Through an extensive history of spearheading product launches for industry giants such as Tesla and Rivian, Braden Ball has identified a common challenge faced by design and manufacturing teams – silos inhibiting collaboration

Now, as the visionary founder of Threaded, a stealth software startup, he is on a mission to streamline version control and enhance communication across diverse product development teams.

He spoke to Onshape co-founder and PTC Chief Evangelist Jon Hirschtick about his varied experiences on the Masters of Engineering podcast and the lessons learned from his storied career.

Who’s Braden Ball?

Ball began his career as a manufacturing engineer at Caterpillar, where he participated in a leadership development program to gain a comprehensive understanding of factory operations. Then, he pursued a fellowship at Amazon, providing him with valuable insights into data utilization in operations. After completing his graduate studies, Ball returned to Caterpillar for a period before joining Tesla. 

At Tesla, he played a pivotal role in introducing new products and overseeing the launch of various products, including the Model X.

“I spent plenty of nights living at the factory,” he shares. “There are all kinds of other processes and technology that went into [the Model X] that make it incredible, but also made it very tricky to stitch everything together to get it up and running consistently in the factory.”

Afterward, Ball worked at Carbon – where he led a collaboration with Adidas – then at Rivian as the vehicle launch director.

Navigating Challenges at Tesla

During his time at Tesla, Ball’s most significant lesson was learning from failure. He says failure is a natural part of the development process, especially when working on new and innovative products. This mindset allows for continuous improvement and progress. 

“The challenge isn’t that if you don't get it right the first time, you're terrible,” he says. “The challenge is, ‘OK. What did I learn? How do I figure out? How do I pivot this forward and turn this thing into a success?’”

Additionally, he highlights the significance of approaching problems from a first principles basis. By defining the core problem and employing appropriate tools, Ball stresses the importance of addressing challenges effectively. 

He mentions the freedom in tool and vendor selection at Tesla. He explains that when understanding and solving core problems, there is latitude in choosing the right solutions and making necessary changes. 

This approach allows for agile decision-making and problem-solving.

Behind the Scenes: The Challenges of Tesla's Model X Product Launch

Leading a Carbon and Adidas Collaboration

Following his tenure at Tesla, Braden Ball joined Carbon, a company specializing in additive manufacturing. While at Carbon, he played a crucial role in collaborating with Adidas to develop the Futurecraft 4D, a 3D-printed midsole for running shoes. 

Scaling 3D printing presented challenges, including misconceptions about its suitability for production. Carbon's technology revolutionized traditional 3D printing challenges by enabling fast printing of midsoles with exceptional mechanical properties.

The collaboration seamlessly aligned with the shared vision of both companies, leveraging 3D printing to enhance performance and aesthetics in footwear. Ball's pivotal role in leading the partnership focused on executing the collaboration from concept to implementation. 

The resulting Futurecraft 4D marked a significant advancement in footwear manufacturing, offering customizable designs and sizes previously unattainable through traditional methods.

Transforming Additive Manufacturing: The Carbon-Adidas Collaboration

A New Venture in the Making: Threaded

Threaded, Ball's software startup, aims to revolutionize the manufacturing industry by providing efficient solutions for scaling up new product processes. 

Drawing from Ball's extensive experience and challenges throughout his career, Threaded aims to facilitate a smooth transition from product concept and prototyping to large-scale manufacturing.

“You don't have the hardware development team just do what they need, then they hand it off to the build team,” he says. “You inherently have to work together to develop that system for it to be effective.” 

“They've got to actually be in sync,” he adds.

At the core of Threaded's vision is a cutting-edge software platform dedicated to enhancing collaboration and efficiency in the product development journey. Meticulously crafted to address common pain points experienced in product development, the platform leverages insights from industry professionals.

Building Collaborative Systems for Effective Product Development

Threaded's software platform fosters collaboration and synchronicity among diverse teams involved in the product development lifecycle. By seamlessly integrating hardware engineering, software engineering, operations, and other relevant teams, Threaded recognizes the dynamic nature of people and advocates for a cohesive approach to product development. 

The ultimate goal is to streamline the entire process, from concept to market, making Threaded an invaluable asset in the realm of innovative product development, Ball says.

For those interested in following the progress of Threaded and staying updated on the latest developments, visit the freshly launched website.

Masters of Engineering Podcast

Host Jon Hirschtick chats with innovators
in product development and explores
what it takes to turn ideas into reality.