As we wait to see if the incoming administration successfully brings jobs back to America, as promised, one Silicon Valley company has developed a business model that embeds production in the United States to offer a key competitive advantage to clients.
BriteLab, a 10-year-old company formerly known as E Systems, works with startup manufacturers to offer innovative companies the benefit of seasoned OEM experience in bringing products to market.
We spoke to CEO Robert De Neve, who told us BriteLab serves as an integrator of product lifecycle solutions, encompassing functions such as industrial design at the front end through advanced manufacturing in Silicon Valley, and global product support at the back end.
The expertise offered to startups grew from the experience BriteLab’s team gleaned over decades in the semiconductor industry -- an industry in which the U.S. still dominates today and one which, due to Moore's law, means “you have to remake yourself every 18 months,” De Neve said, adding: “We wanted to leverage that experience to help other OEMs.”
The perfect clients for BriteLab, are companies whose products can be described as “high mix/low volume,” De Neve explained. High mix means the products incorporate a lot of high-technology content, a lot of intellectual property (IP), and require a lot of configuration. In other words, they are highly complex and valuable products, typically in a business-to-business environment.
That said, the company also works with clients to build the inverse: “low mix/high volume” consumer products, which De Neve said “is to prove that this can be done in Silicon Valley.”
For example, One-Wheel -- manufacturer of a powered mono-wheeled skateboard-like device, which the company says "was inspired by the feeling of snowboarding on powder" -- worked with BriteLab to develop and build its product.
The end-to-end product lifecycle development process all happens in BriteLab’s 55,000-square-foot integrated design and manufacturing center in San Jose, California. There, the company offers six nodes of expertise to their clients: Industrial design, product engineering, rapid prototyping, new product introduction, advanced manufacturing, and global product support.
De Neve explained: “Customers can plug in at any one of these nodes, and we help assess where they are in the product lifecycle.” By way of analogy he added, “We are basically their Sherpa; you can’t climb Everest on your own.” During the relationship, BriteLab provides clients with accelerated product development and IP-safe manufacturing.
There’s a competitive advantage of doing all of this in Silicon Valley rather than offshoring, De Neve explained: “The fresher your IP is, the closer you keep it to your chest,” he said, explaining companies gain value from both having proximity to engineers as well as keeping the supply chain tight; these attributes are lost, or are at least harder to control, when you send manufacturing overseas.
Consequently, it is the business case that drives the value in making products in the U.S. rather than an expressed mission to bring manufacturing back -- though De Neve said, “Personally, as an American, we want to bring it all back.” Indeed, as automation engineers, he said, “Let’s keep it in the U.S. and automate.”
That said, when BriteLab talks to clients, De Neve asserts its team must be agnostic on this point, given their responsibility to do what’s best for their clients and their clients’ shareholders. If it makes sense to produce overseas, they have solutions for that too, with vetted partner factories.
Interestingly though, the founders of some of BriteLab’s clients, including One-Wheel and robot maker Anybots, engaged with the company on the basis that they specifically wanted to build their products in America. And the millennial executives running such companies are sometimes annoyed with their business counterparts from older generations who outsourced everything, De Neve explained.
Because of companies' desire to build in America, De Neve says it sometimes does “bias the problem-solving a little” and indeed it might cost a little more to produce goods in the U.S. But he goes on to say that when he leads tours through the factory and people see “One-Wheel boxes that say ‘designed and built in California’ -- you should see the reaction. They’re getting their money back. If they’re spending an extra dollar a unit, they are getting two or three dollars a unit back in extra sales and recognition from the public.”
De Neve says working with the new generation of business entrepreneurs offers BriteLab the ability to see the future, which indicates the built-in-America momentum has legs. In anticipation, BriteLab plans to build seven of these integration centers around the country where there are high-tech hubs.
Image credit: BriteLab
Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.