Development Clous: “Manufacturers pay twice the price for half the delivery time”
Germany — Medium-sized companies in the tool and die industry are often short of engineers, and competition in the Far East is getting fiercer. For these reasons, a start-up called Clous has developed a platform for outsourcing design tasks. Read how crowdsourcing is set to enter the engineering industry.
Claas Blume founded his first company at the age of 24. At the time, he was still studying mechanical engineering and, together with fellow students, launched stickers for Apple devices. Blume, now 32, is just starting up again, but this time the company is set to change nothing less than an entire industry, i.e. toolmaking.
“Tool and mould making are the last link in the automotive value chain. The time pressure is immense, as is the cost pressure,” says Blume, who works at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology. Also because competitors in China have now risen to become strong rivals. “Last but not least, the shortage of skilled workers in Germany is high,” says Blume, adding that smaller companies and SMEs in particular lack engineers.
Crowdworking saves valuable time
That's why he wants to launch a platform at the turn of the year that companies can use to outsource construction tasks. The principle of crowdworking is basically not new, but an algorithm is supposed to make it completely unique. It is supposed to work like this: companies upload a customisation design task to a cloud-based platform. Algorithms analyse and break down the design task into many small task packages. This could be a circuit board cutting tool, from which a wing is to be created in the end. It would take an engineer about a day to make a cutting unit, of which you would need about 20 to 30. That eats up valuable time.
“Companies can assign these partial tasks to engineering firms or freelancers worldwide via our platform,” says Blume. The best jobs are those that take one to three working days: they are not too complex and require little coordination. The solution space is small, which often requires little engineering experience. “The intelligence lies in the division of tasks,” says Blume, adding that the task packages can be adapted if necessary. Once they are completed, the software reassembles the results. The key, says Blume, is the protection of IP, i.e. intellectual property. “Up to now, design companies were not allowed to outsource orders. With our software, it is no longer possible to see what the overall result of the construction is.”
Clous algorithms “chop up” the work
In addition to a chopping algorithm — called “Clous.Engine” — and a platform, this naturally requires those who carry out the work. And since it is also about saving money, the founders envision the hard-working helpers also in India or other Asian countries; in South America, in Eastern Europe. “Wage costs are still much lower there. Nevertheless, we naturally check the community through the corresponding certificates, the quality has to be right,” says Blume. The price depends on the complexity; some tasks could even be done cheaply by a mechanical engineering student. The opposite is the “premium engineering” of established development companies. Such job placement sites have existed in other sectors for a long time, for example in the creative industries or software development — not without criticism, especially as far as prices and quality are concerned.
Doesn't that ruin the industry and the prices for engineering in a way? No, says Blume, because the added value is not in engineering, but in innovation. “We have talked to OEMs. They would pay twice the price for half the delivery time,” says the founder. In addition, they could better utilise their own design departments. Blume does not want to say how much money companies can save with this.
The role of engineers is changing
He never tires of emphasising that the engineer's job description is changing, namely towards a project manager. The platform would then be a project management tool through which the employee could delegate tasks, and the contract and payment would be handled automatically via the software. Of course, the relationship between client and recipient has to be right.
The young entrepreneurs are still fine-tuning their business model with eight employees in the spin-off department “Company-Builder” of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. At the start, they received € 50,000, and in a further stage Clous was able to raise a further six-figure sum. The platform is to be officially launched at the beginning of the year; two companies are currently testing the software in a beta version.
In any case, Clous' goals are ambitious: “We want to become as big as possible as quickly as possible,” says Blume, and they want to quickly gain an international foothold. As usual with such platforms, the Berliners want to earn money with a service fee. Smaller revenues are to be generated from the beginning, followed after a year by the first larger amounts. The company wants to hire 20 to 30 employees in the next two years. It remains to be seen whether they will receive original stickers for their mobile phones.