From NFK by

As we all know, the pandemic has put undue stress on supply chains, and it isn’t letting up anytime soon. Considering the increase in consumer demand and a limited labor force, many companies find themselves in a sink or swim game. The only way to stay afloat is to adapt, a strategy that robotics automation can help achieve. 

Robotics automation describes the use of machines to execute digital or manual tasks, often ones that emulate human activities. Its recent proliferation across industries speaks to its ability to slash supply chain inefficiencies, streamline operations, and drive profitability. Chances are, you’ve come across robotics automation in some capacity, in places such as warehouses, roads, and operating rooms. Most common, however, is the deployment of robotics automation in a manufacturing setting. 

As robotics automation becomes more widely deployed and operations begin to use fleets from multiple vendors, some challenges have arisen. Supply chains are complex; each part of the chain necessitates a different function: temperature monitoring, lot tracking, and materials transport. The use of disparate systems to control each portion of the “chain,” which then needs to integrate to enable automation, is crucial. This integration can often take months or years, necessitating a better way to automate these end-to-end processes.

Norfolk-based startup SVT Robotics is tackling the challenges of integration through their SOFTBOT platform, which accelerates the deployment of industrial robotics at scale. SVT co-founders AK Schultz and Michael Howes sought to eliminate long development cycles and stringent custom code through tech-agnostic software that simplifies the connections between divergent systems. The SOFTBOT platform enables clients to launch complex systems in days or weeks rather than months or years. The platform works by abstracting data integration details into logical information flows that various systems use – such as a location for the next task, which goods require transport, and where the deliverables need to go. With a capacity for over 2,000 unique combinations of robotic and software solutions, the SOFTBOT platform combines with an enterprise’s warehouse management system, delivering automation at the “speed of need.”

Founded in 2018 as a 757 Accelerate Program, SVT has already demonstrated exceptional value through successful use cases. One such use case was the use of the SOFTBOT platform in the safe and effective transport of biological products. Needing to automate a business-critical yet repetitive step in their manufacturing process, a pharmaceutical company leveraged SVT’s connector platform to connect their warehouse management system to their AMRs (Autonomous Mobile Robots). This connector platform had five screens designed for employees to operate the fleet of AMRs to maintain the precision, sterility, and speed required at each stage of the biologic transport process. A dashboard allows employees to track each cart’s progress throughout the facility via a user-friendly interface. The implementation will also enable the manufacturer to reduce their labor expenditure and virtually eliminate PPE costs, ultimately producing an expected 287% ROI.

Since its launch, SVT has earned several accolades in the few years, including a place on Fast Company’s 2022 World’s Most Innovative Companies List. SVT has additionally garnered support from the VJIP (Virginia Jobs Investment program), whose grant money will enable them to create more tech jobs. Their rapid growth from a 757 Accelerate program to a nationally-recognized robotics software developer represents the region’s growing startup scene. Doug Smith, President and CEO of Hampton Roads Alliance, praised SVT for using “its considerable expertise to help foster an environment where other tech startups will thrive.” As SVT continues to expand its presence in Norfolk, it fuels the growth of entrepreneurship and tech innovation in Hampton Roads and beyond.

Rachel Reiss

Talbot Park, NFK

Rachel Reiss moved to Norfolk in 2021, and, true to her native Floridian roots, has been enjoying life near the beach. Since her day job as an HR Program Manager has gone remote, it offers her the flexibility to explore the area’s rich history, culture, and diverse food scene in her spare time. She is also a passionate pianist, aspiring yogi, and self-proclaimed health nut who loves to cook. Rachel lives near Talbot Park with her husband, Phil – a CHKD resident – and their Maltese, Minnie.