Martin Vares is the co-founder and CEO of the metal fabrication platform Fractory. He is listed in the prestigious Forbes “30 Under 30” list and has been recognized as Young Entrepreneur of the Year in Estonia. Martin’s mission is to make the global industrial sector more sustainable.
How is the mission to make the industrial sector more sustainable going?
There isn’t much statistical data available at the moment, as the sector we operate in is complex. However, the experiences and feedback from our clients and partners speak for the results. For example, one of them was considering buying an expensive laser cutting machine because they were disappointed with the outsourcing process. The cost of a metal-cutting laser machine can range from a couple of hundred thousand euros to half a million euros. Additionally, it requires space, maintenance, personnel, etc. Through Fractory, they were able to use laser cutting services instead of making the purchase and do it just as conveniently as if it were an in-house service.
This is one of Fractory’s goals, which aligns with our activities. Placing a manufacturing order with us is like using in-house services. It needs to be as simple and efficient, and it is also important from an environmental perspective: the fewer large machines we produce, the better. Another important aspect is that we consolidate orders based on materials and manufacturing processes, which reduces transportation and material waste since different orders can be made from the same raw material. It is also easier for the manufacturer as it requires fewer resources.
In addition, the resource of engineers is very important to us. We constantly read about the shortage of engineers and no fresh blood coming in either. This is the root of all evil because without engineers, there will be no new solutions to tackle the climate crisis. Protecting and promoting the resource of engineers is crucial for us. The Fractory product has a very direct impact here because we can place orders without traditional drawings, based on 3D models. Roughly speaking, it can be said that 25% of an engineer’s time is spent on making paper drawings. If we have a shortage of 10,000 engineers in Estonia, then based on the fact that everyone could work based on 3D models, it could be said that 2,500 engineers are like newly found resources.
What is the role of AI in your field?
The industrial field is mathematically creative, meaning that it combines knowledge of materials, mathematical design, and creativity in the work of engineers. The current level of AI in the industry is such that it can either be immensly creative or not at all. The intermediate version is still rather weak. In terms of the product creation process, there is no direct threat from AI at the moment. Humans are still essential today. Automation has been present in manufacturing for some time, but I don’t think anyone will ever yearn for a robot arm given the task of welding to be taken over by AI.
In terms of the future, AI involvement is very promising. Looking from an environmental perspective, 3D printing and generative design, which involves computer-generated shapes, will soon go hand in hand. This means that the engineer determines the necessary constraints of the component, such as where it is attached, what it needs to support, how much weight it experiences, the space it must fit into, etc. And the software can create a semi-organic three-dimensional spiderweb-like structure through which tension is distributed within the component. Simply put, we are looking for stress points and finding places where they can be absorbed. This is beneficial because it allows the product to be manufactured using as little material as possible. Previously, design played a minor role because excess material would have had to be removed from between the cut-out parts. With 3D printing, it is possible to build layer by layer and add material only where it is needed. Ultimately, this approach can reduce material consumption for component creation by 95% compared to today’s methods.
What are the future materials?
Currently, there is a lot of focus on combining existing materials, mixing very soft and elastic materials with very strong ones. The result is something that can support a lot of weight while also withstanding vibrations.
3D printing is greatly influencing the direction in which materials are evolving. I also have a 3D printer at home. It has given me the opportunity to create necessary items myself without having to go searching for them in stores. I don’t have to drive around and buy something that was manufactured and packaged in China by someone who is paid too little, then transported here on ships, for which I end up paying 2 euros and then throw away 2/3 of the weight as packaging waste.
Will people be printing stuff at home in the future?
I believe that is 100% the future. Today’s printing technology already requires very little maintenance; it’s no different from a refrigerator, lawnmower, or microwave oven. It is environmentally friendly and accessible. Currently, it is very easy to purchase the necessary materials for 3D printing, such as carbon fiber and marine plastic.
Within the 3D printing community, there are many people who may not know product design or modeling themselves, but they have their own printer. There are platforms where the community uploads models that can be downloaded. Today, we can already print very practical things at home; all you need is the machine and the material.
What is your vision of a saved planet?
From Fractory’s perspective, we provide a platform service where manufacturing companies and clients in need of services come together. This market has been functioning for decades, even hundreds and thousands of years. However, we see tremendous efficiency potential in this setup. Through smart optimization, we can offer customers a service that is overall of higher quality, at a better price, and allows us to generate a margin while ensuring fair compensation for manufacturers. This efficiency stems from directing resources to the right place, distributing tasks, and assembling various clients’ orders to achieve efficiency that brings financial benefits to all parties involved, as well as various alternative revenues that also contribute to environmental conservation. With our model, we have proven that it is possible to do better and ensure everyone wins.
In an ideal situation, when it comes to manufacturing subcontracting, we would not need to acquire additional machines for a certain period unless there has been a technological upgrade. Production is always directed to where it is most efficient to work at present. Here’s an example: one day, a suitable machine for a specific component is available in a nearby street – the work is done nearby and by the most reasonable machine for that particular product, resulting in low transportation costs, and so on. However, the situation may be different the next day, and that machine may be occupied for the next two weeks. During that time, a production disruption occurs in the client’s manufacturing process, and some of the workforce has to wait for work. In this case, the underutilization of human resources outweighs the use of the most optimal machine. Additionally, transportation costs, national regulations, wages, social security requirements, healthcare regulations, and more come into play. In an ideal world, all these factors could be part of a single manufacturing process or subcontracting decision. However, it is not feasible to achieve this within a reasonable timeframe. Process costs versus gains are weighed on the scale, and this equation cannot work effectively.
We do currently have a multitude of technologies available for such processes though, and Fractory’s work is to search for and connect them. Sometimes, ready-made components or solutions already exist in sectors like finance, and we can simply integrate them without having to build them ourselves. On the other hand, our methodology and formulas for calculating prices and production costs are all developed in-house, including reading 3D models and generating drawings. The technological capability for these tasks exists in the world, but there is a lack of readily available technology in its complete form. We bring together these different elements and hope that if we don’t reach the finished product ourselves, we can at least show that better possibilities are out there.
In conslusion, we can say that our vision at Fractory revolves around the efficient utilization of resources, with the goal of a saved planet. We will continue to consume resources, but the question is whether we can do so in an optimized manner, minimizing our impact on nature, human emotions, and resources.
Interviewer: Kerttu Kongas