Challenging a Century of Tradition: Unboxed Assembly
Capturing this week's zeitgeist
From “China Finally Has a Rival as the World’s Factory Floor”
Western companies are desperately looking for a backup to China as the world’s factory floor, a strategy widely termed “China plus one.”
Many countries are competing to be the “plus one,” with Vietnam, Mexico, Thailand and Malaysia in particular contention.
Right on cue, “Cisco to start manufacturing in India, eyes $1 billion production capacity” with “the plans are aimed at supporting supply-chain resiliency, as well as reducing lead times, and elevating customer experience.”
This week's most influential Industry 4.0 media
🚙🏭 Tesla Rethinks the Assembly Line
Engineers at Tesla Inc. have developed a new process that they claim will reduce EV production costs by 50 percent, while reducing factory space by 40 percent. The “unboxed” system was outlined during the automaker’s recent Investor Day event at its new factory in Austin, TX. Tesla believes that its more efficient production method will lead to a paradigm shift in the way that vehicles are mass-produced. It focuses on eliminating linear assembly lines and producing more subassemblies out of large castings.
“The traditional way of making a vehicle is to stamp it, build a body-in-white, paint it and do final assembly,” says Lars Moravy, vice president of vehicle engineering at Tesla. “These individual shops are dictated by the boundaries that exist in auto factories. If something goes wrong in final assembly, you block the whole line and you end up with buffering in between.”
“We simplified Model Y assembly with a structural battery, where the battery is [also] the floor,” says Moravy. “We put the front seats and the interior module on top of the battery pack, and we bring it up through a big open hole [in the bottom of the body]. This allows us to do things in parallel and reduce the final assembly line by about 10 percent.
“Unboxed assembly is also known as ‘delayed 3D,’” adds Mwangi. “In other words, you stay in 2D as much as possible and go to 3D as late as possible in the vehicle production process. That means you have open access to the majority of your work areas, which gives you an opportunity to simplify operations. It also lends itself to simpler automation, because robots don’t need to work around a shell.”
🏭 Dark factories, bright future?
An automatic (or ‘dark’) factory can be defined as ‘a place where raw materials enter, and finished products leave with little or no human intervention’. One of the earliest descriptions of the automatic factory in fiction was Philip K. Dick’s 1955 short story ’Autofac’, a dystopian and darkly comic scenario in which entirely automated factories threaten to use up the planet’s resources, by continuing to produce things that people don’t need.
Dark factories are a part of the global digital transformation and move to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which is being driven by increasingly capable robotics and automation, AI and 5G connectivity. In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits, challenges, and how companies can move forward with this concept.
It’s also important to consider that fully automated factories have been tried previously, with varying degrees of success. There are a few cautionary tales; IBM tried its own in the 1980s, but closed it because it wasn’t able to respond to changing market needs. Apple also built such a plant in the 1980s, but closed it in the early 90s – likely because the plant was unable to deal with increasingly smaller components. More recently, Tesla walked back some of the automation at its Fremont CA facility, when machines failed to meet its ambitious manufacturing targets. This shows us the importance of flexibility and forward planning.
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🦾 Renault Retrofits Robots at Refactory
The robots that retired from Renault’s plants in Sandouville, France, Maubeuge, France, and Douai are sent to the retrofit unit, which is run by Francesetti Nathalie, head of the tooling department at the plant. In the past, each plant retrofitted its own machines. Now, the Refactory revamps them all so the automaker can reap the benefit of a specialist team pooling their expertise in a dedicated workshop. By 2023, the team will double in size and have eight technicians and a scheduler.
By retrofitting robots, Renault has reduced investments in new projects and repair costs. This operation has also shortened supply chains, which are getting longer and longer for new robots. Ultimately, Renault’s goal is to retrofit more than 170 robots per year to support the company’s shift to producing electric vehicles. The operation will save the automaker some 3 million euros per year.
🖨️ The Transformative Power of Innovations in Additive Materials
The slow but steady ascent of additive manufacturing (AM) into mainstream production environments is changing how products of all kinds are designed, made, and delivered. The evolution of advanced materials is further elevating the industry by empowering end-use parts and products with improved physical properties for greater utilization at lower costs as well as faster delivery and less waste.
Many, if not all, of the most popular additive materials can be enhanced through refinement of polymer formulations and compounding processes. Highly specialized skills in controlling the morphology and particle crystallization are needed, requiring chemists and scientists to create and iterate new material formulas.
In the world of AM, breakthroughs in polymer innovations are being driven by the demand for more affordable, lighter and higher-modulus composites as well as the ability to print materials that previously were too difficult to integrate into additive processes Additionally, the incorporation of value-added attributes to existing polymers is ushering in a new class of engineered materials with special functionality, such as flame-retardant or resistant attributes; reinforced materials containing glass fiber, as well as mineral fillers, carbon fiber, or nanotubes.
The inclusion of conductive attributes also is on the rise to address Electrostatic Dissipative (ESD), EMI-shielded or electrically conductive materials. The need for lubricated materials also is vital to reduce part friction and wear, along with the addition of UV-stable materials to reinforce part longevity. Many of these attributes are designed to extend the usefulness of materials for traditional manufacturing and 3D-printing applications, and vice versa.
The Making of the Impossible Statue
☀️ Utility-scale solar installation goes automated
Terabase announced it is launching an automated utility-scale solar installation system, dubbed Terafab. The company describes the service as an automated “field factory” that can double installation productivity. The installation system makes use of digital twins, logistics software, an on-site digital command center, a field-deployed automated assembly line, and installation rovers that can operate 24/7.
“We successfully field-tested Terafab last year, building 10 MW of a 400 MW site in Texas. Today’s launch is the next step forward to rapid commercial scale-up,” said Matt Campbell, chief executive officer and co-founder of Terabase. Terabase has partnered with developer Intersect Power, engineering, procurement and construction firm Signal Energy, tracking hardware provider NEXtracker, and solar panel manufacturer First Solar to develop the Terafab facility. Terafab is pegged for commercial deployment starting in Q3 2023.
♻️ Carbon Capture Is Hard. This Plant Shows Why.
Only one commercial power plant in North America is currently operating with carbon capture. Its experience hasn’t been as smooth—or climate-friendly—as proponents of the rules might hope. That plant, the Boundary Dam Power Station Unit 3 in Canada’s Saskatchewan province, turns locally mined coal into enough electricity for 100,000 homes.
The unit is designed to operate until 2044, but Boundary Dam’s owner, SaskPower, says the benefits of operating a coal-fired power unit using carbon-capture technology are becoming less apparent. “Utility operators in the United States will be in the same boat as we are,” said Rupen Pandya, president and chief executive of SaskPower.
Mr. Duffy said retrofitting an existing commercial-scale 300-megawatt natural-gas plant with carbon capture would cost $372 million, while retrofitting a similar-size coal plant would cost $600 million, based on recent estimates from the Energy Department. For new plants the cost would be about 10% less, he said.
The only commercial-scale power plant in the U.S. using carbon capture—the Petra Nova coal-fired plant in Texas—closed its $1 billion carbon-capture unit in 2020 after three years.
♻️ The potential for a plastic recycling facility to release microplastic pollution and possible filtration remediation effectiveness
With current plastic production and the growing problem of global plastic pollution, an increase and improvement in plastic recycling is needed. There is limited knowledge or assessment of microplastic pollution from point sources such as plastic recycling facilities globally. This pilot study investigates microplastic pollution from a mixed plastics recycling facility in the UK to advance current quantitative understanding of microplastic (MP) pollution release from a plastic recycling facility to receiving waters. Raw recycling wash water were estimate to contain microplastic counts between 5.97 106 – 1.12 × 108 MP m−3 (following fluorescence microscopy analysis). The microplastic pollution mitigation (filtration installed) was found to remove the majority of microplastics >5µm, with high removal efficiencies for microplastics >40µm. Microplastics <5µm were generally not removed by the filtration and subsequently discharged, with 59-1184 tonnes potentially discharged annually. It is recommended that additional filtration to remove the smaller microplastics prior to wash discharge is incorporated in the wash water management. Evidence of microplastic wash water pollution suggest it may be important to integrate microplastics into water quality regulations. Further studies should be conducted to increase knowledge of microplastic pollution from plastic recycling processes.
Weekly mergers, partnerships, and funding events across industrial value chains
🚙 UVeye Series D Funding Round Tops $100 Million for Major Expansion in U.S.
UVeye, a pioneer in the development of automated vehicle-inspection systems for the auto industry, has secured $100 million in additional funding to support major new sales and manufacturing initiatives in North America. The company’s recently completed Series D investment round was led by Hanaco VC, a venture-capital firm based in New York and Tel Aviv with $1.5 billion in assets under management.
Series D funding will be used to start production of UVeye inspection systems in North America, support further sales growth in the U.S. and fuel new-market expansion efforts.
💻👀 Crosspoint Capital Partners Leads Investment in Everseen’s €65 Million Series A Funding Round
Everseen, a leading provider of AI-powered computer vision and hyper automation solutions, announced today that it has raised a €65 million Series A follow-on funding round led by Crosspoint Capital Partners (“Crosspoint”), a private equity firm focused on the cybersecurity, privacy and infrastructure software markets. The funding will be used to continue investment into Everseen’s computer vision AI technology and help the company scale.
☢️ Helion announces world’s first fusion energy purchase agreement with Microsoft
Helion Energy (Helion) today announced an agreement to provide Microsoft electricity from its first fusion power plant. Constellation will serve as the power marketer and will manage transmission for the project. The plant is expected to be online by 2028 and will target power generation of 50 MW or greater after a 1-year ramp up period. The planned operational date for this first of its kind facility is significantly sooner than typical projections for deployment of commercial fusion power. The development of a commercial fusion power facility is a crucial step in the transition to a sustainable energy future and will not only help Microsoft to achieve its goal of being carbon negative by 2030, but will also support the development of a new clean energy source for the world.
♻️ AMP Robotics Raises Additional Series C Investment From Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund
AMP Robotics Corp. (“AMP”), a pioneer in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and infrastructure for the waste and recycling industry, has received financing from Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund. This latest investment brings AMP’s Series C round, led by Congruent Ventures and Wellington Management, to a total of more than $99 million.
🖨️ Lynxter expands with €4 million Series A funding round
Lynxter, a manufacturer of unique industrial 3D printers, has completed a new round of funding for the acceleration of the company’s international expansion and product offering. Lynxter closed the series A round of €4 million – with both longstanding investors (IRDI Soridec Gestion and Emeric d’Arcimoles) and new investors backing the project and its growth opportunities. GE Invest, NACO, PG-Dev, and HERRIKOA are the new trusted partners and form part of a regional strategy that focuses on deep tech and reindustrialization 4.0.
♻️ Olyns Announces $4 Million Series A Funding Round
Olyns, a leader in innovative recycling technologies, today announced its Series A financing of $4 million, led by Vanedge Capital. The funding will accelerate Olyns’ development of AI-driven technology and expand its dual recycling and media network.
With its eye-catching container collection Cubes, Olyns innovates at the nexus of retail media and recycling. Rethinking the technology and business model for recycling, Olyns’ Cubes use sophisticated AI techniques and algorithms that can identify any container. The Cubes also introduce a new revenue paradigm for recycling by doubling as retail media displays and providing data-driven insights into consumer recycling behavior and brand-specific recycling rates.
🚃 Missouri start-up gets $200,000 grant to accelerate US autonomous railcar technology
Intramotev, a Missouri based technology startup working on developing autonomous, zero-emission rail solutions, has been awarded a $200,000 grant from Michigan’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification to support the deployment of three of its TugVolt self-propelled railcars at a mining site in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in late 2023.
The civic investment will catalyze the first deployment anywhere in the world of self-propelled, battery-electric railcars for commercial use in a freight rail operation, Intramotev said, adding that it will also begin to fulfill the company’s goal that initial applications of its technology will include captive routes between mines and processing facilities, as well as intra-plant and ports.
🦾 Rockwell Automation and Doosan Unite to Form Partnership
Rockwell Automation announced signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Seoul-based Doosan Robotics (along with parent company Doosan Corporation), focusing on integrating the companies’ controllers and robots.
Under the agreement, Rockwell and Doosan also aim to innovate and create advanced technologies for smart factory establishment, automation facilities, and other customer-focused application areas. In addition to the Rockwell-Doosan MoU, 23 other MoUs were signed between South Korean and U.S. entities.