Not only is Rapid Robotics ready to work, but it is also quickly raising funding for its robotic machine operator. In its third fundraising in less than a year, the San Francisco startup today announced a $36.7 million Series B round. The company said its Rapid Machine Operator enables manufacturers to deploy a pretrained collaborative robot in hours without any specialized skills, systems integration, or programming.
Since emerging from stealth in late 2020, Rapid Robotics said it has addressed the needs of American manufacturers as they face a labor shortage aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent study from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, by the end of 2020, the manufacturing industry had regained only 63% of jobs lost during the pandemic, even with job openings at near-record levels.
“Given the foundational role the manufacturing sector plays in our nation’s economy, it is deeply concerning that at a time when jobs are in such high demand nationwide, the number of vacant entry-level manufacturing positions continues to grow,” stated Paul Wellener, vice chairman and U.S. industrial products and construction leader at Deloitte.
Most of the open positions are for machine operators—the employees who work the machines that mold, stamp, and assemble components for numerous products. Without operators, these simple plastic and glass parts cannot be made. And without those components, entire factories sit idle, said Rapid Robotics.
“We hear a lot about the semiconductor shortage, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Jordan Kretchmer, CEO of Rapid Robotics. “Contract manufacturers can’t produce gaskets, vials, labels—you name it. I’ve seen cases where the inability to produce a single piece of U-shaped black plastic brought an entire auto line to a halt.”
Rapid Machine Operator ready to go
Rapid Robotics claimed that its Rapid Machine Operator (RMO) is the world's first cobot designed and priced for machine operation. Including hardware, software, integration, and maintenance, previous robotics systems were too expensive for machine-tending tasks, said the company.
The RMO, by contrast, arrives trained and ready to perform the most common machine-tending tasks, said Rapid Robotics. It comes with all necessary components, including grippers and computer vision, according to the company. The system can be put to work in hours rather than weeks or months, and can be easily transferred between tasks as needed, with no retraining necessary.
The RMO is available through a robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) model for $25,000 per year. Factories can “hire” it for less than $2,100 per month, bringing automation within reach for manufacturers of all sizes, Rapid Robotics said.
A robotic 'ripple effect'
Manufacturers appreciate how the Rapid Machine Operator delivers positive ROI from Day 1, but the value for regional producers goes far beyond that, said Aaron Halonen, Midwest general manager at Rapid Robotics. He is an automotive industry veteran with decades of experience in design, engineering, and quality control.
“Factories around here are in a tough spot,” Halonen said. “Without a way to work their machines, they can’t bid on jobs. No bidding means no business. No business means no revenue, obviously. But it also means no hiring or upskilling in other positions. It has a ripple effect on the entire economy.”
“I had one factory manager grab me on my way out. He said, ‘You know, we were going to manufacture these parts in Mexico, but with the RMO, I think we don’t have to,’” he added.
Beyond the automotive industry, healthcare infrastructure company Truepill has “hired” RMOs to fill and label prescription vials at its facility in Hayward, Calif.
“At Truepill, we work behind the scenes to help companies build and power more advanced, efficient, and automation-driven pharmacies, fulfilling up to 100,000 prescriptions per day and creating customized, white-labeled experiences delivered directly to consumers’ doors,” said Matthew Alley, head of fulfillment and supply chain at Truepill. “Rapid is helping us further scale these fulfillment capabilities by providing RMOs that are easy to set up and integrate seamlessly with our staff.”
“Since we launched the RMO, I’ve been meeting several manufacturers a week, and it’s clear to me that in every part of the country, this industry is ready for a comeback,” Kretchmer said. “With the RMO, our customers are ramping up, winning deals, and hiring staff. Together, we’re bringing back American manufacturing, one machine at a time.”
Investors support solutions for smaller factories
Kleiner Perkins and Tiger Global led Rapid Robotics’ Series B round, with participation from existing investors NEA, Greycroft, Bee Partners, and 468 Capital. The latest round bringing its total funding to $54.2 million.
“With the RMO, Rapid Robotics has come up with the right product at the right time,” said Wen Hsieh, general partner at Kleiner Perkins. “Rapid Robotics pinpointed an urgent problem in a multi-billion-dollar industry and solved it in a matter of months. They’ve found the perfect balance of innovation, affordability, and ease of implementation and use.”
“Until now, only the largest facilities could benefit from robotic automation,” said Griffin Schroeder, partner at Tiger Global. “But most manufacturing in America is done in smaller factories, which have been deeply challenged by the machine operator shortage. For them, the Rapid Machine Operator provides the additional support they need to thrive.”
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