Pittsburgh-based IAM Robotics provides fully autonomous robots that combine transporting and picking items in operations such as warehouses, retail locations, and manufacturing facilities. IAM was founded in 2012 and is growing exponentially at its Pennsylvania headquarters.
We spoke to Chief Executive Officer, Joel Reed, who told us that the company’s vision is to bring autonomous mobile manipulating robots into the everyday lives of its consumers and transform material handling and supply chain markets in the process.
Robotics-based solutions come in many shapes and sizes depending on what is needed. There are robots that transport items from one place to another within the existing manual workforce. Some companies use robotic arms that will pick items off a conveyor or storage system, effectively automating material handling. Finally, there is a combination of walking and material handling robots; this is what IAM introduced to the marketplace. These robotics-based solutions are intended to fully automate workflow within a company.
According to Reed, walking robotics can be a crowded area within the robotics industry and they do not fully address a core problem of labor shortages. IAM is aiming to address this problem head on by developing solutions that combine walking, picking and other material handling functions.
When it comes to its place within the robotics and logistics industries at large, IAM holds innovation and core technology development as its driving values. IAM balances affordable solutions with providing customers flexibility in their operations. The robotics solution is portable and reconfigurable, using advanced perception-based algorithms to see the surrounding area and navigate track-free within it. This in turn offers a fully automated solution for work processes that need it.
For IAM to continue to operate in the industry, the relationship with its suppliers is very important, as so many parts go into building robots, and timely access to fundamental supplies shorten lead times on projects and ensure smooth operation overall. The company values suppliers that can invent along with it and can deliver core components at the highest quality so that IAM can put out fully functioning and high-performing solutions, with the highest level of safety and reliability possible. “We solve the hard problem first; that, by its very definition, is innovation.”
Robotics is a developing business arena as it is, and companies like IAM are making sure to take advantage of both tried-and-true and newer ways of marketing. Reed speaks of social media as an opportunity to create a conversation within the marketplace. To this end, IAM’s marketing strategy is first to identify which audiences to speak with and establish a connection to these groups. Then it not only leads a conversation about the advantages and mechanics of robotics, but it also listens to feedback from within the market and strategically incorporates the thoughts and feelings of customers.
The approach has been successful, and the company has accrued various accolades in its nearly six years in business. In 2018, IAM Robotics was named among top fifty robotics companies for the third year in a row by RoboBusiness Review and was one of only fifteen companies to accomplish this over the last seven years. Joel Reed calls this a significant accomplishment for the company.
IAM is primarily a business-to-business seller today, so its current biggest marketing approach is in attending crucial conferences in the industry and playing an active role within them by way of person-to-person conversations with industry buyers and influencers. The robotics industry continues to gain more coverage, and IAM is seeking more ways to be an active participant in the growing space.
Within an evolving sector such as robotics, challenges are bound to arise, and one of the company’s biggest is managing the expectations of its clientele. The reactions of robotics both active and potential customers can vary between uncertainty and extreme dependence on the mere potential of the technology. Reed says that the answer lies in the middle, by putting together the right materials and having the right messaging in the marketplace to manage these expectations proactively.
Reed says that the company’s advantage is in how advanced it has become at building robotic solutions and that the company hires “visionaries in understanding how [robotics] will be adopted and used.” Robotics technologies and automation, in general, have been necessary to advance industries in the past, and there is a current business trend to adopt robotics because of increased competition, the escalation in e-commerce, and a global worker shortage. There is a huge demand for solutions in robotics and automation because younger generations are pursuing interests in work beyond the likes of warehouses and facilities, resulting in a shortage of labor for tedious and repetitive tasks that are not necessarily well-suited to humans. Technology is necessary today to keep businesses sustainable and competitive within a new marketplace.
Reed comments that the robotics industry has been growing in earnest within the last two to three years, and it has begun to spend a great deal of time and investment in new technologies and approaches as it grows. He believes that the industry will be soon scaling for solutions that are both inexpensive and easy to install, which can work in collaboration with existing human labor.
Robotics companies are beginning to install complete fully automated systems costing tens of millions of dollars for the premier companies and retailers on the market today. As a counter to this, IAM represents a more flexible approach, with small-scale installations of fixed and mobile material handling systems. Reed says that robotics is “still very much an emerging marketplace… the entire industry is determining the best methods and approaches for introducing fully autonomous mobile and mobile-manipulating robots into their environments.”
IAM Robotics has many plans for growth in the foreseeable future, including working with several other companies as well as expanding on its early products and the number of companies with which it works. The company will also be expanding its product suite and its overall software processes that manage its systems. The company continues to work to strengthen its message and remain active in its target industry, with a further goal of speaking to general consumers to help them to understand the capabilities of robotics in their everyday lives.
Reed believes that the industry, in the next year or two, will undergo significant changes as warehouses currently outfitted for manual labor will see mobile machines introduced, which will lead to these warehouses being designed or reconfigured in entirely new ways to take advantage of this new technology. A transition period will soon be underway for robotics-based solutions, and IAM is poised to take advantage of the changes to come.