Paul Robertson
Senior NPI Engineering Tech Lead

NPI Spotlight- Paul Robertson

What is your role at Synapse?

30-40 years ago, most products were made with designers in the front of the factory and assembly in the back. If you wanted to make a product, you had to invest a lot in floor space, equipment, and staff.

The move to contract manufacturing has been the catalyst that has fueled many innovative products by allowing companies to try new ideas without all of the overhead of owning factories. But, the designers aren’t usually in the building where products are being made and assembled, so a disconnect between the design and manufacturing is both possible and likely. Manufacturing partners don’t always understand the goals of the product and they have different motivations as well. And, the designers don't get the feedback about the realities, difficulties and possibilities of the manufacturing floor. The further you separate the designers and the manufacturers, the worse off the product is.

My job is to bring together very different cultures, time zones, and languages. There is a lot of potential, but there can be a lot of challenges. I work with factories to make sure that they understand the product goal, test systems, and assembly lines as the designer intended. I work with design teams to make sure that they understand how to design products that can be manufactured effectively. My goal is to make sure the product is made in the best interests of the client whether that, is quality, cost, or schedule.

What does your schedule typically look like?

I typically end up in Asia 5-8 times a year. It’s a lot of travel and working really long hours, with 14-15 hours of jet lag. A lot of people complain about sleep with jet lag, but for me it’s not about sleep, it’s food. I’m not hungry at dinner, but I wake up at 3am and I’m eating everything in sight.

Traveling can sound exciting and glamorous, however it's a lot of time away from the family and it can be tiring. I think it’s great to get outside your culture and understand the way the rest of the world does things. Explaining the way you do things challenges your assumptions.

I find that the language barrier is overestimated and culture, the way people interpret the world, is much more important. Apps can translate language, but they can’t translate culture. 

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned at Synapse?

Synapse has a worldview of “It’s nice to be nice.” A lot of tech companies are aggressive and confrontational. It took me a while to understand that the Synapse philosophy is more effective in getting the most out of your colleagues, yourself, and your manufacturing partners. 

You can push manufacturing partners very hard, and you can do it in a way that makes them want to come back and do it again.The best compliment I’ve ever received was that I push manufacturing partners to do more than they thought they could, but in a way that makes them want to come back and do more projects with us.

A person can be rude and difficult and force a partner to do something once. But in the long run, they might not come back and work with you. We’ve put together projects and schedules where they said it wasn’t possible and we’ve worked with them to make it possible. Because of that, several large CM’s have said that want to do projects with Synapse.

One of my favorite examples of this is when we were working on a build and the assembly line that required everyone to work extra hours. I wanted to do something nice for the operators, so we rented out a sidewalk restaurant and provided BBQ and beer for about 60 people. No one had ever done something like that for them before and it was one of the most fun things I’ve done in China.

What is the least understood aspect of NPI?

There is no “good” lever that manufactures can push. Why? Because manufacturers don’t understand what “good” is on your project. What’s “good” in one project doesn’t necessarily apply for other clients or even a different project for the same client. For example, suppose you're making an FDA-approved device; there are a ton of inspections, tests, costs, and documentation. If you were making something simple, like a toy, it would be a waste of money to go through all that.

There are a thousand places where you make value assumptions. Start ups don’t have a brand to protect and they don’t have a lot of cash. They can cut corners to save money. Well established companies have a lot to protect. They don’t want to make a lot of risks, they are going to put in money to protect their reputation.

You have to communicate. You have to go over and sit with them, build that relationship, determine what the values are, and what “good” is.

What has been your favorite Synapse project?

My last project was my favorite project. We worked under a crazy fast schedule, and it was fun to see how fast Synapse could make things move!

Where would we likely find you on the weekend?

In the summer, my family likes to go camping and four wheeling.

What were you like in high school?

Thinner.

Tell us one interesting thing about you that we don’t know already.

Back in 1998 I worked as an EMT.

What’s the thing you like most about Synapse?

I admire how Synapse calls out the false choice between being nice or being effective. There are so many large companies that set the expectation that in order to be smart or effective, you can act rude, blunt, or harsh. Synapsters are friendly and kind to one another. It makes coming into work every day so much better. In the end I think it gets more out of everyone.

What’s been your favorite Synapse event?

I love going to Synapse holiday parties. I think it’s great to see colleagues outside of work having fun!

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