Waterloo-based DarwinAI has raised US$6 million to help it improve its AI-powered visual inspection system for the manufacturing of printed circuit boards (PCBs).

The funding – a seed-round extension – will enable the company to increase its workforce from 30 people to between 45 and 60 over the coming year. It also brings the total capital raised by the five-year-old company to about US$15.5 million.

Pointing to the global shortage of semiconductors and PCBs, DarwinAI CEO Sheldon Fernandez said the PCB-manufacturing industry is ripe for transformation.

“While we were not the first to take note of this fact, it occurred to us that no one was building a product that combined artificial intelligence, hardware, and software into a system that was easy to integrate into the electronics manufacturing process,” he said. “This is what intrigued us: by making it straightforward to deploy inspection units and analyze data, clients can install them in novel locations and enable completely new capabilities such as returned product verification, process auditing and retrospective quality inspection.”

With PCBs found in everything from microwaves to cameras, the global PCB industry is a US$75-billion market. Visual inspection during the manufacturing process is “notoriously difficult” due to different board sizes and complicated geometries, according to DarwinAI. 

“Visual inspection powered by artificial Intelligence is a key driver of Industry 4.0 and the growing need for manufacturers to ‘digitize’ their production processes,” the company said in a news release. “By collecting and harnessing data at multiple inspection points, organizations can unearth inefficiencies, perform root cause analysis, and improve their supply chain in a holistic and systematic manner.

“What’s more, qualified workers are hard to find and retain,” it added.

The US$6-million investment will enable DarwinAI to make its visual-quality inspection system more robust for mass-market deployment and allow the company to ramp up hardware production.

“This funding enables us to continue building advanced features for our enterprise clients as they deploy our technology throughout their North American facilities,” Fernandez said. “In addition to baseline quality improvements, the widespread adoption of our solution and the resulting digitization provides greater traceability and will serve as a launching point for broader Industry 4.0 efforts.”

The US$6-million investment was led by BDC Capital’s Deep Tech Venture Fund with participation from new and existing investors, the company said, adding that it extends previous rounds led by Honeywell Ventures, Obvious Ventures and Inovia Capital.

“DarwinAI’s ongoing mission and differentiated approach to disrupt manufacturing using AI speaks to the company’s ambition and technical prowess,” said Thomas Park, Lead Partner for BDC’s Deep Tech Venture Fund. “We are proud that this great Canadian company, led by top-tier AI technical and research teams, has commercialized its technology in such a formidable manner, and are thrilled to lead this funding round.”

DarwinAI, which aims to “instil trust in AI,” was founded in 2017 based on research led by co-founder and Chief Scientist Alexander Wong, a Canada Research Chair in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Waterloo.

In describing what sets DarwinAi apart from competitors, the company cites a solid core of intellectual property, proprietary optical and custom hardware, and one of the largest private and proprietary PCB datasets in the world.

DarwinAI was included in CB Insight's AI 100 list in 2021 and 2020 as one of the 100 most promising private AI companies in the world.