Capturing this week's zeitgeist
The temperature for the UAW’s strike reaches its limit at Ford in part due to Ford stalling the development of its Marshall, Michigan battery plant a few weeks ago. The UAW’s most recent strike target is Ford’s Kentucky Truck factory, one of the most profitable automotive factories in the world. The UAW is prepared for a long fight as the strike enters into its second month.
This week's most influential Industry 4.0 media.
Making Conversation: Using AI to Extract Intel from Industrial Machinery and Equipment
What if your machine could talk? This is the question Ron Di Carlantonio has grappled with since he founded iNAGO 1998. iNAGO was onboard when the Government of Canada supported a lighthouse project led by the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA) to design, engineer and build a connected and autonomous zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) concept car and its digital twin that would validate and integrate autonomous technologies. The electric SUV is equipped with a dual-motor powertrain with total output of 550 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque.
The general use of AI-based solutions in the automotive industry stretches across the lifecycle of a vehicle, from design and manufacturing to sales and aftermarket care. AI-powered chatbots, in particular, deliver instant, personalized virtual driver assistance, are on call 27/7 and can evolve with the preferences of tech-savvy drivers. Di Carlantonio now sees an opportunity to extend the use of the intelligent assistant platform to the smart factory by making industrial equipment—CNC machines, presses, conveyors, industrial robots—talk.
Using Industrial Automation to Monitor Vertical Farms
The adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms now allow analysis of vast amounts of data collected from sensors to enable predictive analytics. Farmers can make more informed decisions about managing crops, optimizing resource usage, and predicting yields.
AeroFarms and Nokia discussed how to build a system to monitor a vertical farm where leafy greens including arugula, bok choy, and kale are grown. A typical facility can produce more than 1 million kilograms of leafy greens annually. A 13,000-square-meter facility such as the AeroFarms one in Danville is so large that workers can’t physically check all the plants. “Because the growth cycle in indoor farming is much shorter than outdoor farming, it is very important to know what’s going on at all times and not to miss anything,” Klein says. “If you fail to detect something, you will miss a huge opportunity. You might be at the end of your growth cycle, and you can’t take corrective measures in terms of the production yield, or the quality or quantity of produce.”
Dexterity AI and FedEx Unveil First-of-its-Kind Robotics Trailer Loading Technology
Dexterity AI today announced a collaboration with FedEx Corp., to leverage AI-powered robotic technology to load boxes into trucks and trailers. Truck loading has long been considered one of the most challenging tasks in parcel hubs. Manual loading is taxing and previous technology approaches have not been able to handle the complex decision making required to stack the wide range of shipments encountered in FedEx network, which vary in size, shape, weight, and packaging material.
Should every machine owner have secure remote service?
In an ideal scenario, a new machine is seamlessly installed, equipped with a scalable and easy-to-deploy remote access strategy, promptly connecting to a secure, zero-trust remote service system. When inevitable issues arise, the OEM promptly dispatches experienced service providers to assist the customer’s machine needs. In most cases, there would be no need for service personnel to physically visit the location and in fact industrial machinery OEMs who are best-in-class for using remote service experience a reduction of more than 80% of their service technician travel episodes. Remote access enables service issues to be resolved efficiently resulting in minimal downtime, because machines are up and running in hours, not days or weeks.
An ensemble neural network for optimising a CNC milling process
Computer numerical control (CNC) milling is a common method for the efficient mass production of products. Process efficiency and product quality have a strong dependency on the cutting process conditions. Furthermore, optimising a process for material removal rate (MRR) and surface roughness (SR), which are measures of process efficiency and product quality, respectively, is a complex optimisation task due to their contrasting relationships with process parameters. In this work, CNC end milling is performed on aluminium 6061 to investigate the influence of key process input variables (feed per tooth, cutting speed, and depth of cut) on the machined part’s SR. Firstly, a full factorial parametric study is conducted and analysed using Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) before an Ensemble Neural Network (ENN) is trained on the experimental data. To capture the complex nonlinear relationships accurately, each base model of the ENN is a combined genetic algorithm-artificial neural network, whose hyperparameters are optimised using a Bayesian optimisation framework.
How governments are shaping the future industrial landscape.
🇨🇳 China’s Factory Floor Is Moving—But Not to India or Mexico
In the contest to knock China off its perch as the world’s factory floor, countries such as Mexico, India and Vietnam face a formidable rival: China’s vast interior. Low-cost manufacturing is expanding away from China’s bustling coast as companies hunt for cheaper land and labor in central and western provinces. The migration has accelerated in recent years as U.S. tariffs push up costs for factories, and China’s coastal megacities focus on high-tech electronics, electric vehicles and other advanced industries. The result has been an export boom for China’s inland provinces that dwarfs the acceleration in overseas sales enjoyed by would-be rivals to China’s manufacturing crown.
🇨🇳 China's BRI isn't going away, it's getting smaller and greener
BRI investments have been getting significantly greener lately, with new green lending and investments in the first half of 2023 exceeding those of any previous six-month period. The green push includes sectors such as battery production and the mining of metals for the green transition. Much more needs to be done for the BRI to truly become green, but the trend is promising.
Companies taking part by investing in factories and other facilities include Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL), the world’s largest EV battery producer, and Alibaba Group Holding, as well as a number of private mining companies. While some of these commitments may be a related to a desire to develop alternative production hubs and markets due to trade tensions with the U.S. and other Western governments, they also reflect the competitiveness of Chinese companies in key sectors.
🇺🇸 America’s Factory Boom Brings Billion-Dollar Projects to Tiny Towns
Cars won’t start rolling off the assembly line at the “Metaplant” Hyundai Motor Co. is building on 3,000 wooded acres in Bryan County, Georgia, for at least a year. But the $7.6 billion electric-vehicle and battery project a half-hour west of Savannah already has a firm grip on the imagination of nearby residents.
America’s factory boom promises to bring investment and well-paying jobs to areas desperate for them. But along with the bulldozers and hard hat crews also come worries about whether there’s adequate infrastructure to support the new factories and concerns about the changing fabric of surrounding communities.
🇺🇸 Meet the latest next-gen battery startup to put down roots in a rural town in Washington
California battery startup OneD Battery Sciences is breaking ground Monday on a pilot manufacturing facility in the Eastern Washington town of Moses Lake. It joins two other companies — Group14 Technologies and Sila Nanotechnologies — that are also producing silicon-enhanced materials for making batteries higher performing and faster charging, further solidifying the region as a sector hub.
🇺🇸 Biden-Harris Administration Announces $22 Million to Support Smart Manufacturing at Small- and Medium-sized Facilities Across the Nation
In support of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, a key pillar of Bidenomics, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $22 million to 12 state-run programs to accelerate smart manufacturing at small- and medium-sized facilities. Funded by the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the State Manufacturing Leadership Program aims to make smart manufacturing technologies and high-performance computing more accessible for use across the domestic manufacturing sector, which accounts for over one-sixth of U.S. carbon emissions and nearly a quarter of the nation’s energy usage. This funding will help states remove existing barriers that inhibit the ability of small- and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) to utilize innovative, data-driven tools and technologies—improving production efficiency to reduce costs, support new domestic manufacturing opportunities, and cut harmful emissions.
🇬🇧 £89 million of funding to develop cutting edge new electric vehicle technology
£89 million of funding has been awarded to 20 cutting edge net zero tech projects including hydrogen-powered offroad vehicles, a new lithium scale-up plant and revolutionary new EV battery systems, reinforcing the UK as a world leader in zero emissions vehicle technology. The funding has been awarded through the Advanced Propulsion Centre UK (APC), in support of ambitions to build an end-to-end supply chain for zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) in the UK. £45.2 million of this investment comes from Government, backed by a further £42.7 million from the automotive industry.
This week's top funding events, acquisitions, and partnerships across industrial value chains
Formant to Use Latest Funding to Hire Experts for Secure Cloud Robotics Platform
Formant today announced the completion of a $21 million funding round. The San Francisco-based company said it plans to use the proceeds to expand hiring across all departments, introduce new products and features, and accelerate growth. BMW i Ventures led Formant’s investment, with participation from new investors Intel Capital, GS Futures. Previous investors, including SignalFire, Hillsven, Pelion Ventures, Holman, Ericsson, Goodyear Ventures, PICUS Capital, and Thursday Ventures, also participated.
Earlier this year, Formant launched Theopolis, an artificial intelligence language interface to enable non-technical users to interact directly with robot data and build visualizations inside its software. Formant claimed that it supports easy integrations with tools such as ROS 2, NVIDIA’s Isaac simulator, and Clearpath’s Outdoor Navigation.
Azul 3D Closes $15 Million in Series A Funding
Azul 3D, a leading-edge 3D printing startup, has closed a Series A transaction of $15 million from existing and new investors. Investment in the company comes from around the globe, including from DuPont, a lead investor in the Series A transaction. Other investors from the EMEA and Asia regions include Beta Lab and GS Futures.
DuPont has worked with Azul 3D since 2019 and is working on the development of applications that take advantage of Azul 3D’s proprietary High-Area Rapid Printing (HARP™) technology.
AI robotics startup NEURA Robotics secures $16 million from American firm InterAlpen Partners
Neura Robotics GmbH (NEURA), an emerging AI and robotics startup, today announced the closing of a $16 million investment round with American private equity firm InterAlpen Partners. InterAlpen’s investment in Neura will bolster its growth and expansion into the U.S. market.
Robots based on the NEURA Robotics platform are able to see, hear and perceive touch. Combined with reflexive sensory processing, these capabilities are essential for autonomous and predictive action. With the founding team’s vast expertise in robotics and artificial intelligence, these collaborative robots (cobots) are being developed to collaborate with humans in various industries and in a wide range of environments. NEURA is on track to bring the first multi-purpose humanoid robot to market, developed as a solution for the increasing shortage of skilled workers.
minds.ai Raises Seed Funding to Optimize Semiconductor Manufacturing Operations
minds.ai announced today that it has raised $5.3 million in seed funding to drive innovation in the application of AI in semiconductor manufacturing. The funding was led by Monta Vista Capital, with other investors, including Momenta joining the round. As part of the financing, minds.ai welcomes Venkatesh Shukla from Monta Vista Capital and Michael Dolbec from Momenta to its board of directors.
To address the industry’s challenges, minds.ai is bringing its proven experience in applying deep learning to solve business and technical problems to dramatically improve the efficiency and productivity of large-scale semiconductor manufacturing processes. The minds.ai Maestro™ end-to-end solution integrates seamlessly into existing workflows, improving the efficiency and productivity of fab manufacturing processes using supervised learning, reinforcement learning and generative AI.
Niryo raises €10M for global expansion of collaborative robot arms
Niryo announces a €6.4 million round of financing. This Series A financing round, led by the BPI Digital Venture investment fund, the Innovacom investment fund and 4 other historical funds (IRD, Finorpa, NFA and Go Capital), aims to support Niryo’s growth, including its international expansion. A banking pool provides €3.6 million in loans to complement this financing. This €10 million round of financing reinforces the start-up’s ongoing development. With a team of some forty employees, Niryo remains deeply rooted in Lille, France. Indeed, the company continues to favor the use of French products.
Since its creation, Niryo has gained an international reputation for its accessible collaborative robot arms. Its Niryo Studio application for controlling them, combined with an approach focused on engagement and proximity with its customers. The education, research, and training sectors worldwide have notably used and approved NED2, its latest robotic arm. Many international companies have also adopted Niryo cobots, including Airbus, Deutsch Bahn, Siemens, Solvay, Coca-Cola as well as Texas Instrument.
Phasio pockets $3.8 million Seed raise
Phasio, a manufacturing design collaboration and quotation software startup, has raised $3.8 million in a Seed round to bring the process into the digital age. Phasio was founded in 2021 by Harry Lucas and ex-CSIRO researcher Sudharshan Raman, Phasio is digitising how manufacturers quote, design and collaborate with customers, bringing a Google Docs-like approach to the design phase. The round was led by AirTree Ventures with support from Michael Sorkin’s Gattaca Ventures, Canva backer 500 Global and Entrepreneur First.
Bota Systems raises $2.5m to help give robots sense of touch
Bota Systems, a Swiss company developing force torque sensing solutions for robots, has completed a $2.5m seed round led by Marathon Venture Capital with the participation of angel investors. As part of the round, Bota Systems will grow its team to address demand from research labs and manufacturing companies globally, along with delivering its product roadmap.
PickNik Robotics raises $2M pre-seed round
PickNik Robotics Inc., a Boulder-based developer of a robotic-arm technology platform, recently completed a $2 million pre-seed investment campaign led by Stellar Ventures and Cypress Growth Capital.
The company’s MoveIt Studio is a robotic manipulator interface software that enables human operators to do more complex tasks. The platform can operate in a broad range of unstructured and high-latency environments such as urban areas, inside buildings, microgravity, and subsea. Applications range from bomb disposal to the sorting of objects in space.
FourJaw raises £1.8m to support continued growth
We have raised £1.8 million from NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance, which is managed by Mercia and is part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, Mercia’s EIS funds and private investors. The funding will enable us to further enhance our technology and invest in areas of the business best placed to support our continued growth.
Dover to Sell DESTACO Business Unit
Dover announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to sell its De-Sta-Co business (“DESTACO”), which is part of Dover’s Engineered Products segment, to Stabilus SE for $680 million enterprise value. DESTACO designs, manufactures, and markets workholding and automation components for industrial automation applications, and generated revenue of $213 million in 2022. DESTACO was acquired by Dover in 1962.