SCALING ROBOTICS START-UP
For some it begins in a garage. For fortunate others, start-up life begins in an incubator, an industrial spaces where they are free to grow and experiment with their business idea and skills. At House of Design, two friends who grew up together and worked at a global semi-conductor company had created some ill-timed solar panel designs, filed a couple of patents and decided to venture out on their own. One partner was sales, the other mechanical design and the House of Design was formed.
In the early days, they went after a large variety of project types, using 80/20 aluminum as the backbone for all of their robotic structures and creations, ranging from ladder building to healthcare plasma bottling assembly lines. As they won project assignments, the incubator site would open up another new (non-contiguous)small tenant space for more workstations and JSDA would sketch another spatial layout; and from the collection of reused systems furniture onsite, a configuration would be built. But the scattered location in the long incubator where most office space was away from the manufacturing space, was a fundamental problem that begged for improvement. Similarly, as the size of their projects increased in length, larger manufacturing facilities…additional garage door accessed spaces would be made available for the growing company.
After a few years in the incubator, and with sales more predictable, House of Design was becoming a success story that needed to find a real, more permanent home. The owner and
J S D A Inc. met at an SBA leadership event. J S D A Inc, guiding strategic planning for the organization, toured lots and land, drafting simple clear span warehouse building (120,000 sqft) with panache, that reflected HOD’s unique skills. The carefully sited buildings on small lots provided for the truck and dock access needed as well as parking for the employees. But the concern for length of the manufacturing bay, and with an unclear projection of their future needs; perhaps gaining a few more years’ experience would clarify.
Their dream of jumping from incubator directly to owned facility presented too long a lead time (not to mention the financial investment required) to contain the rapidly-growing company; so a tenant space of 30,000 square feet was identified, one of the few available. J S D A Inc. was asked to redesign the space, a windowless storage space with too few restrooms, and undersized heating and air conditioning. The expansion of the workspace was four times the size of the existing office size. To reduce HVAC adds, a two-story ceiling height provided for passive air conditioning with reversible direction fan assisted heating units added for the winter. The tall cavity produced a familiar continuity from the lab floor, an important cultural goal of the newly established organization. Expanding the office into the manufacturing area required hurdling planning and zoning changes, and rapid construction.
The owners had connections with the City and because it was a beneficial project to the City, the Economic Development Department allowed them special opportunities that were rare. A meeting was set up by J S D A Inc to discuss the plan with key building department staff, and the project was green-lighted.
With the kinetic design ready, J S D A gathered the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and structural team members, distributed to them the J S D A plans so that they could complete their work preparing detailed drawings for city submission. Construction documents were prepared by J S D A and team, and a general contractor was hired to begin assembling the trades necessary to make the construction happen. Rare, J S D A held an onsite meeting with the head of the building department to walk the existing space, to allow for a review of existing conditions not meeting code (sidewalk/handicapped access/exiting and emergency lighting among others). With this alignment of code approach, construction documents were completed by J S D A Inc. and their project engineering team.
Once construction began, exits were cut into the tilt-up concrete panel walls, sidewalks added, and restrooms expanded for the increased occupancy. Private and semi-private offices were redesigned, added and custom workstations designed by J S D A and made by House of Design, from the same 80/20 T-slot extruded aluminum were designed and built to define the staff areas. The robotic nature of the space was symbiotic from manufacturing to engineering areas. Simple plastic laminate workstations and purchased acoustical panels completed the custom workspace, with the custom and perfectly right workstations presenting a large cost savings as compared to marketplace available workstations. Training, team spaces, private spaces that doubled as conferencing and table only conferencing (to make meetings short) offered flexibility in the space as they increased personnel counts. Technology replaced the staff position that might have been necessary at a tech infused reception area, a gathering space for meeting prospective clients and tour prep. A series of horizontal lasers maintained security, while the guests experienced concierge refreshments in a casual seating area, using mobile phone as the connection to their meeting hosts. Improvements were made as planned, including ‘Big-Ass’ fans for airflow and increased levels of LED lighting replaced HIDs at the structurally defined bays. Not the least of the strategically planned spaces, a Traeger grill, ping pong, exterior patios and shaded picnic tables were added to counterbalance the daily worklife.
The robotics firm built the space with a selected general contractor, expanded their manufacturing capabilities landing a contract to manufacture housing trusses on an assembly line over 100 feet in length, the beginning of robotic-enabled mass-production and efficient modular componentry that to date had been built only by hand, increasing speed and accuracy of production. This supplied the western US marketplace with quality supply chain products to aid in solutions for the national housing crisis. The path necessary for their success was not a common one, nor a straight line; few would it have imagined it as possible. Cutting-edge design, using robotics to solve problems at any scale: we believed in HOD and delivered an industrial solution for this low budget, fast track, modular start up…J S D A Inc. The ability for an organization to provide for itself a strong foundation, operationally, physically is a significant part of the formula for success, particularly for those manufacturing the physical.
House of Design is an LDS organization, with the wives of the two primary owners also carrying C-suite responsibilities of shared ownership, HR and Finance, among others. This project presented many opportunities for J S D A Inc. to demonstrate the natural leadership of a woman-owned business, not all of which was valued by House of Design despite their ownership structure.
House of Design continues to be very successful and has recently moved into an abandoned retail building, again attempting to make a difference with adaptive reuse in a blighted downtown area.