I spoke to Jon Donner, PhD, CEO and founder, Nanofabrica through a Zoom video meeting about how his company is fighting through the COVID-19 crisis. Check out the video below.
[Lightly edited transcript follows …]
Paul Heney: Hi, I’m Paul Heney, VP and editorial director for Design World, and today as part of our Hack the Crisis series, I’m speaking with Jon Donner, PhD, who is the CEO and the founder of Nanofabrica, an Israeli company in the 3D printing space. Welcome, Jon.
Jon Donner: Thank you Paul. Great to be here.
PH: Jon, tell us a little bit about what you’ve done in regards to your internal company practices responding to the virus threat. What are you doing to keep your company up and running?
JD: We’re basically a hardware company, that means that we’re building real 3D printers and doing the materials, so a lot of the team has to be on site for a lot of the R&D to continue. What we did is first of all, whoever doesn’t have to be onsite of course isn’t, all the business development is offsite, and the people that have to be there, so they’re working onsite under the regulations that are in place in Israel.
PH: How is your industry, 3D printing, reacting to COVID-19?
JD: Generally, 3D printing is having a strong reaction to COVID-19, via printing of masks or medical devices. Our company is special in the sense that we do ultra-high-resolution 3D printing. What we’re doing is trying to find where our unique high resolution can help fight the COVID-19. We’ve already organized one roundtable with medical doctors and professors from various universities came to it; we’re searching to find where we could have a big impact.
PH: How do you think that your job in particular can be handled during times of these restricted personal interactions and what successes are you having with your teams working independently?
JD: As a CEO, I see a lot of my job in keeping people basically happy, creative, working well. We’re a relatively small company, so I am able to speak to each person in the company almost every day — and for sure every two days — a personal call, just to keep up to date, see how it’s going, and keep the motivation high.
PH: Are there any particular threats to your supply chain that you see?
JD: Yes. Some of the items that come from China for example, that we’ve ordered are being delayed. We were able to long-lead items we ordered in advance in any case, so some of the short lead items might become long lead items now and we’re working on that.
PH: What about employee productivity? How are you working with your employees to keep their mental health and their morale up? Where’s the focus?
JD: I think a lot of the challenge is to understand that because of these challenging times, good things can come out of them. When people get, on the one hand you’re pushed, to another hand, you do have more time to think. If you keep engineers very, very busy that they’re not going to think and now they have a bit more time to think when they’re at home and so on. One thing that we did is we gave meditation classes to each employee.
PH: I love that!
JD: Free meditation classes — with one of the best Zen meditation teachers that we could find.
PH: That brings me to my next question: engineers have to be creative to do their jobs well; do you think that engineers can maintain their creativity during these times where we have very limited physical interactions with each other?
JD: Yes, I think in many senses, the creativity level rises because you’re in a different surrounding. I mean you even just take a person and move him to a different surrounding — already, he’s going to be more creative. Now you’re using YouTube, different tools, you think differently by definition. We have one example, actually it relates to a previous question of a long lead item that’s not going to come on time. The engineers managed to shift the item to a different one that we think is probably a better solution in any case.
PH: Nice! Jon, you touched on this a little bit before, but let me ask you — how is your company specifically working within the 3D printing industry to help fight COVID-19? Maybe expand on that a little bit?
JD: Sure. Like I said, we had this round table to brainstorm for ideas to understand where our benefits can really shine and be used to fight the COVID-19. We have a few specific examples, the first one is in complex filters because you can suddenly design … we can print with very small, very high resolution, very small pixel sizes so you can make smart filters. Filters that are digital, as opposed to chemical filters, so suddenly you can control the shape and size of the filters.
Another direction we’re pushing in, again it came through an incoming request, is to do complex microfluidic chips for smart and fast tests of COVID-19.
PH: Okay. Finally, do you have any kind of messages that you’d like to give to your colleagues across the manufacturing world at this time?
JD: I just think it’s a time that people sort of understand how important the manufacturing world is. I hope that we withstand the challenge. There’s an emphasis on local manufacturing, depending on yourself a bit more which could prove to help us, the manufacturing world, in the future. And stay healthy!
PH: For sure. Jon, thank you so much for spending a few minutes with us here today. And lastly, will you share if people are interested in Nanofabrica, how can they get more information on your company? Do you have like a URL you could point them to?
JD: Sure. Thank you. It’s Nano-fabrica.com.
PH: All right, thanks once again, Jon.
JD: Thanks a lot. Goodbye.