Fireside chat: Sustainability in manufacturing
Now more than ever before, consumers and companies are pushing for more sustainable practices. In manufacturing, this ranges from minimizing waste in prototyping to streamlining supply chains — and can often have benefits beyond sustainability by getting parts to their end destinations more quickly and efficiently. Join Bill King, Chief Scientist at Fast Radius, and Katie McClain, Partner at Energize Ventures, for a fireside chat about the driving factors behind sustainable manufacturing and what comes next for the industry.
Bill: Hi, I’m Bill King, Chief Scientist at Fast Radius, and with me today is Katie McClain, Partner at Energize Ventures. Hi, Katie. Would you please introduce yourself?
Katie: Thanks, Bill. Thanks for having me today. I’m a Partner at Energize Ventures. I’ve been working in sustainability for about 20 years now, and at Energize we invest in companies that have a digital solution to accelerate the energy transition and sustainable industries.
Bill: Tell us more about Energize.
Katie: Sure. So we are investing out of our second fund now. We had 14 companies that we invested in out of fund #1, and those companies range from digital solutions for cybersecurity, electric vehicles and mobility, renewable energy, and really the software layers that help to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy.
Bill: What is it about digital technologies that enable sustainability?
Katie: Sure, it’s interesting to be doing this now because historically, really the cost of things like renewable energy or electric vehicles was really the big barrier.
We’ve seen the costs of the hardware itself come down so dramatically recently that it’s really now the time for software to play a role. So what that software can do is help to reduce the soft costs. And so when you look at building out a large solar project, for example, how do you make the design process more efficient? How do you make the permitting process more efficient? Those are the kind of solutions that we’re looking for and are really excited about.
We’re seeing a lot of innovation happening around how you get them to market better, faster, and cheaper.
Bill: Can you tell me about how software and data give people information about the sustainability choices that they make?
Katie: Sure, it’s interesting, you see a lot of corporates making these big, bold sustainability net-zero goals and plans. Really then, it’s how do you implement that? What does that mean for these big companies?
And so we’re seeing a lot of startups coming to the market that their specialty is helping corporates map out their supply chain, for example. Where are their materials coming from? What are those emissions associated with those materials and building their projects? So we’re seeing a lot of innovation.
Bill: How did you meet Fast Radius?
Katie: It’s a great story. So, we’re a Chicago fund. Obviously, Fast Radius is located here in Chicago as well. And we saw the announcement for the series B. We thought “huh, they’re a company here in our backyard we should get to know.” And so we called up Lou and the team and walked over to the office, which was fun for us, we don’t get to walk to a lot of our investments and just got to know the team.
We were really impressed with the work that Fast Radius is doing and really walking through the facility saw the future of what manufacturing will look like. It was really neat to see how you can use software to design differently, to make things differently, and that’s clearly where we’re going to head on the manufacturing side.
Bill: Do you think there’s an appetite in the marketplace for sustainable manufacturing and sustainable supply chains?
Katie: Absolutely, I think on the supply chain front, we’re seeing a lot of pressure from a couple of different angles. You’re seeing parts aren’t making it to where they’re supposed to be making it so. They’re not on time. They’re getting lost in the supply chain. Everything is blocked up and backed up. I think that will be a big push for a sustainable supply chain.
And then you get the additional benefit of the emissions reduction. I don’t know that you’ll see changes in supply chain just based on the emissions. I think you’ll see it more from “I need to get my parts today” and what does that look like, how can I ensure that I’m going to get my parts when I need them and where I need them. I think that will be the bigger driver than sustainability itself today, but you’ll see a lot of additional benefits and then you’ll see a lot of companies — once they can see how those parts are getting there and where they’re coming from — jumping in to do things differently as well.
Bill: From your perspective, what is the sustainability story for Fast Radius?
Katie: Yeah, it’s really interesting because again, we invest in software solutions accelerating the energy transition and the parts that Fast Radius is making are actually what can help to enable that transition to happen faster.
One of the other things that we find really exciting about Fast Radius is the microfactory. Now, you can take parts, make them closer to the customer, get them to the customer faster. You can take away some of the supply chain issues that everybody is seeing today. And then you also reduce those emissions that aren’t needed for transportation anymore.
Then on the design side for Fast Radius, the reduction of the wasted materials is a really big push.
Bill: From the customer perspective, as the customer interacts with Fast Radius, what are some of the sustainability benefits that come with that interaction?
Katie: I think that the customers get to look at different materials that maybe they didn’t have the opportunity to try out before. What’s really interesting about Fast Radius from a sustainability perspective in the design phase is that customers can be trying out new materials, they can be iterating new designs, without actually having to make the product itself.
That can all be done online in a very fast and efficient way. Whereas before, you’d have to actually make the prototype, try out the prototype, and there’s just a lot of waste in that from time and materials and money.
Bill: Katie, thank you so much for being with us today.
Katie: Thanks for having me, Bill, it was a pleasure.