Industry: Industrial & Equipment; Contract Manufacturing
Products: Machine vision systems and software
Founder and President Tom Brennan catalyzes efficiency and intelligence for manufacturers with machine vision.
After he graduated from Princeton in 2008, Brennan worked as a retail analyst before starting Artemis Vision. He studied machine vision in college and saw potential for a startup. He named it after the Greek deity, Artemis: "She's the goddess of the hunt, and has very perceptive, acute vision."
He moved to Colorado with his nascent company soon after its founding in 2010. "I love to ski, I love the mountains," he says. "[Denver] also gets you a big city with a big airport that can get you wherever you need."
Manufacturing has been the focus since day one. "The real viable market for machine vision for the past 20 years is on the factory floor -- where there are definable, repeatable problems and big costs associated with those problems," says Brennan. "To manufacture in places like Colorado, it definitely requires the best technology. Machine vision is a tool in that toolbox."
Medical and pharmaceuticals are among Artemis' largest markets, says Brennan, "because the cost of screwing up is high." Building materials is another big target, he adds. "It's largely scrap-driven. They want to minimize scrap."
For most manufacturers, it's about catalyzing productivity while minimizing mistakes. "A lot of people think of [machine vision] just in terms of quality inspection," says Brennan. "We don't like to describe it that way."
He continues, "The biggest thing, you have an enormous amount of data that's being generated. You can go back and make your processes more efficient. . . . Without it, you're relying on sampling." Not only does checking one out of every 100 parts require labor, it doesn't see the big picture.
"In the world of Lean manufacturing and just-in-time delivery, when you're setting up a relationship with a supplier through some manufacturer, you've really got to have systems in place to make sure the part is right the first time -- and every time," says Brennan. "There's much less slack in the system."
He adds, "If you're going to play with the league where you're supplying the big manufacturers, it's really tough not to have it. . . . You're sort of rolling the dice, and they're not very understanding."
It follows that Artemis is fairly sector-agnostic. "As Lean and just-in-time trends continue, anything that's high-volume and cost-pressured is going to become more and more of a target," Brennan explains.
"As things get Lean through a supply chain . . . the cost of quality soars," he adds. That's due to "the high cost of not doing it right." A faulty $1 power-steering belt in a car rolling off the assembly line could be a $1,000 problem.
Artemis is building an "inline dimensioning system" for a manufacturer that makes inserts for windmill blades as part of the supply chain for such companies as Vestas and GE. "It's got to be dimensioned just right, because when they put those inserts in, they don't want anything to shift anywhere," says Brennan. "A lot of the efficiency of the windmill is having very even blades in which nothing inside ever moves."
The system utilizes a camera and lasers to make sure the inserts are a perfect match. "The camera measures dimensions much more accurately than a tape measure," says Brennan.
Another recent project: a scanning tunnel with automatic logo recognition to identify packages without barcodes for a large national retailer. "Retailers have contracts with vendors that will specify what they accept as compliant packaging, basically a bunch of 'Thou shalt not do this' mandates," says Brennan. "Every retailer has a certain number of vendors that are not compliant. They end up playing Whac-A-Mole with non-compliant vendors. . . . It's a huge thorn in their side."
Brennan won't disclose clients, but says that they are primarily "large manufacturers." Custom machine vision systems typically cost $50,000 to $250,000.
Artemis' 5,600-square-foot facility in central Denver is home to engineering, assembly, and programming. The company also has a pair of sales offices in Charlotte and Dallas that offer some customer support.
The supply chain includes vendors that provide cameras, lenses, control panels, and conveyor belts. Brennan says he contracts with several local manufacturers and machine shops; Black Eagle Engineering in Denver is one such partner.
Growth has been swift of late, as Artemis' revenue has eclipsed $1 million for three years running, as Brennan eyes "the next milestone."
Challenges: Gearing up to meet the needs of multinational customers. "Our biggest challenge is currently scaling up our growth," says Brennan. "We've gotten in some big accounts and they have expectations. We're able to meet those, but it's a stretch to make this leap. They want us to support them everywhere. We need to have the supplier relationships in place to do that."
He continues, "We need to support their production footprint. We can get anything around Canada and the U.S. easily, but most of our customers are manufacturing things in local markets." That means Artemis will be looking at expanding its footprint as well. "We're probably going to have sales support offices around the world," says Brennan.
Opportunities: One big opportunity: moving into more off-the-shelf systems that can be turned into repeat sales or multiple installations. "We've started to branch out," says Brennan. "A lot of our customers are looking at a problem around the world."
Brennan says Artemis' proprietary visionWrangler() software is also driving growth. It offers complete inspection, tracking, and reporting for standalone production systems or global networks. "Some of our customers have discovered they need a way to store this data and make it easily recallable," he explains. "They often need to ship the data before they ship the part."
Needs: "Capital and workforce and more space, probably in that order," says Brennan. "We've been working with our bank to find an investor. We've been looking to raise about $3.3 million."
That injection of funding would allow Artemis to hire additional programmers, sales and support professionals, and sales engineers with a background working with large manufacturers. "Companies aren't looking for patchwork solutions," notes Brennan. "They're looking at: 'How do I build better widgets?'"