TECHNOLOGY » TECH SPOTLIGHT
By Dan Davis
For someone who hasn’t run a machine shop, Jason Ray knows a lot about how machine shops are run.
At one time he was interested in purchasing
one. He had an understanding of supply chains,
and he liked the idea of making things. When he
started investigating potential takeover targets,
however, he didn’t like what he learned.
“It was a real shock,” Ray said. “I would have in-
terest in possible ownership of a business, but I
would then try to figure out how to fill the shoes
of the owner with more than 25 years of experi-
ence who knows how to manage the quote-to-
order process, how the company priced parts,
and how to keep customers happy. The only in-
formation I would have about what customers
have paid in the past would be paper records in
a file folder.”
That led Ray to change his course in life. In-
stead of owning a job shop, he wanted to build a
software tool that could solve the very problem
that made him hesitant to become an owner.
He wanted to create a modernized approach
Motivation to Make a Change
to quoting, arguably one of the most important
processes for a metal fabricating company.
Ray began his career in the U.S. Navy as a Supply
Corps officer in January 2009. That’s where his
education began in the field of logistics.
Soon afterward he handled logistics management for a minesweeper. That’s when he
started to ask questions that got the attention
“We were supporting platforms that were
supposed to be retired for five years before I got
there, and I spent almost three years banging my
head against the wall, trying to figure out how
we can support these platforms,” Ray recount-
ed. “That’s when I really started to look at the
parts we were buying, and asked, ‘Why aren’t we
making this stuff?’”
That’s when he discovered additive manufac-
turing. Although he wasn’t an engineer, he had
a real intellectual curiosity about how this tech-
nology could change the way the U.S. Navy pro-
cured parts. It also got him thinking about the
way that advanced manufacturing technologies
can transform traditional ways of doing business.
In April 2014 Ray left the sea-faring life and
dropped anchor in Arlington, Va. As a naval reservist, he was asked to lead the U.S. Navy’s additive and advanced manufacturing efforts from
That position lasted until the end of 2016, and
Ray was ready for his next challenge, which he
thought might involve ownership of a machine
shop. His knowledge of supply chains and advanced manufacturing would be a “lethal combination,” he said.
He even sought out mentors. He found a very
important one in Jay Jacobs, the founder of
Rapid Manufacturing in Nashua, N.H., a fabricating business that built its success on the ability
to quote and produce prototypes in very short
time frames, often in days. (Jacobs sold Rapid to
Protolabs, Maple Plain, Minn., in November 2017.
Rapid was the winner of The FABRICATOR’s 2018
Industry Award and is highlighted in the publication’s February 2019 edition.)
As he tried to figure out what kind of machine
shop he wanted to purchase, he couldn’t get past
the fact that they all had a similar problem: data
management. In visiting more than 100 shops, he
encountered shortcomings of all kinds: job information kept in basic software programs such as
QuickBooks, enterprise resource planning software capabilities that were barely being used,
and the case of paper notes kept in old file cabinets. He might be able to buy a business, but he
wasn’t going to have easy access to the data that
was integral to building that business.
He shifted gears then. He went back to his potential investors and shared his reservations. But
he also shared his observations. That’s where
Ray found a sympathetic ear.
“Jay Jacobs has had this vision for a very long
time. He has long believed that component purchasing was going to be driven by instant pricing, whether in a marketplace or some other
conduit. At some point all these parts are going to be algorithmically priced. It’s all going to
speed up,” Ray said.
Jacobs and Ray put their heads together and
started to think about what traditional job shops
need to be more competitive without having to
be computer scientists or software developers.
With the help of Scott Sawyer, a very sharp computer scientist, Ray ultimately founded Paperless Parts Inc. at the end of 2016.
New Quoting Tool for Job Shops
“Over the last two years, we have built a really
strong quote-to-order and sales-enablement
tool for a job shop that is built around a very intelligent pricing engine. It’s also highly customizable,” Ray said.
The secure, ITAR-compliant, cloud-based
software can analyze design files, conduct a
“geometric interrogation,” and then apply customized algorithms that produce a price that is
realistic and profitable, he added.
Here’s how a person in search of an RFQ might
A plan for
in metal fabrication
Developer of a new quote-to-order platform
believes job shops can exert more supply chain
power with his creation
»Pricing quotes generated from the Paperless Parts
platform can include multiple options for quantities and
delivery lead times, ensuring that the purchaser knows
all the choices available.