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The Battle to Manufacture a World-Class Robot: Giant Leaps and a Few Thuds

Making manufacturing history starts with self-drive, ambition, and a little luck. MegaBots found it also takes the right partners, tempering expectations and getting up after falling down.

Whether you're a captain of industry or new to the C-Suite, we hope you've looked into joining us at this year's IndustryWeek Manufacturing & Technology Conference & Expo. Looking at the agenda and exhibitors, it's clear technology has changed, but everyone is still trying to convince you of the best ways to continuously improve, responsibly lead, and stay profitable for a long time. You may have also noticed a session with the unfortunate name of "Go! Go! Fighting Robots!" It was a working title for our panel led by the founders of MegaBots, a startup that made international news for evangelizing modern manufacturing in an extremely positive way -- by building a huge piloted robot from scratch. It somehow ended up becoming the official title during our recent reorganization.

First off, we understand that in convention center full of great speakers from manufacturing powerhouses such as GE and Toyota, a panel about building a giant hydraulic robot that's only job is to beat up on other giant robots might seem a bit out of place. But it could be the most representative story of 21st century American manufacturing, and I'd like to make a brief case for why you should mark this session as a priority during the conference.

What is it?

The co-founders of MegaBots, Gui Cavalcanti and Matt Oehrlein, will detail how they went from teens who loved playing video games featuring giant fighting robots to their journey making them, which culminated in a battle with Japan’s high-tech mech, Kuratas. It took several years of crowd-funding and partnering with leading American manufacturers to build the 16-foot-tall, 12-ton piloted robot, and they’ll walk through the trials and tribulations that came with manufacturing the winning robot, Eagle Prime. Jeff Falkowski will represent of Parker Hannifin, a primary partner that supplied hydraulic parts and expertise, along with an innovative vendor management system, will also be on the panel to explain their involvement.

Where:  IndustryWeek Manufacturing & Technology Conference & Expo at the Raleigh Convention Center, Room 302C

When: 2 p.m. on May 9th, 2018

How are giant fighting robots relevant to manufacturing?

There are plenty of lessons to learn from the upstart robotic engineering-based entrepreneurs: building a never-before-seen machine, with more than a dozen vendors on a tight budget, tighter deadline, and under pressure to deliver on the expectations set by a marketing video that went viral. That’s not to mention the mech had to be safe enough to get bulldozed or torn apart by another giant machine and still allow for the pilots, Cavalcanti and Oehrlein, to walk away.

"We're planning an event in which people are piloting multi-ton combat robots that are trying to destroy each other, without harming the pilots, and that takes a lot of careful consideration," MegaBots wrote to fans at one point after the duel with Japan was delayed.

The much ballyhooed Giant Robot Duel went down in an abandoned Japanese steel mill, and after getting knocked to the ground in the first round (while piloting their prototype, Iron Glory) the guys rallied and dismembered their opponent in the following match while driving Eagle Prime.

Following the exhibition, a more ambitious plan to turn the concept into a scaled-up version of Battle Bots stalled after a crowdfunding campaign failed to build the same momentum as the original. The most valuable lesson this panel will provide just may be hearing how the robotics company plans to get back up after this most recent tumble.

What’s the most exciting benefit?

The Q&A following the discussion. There will be plenty of time to ask the MegaBots and Parker Hannifin panelists specific questions about working on a project of this scale, how to effectively lead a small company with huge expectations, and how employers can make manufacturing appeal to a younger, discerning talent pool.

To get some ideas of what to ask, you can download our special ebook MegaBots: Making a Mechatronic Champion.

Closing Argument?

If you want to glimpse the future of U.S. manufacturing, Cavalcanti and Oehrlein are it. Both in their early 30s, they are bold, energetic, certainly not risk averse, and truly want to put something positive back into the world. Their whole goal with MegaBots was to start a sports league that would appeal to non-athletes and inspire more kids to go into STEM fields. The world may not be ready for such a unique concept, but as the digital world makes it easier than ever for us to innovate the physical one, we're going to see a lot more disruptive ideas coming from a generation just hitting its professional prime. You need to know where they are coming from so you can prepare for where we're all headed, a place with ideas even grander than giant fighting robots.


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