The American Can Company used to be the single largest producer of tin cans in the country, but the glory days are long gone. The building, in San Francisco's Dogpatch, is part of a neighborhood where sprawling shipyards and industrial complexes have closed up shop, replaced by the likes of the AT&T Ballpark and the UCSF Mission Bay medical research center.
The Can Company has changed, too. But it's retained its manufacturing roots. Today, tucked in among 250 units, a pair of workshops toil side by side producing two staples of 21st-century industry: Smoking tools and sex toys.
First, there's Ploom, makers of innovative tobacco vaporization devices. The company was founded in 2007 after a late-night smoke break between Stanford grad students Adam Bowen and James Monsees. A few years later, Ploom just launched a revolutionary new premium vaporizer—the ModelOne. The team followed up this innovation earlier this year with the highly-regarded PAX loose-leaf system.
Minna, a shop on the other side of the room, was also founded by Stanford grads. John Pelochino, Minna CEO, says, Minna's goal is "to improve women's sexual experience through beautiful, well-made products that are smart and intuitive." The shop designed the Ola: a waterproof, touch-sensitive toy operated with an innovative squeezable touch pad. The harder you squeeze the Ola, the more intensely it vibrates. It can even be programmed with and play back vibration patterns for more stimulating self discovery.
After four years working in the same room, both companies credit their individual successes with their shared space and industrial location. The building can turn around 3D printing same day, we have a photography studio upstairs, there's motion capture down the hall. Also, as Ploom co-founder James Monsees says, "In case you're in the market, you can buy a jellyfish next door."
The shared workshop of Ploom vaporizers and Minna vibrators.
Dogpatch District, San Francisco, California
Dollar figures were elusive, but Monsees did offer this: "We've built an environment and the resources to prototype and bring things to life quickly. We've invested in custom test equipment, and we have machines testing products around the clock. We want the place to be nice enough to keep people here but have a raw, prototype feeling—we built everything in a way that it can be redone, and nothing's too precious. You can prototype on any surface here, drill holes in desks, you name it. But leave a tool out in the machine shop, that's another story…"
"The Bridgeport mill with verospeed—so old, but still kicking. That's the one machine in the shop that is in use day in day out," Monsees told Gizmodo.
"A well-trained team of foam rocket assassins," says Monsees joked. "Our open environment fosters a culture of collaboration and makes intruders an easy target."
SMT solder rework tweezers—these mounted soldering irons attach chips and flat packs to the Pax vaporizers.
On the Wish List:
Monsees says, "We've got a 30-foot wall. So we've always talked about adding a rock-climbing wall—but now they're putting in a rock-climbing gym at the next building down. So now we want the EOSINT M 280 laser-sintering system. That thing direct-sinters titanium. Badass."