Everything Changes When the Plant Goes Smart


Shop Talk

Capturing this week's zeitgeist

Don’t blink — you might miss the new speed record set by a Mitsubishi robot when solving a Rubik’s Cube, an achievement verified by the Guinness World Records administration.

Also, the economics of additive manufacturing are broken — here’s how to fix it:

Here is an idea for industrial 3D printer companies: Eat your own dog food. Nobody will use your systems in serial production unless you do it yourself! Challenge your teams to build a fully automated manufacturing line for your AM machines with 3D printing at its core. Use the process to push into a different market, the market of integrated digital production. Build a machine that builds the machine. Use AM to save production steps. Use the project as a vehicle to make AM compatible with automation and integrate with conventional production steps.

Kaizen Blitz

  • 🏆 Golden Part
    • 🚗 Premcar has celebrated the production of the 10,000th new car at its Epping assembly plant in Melbourne, Australia.
    • 🛩️ Electra’s Goldfinch eSTOL prototype took off using less than 170ft of runway during flight testing earlier this month.
  • 🏭💰 Behemoth Factories
    • 💉 Eli Lilly’s new $5.3B financing for the production of diabetes, and obesity drugs in Indiana brings total investment in its 600-acre campus to $9 billion, making it the largest outlay in United States history for synthetic medicine API manufacturing.
    • 💿 Siliconware Precision Industries Co., Ltd. (SPIL) breaks ground on new RM6-billion semiconductor packaging and testing facility.
    • 🔋 French battery manufacturer and Renault partner Verkor has secured €1.3 billion in financing for its battery cell factory in northern France.
    • ✈️ Collins Aerospace has initiated a $200 million investment to expand manufacturing at the carbon brake production site in Spokane, Washington.
  • 🏢💸 Corporate Frontier
    • Snowflake is committed to supporting startups by partnering with ABB’s global startup accelerator SynerLeap.
  • 🔬💸 Research Hypothesis
    • ☀️ The American-Made Data-Driven Distributed (3D) Solar Visibility Prize is a $175,000 prize designed to incentivize innovators to develop models and algorithms that provide accurate and real-time information about distributed solar generation in electric power distribution networks.
  • 🏛️📜 Industrial Policy
    • 🇪🇺 The EU approves a €2 billion Italian measure to support STMicroelectronics in constructing and operating an integrated chip manufacturing plant for Silicon Carbide power devices in Catania, Sicily.
    • 🇲🇾 Malaysia to train 60,000 engineers in bid to become chip hub.

Assembly Line

This week's most influential Industry 4.0 media.

The Solar Breakthrough That Could Help the U.S. Compete With China

📅 Date:

✍️ Author: Amrith Ramkumar

🏢 Organizations: Lumet, Hanwha Group

The new technology comes from an Israeli startup that promises to simplify one of the most cumbersome steps in solar manufacturing and cut costs by reducing the amount of silver needed to capture sunlight on the panels. The startup, called Lumet, is the brainchild of Benny Landa, who founded the company that developed the first digital printing press. That company was sold to HP for $830 million in the early 2000s. Lumet is working with Bank of America to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming months, Landa said.

South Korea’s Hanwha Group says it will be the first company to use Lumet’s technology. Hanwha’s Qcells unit, one of the biggest solar-panel makers outside China, is building a multibillion-dollar solar supply chain in Georgia. The company expects the financial savings and performance gains to help it compete with low-cost products from the world’s biggest producer.

The main building blocks in solar panels are polysilicon wafers, which are treated with chemicals and silver to produce solar cells that can collect energy from the sun. Those cells are connected to get finished modules. The step that uses silver and is being overhauled by Lumet is called metallization. It is one of the most expensive parts of cell assembly. The process uses screen printing techniques that rely on squeegeeing a silver paste through a mesh screen in a process similar to stenciling, then drying it out. The silver is coated on the cell in ultrathin shapes, known as fingers, for capturing sunlight.

Read more at Wall Street Journal

Hot Stamping with Fast Light Alloys Stamping Technology (FAST)

SK Innovation’s Ulsan plant goes smarter with AI, robot dog, AR tech

📅 Date:

✍️ Author: Hyung-Kyu Kim

🔖 Topics: Augmented Reality, Visual Inspection

🏢 Organizations: SK Innovation, Boston Dynamics

At a petrochemical plant run by SK Innovation Co., South Korea’s largest oil refiner, Spot, a robot dog, was on routine patrol around the factory to spot any potential gas leaks. The $131,600 Spot, made by US robotics startup Boston Dynamics, recently joined SK Innovation, the parent of SK Energy Co., as its robot employee to enhance safety in SK’s plant operations. At another plant where a new building is under construction, SK Energy officials were checking a smart scaffolding system developed with augmented reality (AR) technology for efficient and safe construction.

In February, SK Energy teamed up with PTC Korea Co. to jointly enter the global smart plant construction business. Under their partnership, SK plans to use PTC Korea’s software technology in its next-generation facility management system OCEAN-H, or optimized & connected enterprise asset network hub. OCEAN-H, a system that systematically accumulates data on energy and chemical industry facilities within factories, is used to improve efficiency and safety in plant operations.

Read more at Korea Economic Daily

Everything changes when Bots make Bots

‘EV is boring, it’s all solved’: Why an Irish battery company is going off-road

📅 Date:

✍️ Author: Jude Webber

🏢 Organizations: Xerotech, Proterra, American Battery, Lithos

Weighing in at around 1.5 tonnes, it is the biggest individual pack on the electric vehicle market, delivering almost 300 kilowatt hours of power. Once fitted into its white metal casing, this €150,000 pack — and six other identical ones, each containing 16,128 individual cells that are a little longer and fatter than AA batteries — is destined for an Australian mine truck. That is just one of the vehicles that Xerotech is supplying as mining, construction and other industries seek to cut their carbon emissions.

It is a niche market, selling “millions of units at best” a year globally, but with strong growth forecast over the coming decade. Xerotech says its battery packs contain an insulating foam that stops fire from spreading and they can be pierced without blowing up. It has also developed battery safety technology for the European Space Agency.

Read more at Financial Times

Geographical Shifts and Power Strategies in Data Center Growth

New Product Introduction

Highlighting new and innovative facilities, processes, products, and services

ENEOS and PFN Begin World’s First AI-Based Autonomous Operation of Crude Oil Processing Unit

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Autonomous Production, Autonomous Factory

🏭 Vertical: Chemical, Petroleum and Coal

🏢 Organizations: ENEOS, Preferred Networks

ENEOS Corporation (ENEOS) and Preferred Networks, Inc. (PFN) announced that they started continuous autonomous operation of an atmospheric distillation unit for processing crude oil in January 2024.The atmospheric distillation unit currently operated autonomously with an AI system is located in the ENEOS Kawasaki Refinery.

With 24 key operational factors to control and as many as 930 sensors to monitor, the atmospheric distillation unit especially requires a high level of skills and experience. AI-based, continuous autonomous operation of an atmospheric distillation unit is the world’s first according to a consulting firm Globe-ing Inc.

The AI system for the atmospheric distillation unit continuously monitors 24 key operational factors and adjusts 13 valves at the same time to stabilize fluctuations resulting from crude oil switching as well as changes in crude oil throughput. The AI system has demonstrated higher stability and efficiency compared with manual operations.

Read more at PFN News

BYD Launches Hybrids With 1,300-Mile Driving Range

📅 Date:

✍️ Author: Jiahui Huang

🏢 Organizations: BYD

Chinese automaker BYD is rolling out cars capable of driving more than 1,300 miles without refueling or recharging, its latest effort to set itself apart from rivals in the world’s largest auto market.

The world’s biggest maker of electric vehicles has launched two plug-in hybrid sedans with upgraded powertrains that it said give both a driving range of more than 2,100 kilometers, or more than 1,306 miles, on a full tank and full battery. That’s roughly the distance between New York City and Miami – a drive along I-95 that can take 19 hours.

The new powertrains are BYD’s fifth iteration since it launched its first plug-in hybrid model in 2008. The new versions cut fuel consumption to 2.9 liters per 100 kilometers, down from 3.8 liters per 100 kilometers in the previous version three years ago.

Read more at Wall Street Journal

Business Transactions

This week's top funding events, acquisitions, and partnerships across industrial value chains.

Mitsubishi Electric Corporation Leads Series B Investment in Realtime Robotics

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Funding Event

🏢 Organizations: Realtime Robotics, Mitsubishi Electric

Realtime Robotics, the leader in collision-free autonomous motion planning for industrial robots, announced that it has secured a strategic investment from Mitsubishi Electric Corporation. This is the lead investment in Realtime Robotics’ recently opened Series B round. Mitsubishi Electric was also a participant in the Series A round, and will be adding a senior representative to Realtime’s Board of Directors.

The funds will be used to support the refinement and scalability of the company’s revolutionary robot workcell optimization and runtime solutions, which significantly help engineers and manufacturers reduce costs and increase productivity.

Customers, including automotive manufacturers BMW and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, as well as integrators Valiant TMS and Schaeffler Group, report improved cycle times, reduced downtime, and increased throughput as a result of working with Realtime.

By increasing its stake, Mitsubishi Electric plans to further integrate Realtime’s cutting-edge motion planning technology into 3D simulators and other software to optimize manufacturing through the power of digital twins. Later, Mitsubishi Electric expects to incorporate Realtime’s technology into factory automation (FA) control system devices, such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), servo motors and computer numerical controllers (CNCs), to ensure uninterrupted plant operations by responding to needs for expanded automation capabilities, streamlined plant operations for improved efficiency, and fast responses to unexpected events.

Read more at Business Wire

EthonAI raises $16.5M for Manufacturing AI

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Funding Event

🏢 Organizations: EthonAI, Index Ventures

EthonAI announced that it has raised CHF 15 million ($16.5 million) in a Series A round of funding led by Index Ventures, with participation from General Catalyst, Earlybird and Founderful.

Founded out of Zurich in 2021 by CEO Julian Senoner and CTO Bernhard Kratzwald, EthonAI can train AI models for specific use cases, for instance in electronics manufacturing where the customer supplies imagery of defect-free products and EthonAI’s Inspector software can then identify surface defects in the products during the manufacturing and assembly process.

Read more at TechCrunch

DataHow secures Series A investment for its AI bioprocessing Solutions

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Funding Event

🏢 Organizations: DataHow, Momenta, Rockwell Automation

DataHow, a leader in AI-powered solutions for bioprocess development and manufacturing, has successfully closed its Series A investment round led by Momenta, the leading industrial impact venture capital firm. This investment, along with the participation from Rockwell Automation and Zürcher Kantonalbank, will allow the Zurich-based company to accelerate the deployment of its digital bioprocess development and manufacturing platform, DataHowLab.

An ETH spin-off founded in 2017 by a team of experienced researchers with industry experience, DataHow has pioneered the development of hybrid models for bioprocess development, implementing their innovative technologies with many of the biopharmaceutical industry’s largest players. Combining hard-coded process knowledge with data-driven AI algorithms, DataHow’s hybrid models provide process engineers with richer process insight when developing complex manufacturing processes while requiring less data.

Read more at PRWeb

Packwise secures funds to scale its industrial tech to North America

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Funding Event

🏢 Organizations: Packwise, TGFS

Dresden-founded IoT startup Packwise has raised an undisclosed seven-figure amount to drive upcoming internationalisation to North America. This current round of funding comes from TGFS Technologiegründerfonds Sachsen, together with Hüttenes³ GmbH. Founded in 2017, the company offers an innovative industrial IoT solution that enables customers in the chemical, pharmaceutical and food industries to gain transparency along the supply chain. Customers include BASF, Merck and Solvay.

The Packwise Smart Cap plug-and-play device creates new insights and records sensor data on the location, level, temperature and movement of mobile liquid containers with high precision in real-time. The accompanying platform visualises and analyses processes for various applications in the supply chain. By creating a digital twin of their industrial packaging, customers of the company gain insight into their entire supply chain and can use the Packwise software platform to map a variety of supply chain processes.

Read more at Tech EU

Wavelogix Secures $3M Investment from Rhapsody Venture Partners

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Funding Event

🏢 Organizations: Wavelogix, Rhapsody Venture Partners, Purdue University

Wavelogix, an Indiana-based startup manufacturing novel concrete strength sensors, has secured $3M in Series A funding from Rhapsody Venture Partners, a Cambridge-based venture capital firm that specializes in hard-tech investments.

Wavelogix’ patented REBEL Concrete Strength Sensors, developed at Purdue University, is the world’s first-ever, completely BREAK-FREE™, real-time, in-place concrete strength sensing solution. Once embedded, the sensors are able to measure in-place strength directly, without any information about the concrete mix. This innovation enables construction engineers to make data-driven decisions, optimizing schedules, reducing costs, and improving jobsite safety.

Read more at PRWeb

Eaton acquires Exertherm

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Acquisition

🏢 Organizations: Eaton, Exertherm

Intelligent power management company Eaton announced it has completed the acquisition of Exertherm, a privately owned, U.K.-based provider of thermal monitoring solutions for electrical equipment. Marks further expansion into continuous thermal monitoring, improving safety and reliability of critical electrical equipment in key markets like data centers.

Read more at PR Newswire

Apple Buys Canadian AI Startup as It Races to Add Features

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Acquisition

🏢 Organizations: Apple, DarwinAI, University of Waterloo

Apple Inc. has acquired Canadian artificial intelligence startup DarwinAI, adding technology to its arsenal ahead of a big push into generative AI in 2024. The iPhone maker purchased the business earlier this year, and dozens of DarwinAI’s employees have joined Apple’s artificial intelligence division.

DarwinAI has developed AI technology for visually inspecting components during the manufacturing process and serves customers in a range of industries. But one of its core technologies is making artificial intelligence systems smaller and faster. That work that could be helpful to Apple, which is focused on running AI on devices rather than entirely in the cloud.

Read more at Bloomberg