col·lab·o·rate (v): to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something
We often use the term “collaborative” to describe how our robots are safe to interact with their human coworkers on the factory floor, but most people haven’t heard about the truly collaborative product development process our Rethink Robotics coworkers use in the creation of a robot.
A new robot must deliver a complete solution, productively perform real factory tasks and provide an attractive return on our customers’ capital investment. Our product managers, account managers, distributors and application engineers devote significant time out in the field to gain a deep understanding of customers’ current and future needs, translating this into clear specifications for new products and features. A great example of this was the feedback that led to the development of our Robot Positioning System using our existing embedded vision, allowing customers to easily redeploy Baxter at different tasks within their factories.
Hardware and software engineers evolve these specs into new technology. Fusing invention and execution, our product development team follows an agile methodology to coordinate diverse technical resources, including mechanical, embedded, controls, systems, vision, and UX engineers. They design, iterate and validate new robot hardware and software code employing state of the art rapid prototype and interactive modeling tools.
To ensure manufacturability and competitive pricing, our supply chain and manufacturing engineering teams reach outside the company, engaging expert partners with unique skills. It’s not unusual to find engineers from our gear shops, plastic molders, die casters, and precision machinists at our offices actively participating in internal design reviews. We strive to learn from them. Early supplier involvement in the development process has accelerated our time to scale by allowing us to tool up early and rapidly ramp production – for Baxter alone we designed and qualified over 120 production tools in the six months leading up to product launch.
Before any new robot or software release can be released to production, our hardware and software quality teams conduct comprehensive product testing. Progressive performance assessments validate product specifications, culminating in reliability and longevity tests using full-scale work cells performing real customer applications. In production, our test engineers conduct extensive validation and calibration on each robot before it is packaged and shipped. And our involvement doesn’t stop at the loading dock – our customer support team tracks every robot from the time it leaves the factory through its successful deployment in our customer’s operation.
Build a great team. Build a great company. Build great robots.
Next up: The development of Sawyer
About the Author
Jim Daly is COO at Rethink Robotics. He leads the teams responsible for the product development, manufacture and support of our new robot Sawyer. He’s launched innovative new products at successful startups and has served in operational leadership and technical roles in the electronics manufacturing and computer hardware industries.