2013-01-24 PCH

Although the factory tours had ended, that didn't mean the events had ended. As usual, the schedule was still packed and today, we had the chance to visit the headquarters of a large contract manufacturer and logistics company called PCH. According to rumors I overheard, PCH was named by the founders, a group of Irishmen, as they were traveling down Pacific Coast Highway in California. They needed a name for their company and figured PCH would work.

PCH is the parent company of the logistics company we visited, CTS. They also handle manufacturing for many Apple products and accessories as well as various other brands. They run a technology accelerator to help smaller companies get to manufacturing and provide services and consulting to the companies in the accelerator. Darragh Hudson is one of the heads of the accelerator and he also owns a popular restaurant in the Coco Park district called Rapscallions. We've been going there regularly so we've met up with Darragh a few times already.

Darragh was talking to us a bit about the PCH Accelerator and how it works. There have been a lot of companies that approached them with ideas and prototypes and they would claim they were ready to take it into production. Of course, as all of us could easily see now, taking a product to production is not that easy. Taking a product from design to manufacturing is a painful process for all startups and it's one of the biggest barriers that they have to cross. Darragh was explaining that the accelerator's main goal wasn't to provide funding, but to provide resources and expertise to make sure the design could actually get produced. Based on PCH's experience with manufacturing and logistics, I'd consider this quite invaluable. This part of the talk was mostly informal and we were just discussing it over coffee in the break room. The meeting time ran late because there was a huge Chinese New Year party the previous night and many of the managers were severely hung over. Ha ha ha.
Once everyone was gathered, we headed to the meeting room. The meeting was mainly with John Garvey, the CTO, and Mike Baron, President of Operations. I believe both of them were hung over but John Garvey looked like he took the most damage the previous night. The meeting was candid and informal and they just took two seats facing all of us and started talking and asking questions. They started to talk about the PCH accelerator which I think is what they thought we wanted to talk about. The conversation quickly moved to manufacturing though as many of the MediaLab designers had questions about manufacturing processes, especially after almost a month of factory tours.
John Garvey was easily a favorite among everyone. Although bleary eyed, he was a straight talker and didn't try to sugar coat anything. He's obviously been in the manufacturing trenches for years and was talking about many stories of the lengths they had to go to for clients they had. The Apple stories were incredible. He was also discussing how there's a huge disconnect between design and manufacturing these days, since many designers trained in the US have no understanding about the manufacturing processes. Because of this, products get delayed as both sides try to figure each other out. According to him, designers that have an understanding of the manufacturing processes would make things go much more smoothly, and products would go through the transition much faster. He also explained that understanding manufacturing processes allows designers to push the envelope of the processes or even create new ones based on already existing processes. A case he gave was using a diaper manufacturing machine (yes, we actually saw this) to create multi-layered iPad covers. This seemed to have struck a chord with the MediaLab designers, many of whom were working on designs which don't yet have a manufacturing process.
After the discussion, John and Mike asked the MediaLab designers to give a short talk about what they were working on. They were obviously impressed and expressed interest in visiting MIT MediaLab in the near future. But I think the discussion with John and Mike regarding the disconnect between design and manufacturing had a big impact on all the designers and drove a lot of points home, especially to cap off three weeks of straight factory tours spanning all sorts of industries.
The meeting was originally scheduled to last one hour with a quick talk by them and presentations by the MediaLab students. It turned into a four hour affair filled with valuable information about hardware, manufacturing, technology, design, and war stories about the industry in general. Some of the MediaLab students were talking about a Shenzhen internship at PCH after the meeting. Ha ha ha.

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