How Bright Machines Is Unlocking The Potential Of A $300 Billion Factory Automation Market

By Amit Chowdhry • Apr 7, 2023

Bright Machines is a software and robotics company whose applications focus on automation for the manufacturing industry. And the company was founded a few years ago by industry veterans to utilize a software-first approach to transform manufacturing. To learn more about the company, Pulse 2.0 interviewed Bright Machines CEO Gayle Sheppard.

Gayle Sheppard’s Background

Gayle Sheppard

Sheppard’s career has spanned over 30 years and she helped build high-performing teams and multi-discipline organizations that have the power to influence, shape and create a world in which we want to also participate as people.

“Although my work has always been technology-centric, the way we experience the world and interact in our teams is through great communication, transparency, and collaboration with a growth mindset at the core,” said Sheppard. “This is a fundamental value I possess that was reinforced during my time at Microsoft, and I now transfer to Bright Machines. From day one, my leadership philosophy:  has been, it’s not what you are. It’s what you do.”

Based on these beliefs, Sheppard led Microsoft’s global cloud expansion strategy, developed a leading sales organization in the Asia Pacific, steered a successful acquisition for Intel, and has been a vanguard of inclusion and diversity initiatives for women in technology – work that is just getting started. Prior to Bright Machines, Sheppard was a Corporate Vice President (CVP) at Microsoft from 2019 to 2022, focused on cloud and product business growth roles, and was an executive sponsor to highly visible customers and partners. On this journey, she was appointed Chief Technology Officer for Microsoft Asia, leading digital transformation, market growth, and unification of the region through center-of-excellence strategies.

To round out her professional career, Sheppard noted that she is a dedicated member of several boards, including the Board of Directors of Nutanix, a leader in Hybrid Cloud solutions, a Board Advisor to startups NovaSignal, a medical AI company, and AIXI, an industrial AI company, and a board advisor to Sonder Connect, a not-for-profit organization focused on powering female founders globally. She also advises Women in Data Science and is passionate about applying technology to assist in eliminating child trafficking.

Challenges Faced In Her Career

For the interview, I asked Sheppard about some of the challenges she faced in her career.

“I haven’t thought about facing challenges so much as seizing opportunities presented by hard problems to be solved. This includes creating high-performing, high-trust teams globally – across diverse cultures,” added Sheppard. “The glue has been to recognize the builders, the makers, and the creators within these teams and, with them together, being purpose driven with problem-solving at the core to unify teams and achieve great outcomes for customers, for communities, and for the company we serve.”

Customer Success Stories

What are some customer success stories Sheppard has seen in her career? She pointed out that there have been many, but she specifically cited government projects..

“A proud moment was working on the IED defeat program in Iraq by providing sensemaking tools capable of rapid one-shot, few-shot learning and finding the 5k of data that mattered in decision support in massive, disparate data sources,” Sheppard recalled. “In the past few years, the journey has been on helping governments and customers transform their businesses to address a future they imagine and wish to create. Helping these customers design and implement cloud and edge technology strategies, bringing skilling to communities to develop the next generation of cloud and edge architects and engineers, and building diverse organizations while doing so, have been at the center of my work.”

Decision To Become Bright Machines CEO

What attracted Sheppard to the role as CEO of Bright Machines? She is captivated by the possibilities today’s technology creates for the manufacturing industry.

“The customer value created, the depth of the business problem, and the chance to put all my prior experience to work while going deep into bringing AI-driven software to factories were all very intriguing,” Sheppard explained. “But what sealed the deal for me is the Bright Machines team – a group of experienced, passionate, and individually strong players who have impressed me from day one. In just under five years, they had accomplished so much, and their drive and dedication to the company’s vision are witnessed in every customer interaction.”

Sheppard was also thrilled to lead a company at the forefront of transforming a global industry critical to the health and growth of GDP. And with the potential to positively affect national and international economies, being “part of this future is a joy and personally fulfilling.”

Funding Details

Bright Machines has raised a total of $279 million in equity funding through a $179 million Series A in 2018 and another $100 million Series B in 2022. And to date the company deployed over 100 Bright Machines Microfactories across 13 countries and continues to accelerate growth, including expansion into high-demand industry verticals, and the development of new software and service offerings to complement its existing portfolio of products.

Total Addressable Market

I also asked Sheppard about the total addressable market that the company is pursuing. Projections have been showing a $300 billion global industrial automation market by 2026 with labor shortages and supply chain disruptions driving growth.

“We are well poised to capitalize on the opportunity by bringing software-defined intelligence to the factory floor, helping customers modernize manufacturing operations with speed, scalability, and flexibility,” Sheppard acknowledged.

Differentiation From The Competition

What differentiates Bright Machines from the competition?

“Many of the traditional automation companies offer highly customized hardware-based solutions that are expensive and inflexible, and the emerging software players are often focused on point solutions for specific tasks. Bright Machines takes an entirely different approach by offering the industry a full-stack software-first solution that provides visibility over a single line, multiple lines, factories, contract manufacturers, and geographies,” Sheppard revealed. “This visibility across critical metrics offers new insights and the decisions they support for our customers. As a result, our end-to-end assembly and inspection workflow is more flexible, scalable, and resilient than either of these categories of competitors.”

Future Goals

What are Sheppard’s future goals? “My goal for Bright Machines is to support current and future customers with innovation in design for automation through modern solutions that will change how and where they build products,” Sheppard replied. “I’m confident we have the right partners, team, technology, and market opportunity to make it happen!”