Our series “From Design to Deployment: A Robot Provider's Digital Journey” continues with Arvind Krishnan, Industry Analyst at Lifecycle Insights and Tim Doerks, CTO and Co-Founder of sewts, a robotics startup in the textile handling sector.
The 3DEXPERIENCE platform on the Cloud acts as a unified and collaborative solution where robotic providers can manage their end-to-end process in an effective way by bringing together all teams and disciplines involved and guarantee digital continuity during the entire product lifecycle.
Clara: Hello and welcome to the Designing Impactful Innovation podcast, where we explore the world of product design, simulation and manufacturing. In each episode, we’ll hear from experts and learn about how they are using the 3DEXPERIENCE platform on the cloud to innovate and create positive change.
This is the second episode of our series From Design to Deployment: A Robot Provider's Digital Journey. We’ll be hearing from Arvind Krishnan, industry analyst at Lifecycle Insights and Tim Doerks, CTO & Co-founder of sewts, a robotics startup in the textile handling sector.
Arvind Krishnan: Hello and welcome to this podcast. Today I have the pleasure of talking to Tim Doerks, co-founder and CTO of sewts. Sewts is a startup that develops intelligent robotics to automate complex manual labor. So without further ado, I want to welcome Tim to the podcast.
Tim Doerks: Yeah, sure thing. First of all, Arvind, thank you for having me on this podcast.
So basically I'm one of the founders of sewts, and sewts is a Munich-based robotics company, and we're working on automating the handling of easily deformable materials.
That might be hard to grasp for some out there, so saying it in more simpler terms is… basically everything that is behaving like a textile, be it a t-shirt or a towel or so is very hard to handle for robots and therefore we're building specifically software and automation solutions to make this handling possible. That's the basics of it.
So looking into what we have developed so far is, we have looked into many different use cases for our technology and found a very interesting one in our first market, being industrial laundries.
So, their workers are taking a vast amount of washed and dried towels out of a bin and placing them on a folding machine, and this is a very repetitive task. And we have found a solution to build a software and a hardware product to automate this task and this first product is called sewts VELUM, actually. Exactly.
Arvind Krishnan: Tim, congratulations on your first product launch. That must be very exciting for you and your team. Thank you for introducing your company and its solutions. Let us shift gears now. You work for a startup in this space.
Tim Doerks: Yeah, so I think in general, if you might say, look at robotics startups as a whole: it is very difficult to find a good product market fit and what we've seen in the past a lot is that there is a great technology out there, but then finding the right markets to apply it is really challenging. So for that reason, we have chosen to start with a specific market in mind with a specific product in mind, so to develop our technology in parallel to our product. So that was a really important, yeah, I think, decision that we made in the beginning.
And the first challenge that came up is basically: okay, I only develop a technology. Then it is much easier to go forward and say, “Yeah, this works kind of well, okay, I'm happy with the progress we're making”.
But if you're developing already a product for a customer, it's really hard to match customer requirements to get the right kind of, let's say, compromise, to be sure that you're actually developing something useful and not overfitting to one customer’s needs. So that was a big challenge we had in the past.
Another big challenge we had was finding good partners in the industry. First for the fitting components that our software could work with well, but that were also ready for industry, that could be produced; and also to find great production partners out there, as it is really hard also for many robotics startups to deploy their systems in the field without any partners in the beginning. So that, I think we have by now overcome. I'm actually very happy to say that we just announced at the end of January that we have our first customer with a product live since November. It’s the Greif laundry in Wolfratshausen near Munich and there, our first product is actually running in the day-to-day operation.
Secondly, like, looking into the future, our challenges that are coming up now of course is scaling our rollout of more systems. So to have more installations in the field towards the end of 2023 and also being able to scale our operations, meaning support and service and so on, because so far we have been focused a lot on development work only. And now with systems out in the field, we see more and more requests coming in to give good supports to be there for our customers and see that they're satisfied with everything that we have delivered.
So growing for this year will be one of our biggest challenges going forward.
Arvind Krishnan: Tim, it was exhilarating to hear about your first customer. Congratulations again. I'm sure that other robotics companies will echo most of your challenges. I wish you the very best in overcoming these challenges and launching many products in the future.
I am told that your team mainly uses the 3DEXPERIENCE cloud platform to develop your products.
Tim Doerks: Mmhmm. Yeah, sure. I can. I can do that, I think. Yeah. Software from Dassault Systèmes has been with us for quite a while and the journey…
So even, actually, before we started the company, coming out of university, we had an existing scholarship from the German Ministry of Economics, which basically means you're sitting at a chair of a university, being supported by that chair and you have one year to work on a prototype. And actually from there out from university we were already using CATIA, let's say, as a first tool for mechanical design and ABAQUS for our materials simulations of FBM.
And yeah, I think that kind of started us off in this direction, working with the 3DEXPERIENCE platform where we then later, becoming a real company, went on to use the 3DEXPERIENCE platform more broadly: currently working a lot with the electrical CAD in SOLIDWORKS as well as the mechanical design in SOLIDWORKS to facilitate prototypes and to build switch cabinets and so on for our prototyping. This is very, very helpful.
But obviously also looking into, I'd say broader fields, with SIMULIA running some textile simulations as well and also more recently with DELMIA and, yeah checking for trajectories of industrial robots to match our processes. So this is a really helpful tool for us to run our development, especially on the hardware and simulation side.
And looking into the future actually the platform will provide us with a lot better services, let's say in the form of being a PLM system as well.
So as I said before, this year we want to scale our rollout installations so that also means that we will have a lot of documentation work to do. Each individual system in the field needs to have a digital twin, a virtual twin and yeah, all this documentation should go somewhere. It needs proper revision and so on. So for that the platform is going to be of great help to us.
Arvind Krishnan: I like the way – how your company evolved with the tools. You started with design and you slowly expanded to simulation and now to factory automation and PLM. The 3DEXPERIENCE platform is scaling nicely as your company scales.
Today you have your first customer with your first product. Are there plans to advance or add on new products? What can you disclose to us?
Tim Doerks: Yeah, sure, for sure. We have a plan for the near future and also for the far future that I can happily share with you.
So moving on from our first product and scaling it, scaling VELUM into many more laundries together with some production partners, we will work on other use cases as well to roll out our technology into industry because we believe that just having a technology will not help us much. We need to bring it out there and apply it to real world problems and to customers in the field.
So what we will do next is a topic in reverse logistics, actually. So there we have already started developing on a product which we want to use in the field of online e-commerce and for fashion.
So let's say you order a t-shirt, or pants or so online and you get them and you don't like how they fit: you send them back, right, to be returned. And these returns are currently – at least in Central Europe – driven halfway through the continent to be opened up and checked for quality, if they're still sellable, and then repackaged and brought back into the main markets in Central Europe. And this is a very labor intensive process that also has a lot of travel or let's say, logistical effort involved. So we want to tackle this by automating the process, so that when your package arrives – and let's say you have a t-shirt inside – that a robotic system can take a look at it, do a quality check, place it on a folding machine and have it refolded to be put back into the system again.
So this is something that we plan to go out into a first project in 2024 with. So for the next couple of months you cannot see, let's say, any prototype of that, but we're already working on it. And one other major thing is that during development of our first product we have found out that it is very time consuming to do all of these developments.
So developing each product, I mean, it will get faster over time as we're progressing with our technology. But there's still going to be a lot of engineering effort and programing effort involved in that and where we want to eventually get to after three or four use cases is that we can build the platform for automation engineers around the world to also automate this material handling engineering.
So that basically means: we want to build a product that's called sewts Jupiter in the very long run. And this is kind of similar to the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, an engineering tool that will help you automate tasks in material handling that are currently too expensive to automate, or it cannot be done at all. So things like handling of certain food items, for example, or seat cover manufacturing or clothes manufacturing, as a matter.
So all these things we want to be able to automate with this platform and through our different use cases that we're currently rolling out – and it will roll out in the future – the technology for this platform will grow. So for that, I'm really excited and yeah, I hope in the future we can see a lot more products being built and automated in the textile industry through that.
Arvind Krishnan: Very interesting indeed, Tim. I can see how your company's products can benefit our society. Another aspect I see is sustainability. Your technology can drastically reduce greenhouse gases. You opened our eyes to what is possible with robotics technology. Traditionally, people associated robots with assembling cars, painting cars, etc. We have gone beyond that to see how robots can mimic human-like tasks.
Thank you for an enlightening interview.
Tim Doerks: Yeah, thank you. Thank you very much Arvind for having me and have a nice day as well.
Clara: Thank you for listening to Designing Impactful Innovation. To find out more, go to 3ds.com/cloud. Don’t forget to subscribe for more insights and stories from our guest experts!
Speak to one of our experts to find out how we can tailor it to your specific needs.