Nearly 99% of U.S. manufacturing companies are small to mid-size with fewer than 500 employees. Yet, they add tremendous value to local economies. In fact, for every dollar spent in manufacturing, another $1.81 is added to the economy according to the National Association of Manufacturers.
Although the manufacturing industry is growing and becoming more efficient with the help of new technologies and continued adoption of “lean” practices, new manufacturers are still faced with many challenges. Capital demands are high, product and process development can be daunting, and skilled labor is scarce.
The Sumo Robot League, based out of Augusta, Georgia, was recently facing these same issues. However, with manufacturing accounting for 92.3% of Georgia’s annual exports the state has a large stake in the game and didn’t let these challenges go unresolved.
The Sumo Robot League manufactures sumo robot kits targeted towards middle and high school students. These kits include all the elements needed to put together small robots built to be pitted against each other in a sumo-style wrestling match. Whichever robot succeeds in that improving their proc pushing its opponent out of the ring wins.
While the market for these kits was identified and production was underway, the Sumo Robot League goal was to meet increasing market demand while minimizing costs. They knew ess for manufacturing the rubber tracks on the vehicles would positively impact production, but needed help implementing the idea. They also needed advice on how to create a manufacturing strategy to meet anticipated future demand.
At the same time, co-founder Eric Parker envisioned the Sumo Robot League as a gamified opportunity for kids to gain knowledge and real-world experience in highly technical skill sets that are becoming more in-demand in the present and future economy. The league not only provides affordable robotics building kits, but also an accompanying course of study that teaches middle school and high school students how to design, build, program, and optimize their robots using electronic circuitry, C++ computer programming, algorithm development, and design for 3D printing skills. In addition, the course can be expanded to include mobile app development, machine learning, and exposure to the Internet of Things (IoT).
Parker’s vision for the Sumo Robot League taps into a goal of many manufacturers. They are not only focused on profit, but on positively impacting future generations interested in science, engineering, robotics and other careers in the manufacturing industry. The company merges friendly competition with programming, design and engineering to help students gain production and technician-level skills, which are some of the most challenging positions for manufacturers to fill.
Nearly 12 million Americans (or 9% of the workforce) are employed directly in manufacturing according to the National Association of Manufacturers. However, the industry is severely challenged when it comes to finding skilled laborers to fill manufacturing jobs. In fact, the National Association of Manufacturers estimates nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed in the next decade and 2 million are expected to go unfilled due to the skills gap.
The Sumo Robot League’s educational focus is laying the foundation for eager students who may eventually go into manufacturing and ultimately improve the workforce. However, the League first needed to stay in business and create a process to meet rising demand for their product. As Parker explains, “Our expertise as a company is in educating children, not manufacturing.”
The Sumo Robot League contacted the Georgia Center of Innovation for Manufacturing to get through the immediate need of improving the manufacturing process for the rubber tracks on Sumo kit vehicles. The Center of Innovation for Manufacturing provides technical industry expertise and facilitates partnerships to help Georgia manufacturers connect, compete, and grow. Its manufacturing problem solvers saw a powerful opportunity for the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute to help the Sumo Robot League meet its immediate need and facilitated the strategic partnership between the two.
In addition, the Center of Innovation for Manufacturing consulted with the Sumo Robot League to create a strategic manufacturing solution for scaling up production to meet their demand of 1,000 kits per month.
Through these two relationships, the Sumo Robot League is on track to reliably produce and consistently sell their kits for just $100 apiece – a fraction of the cost of competing kits. From the resources provided by the Center of Innovation, Sumo continues to find efficiencies that improve production and reduce the price even further.
This price reduction enables the Sumo Robot League to pass savings on to students purchasing their kits and schools adopting the robots to heighten visibility and get even more students interested in technical careers like engineering, computer programming and robotics. As the Sumo Robot League increases production, it will likely need to hire more people to work in their manufacturing company, bringing additional jobs to Georgia–and, perhaps, even hiring some of the students building robots from their kits right now.
About the Author:
John Morehouse is the Director for the Georgia Centers for Innovation for Manufacturing, which helps Georgia manufacturers tap new markets and accelerate their products for development through providing technical expertise, cutting-edge research connections, and strategic partnerships.