Manufacturing plants or factories take raw material inputs and add value through a sequence of unit processes before shipping a product. Now, this process must follow a recipe. There are a series of instructions for products such as cars; in those instructions, a list of parameter values, specific temperature for iron melting, specific pressure for mold casting… and the list goes on.
These factories, for instance, those in the auto space, do all of the quality inspections, in-line and end-of-line, to ensure the cars are in good shape; if not, they are scrapped or reworked, becoming lost capacity and effort for the factories. Employees hired to keep these processes in check can make mistakes; thus, such factories also rely on software to evaluate their experiences, change parameters if needed and ensure that the car reaches the end-of-line as high quality as possible.
DataProphet is one such company. The South African firm, founded by Frans Cronje and Daniel Schwartzkopff, provides AI-as-a-service software in the manufacturing sector and is announcing the completion of its $10 million Series A round.
Cronje, the company’s CEO, told TechCrunch on a call that DataProphet’s focus on providing end-to-end prescriptive AI for manufacturing plants to improve their yield started in 2017. The company provides prescriptive advice and suggested changes to manufacturers’ recipes to avoid making the defects that cause their products to be scrapped or reworked. The company said its flagship AI solution, PRESCRIBE, has helped its clients experience a significant and practical impact on the factory floor, reducing the cost of non-quality by an average of 40%.
Manufacturers use DataProphet at different points on their digitization journeys; data collation and centralization are crucial to kickstart them. The first product in DataProphet’s stack, CONNECT, enables manufacturers to augment their data infrastructure and bring data from where they’ve been using it for compliance in the manufacturing space to a point where they can use it for optimization. The company currently ingests about 100 million unique data points daily on its platform. With this data, PRESCRIBE can make informed decisions to reduce defects, scrap, or non-quality processes and improve manufacturers’ yield.
Cronje says DataProphet employs a hands-on approach, where it continuously monitors data streams and pushes advice and feedback to the operating floor, ensuring that its clients follow them. And in cases where clients don’t follow the advice DataProphet provides, the company engages with the customer to understand their concerns.
“Usually, when we talk about reducing defects, scrap or rework by an average, we do a reduction of about 40% when the customer follows our advice,” said Cronje, who has a degree in management consultancy and statistics. “It’s a wonderful application of AI and manufacturing because it’s a deep application of the theory to realize practical, meaningful impact for our customers and their yield.”
The 50-person team serves clients mainly from the automotive, semiconductor, rubber and foundry industries, deploying its solution to manufacturing plants based in Japan, China, India, Europe, South Africa, the U.S and South America. Some of its competitors — which are international, not local — include Braincube and Seebo.
“I think the way we differentiate ourselves is that we approach this from a holistic factory control where implementing our PRESCRIBE solution can enable a customer to realize this full site optimization,” commented Cronje on DataProphet’s unique selling proposition. “And there’s a second aspect: The solution we’ve got to enable customers to realize yield is an end-to-end prescriptive solution. What I mean by that is that it has the capacity to integrate some of the lowest data levels in factories. And we don’t see that in our competitors.” The chief executive also mentioned that, unlike other players, DataProphet doesn’t depend on its clients to have employees with data science capabilities, which defeats the purpose of providing an AI-as-a-service platform that thrives on organizing data infrastructure itself.
Knife Capital led the Series A round. The South African venture capital firm had initially invested in DataProphet in early 2018 via its KNF Ventures Section 12J funding vehicle. This latest round is the first investment made by Knife Fund III, the targeted $50 million fund it launched last year to support the international expansion of its portfolio companies.
“Accelerating the international expansion of DataProphet, given the leading nature of its technology, is exactly the mandate of our new Fund — and it couldn’t be more fitting for our first investment to be a follow-on investment from our existing cohort,” comments Keet van Zyl, co-founder and partner at Knife Capital on the investment.
Other investors in the round include South Africa’s IDC and Norican, one of the world’s largest metal surface preparation and finishing equipment providers. Per a statement, DataProphet says the infused capital will help it invest further in its industrial AI product set while facilitating targeted growth in selected geographies and manufacturing verticals.
“This is where we’ll be applying a lot of this fund: to support international sales,” added Cronje. “And they’ll support functions needed in markets away from the major engineering hub, South Africa. So part of the investment will be used to develop a European sales office and subsequently a U.S.-based sales office to support customers and partners abroad.”