NEW BEDFORD — Industry 4.0 technologies are revolutionizing the way manufacturing companies like New Bedford-based ProtoXYZ serve their customers with the greatest accuracy possible.
Brothers Jordan and Nathaniel Fernandes are utilizing new technology and applying it to older manufacturing processes to offer 3D printing online and CNC machining (a computerized manufacturing process) applying their software model. They “help engineers bring their ideas to reality” by making prototypes — offering what they say is a faster and more automated self-service process.
As co-founder and the chief operating officer, older brother Jordan focuses on operations and sales, while Nathaniel is the chief technical officer working on code and machining. They looked to their father, Mike Fernandes, for advice, knowing that he has experience starting companies of his own.
A true family business
When approached in 2021, Mike liked what he heard and agreed to invest in their new venture. When they asked if he wanted to help them run the company, he accepted, and they gained a chief executive officer.
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Jordan said he was working for another company and had been talking to coworkers about the potential for a business to be profitable offering 3D printing services. They felt it would be, and he overcame his initial hesitation. His first thought was it would make a good side business.
“My dad said, ‘A side business? Why don’t we just make it a company and grow it from there?’ so he was really the one that influenced me to start building and make it go big,” Jordan said.
On board with their plans, their father approached friends about investing. When he approached James DeMello, he offered them a small space in the DeMello International Center at 128 Union St.
As the company grew, they brought a software engineer Patricia Pires-Dias from UMass Dartmouth on board in June 2021 and have since moved into a larger space in Suite LL3 to accommodate all their equipment.
Jordan, Class of 2020, Nathaniel, Class of 2022, Mike, Class of 1990, and their mother Michele, the chief compliance officer, Class of 1991, are all Northeastern University graduates with degrees in mechanical engineering. DeMello, also a Northeastern graduate, studied chemical engineering.
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Expanding to include CNC machining
It was at the request of their customers that they expanded to include CNC machining, described as a way to take a piece of metal and remove material out of it as compared to 3D printing that adds material in manufacturing. More processes are expected to be added.
Nathaniel said what really makes them different from other manufacturers is their website. During one of his internships, he would send them a part, but it was really annoying that he couldn’t get quotes from manufacturers in a reasonable amount of time. It would take two or three days to respond.
“I figured we can modernize this whole process and have it so our software can analyze a part and then come up with a price automatically,” he said.
Customers can go to the website www.protoxyz.com to upload a part, choose 3D printing or CNC machining, and eventually more offerings, and then click on price the part and get a response in a few seconds. It’s a self-directed process but very detailed. All the information is stored in the cloud.
One of the difficulties in trying to price parts was trying to figure how long it took to machine it, Nathaniel said, so they are working on improving that process by collecting data each time they machine a part and importing it into their machine learning model. The pricing gets more accurate over time.
“The website is being developed so that the engineer doesn’t need to even talk to us, they just upload to it, but that being said, there are still a lot of companies Jordan has been communicating with that still want to deal with you one-on-one so we have them come in and discuss designs,” Mike said.
Plans for growth
In the very near future as they grow and are successful in raising $2 million in capital, the office space will become the main technical center for the development of the software and training in the use of the machines, Mike said.
“Eventually we’re going to have another building, hopefully very close to the downtown area, where we’ll house more machines and larger equipment that we can’t fit in here,” he said, adding that they are looking for 10,000 to 20,000 square feet of space.
Mike Fernandes said they want to lead the way for other high-tech companies interesting in establishing themselves in the area and are also really focused in on building jobs for the local community.
He said New Bedford is located in a historically underutilized business zone, or a HUBZone, a program that was established by the Small Business Administration to help small businesses in urban and rural communities. One benefit is that businesses can be awarded federal contracts once certified.
Nathaniel’s workdays often consist of programming a machine to tell it where to go to cut material and designing fixtures to hold parts, which are both jobs that require an engineering background. Software engineers are also needed to help implement the artificial intelligence required.
“I think what we’re doing is creating hopefully one of many high-tech companies that will be here in downtown New Bedford and kind of spread out around the area,” Mike said. “I think this is going to create a lot of jobs for people wanting to go into technical roles.”
Standard-Times staff writer Kathryn Gallerani can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @kgallreporter. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.