Capturing this week's zeitgeist
From Alison Sider in “How Southwest Airlines Melted Down”
Upgrading Southwest’s technology has been a yearslong endeavor. Before it grew from a small player to a national and then international airline, Southwest didn’t need the same kinds of commercial platforms that rivals used, and developed many of its own systems instead. As Southwest grew and took on more complicated operations, such as flying outside the U.S., that has changed. SkySolver, an off-the-shelf piece of software that Southwest has customized and updated, was nearing the end of its life, the airline said.
“We can’t be our size and scope and have a lack of tools,” Mr. Jordan (Southwest Airlines’ CEO) told employees.
This week's most influential Industry 4.0 media
How Robotic Sewing Experiment Got Levi’s Attention
The teams’ early work integrated sewing machines with collaborative robot systems and designed an end effector capable of lifting and controlling a single large ply of fabric. Recent projects have built upon these developments to be able to robotically conduct more advanced operations like hemming, fabric fusing, pocket setting and curved stitches. The two firms then turned to Sewbo, a company that wants to address a common problem that prevents robotics from meshing with apparel production—the technology often has difficulty trying to handle limp, flexible or floppy fabrics, and thus can’t start the sewing process.
Because the machines are also expensive, according to Zornow, the upfront investment and maintenance costs are also high. To make matters tougher, the downtime can be substantial, he said. “Consequentially, you sort of find this paradigm where although a lot of the tools do exist, they’re not really getting used,” Zornow said. Rather than teach robots how to handle cloth, Sewbo temporarily stiffens the fabric with a nontoxic polymer, enabling off-the-shelf industrial robots to build garments from rigid cloth, just as if they were working with sheet metal. Zornow told Rivet that the use of the stiffening agent was the “big breakthrough” that made the technology innovation possible.
Digitise and dematerialise: Divergent CEO Kevin Czinger on supplying automotive structures to the world's biggest brands
The manufacture of lithium-ion phosphate battery cells at Coda’s facility in China relies heavily on coal-fired power. And because of that, ‘well over’ 200 kilogrammes (kg) of Co2 per kilowatt hour (kWh) is being produced in battery manufacture. At this time, kg of Co2 per kWh is the most important metric on Czinger’s mind and the cogs whirring in his head only intensify as he does the workings out to reveal that these batteries and EVs aren’t having enough impact.
Post Coda, Czinger educated himself on lifecycle assessments, figuring only a holistic approach would return the energy emission reduction that is required in an era of climate emergency. He also came to realise that the way automotive structures are manufactured, and the costs required to do so, need optimising – particularly as EVs, hybrid cars and internal combustion engine vehicles (and all the tooling and fixturing to come with them) continue to emerge. “The amortisation period, the competition, the driving down of values, you’re looking and saying, ‘this is environmentally and economically broken,’” Czinger says.
Czinger and his team developed the Divergent Adaptive Production System (DAPS) to ‘digitise and dematerialise’ automotive production and provide the technical competency for the company, in time, to become a Tier One supplier to the automotive industry. What Divergent is willing to talk about, however, is how its DAPS workflow works. Its engineers start by understanding the static stiffness targets of a structure, then the typical load cases it will be exposed to, then what its boundary conditions are, then its crash requirements, durability requirements and dynamic stiffness response requirements. This information is the input for the Divergent design algorithm, which is where the company enters the concept phase. Here, Divergent gives the OEM ‘optionality’ to, for example, reduce stiffness in a certain area of the structure to reduce mass. After the concept phase comes the detailed design phase, and after that, it’s time to print the part.
Inside Rivian and Ford’s Plants, as They Race to Build EVs Faster
How the industrial metaverse will transform manufacturing
Lincoln Electric Holdings Inc. is one of the world’s largest makers of welding equipment, with more than 42 manufacturing locations in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America — and its business depends on making sure enough welders are certified to use its equipment. For that reason, it felt it needed a school to train workers — but traditional training was slow, expensive and cumbersome. So it turned to technologies more often associated with consumer gaming: virtual reality and the metaverse. Now, trainees don VR headsets to do virtual welds, and they get immediate feedback in an immersive environment on how straight their pipe or sheet metal welds are. If they mess up, they can simply reset the virtual system instantly and keep getting better, and they don’t have to waste materials in repeated attempts. Once they’ve learned to do it right, they apply those skills in actual welding using Lincoln’s gear. The result: Lincoln Electric discovered that it could train welders in 23% less time. And more skilled welders means a larger potential market for its welding gear. “Virtual reality can reduce time while increasing the proficiency of training programs,” Randal Kenworthy, senior partner at technology consulting firm West Monroe, which has Lincoln as a client, told SiliconANGLE.
In order to see the benefits of training in the metaverse, Lincoln Electric and Iowa State University compared two groups, one that did entirely traditional hands-on training and one that did half hands-on and half VR welding. The results showed that welders who did the VR training had significantly higher levels of learning and team interaction, with a 41.6% increase in overall certification over the traditional group. And besides the 23% less time spent in overall training than the traditional group, using VR also greatly reduced training costs by $243 per student, because they could start over each time without wasting materials or losing time reassembling.
In the past four years, VR training has become even more prevalent across manufacturing — for example in automotive and aviation, where workers repeat rote steps on factory floors or even interact with robots. BMW uses VR to train multiple employees at once. Volkswagen AG formed a global initiative with 10,000 employees. Aviation manufacturing giant The Boeing Co. cut training time by 75% with VR. Aeronautics companies also use metaverse technologies to train pilots in the air, spurred by a pilot shortage that began with the pandemic. Loft Dynamics AG has been using VR simulators to train helicopter operators in the U.S., cutting air-time training by as much as 60%.
World's Largest Pasta Production Plant a Showcase for Integrated Robotics and Sustainable Distribution
Barilla’s flagship pasta manufacturing plant in Parma, Italy boasts a 430,000 square foot distribution facility – fully automated, lights-out, 24/7/365 operation – equipped with120 laser-guided vehicles, 37 robotic systems including high-density AS/RS, palletizers, labelers and stretch wrappers, handling 320,000 tons of pasta annually. Designed, manufactured and installed by E80 Group, this distribution facility is not only an example of excellence in integrated robotics systems, but also a showpiece for energy and environmental efficiency.
To realize such an integrated-system and energy-efficient strategy at Barilla’s Parma distribution facility, E80 Group (E80) was selected to design, manufacture and install a solution. E80 is an Italian-based multinational leader specializing in creating automated solutions for companies that produce fast-moving consumer goods, particularly in the food, beverage and tissue sectors. It has been a leading manufacturer of integrated-robotics systems for distribution facilities for almost three decades, specifically laser-guided vehicles (LGVs), robotic palletizers and other end-of-line robotic systems. The company’s latest technology advances have made LGVs particularly attractive for sustainability and reduced energy usage.
Who Makes America's Semi-Trucks
High tech meets agriculture in Denmark
The Danish company Nordic Harvest runs Europe’s biggest vertical farm in Denmark. Vertical farming is either the worst method of farming in terms of CO2 emissions, or it’s the best. That all depends on the type of energy used to power the farm – and on the technology used to run it. Denmark sees greenhouse production as a big part of its future. Not only can it feed its own population at less cost and in a more energy-efficient manner, but it can also export some of the technology and know-how. A project, called Greenhouse Industry 4.0, was established to bring in some of the latest technology already used in other industries and apply it to greenhouse production.
Anders Riemann, founder and director of Nordic Harvest, says in a company blog post that the only reason they haven’t moved beyond production of just lettuce, herbs and cabbage is that these are the only plants that are profitable to grow with vertical farming. It is not economically feasible to use vertical farming to grow tomatoes, for example, because it takes too much time and effort for the plant to grow leaves and stems, which cannot be sold. Only after a long period of photosynthesis can tomato plants start bearing the fruit that can be sold. It’s not only technological development that will determine what makes sense to produce in the future. A whole new ecosystem needs to develop around new methods of farming. For example, seeds will be bred so they are suitable for vertical farming.
Weekly mergers, partnerships, and funding events across industrial value chains
Scrubbing wind turbines with robots nets Aerones $39M
Aerones, a robotics startup that scrubs and inspects wind turbines so humans don’t have to, secured $38.9 million in fresh funding this month from dozens of undisclosed investors, TechCrunch has learned.
Wind turbines produce clean energy, but their towers tend to leak oil, which can corrode blades, increase wind resistance and pollute the ground below. Aerones’ remote-operated robots clean towers and blades by blasting them with a liquid detergent, while funnels beneath the blades collect the mucked-up liquid for reuse. The robots also inspect turbine systems with cameras and ultrasound scanners.
Dutch thermoplastic composite pipe producer Strohm bags €15M
Netherlands-based Strohm, a hydrogen pipeline company, announced on Thursday, December 15, that it has raised €15M in a fresh round of funding. According to a statement from the Dutch company, this is the largest funding round in the company’s 15-year history. Strohm’s €15M investment includes a €10M commitment from ING Corporate Investments (a 100 per cent subsidiary of ING Bank), as well as a further €5M co-investment from existing investors Shell Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, Evonik Venture Capital and HydrogenOne Capital Growth Plc (HydrogenOne).
Strohm says it will use the funds in accelerating the growth of its manufacturing operations and increasing capacity to deliver its TCP solutions to offshore green hydrogen and carbon capture and utilisation and storage (CCUS) markets. Besides, the money will also help the company’s clients in achieving their net-zero goals.