A Founder’s Reflections on 20 Years of Acorn


Tim Lau

September 10, 2013

I have always had a passion for mechanical engineering design. This interest evolved during my college engineering years, evidenced back then by a Master’s thesis on the design of a materials testing instrument. I have stayed true to the field of mechanical engineering design throughout my entire career.

Technology has changed dramatically since those early days. When designing products at Wyse Technology, in order to communicate with our Taiwanese manufacturers, I had to slice up our large E-size engineering drawings into strips that would fit through a fax machine!  Staff in Taiwan would tape the fax sheets together, and we’d have follow-up phone conversations to fill in the gaps.  Of course at that time, all work was 2-D, and there was no way to communicate electronically, other than sending floppy disks by mail.

Our world has changed since then. For example, at Acorn, we utilize a database management system to allow simultaneous work on the design of the same products by team members across our global sites.  All work of course is done in 3-D solids, so that engineering aspects of the materials and components are incorporated, along with accurate geometry.  To eliminate long transfer times of these large files, replication servers at different Acorn sites keep synchronized copies of the product database available locally for quick access.

Ken and I first met at NeXT Computer—I remember that he made at least two attempts to hire me before I finally agreed! In my experience there, we had the opportunity to work with top tier design firms, who advertised themselves as “full service”. In my experience working with these firms, I found that they came up short in Design for Manufacturability.  This meant that when the firm had delivered the final design at the end of their contract, extensive design modifications were often needed in order to adapt the design for production.  In some cases, the product was never able to reach its potential due to inherent problems from DFM issues that could not be resolved.  Our idea behind Acorn was to incorporate DFM as a major part of the design process. This has been a main guiding principle at Acorn since Day One.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate that the learning process in our field is continuous.  Technology keeps advancing.  Our clients, partners and suppliers are often experts in their area of technology.  We learn from them, and they from us. At Acorn, we invest effort to share this knowledge among our staff, which enables us to apply best practices to whatever project we embark on.  I feel that we have assembled and helped to train a truly great team over our 20 year history, and I’m proud to be a part of that team.

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of our clients, employees, suppliers, friends and supporters who have helped make Acorn a success!

About the author

Tim Lau co-founded Acorn with Ken, and is Acorn’s CTO. Tim has 25+ years product development experience in technology product development, and manufacturing liaison roles for NeXT Computer, Wyse Technology, and Plantronics. Tim holds a BS in mechanical engineering from University of Rochester and an MS in mechanical engineering from University of California, Berkeley.