CloudNC, the UK start-up and Entrepreneur First, which develops AI software to automate part of the manufacturing process, quietly raised £ 9 million in Series A financing, learned TechCrunch.
According to sources – and since then confirmed by the company – Atomico, the European venture capital firm founded by Niklas Zennström of Skype, led the round. A number of existing investors, including Episode 1 and Entrepreneur First, also participated. We first heard that a sheet of modalities had been put on the table as early as March, and last week the investment was finally closed.
In the broader goal of using AI to dramatically reduce the time and costs associated with manufacturing, CloudNC is developing a cloud computing software and service that hopes to automate the programming of CNC milling machines.
These machines work by sculpting solid metal blocks into useful shapes, where a useful shape could be anything from a Macbook body, to pieces of a car, to turbine blades. reactor. Unlike 3D printing, this happens in a "subtractive" way; the metal is cut until it remains the resulting component.
The problem is that to command a CNC machine to turn a 3D design into a finished part, it has to receive preprogrammed sequences of machine controls, which is currently a highly skilled and manual process. You have to tell the machine not only where and how to cut, but also among the hundreds of tools to use. Programming a CNC machine can also take a long time, up to 100 hours for more complicated parts.
In connection with this manual work, there is a second problem that CloudNC thinks it can solve, namely the speed of manufacture itself. That's because, says the startup, a human can not calculate the most efficient way of cutting out a block of metal for each custom-made part being manufactured, even though it's currently guessing extremely well educated. However, in theory, artificial intelligence combined with the "super computer" in the cloud, can. The result: to halve the time needed to manufacture parts and thus halve the costs (minus the cost of raw materials, of course).
"We are applying revolutionary AI methods to control these machines automatically, which will revolutionize the way things are done," said the co-founder and CEO of CloudNC after confirming it yesterday. Our mission is to make milling machines in one click, able to produce a part easily, efficiently and with a minimum of human intervention. "
Meanwhile, a person familiar with Atomico's investment tells me that she's playing in the venture capital company's strategy around "the industry. 4.0 ", and that we can expect new investments in space.
As far as CloudNC specifically is concerned, we think we are moving towards a future where we will put less emphasis on mass production and a move towards just-in-time manufacturing, where certain types of Products are produced closer to where they are sold and can benefit from a near zero stock. Consumption trends such as product customization and appetite for innovative design-oriented products, favored by new technologies, business models and startups, contribute to this evolution.
If CloudNC can deliver on its promise to halve the cost of manufacturing CNC machines, it should make a major contribution to this future and benefit from it.