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Since their inception in 2016, Vention has been committed to changing the way companies design and order custom equipment for their operations. Vention’s goal of seamlessly merging the real with the computerized has presented itself in their digital manufacturing platform, simplifying machine design for everyone.
MachineBuilder, their free online CAD system, allows you to build a custom machine online and have those same required parts ship to you the next day. For the uninitiated, the average time needed to create, and build a custom machine can take a minimum of six weeks.
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However, do not look at Vention as just a software company but as a place where hardware meets software. With Vention, users create projects using real-world modular parts provided by the company in their cloud platform, MachineBuilder, allowing workflows to be completed in little as three days.
Paralleling the evolution of their MachineBuilder, Vention has grown tremendously attracting hundreds of clients spanning robotics, aerospace, and automobiles. Vention has grown consistently with a 600% year-over-year growth.
Fresh off the heels of the completion of a $17M CAD Series A financing round led by Bain Capital Ventures, Interesting Engineering sat down with Vention’s CTO Max Windisch, and Director of Product Management, Breanne Hargreaves, to discuss Vention’s latest iteration of MachineBuilder and plans for the future.
Vention is radically changing the way companies design and order custom equipment. Take us back to 2016. Why did you create Vention?
Max: This idea of creating something where hardware and software intersect excited me. Our aim was to build a business that offers custom machines in a much more easier and available way than they were before. We realized that the emergence of WebGL would democratize design for individuals and for companies across industries.
Look at what our platform offers clients today. You can have an entire community assessment spanning the authoring and reviewing of the design for a project without the need of 25 different licenses. While people who do not have CAD or any experience with it, can use our platform and design a custom machine quickly.
We want to make the process of digital design and the real-world building easier for clients, as traditionally, CAD software can be very overwhelming.
Let’s talk about Machine Builder. What makes Machine Builder unique? Why use Machine builders compared to other products on the market?
Bre: Investing time and money in a CAD license is not something that everyone in the manufacturing industry can do. It is interesting to see the clients who have had experience in or have worked alongside CAD but come along to use our platform to build something.
Max: And, again, it is not just about the software but the hardware too. There is a library of parts and this already sets up a vocabulary for the user, cutting down on a daunting process for someone who may have to build their machine completely from scratch.
There is a friend of mine who is a teacher that has created the process of making monomolecular membranes. However, to build this object he needed to create a machine. He needed to understand CAD, which makes no sense for someone in his position. Vention provides an answer to these kinds of people.
The parts, types of parts and that library are just as important as the software. This library is growing as we learn from the client’s needs in our cloud platform. In short, the experience, UI, that our customers have while using the platform and our parts is what makes us unique and different, relaxing constraints for the end user.
To my knowledge, there are currently very few resources on the market that can do what we do.
How has MachineBuilder evolved from its official release? What new features and changes have been added since the official 2nd release?
Max: Our focus from day one has been usability. We want to make MachineBuilder very intuitive. However, this is not an easy task. There are many mechanisms behind the curtain, in place that are well thought out to help us accomplish this goal and continue to work towards it and make it a painless process for users.
We have upgraded the resizing feature from last, year offering a more manual option for the resizing of certain segments or multiple segments at once. Users can resize parts to fit their custom machines or remove some elements, modifying lengths, adding different types of wheels, etc.
We added custom interactive panels. Users have the ability to design and order cut-to-size plastic panels; it is a very useful feature on its own. The MachineBuilder software understands what you are trying to do when using these panels and what is possible for your project. This is the level of simplicity we are trying to accomplish.
Though it is still not perfect yet, as we mentioned before, we are working towards perfecting it.
We also added the ability to control explicit groups. Vention users can import their own CAD files. We have learned that when building a custom machine our customers like to build around their own specific parts. Grouping helps bring this into fruition.
Machine Learning is a major topic of discussion across culture. What role does Machine Learning play at Vention?
Machine Learning has tremendous potential, especially for the midterm ahead of us. We have concrete applications that we have already set in motion. Most of them are operational and are not immediately visible yet.
Tools like the recommend part feature, part compatibility checker, and library of designs are all driven by ML technology, gaining insights from our customers' patterns and needs.
What client stories or case studies is your team most proud of, or your team found the most surprising?
Max: We see and hear a lot of client success stories, and this is very rewarding. There is such a broad range of clientele and many different types of cases. It is always surprising to see a customer come in and buy a $3000 custom machine out of nowhere.
We also enjoy consistently seeing clients come back to create custom machines; a testimony to both the library of parts we have and the easy to use the software.
Bre: One case that stands out to me centers around a client who won one of our competitions. This client had a very specific need and searched out Vention to tackle his challenge. He wanted to create a custom cutting table for medical fabrics. He built it all with Vention, using the MachineBuilder toolbox.
I believe that if he went the alternative root and spent the time to learn CAD and use an automation platform, it just would have not been possible. These are the stories that excite me, seeing people bring their ideas to life, empowered by the platform, based on the previous knowledge that they have.
We have shown off our platform to people in the industry who are using other CAD software and they are in awe at how quickly and intuitively we can create something on our platform, at times even creating a simple workbench as we are talking to them. Designing at hyper-speed.
Vention recently hit another major milestone, securing $17 million in a Series A financing. How will this investment be used to help Vention? Why now?
Max: This whole software and hardware integration is very complex. We are like many businesses in one, operating as one single start-up with a singular vision. There are several departments working on bringing this together seamlessly. From mechanical engineering to operations, to inventory management, there are a lot of moving parts at Vention. Even more so, we have the website and MachineBuilder. We want to continue to build on our success.
We are planning to move our main warehouse in the near future and are planning to build on our small team and departments. This new investment will help us scale up on our success. We are aiming very very big. The story is just beginning.
We are only two months in 2019. What does Vention have planned this year? How does it build off of 2018?
Max: The goal is to reach a point where we represent all necessary mechanisms, in the simplest way possible. There is still a lot to do. I think because we are mindful of our startup situation, we are not trying to do everything at once from the start. We hope to continue to subtly build on the machines that are possible with Vention. In short, we are expanding our catalog of possibilities.