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Capturing this week's zeitgeist

Humanoid robots are becoming real. Four major humanoid manufacturers announced updates this week:

  1. Figure 01 shows off car assembly skills at BMW made possible by a vision-language model from OpenAI, which gets data from Figure 01’s cameras.
  2. Agility Robotics signed GXO into a multi-year robots-as-a-service (RaaS) agreement that integrates Agility’s Humanoid robots with other cobots at the SPANX facility.
  3. Tesla’s second-gen humanoid robot Optimus debuted at Shanghai’s 2024 World AI Conference.
  4. China’s National Local Joint Humanoid Robot Innovation Center unveiled the open-source general-purpose humanoid robot Qinglong at WAIC.

However, investing in automation, like humanoids, has been made more expensive due to higher interest rates. And, that is affecting systems integrators and other automation providers.

Kaizen Blitz

  • 🚦 Andon Status
    • 🟡🪫 Northvolt considers cutting back aggressive expansion plans.
    • 🟡🛢️ Shell to temporarily pause on-site construction of European biofuels facility, helping to control costs.
    • 🟡🪫 Lake Resources provides operational update on Kachi project in Argentina amidst low lithium prices.
    • 🚨💧 US start-up Universal Hydrogen runs out of cash and folds.
    • 🚨🖨️ Shapeways ceases operations and files for bankruptcy.
  • 📊 Survey Says
    • TDK Ventures and 6Pages explore the State of Venture and CVCs over the past 18 months.
    • Descartes released the 2024 Transportation Management Benchmark Survey.
  • 🏆 Golden Part
    • 🚙 BYD reaches 8 million new energy vehicle milestone, opens new plant in Thailand.
    • 🦺 A-SAFE wins Red Dot Award for Product Design 2024 for active racking management product RackEye, powered by IoT safety and efficiency platform, Conek.
  • 🏭💰 Production Planning
    • 💧 Sweco to build Helsinki’s first green hydrogen production plant.
    • 📦 WestRock breaks ground on corrugated box ‘superplant’.
  • 🏢💸 Corporate Development
    • Industry Ventures Raises $900M for early-stage investment.
    • Seaya closes Southern Europe’s first Article 9 climate-tech fund at €300M.
    • Iron Path Capital, an operationally focused private equity firm investing in the specialty industrials and healthcare sectors, announced the final closing of Iron Path Capital Fund I, exceeding the $250 million target.
    • The Westly Group raised an oversubscribed $100 million seed fund to invest in transforming the energy, mobility, building, and industrial sectors.
  • 🏛️📜 Industrial Policy
    • 🇵🇭 Philippines courts investors for ‘China-free’ nickel supply chain.

Assembly Line

This week's most influential Industry 4.0 media.

A New Age of Materials Is Dawning, for Everything From Smartphones to Missiles

📅 Date:

✍️ Author: Christopher Mims

🔖 Topics: Materials Science

🏢 Organizations: Arris Composites, 9T Labs, Orbital Composites

Modern composites, starting with Bakelite, were pioneered in the early part of the 20th century. Other composites were invented at a steady pace, and the industry began to hit its stride in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when automated processes for turning things like carbon fiber into giant structures like airplane bodies and windmill blades reached maturity.

In just the past couple of years, a number of startups have developed processes for creating all sorts of small objects from composites, in a way that is fast and inexpensive. These include Berkeley, Calif.-based Arris Composites, 9T Labs in Zurich, Orbital Composites in Silicon Valley, and others.

Arris shapes carbon fibers using a process that resembles wire bending—imagine how something like a coat hanger is made—says CEO Riley Reese. Then, those shaped fibers are put into a resin, and the resulting form is put into a custom mold that applies heat and pressure to further compress, shape and strengthen the part. 9T Labs uses a similar process, but starts by using “additive manufacturing” (similar to 3-D printing) to lay down narrow strips of carbon fiber into a particular shape, and then molding it in a way similar to Arris’s process, says Eichenhofer.

Orbital Composites is using substantially different processes, says CEO Amolak Badesha. Using off-the-shelf industrial robots with custom print heads that spit out carbon fiber, the company 3-D prints shapes in a process that resembles Harold’s purple crayon, for those familiar with the children’s book. The difference is that while Harold could draw in three dimensions any shape he liked, Orbital uses removable molds to support its carbon-fiber shapes as they’re being printed.

Read more at Wall Street Journal

Mech-GPT: Enabling Robots to Understand Linguistic Instructions and Handle Complex Tasks

How fish-safe hydropower technology could keep more renewables on the grid

📅 Date:

✍️ Author: Casey Crownhart

🏢 Organizations: Natel Energy

Natel Energy is making new designs for the turbines that generate electricity in hydropower plants as water rushes through equipment and moves their blades. Conventional turbine blades can move as fast as 30 meters per second, or about 60 to 70 miles per hour, Schneider says. When straight, thin edges are moving that quickly and striking fish, “it’s fairly obvious why that’s not a good outcome,” she says.

Natel’s turbine design focuses on preventing fast-moving equipment from making fatal contact with fish. The blades have a thicker leading edge that pushes water out in front of it, creating a stagnation zone, or “basically an airbag for fish,” Schneider says. The blades are also curved, so even if fish are struck, they don’t take a direct hit. The company has tested its turbines with a range of species, including American eels, alewife, and rainbow trout. In the case of one recent study with American eels, scientists found that over 99% of eels survived after 48 hours of passing through Natel’s equipment.

Read more at MIT Technology Review

DigiSim® Unlmtd Online Seminar

How to Build EV Motors Without Rare Earth Elements

📅 Date:

✍️ Authors: Vandana Rallabandi, Burak Ozpineci, Praveen Kumar

🏢 Organizations: Niron Magnetics, Powdermet

Rare earth elements (REEs) have unique properties that make them indispensable to many forms of modern technology. Some of these elements, such as neodymium, samarium, dysprosium, and terbium, can be combined with ferromagnetic elements such as iron and cobalt to produce crystals that are not only highly magnetic but also strongly resist demagnetization. The metric typically used to gauge these important qualities of a magnet is called the maximum energy product, measured in megagauss-oersteds (MGOe). The strongest and most commercially successful permanent magnets yet invented, neodymium iron boron, have energy products in the range of 30 to 55 MGOe.

The most common motor type at the moment combining the two kinds of torque is the interior-mount permanent-magnet motor, in which the permanent magnets embedded within the rotor add to the reluctance torque. Many commercial EV manufacturers, including GM, Tesla, and Toyota, now use this type of rotor design. The design of the motors for the Toyota Prius underscores the effectiveness of this approach. In these motors, the magnet mass decreased significantly over a period of 13 years, from 1.2 kilograms in the 2004 Prius to about 0.5 kg in the 2017 Prius. Much the same occurred with the Chevrolet Bolt motor, which reduced the overall usage of magnet material by 30 percent compared with the motor in its predecessor, the Chevrolet Spark.

Lately, there’s been a lot of attention focused on a new type of permanent-magnet material, iron nitride (FeN). This magnet, produced by Niron Magnetics, has high remanence, equivalent to that of REE-magnets, but like alnico has low coercivity— about a fifth of a comparable neodymium iron boron magnet. Because of these fundamentally different properties, FeN magnets require the development of new rotor designs, which will probably resemble those of past alnico motors. Niron is now developing such designs with automotive partners, including General Motors.

Yet another REE-free permanent-magnet material that comes up in discussions of future motors is manganese bismuth (MnBi), which has been the subject of collaborative research at the University of Pittsburgh, Iowa State University, and Powdermet Inc. Together these engineers designed a surface-mount permanent-magnet synchronous motor using MnBi magnets. The remanence and coercivity of these magnets is higher than ferrite magnets but lower than neodymium iron boron (NdFeB). The researchers found that a MnBi-magnet motor can produce the same torque output as a NdFeB-magnet motor but with substantial compromises: a whopping 60 percent increase in volume and a 65 percent increase in weight. On the bright side, the researchers suggested that replacing NdFeB magnets with MnBi magnets could reduce the overall cost of the motor by 32 percent.

Read more at IEEE Spectrum

Flexshuttle automated formulation laboratory

Design principles for enabling an anode-free sodium all-solid-state battery

📅 Date:

✍️ Authors: Grayson Deysher, Jin An Sam Oh, Yu-Ting Chen

🏭 Vertical: Electrical Equipment

🏢 Organizations: University of California San Diego

Anode-free batteries possess the optimal cell architecture due to their reduced weight, volume and cost. However, their implementation has been limited by unstable anode morphological changes and anode–liquid electrolyte interface reactions. Here we show that an electrochemically stable solid electrolyte and the application of stack pressure can solve these issues by enabling the deposition of dense sodium metal. Furthermore, an aluminium current collector is found to achieve intimate solid–solid contact with the solid electrolyte, which allows highly reversible sodium plating and stripping at both high areal capacities and current densities, previously unobtainable with conventional aluminium foil. A sodium anode-free all-solid-state battery full cell is demonstrated with stable cycling for several hundred cycles. This cell architecture serves as a future direction for other battery chemistries to enable low-cost, high-energy-density and fast-charging batteries.

Read more at Nature Energy

New Product Introduction

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

A new option for calcium sulfonate greases: providing greater manufacturing flexibility

📅 Date:

🏭 Vertical: Chemical

🏢 Organizations: Afton Chemical

With heightened lithium demand and price volatility, many grease producers are diversifying their technology portfolio to include calcium sulfonate greases. Calcium sulfonate has long been considered the performance champion with its high shock load protection, good structural strength, seal protection, and water washout resistance. In response, Afton Chemical created a patented process that enables manufacturers to make a high-performing complex grease from its 300TBN calcium sulfonate grease. However, the promoter used in this patented grease process, isopropyl alcohol, has multiple safety classifications. Considering the difficulties in handling, Afton worked to identify a replacement promoter with a higher flashpoint and lower safety restrictions, recognizing that any substitute would not increase the formulation costs nor detract from the finished grease’s performance.

Read more at Afton Chemical

Business Transactions

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

Stellantis Invests Additional $55 Million In Archer Following Recent Flight Test Milestone

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Funding Event

🏢 Organizations: Archer Aviation, Stellantis

Stellantis N.V. and Archer Aviation Inc., a leader in electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, announced Archer has received an additional $55 million investment from Stellantis under the companies’ strategic funding agreement following the achievement of its transition flight test milestone last month.

Archer remains on track to complete construction of its high-volume manufacturing facility in Georgia later this year. This first phase of the build out is a ~350,000 square foot facility on an ~100 acre site designed to support production of up to 650 aircraft annually, which would make it one of the largest manufacturing facilities by volume in the aircraft industry. Archer’s goal with this facility remains to establish a factory that can support its planned commercial ramp up by leveraging the expertise of Stellantis as its contract manufacturer.

Read more at Stellantis News

Aether Fuels Secures $34 Million in Series A Financing

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Funding Event

🏢 Organizations: Aether Fuels, AP Ventures, Chevron

Aether Fuels (Aether), an advanced climate technology company, announced that it has secured $34 million in Series A financing from a syndicate of global investors. AP Ventures led the round, which also includes Chevron Technology Ventures, CDP Venture Capital and Zeon Ventures. Series Seed lead investor Xora Innovation and other existing investors TechEnergy Ventures, Doral Energy-Tech Ventures, Foothill Ventures and JetBlue Ventures also participated.

With this financing, Aether plans to accelerate the scale-up of Aether Aurora™, the company’s proprietary technology to create sustainable fuels for the aviation and ocean shipping industries. Aether Aurora, which leverages technology licensed from Aether’s strategic partner GTI Energy, delivers breakthrough economics via a transformed Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process by combining innovations in chemistry (catalysts), equipment (reactors), and process flows to slash plant investment and operating costs, while simultaneously driving up yield. It is also highly flexible, enabling the conversion of a wide range of abundant waste carbon feedstocks into jet fuel and other liquid hydrocarbons and therefore overcomes the supply constraints faced by many other sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production processes.

Read more at Globe Newswire

Phaidra Raises $12 Million to Help Data Centers Increase Compute Infrastructure

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Funding Event

🏢 Organizations: Phaidra, Index Ventures

Phaidra, an AI-based control system that helps mission-critical facilities like data centers improve energy efficiency and increase compute infrastructure, announced $12 million in new funding led by Index Ventures, bringing their total capital raised to $60.5 million. The new funding will allow Phaidra to accelerate expansion of its autonomous control systems, which use reinforcement learning to help data centers optimize their power usage while improving reliability. The announcement comes at a time when rapid AI innovation relies on scaling compute. This, combined with a shortage of power and skilled labor needed to support mission-critical facilities like data centers, is contributing to a global crisis where AI innovation is constrained by a lack of compute infrastructure.

Phaidra’s AI control platform turns industrial facilities into intelligent, self-learning systems that combine the precision of manual methods with the scalability and efficiency offered by AI. It seamlessly integrates into existing building management systems to capture real-time data, feed that data into its cloud-based reinforcement learning agent, and autonomously alter the settings on the individual components to achieve optimal performance of the entire system. And unlike traditional control systems, which slowly degrade and require regular manual programming updates, Phaidra automatically learns and gets better over time. Phaidra’s early customers have seen efficiency improvements amounting to millions of dollars in cost savings, which translates to increased power availability for revenue-generating services.

Read more at PRWeb

Sensorita uses digital twins to help waste management companies streamline construction waste

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Funding Event

🏢 Organizations: Sensorita, Brick and Mortar Ventures

The company is coming out of stealth with $3.25 million in venture funding. The round was led by construction-focused VC Brick and Mortar Ventures with participation from Telenor, a large telecomm player. The firm has raised a total of $6 million, with about a third coming from grants.

The Oslo-based startup puts its sensors into construction waste bins and uses radar and machine learning technology to create digital twins of each bin. Waste companies can then use Sensorita’s software to get updates from where their bins are and how full they are and use that data to better plan pickups.

Lien said Sensorita plans to use the funding to build out its team and continue investing in its technology. She added that they have really strong traction in Norway and are looking to expand out of the region. The company is developing their sensor technology to be able to determine what type of material is in a given garbage bin. They also hope to be able to create a virtual assistant for the waste management industry.

Read more at TechCrunch

AI robotics startup Pivot Robots raises funding from NuVentures

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Funding Event

🏢 Organizations: Pivot Robots, NuVentures

US-based artificial intelligence (AI) startup Pivot Robots, which develops software for robotic arms, has raised an undisclosed amount of money from early-stage venture fund NuVentures. The funds will be used for team expansion, particularly in the areas of motion planning and computer vision. It will also be used for supporting the testing of more robots and the establishment of an office space, cofounder Siddharth Girdhar told ET.

Pivot Robots, founded in 2023 by Carnegie Mellon University graduates Siddharth Girdhar and Vignesh Rajmohan, leverages AI vision control software to automate industrial robots. It assists manufacturers in automating their most labour-intensive tasks. The company’s initial product focuses on the grinding of metal parts.

Read more at ET

Altair Announces Material Collaboration with HP Inc.

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Partnership, Additive Manufacturing

🏢 Organizations: Altair, HP

Altair, a global leader in computational intelligence, has signed an agreement with HP Inc. in which HP will provide Altair with proprietary material information that will bolster the Altair® Material Data Center™, which enables designers, engineers, and scientists to browse, search, and compare materials in a standalone application or through the interface of their simulation and optimization tools. The collaboration will help break down traditional barriers to 3D printing adoption and ultimately help customers better design parts for Multi Jet Fusion and Metal Jet printers.

The collaboration between Altair and HP bridges the often-siloed functions of the design and production of 3D-printed parts. As a result of the partnership, engineers with access to the Altair Material Data Center will be able to use HP material data to design efficient parts, conduct structural analysis using finite element analysis (FEA), and predict and fix manufacturing defects during design and simulation.

Read more at PR Newswire

Nano Dimension to Acquire Desktop Metal, Creating a Leader in Additive Manufacturing

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Acquisition

🏢 Organizations: Nano Dimension, Desktop Metal

Nano Dimension Ltd. and Desktop Metal, Inc. jointly announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement under which Nano Dimension will acquire all outstanding shares of Desktop Metal in an all-cash transaction for $5.50 per share, subject to possible downward adjustments to $4.07 per share, as described below. At $5.50 per share, the transaction represents a 27.3% premium to Desktop Metal’s closing price and a 20.5% premium to the 30-day VWAP as of July 2, 2024, for total consideration of approximately $183 million, possibly down to $4.07 per share or $135 million in total.

The union of the two companies that will create a long-term business, creating a leader in 3D printing innovative solutions that drive the transition from prototyping to mainstream tooling and end-use part production. The combined company will be the first AM provider covering the full gamut of customer needs from prototyping to production across a range of critical and high-performance medical and electronics applications in industrial and high-performance materials.

Read more at Globe Newswire

Saint-Gobain announces that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire FOSROC

📅 Date:

🔖 Topics: Acquisition

🏢 Organizations: Saint-Gobain, FOSROC

Saint-Gobain announces that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire FOSROC, a leading privately owned global construction chemicals player for $1,025 million (approximately €960 million) in cash.

A unique opportunity, fully aligned with Saint-Gobain’s strategy to strengthen its worldwide presence in construction chemicals, supported by solid macroeconomic factors including the transition towards low-carbon concrete. It will complement the Group’s worldwide growth platform in construction chemicals.

The integration will be led by Thierry Bernard, Chief Executive Officer of Construction Chemicals, with the experienced team who developed the Chryso business over many years, managed its integration within Saint-Gobain and who has piloted its successful combination with GCP since 2022, providing a high level of confidence in the integration of FOSROC. It will be consolidated into the High Performance Solutions segment.

Read more at Saint-Gobain Press