Capturing this week's zeitgeist
The agreements are in: Ford and Stellantis have both reached tentative labor deals with the United Auto Workers Union, however, differences remain with GM. With labor agreements in place, auto leaders are adjusting their electric vehicle strategies as consumers balk at the product offerings.
One way to make EVs more appealing is through longer range solid-state batteries. Toyota claims it is close:
If successful, Toyota expects its electric cars powered by solid-state batteries to have a range of 1,200km — more than twice the range of its current EVs — and a charging time of 10 minutes or less.
While in the USA, Factorial Energy opens the largest solid-state battery line in the country.
Despite heavy government incentives, many automakers are stuck in the chasm between early market and mainstream market.
This week's most influential Industry 4.0 media.
How to Train Autonomous Mobile Robots to Detect Warehouse Pallet Jacks Using Synthetic Data
This use case will again take a data-centric approach by manipulating the data, as opposed to changing the model parameters to fit the data. The process begins by generating synthetic data using NVIDIA Omniverse Replicator in NVIDIA Isaac Sim. Next, train the model with synthetic data in NVIDIA TAO Toolkit. Finally, visualize the model’s performance on real data, and modify the parameters to generate better synthetic data to reach the desired level of performance.
For this first batch of synthetic data, the team used the LOCO dataset, which is a scene understanding dataset for logistics covering the problem of detecting logistics-specific objects to visualize the real-world model performance.
Weeding Out Fake Parts: the Dark Horse of Killer 3D Printing Apps
One possible killer app that has nonetheless fallen relatively under-the-radar is comprehensive traceability of parts. Last week, for example, a Bloomberg article provided an update on a story from late August, about the discovery of years worth of phony certification documents for subpar spare parts. The spares were distributed by a small, obscure supplier of aerospace components based in London, AOG Technics Ltd. The discovery has inflicted chaos on the world’s largest aerospace companies, including Airbus, Boeing, and Safran, as they scramble for ways to undo the damage.
Whatever short-term solutions the aerospace giants may stumble upon, the only long-term solution may be comprehensive digitalization of supply chains. In addition to the fact that additive manufacturing (AM) technologies are uniquely suited to achieve that objective, the feasibility of an approach based on digitalization is suggested by the corporate players involved. Over the last decade or so, the aerospace sector’s largest companies (the ‘primes’) have achieved — and indeed, to a great extent have helped innovate into existence — some of the highest AM competencies in the world.
How Technology Developments Can Impact Quick Response Manufacturing
Enterprises in the industrial sector looking to maintain their relevance and competitive edge—especially in environments with irregular, changing and unpredictable demands—should explore the Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) methodology. Looking forward, this methodology, which was developed in the early 1990s by Prof. Rajan Suri of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, could be revamped with the use of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and collaborative robots (cobots).
At its core, QRM is a company-wide strategy to reduce lead times in all aspects of an organization’s operations. QRM’s primary focus is not just the production floor but encompasses the entire organizational and production process, from the initial inquiry to the product’s delivery. QRM emphasizes time as the most critical metric. The idea is simple: reduction in lead times leads to an increase in competitiveness and market share.
The Space-Based Drug Factory That Can’t Come Home
Five hundred kilometers above the Earth, a small spacecraft is waiting patiently for permission to return home. The autonomous return capsule, made by startup Varda Space Industries, of Torrance, CA, was meant to have landed in the remote Utah desert early in September. It would have been the first commercial space company to return a drug made in space to Earth, in this case a few grams of the HIV and hepatitis C antiviral ritonavir.
The delay has nothing to do with the satellite itself, which appears to be operating perfectly, and everything to do with an ongoing struggle between Varda and U.S. government agencies back on the ground.
On-the-fly Mixed-SKU Palletizing at Trusco Nakayama’s Flagship Distribution Center: An Innovative Leap Forward
At Trusco Nakayama Corporation’s forefront distribution hub, “Planet Saitama,” a revolutionary step in automation has been unveiled, thanks to a collaboration with Mujin. This facility now showcases MujinPack, an advanced system for on-the-fly mixed-SKU palletizing, which promises unprecedented efficiency in handling diverse products.
How Rio has made the world’s biggest iron ore business into a machine
Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine is one of three new wave DSO mines in operation across WA’s Pilbara alongside BHP’s South Flank and Fortescue’s Eliwana, while FMG also recently opened its Iron Bridge magnetite mine. At 43Mtpa, Gudai-Darri is among the most advanced in the world. Its diggers and loaders are manned, but its Caterpillar trucks are fully automated, run out of an operations centre in Perth with code to direct their passage across the 5km by 3km Kara pit. Of its 430 haul trucks across 17 mines, 361 are automated. For the first time, Caterpillar has also delivered autonomous water carts. The company says the unmanned vehicles deliver productivity and safety benefits. It is looking to enhance automation and bring a tech focus into other areas of the site.
This robot (or row-bit if you’re Futurama’s Dr Zoidberg) is being trained to use a thermal sensor to test idlers along the 5-7km of conveyor belt taking iron ore from Gudai-Darri’s crusher to its stockpiles. There are around 3000 idlers (spinning bits of metal that propel the conveyor along) for every km of belt. From early next year Rio’s engineers hope to have the robot automated, perpetually running a process manual assessors only complete in full every 12 weeks. By catching symptoms of failing idlers early, the company hopes to reduce the 60 hours of downtime each eight months from unplanned maintenance shutdowns at the fixed plant attributed to idler failure.
The trillion-dollar quest to make green steel
But the main explanation for steel’s giant carbon footprint is that, globally, most steel is still made by heating fossil fuels to turn raw iron ore into finished metal — a process that generates 90 percent of CO2 emissions from steel, along with a toxic soup of heavy metals and air pollution. While recycled steel can displace some of the demand for “primary” steel, it doesn’t diminish the need to clean up or replace coal-fueled furnaces.
Most likely, that shift will include using hydrogen to process iron ore for steelmaking. Only one facility in the world is currently doing this at any meaningful scale: the $180 million Hybrit project in Sweden. However, dozens of projects involving hydrogen are in various stages of development worldwide. Sweden’s H2 Green Steel recently raised $1.6 billion to build the world’s first large-scale, hydrogen-fueled plant, while Chinese steelmaker HBIS Group said it produced its first batch of hydrogen-infused iron.
Undoubtedly, the steel industry’s transformation will require countries to build significantly more renewable energy capacity, both to power electricity-driven furnaces and to produce “green” hydrogen, of which very little is available today worldwide. Down the line, next-generation technologies developed by startups such as Electra and Boston Metal could make it cheaper and easier to produce green steel. All told, decarbonizing iron and steel is expected to require $1.4 trillion of investment by midcentury.
In 2021, three years after construction began, the Hybrit plant successfully produced the world’s first steel reduced by 100 percent fossil-free hydrogen,” which it delivered to Swedish automaker Volvo Group. To date, Pei said the facility has produced about 2,000 metric tons of DRI, also known as “sponge iron.” For comparison, that’s roughly the average amount of steel needed to make over 2,200 cars.
How governments are shaping the future industrial landscape.
🇺🇸 Biden-Harris Administration Announces 31 Regional Tech Hubs to Spur American Innovation, Strengthen Manufacturing, and Create Good-Paying Jobs in Every Region of the Country
The 31 Tech Hubs focus on developing and growing innovative industries in regions across the country, including semiconductors, clean energy, critical minerals, biotechnology, precision medicine, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and more. Tech Hubs bring together private industry, state and local governments, institutions of higher education, labor unions, Tribal communities and nonprofit organizations to compete for up to $75 million implementation grants to further develop these fields and make transformative investments in innovation, supply chain resilience, and job creation. The Tech Hubs program was authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act.
🇨🇳 China Rattles Foreign Firms With New Arrests, Foxconn Probe
Chinese authorities are again shaking the confidence of foreign companies in the country with a series of arrests across industries and an investigation into Foxconn Technology Group, Apple Inc.’s most important partner and one of the largest employers in China. Over the weekend, state media said that regulators are conducting tax audits and reviewing land use by Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that makes the vast majority of iPhones at factories in China. Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Foxconn’s public arm, said it will collaborate with authorities.
🇩🇪 The region at the heart of Germany’s economic stagnation
Germany’s economy is stuck in a rut. Its exports and manufacturing output are in decline, inflation is suppressing consumer demand and the construction industry is reeling from high interest rates. Experts are clear on why Germany is facing such a uniquely grim outlook. It took a much bigger hit from last year’s surge in energy prices than many other large economies, partly because it has so many big gas-guzzling manufacturing firms. The ECB tightening monetary policy to tackle inflation has also taken its toll, as has a sluggish recovery in trade with China, Berlin’s biggest trading partner.
This week's top funding events, acquisitions, and partnerships across industrial value chains
Robotics offers route for US manufacturing renaissance
“The US is not going to build the same type of manufacturing China has built for the last four decades,” says Lior Susan, partner at Eclipse Ventures, which backs physical industries at the forefront of what it describes as the next industrial revolution. Venture capital, however, still flows overwhelmingly into software, IT and cloud infrastructure, and fintech, rather than heavy-duty machinery and automation. According to advisers EY, just 2 per cent of $44bn raised by VCs in the first quarter of 2023 went to industrials.
Plant-based material science company Algenesis secures new funding
Leading plant-based material science company Algenesis Corporation has raised US$5M in a funding round led by First Bight Ventures, with Circulate Capital and others. A pioneer in developing bio-based plastics that are competitive with petroleum-based in both cost and functionality, Algenesis’ patented Soleic® technology is the world’s first renewable, high performance, fully biodegradable and backyard compostable bioPolyurethane (bioPU) made from plants and algae.
Batch.Works secures £300K to transform manufacturing with AI and CMaaS
3D printing company Batch.Works has launched an equity crowdfunding on Seedrs for R&D of AI-driven smart factories and Circular Manufacturing as a Service (CMaaS). Batch.Works’ equity crowdfunding campaign, offering a 7.89% stake at a £3.5 million pre-money valuation, swiftly reached its £300,000 target in just 24 hours, and is now in the overfunding phase. With investments from Sustainable Ventures and government grants totaling £1.8 million, Batch.Works is well-prepared for growth, says the company. Its strong client base spans furniture, retail, med-tech, and consumer electronics, with over six years of partnerships yielding 150,000 parts made from recycled or bio-sourced materials.
Although the current revenue model involves design consultancy and direct manufacturing services, Batch.Works intends to launch its CMaaS subscription model in 2024. This forward-looking cloud-based warehouse and scheduling software will enable clients to internalize circular manufacturing processes for a monthly fee.
Autodesk signs definitive agreement to acquire FlexSim
Autodesk has signed a definitive agreement to acquire FlexSim, a provider of simulation technology that enables factory and logistics center operators to optimize their processes. Through discrete event simulation, or DES, FlexSim’s technology brings the design of a factory or logistics center to life. It puts production flow analysis at the fingertips of operations leaders to surface fundamental business insights that help achieve time and cost objectives.
FlexSim’s factory simulation technology complements Autodesk’s existing factory design solutions. It provides in-depth model analysis, layout scenarios, and process simulation to users of Autodesk Inventor, Revit, Autodesk Construction Cloud, AutoCAD, and Autodesk’s Product Design and Manufacturing Collection. FlexSim will initially be offered in conjunction with Autodesk’s Design and Make Platform, closely aligned with Autodesk Fusion, which integrates CAD, PCB design, CAM, CAE, PLM, and MES software into a single, cloud-based solution.
Rockwell Automation and Microsoft Expand Partnership to Leverage Generative AI Capabilities for Enhanced Productivity and Faster Time-to-Market
Rockwell Automation, Inc. (NYSE: ROK) and Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) today announced an extension of their longstanding relationship to accelerate industrial automation design and development through generative artificial intelligence (AI). The companies are combining technologies to empower the workforce and accelerate time-to-market for customers building industrial automation systems. The first outcome of this collaboration will add Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service into FactoryTalk® Design Studio™ to deliver industry-first capabilities accelerating time-to-market for their customers building industrial automation systems.