After operating in stealth mode for about two years, First Resonance, a company founded by former SpaceX engineers, is finally showing the world their software toolkit designed to let manufacturers make things using the processes employed by their former boss.
It’s a suite of software products that can allow for more flexible manufacturing processes and one that can handle the pressures of remote monitoring for companies making hardware in the age of social distancing brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our first few customers really grew using [the software] and facilitating that at-home factory workflow,” said First Resonance co-founder Karan Talati.
The software that First Resonance has developed allows manufacturers to coordinate their workflow processes. “This is really driven off of us being in that driver’s seat at SpaceX and working with our counterparts in manufacturing and refurb,” Talati said. “Underlying it all is a data platform that allows these companies to make use of insights to improve their designs as well as their manufacturing processes.”
On the process side, that means reducing waste, and making the manufacturing of goods more efficient. But the software — and the information it’s collecting from manufacturing — can be used to inform better design decisions and the upstream product development process, Talati said.
Admittedly, the software works best for companies that are building new manufacturing processes and capabilities and don’t have a lot of legacy infrastructure to start with. Part of the reason that Tesla and SpaceX have been able to achieve the cost reductions they have is by redesigning systems to operate more flexibly and adapt to information that’s coming off the product line, Talati said. “That’s how we were able to achieve the order of magnitude cost reduction that is the Falcon 9… applying data upstream and feeding that data back and embracing that chaos.”
Talati said that many manufacturers rely on processes that are overly rigid and need to be untangled. Already, big aerospace, defense and auto manufacturers are acquiring or partnering with newer manufacturing startups to take advantage of the expertise and flexibility these companies offer. Talati pointed to Millennium Space System’s acquisition by Boeing and the contract that Hermeus received to design a hypersonic Air Force 1 jet. “We really evolve through enabling that new culture of agile manufacturing,” Talati said.
The company currently has six customers (with the bulk of them signing on in June and July) and charges per-seat in a traditional software as a service model.
To date, First Resonance has raised less than $2 million from local Los Angeles investors, including Fika Ventures, Wavemaker, Stage Venture Partners and Village Global.
The Los Angeles-based company harvested talent from SpaceX, NASA, Lexus and other aerospace and car manufacturers, and is tackling an emerging market for industrial software that could reach $14.9 billion, according to research from the analytics firm Markets and Markets provided by the company.
Much of that demand is being driven by the diaspora of SpaceX talent into the broader aerospace and defense and manufacturing ecosystem, said Talati. That’s also a great selling point for the company when it makes its pitch, he said.
“That makes it quite easy for us… there’s a very easy way for us to say, ‘That thing we were working on together… Well… We’re doing it at the kind of unit economics where you don’t need a billionaire CEO to finance it.’ ”
The lessons from SpaceX around empowering individuals and giving them connectivity into the system enables the company to continue to innovate on its iterative products, Talati said. And First Resonance is providing a toolkit other companies can use to bring that mindset into their own manufacturing.
“We invested in First Resonance because the founders Karan and Neal are uniquely qualified to build this company thanks to their experience at SpaceX and Uptake Technologies,” said Mikal Khoso, associate, Wavemaker Partners, in a statement. “The digitization of manufacturing is a long-overdue revolution in an industry full of outdated technology and methods. First Resonance is building the factory operating system for modern manufacturing, helping hardware companies build 21st-century products in a 21st-century fashion.”