Capturing this week's zeitgeist
The CHIPS Act will have a transformative impact on the US industrial base. The Act aims to secure supply chains, bolster R&D spending, and make the United States competitive again in semiconductor chip manufacturing. Syracuse, New York, is set to become a test case for the Act’s potential to revitalize regions and boost the country’s manufacturing prowess. Micron, a memory chip manufacturer, plans to build up to four semiconductor manufacturing facilities, or fabs, each costing roughly $25 billion, in Syracuse over the next 20 years. This $100 billion investment is expected to create 50,000 jobs in the region over time, including 9,000 at Micron. The investment is seen as a potential reversal of fortune for Syracuse, which has been losing jobs and people for decades as its core manufacturing facilities shut down. The success or failure of this project will be a significant indicator of whether the U.S. can leverage investments in high tech to reverse years of geographic inequality and economic decline.
In a parallel development, Canada has also stepped up to match US incentives in the realm of battery manufacturing. Stellantis, in partnership with LG Energy Solution, has resumed construction on a massive battery plant in Windsor, Ontario, after a seven-week halt. The pause was due to a dispute over Canada’s commitment to match manufacturing incentives provided by the US under the Inflation Reduction Act.
This trend is not confined to North America alone; it is adding fuel to a global phenomenon. Countries across Europe and Asia are also expected to enhance their incentive packages, fostering a competitive environment for developing advanced technologies and establishing robust supply chains in the semiconductor and battery manufacturing sectors.
This week's most influential Industry 4.0 media
📦 The chore of packing just got faster and easier
A team of researchers from MIT and Inkbit (an MIT spinout company based in Medford, Massachusetts), headed by Wojciech Matusik, an MIT professor and Inkbit co-founder, is presenting this technique, which they call “dense, interlocking-free and Scalable Spectral Packing,” or SSP.
The first step in SSP is to work out an ordering of solid 3D objects for filling a fixed container. One possible approach, for example, is start with the largest objects and end with the smallest. The next step is to place each object into the container. To facilitate this process, the container is “voxelized,” meaning that it is represented by a 3D grid composed of tiny cubes or voxels, each of which may be just a cubic millimeter in size. The grid shows which parts of the container — or which voxels — are already filled and which are vacant.
Figuring out the best placements for each and every object as the container fills up obviously requires a lot of calculations. But the team employed a mathematical technique, the fast Fourier transform (FFT), which had never been applied to the packing problem before. By using FFT, the problems of minimizing voxel overlap and minimizing gaps for all voxels in the container can be solved through a relatively limited set of calculations, such as simple multiplications, as opposed to the impractical alternative of testing out all possible locations for the objects to be positioned inside. And that makes packing faster by several orders of magnitude.
🧠🦾 RoboCat: A self-improving robotic agent
RoboCat learns much faster than other state-of-the-art models. It can pick up a new task with as few as 100 demonstrations because it draws from a large and diverse dataset. This capability will help accelerate robotics research, as it reduces the need for human-supervised training, and is an important step towards creating a general-purpose robot.
RoboCat is based on our multimodal model Gato (Spanish for “cat”), which can process language, images, and actions in both simulated and physical environments. We combined Gato’s architecture with a large training dataset of sequences of images and actions of various robot arms solving hundreds of different tasks.
The combination of all this training means the latest RoboCat is based on a dataset of millions of trajectories, from both real and simulated robotic arms, including self-generated data. We used four different types of robots and many robotic arms to collect vision-based data representing the tasks RoboCat would be trained to perform.
Groundbreaking research transmits energy from space to Earth
Hybrid AI-Powered Computer Vision Combines Physics and Big Data
Many computer vision techniques infer properties of our physical world from images. Although images are formed through the physics of light and mechanics, computer vision techniques are typically data driven. This trend is mostly performance related: classical techniques from physics-based vision often score lower on metrics compared with modern deep learning. However, recent research, covered in this Perspective, has shown that physical models can be included as a constraint into data-driven pipelines. In doing so, one can combine the performance benefits of a data-driven method with advantages offered from a physics-based method, such as intepretability, falsifiability and generalizability. The aim of this Perspective is to provide an overview into specific approaches for integrating physical models into artificial intelligence pipelines, referred to as physics-based machine learning. We discuss technical approaches that range from modifications to the dataset, network design, loss functions, optimization and regularization schemes.
A New Type of Glass Promises to Cut Glass Manufacturing's Carbon Footprint in Half
The invention, known as LionGlass and engineered by researchers at Penn State, needs considerably less energy to produce and is highly damage-resistant compared to the standard soda lime silicate glass. The research group has filed a patent application as an initial step toward bringing the product to market.
Mauro believes that the enhanced strength of LionGlass means that the products made from it could be lighter in weight. Since LionGlass is 10 times more damage resistant compared to present glass, it could be considerably thinner.
⛓️ A guide to supply chain control tower use cases
At a high level, we assume that the control tower receives a broad range of data from 1st and 3rd parties, and integrates with a number of operational systems, such as the system for warehouse management, and provides four categories of capabilities:
- Strategic planning. Decision support tools that are focused on long-term, often multi-year, time horizons.
- Inventory visibility. Near real-time insights and alerts that support ongoing operations.
- Inventory flow control. Decision automation tools for ongoing operations such as replenishment.
- Impact analysis and resolution. Tools for reacting to disruptions and deviations from planned scenarios.
The revenue-at-risk assessment is followed by the development of mitigation strategies. In particular, the company can change suppliers of certain parts or modify product designs to reduce the risks. Such decisions are supported by risk evaluation tools that allow one to assess the current risks and perform what-if analysis for alternative scenarios.
The right tool for the right job – ML and Design of Experiments
Typical statistical DOE software assumes that the response of experimental outputs to inputs is linear, or at best quadratic. ML makes no such assumption. Its models learn from the data provided even when that data contains complex, non-linear relationships. So ML can model difficult multi-component systems where cross-correlations would not be accounted for by other DOE approaches.
Standard DOE methods usually require you to vary only a limited number of inputs at any one time in your experimental design. With ML, you don’t have to identify which inputs are most important (thus potentially building bias into your design). You can ask the ML to explore all of the inputs simultaneously and it will find those that are most significant.
Major factory investments and line commissions. Tracked in the Atlas.
🏭🇮🇳 ABB awarded electrification and automation contract for ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India’s new advanced cold rolling mill
ABB has been appointed to provide electrification and automation systems for ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India’s (AM/NS India) advanced steel cold rolling mill (CRM) in Hazira, Gujarat. The contract at the flagship manufacturing plant comes through John Cockerill India Limited (JCIL), the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for the project.
ABB is providing advanced electrification and automation systems, including the ABB Ability™ System 800xA distributed control system (DCS) and associated equipment and components, to support enhanced energy efficiency, optimized zinc consumption and high levels of corrosion resistance throughout the steel production process. This will support AM/NS India in its bid to reach greater levels of sustainability at Hazira.
🏭🇨🇦 Deal is Reached: Construction on Stellantis and LG Energy Solution Canadian Gigafactory Resumes
NextStar Energy, the vehicle battery joint venture between Stellantis N.V. and LG Energy Solution (LGES), today signed a binding agreement that secures the future of battery cell and module production in Windsor, Ontario, and honours the commitments that were made by the Canadian government to level the playing field with the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
Effective immediately, all construction at the NextStar Energy battery plant in Windsor will resume with production operations planned to launch in 2024. The plant aims to have an annual production capacity in excess of 45 gigawatt hours (GWh) and will create an estimated 2,500 new jobs in Windsor and the surrounding areas.
This week's top funding events, acquisitions, and partnerships across industrial value chains
🦾 Retail robotics startup Telexistence raises $170M
Telexistence Inc., a startup developing artificial intelligence-powered robots for the retail sector, today announced that it has raised $170 million in funding. One of the investors in the Series B round was SoftBank Group Corp. Last month, SoftBank signaled that it plans to step up the pace of its AI investments following a year of limited venture capital activity. The company scaled back its participation in startup funding rounds last year to address market headwinds. Besides SoftBank, Telexistence’s latest raise also included the participation of several other backers. Among them were Airbus Ventures, Monoful Partners, KDDI Open Innovation and Globis Capital Partners.
In FamilyMart stores, the shelves that hold packaged goods are often embedded into the walls. Behind each shelf is a corridor accessible only to employees and a merchandise storage area. When a certain product runs out, employees enter the corridor, pick up new merchandise from the storage area and place it on the shelf. Telexistence’s TX SCARA robot automates the task. It’s a mobile robot arm designed to operate in the employee-only corridor between a store shelf and the merchandise storage area. The TX SCARA can detect when a product is out of stock, pick up new merchandise from the storage area and place it on the relevant part of the shelf.
CADDi raises $89M Series C to scale its B2B supply chain marketplace for manufacturing parts
CADDi, which operates a business-to-business (B2B) marketplace for the manufacturing industry, said it has raised $89 million in a Series C round, bringing its total capital to $164 million, to scale its business and help those equipment manufacturing players. Existing investors Globis Capital Partners, DCM Ventures, Global Brain, World Innovation Lab, JAFCO and Minerva Growth Partners participated in the Series C financing along with four new investors, including SMBC Venture Capital and Mitsubishi UFJ Capital.
CADDi deals with mid-volume production and high-mix, low-volume production manufacturers, also known as make-to-order manufacturing, in which manufacturers produce products after confirmed orders. But the problem is consumers cannot get optimal pricing with low- to mid-volume production manufacturers due to volume constraints.
🍾 Diageo-backed paper bottle-maker, Pulpex, toasts £20m funding round
Pulpex, which produced the first Johnnie Walker whisky bottle made entirely from paper-based products in 2021, will announce on Monday that it has secured financing from investors including CMPC, one of the world’s biggest pulp and paper companies. City sources said the Series C fundraising comprised between £20m and £25m of additional investment.
Pulpex, which utilises sustainably sourced wood pulp, was formed in 2020 from a collaboration between Diageo and Pilot Lite, a venture management company. The aim of the new funding is to facilitate a commercial-scale production line capable of producing up to 12.5m paper bottles annually at a facility in Cambridgeshire.
Dutch-based VSParticle secures €14.5M to advance nanotechnology for meaningful purposes
Delft-based VSParticle (VSP), a company that supplies nanoparticle printing tools, announced on Tuesday that it has secured €14.5M in funding to accelerate material development and unlock innovation at scale. According to the Dutch company, the funds will be utilised to expand its operations and commercial teams, and scale up the manufacturing of VSP’s products and services.
The round was led by Plural, an investment platform set up for the unemployables. Plural’s aim is to use technology to boost European GDP growth. It also collaborates with bold founders from everywhere who are addressing the global opportunity gap or systemic dangers. The round also saw participation from BlueYard Capital and a €3.5M grant from NXTGEN HIGHTECH, bringing the total raised by VSP to €17M.
♻️ German start-up CleanHub lands €6.4M for digitalized plastic waste recovery tech
Germany-based start-up CleanHub has raised €6.4 million (US$~7 million) for its plastic waste recovery technology, which uses QR code-based track and trace technology to aid businesses in recovering and sorting ocean-bound packaging trash. This can guard against greenwashing and earn businesses plastics credits. The funding was led by Integra Partners, Lakestar and from new investors, Silence VC, 468 Capital and Übermorgen Ventures.
♻️ bp expands investment in bioenergy, collaborating with US biofuels developer WasteFuel
bp invests $10 million in WasteFuel, which is planning to develop a global network of plants to convert municipal and agricultural waste into bio-methanol, a biofuel which could play a significant role in decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors like shipping. The investment allows WasteFuel to advance its plans to develop its first waste-to-bio-methanol plant in the UAE.
bp and WasteFuel have entered a memorandum of understanding for bp to offtake the produced bio-methanol and for the companies to collaborate on improving bio-methanol production yields & economics.
CHAR Technologies Announces C$6.6M Strategic Investment by ArcelorMittal and Annual Biocarbon Purchase Agreement
CHAR Technologies Ltd. (“CHAR” or the “Company”) (TSXV:YES), a leader in sustainable energy solutions, is thrilled to announce that the Company has closed a C$6.6M strategic investment by world’s leading steel and mining company, ArcelorMittal S.A., through ArcelorMittal XCarb (“ArcelorMittal”) and ArcelorMittal’s XCarb® Innovation Fund (the “Fund”). With a presence in 60 countries and primary steelmaking facilities in 16 countries, including ArcelorMittal Dofasco in Hamilton, Ontario.
♻️ NEU Battery Materials concludes oversubscribed US$3.7M Seed Funding Round
NEU Battery Materials, a Singapore-based lithium-ion battery recycling startup, has raised a total of US$3.7M in an oversubscribed Seed Funding Round led by SGInnovate, a Singapore government-backed Deep Tech investor and ecosystem builder. The round was also joined by ComfortDelGro Ventures, Shift4Good, Paragon Ventures I, and other angel investors.
The Singapore-based Deep Tech startup is pioneering an electrochemical redox targeting technology for the sustainable recycling of battery materials. Their patented process requires electricity as its only consumable, and utilises regenerative chemicals to avoid toxic waste and harsh acids. Being less polluting than more commonplace methods such as hydrometallurgy and pyrometallurgy, it paves the way for the wider adoption of a more sustainable way to recycle all forms of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries.
ChipFlow Raises £1.2M in Pre-Seed Funding to Democratize Semiconductor Design Through Open-Source Software Tools
ChipFlow, a UK startup building an open source semiconductor chip design platform (PaaS), today announces the completion of a £1.2M pre-seed round of financing. The round was led by Fontinalis Partners and included investments from Fuel Ventures, InMotion Ventures, APX, and others. The new funding will be instrumental in expanding ChipFlow’s team, enabling the company to attract top-tier engineering talent to further enhance its open-source software tools and accelerate product development efforts, while supporting the progression of ChipFlow’s early commercial engagements.
NLM Photonics Secures $1M Lead Investment from Strategic Partners Tokyo Ohka Kogyo Co., Ltd. (“TOK”) and Hamamatsu Photonics
NLM Photonics, a semiconductor company leveraging its hybrid electro-optic modulation technology to transmit more data with less power, today announces $1 million in new funding to drive further product commercialization, including engagement with fabs and hyperscale data center operators.
This round of funding is led by Tokyo Ohka Kogyo Co., LTD. (“TOK”), a world leader in advanced electronics materials manufacturing and critical semiconductor industry supplier, and HAMAMATSU PHOTONICS K.K., a major player in the photonics components space. This is TOK’s first investment in NLM Photonics and Hamamatsu’s second, with their first in June 2022. The TOK investment also includes collaboration on developing shelf-stable market-usable inks incorporating NLM’s proprietary materials.
🖨️ Q.Big 3D completes series A funding round of €2 million
Q.Big 3D, a large-format additive manufacturing (LFAM) firm based in Aalen, has successfully completed its Series A funding round, raising €2 million. The round was spearheaded by 3D printing specialist, HZG Group. Global high-tech engineering firm Manz AG has supported the startup since its inception and continues to do so, with its founder, Dieter Manz, maintaining a personal stake in the company.
A crucial step in additive manufacturing is the nozzle placement, as it’s challenging to maintain component precision during this process. Users typically had to choose between large components with rough surface structures and smaller ones with detailed structures. However, Q.Big 3D’s innovation, the VFGF (Variable Fused Granular Fabrication) process, allows for precise control of extruded plastic, depending on the part’s geometry.
HCAP Partners Invests in PACIV
HCAP Partners, a California-based private equity firm and nationally recognized impact investor, is pleased to announce its recent investment in PACIV, a leading full-service provider of industrial automation solutions. The transaction is part of a co-investment with Blackford Capital, who announced their acquisition of PACIV earlier this month. Terms of the investment were not disclosed.
Univercells Technologies Acquired by Donaldson Company
Gamma Biosciences, a life sciences platform created by global investment firm KKR to address the advanced therapy bioprocessing market, today announced that its operating company, Univercells Technologies (“UT”), a leading provider of novel biomanufacturing technologies for flexible and scalable advanced therapies and vaccine production, has been acquired by Donaldson Company, Inc. (NYSE: DCI).