Robotics firm Wootzano is to expand its headquarters in the North East of England after expanding into the United States.

The startup, which featured on our FactoryTech 50 ranking this year, says it is planning to move to larger premises at NETPark in Sedgefield, County Durham as global sales continue to rise, driven by demand for its unique fresh produce packaging machine technology. 

Wootzano builds AI-enabled robots embedded with a patented electronic skin that allows the sophisticated machines to handle soft, perishable produce such as grapes and vine tomatoes with care and precision, without causing bruising or damage.

Its intelligent ‘Avarai’ robots, assembled at Wootzano’s laboratories in Explorer 2, on NETPark, are capable of moving, snipping and packing delicate fruit and vegetables and are fitted with vision systems to determine the colour, weight and quality of fresh produce. 

Wootzano’s chief operating officer Jesse Opoku said its robots can reduce human labour requirements on a fruit packing line by up to 60 per cent and help customers achieve cost reductions of up to 30%.

“At a time when the fruit packing labour market is very challenging across Europe and North America, compounded by Brexit, Covid, and the movement of people, Wootzano’s robots are providing a niche solution using game-changing, world-class technology that has been developed here on NETPark,” he said.

Wootzano was founded in 2018 by Dr Atif Syed, an inventor with a background in electronics, nanotechnology and robotics who obtained an engineering and electronics PhD from the University of Edinburgh. 

He developed the robot’s cutting-edge, electronic skin with human-like sensation capabilities while based at the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) on NETPark. A move to offices and lab space in Explorer 2 allowed Wootzano to scale up and become fully commercialised. 

Wootzano’s robots are used by pack houses and farmers in the UK to package produce for supermarkets. In August, the company made a move into the US, where its Avarai robots are used for packaging grapes in California. 

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Wootzano hopes to significantly increase sales throughout the fertile Central Valley region, which supplies about 25% of North America’s fruits and nuts, and expand into more states. 

At its NETPark headquarters, Wootzano has a diverse workforce predominantly working in machine learning, robotics, mechanics, software and electronics. Opoku, who has a PhD in Electrical and Electronic Engineering with a master’s degree in Nanoelectronics, said the firm has longer term plans to expand into larger facilities on the science park’s Phase 3 development.

“NETPark has proven to be a great location for the team, and we are proud to be the leading robotics business in the North East,” he added. “A move to larger premises here will allow us to expand operations while also developing new applications for our unique technology.” 

Sarah Slaven, Managing Director of Business Durham, the business support service for Durham County Council,  said: “Wootzano is the perfect example of a highly innovative business that has flourished on NETPark, where it has had the support and resources it has needed in its infancy to ambitiously scale up and commercialise, in order to infiltrate the global marketplace.”

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