On the 28th November 2019, a company of mechanical engineers from Estonia picked up the award for Best Use Of Tech at the UK Chambers of Commerce Business Awards in London. The engineers, otherwise known as Fractory, beat 77 other category finalists to scoop the coveted tech award and bag the first of what could be many accolades.
When you think of tech, and startups – Fractory is both – you tend to think of venture-funded apps, quirky SaaS or hoodie-wearing graduates vying to be the next…something. What’s unusual about this best tech company award is that Fractory is none of those things. It is a cloud-based sheet metal fabrication platform that has grown from seven to 24 employees in the last year and is quietly revolutionising the manufacturing sector.
For a year, at least, Fractory can legitimately lay claim to officially being the best tech company in the UK. And they eschew every single stereotype that title brings. The business was founded in Estonia in 2017 with the goal of solving a particular problem in the manufacturing sector.
Fractory impressed judges for how it has digitised the manufacturing process, allowing engineers to upload their CAD files, including 3D models, straight to the platform for instant pricing. In a world where tech startup mission statements sound like idealistic fever dreams – see Uber’s “Connecting you with the people, places, and things you love” – this vision is refreshingly specific.
And that’s the point. Cloud manufacturing, and the larger digital industrial revolution which it underpins, is about incremental improvements that lead to what are known as converging exponentials. Put simply, when process improvements, workflow optimisations and architecture innovations are layered on top of one another, the possibilities become limitless. There’s no need for lofty idealism.
“Everything you see on the platform has been developed in-house. We would have been happy to use pre-existing working models but there were none. The technology was developed as an answer to the market’s needs. The uniqueness and necessity of such a solution is probably what brought us the award,” explained Fractory’s CEO Martin Vares.
“The journey from a small Estonian market to a significant one like the UK has been full of challenges but very quick at the same time. Engineers have actually been waiting for this opportunity while everything around us has moved online. Winning this award is a testament to that.”
Fractory’s technology is designed to drive efficiencies in the manufacturing sector. And it does this exceptionally well.
Stella Bowdell, director of membership at the Chamber, points to the quality and the pragmatism of what the company is bringing to the table: “This is a great win for Fractory as a panel of judges have identified what they do as being the very best in the UK and against very stiff competition from right across the country. It’s a great example of the strength of real business in this country and also of the diverse nature of the Greater Manchester economy.”
Mechanical engineer and Fractory’s head of marketing Andreas Velling believes their product is taking cloud manufacturing from a niche workflow innovation to becoming an industry in its own right.
“The digitisation of manufacturing has been a hot topic for the last few years. The main focus of discussion has typically revolved around the potential to optimise in-house workflows. At the same time, a whole new industry has sprung from this movement towards digitisation – that’s cloud manufacturing.”
2020 will be an important year for cloud manufacturing as a sector. For a long time it has been viewed simply as a way to perform established functions quicker and cheaper. The potential capabilities of what can be achieved are now becoming clear to everyone, inside the industry and outside. Watch this space.