This cloud-equipped factory wants to be the go-to manufacturer for small hardware startups

When Jen McCabe moved to Shenzhen, China, to help startup Romotive manufacture its Romo robot, she discovered that production is not as simple as showing up to a factory with a product design.

“When we went to China we thought that everything would be easier, … that manufacturing was kind of this solved issue,” McCabe said. “We didn’t realize that there are still so many issues with manufacturing overseas. There’s the time difference. There’s the cultural barrier. … There are huge costs that you just don’t account for.”

McCabe’s newest venture, Factorli, is meant to solve those manufacturing barriers that haunt even the best hardware startups. Right now, early-stage hardware startups commonly build their products by hand. When demand outstrips what they can do in house, they begin the process of outsourcing the work to a factory. But right now it really only makes sense to take the work to a factory if you need tens of thousands, or ideally hundreds of thousands, of units.

The Factorli Team. Photo courtesy of Factorli.

The Factorli Team. Photo courtesy of Factorli.

Factorli is aimed squarely at startups who need up to 10,000 units — basically any company that completes a crowdfunding campaign. That has traditionally been a dangerous place for a startup to fall, creating pressure for startups to leap from 1,000 units to 50,000. As a result, many startups fail in this scale-up.

Factorli’s 25,000 square foot space doesn’t look much different from a traditional factory. It uses the same industrial-grade robots and machines. As a result, it’s not necessarily less expensive per unit. What is different is all of the machines are connected to the cloud. When an order comes in, the system will automatically determine the best time to manufacture it and what machines to use.

Kuka Robots will be installed at Factorli

Kuka Robots that will be installed at Factorli. Photo courtesy of Factorli.

“When we’re building Factorli, we’re looking at how do we build an operating system that will run the whole factory,” McCabe said. “You have to build a factory that doesn’t look like any factory has looked like before.”

The result is the time to manufacture something goes down while quality remains high. McCabe said the factory will be capable of producing basically anything made out of plastic, metal and a circuit board. Packaging and testing will also go on there. And it’s all feasible under one roof (or, rather, the three roofs that will make up the Factorli campus).

Factorli is scheduled to open early in 2015. Construction this year will be boosted by $10 million in Series A funding the startup announced today, which was contributed by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and VegasTechFund (where McCabe manages a hardware startup portfolio).

“We want to make manufacturing not scary,” McCabe said. “We want to make it this amazing and creative experience. We want people to be able to witness it.”