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Scaling up in Taiwan to facilitate growth: Q&A with ARRIS Composite CEO Riley Reese

Judy Lin, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

ARRIS CEO Riley Reese; credit: ARRIS

ARRIS Composite, an advanced manufacturing startup founded in 2017 and based in Berkeley, California, came to Taiwan to establish its Asia production center in 2021, during the midst of the Pandemic. ARRIS is now ramping up its mass production capacity in Taiwan to fulfill customer orders in the millions of units.

ARRIS's special technology simultaneously leverages the high strength-to-weight and stiffness-to-weight ratios of carbon fiber composites, the game-changing functionality of integrated electronics, and the task-specific properties of metals, resins, and other materials. ARRIS is enabling innovative mass-production-ready component designs for customers in industries such as bicycles, shoes, cars, airplanes, portable electronic devices, etc. to help them optimize their products with higher mechanical performance with lighter weight and stronger strength.

Riley Reese, ARRIS's co-founder and new CEO, shared information with DIGITIMES about the company's innovative technology and the sustainable products produced at scale during his recent visit to Taiwan.

Q: What brought you to Taiwan this time? Are there any new breakthroughs or good news to share with us?

A: I am here in Taiwan for three main reasons. One is to visit our factory in Taoyuan where we're producing parts now. Second is to meet with our management and staff. We started doing mass production of one line of products and are now expanding to do more automation development, new product introduction, and additional production ramps. Thirdly, I'm also meeting with a number of customers in the footwear and bike industries which have strong ecosystems here in Taiwan. We have made a lot of progress with customers in both of these industries and have large production commitments, working directly with the brands leveraging our carbon fiber and composite products. Our parts are ultimately shipped to suppliers in Asia, some of which are in Taiwan.

Q: We heard from Taiwania Capital, one of your investors, that you have moved the majority of your operations to Taiwan. Tell us what you're planning to do with this strategic move.

A: We started in 2017 in Berkeley, California, and have been growing all aspects of the business there until about 2021. That's when we opened up our production site in Taiwan which is now beginning to take on more and more operational aspects of the company. As I mentioned, with our new customers in footwear and in bracket space, Taiwan serves as the platform to scale up our technology. Our Taoyuan City facility will take over the production of components, automation of production technology, as well as the ramping of new product introduction processes that lead up to mass production. This way, our Berkeley facility can focus on research and development.

Q: What are the advantages or the strength that you see in Taiwan for doing this operational part of your company?

A: Taiwan has a lot of key ICT talent that has the skills and operational experience. Because our process is a new form of high-performance molding, we need to find talent that comes from the conventional molding world skilled in molding and tooling to take our technology to mass production with strong operational efficiency. Additionally, we need experts who understand automation for our manufacturing processes.

While we aim to focus on these operational aspects in our entity in Taiwan to support the heavy growth phase we are now in, we are focusing on growing the expertise in R&D and proof-of-concept development at Berkeley in tandem.

Q: Innovation is the backbone of high-value and advanced manufacturing. How many patents does ARRIS have right now?

A: Yeah, patents are very important to us. We have filed So far, 20 of our patents have been granted and we definitely see the protection of our technology as important. And it gets back to one of your earlier questions: why Taiwan? Another important reason why we chose to come to Taiwan in particular is because of the security that we have in the patents and IPs that we file here.

Q: ESG is a very hot issue here in Taiwan, especially in the supply chains. There are rules about the ESG information disclosure principles that all public companies in Taiwan have to comply with. So I learned that ARRIS is very focused on ESG. Tell us more about how ARRIS carries out sustainable manufacturing and the recycling of the products.

A: We have talked a lot about the performance, but another big aspect of the technology that differentiates us from any other composite technology companies is our ability to recycle and how we manufacture our products.

When you look at our materials, we use thermoplastic composites. Thermoplastics are what make up your water bottle and your mouse, your computer, and the products you see all around you. These are recyclable. What ends up happening is that you have these big, big landfills filled with wind turbine blades, because they can't be recycled. It's a huge waste.

Same thing with bike components. We can't recycle it because it costs more energy to recycle these than it does to produce new material. Instead, what we are doing at ARRIS is using recyclable materials at the start of the manufacturing process to achieve near-zero waste.

In conventional capacity, you can easily lose up to half the material just in the processing. All of this not only creates much more expensive components but also a much larger carbon footprint. Our process is near-zero waste while creating a much stronger material by aligning all of the fibers to the right orientations. We bring that material together with our unique molding process, and there's a minimal amount of flash. And so we can get these crazy complex structures without machining and without throwing away excessive amounts of unusable material. Finally, at the very end of the life of these components, we could get the components back for recycling process, break up the components, and reuse them in a lower performing, but still high-performance plastic part than traditional methods.

We also have another work stream where we can take the final product and realign the fibers in that part to produce another continuous fiber part. And so this is a remanufactured step and something that we've actually patented, where we can create the next generation devices that still have very high performance using the original generation products.

ESG is important in all aspects of sustainability, in consumer electronics, in footwear, in bikes, and these are topics that we talk about a lot with our customers, who are starting to put real numbers to how much CO2 they want to spend in producing their product.

It is an exciting time where we will see more and more accountability around energy used in the process. We are at a point where we're starting to see concrete decisions being made by companies because of sustainability, as opposed to the last couple of decades where greenwashing frequently occurred; when companies say something that sounds good but aren't really changing their practices whether it be environmental, social, etc. Now, we're really seeing companies make meaningful changes. And our tech is an important part of that where our customers can create a more sustainable product without sacrificing performance.

Q: What's your vision for the company in the next 5-10 years and what are the opportunities that you're focusing on right now?

A: As a company, we're focusing right now on scaling up and going into production for footwear and bracket-related applications. We have a backlog of programs that we need to execute too that are coming up in the next year. In two to five years, we will start to do more programs in other industries as well such as aerospace, automotive, consumer electronics, medical, and industrial applications. We've done projects in each of these areas to some extent, but today, we're primarily focused on working through the increasing demand for Additive Molding in performance footwear and bracket-related applications.

The vision for the company is to produce the highest-performing products in better ways across industries. We partner with leading innovative companies in footwear, portable electronics, and aerospace, and the companies that are leading the frontier in new levels of performance. And we are building these products now with those industry leaders. In five years, you'll see ARRIS in all of these products, and our work will really be part of people's everyday lives in a significant way.

FACTBOX

Company

ARRIS

Established in

2017

Funding status

C

Size

100+ employees

Core team and management

Co-founder and CEO, Riley Reese

Co-founder and chief engineer, Erick Davidson

COO, Hartmut Liebel and GM, George Chen

HQ

Berkeley, California USA

Operation

Taoyuan City, Taiwan

Source: ARRIS; compiled by DIGITIMES Asia in October 2022

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