NEA leads $12M Series A in Rapid Robotics amid US manufacturing resurgence
Rapid Machine Operators get to work solving critical labor shortages
SAN FRANCISCO – Rapid Robotics, creator of the first ready-to-work robotic machine operator, today announced $12M in Series A funding led by NEA, with existing investors Greycroft, Bee Partners and 468 Capital also participating.
The latest investment brings Rapid Robotics’ total funding to $17.5M, with Rapid’s solutions producing more than 50,000,000 parts over the past year across almost every industry sector including plastics, metals, medical devices, automotive, pharma, semiconductors and electronics/EMS.
Rapid Robotics entry into the market comes at a pivotal moment for US manufacturing, as the Biden administration rolls out ambitious plans to revitalize the sector, boosting competitiveness in areas including automotive, pharmaceuticals, public health and semiconductor.
But these efforts face a serious challenge: a chronic shortage of factory workers. Deloitte estimates that by the end of the decade US manufacturers may have 2.4 million jobs they cannot fill, putting $454 billion of business at risk.
The shortfall is especially acute with machine operators, the employees who work the machines that perform 80% of all factory tasks. By some accounts, American manufacturers need 600,000 more operators to meet demand and compete with factories overseas.
“If we don’t solve this problem, US manufacturers will never be able to compete in a global market,” said Rapid Robotics CEO Jordan Kretchmer. “It’s really that simple.”
“America’s shortage of machine operators is a bona fide crisis,” agreed NEA General Partner and former Silicon Graphics Chief Technology Officer Forest Baskett. “We have to address it if we want to make America a manufacturing leader again.”
Until recently, manufacturers were caught between a scarcity of machine operators and an inability to automate.
“Robotics made sense for large-scale assembly-line jobs with decades-long windows for ROI, but not for operating the manufacturing machines that do most of the work on factory floors,” Baskett said. “Robots cost too much to begin with and even more to train. The numbers just didn’t pencil out.”
Rapid Robotics changed this ‘automation equation’ with the Rapid Machine Operator, the first affordable robotics solution for automating machine tasks. Now its biggest problem is keeping up with demand.
“I’ve been in manufacturing for more than 20 years, and the enthusiasm for the Rapid Machine Operator is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” said Mike Lewis, head of sales and marketing at Rapid Robotics, and former VP of business development at global technology, supply chain and manufacturing company Flex. “When we meet with potential customers, at first they’re skeptical because they’ve been burned by vendors who couldn’t deliver. When they see what the Rapid Machine Operator can do, they start to get excited. By the end of the visit they just want to know how soon we can get RMOs in place.”
The Rapid Machine Operator is an all-in-one robotics solution that comes ready to perform common machine operating tasks like injection molding, pad printing, heat stamping, pick-and-place and dozens of others.
Unlike other robots, the Rapid Machine Operator arrives complete with machine vision and pretrained AI, so it can get to work in less than a day. And it gains capabilities over time, as the entire Rapid Machine Operator fleet shares expertise and new skills through the cloud.
Each RMO is controlled via tablet—no robotics expertise required—and can be easily repurposed for new tasks as the need arises, using 3D-printed grippers that can be quickly fabricated on site for no additional charge.
With Rapid Machine Operators available by subscription for less than $2,100/month, manufacturers increase profits by an average of $110K per year for each unit installed, and reach positive ROI almost immediately as a result of Rapid’s innovative OpEx pricing model, allowing them to successfully bid for work that previously would have gone overseas.
“It’s hard to overstate the economic implications of the Rapid Machine Operator,” said Aaron Jacobson, partner at NEA. “After looking at numerous robotics startups in America and beyond, only Rapid Robotics had the right technology focused on the right needs to make a broad-based, immediate impact on the competitiveness of US companies.”
Recent Rapid Robotics customers include:
- TouchMark, a Hayward, California medical device company where Rapid Machine Operators are pad-printing plastic components for medical devices and semiconductors
- Fabri-Tech, a global component fabricator using Rapid Machine Operators for package heat-sealing in their Fremont, CA facility
- Applied Engineering, a contract manufacturing company that has Rapid Machine Operators applying labels to pharmaceutical vials in South San Jose.
Rapid Robotics customers report their RMOs have not only helped them win contracts but also to increase headcount and transition existing employees to less repetitive, higher-value, more satisfying work.
“We process many parts and have to expedite jobs frequently for our customers, but were struggling to keep adequately staffed to meet the demand. The highly precise process requires three human operators each day, which limited our ability to meet the customer’s needs and to take on new work,” said Ryan Gagne, Engineering Manager at TouchMark. “When we brought in Rapid’s RMOs, we were able to upskill those employees to execute other more complex tasks and to oversee the new robotic workforce. Using Rapid Machine Operators on these simple tasks has also increased our capacity and reduced lead times for our customers.”
“The Rapid Machine Operator flips the typical automation narrative on its head,” Kretchmer said. “It doesn’t just increase productivity, it boosts employment. By bringing manufacturing work back onshore, Rapid Machine Operators are actually helping businesses create jobs for American workers.”
About Rapid Robotics
Rapid Robotics is the creator of the first affordable robotic machine operator designed for simple machine tasks. Available for just $25K a year and requiring absolutely no programming, systems integration, specialized hardware or robotics skills, the Rapid Machine Operator enables manufacturers to easily deploy a pre-trained cobot in hours, moving it between tasks as needed and seeing ROI in months.
Rapid Robotics’ founding team combines robotics and manufacturing expertise with a SaaS business model to deliver affordable solutions to real-world industry problems. Investors include NEA, Greycroft, Bee Partners and 468 Capital. The company is based in San Francisco, California.