

Engcom: How does design for manufacturing (DfM) fit into your company’s workflow?

DE: DfM has three key facets at Fictiv. First, we offer educational resources with thousands of articles on manufacturability, from 3D printing to post-processing. This democratizes access to information and empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their designs.

Secondly, we’ve incorporated AI technology that analyzes your CAD files, providing design for manufacturing feedback based on geometry and material selection. It runs simulations and visualizes potential issues, like deep pockets or thin walls that could pose a problem during manufacturing.

Finally, while AI plays a crucial role, we recognize its limitations. So, we have a team of technical application engineers who work with you to discuss the AI’s findings and explore potential solutions.

At Fictiv, we excel at creating complex mechanical parts, both in plastics and metals, including machining, injection molding, and 3D printing. Quality starts at the design stage, and DfM is an essential ingredient to ensuring a quality product. It’s like the egg in your cake—you can’t make a good cake without it, and you can’t achieve a quality product without considering DfM.

Engcom: Can you provide an estimate of how many CAD files Fictiv successfully manufactures compared to how many CAD files are uploaded?

DE: On average, we see about four to five revisions per CAD file uploaded through our DFM process. Considering the 20 million parts we’ve manufactured over the past decade, the volume of files that our AI engine has processed is staggering. This extensive experience continually enhances our AI’s intelligence, increasing the robustness of our technology.

However, it’s important to note that we believe the best systems are a blend of human and machine. A solely human-run system can be inefficient and slow, while a completely machine-driven system can be overly constrained. That’s why our DFM engine is designed to optimize the interplay between human expertise and AI capabilities.

Engom: As a bigwig at Fictiv, do you personally handle a lot of CAD files?

DE: I’m a big nerd when it comes to DfM and so I do find myself reviewing many CAD files due to my fascination with our customers’ designs. As digital fabrication technology improves, the “art of the possible” expands, enabling the creation of parts with tighter tolerances, larger sizes, and more complex geometries than ever before.

For instance, the advancements in generative CAD technology have revolutionized how design engineer’s work. When coupled with developments in additive manufacturing, five-axis machining, and the combination of subtractive and additive methods, we’re witnessing the production of components that were unimaginable a decade ago.

Our work in aerospace and the precision we’re achieving in injection molding due to advanced tooling techniques are just a couple of examples of how our DfM engine, in combination with cutting-edge technology, is enabling us to produce truly remarkable components.

Engcom: What types of markets are these products destined for?

DE: Major markets we cater to include medical, aerospace, and consumer electronics. We also work extensively on manufacturing cell automation, contributing to machine builds like metal 3D printers and assembly line tech. These assembly lines are far more complex than people realize; they’re filled with intricate components designed to manufacture other products.

One case study that comes to mind involves Honeywell’s auxiliary power unit (APU), the RE100. This APU cycles a plane on and off and requires high precision components. We worked on a large cylindrical machine housing for this unit, which initially took seven months to produce. With our DfM approach and digital tools, we reduced this timeline to just six weeks.

We handled the DfM, sourcing, quoting, and manufacturing within a week using our tooling. We then replaced the traditional casting process, which is time-consuming, with five-axis machining, reducing production time to three weeks. After inspections and shipping, the part was on their test bench running at 70,000 RPM in record time.

This highlights the power of DfM in the context of new product development. It compresses cycles and accelerates market entry. So, while DfM in isolation might not seem impactful, when integrated into the entire development process, it’s a game-changer.

Engcom: A big part of your supply chain runs through Asia, how have you mitigated disruption?

DE: The key to navigating a supply chain that relies heavily on Asia-based manufacturers is agility and resilience. Rather than being tied to one location, we can seamlessly shift manufacturing from China to India, or the U.S., or elsewhere, as needed.

For instance, in 2022, when Shenzhen in China was suddenly locked down, we had 243 orders in transit within that region. We quickly executed our disaster recovery plan and relocated all work orders to other factories within 24 hours, with almost no impact on delivery times or costs. Most customers weren’t even aware of this behind-the-scenes switch.

While such agility may incur some losses, they’re significantly less than the potential revenue loss from halted shipments. Hence, the value of a resilient, adaptable supply chain cannot be overstated.

Engcom: With the rise of everything as a service, including leasing cobots and software, would you describe your operation as a machine shop as a service?

DE: While some might refer to our model as manufacturing as a service, we simply charge for the cost of the part, including our margin for software development and other operations. Last year, we introduced Fictiv Premium, a membership service offering additional software features for team collaboration. However, our basic service, Fictiv Essentials, is free to use. You only pay for the parts you order. While our larger customers benefit from our Premium offering, many continue to use Essentials. So, while there are some “as a service” elements, we’re not strictly a machine shop as a service company.