The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 7 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 tothe West Coast. Didn't quite know how it was going to be received,but having an autonomous robot with us gave us a lot of credit. Welcometo the manufacturing executive podcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that aredriving mid size manufacturers forward. Here you'll discover new insights from passionate manufacturing leaderswho have compelling stories to share about their successes and struggles, and you'll learnfrom B tob sales and marketing experts about how to apply actionable business development strategiesinside your business. Let's get into the show. Welcome to another episode ofthe Manufacturing Executive podcast. I'm Joe Sullivan, your host and a cofounder of theIndustrial Marketing Agency guerrilla seventy six. When you think of technology hubs inthe US, where does your head go? Silicon Valley, Boston, Maybe Austin, Texas, but why not the Midwest? Well, today I'm talkingwith the founder of an AI robotics software company out of Columbus, Ohio,who put midwestern talent up against anyone, and our conversation you'll hear his storyand also his perspective on where the AI and manufacturing automation revolution are taking theindustry. Let's get into it. Andy Lawnsbury is CEO and Co founder ofpath robotics, Columbus Ohio based AI robotics software company. Well, working ontheir phds at Case Western Reserve University, he and his brother discovered a marketneed for industrial welding robotics. From there they founded path robotics, where theywork to redefine and reenergize American manufacturing, and he earned his degree in mechanicalengineering at the Ohio State University. Andy, welcome to the show. Thanks,Joe. Great to be here. So, Andy, before we getinto it, I was wondering if you could just start things off by tellingus a little bit about your personal journey and kind of how path robotics cameto be. Yeah, not a problem. So half robotics started while I wasdoing my PhD. At the time I was focusing on machine learning andartificial intelligence for bipeed walking robots. My brother was focusing on biologically spiking recurrentnetworks. So in general, both of us really focusing on machine learning andallowing high degree or freedom on LADER systems learn how to improve themselves while we'redoing our PhDs. We kind of always know that we wanted to start acompany, but we just didn't know what to do. I think a lotof what we'd seen in academia was great research being done and sometimes people takingthat great research and throwing it at a market and it never quite sticking rightand it always felt us like it was a little bit like the cart wasbefore the horse. It was this great piece of tech and not really amarket understanding. And instead we wanted to flip that. We really wanted tofind a great market pain point and they create a product that could help reallyaddress that pain point. So we didn't know what that pain point was.So we set off by building a consulting company, consulting firm, and westarted exploring northeast Ohio's manufacturing market and the goal here was to not only beable to help people on a day to day with the consulting business, buteventually find a market pain point that was so big, based on so manycustomers that we were talking to, that would make sense to turn our consultingbusiness into a real company building a product. So it sound a great to usat the beginning, where like this is awesome we're going to be ableto figure this out on a couple months. It just didn't quite happen that fast. It was a long journey for us, about twenty four months ofexploration. We're talking all sorts of different companies. We were looking on therecord pressing, we were looking at medical automation, we were looking at transmissions, we're kind of looking at just a...

...lot of different markets. Are reallytrying to understand again where a pain point, or if there was a pain pointin the manufacturing industry, that could really utilize our backgrounds in our skillset to help create a product solution for that. So time is going by, we haven't found really a market pain point yet and so of course there'sthat one faithful day. Well, we're at customers facility where there to talkabout finite elmine analysis in the president of the company walks and basically says,let's not talk about that, let's talk about welding, and he goes onto tell me the story about how they have this big pain point and itall revolves around finished welding. They're having a hard time hiring. Well,there's they're having a hard time retaining, while there's any time they bring insomebody new that's never welded before. It takes some three to six months ofapprenticeship to become a certified well there at their facility and it's really becoming thisbottleneck that's not allowing them to grow. They had two options that they werelooking at. One was offshoring potentially, but they're worried about losing quality.They weren't hitting the normal numbers you would need to really make offshoring worth itin terms of like seeing hundreds of thousands of the exact same part. They'rea high mixed, low volume company. They are cashlow business, so theywant to make what is ordered that day and they want to produce it.They don't want to make Tenzero, a hundred thousand of the exact same thingand put it on a shelf and sell it out throughout the year. Ifthreezero different parts and so again, offshoring did it really quite make sense.Their other option was looking at robotics, and it sounds like a good thing, like industrial robots. You've seen what other people have been able to dowith them. So they actually purchased to sell. They found out that classicindustrial robots, though, aren't really viable for a company like them that havenot super tight tolerances because everything's handmade. Again, they're making different parts everysingle day. They would have need custom fixtures, custom robot programs, theyneed a whole systems engineering team to really make an industrial robot work, andso there was never able to actually work for them. What they really wantedwas just more human welders and that wasn't possible. So they posed us thequestion, could you replicate, with the robotic arm, a system that couldrepresent, as close as possible, some of our human welders so that wecould just be able to put in one of any of the stews into athree jaw chuck? You we do. Will press one button and the systemwould be able to scan, recognize on its own what it should be weldingand determine how to weld it and then perform the welding process. That's whenwe kind of take a step back. We looked at the market. Wefound that this is a pain point that was felt not only by them butby many. We decided to make that jump and jump into the the weldingindustry and that's really when the journey kicked off. Of Well, now wehave a pain point, how do we go make a solution? Happy totalk about that next part of the journey as well. Yeah, I justman, what was that moment like when when, all of a sudden yourealize like wow, there's there is something here, there's a big hole andwe might be able to fill it. Yeah, no, it felt what? It felt great because we had been explored for literally like twenty four monthsfor that whole and it just kind of felt like it was something that connectedso well with what my brother and I were doing for a research perspective.We needed something that could adapt, that can learn, that can use vision, that can use other inputs to make decisions on the fly. Again,that was something that was like really court are our technical backgrounds, and thento the fact that it had to do as welding. Both my brother andI, we've been kind of ingrained and manufacturing for a very long time.We've been welding since the age is of Eight, nine and ten. We'vebeen making custom motorcycles for a long time. It just was something that just reallyspoke to us as well and just felt really natural. So it's superexciting to finally feel like hey, this is the market. This is whatwe're going to go to do. Let's...

...put it in stone and start marchingforward towards it. That's awesome. How long ago was this? See,so I want to say this was in two thousand and sixteen, two thousandand seventeen. Okay, cool. So fill in the gap then, betweenfront then and now. Yeah, so worked with that company. They gaveus the initial funding to go create this system. My brother, myself andmy other two cofounders, which was my father and another guy named macline,basically went to a basement. We carved out a small space in a basementof a foundry. I think it was roughly like toned Scraffee, so twentyby ten. We put two robots into that little space with us and westarted building outs what would be the first, you know, fully autonomous robotic system. That was also a long process. Lusara, a lot of hurdles thatcame at us as we're trying to build. So a lot of technicalchallenges that came to your kind of surface. As again, making a system learnhow to do something as challenging using vision as the main input and feedbackis also not a not an easy system, easy easy task, but after grindingfor quite a long time in that basement and living through some unique experiencesof what it's like to really live in a basement. After months, wecame to the surface. We had those two prototypes. We deployed them atthe customers facility they run to today. Currently they're making you a hundreds ofmufflers a day with the systems. And then, once we deployed them,we had to make a choice. Do we want to continue to grow organicallyor do we want to accelerate? I was pretty adamant that I wasn't reallygonna go back to that basement and I want to accelerate our growth. Sowe we decided to fight at the Silicon Valley. We were taking a shotat the venture capital market. At first we're super concerned. It's a coupleOhio boys going to the West Coast. Didn't quite know how it was goingto be received, but having an autonomous robot with us gave us a lotof credit and we were able to close that first piece of funding it ratherquickly. Came back to Ohio with your two and a half million dollars fora first seed run seed round. Talk to a couple venture capitalists here inColumbus gathered some excitement very quickly around what we were doing, and then weclose our twelve and a half million dollars series a, you know, acouple a couple months after the series seed, so at the end of two thousandand eighteen, to put some timeline on this, we close about fifteenmillion dollars in funding. We're very small company, just just a handful ofpeople moved out to Columbus and really started building what is path robotics and startedbuilding out the company that we want to create, which is the system offrom the product perspective, it's fully autonomous welding. It's smart, intuitive systemthat can learn, that can make decisions on its own and that you reallyutilize his vision as it's it's core input feedback. You know. Fast forwardto today, we just announced our series be funding. It was led byaddition where yearizing that capital to continue to expand into our vision and continue toexpand into making robots more intelligent and more adaptable to their environments. Well,that's awesome. CONGRATS on the success, Andy. They so much show.So Andy, I'm a midwestern guy, born and raised in Milwaukee and I'velived my entire adult life in St Louis, where my business partner John and Ihave built our agency over the last fifteen years. And I've heard youtalk about how you take pride in your midwestern roots as well, but alsothat you've uncovered so much talent in the Midwest. For you specifically it's beenin Ohio. So just kind of curious if you talk about that, let'sgive give the Midwest a shout out here and just kind of hear your sideof that story. Yeah, the Midwest is has been exceptional. So II born raised in the Midwest, grew up in Ohio. Have family hada machine shop in Youngstown, Ohio. Actually Worn Ohio for a long timewhile I was younger. So really have just kind of been in grain andmanufacturing and grain in the Midwest for my entire life. I think a bigpart of what this company is and who...

...this company is is represented by mymidwest roots and by the Midwest roots in general. That we have a pathand what we've seen to be just phenomenally successful for us is hiring people inthe Midwest. When I started this company and after we got funded and fundedfrom Silicon Valley. There's always that concern that we would need to move toSilicon Valley to really get the best talent, where we need to move to theeast coast to be able to get the best and it's just not thecase. It's not what we've seen at all. We've seen that the talenthere in the Midwest is exceptional on the engineering side, on machine learning side, on the AI side. There's really really great people here near us andwe are trying to cultivate and really go after that town source as much aspossible. I think Pittsburgh is really also helped set off the town in theMidwest. They're known as a city for robotics right now. They're one ofthe fastest growing robotics scenes kind of in the world, and we're trying tohave Columbus also get in there. But it's not just Ohio, it's notjust Pennsylvania. We're seeing it kind of all over the place in the Midwestthat the talent is real, it's here, it's in numbers and we're trying tocultivate as much as we possibly can from it. That's cool to hear. Yeah, and you probably is Ohio State Guy would want to admit it, but I know there's a ton of a tongue of greats of going onin Michigan as well. On the robotics side. We'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 and Michigan and you know, throughout,but yeah, throughout the Midwest. I'm in the marketing industry, obviously,but there's a lot of talent here and, you know, costs of livings isgreat and it's you know, they're these cities are like advancing. Theresome great universities, like here in St Louis Is Washington University and St LouisUniversity. That breed a lot of really smart young talent and it's we gotto keep these people here in the Midwest, though. I think it's part ofthe challenge. So definitely totally agree. I think Washington and St Louis isan exceptional school. I actually think that's where our most recent fundraiser arefundraise was led by addition and the head of addition, Lee, I thinkhe actually went there for his MBA. So he's got easy got roots inthe Midwest as well. And Yeah, yeah, you know supports what we'redoing, also because we're doing it here in the Midwest and you know,we're very close to our customer base as well, which is why we wantedto stay here. That's awesome, wash you happens to be my Alma Mater, so it's what brought me down to St Louis and kept me around.So awesome. Cool. Well, let's all right. Let's shift gears backto AI and robotics here. So you know, I've had a handful ofguests on recently, Andy, that have come from one corner or another ofthe manufacturing automation world, and I was just I'd like to hear you giveyour perspective on how machine learning and AI are starting to change the game andwill continue to change the manufacturing landscape. Yeah, of course. So again, my research really focused on machine learning and artificial intelligence. Steadd my cofounders, my brother, my cofounder, his research also really focus on so Ifeel like we have like a deep connection to the low level functionality of howmachine learning really works and we feel very strongly that it's going to have ahuge impact on all sectors that affect our daily lives, and manufacturing obviously beinga big part of that. So manufacturing, for a long time there hasn't beena lot of intelligence systems deployed and manufacturing there's been some great machinery.It's come from you see, and C technology and whatnot, and that's reallypaved the road for manufacturing as to today. But I think that next step levelup is going to come from machines learning from themselves and machines being ableto take data based on what they've just accomplished and be able to tweak themselvescompletely, and I think that's the big, big change that we're going to seehere going into the future, is how to enable machines again to makesmart decisions on the fly and why it's so important, I think in manufacturing, especially the manufacturing that I focus on, which is again high mix, lowervolume, whatever parts is running at...

...a skew of ten to a hundredor maybe even a skew of one, it's really, really tough to nothave an intelligent operator or intelligence system be doing that operation. Maybe you reallyreally takes usually some sort of operator interaction or skilled labor interaction to be ableto do something like that. Most of the time, when you think aboutmanufacturing at scale, you think about somebody that's making a hundred thousand to amillion of the exact same thing, if at least that's the picture that kindof comes into my mind when I used to think about manufacturing, and it'sjust not the case. There's so much manufacturing from fabrication, your metal fabrication, to small runoff and that really is a very difficult thing for anyone touse any sort of automation in that sort of sense. And I think personally, to be able to move into utilizing automation and low volume runoffs, you'regoing to have to have a system that can adjust on the fly based onwhat it's seeing and based on what's asked of it at hand, and tome, that's the big impact that machine learning is going to help change thegame on. It's a good perspective, you know. Is there anything antyyou'd like to comment on, in particular about the welding industry and and what'swhat you see happening in the years ahead? Yeah, so I think right nowthe welding industry is it's going through a change, like a lot ofother industries. Currently we're seeing this massive demand for welding. I think we'reseeing massive demand from manufacturing in general right now. Covid drastically shows some weaknessesin our supply chain kind of across the board, and I think more emphasisagain is coming back on local manufacturing, and just not in the United Statesalone. This is happening. I think I'm kind of all over the worldwhere there's this. This is additional momentum around local manufacturing and for us theUnited States, you know, manufacturing for quite some time has been changing andevolving. A lot of it is gotten shipped off shores and again, asthings broken our supply chain, this re vitalize the need for more local manufacturing. And welding is such a key piece of manufacturing. I think it's fiftypercent of all man made products in the United States have some sort of weldingprocess being done to them, and so we see this massive, massive needfor more welders more welding in general, and again we're not seeing that samedemand being matched by the number of workers entering the welding occupation and for uswe're seeing this is again the reason why we're building what we're building. We'retrying to help revitalize and reenergize and gifts as much support as we can tolocal manufacturing by giving them the tools that they need to be able to continueto scale and to continue to bring manufacturing back to the United States and tocontinue the harding the manufacturing world here in the United States. But again,also everywhere is there's a local manufacturing is just going to be continue to be, at think, a big issue for most people out throughout the world.I sound like a broken record when I say it, but every every podcastepisode I have one way or another, you know, the lack of skilledworkers and and labor shortage, it's affecting everybody, really appears to be thebiggest challenge that American manufacturers are facing right now. Yeah, I would totallyagree, at least from the companies that I talk to. I mean Italked to a company today. They had it just pass on a ten milliondollar order because they didn't have the capacity to be able to support that order, and then they're really looking to us to help them make that order happen. And so we see it again. Everyone that we're talking to is runninginto this issue and they want to be able to grow, they want tobe able to sustain the momentum they're getting and their feeling from their customer baseand was well thank being just such a...

...vital part of that manufacturing process andwe see this kind of happening day and day out right now. Bad believeit. Andy, I heard you recently use the acronym rass, or robotas a service. I was wondering if you could talk about what that isand how you see this concept maybe starting to take root in the manufacturing sectorright now. Yeah, so robots as a service, I think, isa newer term that's been around for maybe a couple years, but certainly notdecades by any by any means, and the whole concept of robots is andservice is that classic and industrial equipment is usually purchase on, you know,a capital expenditure and it's usually a onetime up front cost to pay for thatpiece of equipment that would get paid back over years. That is been along standing practice for them, especially in the manufacturing environment, and I thinklarge to your one people again work cash isn't a problem to go get andbuy equipment. They might be standing by this practice for a long time inthe future. But what we're trying to do is enable small to medium sizemanufacturers to be able to utilize robots immediately, and utilizing them as a service allowsus to deploy robots quickly effectively and we get to take the burden onthat. The system either works are you don't pay for it. And sohow the system works, that how at robots as a service works for us, is there's no cap expend you sign up to a subscription for our roboticsystem. We deliver the system, we tell you the quality metric, wetell you the kpis around cycle time that you're going to see on your partsand that system has to perform every single day or you don't pay. Andso what we're trying to do is enable these manufacturers to be able to moveinto automation immediately. There is no large CAPEX spend up front. They don'thave to go try to get the cash to make that happen. They arelooking at some thing that's very comparable to their labor prices and their labor coststhat they can put onto their opex spend and immediately be utilizing robots to continueto expand their manufacture operations on day one and not three years down the line, and they again they're going to see that return or that return on theirspend immediately. It's not a three or two or two or three your paybackperiod. It's an instant in the first hour of our systems employed, ourcustomers making money based on on our subscription. It feels like a fantastic model tome. I mean it seems like you guys are emulating what what happensa lot in the software industry and it only makes sense that, especially we're, like you said, we're companies, are used to dealing with these largecapital expenditures and now you can put these things on site immediately without the hugeupfront cost and some of the risk is is on you rather than them,which is, you know, kind of lowers a barrier to entry. Sosmart way to go. I'm curious to see how it plays out in theyears ahead. And thanks, Joe. And that's a big thing that thatyou touched on. Their the risk. We're trying to take on as muchrisk 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 when they boughtthat robots, but they still paid for it and then she'll try and makeit work. We try to reduce that risk to zero. If the systemdoesn't behave like we tell you it's going to behave, from being able toweld your parts, being able to hit the quality of metrics that you need, be able its cycle time that you want and desire, you just don'tpay and we come and take it back and you have no risk of losingcash to see if something like this would work. It feels like a nobrainer to me. Thanks trip. Well Andy, this was a great conversation. I really appreciate you doing this today and would love for you to tellour audience about where can they get in touch with you and learn more aboutpath robotics. As Jeff so to get... touch with us, please goto wwat paths roboticscom. That's our new website. You can see the equipmentthat we're we're currently selling. You can sign up for a demo to comesee the system live for yourself and understand how this can work for you inthe future. Beautiful. Well Andy, thanks again for doing this today and, as for the rest of you, I hope to catch you on thenext episode of the Manufacturing Executive. You've been listening to the manufacturing executive podcast. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show inyour favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learn more about industrial marketing andsales strategy, you'll find an ever expanding collection of articles, videos, guidesand tools specifically for bedb manufacturers at Gorilla Seventy sixcom learn thank you so muchfor listening. Until next time,.

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