A block from the Mariposa on-ramp and in the eye-line of 90,000 cars whizzing by on 280 sits an old warehouse that was home to the San Francisco Bay Guardian, a local alt weekly, and Digg. Most of the building is gutted and inside they a...
A block from the Mariposa on-ramp and in the eye-line of 90,000 cars whizzing by on 280 sits an old warehouse that was home to the San Francisco Bay Guardian, a local alt weekly, and Digg. Most of the building is gutted and inside they are working on the “greatest enabler of hardware on the planet,” according PCH International head Liam Casey. It will be the new home of Lime Labs, a hush-hush design consultancy that Casey bought in 2012 for an undisclosed amount and, most important, the U.S. gateway to Asian PCH’s manufacturing might that allows hardware startups to access stem-to-stern services in design, coding, manufacturing, packaging and shipping.
Casey, dubbed “Mr. China” in a James Fallows article that outlined the rising importance of Shenzhen as a manufacturing giant, is one of the biggest machers in Asia. A teetotaling Irishman, the inexhaustible Casey ostensibly lives in a hotel in downtown Shenzhen but is nearly always in the air. He and his cross-cultural team make nearly all the accessories you can imagine for multiple vendors. You couldn’t point a finger in a Best Buy without hitting a product PCH builds.
He envisions his new building as a gateway to China and a way to help clients – and the public – understand the vagaries of mass manufacturing. The space will contain a public foyer and cafe where visitors can learn about materials, design, and manufacturing. C-Level training will go on in a large anteroom on the first floor with a huge video screen suspended on epoxy-sealed walls.
In short, it’s the Apple Store if the focus was all the trouble that went into products before they ever reached the consumer.
“We want it to be the most photographed building in San Francisco,” said Andre Yousefi, co-founder of Lime Lab. The company, which started in the doldrums of the recession, consisted of Yousefi and his partner Kurt Dammermann until Casey bought them and expanded the team to 25. They expect to hire 15 more engineers by October and hope to fill 80 seats in their new HQ by 2014. Not bad for a tiny, two-man shop in a run-down district of San Francisco.
Yousefi is the buttoned down member of the group, clean shaven more more dedicated to design than manufacturing. Dammermann is the scruffy mechanic who has seen factory floors and is at home with drill presses and band saws.
The Lime Lab vision is born of the needs of hardware startups and companies that need a full service consultancy to help their product move from idea to packaged product in a few short months.
“What we don’t do is the high volume accessories work,” said Yousefi. “We’re doing more up-front product development, end-to-end.” Using PCH’s retail distribution platform, TNS Distribution in Dublin, Ireland, coupled with the company’s extensive contacts in China’s manufacturing centers, Lime Lab can take a sketch of a product and bring it to fruition at a speed unimaginable for most strategic design houses.
Yousefi and Dammermann were former IDEO designers and CAD jockeys who wanted to build their own consultancy.
“You come to us with either a napkin sketch or just an idea and we do the detail design and development to flesh it out,” said Dammermann. “One we have the idea fleshed out with the design team, we work with the team in Shenzhen to take it to the finish line.”
The team was reticent to mention their clients or current employees although they have hired ex-Apple, Intel, and IDEO engineers and designers who were looking for something more rewarding. They are working on everything from audio products to mini-computers and their current offices, though small, hold CNC machines, 3D printers, and a small testing facility. The new lab on Mississippi Street will contain far more gear as well as a situation room for describing the retail shipping patterns laid out by PCH and the design decisions made for each p