Industry: Contract Manufacturing
Products: Engineering Design Services, Medical robotics
Brett Swopes’ engineering and product design firm prototypes for industries like bioscience and consumer products from the center of San Francisco’s SoMa district.
Originally founded in 2000 as a way to incubate innovative product ideas, CEO Brett Swope found he could provide a service for companies in the area looking for engineering help. "I was working full time and on nights and weekends and I wanted to do some consulting for friends and colleagues with engineering products," says Swope.
Swope created a boutique style of business utilizing young mechanical engineers from various disciplines, creating an innovative way to look at various projects from the growing industries in the area. Swope Designs has quickly become an option for entrepreneurs looking for better methods on how to prototype and manufacture their products.
"Medical devices, consumer products, and robotics are growing steadily here,” says Swope. “We manufacture 3D printing and CNC machining for our clients in-house. I see the 3D printing as a huge enabler to move more quickly and to reduce costs for many of our customers."
"The types of products that we develop are primarily prototypes," says Swope. "The medical industry has remained strong in innovation here and the demand for these types of products is high. Consumer products in the electronics industry have also experienced large growth in the last few years. Nowadays, everything has electronics inside. A lot of the products that come across our desk are designed this way. Robotics also account for a large amount of growth in terms of automation. Moreover, automation lowers costs for manufacturers and also increases efficiency."
Made up of six young mechanical engineers and technicians, Swope Design Solutions utilizes a variety of machines and technology to increase its own capabilities, operations, and efficiencies. "We utilize quite a few things to increase our efficiency and that enable us to move more quickly," says Swope. "In our Research and Development lab, we have a 5-axis CNC machine, a laser welder, a silicone molding transfer press, one FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D printer, and one SLA (stereo lithography) 3D printer. Both are workhorses and are used by us every day. We also have a 6-axis robotic arm (UR 10), that we can use to load the CNC, or to perform other repetitive assembly operations."
Swope has shaped his company to respond to demand from across industries. "I’ve been designing medical products and consumer products for a while, and have a fantastic network of previous products," says Swope. "We do a good job in hiring folks with complimentary skill-sets who come from different specializations. If one employee knows a lot about one particular industry they can share their knowledge, which helps balance our team out.
"Problem-solving and the creative process is indifferent to the project at hand," adds Swope. "It can be applied to various products. We work across a wide range of disciplines and product areas by developing solutions to the problems." Swope’s projects have involved everything from Endoscopic medical devices to an award-winning NIST Braille and Tactile Displays that bring electronic images to the blind and visually impaired.
Needs: "We always need more projects that are inspiring to work on, and important problems for our engineering team to resolve. In order to grow, financing and capital would be helpful. We are also always looking for good people for our team," says Swope.
Challenges: "Two of the biggest challenges include the expense of owning and operating a business in San Francisco," says Swope. "It makes it hard to be competitive with companies in other states. We have a lot of square footage that is needed to operate this business, and it’s expensive. Also, it’s hard finding and retaining top talent. Competition from other companies such as Google, Apple, and other hardware giants, have benefits they can offer employees. Our employees tend to be self-selecting."
Opportunities: "The opportunities are for us to continue to grow in our client base and our ability to operate specialized machinery," says Swope. "I think we have opportunities in products that we are going to be developing. We want to grow our consulting arm, products, and most importantly, have fun doing it."