Friday, 12 Aug 2022

Scythe Robotics wants to build automated mowers at a new Longmont factory

Longmont-based Scythe Robotics needs more space to handle about 7,000 reservations it has received for its automated robotic lawn mowers that landscaping contractors across the country are clamoring to get their hands on.

After weighing whether to use offshore production or build a factory in either Florida, Texas or Colorado, the startup decided to stay put in Longmont. Helping seal that decision was an award of $372,000 from the state Strategic Fund that the Colorado Economic Development Commission approved Wednesday morning. That amount could have been larger, but it was limited by the matching funds Longmont provided.

“We have really transitioned and are starting to ramp production. This grant is a recognition of that. We want to stick around here in Longmont,” said CEO Jack Morrison, who founded Scythe Robotics with Isaac Roberts and Davis Foster in 2017.

The company has built 20 of its robotic mowers and hopes to build another 200 of its fifth-generation model by the end of next year, Morrison said. Once it gets a 50,000-square-foot facility completed, it will be off to the races.

“We are aiming to make 10,000 machines a year by that point, so we can satisfy demand,” Morrison said.

Between manufacturing, engineering, sales and administrative positions, the company is looking to create 394 net new jobs paying an average annual wage of $116,881, which is 157% of the average for Boulder County. About half of those jobs will be in manufacturing. The company currently has 37 employees, including 28 in Colorado.

Landscapers have long struggled to find enough workers willing to take on the physically demanding work. Many have relied on crews from Mexico and elsewhere, but bringing in seasonal workers on temporary visas has become much more difficult, and the pandemic didn’t help.

Mowing robots offer a way to automate more mundane tasks so the fewer workers available can take on more interesting and specialized assignments. But the machines are complicated and require many more sensors, cameras and safeguards than those robotic vacuums free-roaming in homes. The consequences of their failure to recognize obstacles, whether it is a rabbit or a sprinkler head or bike path with heavy traffic, are more severe and potentially catastrophic.

Even if the mowers could be built more cheaply overseas, they weigh 1,300 pounds, which makes shipping costs problematic. The numerous supply-chain issues that arose during the pandemic also showed the importance of keeping manufacturing close by, although the company will still need to source key components overseas, such as batteries, chips and sensors. To the greatest degree possible, Scythe Robotics is trying to keep its supply chain domestic.

“We think we are going to be more cost-effective building them here in Longmont. It is about keeping the manufacturing and engineering teams closer together so we can learn together and get better as we scale,” Morrison said.

The commission also awarded $164,284 in Job Growth Incentive Tax Credits to a Bay Area company that uses data, machine learning and artificial intelligence tools to help manufacturing plants and real estate professionals streamline their operations. Project Our Nation is looking at Denver, the Bay Area or Ann Arbor, Mich. to establish its headquarters. It expects to create 36 new jobs paying an average annual wage of $75,205.

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