..Carl Richell, founder and CEO of System76, says in a Twitter exchange that they anticipate shipping products from the factory by the end of the year.
Fascinated by System76's decision to "onshore" its manufacturing facility, I reached out to the company's marketing director, Louisa Bisio, to learn more. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.
Don Watkins: Why are you building a factory in the United States when so much is offshored?
Louisa Bisio: Over the last 12 years, we've developed every capability, capital-wise, that an organically grown hardware company can. We can make careful and deliberate choices about hardware and our product line. We can customize all parts of the software stack from the firmware level to the operating system experience. But today, we can't design and manufacture our products.
It's similar to how Tesla used a Lotus chassis for their first car. Like the Roadster, the outside of our computers might look similar to others, but it's the inside that counts. The strategy was cash-efficient and allowed us to focus on developing high-value areas of the company. However, knowing what we wanted to build—but without the means to do so—left us constantly yearning.
Being that we're System76 and we do things the System76 way, our design principles are the polar opposite of the rest of the industry. With bringing manufacturing in-house we are able to:
Better represent the character of our company: Our company is open, warm, friendly, and high-quality. Our designs will reflect these characteristics.
Represent the open source community: Our CAD work will be open source and our design will pay tribute to computer science.
Maximize serviceability: [To create] a computer that's easy to work on and expand, at every step along the design process we ask, "How does this decision affect serviceability?" Open it, change it, expand it. Let's ensure our product will be flexible for its users.
Efficient to manufacture: Like software development, our manufacturing will continuously integrate product-design improvements into production....
Chris Short: Where are systems being built before the factory opens?
LB: Current products are produced from a global supply chain with much of the manufacturing concentrated in China. Final assembly, OS imaging, and QC testing are in Colorado and California.
CS: How many people will be employed there?
LB: This is still to be determined as we build out the manufacturing facility and convert prototypes to production processes. A small team is working through supply chain development, manufacturing techniques, and design refinement. Throughout the process, we're evaluating manufacturability and automated production to maintain competitiveness while manufacturing in the U.S.
DW: Are you finding an adequate supply of people to hire? What skills do you need?
LB: Yes, we have the fortunate challenge of receiving a large number of resumes for open positions. We're hiring mechanical engineers, and we always consider software engineering candidates, particularly those with Rust or Elixir experience. We anticipate adding electrical engineering expertise as well.
CS: What influenced factory site selection and building processes? How have open source practices contributed?
LB: It took over a year to find our light industrial space. But we are quite lucky to be established in Colorado, where a hub of open source companies already exists with some, like Aleph Objects, also leading the way in open design...
...DW: Does having your own factory give you greater creative control in designing the Linux computers you sell?
LB: Absolutely. Current chassis manufacturing can require nearly four months to get a change in production. With our software-based design and fabrication approach, we'll be able to introduce changes immediately after validation, similar to OS and web development processes. Owning the factory means we have complete control over manufacturing techniques, product quality, design characteristics, and the rapid iteration of design to match customer needs as they evolve.