July 21, 2021

Sustainable Manufacturing at Scale

Sustainable Manufacturing at Scale

Augmented reveals the stories behind the new era of industrial operations, where technology will restore the agility of frontline workers. 

In episode 33 of the podcast, the topic is: Sustainable Manufacturing at Scale. Our guest is Scott N. Miller, Managing Director, Dragon Ventures.

In this conversation, we talk about his early experience building Roomba robot vacuum cleaner at iRobot, contract manufacturing challenges for startups, global hardware ecosystems, investing in hardware and industrial innovation, manufacturing strategy, the New Product Introduction (NPI) process, how to navigate the journey from prototype through high volume manufacturing including Shenzhen business models for 10K units factory first runs.

Augmented is a podcast for leaders, hosted by futurist Trond Arne Undheim (@trondau), presented by Tulip.co, the frontline operations platform, and associated with MFG.works, the manufacturing upskilling community launched at the World Economic Forum. Each episode dives deep into a contemporary topic of concern across the industry and airs at 9 am US Eastern Time every Wednesday. Augmented--the industry 4.0 podcast.

After listening to this episode, check out Dragon Ventures as well as Scott N. Miller's social media profile: 

My takeaway is that startups are ill equipped to handle global contract manufacturing challenges. They are essentially being asked to take on complex supply chain and product development procedures that even large companies themselves struggle with. Yes, there is a way to navigate this terrain, and those who do, can pick up tremendous bounties and might just change the world.

Thanks for listening. If you liked the show, subscribe at Augmentedpodcast.co or in your preferred podcast player, and rate us with five stars. If you liked this episode, you might also like episode 18, Transforming Foundational Industries, episode 23, Digital Manufacturing in the Cloud or episode 9, The Fourth Industrial Revolution post-COVID-19

Augmented--industrial conversations that matter.


#33_Sustainable Manufacturing at Scale_Scott Miller 

[00:00:00] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:00:00] Augmented reveals the stories behind the new era of industrial operations, where technology will restore the agility of frontline workers. In episode 33 of the podcast, the topic is sustainable and manufacturing at scale. Our guest is Scott N. Miller Managing Director of Dragon Ventures. In this conversation we talk about his early experience building Roomba robot vacuum cleaners at iRobot. Contract manufacturing challenges for startups, global hardware ecosystems investing in hardware and industrial innovation manufacturing strategy, the new product introduction process, and how to navigate the journey from prototype through high volume manufacturing, including gen business models for 10 K units factory first runs. Augmented is a podcast for leaders hosted by futuristsTrond Arne Undheim. Presented by Tulip.co the [00:01:00] frontline operations platform at associated with MFG that works the manufacturing upskilling community launched at the world economic forum. Each episode dives deep into their contemporary topic of concern across the industry and airs 9 am us Eastern time every Wednesday. Augmented the industry 4.0 Podcast. 

[00:01:25] Hi, scott, how are you?

[00:01:26]Scott N. Miller: [00:01:26] I'm doing well. How about yourself? 

[00:01:28] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:01:28] I'm doing well too. I'm super excited to talk to you. We had a wonderful call earlier, so I wanted to see if we could do even better, but I don't know if we can, do you think we can top our own private prep?

[00:01:41] Scott N. Miller: [00:01:41] Yeah, no, that was great. And it's fun to to get ready, but yeah, this is going to be a blast and thank you for having me on, I'm really excited to talk with you. 

[00:01:49] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:01:49] So I want to start, and so am I want to start with this you're a cyclist. What does that have to do with anything. How did you become a cyclist?

[00:01:57] Is it, yeah, there's a little story there. 

[00:02:00] [00:02:00] Scott N. Miller: [00:02:00] Yeah, sure. So for me being an engineer, a bicycle was the most easy thing to tink, to tinker with. Just because it's all very accessible, but it also was a way to be able to get around before I had my driver's license. And for some reason, I had a instill do a pretty big tandem fetish.

[00:02:19] So I've collected over the course of my time here probably four or five different tandems from really crappy rental ones to pretty nice ones. And one of the things that I'm doing is modifying them and writing them down staircases. But yeah. 

[00:02:33] That's not, 

[00:02:35] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:02:35] that's not the regular use, but yeah, I get it.

[00:02:37]Scott N. Miller: [00:02:37] The good thing on a tandem is you can't endo because the thing has got such a long way. And that used to be one of my concerns now that I'm a little better mountain bike, air biker. It's less of a problem, but but yeah, no, I've always been fascinated with bikes and was lucky to go on a couple of century rides, which is a sort of an interesting experience.

[00:02:55] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:02:55] The reason I started with bikes and cycling that's actually the most normal and [00:03:00] least exotic are the things where I could have started because, not only are you a mechanical engineer, with very hands-on things and experiences, which we're going to talk about in terms so hardware design. But you did from what I understand, you began building robots pretty early on at MIT, including some bio mimetic ones, tuna fish were involved. And the, this is oceans engineering, robotics. It's about the coolest you could do although then you went to Disney. You got to give me this story and kind of unbundle it for people because you have everybody's engineering dream career.

[00:03:35] You have touched upon all of the fascinating companies, all of the cool technologies. How did you get to do all that? And how was it like. 

[00:03:44] Scott N. Miller: [00:03:44] Yeah, it was in, it was probably the most fun I've had. I had been lucky and had an enjoyable ride, but this Clara was a huge blast. For me, I've always loved the ocean in addition to biking and had the chance to do some sailing.

[00:03:58] Before I headed out to [00:04:00] sea, I just put in my application for MIT graduate school, just hoping for the best and then disappeared out to sea for a month. And I got a call from my mom somewhere in Tahiti saying, Hey, guess what you got in? And I was like, oh my God, that's awesome. So I went for ocean engineering and Naval architecture, and we're working on a project for the U S Navy to find ways to make under sea propulsion, more efficient for autonomous undersea vehicles.

[00:04:25] And we wanted to use a different means that our propeller, so we look to mother nature and she's been at it a lot longer than we have. And we found the longest swimming, most efficient vehicle was the tuna fish. It's funny back in the mid nineties CAD was at its infancy. There's like at least where I was, there was no 3d or very little 3d, so everything was 2d.

[00:04:48] And what we ended up doing is going to central square, buying a 46 inch tuna fish from a fishmonger, running it through a band, saw to get 100 steaks and then tracing the profile on a piece of paper. [00:05:00] And then taking those and then lofting them together, which is a traditional Nevar architecture approach to create the 3d whole form.

[00:05:07] And it's funny like today you would just like laser scan it and be done with it. But back in the day you had jumped through all those hoops. And the weird thing is we had a bunch of tendons running through the fish that would actuate the different ball kids. And we're always afraid the holes would be a little bit off.

[00:05:23] So we just print out the 2d drawings and hold them up to light and make sure that as a silhouette, the holes all lined up. So we knew that we were actually designing the thing properly. 

[00:05:33] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:05:33] It's fantastic. All right. So there was Tahiti involved. There was a lot of sailing you've you sailed schooners.

[00:05:39]But then somehow you got yourself into what was next in your ride? Was that Disney?

[00:05:45] Scott N. Miller: [00:05:45] Yeah. So we had our lab at MIT with the fish and somehow the fish ended up on the cover of scientific American doing this crazy backflip, which it totally couldn't like if we were being realistic, what the fish was, it was a [00:06:00] glorified puppet on a mask with the motors off board.

[00:06:02] So there's no way be anywhere near the ocean, much of us doing a backflip, but they took a few liberties and a VP at Disney saw this and was like, oh my God, we need help with our robotics. Maybe we can hire the whole lab. So he came in, developed a relationship with my friend and mentor Dave , who was running the lab and wanted us all to move to California.

[00:06:25] But Dave for assorted reasons that wasn't possible. So we ended up saying, oh, no problem. Why don't you guys just set up a lab right behind the MIT. You'll have access to great talent in almost be like a startup within Disney, except that you'll have as much funding as you want. So oh, okay. That sounds awesome.

[00:06:43] And and it truly was the funny thing is. We all had to interview for the job. And I was working down in the Cape on a undersea robotics company doing more more robots down there and I'd signed up for the interview, but I never heard back from them. [00:07:00] And I just assumed maybe it didn't work out. I didn't know but the day before I called up as Hey, is the interview still on? And I go, yeah, you're scheduled tomorrow at three. Oh man. All right. Yes. I went up, I think I totally blew the interview. They asked me some crazy question about the aerodynamic effects of a district which I had no idea.

[00:07:18] So I came up with some stupid answer and the guy was totally not buying what I was selling, but somehow I got in and yeah, it was an amazing

[00:07:27]Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:07:27] and you ended up building walking dinosaurs, I forget. 

[00:07:31] Scott N. Miller: [00:07:31] Yep, only Disney can do that but yeah, we built a full-size walking robotic, dinosaur that we powered by Corvette.

[00:07:39] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:07:39] You can't make this up. You can't make it up. So then you joined I robot fairly early in, in the I robot lifecycle. There weren't that many of these, a robotics around and you went through a bunch of things there. Tell me about how you got into, that the real core of this story, we, I'm really curious about [00:08:00] today is what you started doing there, which was scaling manufacturing internationally.

[00:08:04]So tell me a little bit about how that happened. 

[00:08:07] Scott N. Miller: [00:08:07] So that was a turning point in my career where I went from building onesies, just onesies, robots where you could file the corner and get them to work to high volume. And basically we had met Collin and Helen. When we were at Disney, they were trying to get us to buy a crazy cyclical, six legged walking robot to do experiments on.

[00:08:28] And I think we ended up doing that, but I really liked them. So when it was time to make a change, A bunch of us went from Disney to I robot. Initially I was hired to basically lead a project to build a real R2D2 in a month for a, what was called toy fair in New York. And when I took the job, I was like, yeah, there's no way we can build R2D2.

[00:08:52]But at least there'll be a fun month and then I'll probably get fired and go onto the next thing. And lucky for me, George Lucas canceled the [00:09:00] project and said, you're like, no R2D2 doesn't serve beer at toy fair. So you can't do that because otherwise I'm sure I would've gotten canned. But in the sort of, somewhat of my theme in dumb luck, I got put in charge of a joint venture we had with Hasbro trying to learn high volume manufacturing. And we ended up building about a hundred thousand of this really freaky looking baby at all. And for me, I had never seen any Chinese manufacturing or anything of any sort of volume. And it was, it just blew me away. Like just learning how this stuff is actually built and being able to go to the factory.

[00:09:37] So I think based on that I didn't have much experience, but I had a little Colin ended up giving me the opportunity to take a Roomba prototype, get on a plane, fly to China for four years, and then set up all the manufacturing with an a remarkable team for the first 4 million or so Roombas. 

[00:09:54]Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:09:54] So that gets us into kinda a new product development and what you then turned out know turned into [00:10:00] doing, because you work with, I robot got this experience and you learn so much from that, that you basically now could start selling it this approach to a bunch of different companies, right? So that's where the dragon part of your career showed up. And I was just yeah, I wanted you to tell me a little bit about how that process works. So  why have 400 clients come to dragon innovation to do understand how to do this? Is it really that hard to manufacture at scale or to manufacturing?

[00:10:34] Scott N. Miller: [00:10:34] Yeah, I think that they're both very challenging and it's one of these where it doesn't seem as hard as it is. I use the analogy of an alphabet where a is the idea like let's go build a vacuuming robot or whatever the product is, and then I've changed it a little bit, but it used to be Z was product in the customer's hands.

[00:10:52] And most companies that have built a prototype, think they're near the middle of the alphabet, like MRN, but they're actually around B or [00:11:00] C. And the thing is, as you scale things, get exponentially more complex in that you've got to, regardless of where you build, you've got to go and find a great factory that's well-suited for what you're trying to do, which is just really really hard to do, especially as a startup. And then you have to think through design for manufacturer design, for assembly design, for test design, for cost, maybe design for logistics, like all that, there's all this DFX stuff that you have to consider.

[00:11:29] The challenge is a lot of it is unknown unknowns if you haven't done it before. And as we often say education is expensive. So it could be that you need to go through a few companies before you figure it out. And I think the key insight we had with my last company, dragon innovation, having lived through it with a robot.

[00:11:47] Is that if we can help companies see around corners and make fewer mistakes and get the early decisions, right? Which often cast long shadows, they have a much better chance of a [00:12:00] successful outcome, just because often when you make a decision, the implications of that might be months or years down the road, and it can be very difficult to unwind some of those decisions. So yeah, manufacturing is hopefully it will get simpler, but it's still. Pretty insanely complex.

[00:12:16]Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:12:16] But generally is contract manufacturing, always the answer to manufacturing for startups, or are there times when you should go counterculture and just said, no, we're going to actually build our own factory.

[00:12:31] Scott N. Miller: [00:12:31] Yeah. So there are a few options to consider. I think often the using a third party or a contract manufacturer is typically, it may be the right choice if you're doing lower volumes. So say you were building a hundred to 500 units, then it's probably better to do it in house just because it takes longer to teach somebody else to do it than if you just did it yourself.

[00:12:55] The challenge is if you one to set up your own factory, then [00:13:00] not only are you launching your own product, but then you've got to figure out how a factory works into run that which adds a lot more complexity. Whereas, if you can work with a partner that already understands that and has that infrastructure, it can give you a headstart, although you will end up potentially paying a little bit higher price for that.

[00:13:17] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:13:17] I think we've done some experiments by actually, automating some of the runs like  because, I wanted to talk a little bit about the fact that. Yes, you may go there and set it up, but eventually you're manufacturing at a distance so there is this communication challenge.

[00:13:32] And  how far would you say software is right now when it comes to giving the precise instructions so that it is actually possible to, to not only just manufacture at scale, but to adjust it and take in all the information, on the factory floor almost as if you were there, right?

[00:13:49] Because there are all of these communication challenges that it would seem at every stage of the process. 

[00:13:55] Scott N. Miller: [00:13:55] Yes and you hit the nail on the head that we've always said the [00:14:00] biggest challenge in manufacturing is communication. It's when you're developing a product with a really tight product development team you're often all in the same room, at least before COVID and it's a very high bandwidth connection. You've got similar backgrounds and a shared vision for what you're doing, but the minute you start working with a cm or a manufacturing partner, even if they're in your backyard, it's much, much more challenging.

[00:14:25] And then you throw in. China, which is, maybe 8,000 miles away with a different time zone, language, culture. Often, like I know when we were building the Roomba, nobody had ever seen an autonomous for cleaning robot before. So like they had no idea what it is we're actually building.

[00:14:41] And to try to explain that was incredibly difficult. So I think things have matured a lot, but I think there's also a lot of opportunity going forward that. What we see in one of the things I'm so excited about what tulip is doing is that there's often a gap in that. Companies often use [00:15:00] email Excel things PowerPoint at one end, or they have to use this big, heavy enterprise software at the other end, which is expensive time consuming, not always obvious.

[00:15:12] And I think there's a huge opportunity in the middle for modern, easy to use software that doesn't cost an arm and  a leg. And it does get at the heart of communications. Yeah, I think good progress has been made, but there's endless opportunity ahead to build out that that area that would address the gap.

[00:15:28] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:15:28] Yeah. It's so interesting because clearly with  anytime you, you deal with third parties, there is that communication challenge, but it wasn't such a big problem. If it was a very clear and simple but when it is the entire process that you're outsourcing, that's I need is a complicated new product. Like typically I guess you work mostly with kind of tech startup type develop hardware product. 

[00:15:53] Scott N. Miller: [00:15:53] Yeah, we work with a lot of startups, but we're seeing an increasing number of what we would call non-traditional [00:16:00] customers. So imagine one of our former customers was one of the big coffee brands and they know how to build a lot of coffee, but they've never really built a hardware product, but they realized if they IOT ified some of their brewers, then they could be a lot more efficient.

[00:16:16] So they knew what they wanted to do, but they just didn't have any experience with hardware. So even though they are very well established company. It was much more like a startup. And I think we're seeing more and more of this. 

[00:16:27] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:16:27] That's interesting. Historically right people realize that if you have to integrate hardware and software, it gets more complex.

[00:16:34] That's like logical even, because there is a physical thing that you have to take into account. Do you see a large potential there? Do you mean it is it an expanding market, this IOT integration of of software and hardware?

[00:16:47] Scott N. Miller: [00:16:47] Yes. I was amazed by the number of these non-traditional customers we saw, which are all billion dollar companies that want to move sideways and incorporate an IOT solution.

[00:17:00] [00:16:59] And some were fairly straight forward others were more complex, but I think there's an opportunity to help provide that solution that would go from the device to the cloud and then analyzing the data because and it's not necessarily my expertise, but just opening up things like security issues to make sure that the data is safe during the transmission and things like that a lot can go wrong if that gets gets in the hands of somebody that shouldn't have it. But if it's done well, the business insights that it can provide in the extra functionality can really unlock some, either savings or new revenue opportunities. 

[00:17:37] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:17:37] Cool. I wanted to have you ask tell me a little bit about industry opportunities that you see emerging whether they're in startups or like you just said for, even for larger companies, what are some things that you are excited about at the moment that you see coming into your space and whether it is individual startups that are doing cool things, or it is a broader industry trend that that you have engaged.

[00:17:59]Scott N. Miller: [00:17:59] So [00:18:00] certainly a lot of growth in robotics. I think before I robot was really the only successful robotic company at scale at least in the consumer space and now that with ROS and more affordable and capable sensors and likewise processors, you can do things that you could never do before and also work at a higher level of abstraction.

[00:18:19] So you don't necessarily need to be down in the weeds. So I'm seeing definitely a lot of benefits a lot of growth in that area. IOT in general, it's been over-hyped for the last five or six years, but I still remain excited about that and just providing connectivity two devices at a cost, especially with the decreasing price of radios.

[00:18:41]One that I'm particularly excited about and I think is still quite early, but is the idea of sustainability or more of a circular economy. So how to, how can we be gentler to the planet that we live on? And some companies are starting to work on that so I'm excited. Hopefully that trend will [00:19:00] grow.

[00:19:00] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:19:00] Yeah. You told me something earlier, you said early decisions, cast long shadows. And initially I thought you were reflecting on your own career in terms of, all the products you've worked with and you've seen kind of these trajectories, like you make a decision and it has some impact.

[00:19:16]But maybe you can address that both in terms of, your overall experience and how it relates to sustainability, this idea of early decisions in specifically in hardware. 

[00:19:27] Scott N. Miller: [00:19:27] Yes. Yeah. So for the for one example, especially given the supply chain shortages on the ICS that we're seeing now, if you were to do an electrical design and pick a particular processor, then realize after you develop your entire code base, that you can't buy that processor for a year. That could be incredibly painful, especially if you're a startup with with the burns. So you don't have revenue coming in. And I was just talking to my friends at a major chip company trying to understand, like why is [00:20:00] there such a crunch right now?

[00:20:02] And I got a little bit more insight. It sounds like when COVID hit automotive, put everything on hold, so they weren't buying any chips. In fact, they were sending them back and then that provided them to the consumer electronic companies because everybody's staying home and there was a bigger demand there.

[00:20:19] But now that COVID has slowed down a little bit, at least in some parts of the world, people want new cars. So automotive has this huge demand on top of the already growing consumer demand. And there's just not enough  chips available, whether it's the lead frames or the raw materials or the foundries, or what have you.

[00:20:39] So there's a huge crunch, which is probably not going to get better for the next 18 months or so. And towards the idea of early decisions, cast long shadows. If you can make component selections that are more readily available, you'll have a much better chance of a favorable outcome. Whereas if you unwittingly pick a component that has a [00:21:00] yearly time, then you've really made a choice that's going to have profound downstream implications in terms of your viability as a business. Okay. Some reason, like capacitors are always a really long lead time, so totally unsexy component, but it's hard to build a processor with build a product without them. 

[00:21:19] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:21:19] Interesting. 

[00:21:20] And as relates to sustainable manufacturing. First off, it would seem that sustainability at scale is the first challenge, because you can conceptualize, like we've talked about that, which is already a hard process. So whenever you really trying to innovate with a lot of different constraints, so it's sustainability, you're introducing new materials that haven't perhaps been tested before, because that's the point, right?

[00:21:43] How does the early decisions come in there and what are some of the things that you are now trying to  do. I know reduce, reuse, recycle but what does that really mean for product development and the way you've seen it, 

[00:21:56] Scott N. Miller: [00:21:56] right. Yeah. So I had mentioned a little earlier in our [00:22:00] conversation, the concept of the alphabet as the timescale for product development, and that used to be easy ideas, these product in the customer's hands.

[00:22:07] I look at it now more middle of L of the alphabet is when the customer gets the product, but then there's this huge question when they're done with it. What happens to it? Like it doesn't magically disappear. So that's the back half of the alphabet. And as I reflect back on my career, I've been lucky to probably help companies build tens,  let's say tens of millions of products. But the thing that keeps me awake at night is a lot of them are just going to end up in landfill and how can we make the decisions upfront so that they'll be kinder to the earth. And one of those options is reducing. But most companies that want to grow the idea of selling less isn't as isn't really the direction they want to go in. So it's still something to consider. But then the others are recycle or reuse. And towards that end, if we can design products that actually can be repaired, then they [00:23:00] can have a lot longer life and hopefully stay out of landfill for a greater amount of time.

[00:23:05] So the trick is how do you design something to be repairable? Those are all decisions you have to make upfront, so that maybe it's more of a modular design. So that the components like motors that we know are going to wear out sooner can be replaced, but it also can influence the design. So apple of course, has set the bar very high for consumer design.

[00:23:25] If we can build products that have a design aesthetic, such that it's going to last many years, as opposed to just be the hottest thing this year and become dated afterwards, then I think that will give it more longevity from a recycling standpoint right now, we typically have to recycle single materials.

[00:23:45] So if you were to design a product that had a lot of overmolding and combined two different materials, it's very difficult to recycle that. So we may want to change the way we do the design for assembly. That potentially, if it is two [00:24:00] materials, they can be easily disassembled or there's a way to remove the circuit board and put that in one stream and then put the plastic in a different stream.

[00:24:08] And this all takes more effort. But if we think through it upfront, then it does enable that. 

[00:24:14] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:24:14] You had a great example earlier, I thought, which I wanted to bring up with when it comes to bio-plastics, which I know is a controversial, but it's an issue that has gotten really a lot of attention, plastics and we all understand that turned out to be, ultimately a bad idea, a very good technology for a while, until we realized what it was doing to the environment long-term. But bio-plastics, aren't automatically the solution, right? Unless, unless you take care to, to change something about the process and the way that it's handled.

[00:24:47] Scott N. Miller: [00:24:47] Yeah. So there's a lot of confusion around what a bioplastic is. It's a generally a poorly defined term and there's some that will be compostable. [00:25:00] There are some that are made from more bio friendly materials like corn, but they all have different characteristics. And one of the things that I think creates a lot of trouble is when you take, say a corn based or a compostable bioplastic and put it in the recycling stream, it can ruin that batch because it's not really recyclable.

[00:25:21] It's compostable. In the public isn't very, well-educated on that important distinction. It's also, I think been fallen into a way to differentiate a marketing that companies will claim they have all this cool compostable or bio-plastics when in practice, maybe it's not as compostable or earth friendly as one might hope, but it's just a way to, get some market share.

[00:25:46]So it's a little bit like the wild west out there when it comes to that. 

[00:25:49]Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:25:49] Having said that though, if there was a bioplastic. That truly did all those things. And we found a way to put it in the right place once we've used it, that would seem like [00:26:00] a game changer. 

[00:26:02] Scott N. Miller: [00:26:02] Yes. Yeah. And then I think the question is how long does it take to break down?

[00:26:05]Does it re, can you compost it in your backyard or most of these require a commercial composting operation and some of them still ask quite a bit of time before that revert to their basic elements. 

[00:26:17] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:26:17] And that matters. There's a lot. I have recently started composting after a while watching it.

[00:26:21] And it's a frustrating process because, you put the wrong thing in there or you don't cut it right. Or indeed someone else puts in something that's composts at a different pace. And then you're stuck with that idea in there. You want to use the compost, but you have a bunch of like bulky stuff inside your compost.

[00:26:37] It's composting is not a, it's not easy actually to get right. 

[00:26:42] Scott N. Miller: [00:26:42] It's not easy. Yeah. And there's I think a lot about consumer goods because that's the space I work in. But if you look at single use packaging with multi-layer materials, those are one and done they're incredibly high volume and they're impossible to recycle.

[00:26:57]So that's one area as companies think about their [00:27:00] packaging trying to make it more earth friendly. And the other huge one is just one single use of medical waste. There are a bunch of things that can be done in that to make it more recyclable such as using the same material, meaning the same resonant in the same color for a whole.

[00:27:15]They can be sterilized ground up and reused. But for example, if you use two different colors, so you've got a vile with a blue cap and a white body, then unless you separate that, that's just going to be burned for energy. 

[00:27:27] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:27:27] Yeah. You pointed out that inks, which not, is not my expertise for sure, but it seems to be any kind of solution that contains some sort of colorant or a dye or a pigment or something.

[00:27:38] And it's used obviously in almost every industrial product out there.  What can be done there? You said, so it's just keeping the color a uniform essentially. Cause colors, do they decompose at different rates? Is that what happens? 

[00:27:51] Scott N. Miller: [00:27:51] Yeah. So the 

[00:27:53] with the inks, it's often in the packaging and many of them have heavy metals within the ink that can create [00:28:00] quite a bit of trouble on the plastic, those streams, particularly on the medical, because the single use is so high, especially these days, the trick is keeping it the same resin in the same color, which is often at odds with what the marketing team.

[00:28:14] Might want to do cause it doesn't look as good if it's, just bland, but it does make it a lot more earth friendly in, there is a startup doing all sorts of cool things where they will take this medical waste. If it is designed, as I described, they'll sterilize it, they'll grind it up and then they'll remold it so that it has a much more circular use as opposed to just burning it for energy, which I guess is better than landfill, but not by much. 

[00:28:40]Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:28:40] That certainly is a huge issue. And it would seem that the Boston area would be fertile for possible innovation in that space too. There's Boston scientific there's certainly a lot of

[00:28:50]innovators in the space there. Do you think that the medical waste issue will get tackled this decade? Is it easy enough to tackle, or is it going to take much longer? [00:29:00] W if you decompose, could you take 20% of the waste and deal with that easily, or is the 80% is like one of those types of issues where a bulk of it is going to take a while to figure.

[00:29:11] Scott N. Miller: [00:29:11] Yeah, I'm optimistic on the medical side that this decade that, we'll get towards the 80% Yeah, the challenge with plastic is it's not very expensive and not a lot of it is recycled. But I think in the medical side, there's enough volume. So for example, for aluminum when you throw away or when you recycle an aluminum, can it typically takes about 90 days before that aluminum shows up in the next can.

[00:29:35] So it's a very efficient cycle. Aluminum is expensive to mine. In fact, if you were to fill up half a can of aluminum with gasoline, that's about how much energy it takes to to create that raw aluminum from the box site. So aluminum is a great thing to recycle. The problem with plastic is only 9% of the plastic is actually recycled and plastic is not inherently right [00:30:00] valuable for the most part. So there's a lot less economic incentive to recycle it versus metal. 

[00:30:05] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:30:05] So that leads me to the question. Wouldn't the solution here not just be to develop bio-plastics, but you need to develop something with better properties than plastic that's even cheaper.

[00:30:15] Otherwise it would seem that this is not a decade problem. This thing could last forever because plastics have been around for awhile and they're just enormously efficient in your work. 

[00:30:25] Scott N. Miller: [00:30:25] Yes, they're efficient from pretty much every aspect other than the environment. They're very strong they're, cost-effective, they're robust, they're cheap. But yeah, I think the, where I'm excited initially in the medical waste is going down the recycling path of just being able to get a better reuse of The, yeah, it's a much bigger problem to, to basically synthesize a new resin that is better than the existing stuff and also more environmentally friendly.

[00:30:55] So yeah, that, that's a much bigger undertaking.

[00:30:58] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:30:58] Fascinating stuff. What [00:31:00] gets you up at night and keeps you coming into work in the morning? That is more now on the sustainability side. 

[00:31:06] Scott N. Miller: [00:31:06] Yes. Yeah. That's scenario and for me, I'm on this, the fund or the steep part of the learning curve.

[00:31:11]The interesting thing is it's such a complex equation that you have to look at the whole life cycle of a of a product. And it's not always intuitively obvious what the right answer is. So I think we're still fairly nascent in trying to understand all those different pieces and be able to compare apples to apples so that you can make an informed decision.

[00:31:30]So yeah, I think there's still a lot of work to be done on that front. And that's why it's exciting. 

[00:31:35] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:31:35] Lastly, 3d printing is one of those areas where you would think that eventually you could do some innovations in the materials going into them. And there was recently one announcement, I think you and I would just briefly talking about, but desktop metal came out with this experimental process for printing word or some wood version.

[00:31:52]That would seem really pans out to be it, to be one example of a game changer. Although, wood can't be used for everything. [00:32:00] But but it is a, it is definitely a biological product. What do you think, generally in the, sort of the 3d space, but what else are we likely to see? Develop there.

[00:32:10]And how does that relate to this, these very complicated products that you've been building? Because up until now we have been printing fairly simple parts, to be honest. So the, my question is, how quickly are we going to move into the much more advanced product development that, that you have been involved with?


[00:32:26] Scott N. Miller: [00:32:26] Yeah. So as we think about getting 3d printing for high volume, I think there's a few things that need to change a big one is the cycle time. So right now, it may take hours, if not days to print a fairly large part, whereas injection molding, I can do a shot every 30 seconds. So it's night and day on that front.

[00:32:45] And that also relates to the cost in that there is, if you take the overhead of the transformation, there's just a lot more cost. If it takes longer, the materials are getting much, much better from desktop metal or Markforged [00:33:00] like that the parts you get out of that are incredible. They just take along at this point, they have a long cycle time.

[00:33:06] The The other challenge I have with them is this support material, particularly in stereo lithography. As much as I love my SLA printers, I spend a lot of time clipping off the support and it just leaves dimples everywhere, which is not like I can't use that for a production part.

[00:33:23] I know there's a couple of companies doing some really cool stuff that doesn't require support, or if you use sLS than the powder holds up the part. So you don't need support material. And I know form labs has launched a really cool product in that area. But yeah, I think cycle time costs, supports materials are pretty good.

[00:33:41]And then some four fortify 3d has done some very cool stuff, making very strong parts, using some proprietary magnetics, getting fibers to align in the right direction, according to the street. So I think there's still options there but from a production standpoint, we have a ways to go 

[00:33:57] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:33:57] last question for you. And I know that this is not your [00:34:00] field anymore, but if you were an Imagineer right now and you're working on the next big exhibit down there at Disney, what w what sort of technologies would you bring with you in your backpack when you're setting up the next, interactive exhibit? What sort of technologies would go into it these 

[00:34:15] days?

[00:34:16] Scott N. Miller: [00:34:16] Yeah. I always have liked immersive experiences, but much more than VR where you're just a watcher, but something where you can participate and feel. I don't know if you remember a long time ago in the ninth floor of the AI lab, they had what was called sensible. So it was a haptic feedback device.

[00:34:34] And I remember playing with that the first time and I was just blown away. It bridged the gap between the screen and your perception. So something like that I think would be really compelling for Disney. They had one, and I forget the name of it, but you basically were flying. You got in a, it was an indoor.

[00:34:50] Yeah. Somewhat VR ride. But they really gave you the illusion and that magical feeling of drifting through air. And I think we could continue 

[00:34:57] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:34:57] to, I remember that, actually, I think we're talking about [00:35:00] the same one. I just can't remember what it's called, but that's that is, it was so 

[00:35:04] cool.

[00:35:04] Scott N. Miller: [00:35:04] Yeah, definitely. Yeah. And whether it's in the era of being an ocean engineer in the water even better. But yeah I love that type of a thing where you get the thrill without the data. 

[00:35:13]Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:35:13] There is a lot of thrill in your field and I thank you for taking us on a ride here today. Thanks a lot.


[00:35:20]Scott N. Miller: [00:35:20] Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed the conversation. 

[00:35:24] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:35:24] You have just listened to episode 33 of the Augmented podcast with hostsTrond Arne Undheim. . The topic was sustainable manufacturing at scale, and our guest was Scott and Miller managing director at dragon ventures. In this conversation we talked about contract manufacturing, challenges for startups. My takeaway is that startups are ill-equipped to handle global contract manufacturing challenges. They are essentially being asked to take on complex supply chain and product development procedures that even large companies themselves struggled with.

[00:35:57] Yes, there is a way to navigate this [00:36:00] terrain and those who do can pick up tremendous bounties and might just change the world. Thanks for that. If you liked the show, subscribe at Augmented podcast.co or in your preferred podcast player and rate us with five stars. If you liked this episode, you might also like episode 18, transforming foundational industries, episode 23, digital manufacturing in the cloud, or episode nine, the fourth industrial revolution post COVID 19. Augumented industrial conversations that matter.


Scott N. Miller Profile Photo

Scott N. Miller

Managing Director, Dragon Ventures

Scott N. Miller is the Managing Director of Dragon Ventures, a company that
focuses on advising and investing in hardware companies. Previously, Scott was
the CEO and Co-Founder of Dragon Innovation, a company dedicated to helping
hardware companies scale from prototype through production.
Scott is a mechanical engineer by training, with extensive hands-on and leadership
experience designing and manufacturing software controlled electro-mechanical
systems. He began his career building robots, including biomimetic robotic tuna

fish at MIT, undersea remotely operated vehicles at Deep Sea Systems, and full-
size walking dinosaurs at Walt Disney Imagineering R&D.

Scott joined iRobot early in their life cycle and spent 10 years progressing from a Sr. Mechanical Engineer to Vice
President roles. Initially, he was responsible for leading the technology team that partnered with Hasbro to create
the next wave of interactive toys. Based on his knowledge and network, he was selected by the CEO to set up the
core manufacturing capabilities for multiple new consumer robotic product lines. Scott moved to China for four
years and lead the teams who manufactured the first four generations of Roomba and Scooba, successfully
completing an IPO in 2005. Scott repatriated as the Vice President of Engineering to lead a team of 75 people and
was responsible for all phases of the Consumer Robotic Division’s technology, including factory selection, supply
chain strategy, costing and sourcing, DFMA and manufacturing.
Seeing the dawn of the hardware revolution, Scott founded Dragon Innovation in 2009 to help hardware
companies safely scale from a prototype through high volume production. Leveraging his manufacturing
knowledge, tools and network, Scott has grown Dragon into a venture backed international company with over 40
people and worked with hundreds of companies ranging from Ring to the Bose. He sold the company in 2017 to
Avnet, a Fortune 100 electronics component distributor.
Scott holds a Bachelors Degree in Engineering from Dartmouth College and a Masters in Ocean Engineering from
MIT. For more information: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scottnmiller/