I started my career in 3D printing, and although I was ultimately disillusioned by the limitations, their ease of use was addictive and something that I’ve never forgotten: press a button, walk away, and come back a day later to your prototype. No training or barriers to entry, no purchasing managers or technicians to go through, no 6 week lead time between you and your end goal.
But other manufacturing processes didn’t have this same ease-of-use. The first time I tried to use a CNC machine I was told to do a year of training then come back. When I got my hands on CNC machine programming software (CAM), I was stunned at the sheer quantity of manual input required. It couldn’t even recommend what cutting parameters use – for that I’d need to pick up a weighty handbook and do some maths, or ask an expert for a best guess.
Precision manufacturing is a ‘dark art’, reliant on incredible skill that is fast disappearing. In spite of being an absolute necessity to make the products that form the modern world, from cars to phones, electronics to aircraft, defence equipment to agriculture; it’s error prone, time-consuming and expensive – stifling innovation in other industries and making it impossible to keep up with increasing demand.
Solving this efficiency problem, however, is a hugely complex engineering challenge. But it comes with equally compelling rewards as it has the potential to massively impact the pace of engineering innovation while unlocking a $200B market opportunity.
So, in 2015, my co-founder Chris Emery and I set out on the ambitious mission to make manufacturing fully autonomous. Look at any product around you. It could be as simple as a desk lamp, or as complex as a laptop. Today, we need months to years to go from initial ideas to placing these finished products into your hands, but we should live in a world where hardware iterates at (nearly) the speed of software – where as soon as we have a new design, we can click a button and have it manufactured and delivered in days or weeks.
Series B Funding
Today, I’m delighted to announce a new chapter in CloudNC’s journey following a $45 million Series B investment led by Autodesk, with Lockheed Martin and British Patient Capital participating alongside returning investors Atomico and Episode 1 Ventures. We’re incredibly excited to be partnering with backers that have such deep manufacturing expertise, and shared belief in our vision.
Over the last seven years, we’ve made incredible progress and already achieved a significant degree of autonomy. At this point in our journey, our software enables users to upload a 3D model of any part and, with one click, it will autonomously determine the tools needed, how they will be used, and draft the code to tell a CNC machine how to make it. As we release this software beyond our own factory and roll it out over the next 12 months, other facilities will become more efficient and the workforce will be upskilled, as more junior employees will be able to operate the machines.
Our strategic partnerships with Autodesk and Lockheed Martin are demonstrative of the enormous potential, both now and in the future, of CloudNC’s vision. With Autodesk, manufacturers will be able to use our software in their own factories to produce parts more accurately, faster and cheaper.
Our existing technology has huge capability, and we want to provide it to the market now to help drive productivity and address some of the near-term challenges facing the manufacturing industry. Over time, anyone, from hobbyists to high-tech aerospace companies, will be able to order and have parts delivered to them anywhere in the world with the click of a button.
In one of our conversations, Stephen Hooper, Vice President of Design & Manufacturing, Cloud Solutions at Autodesk, told me that “in a similar way to how the internet opened the door to new businesses, autonomous precision manufacturing will open the door to increased productivity and more innovation.” That’s our ultimate goal.
At our full-stack factory in Essex, United Kingdom, we’ll continue to work closely with our customers to autonomously manufacture parts they need at ever increasing levels of reliability and speed. With this dual model, we’re able to continuously iterate on our software, making it more effective and bringing us closer to full autonomy, while delivering for clients in the physical world and bringing tangible benefits to them in the short term.
We have combined world-class engineering and computer science knowledge with premium physical manufacturing ability. This unique structure allows us to have a fully functional, real-time feedback loop from the factory team to our software team, so we can innovate and find solutions fast. Despite everything we’ve achieved so far, there is still a long journey ahead to reach full manufacturing autonomy, but I’m absolutely confident in the capability of our brilliant and growing team to keep delivering.
Some of the new Series B capital will be used to scale our operations. We’re on the lookout to hire passionate, committed and motivated people at all levels across the business to help us achieve our mission. We’re working at the forefront of the development of autonomous technology to solve a complex, hugely important challenge. Considering everything we have achieved so far, I have no doubt that we’ll deliver on our goal. While our solution may be invisible to the majority of people, it will solve a problem that has major global consequences. If you’re interested in helping us do this, get in touch or have a look at our careers page.
For the rest of 2022, we’ll be focusing on integrating our technology into Autodesk’s and other CADCAM platforms. In tandem, we’ll turn our attention to new potential markets to understand how to develop our software to be most impactful and relevant for all industries.
While a lot has happened over the last seven years, the best is certainly yet to come.