Interview with Ansync Labs: A La Carte Engineering

by | Oct 13, 2020

Ioterra’s CRO, Danny deLaveaga, interviewed Ansync Lab’s business director, Tyler Clark, to learn more about Ansync and their unique services.

Danny DeLaveaga: Hey, Tyler, thanks for jumping on.

Tyler Clark: Yeah, no problem.

Danny DeLaveaga: I appreciate the time, early Monday morning, ready to rumble in the arena.

Tyler Clark: Oh, yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: Yeah, I’m really excited to talk to you today about Ansync. We’ve been crossing paths over and over again for the past three or so years, and Ansync is an amazing product development firm and a full contract manufacturing company in El Dorado Hills, and maybe I’d really love to start and just talk a little bit about you and your background and how you got involved in product development.

Tyler Clark: Yeah, I wish I could say I could take some credit for some of the stuff we do here, but I really have very little hand in it. My background is in accounting, I started out in public accounting and worked my way through various roles, most recently in the tech sector, and that kind of positioned me well to help out as Ansync, we’re starting to grow rapidly as a company. So my real objective here from a job standpoint is to facilitate growth for the company, and to accelerate the service that we’re providing to our clients, and then the process for which we do product development.

Danny DeLaveaga: Awesome. And so you came on a couple of years ago?

Tyler Clark: I started working in late 2019. The same, yeah, our CEO.

Danny DeLaveaga: Okay, cool, cool, cool. And then Ansync, just in general, I’ll give a general overview and then if you could fill in the details, but yeah, we evolved when you were supporting a couple of startups in our ecosystem. I think it was a startup called Wayzn with the electrical engineering, embedded firmware development, mechanical engineering. So you have a whole product development team there, but the cool thing that I recall from Ansync being different than a lot of other companies is that you have your full prototyping… A prototype job shop, CNC machining, printed circuit board assembly, full-on in the building, on top of all the NRE services that you offer.

Tyler Clark: Yeah, yeah. I think what… I don’t know if it separates us in the industry, but I think what makes this place really unique from anything I’ve ever seen is that we really are a product realization firm. So we can take something from concept to functional prototype, to manufacturing, and we can do it pretty quickly just because we have the ability to physically manufacture things in-house and iterate. And so because we are a multi-discipline firm, it allows those teams or engineers to work together under the same roof and actually work with the equipment that they’re making, so that it allows for problem-solving to a stream of things going back and forth between those different teams, so yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: And when I did get to visit your facility, I think it was over a year ago, I got to see in it… Since then, I understand that you’ve moved locations or the company has grown and…

Tyler Clark: Yeah, we’ve definitely expanded in the last, I think in late 2019, we expanded and just occupied more square footage within our existing building. And so, while we’re not the largest company, we’re able to leverage and increase the bandwidth on all of those different disciplines that we serve, electrical, mechanical, software engineering, cloud and app development. Our machining team is growing so our manufacturing capabilities are increasing, so yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: And so for companies that don’t need engineering support and they just need the electrical engineering, printed circuit board assembly, for instance, do you guys offer those services separate from machining?

Tyler Clark: Yeah. Pretty much everything we do is a la carte, it really just depends on what a company needs and how we can help, and we’re quick to say, “Ooh, this is something you probably should go see this firm.” So, referring partners as well for things like industrial design or projects that are outside of our area of expertise.

Danny DeLaveaga: Cool. And so, what’s the sweet spot? I see you got a number of… It’s like a showroom behind you here, like a number…

Tyler Clark: Number of goodies, yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: Number of goodies and an ecosystem. And yeah, could you tell me a little bit about where Ansync really provides the most value to companies?

Tyler Clark: Yeah. So we… I like to call it an end-to-end platform solution. I don’t know what the engineers would say, but it really is everything from a physical device with firmware, we do the cloud infrastructure in the app, we do all the PCB design, so the electrical design that goes in the device. So an example that would be our, this device behind me here over my right shoulder, it’s the Safe Entry System. So it is a cloud-connected, it is really a fancy hand sanitizing dispenser, but it also, it’s cloud-connected and it… This is our beta version, so our first rev, so this was the initial prototype. The production units have a Grid-EYE sensor up here, so they’re actually doing a thermal scan, we can record temperature data rolling three-day average on people as they pass by. Usage data, so whether people use it or not, regardless of walking by, so it automates a lot of the entry protocol for every facility now, at least in our area.

Tyler Clark: We like this device, number one, ’cause we came up with the idea, and then two, is it really leverages all of our disciplines in-house. So there’s obviously cloud secure platform, there’s a web app for it to control the device. I think it has five PCBs in it. So there’s a lot of electrical engineering. There’s obviously a lot of mechanical engineering. It’s sleek. And so that’s kind of our sweet spot, is end-to-end, “Hey, I have an idea. This is a whole lot of hardware. It looks like we can handle the mechanical engineering, the electrical engineering, the software, the firmware that goes on the device, and then the connectivity piece with that cloud app, whether it be via wireless or Bluetooth or cellular.” So, yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: And then you have the full capabilities to do these initial five, 10, 100 units in-house.

Tyler Clark: Yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: Where does that line stop? Where do you guys say, “Okay, now it’s time to find a contract manufacturer that can take this to production?” And do you help with that process?

Tyler Clark: Absolutely, yeah, yeah. It’s one of two things. One is, it’s time. And a time factor is our production speed is really just based on other projects we have going on. So if someone said, “Hey, I have a project, and I want 1,000 of these,” it might be something we can do it in-house. In most cases, it’s somewhere between… And it depends on the complexity of the device. Somewhere between that 100 and 1,000 is where we would… We call this segment of our business virtual manufacture, where we transition the manufacture of the device to a vetted partner, whether it be on-shore or off-shore. And enable that manufacturer basically to spool them up and best practices and functional testing to manufacture that in larger volumes. And reduce costs, really, to the client.

Danny DeLaveaga: Okay. And where does that… From your guys’s expertise, where does that line generally live?

Tyler Clark: Yeah, it’s probably often… And again, depends on the complexity of the device, but probably somewhere between 100 and 500 units.

Danny DeLaveaga: Okay. And so you actually get to spool up the initial production run, figure out some of the things that are important in terms of order of operations…

Tyler Clark: Yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: Assembly, different things like that in-house, before getting it out to the manufacturers.

Tyler Clark: Yeah, and it’s… The beauty of that, there’s pros and cons. We’re happy passing the torch after a single prototype. But the beauty of that is, our clients most often see a cost optimization in that infrastructure. And also, it really ensures quality of the device. In any product development, there’s, at the early phase of inception, you learn what you’re good at and you learn, “Oh, this might not have… ” We fully designed the devices we hope, but there’s maybe something unforeseen in that first batch of like, “Oh, we want to solve this before scaling production.” So, pushing your product or your idea to full scale production right out of the gate can create some friction once the product starts to get to market, ’cause solving a thousand problems is a lot harder than solving one or two.

Danny DeLaveaga: Yeah, exactly. [chuckle] Cool. So, okay, so in terms of clientele, I see that hand sanitizing product behind you, it seems like almost borderline medical product. Do you guys do medical products? Consumer electronics, B2C products? Where does your sweet spot lie and what is your target clientele?

Tyler Clark: Yeah, it’s kind of all over the board. The first criteria of a successful partnership for us is it’s not a boring project. We like interesting projects and we like interesting clients. We also find they tend to be more marketable, not for us specifically, but really for the client. It’s like, if they have, “Hey, I have this great idea,” and it’s kind of boring to us, it may not do well [chuckle] in the marketplace.

Danny DeLaveaga: On top of that, it’s like if the client doesn’t get to production then, you know… If the client wins, everybody wins. [chuckle]

Tyler Clark: Yeah, for sure. So I’d say for us, our sweet spot really lies with, regardless of complexity, a device that is a really integrated solution to a problem that the client is seeking. And we view that as integrated in that there’s hardware, there’s firmware, and there’s a software on that too. A good example, not to just fully take over the background, would be this device over my left shoulder here. So this spinner is actually a device that’s designed to display art pieces. So again, this has a cloud app that goes along with it. These art pieces are big glass and they’re awesome looking. And so, yeah, kinda just a simple tech/hardware solution to display nice pieces of art, so yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: Cool. And so you can check how long it’s being displayed and…

Tyler Clark: Yeah, it’s got some… You can adjust the lighting on it. It has, I think, different lighting, depending on the type of art, so you can change the lighting features, so yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: And that is definitely unique. [chuckle]

Tyler Clark: Yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: Yeah. Have you been in El Dorado Hills since the company was founded? Sam Miller is the founder of the company and he’s a hardcore engineer actually, from my last encounter with him. How does this dynamic work? You mentioned that you could work on interesting projects. Are you guys a time and materials type business, or are you flexible in the way that you work? I know that you have manufacturing and you can be that contract manufacturer of record. So, how flexible are you in terms of business models and doing non-recoverable engineering potentially at a discount for things baked in later on?

Tyler Clark: Yeah, it really depends on the project. I say, we find the more successful projects tend to be really based around a time and materials proposal that is very specific into what it’s gonna deliver. And that usually have a sense of like, “Hey, this is what… This is where these intervals and milestones are for this project.” So, there’s a clear line of sight through every step of the project that’s due. “Hey, we expect this to take four or five weeks. This is what we expect weekly that will incur.” And then, should we deviate from that, we let the client decide. As you may know, a lot of projects… There’s new problems that are found in the design process where the client said, “Oh, I never considered what type of LED I wanted,” or, “Oh, that was just something that… ” So we try to flush out most of those things early in the process before a single minute is billed so that the client is… They have a good idea of what they can expect throughout the course of that, and so, yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: Awesome. And so, where is your capacity right now in terms of the manufacturing portion of the business and the engineering and design portion of the business?

Tyler Clark: Yeah, well, we do have a lot of elasticity around our manufacturing, mainly just because of the way our resources work. We are fortunate to have a good production team and assembly team, so when they’re not focusing on manufacturing, we actually spool up or train a lot of our team internally, so we’re actually building the future engineering crew, development crew, from within our assembly groups. So it’s…

Danny DeLaveaga: Awesome.

Tyler Clark: It’s basically engineers in… Engineer bootcamp.

Danny DeLaveaga: Yeah. And they come from a manufacturing background at that point, and they have some realistic knowledge around what’s possible, what’s not possible, both with internally, your equipment and what needs to go external.

Tyler Clark: Absolutely, yeah, yeah. So the beauty of that is you get some great ideas and they’re not afraid to stumble in the design process. They understand what their capabilities are, as they start to work through that, “Hey, I am assembling, or manufacturing, or I’m designing.” And so we have this kind of talent pool of people somewhere in that cycle that I feel give us a competitive edge ’cause they [14:29] ____ that we’re able to put them on products that are not available, and they get to come up with interesting ideas, and then we use some of those or not, yeah.

Tyler Clark: And then, how big is your manufacturing capabilities now? You have an S&T line…

Danny DeLaveaga: Yep.

Tyler Clark: And then pick-and-place kinda hand soldering…

Danny DeLaveaga: Yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: Can you just break down on the electrical side, and then also on the mechanical side, you’re using new machine shop, where you guys live or…

Tyler Clark: Yeah, so our… I think what probably makes our business most unique is actually our PCB assembly line. A lot of… I would guess a lot of firms in our space, it’s kind of a weird thing to have on-site, but we see it as our in-house prototype where we can just run projects through anytime we want. And also for manufacturing, we can do larger manufacturing runs. So, what enables us to do that is we need jet-printing for solder stencil or solder screen-printing. We have a pick-and-place machine, and a re-flow system, selected solder machine, automated optical inspection machines, so we can really ensure that quality is high as some of these projects go from, “Hey, we have five to 10 board prototype runs,” to, “We’re running 100 boards so we can have a really consistent throughput on a PCB assembly.” So that’s kind of unique in the ability that we can turn projects really fast from a design and layout to a physical prototype board for electrical testing, multiple ports, so they can have different layouts, they can have different chips just because of where our team works.

Tyler Clark: Our machine shop is pretty common for a machine shop. We have a few three-way CNC mills, we have five-axis CNC mills, and then we have a Gantry style lathe, and then our Gantry style mill, and then I think there’s a lathe back there too, and a bunch of other crazy tools. [chuckle] They don’t let me play around with that stuff. [16:48] ____ to the accounting world. But the thing that probably makes our machine unique is that it probably, from a machine shop standpoint, most for-profit machine shops, the ones that are doing well run a lot of the time, so their goal is to not have equipment running idle. Whereas our machine shop is probably somewhere in that 25%-35% in use, which allows us manufacturing capacity and also allows us the iteration ability, so our engineers can actually go run prototypes on machines that aren’t in use almost at any point of the day. And I’ve heard as many as two to three iterations in a single day, which is, I think, unique to the solution space.

Danny DeLaveaga: Yeah, I think that definitely, there’s many full product development firms that don’t have production on prototyping capabilities in-house, at least at that level. There’s 3D printers and things like that, but having a whole job shop is really, really interesting, plus having the technical team to run the job shop.

Tyler Clark: Yeah. What surprised me when I got here was I thought there were just gonna be rooms of 3D printers, but just because of our capabilities and our machine shop and our fabrication shop is, in most cases, save small things, we’ll actually run it out on raw material just because it’s, from a time standpoint, and actually, from a cost standpoint, it is actually more efficient and cost-effective. So instead of having a mock-up of a part that will be manufactured, we basically have a for-manufacturer prototype component and the iterations happen in the actual production process, so that when it is time to produce larger volume, we can do that almost immediately.

Danny DeLaveaga: Swing it through.

Tyler Clark: Yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: And then… So on the… You mentioned what you decide to do non-recoverable engineering on generally is dependent on the team’s feelings about the project, the ability and your team’s beliefs that the product will be able to make it into the market.

Tyler Clark: Yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: Do you do engineering for products that don’t involve manufacturing with Ansync?

Tyler Clark: Yeah. So, yeah, I mean prototypes for other firms, if they’re like, “Hey, we want a prototype and we want design files,” or, “We just want design files and we don’t want functional prototypes.” Yeah, really, I think the beauty of a firm our size is that we have the flexibility to have those conversations and really say, “Hey, what does the client need?” We often partner with other companies, like-minded companies or like-industry companies or CMs or industrial designers, where there’s aspects to a project they’re working on, or they may be doing an RFP where they need something physical that gives them a competitive advantage in that process, whether it be electrical engineering piece, or physical piece of hardware. So, yeah, that’s where we are in the space.

Danny DeLaveaga: Awesome. And how big is the company? Can you give me some demographics around the size of your different units?

Tyler Clark: You mean from a head count or in what regard?

Danny DeLaveaga: Yeah, like your manufacturing, how many people do you have running the production side of the business and the engineering side of the business?

Tyler Clark: Yeah, it’s… Since starting the company in 2001, we must have added basically an employee a year. I think of late, probably this year, we probably brought on four or five new hires. We’re actively looking to hire four or five more. Our piece of the assembly team is right around eight or nine people. Software or electrical engineering is three or four. Mechanical engineering is… Trying to do the math in my head on the numbers out there.

Tyler Clark: Now it’s probably… We probably have seven folks over in that area, and then software. And we have a couple of unique things that we work with the Unreal game engine for renderings so we could do… Just when we have a couple in-house fun projects, which you may know about or not, but we use the Unreal engine for some renderings for product understanding, just so we can show clients, “Hey, this is a sense of what we think the solution is.” We have an Unreal software team, and we have a traditional software head, kind of UX, UI, and app development and cloud infrastructure. But, yeah, and then our operation kind of assembly team, that’s probably about five or six folks, yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: Cool. So you’re kind of right in that sweet spot of, it seems very flexible…

Tyler Clark: Yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: You work on small projects and you can work on some of the larger projects and help get them to that zero to a thousand units kind of mark.

Tyler Clark: Yeah, yeah. And then I think beyond that is where the design is most valuable but in the manufacturing enablement. It’s like enabling the transition from… I think Sam likes to say, “The transition from zero to one unit is expensive. The transition from one to 100 units is easy. The transition from 100 to 10,000 units is really hard.” And so having a design firm that can enable your manufacturer for mass manufacture is where the critical… I think a key step in our value-add is, a recent project…

Tyler Clark: A recent project we actually… It’s actually behind me here, it’s an injection molded product, and so we designed the equipment that is pressing together the injection mold. And then we actually manufacture that equipment for the mass manufacturer and help them streamline the manufacture process to reduce the cost, the labor cost per unit for every unit in manufacturing.

Danny DeLaveaga: Awesome. So you guys don’t have injection molding in-house, but you often… Most of these products have injection molded parts and you’re all the time is working with these tooling manufacturers and the actual injection mold there to get the parts generally shift to you or… How does it work there? Yeah.

Tyler Clark: Yeah, so the supply chain is a key step in the process, so that’s where we have vetted vendors for supply chain and for prototyping to say like, “Hey, let’s… This is the phase and the process where we would switch from a 3D-printed or a different product or thermal form product to an injection-molded product, and this is who we’d recommend going with and here’s why. We tested these, gone with these six or seven others, and this one’s the best. Here’s number one, here’s number two, here’s number three.” We let the client decide, but I think having vetted a lot of those projects in this process helps in the manufacture process, and then to the client as the client scales, since they’re setting line of sight on, “Ooh, maybe we wanna do 25,000 or 100,000.” They can see if that fits within that manufacturer’s capacity or seek a larger company.

Danny DeLaveaga: Yeah, yeah. Well, hey, I really appreciate going over the company here, and so you mentioned you’re most interested… You’re pretty open in terms of the types of projects. And I know you guys have worked on everything from giant kiosks to drones to…

Tyler Clark: Yeah.

Danny DeLaveaga: I’ve seen all kinds of product come in and out, so… Yeah. What’s the opportunity look like? What are you seeing in the market for the next couple of years?

Tyler Clark: Yeah, I think for us, IoT is probably the fastest space. We see really just the concept of gateway and node platform, just because the space is getting very crowded in 2.4 gigahertz. Is it a crowded space to be? We think Cat-M1 cellular is gonna be much more prevalent in things that are launching because they’re not dependent on local networks and they provide really low cost [25:39] ____. So we think that’s probably gonna be how a lot of the devices that we’re interacting with, that are launching are probably gonna happen in the near future. So that I think… I don’t know if IoT pipeline would be the right word for it, but really just integrated IoT solutions is probably gonna be where a lot of product development is gonna be moving pretty quick.

Danny DeLaveaga: Awesome. Well, hey, I appreciate the time, Tyler. I’m looking forward to partnering with you guys and doing all the work. I’ll share this around my network where it makes sense.

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