CoLab + Xometry: A Practical Approach to Scaling Innovation
Xometry is a global manufacturing marketplace that connects buyers and sellers with a better sourcing solution for on-demand industrial parts. Powered by Artificial Intelligence, Xometry’s innovative platform has helped thousands of businesses complete millions of transactions to get things built faster, better, and more affordably—and their growth is only accelerating.
In 2020, the Xometry team started using CoLab to make the communication process better for discussing new product ideas and collaborating on design. Recently, CoLab CEO Adam Keating chatted with Xometry Senior Product Manager Rachel Rush about the current shift in how people work together across engineering and manufacturing. This post covers some highlights from their conversation.
Changing a 20-Year-Old Status Quo
As design and manufacturing teams have advanced, building more complex products on a bigger global scale, the tools they use for collaboration and productivity have not kept pace. Across industries, the way people communicate and work together has been transforming for years. Cloud-based tools, distributed workforces, the rise of remote work, the shift to a best-of-breed approach to software—it’s a convergence of multiple trends that were only accelerated by the global Covid-19 pandemic. But for many engineering and manufacturing teams, this transformation hasn’t happened as quickly.
“The manufacturing industry in general… what we’ve found is it feels sometimes like it's one of the industries that's kind of the last to hop on the technology revolution, changing the way people work,” says Rush. “When Xometry started, a lot of customers and a lot of manufacturing shops were using the same tools that they were using 20 years ago, and they hadn't really done any innovation. And at the end of the day, it really just slowed them down.”
Just like CoLab, Xometry recognizes that the current shift happening in the industry isn’t about changing how teams design, or how they manufacture. It’s about a change in how people communicate, collaborate, and use technology to be more productive. As Rush puts it, “We realized it wasn't about changing what they did. It wasn't about teaching people about manufacturing. It was about giving them a better tool to use, to get what they wanted easier and quicker.”
Breaking Innovation into Practical Steps
For the industry to move beyond an outdated status quo, innovations need to go hand-in-hand with an understanding of people and behaviour change. “It's just about remembering somebody's going to come to work at the beginning of the day and have to do a job—and you can't forget about that daily experience,” emphasizes Rush. “They have to be able to understand what they're doing and focus on what they're doing and still be able to accomplish things, even though you’re trying to change the way that they work.”
Striking the right balance means meeting people where they are, while helping them move toward something better. Instead of trying to take big leaps, it’s about innovating in increments (and more often). As Rush views it, “You can come up with this grand strategy about where you want to be in ten years. But then you've got to say, ‘Okay, what is it that I can do today? What is it about their workflow that I can change today that is actually manageable for them?’ And then just iterate on that and do that over and over again.”
Rush’s advice for anyone who wants to make a meaningful impact? “Don't think about what you can do. Think about what you want to do, and then see if you can figure out how you can do that. Because you'd be surprised how many new methods of doing things are developed every day… So really think about what you want to accomplish and then work back from there. Because sometimes the thing—that end product, or the change that you want to make—is actually completely different than what you thought it was going to be, but you can still accomplish what you want to accomplish.”
When Xometry Found CoLab
Over the last several years as Xometry has grown, their own needs as a team have evolved. As they took on more large projects and started doing more design reviews and collaboration with their customers and partners, Xometry saw an opportunity to make the communication process better for everyone. They started exploring project management and communication tools looking for ways to improve clarity and efficiency.
“We had a lot of people sending a lot of emails back and forth,” recalls Rush. “Imagine trying to create this new product with these complicated designs and doing all these revisions and having all these important discussions on all these really long email chains. It just seemed like there's got to be a better way. There's got to be a better experience we can give to people. There's got to be a better way of tracking these things.”
Rush continues, “Then we found CoLab… and it just seemed like, wow, that just fits so perfectly for what we have been discussing, sort of what Xometry had not solved yet—which was how can we collaborate with our customers, with our partners, and give them that great user experience while maintaining perfect record tracking and perfect history and really just communicating quicker and more effectively.”
So what does Rush hope to see when it comes to changing the way design and manufacturing teams work together? “I think success is when an engineer can work with an engineer in a completely other different country, build something together online, collaborate very quickly, order it, get it delivered very quickly, get pricing very quickly. Between the two companies, I think we've done a great job of solving some of the most difficult problems there, and I'm excited to see how different groups of engineers, different teams can use our products to just come up with some really great new ideas and to do it without as much friction that they've always had to deal with—which I think, at the end of the day, really is a big blocker to innovation.”
“That's where CoLab comes in. It's a great manufacturing tool, but it's also at its essence, I think a great communication tool. Like, you don't have to be physically in someone's presence to make sure that they understand what you're pointing to,” says Rush. “We have the engineering talent in this world, right? We just need to give them the tools so that they can do what they do best.”