While the sentient robot-laden vision of the future often portrayed by Hollywood has yet to materialize, robotic automation serves a critical role in how we live, work and play in today’s society (albeit, behind the scenes). As consumers and businesses clamor for better products, lower prices and shorter lead times, robots have become necessary to meet that demand. Robots improve quality, maximize efficiency, minimize time, and reduce risk. We’ve witnessed the “rise of the robots” in a growing number of industries, such as construction and logistics, and today we’re thrilled to announce our Series A investment in Rapid Robotics, a pioneer in bringing robotic automation to small and mid-sized manufacturers (SMMs).
At NEA, our focus on industrial automation has been growing for years as we’ve partnered with companies like Outrider, Built Robotics, and Berkshire Grey. We believe the global pandemic has only further steepened the trajectory towards a roboticized future. Automation is no longer just about productivity but also resilience. Nowhere has this become more apparent than looking at the fragility within our supply chains laid bare by the Covid-19 crisis. Internationally concentrated supplier networks with single points of failure are now evolving into more complex, distributed approaches with redundant and flexible capabilities. This has included a renewed interest in domestic manufacturing. Producing locally helps businesses mitigate disruption from global events and allows for a quicker response to sudden shifts in demand. Yet US manufacturers face two headwinds in meeting growing customer interest:
- Labor Shortage: We are facing a massive manufacturing labor shortage due to mass retirement and a lack of manufacturing skills training programs.
- Rising Labor Costs: Since 1990, manufacturing labor costs have more than doubled. In conjunction with the difficulty of finding workers to hire, manufacturers are struggling to retain employees without raising wages.
To overcome these challenges and play a key role in evolved supply chains, US manufacturers must augment the labor they already have through automation.
As it turns out, the robotic future in manufacturing is already here—it is just not evenly distributed. While automation has become commonplace within automotive and other large-scale manufacturing operations, adoption has been slow within small and mid-sized manufacturers[i]. Given that this segment employs 72% of manufacturing workers in the US, one would expect SMMs to be pursuing automation to get ahead of labor issues. However, the high cost and rigidity of existing solutions have proven significant barriers to adoption. In addition to the upfront cost of the hardware, a lack of expertise forces SMMs to hire a systems integrator to deploy a solution, further raising the price of entry. Further, rather than repurposing a robot for a new task, a business must pay a system integrator yet again to reconfigure the robot or design a new solution all together.
Enter Rapid Robotics. Rapid Robotics has developed the Rapid Machine Operator (RMO), an all-in-one robotic solution that provides “out of the box” autonomy for manufacturing lines. The system combines off-the-shelf hardware with proprietary computer vision and AI motion planning software. Each robot cell is easily set up using a simple touchscreen interface and can quickly be moved around or re-programmed for new tasks as needed. For use of the RMO, Rapid Robotics charges an upfront onboarding fee and an annual subscription fee of $25,000, delivering a positive ROI to customers in under 6 months.
We believe Rapid Robotics is poised to succeed in bringing automation to SMMs because of their:
- Software-First Approach: Rapid’s core innovation lies in the software layer, supporting their goal of minimizing hardware and deployment costs and maximizing robustness. Their software provides radical improvements in robot training, deployment, and support.
- Fast, Low-Risk ROI: Rapid’s subscription business model significantly reduces the capital requirements and risk for a category of buyers that have traditionally avoided robotic automation.
- Out-of-the-Box Autonomy: Rapid’s RMO arrives ready-to-use and does not require a systems integrator, programming, extra hardware, or previous knowledge of robotics. The RMO can be controlled by an easy-to-use, touch screen interface that enables anyone to train, update, and repurpose a robot. Customers no longer need worry that changes in their manufacturing lines will require additional hardware and systems integrator costs to modify existing automation solutions
- Customer-Centric Culture: Rapid is dedicated to making their customers successful. Customers are so happy with their RMOs they’ve named them and even seen their employees dancing alongside them! You can read more about one of their existing customer deployments here.
- Exceptional Founding Team: Rapid Robotics’ founders, Jordan Kretchmer and Ruddick Lawrence, are both seasoned entrepreneurs with the right blend of go-to-market and technical expertise. Jordan was previously founder and CEO of LiveFyre which pioneered a social content marketing platform and was acquired by Adobe in 2016. Ruddick was previously VP Engineering at Carbon Robotics and ran the software group at Intuitive Surgical responsible for all the code used in manufacturing every new surgical end effector for the famous da Vinci robot. They have assembled a team with decades of experience in contract manufacturing and robotics who are passionate about helping US manufacturing businesses thrive in a global market.
As supply chains continue to grow more localized and labor becomes scarcer, turn-key automation becomes the key to helping SMMs compete in the global economy. We are thrilled to be teaming up with Jordan and Ruddick on bringing the “Rise of the Rapid Robots” to manufacturers everywhere.
If you’re interested in joining the Rapid Robotics team, you can find open positions at: https://jobs.lever.co/rapidrobotics.
[i] Defined as having 500 employees or less