Automate Manufacturing with Smart Tech

The smart way to manufacture

Sho Tsuchiya
April 22, 2022

EDGE100 Report, 2023

Identifying and evaluating early stage startups is challenging for leaders in corporate innovation, corporate strategy, venture capital, and more. Download the report to learn who made it on our list of top 100 startups.

There’s an ongoing digital revolution in aspects of business, but what does it mean to manufacture things intelligently? As the International Society of Automation (ISA) points out, manufacturing processes lag in adapting to automation, unlike other business arms. Let’s say that the end goal of industrial machinery is to improve efficiency, control, and create quality output. Couple this goal with today’s smart factory technology; why not leverage tech to replace repetitive and labor-intensive tasks and make real-time, data-driven decisions? In fact, China, the world’s largest manufacturing economy, has famously launched “Made in China 2025”, an initiative to restructure and streamline key industrial sectors by shifting to smart factories. For this discussion, the term IoT comes into play alongside industrial machinery automation, so let’s start by connecting the dots between these concepts before we glimpse at the autonomous robots segment, a notable player within the Smart Factory space.

What is Smart Factory Technology and how does IoT connect?

Broadly, smart factories are fully connected and flexible production systems that use data collected from manufacturing devices (that are connected); they learn and adapt to dynamic conditions. For instance, the industrial cloud in Volkswagen manufacturing improves its product in real-time by combining data from over 100 of its group facilities. A smart factory is leaps ahead of traditional automation and makes it way easier to automate entire production processes. The latest technology, such as smart sensors and advanced robotics, lends itself well to allowing next-generation interconnectivity between the equipment, facilities, and processes across the value chain. 

IoT can be explained briefly, adapting from IBM’s definition, as a network of devices that is connected to the internet as well as to other connected devices. As in the Volkswagen example, IoT advances allow a new level of real-time data transmission and synthesis between smart devices and machines. Therefore, IoT tech means, for example, that a car can drive itself as it’s connected to an IoT platform. Of course, this example oversimplifies the process (as there are many more use cases aimed at improving functionality), but more efficient manufacturing systems with less production downtime equals competitive advantages in the marketplace.

What does the smart factory ecosystem look like?

A Smart Factory is a meeting ground for the virtual and tangible—a real-world device can be connected to virtual instruction. Multiple segments combine in a smart factory ecosystem: data analytics, predictive maintenance, industrial IoT, equipment, and assembly line inspection, autonomous mobile robots, advanced robotics, and robotic software. 

We explore the value chain closely in our industry hub.

Interestingly, technologies like AI, and smart sensor improvements, combined with the need to digitize manufacturing, make way for autonomous robots. We’ve kept a keen eye on this space and noticed that…

Incumbents like Siemens, GE, and ABB are interacting with smart factory segments…

Incumbent mapping portfolio

Source: SPEEDA Edge incumbent mapping portfolio 

Narrowing into autonomous robots, here’s a look at our hot-pick from the EDGE100 report—Vecna Robotics.

Vecna Robotics provides material-handling autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) with a fleet management and workflow optimization software platform, Although having received funding to develop a humanoid robot, Vecna Robotics has shifted its focus to logistics and delivery robots. Just a few weeks ago, Vecna partnered with Big Joe Lift to introduce a collaborative robot (co-bot) pallet jack named Vecna CPJ for manufacturing facilities and warehouses. The new robotic solution, which works alongside human workers by automating a range of payloads, workflows, and environments, is supposed to improve throughput by up to 45% compared to relying solely on human labor.

Vecna’s platform distributes and adjusts workflow tasks in real-time, shares information between workers and robots, and integrates with legacy automation, robots, and warehouse management systems (WMS), to name a few functions. It also modifies existing machinery into AMRs.

There’s quite a bit of interaction as well. We’ve tracked that Vecna Robotics has partnered with competitors, such as RightHand Robotics (which offers robot-picking solutions), integrating their material handling and autonomous mobility expertise to enhance e-commerce order fulfillment operations. It has also partnered with tech companies, such as Humatics (a micro-location product and software maker), integrating Humatics’ KinetIQ 300 micro-location system into Vecna’s AMRs, and Ouster (a developer of digital lidar sensors), to use Ouster lidar in its autonomous vehicles until 2025. Via a partnership, advanced material handling technology solution provider Alta Material Handling Company (Alta MH) offers Vecna’s solutions to their clients in around 55 locations across the US. The synergy is inspiring! 


The digital revolution is seeping into manufacturing processes, improving functionality, and addressing human labor paint points. We see that in Smart Factories, technologies converge to create autonomous machinery. Within the segment, autonomous robots play a key role in the ecosystem as they function across a production line, and it’s worthwhile to follow incumbents’ movements closely in this space whether it’s a car you want to build or speeding up a supply chain!

The world is getting increasingly intelligent, leveraging smart tech to improve daily life. It wouldn't be smart to condense all of smart tech's capabilities into one post, so read up on smart tech via our insights, whether it’s building something as enormous as a house or smart city, or as micro as a watch!

You can also explore the competitive advantages of the players in the Smart Factory Space via the SPEEDA Edge Platform.