Robotics Entrepreneurship and Lessons Earned – An Interview with Celltrio CEO Charlie Duncheon

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Celltrio LogoCharlie Duncheon is CEO, Co-founder and Chairman of the Board at Celltrio, a producer of automation-based options for the life sciences trade. Duncheon has led seven different robotic corporations to profitable development. His accomplishments embrace establishing an unprecedented worldwide channel of 100+ integrators whereas at Adept Know-how, rising Adept to $100m+ revenues and an preliminary public providing. He was additionally CEO of Synthetic Muscle (later acquired by Bayer Materials Science) and based EIG America, transferring lithium battery know-how from EIG Korea to the US market. As well as, Duncheon based cofounding Grabit, a SRI spinoff that produces electroadhesion gripping know-how designed for industrial automation and materials dealing with, elevating two enterprise backed rounds of a number of million dollars.

Duncheon is the recipient of the Joseph Engelberger Award for Management in Robotics. He’s presently an Government in Residence at Purdue College and a mentor for Plug and Play Tech Heart. He was elected President of the Robotics Industries Affiliation (RIA) and served a complete of eight years on the RIA Board.

Charlie Duncheon was just lately interviewed by Joanne Pransky for Industrial Robotic. That interview is reprinted under, with minor modifications. The unique interview may be discovered HERE.

Joanne Pransky: What has been your favourite job within the robotics trade to this point and why?

Charlie Duncheon: I’ve had many alternative jobs, however I feel my favourite expertise is efficiently implementing model new purposes which have by no means been automated. I all the time received a thrill out of that each as an engineer and as a industrial success.

One in every of many purposes that instantly involves thoughts was the dealing with of frozen hamburgers with Adept washdown robots in 1991. Nobody had ever efficiently dealt with frozen meat patty packout, and it was a extremely unhealthy ergonomic state of affairs for human operators. Carpal tunnel syndrome was displaying up, and the employees had been working in an clearly chilly setting.

To make use of robots, you wanted to ascertain seeing shifting patties on conveyors and also you wanted a robotic that may very well be washed down each third shift. We efficiently pulled it off.

Joanne Pransky: What interval in your profession has been probably the most enjoyable?

I feel any time you’re an entrepreneur, choices are tough since you don’t have robust market analysis sources like you could have in a much bigger firm akin to a Monsanto and even Adept.

Charlie Duncheon: There have been two intervals. Proper now I’m having as a lot enjoyable as I’ve ever had working at Celltrio due to the continued expertise of doing thrilling new robotic purposes in life sciences (Determine 1).

Throughout the first interval had been the 2 startups that each went public – Fared Robotic Techniques, which was the primary firm that I helped begin after leaving a Fortune 50 firm, and the second was Adept Know-how, which I joined at its inception. The enjoyable a part of that have was growing integrator channels. I actually loved the leverage impact and income development of a strong, efficient advertising and marketing channel.

One doesn’t simply exit and join integrators after which watch the money circulate. After we signed integrators up, we created a digital partnering firm; each of us working collectively to develop the enterprise collectively. That was probably the most rewarding expertise as a result of I ended up making mates for all times.


Determine 1: Celltrio’s Cell Line Automation System

Joanne Pransky: What led you to depart Adept in 2004 and type Duncheon Associates, your individual consulting enterprise?

Charlie Duncheon: I left Adept for a short time through the dot-com interval, simply lengthy sufficient to get a style of entrepreneurship earlier than the bubble popped. Your entire North American robotic trade actually suffered within the early 2000s, and it simply was not a enjoyable time at Adept. We had gone from a $120m firm to an organization lower than half that dimension largely due to the massive migration of producing from the USA to China. Our firm was 60% US manufacturing-based in order that had a big effect on us.

I had that entrepreneurial bug and I actually felt consulting can be thrilling. I might transcend meeting and materials dealing with at Adept to engaged on quite a lot of completely different initiatives concurrently. That’s what drew me into consulting.

I’ve had a love for robotics my whole profession, so one in every of my first purchasers was Exact Automation, an organization based by the 2 Adept co-founders who had additionally moved on. I helped Exact on the gross sales and advertising and marketing facet.

Joanne Pransky: Are you able to describe your journey and what led you to co-found your corporations, Synthetic Muscle, EIG America, Grabit and Celltrio, after which the way you selected what the set off factors had been going to be for exiting the startups you co-founded?

Charlie Duncheon: I had two profitable exits already so I didn’t go into Duncheon Associates to begin a “unicorn” firm. I went to Duncheon Associates on a consulting foundation to department out and do quite a lot of completely different work in lots of robotic sectors.

I acquired a contract to take a look at Synthetic Muscle, which manufactured electroactive polymers developed by SRI labs, from the enterprise capitalists who had invested. I went in and made some suggestions, after which they requested me to do full time enterprise improvement. I used to be intrigued by the know-how, so I did that and the subsequent factor you understand, I used to be the CEO of the corporate. None of this was in my plan; it simply occurred.

I feel that the largest mistake, and by the best way I made it twice, is letting your engineering enthusiasm get in the best way of enterprise timing actuality.

We ultimately reached some extent the place I noticed the restrictions of the know-how by way of how far it might go. Sooner or later I received itchy once more, so I moved on from Synthetic Muscle, remained a marketing consultant to assist the brand new CEO, however went again to Duncheon Associates doing consulting once more. After which lo and behold, one thing comparable occurred once more. I received a contract with an organization in Korea referred to as DRB, a tier one automotive provide firm that had made an funding in a lithium ion battery firm, EIG.

EIG requested me to return in and see if there was a US marketplace for that know-how. Duncheon Associates once more did a enterprise improvement plan to indicate that there certainly was a really promising market. The subsequent factor you understand, I used to be supplied the CEO place at EIG America, which I accepted. After a number of years, I received itchy but once more. EIG America was folded again into the DRB firm. I made a decision I didn’t need to work for an enormous Korean firm, so I moved on and went again to Duncheon Associates. I work by means of quite a few completely different contracts. For instance, I labored for Mesh Dynamics, an early mesh networking firm in IoT and served on their Board of Administrators.

I received concerned as soon as once more with SRI with electroadhesive know-how that had comparable roots as electroactive polymers (Determine 2). And once more, I used to be intrigued on the engineering facet.

I used to be contracted to outline a marketplace for the know-how and as soon as once more discovered myself as cofounder and CEO of Grabit and raised a Collection A with my co founder. Just like the earlier  corporations I co-founded, after a number of years, I remained as an advisor, however went again to Duncheon Associates.

Grabit Gripper

Determine 2: Grabit’s electroadhesion primarily based gripper choosing up a cellular phone.

After Grabit, I had quite a lot of fascinating initiatives: Panasonic, Airbus, Hewlett Packard with their metallic 3D printer market improvement, and I used to be actually having fun with myself. Then my good pal Dr Jin-Oh Kim in Korea caught up with me, telling me he had developed and put in fairly a number of profitable purposes within the Korean life sciences market along with his semiconductor robotic firm. He knew the Korean market was a tiny market in comparison with the remainder of the world, so he gave me a contract to outline how huge that worldwide market was in life science automation.

I put a plan collectively and for the fourth time, discovered myself within the CEO / co-founder place. That was not my intent in any respect. My intent in 2004 was to be a marketing consultant and revel in doing quite a lot of various things, however 4 completely different instances I ended up within the govt workplace. Celltrio is extraordinarily promising and an exhilarating firm to be a part of.

Joanne Pransky: Do you contemplate your self to be primarily an engineer or primarily an entrepreneur?

Charlie Duncheon: For those who’re an entrepreneur in robotics, it’s important to be an engineer as nicely. I feel within the early levels I’m all the time each, however within the longer run, I might say I’m extra of an entrepreneur. I’ve received possibly three patents, however I don’t develop know-how. I’m extra of an implementer, and a commercializer of know-how, so to reply your query I’m most likely extra of an entrepreneur than an engineer.

One of many challenges for younger entrepreneurs will not be having made the errors prior to now. You study out of your errors, however I’ll say the older you get, the higher your good resolution share improves.

Joanne Pransky: What’s the hardest enterprise resolution you’ve ever needed to make?

Charlie Duncheon: As CEO there are various robust choices it’s important to make. I feel any time you’re an entrepreneur, choices are tough since you don’t have robust market analysis sources like you could have in a much bigger firm akin to a Monsanto and even Adept.

Whenever you’re an entrepreneur, it’s important to make choices extra in your intestine. That is what I mentor entrepreneurial college students on at Purdue College. I inform them, “First go work for a Fortune 500,” as a result of I feel quite a lot of younger entrepreneurs want to begin out with that good first firm and put some cash away. One of many challenges for younger entrepreneurs will not be having made the errors prior to now. You study out of your errors, however I’ll say the older you get, the higher your good resolution share improves.

I feel any enterprise resolution as an entrepreneur is a difficult resolution. I’ve made largely good ones however I’ve made some unhealthy ones as nicely. I feel the hardest choices that I ever needed to make was after I needed to do layoffs at Adept. I used to be taking a look at a share or greenback goal discount I needed to make in my group. I needed to look out in any respect these 100% loyal staff who labored so laborious for me and had been like household to me, and I had to decide on. I needed to inform them nose to nose that they’re not working for my firm. I went by means of two of these at Adept, and it was completely brutal decision-making.

The rationale it’s robust is to start with, it’s very private. The second is that I all the time blame myself – i.e. if we should do layoffs, it’s as a result of I didn’t handle appropriately. I felt I had made some unsuitable choices that led to the necessity for a layoff. Sure, there was an enormous international financial turndown, however you are able to do planning and you are able to do forecasting and you may steadiness optimism with conservatism and not less than decrease the extent of layoffs you would need to make. That’s the place I all the time maintain myself accountable, and I all the time take these issues very personally.

Joanne Pransky: Which one single achievement within the robotics trade are you most pleased with?

Charlie Duncheon

Determine three: Duncheon acquired the Joseph F. Engelberger Robotics Award in 2000 for his contribution to the robotics sector.

Charlie Duncheon: Receiving the RIA’s Engelberger Award for Management was most likely the proudest I used to be for any recognition (Determine three). However one other proud achievement was, as I discussed earlier, placing collectively the worldwide channel at Adept Know-how as a result of Adept might by no means have reached anyplace close to its income stage with no highly effective channel. And never simply placing the channel collectively, however conducting all of the occasions with integrators – creating mutual enterprise plans, conferences, the integrator utility awards, and so on.

Years later a shopper got here to me at Duncheon Associates and gave me a contract to place collectively a accomplice channel as a result of they had been instructed by folks within the robotics trade that everyone ended up emulating the Adept Integrator channel technique. That was as flattering as getting the Engelberger award and because the Japanese say, “Copying is the last word praise.”

Joanne Pransky: What’s the greatest mistake or biggest lesson you could have discovered?

I feel that the largest mistake, and by the best way I made it twice, is letting your engineering enthusiasm get in the best way of enterprise timing actuality. I suppose I received spoiled with the wonderful commercialization I skilled at Adept led by co-founders Brian Carlisle and Bruce Shimano.

I underestimated this facet of the enterprise at Synthetic Muscle though it made it as an organization and was acquired by Bayer. Right now it features as a part of two completely different corporations, but it surely by no means reached the potential that I assumed it might. I received enthralled with electroactive polymer changing motors, encoders and harmonic drives, and I used to be not reasonable in regards to the period of time required for commercialization.

I made the identical mistake once more at Grabit by underestimating the quantity of commercialization required (Determine four). Grabit right now is an element of a bigger firm, Burke Porter, but it surely by no means reached the monetary returns I feel folks had been hoping for. We nonetheless beat the chances of startup corporations as a result of most startup corporations don’t even survive, however I discovered my mistake of the basic time it takes for a know-how to be dependable sufficient to be on the manufacturing unit ground. I’m not going to make that mistake once more.

Grabit Gripper

Determine four: Grabit’s electroadhesion primarily based gripper.

In Celltrio’s case, the know-how will not be solely developed however is working on the flooring and laboratories in Korea. Our main aim is to proceed to boost and develop life science automation choices for the worldwide market.

I’m a mentor at Plug and Play along with Purdue, and I all the time inform the startups the identical factor – that “rebooting” will not be an appropriate choice on the manufacturing unit ground. For the extent of reliability wanted on the manufacturing unit ground or broad ranges of environments, that product has to work 99+%. It’s quite a lot of work and takes quite a lot of time to get there for those who’re beginning with uncooked know-how.

Joanne Pransky: What do you assume Masters and PhD engineering college students ought to be doing to finest put together themselves for the industrial world?

Charlie Duncheon: I feel the key phrase in your query is industrial. I see engineers get so enthusiastic about pure robotic know-how. My recommendation to Masters and PhD college students is keep watch over the appliance and industrial facet. Whenever you have a look at know-how developments, hold your eye on the trail to that utility or vertical answer and the way huge the market is for that know-how and utility. I feel that may result in a way more balanced method to R&D and robotics.

Joanne Pransky: What robotic venture do you assume you’ll be engaged on ten years from now?

One future pattern, actually in life sciences and possibly applies in manufacturing as nicely, is articulated arms on cellular platforms that join manufacturing cells and storage to packout in warehouses.

Charlie Duncheon: If I’m nonetheless doing robotics in ten years, it’s most likely going to be in life sciences as a result of it’s thrilling and I see a lot potential in it. The fascinating factor about life sciences is what’s occurring in individualized medication. It’s closely into R&D proper now, but it surely’s starting to maneuver into the manufacturing and scientific facet. I simply see large developments coming, just like the semiconductor trade’s robust development path of the 1980s, due to the amount necessities. A superb instance is COVID-19. We’re offering automated cells that may do preliminary drug or vaccine discovery. However a a lot bigger market alternative comes after getting a drug that’s permitted and now you want that high-volume manufacturing to fabricate it. I feel that path may even apply to individualized medication.

Celltrio RoboStor

Determine 5: Celltrio’s RoboStor

Within the early days after I first began in robotics, it was all about chopping labor prices. What we do now at Celltrio is assist treatment illnesses in a shorter time because of the pure consistency obtained with robotic automation (Determine 5). For example, we’re really growing the quantity and enhancing the standard of cells which are produced in a flask by choosing the flask up and precisely managing it 100% of the time.

We’re not speaking about chopping jobs to automate these labs. We’re releasing up scientists to work on their formulation, and we’re introducing all this consistency, which in fact, finally ends up compressing the time that it takes to find the drug. For me, it’s much more enjoyable and rewarding to work in robotics whenever you’re making a optimistic influence on society versus simply enhancing the underside line of the producer.

I see the enlargement of very versatile factories producing cells and antibodies with robots. One future pattern, actually in life sciences and possibly applies in manufacturing as nicely, is articulated arms on cellular platforms that join manufacturing cells and storage to packout in warehouses. If I’m nonetheless nonetheless concerned with robotics ten years from now, I’m most likely going to be in the midst of the high-volume manufacturing facet of life sciences.

Joanne Pransky has been an Affiliate Editor for Industrial Robotic Journal since 1995. She was additionally one of many co- founders and the Director of Advertising and marketing of the world’s first medical robotics journal, The Worldwide Journal of Medical Robotics and Pc Assisted Surgical procedure. Pransky additionally served because the Senior Gross sales and Advertising and marketing Government for Sankyo Robotics, a producer of business robotic programs. She has consulted for a few of the trade’s high robotic and leisure organizations, together with Robotic Industries Affiliation, Motoman, Stäubli, KUKA Robotics, ST Robotics, DreamWorks, Warner Bros., and for Summit Leisure’s film Ender’s Recreation, wherein she introduced never-seen-before medical robots to the massive display screen. She may be contacted at joannepransky[@]

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