The drone business is forging a disruptive mannequin in manufacturing

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In the emerging SUAS industry, smaller drone manufacturing start-ups are facing off against large established defense companies – and are finding new ways to compete.

The following is a guest post by Pat Hume, CEO of Canvas GFX, thought leader in visual communications. DRONELIFE neither accepts nor pays guest posts.

By Pat Hume, CEO of Canvas GFX

The drone industry is considered one of the most innovative technology sectors today. With a combination of science fiction appeal, eye-catching products and a wide range of addressable markets, drones have captured our imaginations and have become a symbol of the times. And with use cases ranging from instant consumer satisfaction to protecting and saving lives, there are many reasons why the drone market is forecast to be worth more than $ 43 billion globally in just a few years.

With so much innovation in the actual product, it may be understandable that operational innovation, which is another hallmark of the industry, is sometimes overlooked. For me, this aspect of the industry is fascinating and just as disruptive as its products. The drone industry has proven fertile ground for a new generation of companies to stir up a manufacturing industry that is in some ways slow to develop.

The US defense sector is a case in point, not least because it is one of the most difficult establishments to break through. For years it has been dominated by the carefully maintained relationships between the military, government, and the Fortune 500 prime contractors. But that could change.

Drones Manufacturing: Part of the New Wave

At Canvas GFX, we have clients from both the defense establishment and this new wave of manufacturers, and the differences can be eye-opening. The sheer pace of development of some of the newcomers is astounding. The heavyweights in the industry are used to product and sales cycles lasting several years. How must it feel to watch startups that can explode from inception to a full hardware-software program in which they receive contracts from a number of military organizations (domestic and allied) as well as private companies in a matter of months win (as one of our drone manufacturers did)?

These new disruptors are now breaking the rules of product development. Why, you ask, should a product be developed in isolation for a customer? That doesn’t scale. Instead, they try to identify common problems and develop platforms that can be used as the basis for quick iteration of product variances. New products can be developed in weeks instead of years.

We have a privileged view of the changing modes of production in this emerging specialized drone technology sector, where smaller businesses and startups compete with the incumbents. And it is recognizable to us because it has its roots in our world of software development. It is hardly surprising that with the close integration of hardware and software in the drone sector, the two sides are mutually beneficial in terms of best practices.

These software-oriented companies emerged in the age of rapid prototyping, additive manufacturing, and more. They don’t have a “this is how we do things here” mentality. They spin like a racing drone, not a tanker. They work in sprints to iterate, develop and customize products for a more open approach to the market that allows them to sell variants of core platforms to multiple customers instead of working under traditional contracts.

But you can only ever be as fast as your slowest process. And what we see from these companies is an organization-wide ethos where working fast is critical to every process, top to bottom.

One of our customers in the drone sector is a prime example of this. For example, they found that fragmented and disorganized documentation processes across the company – from engineering to sales – created turbulence that threatened to slow them down. You were managing too many types of documents, in too many formats, across different teams, and consistency was required.

We know this is a common problem with manufacturers in all industries, and one that can be much more difficult to resolve in larger and older companies. But this customer of ours was a new company. A young company. So why the problem?

We’re back to speed. When you iterate quickly and develop new products at a dizzying pace, documentation processes cannot keep up. Models change quickly and documentation with flat CAD screengrabs can be out of date within a week. Suddenly the sales team is showing potential customers pictures that no longer tell the real story. It created a ripple effect.

How did you get over it? By completely rethinking their documentation workflows. By choosing to display documentation across the company and regardless of role (everything from manufacturing instructions to sales presentations) as part of the same process. By focusing on cutting-edge visual communication and collaboration practices instead of PowerPoint presentations. By making the most truthful and up-to-date representations of their products – their 3D CAD models – available to anyone who needs to communicate something about the use, deployment, performance, management, or value of that product.

Your vision is one where marketing, business development, maintenance, and other customer-facing teams can interact with and visualize CAD models just as effectively as the product and engineering teams. And most importantly, they can do this without bothering the engineers who otherwise spend hours every week taking screenshots. In addition, they want to give the downstream target groups, including customers, the opportunity to interact with these models – all of which, of course, is meticulously managed from the point of view of IP and security.

This is in stark contrast to an industry that in many cases continues to rely on static screenshots in flat documents that tell only a fraction of the story and often raise more questions than answers.

Sometimes change happens quickly. Expect this disruptive, enterprise-wide model and workflow to become the industry standard soon as more people see the success of this approach. Faster, more agile, more intelligent, in harmony with the entire organization. We have only just begun to understand how the drone sector will shape our lives. I think we’re also starting to see how it will shape the wider manufacturing environment

A leader with a career in software and high tech spanning four decades, including 20 years at C-level, Patricia Hume is responsible for creating and executing Canvas’s strategic vision. With a wealth of cross-functional experience and extensive operational expertise in large companies and microcaps, Patricia specializes in driving sustainable growth and effective turnarounds.

Prior to joining Canvas, Patricia was Chief Operations Officer at iPass, Inc., where she led global customer-facing activities including sales, marketing, product and business development, strategic partnerships, operations and customer support until the company was acquired in February 2019. She was also Chief Revenue Officer at Convio, Senior Vice President of Global Indirect Channels at SAP AG, Group Vice President of the SMB Division of Avaya and CEO and President of VerticalNet Markets. During her 18 years at IBM and Lotus, she held numerous management positions. Passionate about diversity in technology, Patricia also volunteers for a nonprofit organization focused on serving Boston’s disadvantaged communities.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional marketplace for drone services, and a passionate observer of the emerging drone industry and regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for emerging technologies.
For advice or writing in the drone industry, email Miriam.

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