Hardware-Prototype Designer Opens this Fall in San Francisco

By Neil Gonzales

A global product-development firm best known for managing the manufacturing process and supply chain of high-tech companies from Apple Inc. to startups like littleBits Electronics Inc. is making San Francisco’s Potrero Hill its U.S. headquarters.

135 Mississippi St San Francisco The Registry real estatePCH International, based in Ireland with manufacturing operations in Shenzhen, China, is expected to move into the former San Francisco Bay Guardian newspaper building at 135 Mississippi St. in November, after the structure is transformed into a sophisticatedly designed complex to foster and nurture new technologies—and the companies that pursue them.

“With 135 Mississippi St., we are excited to establish our U.S. headquarters as a world-class center for product design, development and engineering, anchored to an extensive supply-chain network for production and fulfillment in southern China,” PCH Chief Executive Liam Casey said in an email response from Asia to a query from The Registry.

“The services we will showcase in this new building will offer a completely transparent glimpse into the complex world of hardware development—a skillfully managed process that begins with an idea and ends with a beautiful new hardware product in a customer’s hand,” Casey said.

PCH helps top consumer-electronics companies and startups make such products as smartphones and tablets. With its new American headquarters, PCH is making sure it stays at the forefront. “[W]e are not limited in our scope,” Casey said. “If a company is passionate about design, passionate about their brand and passionate about the consumer experience, we will work with them.”

Prototyping, robotics and computer technology have ushered in a new Industrial Revolution in the U.S. in recent years. “There’s been a lot of excitement about this facility because they are trying to revolutionize the tech-manufacturing process and give companies the ability to develop things on site,” said Seth Berling, project manager at GCI General Contractors, which is doing the renovations.

GCI started structural upgrades in February and expects to be done in October. “It’s on a fast-track schedule,” Berling said. “It’s pretty intense. There are 40 to 80 construction workers on site every day. [PCH is] anxious to get in the building.”

Founded by Casey as a trading company in 1996, PCH is now part of the growing prototyping industry in the U.S. “PCH helps companies develop products that transition to manufacturing,” said Michael Keer, founder of the Product Realization Group, a Menlo Park-based consortium that provides resources to electronic high-tech businesses. “PCH also does seed funding, and that would tie in this hardware revolution going on.”

In just the last three years in the Bay Area, he has seen new and established enterprises from Lemnos Labs to South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. serve as incubators that fund and help develop dozens of hardware startups, Keer said. Samsung is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in new Silicon Valley research and development properties in North San Jose and Mountain View.

Largely driving the new manufacturing movement is the fact that companies “can develop products cheaper and faster than they did in the past,” he said. Startups can also find alternatives to venture capital such as crowd funding to finance their efforts.

Although overall Bay Area manufacturing employment fell by about 300 jobs in July compared to the same period last year, employment in certain computer-manufacturing areas was up. The San Jose metropolitan region, for instance, gained about 1,100 jobs in computer- and electronics-product manufacturing, according to Ruth Kavanagh, a labor market specialist with the state Employment Development Department. The region also saw an increase of about 2,600 jobs in computer and peripheral-equipment manufacturing.

PCH’s new American digs are expected to support about 80 employees in product design and prototyping. Workers should start moving in early November. The majority of them will be new hires, Casey said, but some will arrive from PCH’s existing Bay Area office and other locations. Globally, PCH employs about 5,000 people.

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