What began as an idea from Craig Gardner and Ed Camp now has the potential to revolutionize precision manufacturing. In the early 2000s, the two friends and business associates started conceptualizing what would eventually become their now-patented Eccentric Positioning System technology, which grinds machinery used in ball-bearing technology to the millionth of an inch using a pivoting system that allows for grinding at angles. Although Camp passed away in 2009, before he was able to see his idea fully realized, Gardner kept going. His company, Coventry Associates in West Boylston, has secured a total of $1.4 million in seed funding from the federal government as well as a cumulative $300,000 from the MassVentures START program, will help bring the concept to commercialization.
Now in the midst of filling his first order, Gardner is considering his manufacturing options.
How did you get started?
We had this idea for this robot that was going to revolutionize making bearings.
The year we started, the year that Ed and I sat down and drew stuff on the back of an envelope, was 2005. We came up with this patent, but unfortunately Ed passed away in 2009.
I raised money through Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which is the federal government's way of getting money to small companies that hopefully have ideas that create jobs. Any federal government agency that does more than $100,000 in outside research has to set 2 percent of its budget aside for small business. Small business, in the government's perspective, is any company with less than 500 employees. Seeing as I was only a one-person company, I made the cut.
We raised money through the SBIR program and developed it at Fraunhofer Center for Manufacturing Innovation at Boston University. Now, we're at the point where we're designing the system for customers. We got our first request for system, and we're filling that order at this point.
Is it just you with the company?
I'm an army of one. I have a couple of things that have really helped. I have my master's degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Turns out MIT has a venture mentoring service. There have been a lot of successful people out of MIT, and they donate their time to help startups avoid some of the mistakes that they make. I have a board member from the venture mentoring service.
Where are you now in the process?
The first application for this robot is to grind the races for ball bearings. So it's not the ball, it's the two rings the balls ride on. We have two partners, including Saint-Gobain Abrasives in Worcester. They want to be the razor blade on the shiny new razor. Our other partner is the Timken Co. located in Canton, Ohio. They're the world's third largest bearing company -- they do roughly $10 billion a year in sales. Our technology is a faster, better, cheaper way of making bearings. We hit a big milestone in September, when we demonstrated state of art manufacturing performance.
This relationship with Timken could be for up to 13 systems, for half a million dollars to a million dollars a piece. Our real business model is to manufacture these robots, sell them and the proper software to all people who make precision grinding systems in target markets, bearings, fuel injectors and valve lifters. And so the total annual market potential, just for our equipment, is $900 million. Worldwide bearings is a $100 billion business. Roughly 30,000 of these systems are sitting in the bay making bearings, and every day roughly 10 percent of them get replaced. That can be 2,000-3,000 systems depending on the year at half a million to a million dollars a pop.
We made our prototype at the Fraunhofer Center for Manufacturing Innovation. Fraunhofer is nonprofit German research and development company that does about $2 billion in research. They're mainly in Europe, but they have seven locations in the U.S., including two in Boston. They're usually all affiliated with universities and have different specialties. I hired them essentially, to help with design, to build it and test it.
What are your long-term plans for manufacturing the product?
We're talking to a bunch of different contract manufacturers. There are several ways we could do this, could build another at Fraunhofer, but they're not cheap. We could subcontract with a contract manufacturer, we could license technology to a machine tool builder, and they could build the entire system. The longest way is we could essentially raise enough capital to build a factory and hire people and do it, but I think for the first 20 systems we'll probably go the contract manufacturing route. That's the only thing that's going to make any sense. Right now, we're in the middle of looking at all of those options.