Industry: Contract Manufacturing
Products: CNC machining services
President and CEO Jim Quinn is guiding a machine shop that's built for a new millennium.
Founded by Nick Pinkston and Jeremy Herrman after the pair met in Pittsburgh, Plethora's mission is to "revolutionize manufacturing through automation," says Quinn.
Pinkston and Herrman moved to California and launched the company after three years of R&D on the platform that analyzes CAD designs for manufacturability in real time, provides instant pricing, and automates CNC programming to notably reduce turnaround time without sacrificing on price or quality. In 2016, Plethora started began shipping CNC-machined parts made from more than 30 materials, including aluminum alloys, medical-grade polymers, stainless steel, and titanium.
Quinn joined Plethora in 2018 after working in the semiconductor, medical device, and other industries, and managing contract manufacturing for Apple and running FitBit's supply chain. While innovation has occurred in the machine shop, there hasn't been a truly revolutionary technological advancement. "When I began my career, I was managing machine shops and sheet metal shops," he says. "It's a very manual industry."
Because of that, no single company has cemented a commanding competitive advantage. In the $42 billion CNC manufacturing industry, notes Quinn, "No one holds more than 1 percent of that. It's a very fragmented industry."
Plethora's strategy is to lead the market through innovation: "What sets us apart is the core algorithm that we use. We have Ph.Ds in mathematics and materials sciences working directly with machinists to develop this software."
Parts "are instantaneously designed for manufacturability" with Plethora add-ins for SolidWorks, Inventor, and other CAD software, or else users can directly upload files. "Here, they get feedback instantaneously. They can also get pricing and delivery date."
The system accelerates the iteration process. CAD designers "don't even have to leave the application for design-for-manufacturability feedback and pricing," says Marketing Director Matt Lukens.
From there, Plethora's technology "takes that 3D model and automatically programs it to run it on our machines," adds Quinn, cutting programmer-hours substantially
This step is the secret sauce in the Plethora platform. "It allows us to achieve much tighter tolerances and much higher quality than anyone else as we are able to iterate in real time," he says.
With 20 CNC machines, Plethora's sizable shop runs two production shifts totaling about 40 employees; the company also has 35 employees in technology, administration, and sales. "We are not your typical machine shop," says Quinn. "We are probably the cleanest machine shop you'll ever walk into."
Production runs are typically 500 units or fewer, as the volume of the average order has skyrocketed in Quinn's first year on the job.
The process typically takes three days, not three weeks. "We're helping them shorten their time to market," says Quinn. "We call it just-in-time manufacturing. With me coming in from the other side -- I used to be the buyer -- it's reducing that inventory risk through collaboration, quality, and speed."
Customers are undisclosed, but include manufacturers in defense and aerospace, medical devices, robotics, amd automotive, as well as autonomous vehicles and consumer electronics.
The common thread is tight tolerances, says Quinn. "One of the things I came to expect out of quick-turn machine shops is I had to spend time doing secondary operations on the parts once I got them," he says. That's not the case at Plethora, which offers a "trifecta" of speed, quality, and cost.
He says he was immediately impressed by Plethora's new take on a legacy industry: "It's this blend of technology and fundamental manufacturing that any country needs to build GDP growth."
So far, Plethora is doing its part. "Last year, we grew 3X," says Quinn. "Last year was a big year. . . . The response has been remarkable. We've been growing within accounts and adding new accounts."
Quinn projects another 3X year in 2019 and a parallel curve for hiring. "We expect to grow our head count by 10X in the next five years."
The long-term strategy is to add complementary manufacturing processes to the Plethora platform and similarly automate them. "It could be additive, sheet metal, die casting, injection molding," says Quinn. "What it really comes down to is what is our customer base looking for and how can we service our customers better."
Challenges: "Dealing with growth," says Quinn. "That's the biggest thing right now. Our technology is moving very fast. We just have to innovate faster than our competitors."
Opportunities: Quinn highlights aerospace, robotics, and automotive as key verticals. "There's so much overlap in these areas," he says
Additional manufacturing methods beyond CNC machining and turning are another big area of opportunity. "We're building a road map to be able to start up these complementary processes," says Quinn. "Which one is going to come first is going to depence on what our tech team is able to deliver first."
Needs: Plethora has closed multiple rounds of Series A funding, and Quinn says the company will begin pursuing Series B funding in late 2019. Beyond that, he adds, "It's about executing. We have what we need right now. We're in a really good place."