Robotics companies don’t have to go it alone: Four reasons to hire an outside firm for your next project

Jan 30, 2024 | News

Four Growers' robot harvesting a cucumber.

Pittsburgh is known worldwide as the place to be for robotics and automation. Our world-class educational institutions, high concentration of tech talent, and relatively low cost of living make Pittsburgh an ideal place to launch the next big idea or take a venture to the next level of success. While the support networks, wealth of resources, and opportunities that exist here are widely recognized, there is one type of resource available in Pittsburgh that should not be overlooked — external design and engineering firms.

These valuable partners, existing throughout Pittsburgh, offer a wealth of expertise and a fresh perspective to robotics companies, which can be crucial for innovation and problem-solving. One example is Daedalus, a team of interdisciplinary researchers, industrial and UX designers, and electrical, mechanical, and software engineers who are celebrating 45 years of innovation in 2024. They, like other area specialists, help clients tackle tough design problems and bring groundbreaking new products to market.

Pittsburgh robotics companies operate in a variety of industry sectors, and the region is fortunate to have resources that can serve their needs. “Our team of engineers and designers most frequently collaborate with clients in the medical, safety, industrial, and scientific verticals, often in projects that involve robotics. But our broad skill set makes us a powerful partner across a wide range of industries,” says Matt Beale, President of Daedalus. “With extensive prior experience with tools and technologies such as computer vision, motion control, intrinsic safety, and low power design, our team is especially well-equipped to provide expert guidance or assistance on robotics and automation projects.” Their clients include robotics and robotics adjacent companies such as Omnicell, Aethon, Four Growers, Smith+Nephew, Neya Systems, 4moms, Parker, and QinetiQ, as well as robotics startups such as Cell X Technologies and Thiopoly, who are both also supported by the Robotics Factory.

Relationships with research, design, and engineering partners can result in several benefits:

1. Create better robots

When a team has been working together on a project for a while, sometimes it’s easy to start missing the forest for the trees. Even the most skilled and tight-knit team can benefit from informed feedback and a fresh set of (expert) eyes. As an example, Omnicell has worked with Daedalus on numerous projects, including their next-generation automated IV compounding robot.

“There are times when it’s good to know the history of a whole product line and company, and there are times when it’s good to not. Fresh eyes and fresh perspectives are always powerful when you’re talking about coming up with new and innovative ideas. That enables you to move a little bit more freely,” says Ryan Kaintz, Sr. Director of Engineering at Omnicell, a multinational company with operations in Pittsburgh that develops systems to help healthcare operators manage medications and supplies.

“Our IVX Station compounding robot is now launched in the field and we have a lot of features coming in the pipeline. It’s still pretty new, but we really think it provides a great value to our customers and we look forward to scaling that product and getting it out in mass and really changing the way IV compounding is done in the pharmacy,” he adds.

2. Lighten your team’s load

When running a company, it’s good to remain lean, but when you’re staring down a hard deadline and your team’s to-do list only seems to be getting longer, it might be time to look into enlisting extra help. Brandon Contino, CEO and Co-Founder of Four Growers, experienced just this problem.

“We designed a harvesting robot that could be used for tomatoes, but we really designed the system with the idea that it could also harvest other crops. At the time we were in the process of finishing up the next generation of the now-existing robot that’s in the field, and we really wanted to prove out our hypothesis that it could also be used to harvest cucumbers and other crops, but we didn’t really have the engineering manpower to be able to really complete that,” Contino says. “We saw Daedalus as a really good opportunity to allow us to prove this hypothesis without needing to take up the existing team’s time to do that.”

Kaintz agrees, saying “You can never staff for the peaks. You have to staff for the average, and using outside consulting allows you to accommodate those peaks.”

Quality service providers can assist with product requirements and documentations, take ownership of one of the more easily delegated parts of a larger project, or by providing specialized talent to expedite key deliverables. More and more, companies are finding competitive advantages created through these types of relationships an essential part of doing business.

3. Fill the gaps

Many companies are highly specialized and have in-house experts within relevant fields, but product development requires diverse skill sets. Pittsburgh’s design and engineering specialists employ experienced human factors and ergonomics research professionals, industrial and UX/UI designers, and engineers. These in-house experts are accustomed to working seamlessly with clients to ensure that important tasks such as research, testing, interface design, high-res mockups, and documentation don’t fall by the wayside during the development and prototyping process.

“We’ve used them for industrial design, which we don’t really have in-house. We use them for brainstorming and concept generation. One of the big benefits they offer is both engineering and industrial design in-house, so it enables a complete solution,” says Kaintz. “Their industrial designers go a step beyond. They get a little deeper into the actual details, which is helpful, and we are able to pick it up and then take it to the finish.”

4. Save time and money

For short-term projects such as developing experimental new prototypes or proofs-of-concept, design and engineering firms can be a great resource to lower costs. This appealed to Contino when he wanted to expand the functionality of Four Growers’ tomato harvesting robots. “We looked at the challenges regarding whether or not the tech was generalizable. We had the concept of the design we wanted and we jumped in with Daedalus and really honed in on the specifics, and from there Daedalus was able to execute,” he says.

For larger companies, an external design and engineering partner can help keep your team’s resources focused on your company’s flagship product, helping to ensure the health of key revenue streams. Additionally, the research, brainstorming, design, and development that specialists such as Daedalus provide can help take a new product to market more quickly and affordably while minimizing risk.

“They’re able to react very fast and they’re able to really focus on certain areas where in a big company sometimes we can’t quite focus on that deeply, so they’re able to turn things around,” remembers Kaintz.

Pittsburgh’s robotics ecosystem is world-leading, and the companies working here are pioneers tackling major problems – but they don’t do it alone. Here they have access to a wealth of resources, among which external design and engineering firms stand out as op for innovation, efficiency, and growth.