Christchurch start-up Invert Robotics will turn a profit in June, chief executive James Robertson forecasts.
Start-ups are usually vague or hopeful on this issue, but Robertson states it with conviction.
The company has come a long way since May, when he couldn’t say for sure when it would be profitable.
The firm, spun out from Canterbury University two years ago, won the 2012 Champion Canterbury small producer business award last month.
With support from start- up incubator PowerHouse, the firm has raised all the capital it needs for now and has started earning revenue from its climbing robots.
They can climb on stainless steel surfaces, which other robots cannot. That means they can inspect stainless steel tanks, such as those used in the dairy industry, for signs of cracking. Historically these inspections have been carried out by rope access technicians or scaffolders.
Invert Robotics charges a similar fee and using robots means less risk to human life, and less risk of contamination, which is especially important for infant formula producers, Robertson says.
“The opportunity cost of not hiring us is an unexpected shutdown in the middle of the year. It’s a risk management tool.”
An unexpected shutdown might cost a dairy company up to $2.5 million a day in revenue, he said.
“It’s very affordable in terms of managing that risk.”
The robots film as they climb and the reports they produce can be overlaid on those from previous years to show changes in cracks or stresses.
Invert Robotics launched its inspection services in June and signed its first major revenue-earning contract in July, to inspect Westland Dairy’s tall milk powder dryer.
The company is now in sales mode, securing annual maintenance contracts with dairy customers around New Zealand for the industry’s offseason in June and July next year.
One of the challenges for Invert Robotics would be mitigating its “bumpy” revenue stream.
The firm is focused on inspections for the dairy industry, but there has been interest from the food, petrochemicals, mining and paper pulping industries.
The company is not pursuing any of those possibilities yet as it is focused on doing one thing well, Robertson says.
The company has three staff but closer to June next year would be looking to hire robot operators.
Robertson says they’ll need “kids trained on PlayStation” because the robots are operated using similar controls.
The robots take only six weeks to make, and the firm uses local manufacturers to supply parts.
It outsources a lot of the construction, “but we keep the real secret stuff to ourselves”.
The firm is not looking to raise any more cash.
Building the robots was the largest expense, and it would not need many more to cope with its workload for next year. The firm was still securing those contracts and working out what its workload would be.
Invert Robotics has partnered with Southern Quality Assurance, an inspection services company with offices in Christchurch, Hamilton and Invercargill.
The hope was that this sort of partnership, either with SQA or other companies, would help Invert Robotics to quickly diversify the number of industries and locations it operated in.
Invert Robotics has just moved away from its powerHouse home on Creyke Rd, to new factory premises in Lincoln.