Rapid Robotics Tackles Labor Shortage with Automated Technology

Rapid Robotics cofounders Jordan Kretchmer (left) and Ruddick Lawrence. | Image by Rapid Robotics, Forbes

Modern automation has come a long way since Henry Ford introduced the assembly line in 1913.

Today, automation is considered ancillary to most manufacturing activities. Automated processes minimize human input while guaranteeing a consistent end product for goods like high-end electronics, automotive components, medical devices, lab equipment, toys, and plastics.

Jordan Kretchmer, the founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Rapid Robotics, an industry leader in robotic automation, visited Dallas last month to tour local manufacturing facilities and to help manufacturers begin their automation journey.

Rapid Robotics was founded in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 lockdown when the bulk of U.S. manufacturing was ground to a halt.

Rapid Robotics aims to expand accessibility to manufacturers and lower their costs with its trademarked robot technology called the “Rapid Machine Operator” (RMO).

Deemed “the world’s first affordable and intelligent robotic worker,” Rapid’s RMO provides a practical robotics solution for machine operation.

RMOs arrive at customer locations pre-trained on multiple tasks and can easily be moved between jobs without reprogramming. Each RMO includes computer vision AI software and a tablet-based app that makes operating the software simple for those unfamiliar with programming or robotics.

Why It Matters

In an exclusive interview with The Dallas Express, Kretchmer discussed his company’s role and what it is doing to solve the projected 2.1 million manufacturing roles expected to be left unfilled by 2030.

Manufacturing in the country has been growing at an impressive 4% rate since April, the fastest pace in 38 years, as previously reported. Now, employers are finding it increasingly difficult to fill vacant roles, with over 800,000 job openings at any given time last year.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” said Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, “For every 100 job openings in the sector, we only have 60 people who are looking. I think it’ll take quite a while to fill that pipeline.”

The Addressable Problem

The four main industry problems Rapid’s technology seeks to address are 1) the exorbitant costs, 2) the long programming times, 3) the complexity, and 4) the lack of flexibility.

Upgrading a manufacturing facility with traditional robot automation only makes sense if you are a large manufacturer like Boeing, according to Kretchmer.

Boeing is large enough to build a completely modern facility from the ground up, he said. They can afford to pay a systems integrator $150-$200 million to do all of the planning, development, custom machine building, and everything, including integrating robots in this new facility.

 “Well, that’s the top 0.1%, maybe 0.2% of all manufacturers in the country that can afford to do stuff like that,” he told The Dallas Express.

Flaws with the Traditional Process

When a customer first purchases a robot, it is purchased through a distributor or a systems integrator and typically delivered in two boxes. The first box will carry the robot arm, and the second will include the control system and screen.

Upon assembly, customers will be treated to a blank screen and an unprogrammed robot. From there, a systems integrator will code thousands of lines to encapsulate various things like waypoints.

Waypoints are the most central part of a robot program and tell the robot arm where to move using exact submillimeter coordinates to a specific location, usually described using one of two coordinate systems: Latitude-Longitude or UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator).

“We’re talking 2.0056553216 millimeters of where you want the gripper to be at any given time. How the robot’s joints move, to get from waypoint to waypoint, has to be manually programmed step by step,” Kretchmer explained. Three or four moves can be thousands of lines of code, and can take weeks to months of just programming time.

Next, the systems integrator will set up a work cell that follows a rigid workflow, making sure all the parts can get to the robot in exactly the same way every single time. In all, a systems operator will program the arm, design the work cell, build the work cell, and then deploy the whole system.

“That in and of itself is incredibly expensive,” Kretchmer said. A systems integrator charges for time, materials, and design work to do that. That can be a three to four-month process, just selecting all the right equipment for the task, another two to three months after the work cell is approved, and finally, another four to six months for deployment.”

“So, all said and done, traditional robots don’t do any good to solve the labor shortage in smaller factories that manufacturers have right now,” Kretchmer told The Dallas Express. “And the total cost of that ranges from $500,000 to over a million dollars for a single robot”

“If you spend a million dollars of CapEx on a robot, it’s got to operate for four to five years with no changes, with no maintenance, with no updates at all, before you break even on that CapEx investment, versus the human labor that was working on it. So where does this make sense?” he asked.

Another big barrier to entry for small manufacturers is the reprogramming fees, which Kretchmer says can reach upwards of $300,000. Once a traditional robot is hard-coded to execute the task a customer bought it for, it can never work on anything else without being reprogrammed, he said.

So, that is sort of the basis of what makes robot automation so complicated and so hard to use.


The foremost solution to the manufacturing shortage facing the U.S. is a more significant shift toward robot automation for small manufacturers, according to Kretchmer.

Rapid’s RMO provides manufacturers with the ability to operate the facility at an effective labor rate — monthly rate divided by the hours worked — of about $4 an hour, versus fully-burdened human labor — including wages, training, and insurance — of roughly $32 to $34 per hour.

“All the problems surrounding the high cost, long timeline, complexity, and lack of flexibility are solved using Rapid’s RMO technology,” Kretchmer explained, “and we’re the only system in the market that does that.”

“It’s because we’re more like an iPhone,” he added. “Everything’s built to work together and orchestrated by an AI versus piece together, you know, haphazardly, one off every time you’re doing it.”

Despite the narrative that robots are here to replace human jobs, Kretchmer argues otherwise. According to him, companies have become increasingly unable to fill manufacturing roles and the rate at which this is occurring is growing at an alarming pace.

“If there aren’t people willing to do these jobs, then robots are the next best thing.”

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