19 May 2020

Our investment in Arculus: bringing modular production to manufacturing

It was only a few short years ago that Fabian Rusitschka, a core member of the production strategy team at Audi, found a kindred spirit in Max Stähr while undertaking an apprenticeship at the car manufacturer. Later finalising their PhD theses in a remote mountain hut, Fabian revealed that his dream in life was to revolutionise the way that cars were made, and later every other manufactured item on the planet.

The problem Fabian saw was this: Almost every company that sells a physical product today uses a production line. The scale at which this is done is gargantuan, as manufacturing is one of the world’s biggest industries, with an annual value estimated at $8.3 trillion and a workforce of 300 million (according to Brookings). Yet these production lines haven’t changed much since Henry Ford developed the techniques of mass production in the early 20th century. They’re run with conveyor belts and rigid processes that are designed upfront.

This linear process can’t keep up as demand for customisation increases and innovation accelerates. Different units take different amounts of time at various stages of the process, and the result is that the whole process becomes as slow as its slowest step. For an industry this large, the inbuilt inefficiencies this implies are enormous.

Less than a year after talking to Max, the two had founded a company, arculus (they prefer all lowercase!), to tackle this dream. Fabian brought some of the most accomplished young talent he knew in the industry along for the journey, including Frank Hempel, a software whiz Fabian had known for years.

At Atomico we’ve been excited for several years now about the upcoming and inevitable digital transformation of manufacturing (see our take here on this area — colloquially called “Industry 4.0”). Our research indicated that arculus is the clear thought leader and innovator behind an overdue shift in production processes from linear to dynamic: “Modular Production”.

arculus transforms the one-dimensional assembly line into scalable, flexible assembly modules, loosely coupled via real-time control software. Optionally this can utilise an in-house autonomous mobile robot they have developed, known as an “Arculee”. Instead of a single line with a conveyor belt, a factory enabled with arculees is made up of modules in which individual tasks are performed and the robots move objects between these modules automatically based on which stations are free at that moment.

That is why we are proud today to announce our lead role in arculus’s series A investment round. As part of this new partnership, Atomico Partner Siraj Khaliq joins the board and will work closely with Fabian, Frank, Max, and respected seed round investor & board member Robert Lacher.

We’re excited to join the arculus team on their journey, and look forward to the day when the cars that transport us and products we use are created (and are better value) thanks to arculus’s modular production infrastructure.