For this edition of Ask an Expert, we spoke with Eric Fasser, Design and Engineering Solutions Specialist for FuzeHub. Eric helps both early-stage and established manufacturers optimize their product designs, develop manufacturing strategies, and get connected to resources throughout New York State.
Tell us about yourself and your experience.
It is interesting that my background and education kind of align exactly for this position.
I always was strong in math and sciences and pursued mechanical engineering in college. After that, I’ve spent pretty much every job I’ve ever had in the manufacturing industry.
My first job out of college was at Ross Valve, a small family-owned company. So, I had engineering, sales, and marketing responsibilities, and I had days I would throw on my coveralls and go out on the shop floor and help build stuff. As an entry-level engineer, it was the perfect job. I was meeting customers, doing service calls—everything from when we first conceived of the product to designing it, building it, installing it, servicing it, the whole life cycle. You couldn’t ask for a better starting point than that.
What I found was that I really liked the development part of it and the marketing part of it. So, when I outgrew the role, I decided to get my MBA in Marketing and Entrepreneurship. That opened a ton of doors for me in terms of product development and product management roles.
I went to Bosch Power Tools for a number of years and then Ames True Temper, getting exposed to different manufacturing processes along the way. Fast forward a few years, I started a family and moved back to the region.
A few years later, I started doing some design work on the side, helping people understand that some dimensions and rough sketches on a piece of paper weren’t sufficient for a manufacturer to work from. They needed to start thinking ‘What material do you want this made out of? What are the critical dimensions?’” All that kind of stuff they don’t necessarily realize is important for a manufacturer who wants to build this for them. Realizing there was a demand for that, I decided in 2012 to start my own company focused on product design and prototyping. I did that for about eight years.
About two years ago, FuzeHub was looking for someone to help with training for startup companies that had a prototype or at least an idea to transition to where they were ready to work with a contract manufacturer. It was the perfect mix of my engineering background, some marketing and entrepreneurship expertise, and working with start-up phase businesses.
Take us through what you do for a manufacturer and why it is important.
One example is a manufacturer that already has a prototype. They’ve made it by hand, and they want to move to the next level and get a quote on how much it would cost to make. That is a big step. They can’t just bring a handmade prototype to a contract manufacturer and say, “How much would it cost you to make this?” They need the dimensions, materials, and processes specified. It is like if they were going to ask someone for funding and didn’t have a business plan.
So, they need a drawing package, which details all the information they need to get an accurate quote. Without it, the manufacturer would have to build in extra costs to account for the unknowns.
Step one in getting a drawing package is converting the prototype into a modern 3D CAD file format. With CAD models they can do virtual iterations much easier than rebuilding the prototype every time, and they can also use that CAD file for any type of finite element analysis or virtual testing to see where the weak parts are. CAD files are also useful for doing renderings and even animation for early-stage funding and pitch competitions.
Step two is using the CAD file to optimize the design. This includes looking at reducing the total number of parts, assigning the material for each part, and looking at how they will be produced. For example, consider a part that was 3D printed for the prototype. To scale it up, they will want to switch it to injection molding or some other cost-effective method of production. Those are two different designs. So having someone who can look at the design and say “For what you are looking to do in this material at this volume, you need to change this part and do this to it” is very beneficial. Those are the types of things we look at to make it suitable for manufacturing. The idea is to make it cost-efficient and easy to assemble. We also look at things like how easy is it to service or maintain the product. Does it come apart easily? Is there a battery that needs to be accessible? Packaging, shipping, everything needs to be looked at before they start getting it made because if they identify these challenges upfront it is a lot quicker and cheaper to resolve them. If they wait until they’ve done tooling and things are coming off the production line, changes are going to be super expensive and set them way back.
The last step is the creation of the drawing package. Once they have that CAD file and a design suitable for manufacturing, a 2D print of each part as well as the full assembly can be created. Contract manufacturers want these detailed part drawings with dimensions, tolerances, surface finishes, material specifications, bill of materials, etc. so there are no questions. The more they can specify, the more professional it is. Plus, by having it documented it is much easier to track changes. Until the product goes out the door to the customer it is going to have changes. If they have too many versions out there, they could end up with the wrong product actually being made. So, that drawing package is the last critical piece.
How have you helped manufacturers deal with the pandemic?
We started a new COVID response initiative. Manufacturers were getting a lot of stuff on PPE and social distancing, but there was nothing really specific to them. How do you maintain your product quality when you are worried about getting your workforce in and keeping everyone safe? How are you going to deal with supply chain issues? We focused on those manufacturing-specific issues. We had some funding we gave out to help people overcome specific challenges that were brought on by COVID.
We also did 11 webinars spanning a number of topics. Each had two or three speakers, including an expert in the field and a manufacturer who had experienced the issue and could talk about what worked for them. We did sessions on crisis workarounds. We did a session on industry 4.0. We did two sessions on the supply chain. We did a highlight on the food and beverage industry.
These webinars are all available for free on the New York MEP website.
Another thing you do is help manufacturers make connections. Why is it important to keep those connections in New York?
One, our goal is to help New York manufacturers, so that is first and foremost; but No. 2, that is what we know best. I really couldn’t tell you anything about companies in Pennsylvania. If someone is looking for a NY-based co-packer or someone who can do 3D printing or something like that, we can go through our knowledge base and come up with great options in NY State. It is about building that network of vetted resources. These are all companies we’ve visited. We’ve checked them out, we know they can do what they say they can do. Connecting startups and manufacturers in New York is a huge part of what we do.
The other part of it is the NYSTAR network: those 70+ assets geared toward manufacturers and technology and helping New York State businesses.
Plus, working with New York companies must help with supply chain issues.
Definitely. It is much harder to get something shipped from elsewhere in the country and even more so from overseas. People are waiting 14 months for things to come from overseas and if I were working with a guy down the road, yeah, it might cost a bit more, but I wouldn’t have to lay off half my workforce because we can’t ship products. People are really starting to see the value in that.
We get a lot of inquiries from New York City and they don’t care where it is in the state. They just want somewhere they can drive to in a day instead of having to hop on a flight. If there are quality issues or anything like that they can hop in the car and figure it out instead of trying to do it via Zoom or having to travel internationally. It has been an interesting shift and it is definitely welcomed that people are looking to stay local.
Anything else you want to say?
Just that we at FuzeHub consider ourselves the go-to resource for small and medium-sized manufacturers in New York State. So, if somebody doesn’t know where to go, or who their local MEP center is, we want them to find us.