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“Everyone is sure that it is very expensive”: how a team of 14 people makes robots for the largest factories in Russia

“Everyone is sure that it is very expensive”: how a team of 14 people makes robots for the largest factories in Russia

Sorting ceramic tiles, putting napkins in a package, throwing a lead ingot into a melting furnace, splitting a cocoa bean – Andrey Spiridonov is sure that humanity should have entrusted these tasks to robots long ago.

Such industrial installations that can replace a person in routine operations are produced by his company Aripix Robotics. According to the founder, the equipment pays off in two or three years, which is many times more profitable than German and Japanese counterparts.

A team of 14 inventive engineers has patented a modular design that allows you to customize the robot to the needs of a specific customer in a couple of months. Among the company’s clients are PIK, Moskabelmet, Grand AV and others.

Aripix Robotics has attracted investments only once: in 2018, Genezis Technology Capital invested $0.5 million in it, later increasing the investment to $1 million. Today, the company is seriously considering expansion into the US market and is looking for growth opportunities.

Andrey Spiridonov, the founder of Aripix Robotics, has been fond of electronics since childhood and designed custom-made devices – already in the fifth grade he assembled light music and a mixing console for a school group.

In the third year of MSTU. Bauman, the future entrepreneur worked in a university laboratory: “We designed and tested radio transmitters for the navy. For example, they developed a transmitter for an aircraft carrier, which can automatically land the plane. I participated in this project as a junior technician.”

After graduation, Andrey worked for a year at a research institute, and then got a job in a small company that sold projection equipment for outdoor advertising. The equipment was manufactured in China and sold in Europe and Africa, so Spiridonov quite often went on long business trips, managed to see the world and learn how to work with distributed teams.

“There were two areas in which I wanted to develop: on the one hand, this is the development of technology, on the other, management and project management,” says Andrey. The point of intersection of his interests was the telecommunications industry. He started his career at Nokia Siemens Networks, which supplies equipment for telecom operators, then moved to Huawei.

At the age of 28, Andrey decided to start his own business: “After several years of work, I realized that the rules of the corporation and internal bureaucracy are beginning to limit my growth. To realize my full potential, I decided to start my own company. There were many thoughts about what to do, up to launching an online store.

“At some point, I realized that I love technology since childhood and I am ready to delve into it around the clock and for free.”

Therefore, I began to look for directions in which the skills of the inventor are needed.

During that period, it became obvious to me that there are quite a few areas where even the simplest automation can give a business a huge benefit. By coincidence, one of my first independent projects appeared at the same time – the development of a device for crushing cocoa beans from the KADZAMA company, ”says Andrey.

Inviting his former classmates to cooperate, Andrey founded the Inventa engineering bureau, which would later turn into Aripix Robotics. The team made the first orders partly at home, partly in the coworking space of the Center for Youth Innovative Creativity (TsMIT).

The team immediately focused on the b2b direction, implemented orders for the manufacturer of scented candles UCandles, MTS and other companies.

— When did you decide that your core business is robots?

Andrey: I became interested in the topic of production automation and visited many factories. With some of them we later collaborated, with some we didn’t. Most importantly, I gained a good deal of insight and clearly realized that most factories use manual labor extremely inefficiently.

There is no such problem in huge holdings like Coca-cola or Unilever, because they initially build a building for themselves and think through all the stages of production there.

“For old Soviet factories, the question of introducing robots is not worth it: in order to automate even a small stage, they need to put the entire system in order.”

We work with a huge layer of customers who are between these two extremes. They are more or less well from an organizational point of view, but a large amount of manual labor is used in elementary operations. During the search period, I clearly saw this problem and saw the demand, which was so great that we decided to focus only on this direction.

— What prevented these customers from reducing the amount of manual labor?

Andrey: Factories constantly complained about the lack of people and that people make mistakes from time to time. I asked: “Why don’t you put robots?”.

As a rule, everyone is sure that it is very expensive. They were already interested, tried to study the issue and came to the conclusion that the payback period will be 5-10 years. Our robots pay off in 2-3 years.

Another popular objection is that it is very difficult, you need to hire new specialists, understand new equipment. I heard this all the time, so we tried to make our robot as easy to maintain as possible.

— What distinguishes your robot from the equipment of other Russian manufacturers?

Andrey: There are several manufacturers of three-axis robots in Russia, they move left and right, up and down, back and forth. They are highly specialized and suitable for a limited range of tasks. They can hang the fourth or fifth axis additionally, but this makes the design more expensive and takes time to reconfigure.

It is easy for us to be the best in Russia, we are usually compared with the world market leaders. And we always win this comparison on the feasibility studies that are carried out at the plants when considering any project.

  • How do you win?

Andrey: We pay off in one or two years, this becomes a key factor when making a purchase decision at almost any plant. German Kuka Robotics, Japanese Fanuc and our other competitors are much more expensive.

Why are you cheaper?

Andrey: We have patented our design. It is modular – this allows us to quickly and without designing the entire robot to change almost all parameters: load capacity, range, accuracy and repeatability of the robot. If, for example, Kuka wants to change something for the customer, they will have to design and calculate the entire structure, starting from the first axis.

In their design, each link is responsible for two parameters, so changes in one of them entail changes in the entire structure. In our case, gearboxes are responsible for accuracy, and bearing assemblies are responsible for load capacity.

This makes it easier for us to make changes. Plus, we can use the most standard, mass-produced components. We order them in China, Korea or the USA – and due to competition between suppliers, we win in price.

How did you come up with this design?

Andrey: We were inspired by the device of a 3D printer: inside it performs the same actions, albeit on a smaller scale. We decided to test what happens if you turn it inside out, use this principle to create a robot.

We started with a desktop prototype, then made a larger sample – a meter high, and reached a full-fledged device two meters high. By improving the design, we were convinced that this is a very good concept, both from a technical and practical point of view.

— How much did you invest in creating a prototype?

Andrei: I invested about half a million rubles from my own savings. The first two prototypes did not require large financial investments, since we had materials, people, and tools. Almost immediately after the start, we took part in the HSE accelerator.

  • Was it helpful?

Andrey: Yes, because with the help of this accelerator we closed a deal with our first investor. Maxim Shekhovtsov from Genezis Technology Capital contacted us and we started working. It was 2018.

How much money did they invest?

Andrey: At the first stage, about $0.5 million, in total – about $1 million.

— What is your average check?

Andrey: When buying the first robot, as a rule, the check is from 3 to 6 million rubles.

— How do you interact with the client after the installation of the robot?

Andrey: The robot has start and stop buttons to make it as easy for the client to interact with it. No special maintenance is required. The only thing is that twice a year you need to change the belts and lubricate several nodes every three months.

Customers with their own technical services usually handle this themselves. If you need our help, we conclude a maintenance contract and do everything ourselves.

Are you considering entering the foreign market?

Andrey: We are carefully starting to consider these options. There are interesting tasks in logistics, in work in warehouses, in waste sorting. There are tasks, for example, with industrial laundries at hotels, where you need to throw laundry into cars.

“We receive requests from abroad, and we begin to work with them. At the same time, it is obvious that even around Moscow, not to mention the whole of Russia, there are hundreds of factories that need automation solutions.”

We plan to enter the US market first. We will do this in the next few years.

How many people are on your team now?

Andrey: We are 14 people, mostly development engineers. They improve the “brains” of the robot, the software that controls it. And, of course, software that helps a person interact with equipment and easily train and configure it.

— Do you plan to attract additional investments?

Andrey: Venture funds regularly come to us and offer to invest in the company, we are discussing various options. In general, it is much more important for us to build a profitable business that scales well. In addition, we went into positive territory in the fall of 2020. But investments would allow us to increase production volumes, build up a team, and quickly enter the markets of other countries.

— What tasks of customers are you working on now?

Andrey: The most interesting case is probably Grand AV, a manufacturer of household wet wipes. They have a wide range of brands, both their own and custom. Accordingly, they work with different types of wipes and a huge variety of packages.

We signed an agreement, and now our robots at their factory will pack napkins into boxes. Now they have a lot of people doing it.

This is an ideal case that will free the staff from monotonous work. Payback, according to our calculations, will be about a year.

How long does it usually take to complete a project?

Andrei: It usually takes three to four months before the conclusion of the contract. This time is necessary for the customer to agree on all the details inside. Then it takes another month or two to prepare a decision. The maximum is four if the project is complex.

Robots Aripix Robotics and their services for automation can be purchased on our marketplace, go to the “Industrial” section and take your production to a new level!

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