In the emerging sUAS industry, smaller drone manufacturing startups are up against large incumbents from the defense industry – and finding new ways to compete.
The following is a guest post by Pat Hume, CEO of Canvas GFX, thought leaders in visual communications. DRONELIFE neither accepts nor makes payment for guest posts.
By Pat Hume, CEO of Canvas GFX
The drone industry is widely recognized as one of the most innovative sectors in tech today. With a combination of sci-fi appeal, eye-catching products, and huge breadth in addressable markets, drones have captured our imagination and become a symbol of the age. And with use-cases ranging from instant consumer gratification to protecting and saving lives, there are plenty of 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 is perhaps understandable that the operational innovation which is another hallmark of the industry can sometimes be overlooked. For me this aspect of the sector is fascinating, and just as disruptive as its products. The drone industry has proven to be fertile ground for a new breed of companies that are sending a jolt through a manufacturing industry that, in some ways, has been slow to evolve.
The US defense manufacturing sector is a case in point, not least because it’s one of the toughest establishments to break into. For years, it has been dominated by the carefully nurtured relationships between the military, the government, and the primary contractors that inhabit the Fortune 500. But that may be about to change.
Drone Manufacturing: Part of the New Wave
At Canvas GFX, we have customers from both the defense establishment and this new wave of manufacturers, and the differences can be eye-opening. The sheer pace of evolution from some of the newcomers is startling. The heavyweight incumbents of the sector are used to multi-year product and sales cycles. How must it feel as they watch start-ups who can explode from inception to a full hardware-software program that sees them winning contracts from a range of military organizations (domestic and allied) as well as private companies in a matter of months (as one of our drone manufacturing customers has)?
Meanwhile these new disruptors are tearing up the rules when it comes to product development. Why, they ask, should one product be developed in isolation for one customer? That doesn’t scale. Instead they look to identify common problems and develop platforms that can be used as the basis for rapid iteration of product skews. New products can be spun up in weeks, not years.
In this emerging specialist drone tech sector, where smaller companies and startups go head to head with the incumbents, we have a privileged view into the shifting modes of manufacturing. And it’s recognizable to us because it has roots in our world of software development. It’s hardly surprising that with the close integration of hardware and software in the drone space, that the two sides should cross-pollinate in terms of best practices.
These software-forward companies have come into being in the age of rapid prototyping, additive manufacturing, and more. They have no “this is how we do things round here” mentality. They turn like a race drone, not like a tanker. They work in sprints to iterate, develop, and customize products for a more open approach to the market that enables them to sell variants of core platforms to multiple customers, rather than working according to 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 essential to every process, from top to bottom.
One customer of ours from the drone space is a prime example of this. They found, for example, that fragmented and disorganized documentation processes across the organization – from engineering through to sales – were causing turbulence that threatened to slow them down. They were managing too many document types, in too many formats, across different teams, and consistency was needed.
We know that this is a common problem among manufacturers across industries, and one that can be far harder to address the larger, and older the company. But this customer of ours was a new company. A young company. So why the problem?
We’re back to speed. When you’re iterating fast, developing new products at a dizzying rate, documentation processes can’t keep pace. Models change fast and documentation containing flat CAD screengrabs can be out of date in a week. All of a sudden the sales team are showing potential customers images that no longer tell the real story. It caused a ripple effect.
How did they overcome this? By completely rethinking their documentation workflows. By deciding to view documentation across the organization, and irrespective of function (everything from manufacturing instructions to sales presentations), as part of the same process. By focusing on cutting edge visual communication and collaboration practices, rather than PowerPoint presentations. By making the truest and most current representations of their products – their 3D CAD models – accessible to everyone who has the need to communicate something about that product’s usage, deployment, performance, management, or value.
Their vision is one in which marketing, business development, maintenance and other customer-facing teams can interact with and visualize CAD models as effectively as the product and engineering teams. And crucially, they can do so without having to disrupt those engineers who otherwise spend hours every week taking screengrabs. Moreover, they want to give downstream audiences, including customers, the ability to interact with those models – all minutely managed from an IP and security perspective, of course.
That’s a 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 generate more questions than they deliver answers.
Sometimes change happens fast. Expect this disruptive, organization-wide model and its workflows to become industry-standard soon, as more people see the success of operating in this way. Faster, more agile, smarter, with the entire organization in unison. We have only begun to understand how the drone sector will shape our lives. I think we are also beginning to see how it will shape the wider manufacturing environment
A leader whose career in software and high tech spans four decades, including 20 years at C-level, Patricia Hume is responsible for the creation and execution of the Canvas strategic vision. With a wealth of cross-functional experience and deep operational expertise across large companies and microcaps, Patricia specializes in driving sustained growth and high-impact turnarounds.
Prior to joining Canvas, Patricia was chief operations officer at iPass, Inc., where she led global customer-facing activities, including sales, marketing, product, business development, strategic partnerships, operations, and customer support until the company’s acquisition in February 2019. She has also served as chief revenue officer at Convio, senior vice president of Global Indirect Channels at SAP AG, group vice president of Avaya’s SMB Division, and CEO and president of VerticalNet Markets. She held numerous senior management positions during her 18-year service with IBM and Lotus. A passionate advocate for diversity in tech, Patricia also volunteers for a non-profit organization focused on serving disadvantaged communities in Boston.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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