Is Launchpad “the Tesla of manufacturing?” asks Marco Anunziata, former chief economist and head of business innovation strategy for General Electric.
Manufacturing, long the forgotten Cinderella of software, may have found its prince. Launchpad, cofounded by Idealab creator Bill Gross and two serial Israel entrepreneurs, is using artificial intelligence to take designs from blueprint to final production, automatically sourcing components and manufacturers, slashing time and costs for the limited runs and customized goods that customers increasingly want.
Gross, who has backed dozens of successful startups, will explain his reasons for investing in an online event hosted by OurCrowd on May 11.
“They are creating the first autonomous, or self-driving hardware product manufacturing ecosystem,” Anunziata marvels in a column for Forbes. “You simply upload your CAD package for a complete product… and the system will plan production, procure parts and services, produce detailed work instructions and offer instant pricing.”
Launchpad, based in California, is dramatically shortening the timeline from design to manufacturing with a combination of artificial intelligence-powered software and a multi-purpose assembly machine. Clients submit their 3D design files for anything from electronics to medical devices. The platform calculates how to produce the parts and assemble them, then builds and delivers the product.
New techniques like smart autonomous systems, 3D printing, and machines that make decisions based on data – branded the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 – are changing the way products are designed, made and delivered.
Launchpad brings automation to the entire process – from generating a quote to manufacturing the products, introducing the power of Industry 4.0 to the often overlooked, but high-value, low-volume manufacturing sector, including products for defense and government customers that must be built in the US.
“This kind of enhanced automation could help make the manufacturing system more resilient in the face of unexpected shocks like COVID-19, and fuel a manufacturing renaissance in the US,” Annunziata argues.
When a large defense company asked the company to integrate a new optical device in its product, it was ready in just a few days. That turnaround is unheard of in manufacturing, where it often takes several months, and many hours of trial and error by engineers, to progress from final design to actual production.
“It only took us a couple of days to deliver hundreds of products,” says Yoav Zingher, Launchpad’s CEO and cofounder. “The client was quite surprised.”
“Launchpad has built an automated manufacturing process that learns and gets smarter over time,” says Gross, whose Idealab incubator has produced more than 150 successful startups. “This breakthrough allows automation to be deployed at a more nimble scale, and will completely disrupt high-speed time-to-market manufacturing forever.”
“Manufacturing is poised for a revolution with AI,” Gross says.
But it will not be easy.
“Many manufacturers are still struggling to make the vision of digitized manufacturing a reality,” according to Accenture. “Digital transformation is a big financial commitment. And it isn’t as straightforward as some companies would hope.”
This is especially true for smaller players or companies that want to manufacture relatively low volumes, Zingher says.
“Even if something can be automated, products today change so rapidly that you constantly need programmers to change the code and settings of the production systems,” says Launchpad’s third cofounder and chief technology officer, Ofer Ricklis.
“If you could just say, ‘here are the design files, make it,’ that’s the dream,” Ricklis says.
The system can make a wide range of items and is particularly suited to low-volume runs of a product for which it is not worthwhile to design an entire automated assembly process.
Clients upload and submit their design plans digitally on Launchpad’s platform, which figures out the best way to produce each part – including technologies like 3D printing – and put them all together. It then sends the client a price quote.
“It’s like coming up with a way to put together Ikea furniture without the instructions,” Zingher says. “Our artificial intelligence uses trial and error methods and figures out how to make it, and what tools we need.” The outcome is an instant, complete cost structure and production line layout ready for execution. Today, this process usually takes weeks and requires many people – process engineers, operation managers, procurement and other experts. The Launchpad process is fully autonomous.
In the case of the optical device for the defense company (whose identity is private), the system figured out how to automate a gluing process that previously was done by hand.
“A person would take about four minutes to do the gluing, but the machine can do it in 40 seconds, and you also need to add into that the accuracy and flexibility that machines offer, and it’s even more efficient,” Zingher says.
“The system can also flag if something cannot be made, and this way we can quickly let the designer know that two parts can’t actually fit together,” he says. “Right now, without our platform, this is a process that takes weeks, and often it is only during or at the end of the prototype process that engineers figure out there is a mistake in the design, or that something will not work. We can tell this immediately.”
Launchpad makes many of its clients’ products on its Digiline machine, designed in Israel, which it describes as “a multifunction autonomous assembly machine,” that can assemble hundreds of parts into a complete whole without the need for programming.
The system is particularly suited for products with multiple components – a constant cost challenge, Zingher says. Launchpad can also help make it more affordable to manufacture products in the US, or any of its clients’ home countries.
“If someone wants to make something from just one component, or wants to make a million-unit production run, then we are probably not as relevant,” Zingher says, since 3D printing and large offshore manufacturers often offer adequate solutions. “But for someone who wants to make dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands of products made from multiple parts, it’s very hard to find a high-quality supplier, and we bring great value.”
Eventually, the company plans to rely on its Digiline machines plus a network of advanced manufacturers.
“It’s all done automatically, and is a completely digital experience for the client, offering a complete solution for what they want to make,” Zingher says. “This speed and the ability to go more easily from idea to product will help everyone innovate more.”
To invest in Launchpad with OurCrowd, click HERE.
To join the online discussion with Bill Gross on May 11, click HERE.