August 14, 2020
Eric Reed, The Boston Globe – August 2020 – Executives call it the consolidation curve. It’s the rate at which industries coalesce around a few, big companies, eliminating smaller businesses in favor of their consolidated peers. But some Boston-area businesses refuse to accept this as inevitable. By giving small businesses access to the same tools used by the big players, these innovators help the organizations around them grow, compete, and thrive no matter where they fall on the consolidation curve.
Vecna Robotics helps enhance the tools smaller businesses might already have on the warehouse floor. “Twenty-five years ago, it was very expensive to get a robot … no small or mid-sized business could have done that,” says Denis Lussault, VP of Autonomy at Vecna Robotics. “Technology has evolved a lot even in the last 10 years. Back then equipment was very complex, very expensive.”
Vecna Robots is a Waltham-based company that specializes in business automation. It builds robotic warehouse tools, such as forklifts and trucks that operate independently. These automated vehicles can magnify the output of any company, allowing staff to shift from routine jobs such as stacking shelves into more complex tasks that build value. It can also let a small business compete on costs, running a warehouse with the same kind of efficiency that Amazon’s robotic army can achieve.
About a decade ago in the robot industry, bots were built from the ground up to meet businesses’ needs. These AGVs, “Automatic Guided Vehicles,” took a lot of money to develop, build, and operate, Lussault explains.
Instead, Vecna Robotics sells what is known as AMRs, “Autonomous Mobile Robots.” These are robots installed directly into existing vehicles, turning pallet loaders and forklifts into self-driving vehicles that can move, load, and unload products within a warehouse entirely on their own. Instead of building a ground up vehicle and an infrastructure to support it, Vecna Robotics’ robotic brains use what is already there to help entrepreneurs use their existing resources better.
“[A small business] won’t buy 25 robots,” says Lussault. “They will buy one, two, or three, and it’s going to cover some part of their processes that they want to optimize and automate.” This both improves efficiency and the experience of employees who can start to take on higher-level responsibilities.
Ultimately, this is the real trick behind small business innovation: giving entrepreneurs the tools to maximize their own talents and the talents of their employees. It’s about letting freelancers focus on the skills that led them to work for themselves in the first place rather than spending hours on bookkeeping. It’s about giving engineers the same tools to innovate and explore no matter who they work for, and about letting every company have access to the same efficiency regardless of scale.
It’s about leveling the consolidation curve so that every business can compete on the strength of its own ideas, no matter how small.