Capturing this week's zeitgeist
BYD’s vertical integration is playing out on the world stage. They have recently claimed the throne of bestselling EV in Thailand, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Israel and Brazil.
The company also makes many components in-house, including batteries, which alone account for around 30% of a vehicle’s total cost. The company also uses a massive and vertically integrated network of factories to build everything from battery parts to the ships that transport cars abroad. BYD’s industry peers, by contrast, buy components at market rates from commercial suppliers.
In 2007, Wang told Chinese media that manufacturing components in-house was the secret to BYD’s quick growth. “Isn’t it said that building cars requires a lot of complex technology? I don’t think so,” he said. “I can handle everything on my own, as I am making electric vehicles.”
At the time, China’s engine and gearbox technologies lagged those of international peers, and Wang saw electrification as a way to leapfrog them. “Your expensive equipment is a pile of scrap metal to me,” Wang said, rhetorically addressing traditional engine makers. “For an electric vehicle, a single wire and four motors are enough to achieve four-wheel drive and seamless variable speed. No engine or gearbox is needed.”
More discussion on how China’s automakers are copying the ‘Tesla model’ rather than the German model in this week’s Industrial Policy.
This week's most influential Industry 4.0 media.
Inside Hyundai’s new sci-fi smart factory
The Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Center Singapore (HMGICS, for short) isn’t just a firmware update of the traditional assembly line – it’s a futuristic (and mildly terrifying) look at our increasingly roboticized, AI-driven future. While Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot trots around to approve vehicles, a full digital twin of the factory floor runs simulations showing how the space can be better optimized. But arguably the most interesting thing is that you can order a new car at Hyundai’s plant and drive it away on the same day.
“This isn’t like a traditional production plant,” explains VP and Head of Smart Factory Technology, Alpesh Patel. “We plan to produce around 70 cars a day here, so it’s no mass production line, but that’s not the point. The speed at which we can react to customer personalization demands and cater to bespoke project requirements is like little else,” he adds. Patel claims that is can take as little as three hours to go from a customer ordering a vehicle to driving it away, thanks to the unique set-up of the highly automated cell-based production process.
Just a handful of highly skilled operatives work with walls of screens that can pull up a wealth of smart factory data, checking in on efficiency levels of each production cell and predicting when a robot requires servicing or a part needs to be ordered long before the need arises. A separate section of the room features a full digital twin of the factory floor (a meta factory, as it is referred to), which can run simulations when new production requirements arise. Patel claims that currently, staff in the Digital Command Centre are integral to the operation, but he states that AI will soon step up and begin taking care of most of the day-to-day functionality.
Mech-Mind's Industrial 3D Camera Mech-Eye: Empowering Robotic Integrators
How factories are deploying AI on production lines
Augury’s sensors used in PepsiCo factories have been trained on huge volumes of audio data, to be able to detect faults such as wearing on conveyor belts and bearings, while analysing machine vibrations. By also collecting information and insights into equipment health on the whole, such as identifying when a machine might fail again in future, the technology lets workers schedule maintenance in advance, and avoid having to react to machine errors as they occur.
Prof Brintrup, professor of digital manufacturing at the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing, leads the Institute for Manufacturing’s Supply Chain AI Lab, which has developed its own predictive mechanism to identify where ingredients such as palm oil may have been used in a product, but disguised under a different name on its label. The lab’s recent research suggested that palm oil can go by 200 different names in the US - and these might not stand out to eco-conscious consumers.
Huawei, Midea Group, and China Unicom Build 5G Smart Factory
Collaborating for the World's First 5.5G URLLC Production Line
Welding and the Automation Frontier
There are two main types of welding to consider when talking about welding automation. The first is resistance welding. With resistance welding, the parts to be welded are pressed between two electrodes. Current then runs across the electrodes, and the electrical resistance of the metal between them causes the parts to heat up, melt, and weld together. Resistance welding can be done as “spot welding” (where just a single point is welded), or as “seam welding” (where a continuous seam is welded). Resistance welding is generally used to join thin materials, such as sheet steel. The second type of welding is arc welding. With arc welding, an electric arc is created between a metal electrode and the metal to be welded, and the heat of the arc melts the metal. The arc is then moved along the joint to be welded. There are several different types of arc welding, such as MIG, TIG, and SMAW, which differ in things like the material of the electrode, whether the electrode is consumed in the process, and how the weld is shielded from the air. In addition to these, there are other types of welding such as forge welding, laser welding, friction welding, and oxyacetylene welding. But for the last 100 years most welding, and most welding automation, has been done with either resistance or arc welding.
Advancing welding automation technology, then, seems to have mostly taken tasks that were already automated to some degree, and made them more efficient. Better welding robots and weld sensors reduced the need for expensive machine retooling, and reduced the number of machine operators. It’s had comparatively less effect on skilled welder employment - better sensors, cobots, and portable welding rigs have changed the calculus somewhat, but a robotic welding system is still far less capable than a manual welder in terms of the sort of variation that it can cope with and the sorts of problems it can solve.
AI Driven Vision Inspection Automation for Engine Tappets
A backyard factory: How robots empower you to create your own products
Traditional machine shops have been in decline for years, especially in the US. In part, that’s due to the exporting of skills to other countries, and part is due to the rise of more modern technologies, like robotic-based fabrication. While robots have certainly transformed large factories, they are also making it possible to create very sophisticated production facilities in spare bedrooms, family garages, and backyard sheds. Most smaller-scale robotic manufacturing devices will fit on a desk, which is why we call this category desktop fabrication. In fact, most prosumer-level 3D printers will fit on the corner of a desk.
All told, in the seven years since ZDNET’s editor-in-chief encouraged me to start exploring 3D printing, I’ve designed and built 176 projects. Obviously, we don’t have time to survey them all, so we’ll look briefly at some of my favorites and show how each of the robots helped make them possible, starting with 3D printers.
Cone Ice cream Inspection using Machine Vision
Northvolt in new sodium-ion battery breakthrough
Northvolt has made a breakthrough in a new battery technology used for energy storage that the Swedish industrial start-up claims could minimise dependence on China for the green transition. Northvolt says it validated a sodium-ion battery at the critical level of 160 watt hours per kilogramme, an energy density close to that of the type of lithium batteries typically used in energy storage. Lithium batteries used in electric cars have an energy density of up to about 250-300Wh per kg while those typically deployed in energy storage have about 180Wh per kg.
“It is quite key to be the first ex-China player to have a sodium-ion product validated for energy storage,” said Iola Hughes, research manager at battery consultancy Rho Motion.
How governments are shaping the future industrial landscape.
🇨🇳 Ambarella CEO: ‘Chinese OEMs Are Copying the Tesla Model’
Ambarella CEO Fermi Wang clarified to EE Times that revenue for Ambarella’s most recent CV3 automotive SoC family will come first, but not only, from China. “The reason is that Chinese OEMs and tier ones will take only 18-24 months to introduce a product versus 48 months anywhere else,” Wang told EE Times. “At IAA, German OEMs were shocked by how fast Chinese vendors have been able to [develop and] show EVs.” Chinese automotive OEMs move a lot faster than their European and American counterparts, according to Wang.
“From the development cycle point of view, Chinese companies are focused on getting things out quicker instead of the European approach to make sure everything is there, quality-wise, before it’s shipped, [though] we haven’t seen a quality issue so far,” he said. “The Chinese are copying the Tesla model [upgrading software over the air] rather than the German model.”
🇩🇪 Investors scrap pioneering green hydrogen plant in Germany
One of Europe’s first plants to produce green hydrogen on a large scale in northern Germany has been scrapped due to high construction costs, reports public broadcaster NDR. The investors – a consortium that includes the Heide refinery, Danish utility Orsted and French utility EDF’s German subsidiary Hynamics – said the project had become too expensive and carried too much economic risk, making long-term operation unviable regardless of the agreed subsidies. Therefore, the group pulled the plug on the construction of a 30 MW electrolyser, which was only meant to be the first stage of the project.
🇬🇧 Nissan invests $1.4 bln to build two new EV models in Britain
Nissan (7201.T) said on Friday it would pump 1.12 billion pounds ($1.4 billion) into its British plant to build electric versions of two models, offering a boost to the country’s auto industry and a prime minister desperate to attract foreign investment. The Japanese automaker said its plans for electric versions of the Qashqai and Juke, produced in Sunderland, northeast England, would require a total investment of up to 2 billion pounds, including a third battery plant in Britain and infrastructure projects that partners would help to finance.
The project is expected to receive government support. The deal fires the starting gun on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Global Investment Summit next week, when he will try to revive interest from overseas companies which, following Brexit in 2016 and political turmoil since, have cooled on Britain.
This week's top funding events, acquisitions, and partnerships across industrial value chains
EACON Mining Technology Secures $55.22M in Funding to Propel Autonomous Haulage Solutions
EACON Mining Technology, a frontrunner in autonomous haulage solutions (AHS), has successfully closed its C round of equity funding, securing an impressive sum of approximately $55.22 million. Spearheaded by Richen Capital, with significant contributions from Shenyin&Wanguo Capital Management and existing investors like ESTAR Capital, this investment brings EACON’s total financing for 2023 to around $62.13 million.
The substantial backing reflects investor confidence in EACON’s capabilities for large-scale deployment of its AHS product. EACON now has 304 autonomous trucks in operation, with a total of 4.2 million kilometers driven autonomously and an impeccable safety record upheld for over five years. Alongside autonomy, EACON has developed the EACON 136, a hybrid electric + Drive-by-wire platform. A vehicle manufacturer partner produced and delivered 225 autonomous trucks, EL100, equipped with this platform, achieving up to 30% in maximum fuel savings.
Looking forward, with an office established in Perth, Australia, EACON is poised to broaden its presence in additional overseas markets. The commitment remains strong to deliver to a safe, intelligent, and sustainable future for the global mining industry.
Milan-based Planet Farms bags €36.6M for its vertical farming expansion in Italy and the UK
Milan-based Planet Farms, a vertical farming company, announced recently that it has secured $40M (approximately €36.6M) at $500M valuation in a fresh round of funding, bringing its total fund raised to $140M (approximately €128.3M).
The latest capital infusion will help the Italian company to expand its operations into Italy and the UK. Planet Farms will use the funds to complete its new facility in Cirimido, Italy, which will be operational by the end of summer 2024. The capital will also help the company’s entry into the UK market, where it is starting to commercialise its product through retailers, paving the way for the construction of the new facility in northern London, which will be operational in Q2 2025.
£23M investment secured by spin-out Advanced Electric Machines
Advanced Electric Machines (AEM), a leader in sustainable motor manufacturing primarily for the automotive industry, announces it has secured £23 million of new investment. The funding will be used to scale up production capacity at its facility in the North East, deliver on ambitious growth plans to establish a global sales footprint, and bolster R&D capabilities. The Series A funding round was led by Legal & General Capital and Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital with significant additional investment from Par Equity. Other investors included Northstar Ventures, the Low Carbon Innovation Fund 2 and Turquoise Capital LLP.
AEM’s motor technologies remove the need for polluting rare earth metals in electric vehicle (EV) motors, the production and processing of which is concentrated in China. By eliminating rare earth permanent magnets, costs as well as reliance on geographically concentrated supply chains are reduced, and recyclability and environmental footprint of the motor is significantly improved.
London-based Generative Engineering raises €4 million to supercharge engineers with impact-efficient tools
Generative Engineering, a London-based software company on a mission to vastly improve the overall efficiency of physical engineering, has successfully closed a €4 million pre-seed round led by EQT Ventures with participation from Join Capital.
Generative Engineering offers a unique platform that allows engineers to create and run models that generate and test thousands of different engineering designs, all within a fraction of the time these processes take today. This parallel engineering, pioneered by the company, has the potential to radically decrease product development time, allowing innovative solutions within energy, decarbonization, agriculture, mobility and more to reach the market much faster. This platform forms the centerpiece of the modern engineering software stack.