Datum Source Inc. exists because procurement is intriguing. It sits right in the middle where it isn’t technical enough for most engineers to enjoy but is technical enough that if you don’t know what you are buying then you won’t be good at buying it. Worst case is hiring someone to buy technical who only has experience in commercial, purchasing only fastest and cheapest. Most involved in advanced manufacturing can agree this is not the best system. Robert Pakalski, Thomas Cobbs, and Ryan Nagle founded Datum to overcome technical manufacturing speak, place the ability to source parts more in the hands of the everyman, and put buyers in touch with the right vendors.
The founding trio all share a background in supply chain sourcing for advanced manufacturing. They met while working at SpaceX as part of the new product introduction team sourcing everything from sheetmetal and fasteners to complex rocket parts. Chief Executive Officer, Co-Founder Rob Pakalski is former Head of Supply Chain, Virgin Hyperloop; Supply Chain Lead at SpaceX. Chief Operations Officer, Co-Founder Thomas Cobbs Head of Spacecraft Procurement, SpaceX (6+ years) and Chief Supply Chain Officer. Co-Founder Ryan Nagle Head of Starship Procurment, SpaceX (6+ years). Together, they have decades of experience and have sourced billions of dollars of parts for some of America’s tech giants. “Anything that was going through R&D, qualification testing, or first flight at SpaceX, we were in preliminary design reviews and CDRs,” tells CEO Robert Pakalski. “Engineers would supply us pre-release CAD drawings so we could develop a supply chain strategy. It was low volume sourcing with a lens focused on who could best do the job and not about cost.”
Rob, Ryan, and Thomas worked closely with hundreds of design engineers at SpaceX and fostered great relationships with them as well as thousands of suppliers. When the engineers moved on to other industries or started their own companies, Rob, Thomas, and Ryan’s Linkedin profiles were blown up with request to help source parts. “We got so many DMs that we started an agency,” explains Robert. “The reality quickly hit us that as good at sourcing as we are that we could develop a software that could kick our butts at it. Welcome to Datum Source Inc.” The last few years saw Datum Source Inc. raise millions in venture capital, build a platform for anyone in procurement, and have a team of about twenty people ready to tackle the supply demands of 2023.
Datum understands that buyers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are engineers, some are business people, and sometimes it is just a person tasked with that duty. Knowing that, Datum invested a lot in computational geometry. Their AI is able to assist users in making methodical supplier selection decisions. “Buyers can go about sourcing a couple of different ways,” details Rob. “You can input your criterial or let the AI suggest the perfect tool and company for the job. Buyers can upload their CAD drawing and the AI starts by specifying the bounding volume of the part. Is it a box or cylinder and gives you an idea of roughly what’s the starting raw material piece to build that part. Then it tells you if the optimal machine is a mill, a lathe, or a mill turn. Then it tells you what the optimal axis on each of those machines is. It is smart and doesn’t try and place a simple 3 axis part on an advanced mill turn or vice versa. We are making non-technical buyers technical through technology. As you and the readers know machining is not something you learn overnight. It is a complicated trade and over my career I’ve bought over a billion dollars’ worth of parts, can read CAD drawings, but still couldn’t run a machine tool. Thankfully I don’t have to, and we can leave that to the professionals. At Datum we are trying to overcome technical manufacturing speak and put the ability to source parts in the hands of everyone. More importantly we are collecting capability data from our suppliers and putting the buyers in touch with the right vendor.”
The metal working industry is a bit fragmented. There are thousands and thousands of shops, most with fewer than 30 employees. No one shop has a dominating market share, and yet, it is still a massive industry and a difficult one for those not 100% in the know to understand. “For example, a company like SpaceX or Virgin Hyperloop might buy 400 million a year in machined parts,” details Rob. “You’re working with thousands of mom-and-pop suppliers across the country. All of those are different businesses, with different machines, with diverse areas of expertise. Some have million-dollar machine tools and others have a single 3 axis vertical. Here is the thing, it doesn’t matter, they’re both great. They just have different applications and excel in different arenas, horses for courses as they say. Our jobs at SpaceX were essentially to memorize the line card of every supplier we had to match them up with the part best suited for their skill set. That might mean one machine or forty. Then we needed to know the spec of each of those machines and what their best used for. We were super inefficient and that’s where Datum becomes a valuable source for buyers. Simplified, our platform is a database of supplier line cards. But it is much more than that. We developed a granular search model that can be accessed from buyers manually or via the AI. An example would be I need a part that has this envelope sizes at least, it needs to run on a mill, it has three axis and it’s a vertical spindle. I can then hit search and I can see suppliers in my supply base that meet these criteria. Then I can also say, I need them to be ISO certified, be a veteran or woman owned business. You can get very granular. The point is, is trying to get people to take precision shots and not just send out a blanket RFQ to 5 shops they’ve heard of. Our portal goes deeper. You have a five axis, great. What is it? How many tools, any special features. Our platform knows the differences between the Mori DMU50, Haas UMC500, and a DN Solutions DVF5000. Do you have EDM in-house? If so wire or sinker? What is the work envelope. So, it’s very granular how we’ve done this, we’re defining what people do in-house versus what they outsource versus what they offer. Once the buyer finds a supplier, they are interested in they can run the quote directly through our secure system. We spent a lot of time on the user interface, and it shows. We are on GovCloud so everything is secure and can be efficiently executed through the platform while in compliance of ITAR, EAR, and CMMC, meeting all the requirements for NIST 800171. It is a lot more effective and secure than email. We have some ability to help suppliers get paid now versus waiting for the buyer’s standard payment terms. We’re the whole model of everything from source to pay and everything in between.”
The million-dollar question is what it costs readers of CNC West Magazine to be a part of Datum Source Inc.? The answer is surprisingly nothing. Datum Source Inc. charges buyers a subscription fee and it costs suppliers nada, zip, zilch, or if you prefer zero to join. “I think that the biggest mistake that people have made in this industry is trying to to monetize the suppliers,” continues Rob. “That doesn’t work for both parties because buyers don’t want a list of suppliers who decided to pay for something. We charge a solid fee for buyers to have a subscription and access to the software. These are people who are serious about trying to find manufacturing companies to work with. They are buyers not just shoppers.”
Datum Source offers suppliers a no cost and no hassle white glove onboarding service. “Being able to offer suppliers inclusion in our system with a minimal amount of effort on their end is key,” adds Rob. “There is no upsell, there is no catch, just send us your line card and we will add you. We are not selling suppliers on anything. It costs your readers nothing but a little bit of time to join our database. Suppliers who are interested need only go to our website and fill out the contact us form. We will shoot you an email to confirm machines, capabilities, materials, even offer to upload parts gallery photos. Whatever we need to do to make sure that your readers are going to get quotes that are aligned with what they do. We’re trying to make a radically transparent system and that’s why we have subscription from the buy side. There are no public forums, no badmouthing suppliers. As a manufacturer there is really nothing to lose. Since our launch we are gaining more and more suppliers each week. We look forward to adding CNC West Magazine readers into the fold. Big or small, all shops are welcome at Datum Source Inc. and our team is happy to assist.”