Ever driven along the freeway and envied those guys sitting in the driver’s seat of a Tesla TSLA , not driving? Imagine if that kind of autonomy was possible in the world of hardware manufacturing. Well Launchpad believes it is, they are creating the first autonomous, or self-driving hardware product manufacturing ecosystem. You simply upload your CAD package for a complete product, and we’re talking complex products here, not just parts or PCBA (Printed Circuit Board Assemblies), and the system will plan production, procure parts and services, produce detailed work instructions and offer instant pricing.
Launchpad is the brainchild of serial disruptor and entrepreneur, Yoav Zingher, who created KiWi – a green energy company — in the UK and disrupted the power industry, resulting in the sale of the business to one of the larger energy incumbents. Yoav and his co-founders, Ofer Ricklis and Idealab founder Bill Gross, have developed a system that brings together AI-driven software, advanced adaptable automation and vetted manufacturing partners to deliver hardware products at speed and with simplicity. They believe that new product introduction can be simplified and much of the friction removed.
Automation in manufacturing has often been portrayed as a threat; economists have written reams of academic studies predicting job losses on a giant scale as robots and other advanced technologies take over. None of these dystopian predictions have materialized. Instead, by the end of last year US employment was at all-time high and the unemployment rate had reached record lows.
Paradoxically, in fact, we have run into the opposite problem: when COVID-19 came onto the scene, and the lockdowns mandated across a number of US states and several other countries forced workers to stay home, economic activity collapsed causing GDP contractions of unprecedented magnitude.
To Yoav Zingher, this has come as less of a surprise. As he explains in this recent podcast interview, as KiWi worked with different industrial companies to help optimize their energy use, he realized “that what I expected to be automated wasn’t, and where things were automated, how old school it was: inflexible, and super-difficult and expensive to maintain.” This is where the idea for Launchpad was seeded.
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The vision, in a nutshell, is to allow an entrepreneur or a company to turn an idea into a finished product as easily as possible, in scalable quantities, and fast, within days or weeks – not months or years. To do this, the Launchpad solution relies on three elements:
- A simple, user-friendly web app where the user can upload the design of the product and get rapid feedback on how it will be made and assembled, as well as the costs involved.
- A set of AI-driven simulation technologies. The heart and brain of Launchpad, they substitute the traditional lengthy cycle of prototyping and testing. They also replace the gigantic amounts of actual data ingested by the AI of self-driving vehicles, to go back to our Tesla analogy.
- A multipurpose physical machine to turn the idea into a final product. The machine is programmed by the output of the simulations, taking full advantage of the power of AI. The corresponding limitation, however, is that the machine needs to operate within a controlled and constrained environment that matches the conditions of the simulations.
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.
A stronger degree of manufacturing self-reliance could be particularly helpful given the lessons of COVID-19. The pandemic has disrupted global trade and exposed a new vulnerability in complex global supply chains. Global trade has been a powerful engine of global growth for the past several decades, but now we’ve found that a greater degree of self-reliance in manufacturing can limit the economic damage in a pandemic scenario and can prove crucial in the case of some strategic components.
Yoav Zingher strongly believes that embracing innovative solutions for better and more flexible automation will boost efficiency and help us create more and better jobs. So far, history is on his side.