The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 4 months ago

Perspectives on Automation, AI, & the Future w/ Andy Lonsberry


If the Wright Brothers lived in the 21st century, they might be the Lonsberry boys. Andy Lonsberry earned his Ph.D. by researching machine learning and artificial intelligence for bipedal walking robots. His brother focused on biologically spiking recurrent neural networks.

Together, they dived deep into allowing nonlinear systems to learn how to improve themselves. Then these two Ohio boys and their autonomous robot traveled to the west coast in search of funding. The trio came home with $15 million.

In this episode of The Manufacturing Executive, Andy Lonsberry, Founder and CEO at Path Robotics, an AI robotics software company, talks about how the midwest houses the future of robotics.

Here's what Andy and I discussed:

  1. How Path Robotics got its start
  2. Uncovering automation talent in the midwest
  3. How machine learning and AI are starting to change the manufacturing game

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It's a couple: Ohio boys going to theWest Coast didn't quite know how it was going to be received, but having anautonomous robot with us gave us a lot of credit. Welcome to the manufacturing executivepodcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that aredriving midside manufacturers forward here, you'll discover new insides frompassionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share abouttheir successes and struggles and you'll learn from B to B sales andmarketing experts about how to apply actionable business developmentstrategies inside your business. Let's get into the show, welcome to another episode of theManufacturing Executive Podcast, I'm Joe Sullivan your host and a Co founderof the Industrial Marketing Agency Gorilla. Seventy six when you think oftechnology hubs in the US, where does your head? Go? Silicon Valley, Boston,Maybe Austin Texas? But why not the Midwest? Well today, I'm talking withthe founder of an AI robotics software company out of Columbus Ohio who putmid Western talent up against any one. In our conversation, you'll hear hisstory and also his perspective on where the AI and manufacturing automationrevolution are taking the industry. Let's get into it Andy Lansbury is CEO and Co founder ofpathriotic Columbus, Ohio based AI, robotic software company well workingon their Ph ds at Case Western Reserve University. He and his brotherdiscovered a market need for industrial welding robotics from there. Theyfounded path robotics, where they work to redefine and re energize. Americanmanufacturing Andy earned his degree in mechanical engineering at the OhioState University. Andy Welcome to the show, thanks Joe Great to be here soandy before we get into it. I was wondering if you could just startthings off by telling us a little bit about your personal journey and kind ofhow path robotics came to be yeah, not a problem, so pathriotic started. WhileI was doing my Ph d at the time, I was focusing on machine learning andartificial intelligence for by Pete walking robots. My brother was focusingon biologically spiking recurrent now networks, so in general, both of us arereally focusing on machine learning and allowing high degree of freedomnonlethal arn how to improve themselves while we're doing our phs. We kind ofalways know that we wanted to start a company, but we just didn't know whatto do. I think a lot of what we'd seen in academia was great research beingdone, and sometimes people taking that great research and throwing it out ofmarket and it never quite sticking right, and I always felt to us like it,was a little bit like the cart was before the horse. It was his greatpiece of tech and not really a market understanding, and instead we wanted toflip that we really wanted to find a great market pain point and then createa product that could help really address that painpont. So we didn'tknow what that painpont was, so we set off by building a consulting companyconsulting firm and we started exploring North Eshie manufacturingmarket, and the goal here was to not only be able to help people on a daytoday with the consulting business, but eventually find a market pain pointthat was so big based on so many customers that we were talking to. Thatwould make sense to turn our consulting business into a real company building aproduct so sound a great to us at the beginning. We're like this is awesome.We're going to be able to figure this out in a couple months. It just didn'tquite happen that fast, it was a long journey for us about twenty four monthsof exploration, we're talking to all sorts of different companies. We werelook at Bona record pressing. We were looking at medical automation. We werelooking at transmissions, we're kind of...

...looking at just a lot of differentmarkets and really trying to understand again where a pain point or if therewas a pain point in a manufacturing industry that could really utilize ourbackgrounds and our skill set to help create a product solution for that. Sotime is going by. We haven't found really a market pain point yet until ofcourse, there's that one faithful day well we're at customers facility we'rethere to talk about finite Allan Analysis and the President of thecompany Watson Basically says: Let's not talk about that. Let's talk aboutwelding and he goes on to tell me the story about how they have this big painpoint and it all revolves around finished welding they're having a hardtime hiring while there's they're having a hard time retaining whilethere's any time they bring in somebody new. That's never welded before ittakes on three to six months of apprenticeship to become a certifiedwhile they're at their facility, and it's really becoming this bottle neck,that's not allowing them to grow. They had two options that they were lookingat. One was off shoring. Potentially I but they're worried about losingquality. They weren't hitting the normal numbers. You would need toreally make off showing worth it in terms of like seeing hundreds ofthousands of the exact same part. They are a high mixed low volume company.They are CASHLA business, so they want to make what is ordered that day andthey want to produce it. They don't want to make ten thousand a hundredthousand exact same thing and put it on the shelf and sell it out throughoutthe year if three thousand different parts, and so again off shorn, didn'treally quite make sense. Their other option was looking at robotics and it sounds like a good thing, likeindustrial robots, you've seen what other people have been able to do withthem, so they actually purchased a cell. They found out that classic industrialrobots so aren't really viable for a company like them that have not supertight tolerances, because everything's hand made again they're makingdifferent parts every single day. They would have need custom fixtures, custom, robot programs, they need awhole systems, engineering team to really make an industrial robot work,and so there was never able to actually work for them. What they really wantedwas just more human weathers and that wasn't possible, so they posed as thequestion. Could you replicate with a robotic arm a system that couldrepresent as close as possible some of our human welders so that we could justbe able to put in one of any of the skews into a three Jow chuck? You Dwill press one button and the system would be able to scan recognize on itsown, what it should be wanting and determine how to well it and thenperform the welding process. That's when we kind of take a step back. Welooked at the market. We found that this is a pain point that was felt notonly by them, but by many we decided to make that jump and jump into thewelding industry and that's really when the journey kicked off of well. Now wehave a pain point. How do we go make a solution happy to talk about that next part ofthe journey as well yeah, I just a man. What was that moment like when, all ofa sudden you realize like wow there's there is something here, there's a bighole and we might be able to fill it yeah no felt want it felt great,because we were been exploring for literally like twenty four months forthat hole and it just kind of felt like it was something that connected so wellwith what my brother and I were doing for a research perspective. We neededsomething that could adapt that can learn that can use vision that coulduse other inputs to make decisions on the fly again. That was something thatwas like really cortar. You know our technical backgrounds and then to thefact that it had to do as welding, but my brother and I we've been kind ofingrained and manufacturing for a very long time. We've been welding, sincethe age is age. Nine and ten we've been making custom motorcycles for a longtime. It just was something that just really spoke to us as well and justfelt really natural, so it super exciting to finally feel like hey. Thisis the market. This is what we're going to go. Do, let's put it in stone andstart marching forward towards it,...

...that's awesome, and how long ago wasthis and guy. So I want to say this was in two thousand and sixteen twothousand and seventeen okay cool so fill in the gap. Then, between thatprint, then, and now yeah so work to that company. They gave us the initialfunding to go, create this system. My brother myself and my one two cofounders, which is my father and another guy named Mac, cline, basicallywent to a basement. We carved out a small space in a basement of a foundry.I think it was roughly like toned square feet. So, twenty by ten, we puttwo robots into that little space with us and we started building out as whatwould be the first fully autonomous, robotic system. That was also a longprocess. Resara, a lot of hurdles that came at us as we were trying to buildso a lot of technical challenges that can the kind of surface as again makinga system learn how to do something as challenging using vision as the maininputting feedback is also not a not a easy sister, easy, easy task, but aftergrinding for quite a long time in that basement and living through some unique experiences of what it'slike that really live in a basement after months we came to the surface, wehad those two product types we deployed them at the customers facility they runto today, currently they're making you know hundreds of mufflers a day withthe systems and then once we deployed them, we had to make achoice. Do we want to continue to grow organically or do we want to accelerate?I was pretty adamant that I wasn't really going to go back to thatbasement and I want to accelerate our growth, so we decided to fight at theSilicon Valley. We were taking a shot at the venture capital market at firstwe were super concerned. It's a couple: Ohio boys going to the West Coastdidn't quite know how it was going to be received. I, but having anautonomous robot with us, gave us a lot of credit and we were able to closethat first piece of funding, rather quickly came back to Ohio with you twoand a half million dollars for a first seed run seed round talk to a coupleventure capitalist here in Colombus gathered some excitement very quicklyaround what we were doing and that we close our twelve and a half milliondollar series a you know a couple a couple months after the series seed. Soat the end of two thousand and eighteen put some time line on this, we closeabout fifteen million dollars in funding. We are very small company es ahandful of people, moved out to Columbus and really started building.What is Athrob, tics and started building out the company that we wantto create, which is the system of from the product perspective? It's fullyautonomist welding, it's smart intuitive system that can learn thatcan make decisions on its own and that really utilizes vision as it's. It'score input feedback. You know fast forward to today. We just announced ourseries be funding. It was led by addition for Eulie that capital tocontinue to expand into our vision that continue to expand into making robotsmore intelligent and more adaptable to their environments. That's awesome,congrats on the success. Andy thanks a much show so andy, I'm a midwestern guyborn and raised in Milwaukee, and I've lived my entire adult life in St Louis,where my business partner John and I built our agency over the last fifteenyears, and I've heard you talk about how you take pride in your mid westernroots as well, but also that you've uncovered so much talent in the Midwest.For you specifically, it's been in Ohio, so just kind of curious. If you cantalk about that, let's give give the Mid West a shout out here and just kindof hear. You hear your side of that story. Yeah the Midwest is, has beenexceptional, so I'm born and raised in the midwest grew up in Ohio. Had familyhad a machine shop in Youngstown Ohio actually more in Ohio for a long time.While I was younger, so really have just kind of been in great tomanufacturing and grained in the Midwest for my entire life, I think abig part of what this company is and...

...who this company is is represented bymy midwest roots and by the mid rest roots in general, that we have a pathand what we've seen to be just phenomenally successful for us ishiring people in the Midwest. When I started this company and after we gotfunded and funded from Silicon Valley, there's always that concern that wewould need to move to Silken valley to really get the best talent where weneed to move to the east coast to be able to get the best. And it's just notthe case. It's not what we've seen at all. We've seen that the talent here inthe Midwest is exceptional. On the engineering side, on machine learningside on the AI side, there's really really great people here near us and weare trying to cultivate and really go after that town source as much aspossible. I think Pittsburg is really also helped set off the town in theMidwest they're known as a city for robotics right now they have one of thefastest growing, robotic scenes kind of in the world and we're trying to haveColumbus also get in there. But it's not just Ohio. It's not justPennsylvania, we're seeing it kind of all over the place in the Midwest thatthe talent is real. It's here, it's in numbers and we're trying to cultivateas much as we possibly can from it. That's cool to hear yeah- and youprobably is a Ohio state guy, wouldn't want to admit it, but I know there's aton of Congo great stuff going on in Michigan as well. On the robotic sidewe've got, you know a client there and we've. I just see a lot of a lot ofcompanies in the robotics world popping up in Michigan, and you know throughoutbut yeah throughout the Midwest, I'm in the marketing industry. Obviously, butthere's a lot of talent here and you know, the cost of living is great andit's you know there. These cities are like advancing some great universities,like here in St Louis, is Washington, university and St Louis University thatbreed a lot of really smart young talent, and it's as we got to keepthese people here in the Midwest, though I think it's part of thechallenge. So definitely I totally agree, I think Washington an say Louis is anexceptional school. I actually think that's where our most recent fundraisertheir fund race was led by addition and the head of addition Lee. I think heactually went there for his MBA, so he's got he's got roots in the Mid Westas well and yeah. He you know supports what we're doing also because we'redoing it here in the Midwest and he were very close to our customer base aswell, which is why we wanted to stay here. That's awesome. Watch you happensto be my amamare, so it's what brought me down to St Louis and kept me aroundso awesome cool. Well, that's all right!Let's shift gears back to AI and robotics here. So you know, I've had ahandful of guests on recently and Ye that have come from one corner oranother of the manufacturing automation world, and I was just I'd like to hearyou give your perspective on how machine, learning and AI are startingto change the game and will continue to change the manufacturing landscape,yeah. Of course. So again my research really focused on machine learning andartificial intelligence sated. My Co founders, my brother, make counter hisresearch also really focused on so T. I feel like we have like a deepconnection to the love of of functionality, of how machine learningreally works, and we feel very strongly that it's going to have a huge impacton all sectors that affect our daily lives and manufacturing, obviouslybeing a big part of that so manufacturing. For a long time therehasn't been a lot of intelligence systems deployed and manufacturing.There's been some great machinery, it's come from CNS technology and what notand that's really have the road for no manufacturing yesterday today, but Ithink that next step level up is going to come from machines, learning fromthemselves and machines being able to take data based on what they've justaccomplished and be able to tweak themselves completely, and I thinkthat's the big big change that we're going to see here going into the futureis how to enable machines again to make smart decisions on the fly and why it'sso important, I think in manufacturing, especially the man factoring that Ifocus on which is again high mixed lower volume. What every part isrunning at a skew of ten to a hundred...

...or maybe even Aske, of one. It's reallyreally tough to not have an intelligent operator or intelligence system bedoing that operation. Maybe really really takes usually some sort ofoperator, interaction or skilled, labor interaction to be able to do somethinglike that. Most of the time when you think about manufacturing it scale youthink about somebody. That's making a hundred thousand to a million of theexact same thing as at least that's the picture that kind of comes into you onmy mind when I used to think about manufacturing- and it's just not thecase, there's so much manufacturing from fabrication, metal, fabrication tosmall run off, and that really is a very difficult thing for anyone to useany sort of automation in that sort of sense, and I think personally, to beable to move into utilizing automation and low volume run offs you're going tohave to have a system that can adjust on the fly based on what it's seeingand based on. What's asked of it at hand and to me that's the big impactthat machine learning is going to help change the game on it's a goodperspective. You know: Is there anything and you'd like to comment on,in particular about the welding industry and, what's what you seehappening in the years ahead? Yeah, so I think right now, the welding industryis it's going through a change like a lot of other industries. Currentlywe're seeing this massive demand for welding. I thinkwe're seeing massive demand for manufacturing in general right now.Ovid drastically showed some weaknesses in our supply chain kind of across theboard, and I think more emphasis again is coming back on local manufacturingand just not in the United States alone. This is happening, I think, I'm kind ofall over the world where there's this. This is additional momentum aroundlocal manufacturing and Froste United States. You know manufacturing forquite some time has been changing and evolving a lot of it has gotten shippedoff shores and again, as things broke in our supply chain, this re vitalizedthe need for more local manufacturing and welding is such a key piece ofmanufacturing and think it's. Fifty percent of all man made products in theUnited States have some sort of welding process being done to them, and so wesee this massive massive need for more well, there's more welding in generaland again we're not seeing that same demand being matched by the number ofworkers entering the welding occupation and for us we're seeing this is youknow again the reason why we're building what we're building we're,trying to help revitalize and re energize and gifts as much support aswe can to local manufacturing by giving them the tools that they need to beable to continue to scale and to continue to bring manufacturing back tothe United States and to continue the harding, the manufacturing world herein the United States, but again also everywhere. There's you there's a localmanufacturing just going to be continued to be, I think, a big issuefor most people out throughout the world. I sound like a broken recordwhen I say it, but every every podcast episode I have one way or another. Youknow the lack of of skilled workers and labor shortage. It's affectingeverybody really appears to be the biggest challenge that Americanmanufacturers are facing right now, yeah. I would totally agree at leastfrom the companies that I talked to I mean I talked to a company today theyhad to just pass on a ten million dollar order, because they didn't havethe capacity to be able to support that order when they're really looking to usto help them make that order happen, and so we see it again, everyone thatwe're talking to is running into this issue and they want to be able to grow.They want to be able to sustain. You know the moment and they're getting intheir feeling from their customer base.

I and with wilting being just such avital part of that manufacturing process, and we see this kind ofhappening day and day out right now, bad believe that Andy, I heard yourecently used the acronym rats or robot as a service. I was wondering if youcould talk about what that is and how you see this concept, maybe starting totake root in the manufacturing sector right now, yeah, so robots as a service.I think is a newer term. That's been around for maybe a couple of years, butcertainly not decades by any by any means, and the whole concept of robotsis a service is that classic industrial equipment is usually purchased on. Youknow capital expenditure and it's usually a one time up front cost to payfor that piece of equipment that would get paid back over years. That is beena long standing practice for them, especially in the manufacturingenvironment, and I think large ter one people again where cash isn't a problemto go, get and by equipment. They might be standing by this practice for a longtime in the future. But what we're trying to do is anavalt to meding sizemanufacturers to be able to utilize robots immediately and utilizing them as a service allows usto deploy robots quickly effectively, and we get to take the burden on that.The system either works or you don't pay for it, and so how the system worksat how rap robuste a service works for us is there's no o cap expend you signup to a subscription for our robotic system. We deliver the system, we tellyou the quality metric. We tell you the kapes around psycho time that you'regoing to see on your parts and that system has to perform every single dayor you don't pay, and so what we're trying to do is enable thesemanufacturers to be able to move into automation immediately. There is nolarge Capek spend up front; they don't have to go. Try to get the cash to makethat happen. They are looking at something that's very comparable totheir labor prices and their labor costs that they can put on to their ox,spend and immediately be utilizing robots to continue to expand theirmanufacturing operations on day one and not three years down the line and againthey're going to see that return or that return on their spend immediately.It's not at Estree or two or two or three year payback period. It's aninstance of in the first hour of our systems employed our customers makingmoney based on a subscription. It feels like a fantastic model. To me I mean itseems, like you guys, are emulating what what happens a lot in the softwareindustry, and it only makes sense that, especially where, like you said wherecompanies are used to dealing with in these large capital expenditures an now,you can put these things on side immediately without the huge up frontcost, and some of the risk is on you who, rather than them, which is youknow, kind of- lowers the barrier to entry. So a smart way to go, I'mcurious to see how it plays out in the years ahead. Ah they so and that's abig thing there that you touched on there, the risk you we're trying totake on as much risk as we possibly can. We've seen and we've talked to a ton ofcustomers that have purchased robots and they were sold a pipe dream whenthey bought that robot, but they still paid for it and they're so trying tomake it work. We try to reduce the risk to zero. If the system doesn't behavelike we tell you, it's going to behave from being able to weld your partsbeing able to hit the quality metrics that you need to be able to the cycletime that you want and desire. You just don't pay and we come and take it back,and you have no risk of losing cash to see. If something like this would work,it feels like a no brain or to me tace trip. Well Andy. This was a greatconversation. I really appreciate you doing this today and would love for youto tell our audience about. Where can they get in touch with you and learnmore about path robotics as Jeff, so to...

...get in touch with us? Please go to w apath DASH, robotics com. That's our new website! You can see the equipment thatwe're we're currently selling. You can sign up for a demo to come to see thesystem live for yourself and understand how this can work for you in the futurebeautiful landy, thanks again for doing this today and as for the rest of you,I hope to catch you on the next episode of the Manufacturing Executive. You've been listening to themanufacturing executive podcast to ensure that you never missed an episodesubscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learnmore about industrial marketing and sale strategy, you'll find an everexpanding collection of articles, videos guides and tools, specificallyfor B to B manufacturers at Grilla, seventy sixscore flash war. Thank youso much for listening until next time. I.

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