At first glance, GetScale’s cameras might seem like just another factory surveillance system. The startup, however, wants to make life easier for engineers and assembly-line workers by allowing them to communicate directly and record the entire manufacturing process.
This means hardware companies thousands of miles away from their factories get quality assurance and workers aren’t unfairly blamed for problems.
GetScale was started by Jonathan Friedman and Colton Pierson in January 2014. The two previously worked together at CircuitHub, an electronics manufacturing service (and another YC alum) co-founded by Friedman three years ago, and wanted to solve some of the issues they saw arise between OEMs and factories. GetScale currently has nine employees, offices in Redwood City, Shenzhen and Shanghai, and about 20 clients, including iCracked, Neurolabware, and Napwell. The company’s monitoring stations have inspected 250,000 units over the last six months.
Before launching GetScale, Friedman travelled to China and stayed at factory dorms to better understand working conditions.
He realized that many line workers have very few legal protections, and if something goes wrong while an order is being produced, they often end up absorbing their employer’s losses by taking wage cuts or deductions even if they aren’t at fault. For example, at one dorm Friedman visited, employees were forced to pay higher water bills.
In turn, manufacturers face stiff competition and may promise unrealistic delivery times or pricing to secure orders. Another headache is the number of third-party providers on a supply chain, which can include a contracting firm, account representatives, multiple manufacturers, sales engineers, process engineers and general managers.
GetScale’s monitoring system lets hardware engineers give step-by-step instructions directly to line workers instead of middlemen, which improves communication and speeds up the production process.
“The only two reasons factories in China make bad products is that they are malevolent, trying to cut corners and commit fraud, which is the minority of cases, or they don’t understand or don’t know what you want,” says Friedman.
He adds that GetScale sees itself as an auditor. It charges OEMs a low subscription fee for each station, starting at $110 a month, and shares that revenue with factories when they follow GetScale’s monitoring procedures, regardless of whether units pass or fail tests.
“If a factory does everything they are supposed to, they should have some financial reward and the ability to develop a reputation so they can tell people they are a good factory,” says Friedman. “But in the current system, there is not much they can do to enforce that.”
GetScale’s clients use its web app to create a test strategy, which is translated into Chinese (Spanish will be added soon). Then GetScale installs its monitoring stations in factories. A display shows detailed instructions to workers while cameras record assembly and testing. Every component’s barcode and completed unit’s serial number is also recorded.
All information is permanently archived on GetScale’s servers, which saves workers from being held responsible for mix-ups that aren’t their fault. It also protects companies from warranty fraud since users can’t swap out functional parts for broken ones.
Friedman and Pierson plan to find more clients by partnering with incubators like Y Combinator and venture capital firms that invest in hardware startups, as well as marketing by word-of-mouth to different factories across a supply chain.
Its competitors include automated optical inspection (AOI) equipment made by companies like Keysight and Agilent, but machines often cost more than $250,000 each.
GetScale gives hardware companies a more affordable alternative.
“Most recently we had a company come on board with some very large clients that needed an audit trial. They basically said we want to go visit each one of your factories every month,” says Pierson.
“When they were able to offer GetScale’s data and the auditing of every product, it resolved the issue of visiting factories and gave them the ability to serialize every single product. That CEO said you saved me three trips to China.”