Manufacturing anything in today’s global economy has numerous yet common challenges for all. Not least of which, is that design, development, production and logistics teams are often dispersed across continents. Such widespread placement of expertise and functions demands regular face-to-face meetings to keep projects on their critical path. However, bringing dispersed teams together slows down time-to-market, uses up valuable time through travel, and adds tens or even hundreds of thousands to the overall development cost.

There is a better way to keep projects on the move. Video calling and conferencing is technology’s answer to better team communications, it does lower costs and it is proven to increase time to market. A good case that substantiates this claim is demonstrated by GEAR4’s use of the StarLeaf telepresence solution. GEAR4 likes to describe itself as a SGMB – small global manufacturing business. It develops a range of funky and functional accessories for iPods, smartphones and tablets. Its products include speakers, headphones, cases etc., which are all designed to appeal to the mass market, and to an individual’s taste for trend setting style that delivers quality and functionality. By its very nature, GEAR4’s success relies upon great design, and on how fast it can bring products to market.

Although a relatively small organization, GEAR4 has a global reach, it sells products directly from its website, to retailers and distributors, and ships from warehouses located in Europe, America and Asia. Its unmistakable ‘Angry Birds’ range can be seen on all good supermarket shelves! “To serve our market we must operate 24 x 7, and to do this we need the very best that communications technology has to offer,” said Tom Dudderidge, GEAR4 CEO. “Knowing that video may help us move faster, we dabbled with Skype, and our early forays proved video could work, but it also showed us that we needed something fit for purpose. Whatever solution we bought into had to mimic the real world, and let us clearly see each other while also displaying content. Being able to review the designs as they evolve is imperative; one tiny undetected flaw could result in unimaginable losses for our business. Consequently, any solution we chose had to be easy to use, and melt into the background to allow us to focus on the discussion, the design detail and on each other, and not on the technology. We clearly needed a business quality video solution that was reliable, affordable, and that required little or no expert resources to set-up. And StarLeaf telepresence is all of these things.”

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At GEAR4, StarLeaf video calling and conferencing comes into its own during times of extreme pressure. Unlike most other manufacturers, GEAR4’s teams go into overdrive when new tablets or phones hit the market. “The reality of our business is that we remain in the dark right up to the very moment a new product [phone or tablet] becomes available. At that point we need to bring our Chief Design Officer (CDO), product, logistics and production teams together immediately – for us there’s not a moment to lose. More than this they need to continue to get together as the designs take shape and prototypes are developed.” This would be simple if GEAR4’s teams were all located in the same place! However, the CDO is in San Francisco, core developers are in the UK and production and logistics are as far away as they can be – in China. Not to mention that GEAR4’s sales teams and executives are equally well spread, and are often called into the later stages of development meetings.

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A real test of the veracity of StarLeaf came following Apple’s big iPhone 5 announcement, in September 2012. As soon as Apple went public, GEAR4 brought everyone together over video using a range of StarLeaf systems. Working tirelessly, and using video to share and review designs, the team developed the iPhone5’s accessories product line-up and went into production in record time.  

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