3D Robotics, an automatic takeoff
In less than five years, this Mexican company has positioned itself as a leading international manufacturer of drones.
Launched in late 2010, 3D Robotics manufacturing plant in Mexico took off just at the right moment. What began as a micro, two-person enterprise is today a company with over 115 employees and industrial facilities spanning 12,000 square feet.
Jordi Muñoz Bardales, a man barely in his thirties, is one of the creative minds behind the company, which specializes in the manufacture of automatic pilots and drones.
"He [Jordi] had the idea of experimenting with electronics years ago. He wanted to stabilize small aircraft using low cost video game controller sensors. At middle school, we started out putting together computers, in high-school we shared our knowledge of microcontrollers. Then he designed his first open-source automatic pilot and made his first sale. All that took place in Jordi's apartment, which became the first store," says Guillermo Romero, general manager of 3D Robotics Mexico.
The launch platform for Jordi's first project was the DIYdrones.com site, where he sold drone electronics kits. Over time, his product caught the attention of American investors and, in a matter of a year or so, 3D Robotics was born. By 2012, it was registering sales of 2 million usd.
"We became a subsidiary. The company received the support of foreign investors, which enabled us to post growth of 100% in 2012 and the same again in 2013. Everything we sell via our website is produced at our factory in Tijuana on the border with the US," says Romero.
In addition to its Tijuana facilities in the border state of Baja California, 3D Robotics has offices in San Diego, California, giving it easy access to international markets.
"Our entire output is exported to the US and from there to the rest of the world. Practically every country in the world has purchased from us. For instance, we know our products have reached islands in the Pacific we didn't even know existed. Everything is produced in Tijuana," says Romero.
What exactly is it that 3D Robotics makes and what are the applications of its products? The company has two lines: automatic pilots and drone vehicles.
In its autopilot line, 3D Robotics has an extensive product catalogue that ranges from GPS devices, electronic compasses and telemetry radios to peripheral components and automatic pilots themselves, which are control boards installed on unmanned vehicles, both ground and airborne. "Take-off", "go to this coordinate", "take photos from this angle", "map this area", are some of the instructions that can be given remotely using this technology.
The company also manufactures drone vehicles, which are devices that perform tasks too complex or dangerous for human beings, like monitoring unsafe areas, civil protection duties during natural disasters and geographical surveys, to name just a few of their applications.
Unlike other companies in its field, 3D Robotics was not hatched by a business incubator but evolved from an innovative growth strategy geared toward offering its customers – which include NASA– technology of the highest standard.
According to Romero, projects like 3D Robotics can prosper only when the right conditions are met. In Mexico, it has been easy to find those conditions. For one, the country's geographical location has made it possible to connect its Tijuana factory with its sales office in San Diego almost in real time, while Mexico has the human talent, the skilled professionals needed to steer its exponential growth in the right direction.
"3D Robotics offers the most competitive prices. We are the lowest cost option on the market and offer high quality devices. We don't compete with Chinese manufacturers, there will always be clones, but we win because we are based in innovation. We design new technology and high quality electronics at a competitive cost. The openhardware model behind our products makes competition to be very strong, that's why we are constantly learning and designing the best product for the industry," says Romero.
In the future, Romero envisages a world in which drones will be used for everything by everyone. A scenario in which 3D Robotics plans to be present.
"We will have several kinds of drones for different business, environments and uses. This customized drone market will be ours for the taking because our manufacturing philosophy is lean operations, specialized craftsmanship, high flexibility and rapid product changes," concludes Romero.