Capturing this week's zeitgeist
The LK-99 saga is over, with evidence confirming that it is not only not a superconductor, but rather an insulator. But, the RTX powdered metal contamination effects are beginning to show up in cash flow expectations and airline operations.
Electric vehicle battery technology advancement is captivating the financial press with the FT and TechCrunch going in depth on lithium-ion technology while analysts seek to identify the winners in the value chain.
This week's most influential Industry 4.0 media
🛣️ America’s Bridges, Factories and Highways Are in Dire Need of Repairs. Bring in the Robots.
These days, Shell is able to keep the plant running, and keep repair personnel on the ground and at a safe distance as they operate wall-climbing robots that inspect things like steel holding tanks at millimeter resolution, says Steven Treviño, a robotics engineer at Shell. Using a variety of sensors, the robots can look for both corrosion and cracking. This helps the team shorten the list of things they have to take care of when a full shutdown occurs. The magnetic wall climbers Shell is using are made by a Pittsburgh-based startup called, appropriately, Gecko Robotics. After testing the Gecko robots at Geismar, Shell plans to expand their use to offshore facilities.
“There are hundreds of types of corrosion,” says Jake Loosararian, CEO of Gecko Robotics, “and we’ve been developing technology and software to analyze what kind of damage is happening.” Gecko began as a robotics company, but has since expanded into creating software to process the data its robots gather. The startup makes systems that are now used to track more than 60,000 assets across the globe, including power plants, pipelines, oil refineries, dams, U.S. Navy vessels and other military equipment.
When it comes to inspections, “often the data you need is literally in plain sight, it’s just hard to collect it,” says Bry, of Skydio.
📱 Inside the Factory Where Robots Are Building Your Next Samsung Phone
The sound of bots whirring, air gaskets blowing and mechanical arms shifting positions can be heard throughout the facility. Every once in a while, an autonomous robot will play a cute jingle to signal its arrival. These robots, known as AGVs (for automated guided vehicles), roam the factory floor shuttling materials to their designated stations, guided by aluminum tracks on the floor. I’m told there are 80 of the bots in the company’s Gumi facility, where phones like the Galaxy S23 and the new Galaxy Z Flip 5 are assembled.
A large portion of the assembly line is dedicated to quality checks. Samsung says there are about 30,000 to 50,000 inspection items for the Galaxy S23 lineup alone. That includes the S Pen connection; the charging port; near-field communication functionality (or NFC, the tech that powers contactless payments); touch screen panels; fingerprint sensors; cameras; speakers; the SIM card tray; and Wi-Fi connections. There are also checkpoints within the assembly line for chips that enable millimeter wave 5G connections and ultra wideband, the proximity-sensing tech that enables phones to more easily share files and to function as digital car keys.
Inside Deloitte's Smart Factory in Wichita, Kansas
⛓️🧠 Multinationals turn to generative AI to manage supply chains
Navneet Kapoor, chief technology officer at Maersk, said “things have changed dramatically over the past year with the advent of generative AI”, which can be used to build chatbots and other software that generates responses to human prompts.
New supply chain laws in countries such as Germany, which require companies to monitor environmental and human rights issues in their supply chains, have driven interest and investment in the area.
🧑🏭🧠 Hitachi to use generative AI to pass expert skills to next generation
Japan’s Hitachi will utilize generative artificial intelligence to pass on expert skills in maintenance and manufacturing to newer workers, aiming to blunt the impact of mass retirements of experienced employees. The company will use the technology to generate videos depicting difficulties or accidents at railways, power stations and manufacturing plants and use them in virtual training for employees.
Hitachi already has developed an AI system that creates images based on 3D data of plants and infrastructure. It projects possible malfunctions – smoke, a cave-in, a rail buckling – onto an image of an actual rail track. This can also be done on images of manufacturing sites, including metal processing and assembly lines. Hitachi will merge this technology into a program for virtual drills that is now under development.
🖨️ Thermwood introduces large-format Cut Layer Additive manufacturing process
Thermwood has introduced a new approach to large-format additive manufacturing (AM), which it believes offers a lower cost route to leveraging the benefits of AM but with materials which can’t typically be 3D printed. Known for it’s Large Scale Additive Manufacturing Technology, the U.S.-based company has taken its 50 years of experience in building CNC control systems, and applied it to a process called Cut Layer Additive.
The real backbone behind the process appears to be its machine intelligence background. Claiming that Cut Layer Additive doesn’t require programming, ‘in the usual sense,’ Thermwood says it has taught its machine control technology to create Cut Layer Additive parts by simply sending a CAD file and telling it a set of desirables such as material choice, wall thickness, nesting layers, etc. The machine then automatically creates the additive part and layer segments needed to make it, nests them on your chosen material and creates an internal multi tool program to cut it out. The machine also provides information, including a QR code, to assist the operator with assembly, which can be done with bonding, screws, rivets and bolts.
What *Really* happens to used Electric Car Batteries?
🦾 Boston Dynamics wants to change the world with its state-of-the-art robots
CEO Robert Playter dispels worries about the potential harm robots could inflict and thinks they will empower people instead of displacing them. Playter sat down with strategy+business to talk about the company’s ongoing transformation, the role that robotics plays in powering the next evolution in business, and the importance of human leadership at even the most tech-enabled company.
The transition to a product company didn’t happen overnight—it was a slow transition, with the acquisition by Google in 2013 being the initial catalyst. We really began thinking through how our technologies could be used by industries, and what it would take to make a reliable robot that could function outside a controlled environment. Then, when SoftBank bought us in 2017, we became even more focused on releasing commercial products, which became our core focus by the time Hyundai purchased a majority stake in the company. Hyundai’s expansive manufacturing and global sales expertise is particularly valuable for us as we continue to grow.
Major factory investments and line commissions. Tracked in the Atlas.
🏭🇺🇸 Inside the $220bn American cleantech project boom
At least $224bn in cleantech and semiconductor manufacturing projects have been announced in the US since the passage of the IRA and the Chips Act. In total, they promise to create 100,000 jobs. The FT tallied company announcements of at least $100mn, from August 2022 to this week.
This week's top funding events, acquisitions, and partnerships across industrial value chains
🔋 Mitra Chem Announces First Close of $60 Million Series B Round Led by GM
Mitra Future Technologies Inc. (“Mitra Chem”), a leading innovator in North American production of lithium-ion battery materials, announced the completion of a $40 million first close of $60 million Series B funding round led by GM. The investment will fuel Mitra Chem’s mission to develop, deploy and commercialize U.S.-made iron-based cathode materials in an effort to enable mass-market electrification for electric vehicles, energy storage solutions, and beyond.
As part of the partnership with GM, Mitra Chem will develop iron-based cathode active materials (CAM) like lithium manganese iron phosphate (LMFP) to power affordable and accessible EV batteries compatible with GM’s EV propulsion architecture, the Ultium Platform. GM’s funding will enable Mitra Chem to scale its current R&D and pilot operations to expedite bringing their battery materials to market.
🦾 Novarc Technologies Completes Series A Fundraising Round With Caterpillar Venture Capital
Novarc Technologies Inc., a leading provider of advanced robotics solutions, announced today the company has successfully completed a Series A fundraising round with Caterpillar Venture Capital Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc. ((NYSE: CAT), a global leader in the manufacturing of construction and mining equipment). Caterpillar joins Graham Partners, Export Development Canada (EDC) and other syndicate investors, and provides strategic support to Novarc’s vision to accelerate the development of a ground-breaking AI-powered robotics platform.
Novarc plans to leverage this strategic relationship to further enhance disruptive technology and expand its global reach. The adoption of a welding solution enhanced by artificial intelligence is fast becoming a necessity among fabrication facilities that want to remain competitive. The additional funds will be instrumental in advancing the development of Novarc’s AI-powered robotic solutions which provide a major step forward in manufacturing, precision, efficiency, and flexibility.
🦾🧠🧫 Aether Raises $49M to Extract Critical Minerals and Create Next-Generation Materials
Aether today announced a $49 million Series A led by Jay Zaveri at Natural Capital and Trevor Zimmerman at Unless to power the next industrial revolution by helping extract rare metals and create new materials, leading to a more resource-efficient and sustainable future. The funding will be used to scale its platform and grow the company’s engineering, machine learning, and hardware teams.
The platform combines high-throughput robotics, machine learning, and synthetic biology to map millions of enzyme-reaction combinations. By generating unprecedented amounts of experimental data, the platform is able to engineer entirely new classes of nanoscale machines using protein building blocks called molecular assemblers. These molecular assemblers contain the power and sophistication of gigantic chemical factories, but on the scale of nanometers.
bp Leads $12.5 Million Series A Investment In Low-Cost Hydrogen Electrolyzer Innovator, Advanced Ionics
Advanced Ionics, the developer of a new category of hydrogen electrolyzers useful for expanding green hydrogen production, closed a $12.5 million Series A financing led by bp ventures, with additional investors including Clean Energy Ventures, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and GVP Climate.
The new capital will help catalyze Advanced Ionics’ growth and facilitate the initial deployment of its Symbion™ water vapor electrolyzer technology for heavy industry. Water vapor electrolyzers address two of the biggest obstacles to expanding green hydrogen production: cost and electricity requirements.
🦾 Olis Robotics Secures $4M Funding to Meet Surging Demand for Remote Robot Management
Olis Robotics, specialists in remote monitoring, control, and error recovery technology for industrial robots, today announced that it has raised $4.1 million funding in a round led by PSL Ventures. Additional investors include Tectonic Ventures, Ubiquity Ventures, as well as several prominent strategic angel investors, including robotics pioneer Daniel Theobald, the President and Cofounder of MassRobotics and Founder and Chairman of Vecna Robotics.
By safely enabling remote monitoring, control, and troubleshooting of industrial robots, Olis Robotics’ unique ‘Olis Connect’ system significantly improves Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), effectively addressing costly robot downtime.
🦾 Emerson Accelerates Factory Automation Capabilities With Agreement to Acquire Afag
Emerson (NYSE: EMR) announced a definitive agreement to acquire Afag Holding AG (“Afag”), an innovative leader in electric linear motion, feeding and handling automation solutions. The transaction will enhance Emerson’s capabilities in factory automation, one of the Company’s four priority adjacencies, and create a leading motion portfolio combining Afag’s electric linear motion solutions with Emerson’s pneumatic motion technology. Afag serves customers in attractive, growing end segments including battery manufacturing, automotive, packaging, medical, life sciences and electronics.
✈️ Ball Announces Agreement to Sell Aerospace Business to BAE Systems for $5.6 Billion
Ball Corporation (NYSE: BALL) the world’s leading producer of circular aluminum packaging for global beverage and household brands, announced that it has reached an agreement to sell its aerospace business to BAE Systems for gross proceeds of $5.6 billion in cash, which represents 19.6x Ball Aerospace’s LTM comparable EBITDA (as of June 30, 2023). The transaction, which is subject to regulatory approvals and customary closing conditions and adjustments, is projected to close in the first half of 2024.
BAE’s existing strong presence in the US allowed it to use a tax benefit to bring down the actual economic cost of the business, in effect reducing the price to $4.8bn.