“Prototyping is at the heart of innovation, every product you see today was a prototype before. Nobody would believe you with [just] an idea on paper. Most people start to listen, but take you serious if you have something to show,” says Phumlani Ntloko, founder of Adia Engineering Systems, an engineering company which provides product development and design and manufacturing services.
The company made headlines for developing the first mobile Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine which is able to test prototypes and print in 3D at less than a third of the cost of an imported unit.
Ntloko’s company helps turn ideas into prototypes that you can touch and feel. Their services have a number of uses including helping startup founders who are developing a new product to validate their ideas and convince investors to raise capital for further development, he says.
You no longer need big factories to get going with your manufacturing business, that’s how technology has made things easier than a decade ago
Opening new doors
“We’ve completely simplified the process. We wanted to create a CNC machine that everyone can use,” Ntloko said in an interview with Fin24.
The CNC machine helps to address some of the frustrations with high costs and difficulty of testing prototype circuit boards which can cost up to R200 000, he said in the same interview.
“You no longer need big factories to get going with your manufacturing business, that’s how technology has made things easier than a decade ago. We grew up knowing that manufacturing can only be done in big organisations and you need big machinery to get started, but today you can start your manufacturing business in your garage and grow from there.”
The integration of technology in the manufacturing sector is also opening doors and making it easier for new smaller players, like him, to enter, says Ntloko.
The company is run by Ntloko together with his business partner, Skhumbuzo Ndlovu, and a team of young up-and-coming engineers and CAD designers.
“I lead a team of very creative people and we are constantly seeking new ways of making [protoype testing] easier and cheaper than yesterday or the day before so we are constantly innovating or inventing. The desire to succeed is more that the fear to fail in our team and the team understands our vision and mission building our brand. We are being driven by the passion and desire to change and contribute to the society we operate [in].”
A capital-intensive industry
Ntloko hails from a township in Pretoria. He previously worked as a technician and engineer for a number of companies, including Palabora Mining Company, Mintek and Exxaro Zincor Base Metals. He launched his business in 2015 despite having had no previous training in the manufacturing sector, he says.
Their biggest challenge was raising the necessary capital, he says.
“As you would imagine, building a manufacturing business requires a lot of capital and [if] you don’t have early-stage funders then you might find it even more difficult.”
He has, however, received support from numerous sources including the Innovation Hub Maxum, the Department of Science and Technology’s Grassroots Innovation Programme, Wits University’s Transnet Matlafatso Centre (TMC) and the Technology Innovation Agency’s (TIA).
On his future plans, Ntloko is optimistic about the quantity of machines that they hope to produce as well as expanding the business beyond South Africa.
“We plan to produce 100 machines that will be distributed nationally and we are planning to also find distributors to distribute our machines to other African countries.”