Soft Robotics Inc. has raised $23 million in an oversubscribed Series B funding round. The round is co-led by Calibrate Ventures and Material Impact and includes additional existing investors Honeywell, Hyperplane, Scale, Tekfen Ventures, and Yamaha. With this round Soft Robotics also adds FANUC Corp., the world’s largest industrial robot manufacturer, as a new investor.
Soft Robotics previously announced a strategic partnership with FANUC to integrate Soft Robotics’ mGrip adaptable gripper system with any FANUC robot through the deployment of a new controller. The combined product was introduced at IREX in Tokyo, Japan in December 2019.
Addressing the most challenging applications from primary and secondary food packaging to unstructured bin picking, Soft Robotics’ proprietary grasping technology, machine vision, and software solutions enable automation solutions for large and meaningful industries such as food and beverage, consumer goods and cosmetics manufacturing, e-commerce supply chains, and more.
“This new funding will allow us to power the next phase of our growth strategy and continue to provide solutions to our customers’ greatest challenges,” says Carl Vause, CEO of Soft Robotics. “Variability is the kryptonite of the robotics industry. By offering a system that is able to grasp and manipulate items that vary in size, shape, and weight, we are able to solve the problem of high variability in both products and processes.”
In addition to bringing proven solutions in food packaging and consumer goods manufacturing, Soft Robotics is working with e-commerce, logistics and retail customers to address the high cost of online returns logistics. With the technology’s unique ability to handle the most unstructured and delicate items, Soft Robotics can now help automate reverse logistics: one of the costliest links in the online supply chain owing to high variation and high-value items such as apparel.
Post-holiday product returns are shining a light on the challenge of reverse logistics. According to a recent report, fifteen-thirty percent of all online orders are returned. In addition, processing a return requires twenty percent more space and two times the labor as sending out a package. UPS alone recently processed nearly two million returns on a single day. According to some sources, holiday returns could add up to as much as $90 to $95 billion worth of merchandise this year.
“Creating or accelerating a direct-to-customer channel is a strong cross-sector trend that has moved beyond markets such as food packaging and consumer goods manufacturing and more. At the order management level, it also means establishing highly dynamic ‘reverse supply chains.’ However, the general labor scarcity for use-cases related to order management is a critical roadblock. In that context, the role of nimble gripper solutions adaptable to both the inbound and outbound workflows become of strategic importance,” according to Remy Glaisner, Research Director WW Robotics at IDC. “The challenges of customer product - consumer but not only - returns are front and center throughout the year, and demand high variability for high value items such as in the apparel industry.”
With its patented and proven technology and unique ability to handle the most unstructured and delicate items, Soft Robotics is bringing automation to industries in dire need of such solutions due to the global shortage of qualified workers. For the past two years the number of job openings has exceeded the number of unemployed persons according to the U.S. Labor Department.
- In the most recent Material Handling Institute report, “hiring qualified workers is seen as the single biggest challenge, with 65 percent of respondents rating it as extremely or very challenging and 91 percent rating it as at least somewhat challenging.”
- According to a 2018 report from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, a skills gap may leave an estimated 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028, with a potential economic impact of $2.5 trillion.
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5.1 out of every 100 warehouse and storage workers experience injuries or work-related illnesses each year.
“We are thrilled to continue to support Soft Robotics in its quest to transform workforce automation and to be playing a part in its future,” says Kevin Dunlap, Co-Founder of Calibrate Ventures. “Through its precise, reliable and easy-to-use technology, Soft Robotics is at the vanguard of the advanced automation space and is well positioned to become the standard for gripper solutions globally.”