The competitive pressure on manufacturers is brutal. New technology must deliver a practical return to be a legitimate consideration. Today’s manufacturing professional understands that investment decisions are measured in tact time, yield and nickels per part. So, when an operations manager procures new equipment for a factory, it should quickly accomplish a defined task with efficiency and high utilization – it has to perform.
When I joined the company in early 2010, Rethink Robotics, then known as Heartland Robotics, was a perfect prototype of an early stage tech startup. Our roboticists and engineers were intensely focused on developing disruptive innovation with the humble goal of revolutionizing manufacturing. The technology they were creating was truly amazing. But many of the team had never stepped foot on a factory floor. Some had gained insight on the challenges of production processes from afternoon plant tours. None had ever worked in a manufacturing operation.
My charter from founder Rod Brooks was twofold – bring the practical perspective of an experienced manufacturing customer to the product development process, and build the machine to launch the machine – a team and processes to transform the company’s unique innovation from design into production.
To create a groundbreaking product, we knew it couldn’t be based on game changing technology alone – it had to be intuitively easier to deploy than any traditional industrial robot, able to productively perform real factory tasks, and provide an attractive return on our customers’ capital investment.
To make our products competitive, hardware and software would require the capacity to be continuously improved, to systematically evolve to meet the dynamic needs of manufacturing customers.
And to create differentiation, we would form collaborative relationships with customers and key partners, regularly get team members into manufacturing operations to understand real challenges facing production engineers and feed practical requirements directly into our product development process.
Continuously improve the product. Incorporate learning from the field. Deliver customers a solution, not an integration project. These tenets formed the basis of our game plan.
Next up: Turning our planning into action
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.