Theo Saville, CEO, and co-founder of CloudNC was interviewed by Bruno (HE) Mirchevski of The Logician.
Scroll below to read the full interview.
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Automation is the future. Although it has already been here for decades, particularly in the manufacturing industry, following the technological growth we’ve seen in recent times, automation is expected to explode in the upcoming years.
And while some people may disagree with it or even fear it, automation can be good for the manufacturing industry and our society, especially in terms of sustainability and lowering the cost of production.
CloudNC is a company that takes part in this automation process. The business model is based around inventing groundbreaking AI to automate CNC machines so that they can be used more efficiently in the future.
The masterminds behind it are Theo Saville and Christopher Emery. Their amazing work and the unique business model received Forbes’s recognition when they became a part of the “30 Under 30 Europe 2019:Manufacturing & Industry” list.
I had the opportunity to talk with Theo Saville who, apart from being the co-founder at CloudNC, is a mechanical engineer that strives for environmental sustainability in manufacturing.
In the following text, you will have the opportunity to read something more on CloudNC, how Theo chose this career path, what is necessary for success, and much more.
I warmly recommend taking the time to read the interview I made with him, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
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Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician): Hi Theo, welcome to this interview! Firstly, I would like to thank you for taking the time to be a part of this mission! Do you mind introducing yourself? Who are you and what do you do? What made you choose the career that you have today?
Theo Saville: Sure thing, I’m Theo, CEO, and co-founder of CloudNC, and a Manufacturing & Mechanical engineer by background.
I started out in metals 3D printing research, but quickly became disillusioned as I discovered that even the cutting edge was totally failing to live up to the hype, and I couldn’t see that many good applications.
But, I did get very used to how easy it was to operate plastics 3D printers — a few clicks, walk away, come back the next day and there’s a part.
Once I was exposed to that simple workflow, working with traditional manufacturing equipment like CNC machines became extremely frustrating, and out of that frustration was born the thesis that underpins everything that we do at CloudNC today.
The next industrial manufacturing isn’t 3D printing or IoT, it’s bigger than that. It’s going to be the achievement of full flexible autonomy for all traditional manufacturing equipment types, by which I mean you can just tell the machine what you want with 3D CAD, whereas today you have to tell the machine how to make it.
This, in turn, will enable fully autonomous, fully flexible factories; ultimately enabling fully autonomous, flexible supply chains.
At the extreme, imagine designing a new aircraft, with millions of unique components, and then being able to simply click ‘manufacture’, and having your aircraft ready in weeks rather than years (Boeing’s Dreamliner was seven years in the making).
I think the manufacturing industry is a decade or two away from achieving the first functioning flexible autonomous supply chain, but the consequences will be truly world-changing.
Manufacturing costs and lead times will fall off a cliff, and energy efficiency will skyrocket. Pair that with generative 3D design — where software designs the part/product instead of an engineer — which will have matured by that point, and you have a recipe for an explosion in the speed of innovation.
Our mission is to drive the next industrial revolution — flexible autonomous and environmentally sustainable manufacturing.
Sustainable is really key — the planet will survive climate change, but we might not.
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Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician): Additionally, I would like to congratulate you for being among Forbes 30 under 30! Was this something you expected? How was that experience for you?
Theo Saville: Thank you! I’m thrilled to have even been considered. It’s great to see manufacturing and industry as an area of recognition — hopefully, part of a growing realization of just how much opportunity there is for disruption in the space.
What strikes me, looking at our segment, is just how much positivity and change-for-good is represented.
This list is a refreshing and important reminder that the coming generation of business leaders is ready and able to face down the challenges that the world faces. It’s really exciting to be recognized amongst them.
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Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician): Now, can you tell us more about CloudNC?
Theo Saville: Our current focus is on automating CNC machines. You can think of them as incredibly powerful robotic arms that use a variety of spinning cutting tools to carve blocks of metal into useful shapes, such as a component for a car or aircraft.
Most people have never seen or heard of these machines, yet they make hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of components every year and underpin global manufacturing.
There’s virtually nothing that can be produced without involving them somewhere along the line.
But today, like most manufacturing equipment, they’re not automatic. A person needs to tell them, in incredible detail over days or weeks, everything about how to produce a component.
This extremely skilled profession is called CAM programming, and it’s a rapidly shrinking field, even though worldwide demand for parts is growing at more than 12% a year!
This human step is a huge bottleneck and source of errors and scrap, but the larger problem is one of optimality — there are trillions of ways of producing a component with one of these machines, but only a few of those ways are fast. People are terrible at finding these optimal solutions, meaning most CNC production is maybe a quarter as fast as what is theoretically possible.
This means each CNC machine could theoretically output somewhere >4x more components per year than is currently achieved.
This is where CloudNC comes in: we’ve developed software that fully automates the programming of these machines and can search through that space of trillions of options to find one of the fast ways.
We’re far from done, but after more than four years the core automation tech works and substantially outperforms humans on supported component geometries.
We’re now building the first of many factories designed from the ground up to exploit this technology, following a wholly digital-first approach. The aim is to produce and sell parts to the engineering industry at a fraction of the cost that is normally possible while delivering aerospace-grade quality and perfect on-time delivery.
So to be clear, CloudNC sells a bit of metal components faster/cheaper/better, not software. This kind of advance is best exploited through a vertically integrated approach.
It’s worth noting that readers might expect on-time delivery and quality parts to be a given in this industry, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Our data suggests that 10% of orders fail to arrive on time or have some kind of quality issue. Lead times are six to twelve weeks, and much longer in some market segments. The industry is broken.
We aim to address all of these problems, at first for CNC machining and later for a whole range of manufacturing processes. Incredibly fast, cheap, high-quality, and sustainably manufactured.
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Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician): Since there are many people who struggle to find their career path, do you mind telling us how did you know the manufacturing industry was the right for you? What are the signs everyone should look out for in order to make a good career choice?
Theo Saville: I think there are very few people who have a clear vision of what they want to do for work when many important decisions about which subjects to study are happening.
My parents called it pretty early — apparently, I discovered that a screwdriver can be used to take apart important objects around five. Fortunately for me, that early promise translated into a good level of aptitude in design technology, physics, business and maths, and later engineering, giving me the core skills to do what I do. I just picked the subjects and the field that I loved.
It’s also worth pointing out that for me, entrepreneurship was always the default career path. It wasn’t ever a decision process, it just happened and felt completely natural.
I started my first ‘business’ in a summer holiday when I was 15. I wanted a gaming PC, so I worked as a gardener until I could afford a real basic one. But I realized that if I built it custom, I could achieve better specs with the same budget.
Once it was done, I realized I could sell the resulting PC for more than it cost me. That turned into selling custom gaming PCs on eBay on a Just-In-Time model — didn’t have much working capital for inventory.
I got my first taste of business, and that great feeling when you make a sale. I got a top-end gaming PC out of it too, though that cost me thousands of hours of what could have been usefully spent time.
If I had my time again and had to make a recommendation to a mechanically-inclined student, I’d advise a general engineering course giving a taste of all the disciplines — it’s an exciting sector offering a huge variety of rewarding career paths which often pay very well.
The engineering industry is also ripe for disruption, so ideal for young entrepreneurs. Software engineering is also going to become increasingly important, so I’d recommend that course, or as modules of an engineering degree.
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Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician): How hard it is to run a company along with another person? What are the most important principles in co-founders’ relationships?
Theo Saville: Well, the stats say that your company is by far most likely to succeed when started by two co-founders, and based on my own experience I’d concur.
My co-founder and I have always had a clear split of responsibility — In the beginning I knew almost nothing about computer science, and Chris knew almost nothing about business or machining, making for a clear line in decision-making accountability.
We trust each other to do the right thing in our respective areas, so we operate with a lot of autonomy from each other.
Theo Saville and Chris Emery
On co-founder relationships, firstly I think it’s essential that the founders match the idea and have the skills to execute on it, ideally better than anyone else in the world.
Secondly, they should get along professionally. You don’t need to be best mates, but you do need to form a great team that’s well suited to the idea.
I highly recommend reading EF’s blog on founding , they’re very thoughtful on the topic.
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Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician): What are the core values of your business? What examples are you setting for your team?
Theo Saville: Our core values are actually live on the web on this link . In short, we’re fundamentally people-centric.
That may sound surprising coming from a company that places a huge amount of importance and value in automation, but as soon as you dig beneath the surface it’s clear that empowering and nurturing people talent is at the root of our success.
And not just ours — the example of Toyota in the second half of the last century shows how human ingenuity and incredible manufacturing culture wins over the mass-application of automation.
Another source of inspiration for us is the recent generation of hyper-growth tech companies. They employ the best people available and work to remove all barriers to them to do an amazing job.
Our managers exist to enable, develop, and remove blockers, and our company culture means that all our people have the power to change how the company works, invest company money into tools and technology, and spend portions of their time on non ‘day-job’ projects.
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Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician): According to you, what are the top three skills every person needs to have in order to become successful?
Theo Saville: Firstly, I’d say a growth mindset — the drive to keep learning constantly. It’s the first thing I look for in interviews.
The second is a passion for your field. The cliché is, do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. I don’t think that’s quite how it works, but you’ll certainly be willing and able to work harder and smarter for longer when the less committed around you have long since gone home.
The third is grit. The best entrepreneurs and employees just don’t give up. They set themselves a mission, and then become unstoppable in achieving it, regardless of the roadblocks they run into or catastrophic mistakes they make along the way. That kind of behavior quickly builds an aura of formidability that brings its own set of benefits.
These three things combined will make for an incredibly successful career.
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Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician): How do you spend the first few hours of every day? Which habits are important to develop?
Theo Saville: Wake up, 20 minutes working up a sweat on a treadmill, quick breakfast bar and 45 minutes of reading a business or personal-growth book, then off to work.
You mention habits, and I think they’re incredibly important to develop because it’s habits that keep you doing the right thing even when you’re tired or ill or worn out.
I highly recommend reading ‘The Power of Habit’ for more on this. Life just gets a bunch easier when you do hard things out of habit rather than needing to use finite willpower.
But if I had to make one recommendation, it would be to develop a full suite of good sleep habits, and to that end, I recommend ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker.
For me that includes exercise daily, no caffeine (except in emergencies), no alcohol, no work after 7 PM and no screens after 8:30 PM, then bed and wake at the same time every day.
Quality of sleep is the single largest driver of my performance, and happiness, so it’s worth investing in immensely.
I’ve spent a few years so far trying to really nail it. A sleep-tracker like Oura has also been helpful for matching inputs to outcomes here.
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Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician): Let’s say it is the year 2030. Where are you and your business? Do you have a set milestone you want to reach by then?
Theo Saville: By then I’d hope we’re well on the way to achieving our mission of fully autonomous manufacturing of anything. It’s impossible to look that far ahead and set a reasonable milestone — we’ll be yonks out either way.
A milestone I’m personally looking forward to is the first time someone draws a public and serious comparison between CloudNC and Amazon.
In all seriousness, I very much hope that by then CloudNC will be bringing the benefits of our approach to everyone who needs them around the world via hundreds of autonomous factories containing tens of thousands of machines.
It’s too early to say much more than that but having seen how well our people are able to overcome challenges and innovate in our sector, I am 100% convinced that we will also achieve great things if we apply our approach to other problems.
So, it’s quite possible that CloudNC will have taken on new problems and be setting new standards in manufacturing and computing in other areas of the industry by then.
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Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician): Finally, what is the best life advice that you have ever been given? Why is it important?
Theo Saville: That’s a really hard one. I think the best advice came out of that book I mentioned earlier ‘Why We Sleep’.
It’s probably had the most impact on my adult life of anything I can think of. It’s important because the quality of sleep drives your health, happiness, and performance to an extreme degree. I can’t recommend it enough.
Theo Saville and Chris Emery
The constant technological progress is an integral part of our society, and who knows what we will be able to achieve in the next five, 10, or 20 years.
For now, what I know is that we need to strive for making the world a better place with everything we do, no matter how big or small our actions are.
Let Theo’s story be an example of pursuing a passion the right way and making an impact through good work and dedication.