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Autodesk, Flex veterans raise $179 mln for manufacturing startup

Tue 23rd October, 2018 3:00pm
By Stephen Nellis
    Oct 23 (Reuters) - A group of former executives from
Autodesk Inc  ADSK.O  and Flex Ltd  FLEX.O  has raised $179
million in venture capital for a manufacturing startup that aims
to use a combination of robots and new software to remove much
of the manual labor from manufacturing electronic devices.
    San Francisco-based Bright Machines focuses on two areas.
One is "micro-factories" made up of robot cells it says its
customers are using in half a dozen countries to replace the
people who assemble and inspect electronics. The other area is
new software tools to make the manufacturing process more
    Bright Machines did not name its customers, but said they
use its micro-factories to make hundreds of thousands of
products that can be found "in your driveway, in your pocket or
in a hospital," Chief Executive Officer Amar Hanspal told
    Hanspal was the co-CEO of software maker Autodesk along with
Carl Bass, who sits on the new startup's board. Also on the
Bright Machines board is former Flex executive Lior Susan,
founder of Eclipse Ventures, which led the funding round, and
former Flex CEO Mike McNamara.
    Among them, the executives have seen the manufacturing
process end to end. Autodesk's flagship software, AutoCAD, is
used to design items like circuit boards. And Flex is the
world's third largest contract manufacturer, having made gadgets
for Fitbit Inc  FIT.N  in the past, among others.
    Robots can take months to set up and train and then are good
at only one task. Bright Machines wants to make its robots
adaptable, on the fly, to make many kinds of "electronics in a
box" such as a smart phone or networking devices for data
    Hanspal thinks Bright Machines can plug software gaps. For
example, when engineers design parts, the design files contain
information about the shape and size of the parts. But the
information never tends to make it to the factory to help train
the robots, which run on a separate software system.
    The goal is a machine on which gadget designers can upload a
design file and have raw material fed in one end of the machine
and a gadget spit out the other. And the machines could just as
easily be in California as in China.
    "One customer we're working with explicitly wants to make
their products in the U.S.," Hanspal said. "It's not a political
thing. They want to make their products where their company is."

 (Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)
 ((Stephen.Nellis@thomsonreuters.com; (415) 344-4934;))
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