Pathfindr, a company based in Norwich, UK, typically provides turnkey hardware and software solutions to track assets and processes across any site or facility.

  • Company: Pathfindr
  • Industry: Industrial, asset tracking, COVID
  • Country: UK
  • Employees: 15
  • Website: https://pathfindr.io/

Challenges:

  • Ramping-up a COVID-19 social distancing device, from an early prototype, to volume production, quickly.
  • Removing bottlenecks in production, maintaining a local, UK supply chain and manufacturing base.

Solutions:

  • Vanilla offered a scaleable platform, where it sourced all the material, producing component kits, dual-sourcing PCB assembly, with a final inspection at Vanilla.
  • Pathfindr selected Vanilla over other supply chains or contract manufacturing businesses, because of its technical ability to refine the product before manufacturing. 
  • Vanilla’s technical and commercial strengths provided a perfect cultural fit for a business focussing on pushing the boundaries of innovation.

Why Vanilla?

  • Vanilla’s NPI team spent a great amount of time making sure that the product was designed for manufacture before it went into production.
  • Vanilla’s supply chain expertise offered component alternatives that had shorter lead times, lower cost and an improved lifecycle.
  • Vanilla’s end-to-end services enabled Pathfindr to outsource other elements of the production process, where it added value.
  • Vanilla’s supply chain solution has entirely simplified a complex supply chain and manufacturing process, to enable Pathfindr to focus on its sales and marketing.
  • A close partnership means that Vanilla continue to scale-up and migrate other elements of the supply chain & manufacturing process, including final product assembly and end customer fulfilment.

In May 2020, Pathfindr developed a highly innovative Social distancing product which grabbed global attention across major media platforms, including Sky News. The revolutionary product was the brainchild of Pathfindr CTO Ben Sturgess, who believed its product could help workplaces protect their staff against COVID-19. The small device is a wearable product, used in workplaces such as factories and offices. It alerts the users of any colleagues that approach within the set distance – usually 1 or 2 metres.

Such was the popularity of the product, that Pathfindr had received thousands of orders even before the official launch date, and needed a fast solution for a very quick ramp-up.

“Vanilla provides us with the ability to sell as many products as we like, without the concern of capacity issues. We have launched a brand new product in volume, producing 40k products within a few weeks, without the need to take on any additional resource. We feel in very safe hands with Vanilla managing our supply chain.” Ben Sturgess, Founder and CTO, Pathfindr

Unsure of the total demand of their new product, Pathfindr knew they needed a supplier that would cope with the eventual scalability, and therefore a traditional contract manufacturing business was ruled out, so not to restrict their sales capacity. “We wanted to build a partnership with a business that would grow with us, and add value and simplify the various complexities of setting up a new supply chain. We also needed a partner that would be prepared to spend the time upfront, perfecting our prototype product for volume production,” says Ben Sturgess, CTO of Pathfindr.

Equally important was to find a partner with a wide range of capabilities, not just PCB assembly. This would ultimately allow Pathfindr to concentrate on their core competencies of sales and marketing, and eventually future product development.

The ability to adapt to ongoing issues in an ever-changing COVID-19 world was also critical. Pathfindr saw value in a business that had a broad knowledge of material lead times and availability. Being able to source product that was otherwise unavailable elsewhere, to hold large stocks, mitigating any ongoing material supply problems.

Vanilla’s supply chain business pitched a successful strategy, whereby they offered a fully scaleable outsourced model, yet understanding every part of the manufacturing process. Pathfindr felt that Vanilla understood the challenges, both technically and commercially, and importantly was the right cultural fit for their young, entrepreneurial business. “Vanilla very quickly understood our business and our product, as well as our needs to scale a quality high tech product. Vanilla’s NPI team worked all hours of the day to help us seamlessly launch our product to a worldwide marketplace,” explains Sturgess

“Vanilla’s NPI team have worked very closely with our internal engineers, providing critical feedback on component selection and manufacturability. We have complete confidence in the manufacturing process and are confident that Vanilla will continue to track any upcoming material supply issues before they happen.”

Chris Ridley, Operations Director, Pathfindr

Vanilla helped Pathfindr scale from prototype to full production, producing 40k products within a few weeks of initial meetings. First Vanilla quickly worked on the suitability of the component parts, both in terms of manufacturability and availability, offering alternative parts where applicable. Pathfindr’s in-house R&D team made changes to the layout of the PCB as well as component selection based upon critical feedback from Vanilla.

Introductions were made to the internal and external engineering and manufacturing teams at Vanilla, with a suitable combination of in-house and outsourced manufacturing processes. SMT production and inspection was carried out on a fully automated Yamaha SMT line, with a combined output of 180k components per hour. The very small element of remaining conventional PCB placements were semi-automated at Vanilla.

As a result of a stringent NPI process, smart design and quality supplier selection; “Yields and reliability far exceeded our expectations and previous experiences elsewhere, with 99.99% quality over 40kpcs built products. We were pushing very fast and could never have achieved this success without the close working partnership of the team at Vanilla”, adds Sturgess.

“Vanilla pulled in the right people, the right businesses, and plugged in an instant purchasing and production business, that would have taken years for us to develop ourselves,” tells Burgess. Vanilla’s unique end-to-end solution has guaranteed the future supply of Pathfindr’s innovative products. “If we have a 10x increase in volume, we know that Vanilla would cope. The parts are purchased, the products are built and delivered to us or our end customers”.

Pathfindr continues to increase its range of both their core products, as well as their COVID-19 products, without being distracted by the management of complex supply chain and manufacturing processes. Both companies appreciate the partnership approach and alignment of culture and quality.

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