Listen to this article
U.S. companies are struggling to fill more than 600,000 open positions for machine operators, according to Rapid Robotics. These employees run the machines that perform 80% of all factory tasks, such as injection molding, pad printing, heat stamping, pick and place, and dozens of other standard tasks required for manufacturing components across almost every sector, including medical devices, electronics, consumer packaged goods, and automotive.
Rapid Robotics today announced that it has received $5.5 million in seed funding from Greycroft and Bee Partners. The San Francisco-based company claimed to have created the “first affordable robotics solution for executing simple machine operator tasks.” It added that its founding team combines robotics and manufacturing expertise with a software-as-a-service (SaaS) or robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) business model to help solve real-world industry problems.
“Right now, billions of dollars of revenue are flowing offshore due to what I call ‘the automation gap’ for U.S. contract manufacturers,” stated Jordan Kretchmer, CEO of Rapid Robotics. “The need to automate simple tasks is incredibly high, but the ability to do so has been out of reach for a vast majority of manufacturers. The Rapid Machine Operator is the first robotic solution to close that gap, making U.S. manufacturers more competitive and supply chains more resilient.”
Rapid Machine Operator designed for easy integration
Kretchmer and co-founder Ruddick Lawrence came to Rapid Robotics with a deep background in robotics and SaaS technology. Prior to Rapid Robotics, Kretchmer founded Livefyre, a popular SaaS engagement platform acquired by Adobe in 2016. Lawrence led the manufacturing software group for robotics for the da Vinci robot at Intuitive Surgical.
U.S. manufacturers can’t hire machine operators fast enough, and until now they’ve had no viable way to automate the jobs either, according to Rapid Robotics. Traditional robotics systems need to be programmed by specialized systems integrators. This makes automation too expensive for most contract manufacturers, who then can’t scale their operations, can’t bid competitively, and have had to watch work go to facilities overseas.
Rapid Robotics said it has the solution. The Rapid Machine Operator is a pre-trained robotic machine operator that understands how to perform common machine tasks without programming or systems integration. The system combines proprietary machine vision software and deep learning artificial intelligence with robotic hardware to handle most machine operator jobs “out of the box,” said the company.
The Rapid Machine Operator includes a six-axis collaborative robot arm and end-of-arm tooling. It can share its experiences through the cloud with the rest of the Rapid Robotics fleet, so that each robotic machine operator becomes more skilled — and more valuable — at no additional expense, the company said.
Manufacturers can “hire” a Rapid Machine Operator for just $25,000 per year, or only about 10% the total cost of operation of competing solutions, said Rapid Robotics. It added that the systems can be up and running in less than a day, and can be easily moved between tasks or machines as needed.
Employees who previously operated only one machine at a time can now manage numerous Rapid Machine Operators using a simple touchscreen interface, no robotics expertise required, the company said.
Rapid Robotics ROI
Rapid Robotics said its customers are saving an average of $110,000 per year for each cobot they install, achieving a positive return on investment (ROI) in as little as three months.
“We looked at automating machine operator tasks before, but as a custom injection molder, the costs were prohibitive,” said Tammy Barras, president of Westec Plastics. “Rapid’s solution was the first we’d seen that just worked at a price that made sense for our business. We were pleased with how responsive the Rapid team is, and [we] were quickly able to start seeing value.”
This boost in productivity from the Rapid Machine Operator allows manufacturers to take on more projects, outbid foreign competitors, and scale their business so they can redeploy human operators to more complex, more profitable, and more rewarding jobs, claimed Rapid Robotics.
“Rapid Robotics has developed an ingenious solution to a problem with massive economic consequences,” said Michael Berolzheimer, founder and managing partner of Bee Partners. “Within this decade, Rapid’s robotic machine operators will bring the benefits of automation to thousands of U.S. businesses and spark an unprecedented resurgence in onshore manufacturing.”