It’s an age-old, or at least decades-old, story. A startup company, based on exciting technology and full of enthusiasm, comes roaring out of the gate ready to set the world on fire. They garner tons of media attention, recruit some of the top people in the industry, attract healthy amounts of venture capital, and proceed full speed ahead. Then at some point, often three or four years into their evolution, they are forced by the realities of product and market development to “select and focus”. They realise that they can’t develop a viable, sustainable business trying to do too many things at once.
Rethink Robotics, one of the most exciting and innovative robotics companies to appear over the past six years, apparently reached that stage this week and has announced significant layoffs amounting to almost a quarter of their estimated headcount.
According to a report on Boston.com, Rethink Robotics CEO Scott Eckert said that -
"...the layoffs are the result of Rethink deciding to focus on the market segments that have been most receptive to Baxter since its launch, including plastics manufacturing, consumer goods, and warehousing and logistics. Rethink has also been selling Baxter to academic and corporate research labs in the U.S. and overseas."
A restructuring of this magnitude, while certainly a concern, isn’t that unusual for high tech startups during this phase of their development. In fact, if managed properly, it can be quite healthy and could put the company in a much stronger position in the long term.
At the same time there is a significant risk that some customers may have a degree of trepidation about committing to the Rethink Robotics design approach, especially for robot implementations that are mission critical for their companies. Robotics, unlike software applications or consumer electronics, are used in critical parts of their customers manufacturing and supply chains.
Rethink represents a dramatic shift in the way that companies think about and implement robotics, and can potentially yield significant benefits. But before companies adopt the Rethink approach they have to be extremely confident that Rethink as a company will be around to support them.
In many ways it’s a chicken/egg problem, and one that we hope and expect will play out well for Rethink. Restructuring and refocusing is absolutely the right move at this point. They have the right technology at the right time in the right market. The opportunity is their’s to win, or to lose.
Bloomberg reports that Apple plans to spend a record $10.5 billion on improving and optimizing their supply chain including assembly robots, factory automation, milling machines, and other technology.
The information, derived in large part from Apple’s fiscal 2014 capital expenditure forecast, clearly demonstrates that Apple takes full control and ownership of their supply chain, unlike many other companies that tend to throw designs over the fence and leave the details up to their suppliers.
This isn’t a new initiative for the Apple management leadership. Prior to taking over as CEO when Steve Jobs passed away, Tim Cook husbanded the creation/re-engineering of Apple’s existing supply chain. However, it does represent a major “power-up” move since the forecast 2014 capital expenditures represent a 61% increase from the previous fiscal year and a whooping 10X increase over the 2008 numbers.
Doing a bit more research after my previous post on the Apple Mac Pro I found an excellent writeup on the Atomic Delights blog that goes through the entire Mac Pro manufacturing/assembly process step by step.
The article is definitely worth taking a few minutes to read through if you’re interested in what state-of-the-art manufacturing can accomplish, especially if you have the technology and deep pockets of Apple.
Given all the video and photos I process, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that my next computer purchase will be the new Mac Pro. Even though it’s a bit pricey, the speed and processing power it is expected to deliver will improve my output and efficiency considerably.
So, it’s good to know that the Mac Pro assembly is being done in the U.S. Although I fully understand that it won’t mean a lot of jobs being repatriated from off-shore to the States, every little bit helps. And, it’s judicious application of robotics and factory automation technology that makes it both cost effective and good business to do the assembly Stateside.
Here’s a look at the Mac Pro manufacturing and assembly process:
Makerbot and America Makes jointly announced “Makerbot Academy”, a new initiative to support and strengthen American schools and STEM education. A big part of the initiative centres around giving students access to technology to foster interest, curiosity, and enthusiasm in STEM.
The new Makerbot Academy, with support from donors, plans to place thousands of 3D printers in schools across the nation. Here’s the opening text of the announcement:
We’re proud to announce MakerBot Academy, an educational mission to put a MakerBot® Desktop 3D Printer in every school in the United States of America.
The first MakerBot Academy initiative includes 3D printing bundles for classrooms, an awesome Thingiverse Challenge, and generous support from individuals and organizations.
What You Can Do
1. Get the word out. Tell the teachers you know to register at DonorsChoose.org.
2. Support a school. Contribute to the effort by choosing a teacher; help get them set for the Next Industrial Revolution.
3. Participate in the Thingiverse Challenge. Develop models that teachers can use to improve Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education.
Responding to a Presidential Call to Action
At this year’s State Of The Union address, President Obama announced a new initiative to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US. He affirmed, “3D printing has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. The next industrial revolution in manufacturing will happen in America.”
We’re inspired by the President’s commitment to keep America at the forefront of the Next Industrial Revolution and we’re eager to do our part to educate the next generation of innovative makers who will keep our economy strong.
Let’s Get MakerBot Desktop 3D Printers into American Schools
Together with America Makes, and by leveraging the crowdfunding power of DonorsChoose.org, we’re launching our first MakerBot Academy initiative: Get thousands of MakerBot® Replicator® 2 Desktop 3D Printers into K-12 public school classrooms across the country — by December 31, 2013!
Look what the White House just announced for Tuesday afternoon (ET):
Have you ever considered what you might create with a state-of-the-art digital design studio? Have you ever thought about planning and printing a new pair of sneakers, instead of just buying some? Have you ever dreamt about what you would make if you had all the tools of industrial design at your fingertips?
Well, those dreams may be closer than you think.
A new generation of American pioneers is democratizing the tools of the industrial revolution and spreading them to students around the country. But these tools aren’t the rusty machines you might imagine – they’re 3-D printers, laser cutters, and water jets, and they give you the ability to make almost anything. Not only that, they may be coming soon to a school near you.
Announcing the first ever White House Science Fair, the President called for an all hands on deck approach to grow a generation of Americans who are, “the makers of things, and not just the consumers of things.” And at the 2012 White House Science Fair, the President met student Joey Hudy and launched his marshmallow cannon, noting that Joey’s motto was, “Don’t be bored, make something.” Responding to that call, citizens, communities, and organizations are coming together to give students the tools to design with their minds and make with their hands.
Join us and leading tinkerers, educators, and innovators on Tuesday, November 12th, at 2:00 pm EST for a “We the Geeks” Google+ Hangout, called “Don’t Be Bored, Make Something”.
The Hangout will be moderated by Kumar Garg, Assistant Director for Learning and Innovation, and Cristin Dorgelo, Assistant Director for Grand Challenges, and will feature a panel of these leading experts:
- Bre Pettis, CEO, MakerBot, with the Replicator 2 3-D printer
- Mariah Noelle Villarreal, student and Maker Corps Mentor, Maker Education Initiative
- Mark Hatch, CEO, TechShop
- Lisa Brahms, Director of Learning and Research, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
- Rob Gorham, Deputy Director, America Makes
Hear from the people building the next generation of shop class by tuning into "We the Geeks: Don’t be Bored, Make Something" live on WhiteHouse.gov/WeTheGeeks and the White House Google+ page on Tuesday, November 12, at 2:00 pm EDT.
Got comments or questions? Ask them using the hashtag #WeTheGeeks on Twitter and on Google+ and we'll answer some of them during the live Hangout.