Warehouse Automation Market to Hit $27B by 2025
Research firm LogisticsIQ recently reported that it expects the growth of the material handling equipment market in general, and automated warehouse solutions in particular, to be driven by several key industrial and macro trends. Among the industrial trends, the company sees the adoption of new technologies relating to the (Industrial) Internet of Things, increased pressures on and demand for efficient and flexible distribution operations, and growth in use of automated solutions across key end markets.Technology AvailabilityAs part of their efforts to boost productivity and margins, companies are increasingly adopting data analytics tools to identify areas of improvement, which also holds true for logistics and warehouse operations. The combination of sensors, scanners and RFID tags with warehouse control systems and automated material handling equipment is increasingly seen as the way forward in terms of warehouse safety and operational efficiency. The same technology allows real-time identification and tracking of inventories, further helping to streamline the logistics process and reduce error potential.Rising Customer ExpectationsThe rapid rise of global e-commerce and expectations for shorter delivery times are further increasing the pressure on distribution operations, particularly in high-volume areas like online grocery retailing where online penetration and proliferation should grow across several markets, in particular high-density urban areas.Increasing Manufacturing Complexity A move towards the Industrial Internet of Things and increased customisation of products, e.g. cars, is a further growth driver for this industry as manufacturers require easy access to growing numbers of components with very little room for material handling errors. LogisticsIQ latest market research study estimates that the global Warehouse Automation Market will grow more than 2x from $13 Billion in 2018 to $27 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 11.7% between 2019 and 2025.Chart 1: The warehouse automation market will continue to grow over the next six years.As per the LogisticsIQ market study, AGV/AMR market is expected to cross $4 billion mark by 2025 and AMRs (without any external support of optical tape, sensor or vision) are going to be main contributors in retail warehouses, due to high demand in e-commerce sector and its flexibility to deploy the robot without any major change in the existing warehouse infrastructure. LogisticsIQ market study estimates that AGVs/AMRs are going to have more than 15% market share in overall warehouse automation.Also, it is expected that mobile robots will help the companies to lower down their increasing labor cost. It is getting popular in countries where a Logistics Performance Indicator (LPI) score is high but there are some exceptions like China where demand is too high due to e-commerce wave and disruption in the automotive and manufacturing sector. If we do consider AGV, AMR and Picking Robots to be a combined market, then they are expected to have more than 40% market share in Warehouse Automation Market by 2025.Chart 2: AGVs and AMRs (including SDVs) will occupy 14.7% of the warehouse automation market.LogisticsIQ sees substantial growth opportunities in the warehouse automation equipment space owing to several structural trends in consumer demand within eCommerce, retailing and third-party logistics providers.Automation is a Must for Customer FulfillmentMeeting customer demands within e-commerce requires increased adoption of warehouse automation solutions to keep costs and operational complexity in check. Online retailing is fundamentally a logistics business driven by margin improvement from cost reduction in inventory management, order fulfillment and delivery capabilities.Scalable Solutions Enable GrowthDouble-digit growth in e-commerce and online grocery sales is driving players to expand capacity to deliver required volumes. Warehouse automation solutions are built for scale and can deliver higher output and more accurate order fulfillment than a manual setup at lower operating costs and can increase the customer satisfaction as well as improve margins by reducing the delivery time as well as cutting down on the cost of wrong orders.Cost Efficiency and QualityAutomated and robotic solutions are easing the increasing pressure felt by online grocery retailers to get orders out to customers more efficiently while reducing fulfillment costs. Warehouse automation solutions can both increase picking speed and volumes while decreasing picking inaccuracy due to a reduction in the number of human interactions. In addition, robots are independent of labor market conditions and can work 24/7 without requiring any overhead costs such as pensions, health insurance, vacations or breaks. They also do not require training, an extra cost associated with the additional or temporary hires necessary during the peak shopping cycles. There remains the need for capital expenses to be incurred at the beginning of operations, and ROI calculations are a key criteria for any retailer looking to implement warehouse automation. The ROI keeps improving as the cost of manual trained labor force is increasing, as well as the cost of “mis-pick” can tend to shift customer loyalty.EfficiencyThe spatial savings from reduced warehouse footprints can be up to 85% and reductions in operational costs of up to 65%. Space savings are achieved primarily through storing SKUs higher and denser, and reductions in operational costs are resulting from decreased demand for manual labor.EffectivenessWarehouse automation solutions result in faster process times and reduced picking errors, and hence improved service levels. The speed at which an order can be accurately picked and shipped, increases the reliability of the customer’s delivery service, and makes operations more flexible in terms of handling late changes.Optimization of OperationsWarehouse automation solutions can be optimized through programming for continuous improvement in processes such as dynamic storage, inventory management and overnight relocation of goods. Warehouse Management Software provides cataloging of inventory and improves end-consumers’ experience from connectivity and real-time data.Considering the challenges of the current market scenario including high customer expectations, players don’t have any other option left than deploying these disrupting technologies in their warehouses and fulfillment centers to be part of this race. In the last 2-3 years, more than 30 young companies have been started including an investment of approximate $350 million. In 2017, $178 million was raised for AMR/AGV startups, and is expected to be more than $5 billion by 2025.OTTOMOTORS
What Is the Smart Factory and Its Impact on Manufacturing?
You don’t have to look too closely to see that technology is having a profound impact on how factories operate today. The application of technology is making the process of manufacturing ever increasingly intelligent and dynamic – allowing the concept of a Smart Factory to become a reality.What is a Smart Factory?The term describes a highly digitalized and connected environment where machinery and equipment are able to improve processes through automation and self-optimization. The benefits also extend beyond just the physical production of goods and into functions like planning, supply chain logistics, and even product development.Yet, the core value of the smart factory still happens within the four walls of the plant. The structure of a smart factory can include a combination of production, information, and communication technologies, with the potential for integration across the entire manufacturing supply chain. All these disparate parts of production can be connected via the IoT (Internet of Things) or other types of advanced integrated circuits (IC’s), which enable sensing, measurement, control, and communication of everything that’s happening throughout the manufacturing process.Sensor Technology Enables IoTOTTO 1500 and 100 self-driving vehicles' sensors on a production floor. Central to the smart factory is the technology that makes data collection possible. These include the intelligent sensors, motors, and robotics present on production and assembly lines that the smart factory puts to use.Sensors make it possible to monitor specific processes throughout the factory which increases awareness about what’s happening on multiple levels. For example, vibration sensing can provide a warning when motors, bearings, or other equipment need to be maintained. These types of subtle warnings become alerts for preventative maintenance or other actions that head off larger production problems if left unattended.Similarly, sensing technology on SDVs (Self-Driving Vehicles) used for material handling improves efficiency and safety as products are moved around the factory. These types of robotics have the ability to sense and avoid people, as well as unexpected obstructions in the course of doing its work. The ability to automatically avoid these common disruptions is a powerful advantage that keeps production running optimally.Connecting the Shop Floor to the Top FloorPhoto credit: Popular MechanicsCommunication and the ability to use manufacturing data is what puts the ‘smart’ in 'smart factory'. New technologies are emerging as Industry 4.0—or the next industrial revolution—are converging to enable the smart factory.Ultimately, it’s the application of intelligence at the factory level that creates a dynamic production environment and the desired results—reducing costs while improving quality and reliability. Consider how smart equipment makes it possible to automate much of what’s required to accommodate product variation and smaller-sized production runs during the manufacturing process. The future of manufacturing is more customization, so by minimizing downtime for retooling and resetting equipment, manufacturers can operate efficiently while staying flexible.The Impact on JobsAs the smart factory slowly emerges, the roles that people take on will evolve from what they are currently doing in today’s factories. People will take on more complex roles while automation will conquer the tasks that are repeatable, mundane, dangerous or currently impacted by labor shortage. In fact, labor shortage is one of the most common challenges manufacturers are continually facing, with 56% of companies saying it is difficult to hire new employees.While it's true that automation is viewed as a threat to existing manufacturing jobs, there is also new trend that is emerging called "the digital talent gap" — there is a rising need for digital skill sets as more companies choose to implement digital technologies. According to MHI's Annual Industry Report, companies are severely hampered in their ability to implement digital technologies due to the shortage of workers with the necessary skills to run them. This means that companies will need to start investing in talent development as the adoption of Industry 4.0 technology will require a greater need for skilled workers.''Organizations in the early stages of digital maturity face a chicken-and-egg problem where they have a tremendous need for digital talent, yet their hesitancy to embrace a digital culture makes them less attractive to such talent.'' — MIT Slogan and DeloitteThe investment of building a smart factory benefits manufacturers by creating a safer, efficient and more reliable operation. Companies will need to adopt digital technologies in order to meet consumers' rising expectations of faster delivery times, free shipping, options to customize products, more transparency, and lower costs. When GE Healthcare began their transition to a smart factory, they saw a 66% increase in productive floor space.The demands on the manufacturing industry will continue due to the trend for more on-demand production and ever present drive to reduce costs. The smart factory is a direct way for manufacturers to excel in a competitive and dynamic marketplace as they'll use digital innovation to improve supply chain efficiencies.OTTOMOTORS
Industry 4.0: The Development of Unique Cybersecurity
David Shepherd, Area VP, Pre-Sales EMEA at Ivanti discusses the unique challenges that manufacturers face as organisations adopt industry 4.0 digital solutions.Organisations in every sector are implementing digital solutions and upgrading legacy systems at an accelerating pace to effectively manage digital transition, and the manufacturing sector is no different. However, it’s important to note the sector faces unique cybersecurity challenges due to the made-to-measure nature of manufacturing systems, making the patching process and implementation of cybersecurity solutions increasingly complicated. The criticality of the production line to the success of a manufacturing company has meant that security is often an afterthought. For these reasons, IT departments in the manufacturing sector have often been late adopters of enterprise IT and cybersecurity solutions. However, as digital technologies proliferate every aspect of our lives, the need to protect manufacturing IT systems is becoming increasingly pertinent. Over half of manufacturing organisations have experienced some kind of cyberattack, the cause of significant downtime and business continuity issues. Fortunately, 87% of manufacturing organisations now say cybersecurity is quickly becoming a key part of business continuity planning. Industry 4.0: A digital double-edged swordThe move towards automation and data exchange has been labelled ‘Industry 4.0’. This refers to the shift from a physical, on-premise environment to cyber-physical systems such as the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing and automation. Global manufacturers, such as car manufacturer Audi, are now using intelligent automation and machine learning to continuously improve processes, moving towards a data-driven and highly flexible manufacturing process. Many other smaller manufacturers are seeing the benefits and building their own automation strategies in order to harness the potential of Industry 4.0. It’s easy to see why – connected technologies in factories bring untold improvements to efficiency and productivity, as well as increasing visibility throughout the entire company. However, companies must factor into their Industry 4.0 strategies that increased connectivity amplifies their attack surface. A cyber-attack can ultimately impact the productivity of an organisation, leading to the loss of a plant or production line for a period of time, causing crippling revenue losses. Something as small as a general email ‘phishing’ attack, where employees are sent an email containing a malicious link, can have devastating results. Using this method, cybercriminals can infect a manufacturer’s network with malware or ransomware, rendering its IT systems unusable, impacting its reputation and leaving it with a hefty bill. Small automotive manufacturer C.E. Niehoff & Co, found itself targeted by a phishing campaign last year. After an employee clicked on a malicious link, attackers were able to hold its IT systems ransom as well as target its supply chain and customers.A holistic approach to cybersecurity In order to tackle multi-faceted threats, manufacturers should approach their security operations with a ‘defence in-depth’ approach. This involves layering multiple cybersecurity solutions in order to ensure protection at every level. Manufacturers should follow a robust security framework, such as CIS Controls or the NCSC Cyber Essentials model. This in turn can help businesses benefit from additional tools such as vulnerability management, privilege access management, application whitelisting, anti-virus protection and employee awareness and training programmes. However, whilst following these steps will put manufacturers in a good position to combat threats, any defence must be flexible enough to respond to emerging risks, and this will only become more prevalent as the digital landscape continues to evolve. One such example is the IoT, which poses a pertinent threat for the manufacturing industry. As more and more internet-enabled devices and systems are connected to internal business networks, the entry points for attackers also increase. However, as cyberthreats develop so does the technology designed to defend against them. For example, manufacturers can implement automation as part of a layered approach to help IT and security professionals stay one step ahead. The benefits of automationWhen automation is introduced, organisations experience huge time-saving benefits, freeing up the IT team to take care of other tasks. One of the areas that can benefit from automation is patching, typically a time consuming and tedious task – but one of the most valuable when defending against cyberthreats. This will ensure systems are consistently up-to-date and protected against the latest vulnerabilities. Automation also allows a comprehensive overview of every user and device connected to a network and enables the effective detection of any suspicious user or device behaviour. This way, organisations can combat a range of threats, from malicious insiders to infiltration by external attackers. The next step is AI, which brings a learning element to this process, allowing security systems to alter their defensive approach based on what they have learnt from previous attacks. However, automation and AI still need effective reporting and auditing capabilities, or they too could become a cybersecurity blind spot. The best way to combat blind spots is to find a balance of proactive defensive tools and awareness of new and emerging threats. Manufacturers must be fully aware of the huge risks posed by malicious actors, not just to business operations, but also to the infrastructure and security of their clients and supply chain. A serious compromise to security can result in huge losses across the industry and even a country’s economy, as was seen with the 2017 WannaCry attack that compromised every industry from healthcare to retail and manufacturing. Technology can bring huge benefits to businesses, but this must also be complemented with robust cybersecurity solutions. By layering a best practice approach with effective technological solutions, manufacturers will be able to decrease their attack surface in the face of even the most sophisticated attackers.MANUFACTURING GLOBAL
Is Enterprise Security Broken?
The average enterprise, according to many estimates, has between 200-500 individual security products installed, ranging from multiple products deployed on user endpoint devices, all the way up to large scale network monitoring and protection software/appliances, as well as cloud-based service offerings.Many products, especially those that have been installed for a while, are located on premises. But an increasing number are being deployed in the cloud as a service (SaaS) where many of the newest entrants are focused.Why security is currently so hard to manageThere are numerous single-focused security-oriented products (e.g., network monitoring, data leak protection, anti-malware, VPN, user authentication, identity management, single sign on, and many more). They are brought in for a specific task and/or problem area and often not as part of some overall security plan.With all of this complexity, the complete security posture of a company is extremely hard to manage, let alone determine. And this is not just an issue for large enterprise – small and medium size business have an equally daunting and perhaps even more difficult challenge given SMB’s generally have fewer resources to dedicate to the task.We’re beginning to see some small steps to try and consolidate a number of these requirements into a single or small group of products. Much as we’ve seen in the move to a unified endpoint management (UEM) approach to upgrade smartphone management from a standalone to an integrated all-devices strategy, we’re beginning a similar process in security, although it’s a much more complex consolidation process that will take a long time to accomplish.Under I’ll concentrate on two examples of distributors which might be shifting to a extra consolidated strategy, however from two totally different directions – one from the endpoint (BlackBerry) and one from the community (Cisco). Definitely these will not be the only ones shifting on this built-in course, however are illustrative of the subsequent era of unified security products coming to market.Blackberry’s strategy to unified endpoint safetyThe variability and vast availability of varied endpoints (e.g., laptops, smartphones, IoT units, edge units) for use by enterprises is making a troublesome state of affairs. In the current previous, every would have had to employ its personal security capabilities and have a singular administration console, leading to a hodge-podge of safety mechanisms that IT needed to handle. However with a give attention to zero trust (e.g., not assuming each gadget is secure in its own proper and building a system to help general security regardless), the market is shifting to a single cross-device unified safety platform. BlackBerry’s Spark Platform is an instance of this.The platform is built on six complementary elements that work on nearly any endpoint. These embrace the next: endpoint safety platform (EPP), endpoint detection and response (EDR), cellular menace protection (MTD), steady authentication, knowledge loss prevention (DLP), and secure net gateway.Utilizing an AI engine that BlackBerry gained when it acquired Cylance, it uses its intelligence to calculate risks, enable policy controls, confront malware threats, and shield delicate corporate knowledge in a dynamic trend. It does this by creating behavioral profiles that take a look at what the consumer/system is doing and assessing whether or not or not this is normal and must be allowed, or the result of a malicious menace. Consequently, the necessity to have multiple vendor unique-to-each-device anti-malware safety elements just isn't required. Spark incorporates an AI-based menace protection element operating on every system that eliminates the necessity for multiple vendors’ merchandise, and is managed by means of a single console.BlackBerry Spark doesn't but have all the elements it plans to have long run (e.g., DLP, net gateway), however even in its starting levels, it goes a great distance in the direction of making a single safety platform throughout a wide range of units that may be managed by a single console inside almost any UEM a company might have in place. This can be a far more economical option to handle safety than having probably dozens of non-interacting stand alone elements typical in most corporations. And it permits IT to be much more environment friendly, while also implementing a single security technique for all units.I anticipate this unified endpoint safety mannequin to turn into the dominant endpoint security mannequin inside the next 2-3 years, though it might take considerably longer for corporations with already present know-how to make the change. However, enterprises must be planning now to move in the direction of this unified security mannequin for elevated security, better TCO, and improved consumer experience.Cisco’s strategy to unified community securityVery similar to the endpoint discussion above, most corporations have a myriad of networking merchandise in place to take care of security of the overall company network. This is difficult additional by the truth that individual network distributors have their very own distinctive management elements that do not interact properly with others. Certainly, essential infrastructure elements, like VPNs, Wi-Fi entry points, web gateways, inter-office connections, and so on., might all be controlled by individual administration consoles, creating a huge burden on IT, and particularly for smaller organizations that will not have the talents or the assets crucial. What’s required is a unified community safety management capability.For instance of movement in this path, Cisco just lately announced its SecureX as a cloud-native platform. Initially, this product is designed to integrate all of Cisco’s numerous security administration products right into a single console, as well as input from its menace intelligence service, Talos. This will go an extended solution to automating and increasing visibility of what’s happening in the network, and scale back the variety of siloed stories and consoles needing to be interpreted by IT employees.At present, most capabilities like network menace intelligence require using that knowledge to then implement remedial motion in a separate interface. The resulting disjointed workflow can severely prohibit the time to mitigation of threats. Indeed, Cisco makes use of the example of before and after SecureX, when an automated solution to determine, investigate, remediate and communicate a knowledge breach on a laptop computer was lowered in complete time from 5.5 hours with a guide strategy to lower than two hours using SecureX.Time is crucial in any potential knowledge breach as the exfiltration of knowledge is instantly proportional to the amount of time the breach just isn't contained. Further, most organizations have extreme resource constraints with regards to security employees, and any automated system that can improve the power to guage and react to threats can go an extended solution to enhancing the safety posture of the group.In the short-term, the most important limitation of SecureX seems to be its relative lack of integration with non-Cisco products, though it does provide an API that in the future Cisco says will supply many more integration capabilities for other vendors’ products, although it’s unclear what number of rivals will transfer to combine with SecureX. Ultimately, the APIs also needs to permit corporations with distinctive products to do their own integration to the only pane of glass administration that SecureX gives. However, even with these restrictions, with Cisco’s big share of the networking market, SecureX can be a serious step forward in enhancing security posture, especially since Cisco expects the product to be made out there to all present clients.Unified community security, like unified endpoint security, is an space I anticipate to be dominant within the next 2-Three years, particularly as the necessity for more complicated networking and elimination of latest menace vectors come into play. Corporations who're already Cisco-centric should undoubtedly deploy SecureX as quickly as sensible. Different networking security corporations may also transfer in the unified administration area, and enterprises ought to be formulating a technique now for a way they plan to make the transfer in the next 2 years.Say goodbye to unbiased safety productsBottom Line: The notion that ether endpoint or community security must be a plethora of distinctive and unbiased merchandise that must be interpreted and/or managed separately is coming to a speedy finish. I anticipate most corporations to move to a unified security strategy, notably as a lot of the device needed will probably be provided as cloud providers, which makes a transition more engaging and easier to deploy. Corporations must concentrate on unifying their security merchandise in the subsequent 1-2 years if they're to remain secure longer-term.TECHFISHNEWS
The $99 Mendel Air Sensor Uses Data to Help You Grow Better Veggies (Or Weed)
The Mendel Air Sensor app is the first app I open every morning. Before Reddit, before Gmail, before NYT. I roll over, grab my phone and check my plants. I don’t know if there’s a higher honor I can bestow on an app.The Mendel Air Sensor is a game-changer for indoor growers. It offers a sophisticated suite of sensors that collects critical information about growing conditions. With a price of $99, there’s very little else on the market that offers the same sort of data collection at an affordable price.The company behind the Mendel Air Sensor started by building similar sensors for at-home aquariums. This group knows data collection and teamed up with an experienced manufacturer to develop and ship the Mendel Air Sensor.I know very little about growing plants indoors. I’ve watched some YouTube videos, read a lot of blog posts and asked friends for advice. And yet I have a small growing operation in my basement: tomatoes, romaine lettuce, carrots and, you know, other leafy greens.Several weeks in, I’m starting to appreciate the data behind growing plants. There’s a lot to consider, from the temperature to types and amount of light, to humidity and how the plants react to humidity through a calculation to determine the vapor pressure deficit (VPD).I have a Mendel Air Sensor hanging in one grow tent (pictured at the top), and it’s my new obsession. The small green device collects four data points every 15 minutes and displays the information through a web app or smartphone app. This is allowing me to fine-tune the controlled environment through exhaust fans, light placement and humidifier levels.As I’ve found, it’s critical to watch this data throughout the day. I’ve yet to stabilize the environment to a point where I set it and forget it. About twice a day, because of the Mendel Air Sensor, I make slight changes to the growing tent, which results in dramatic changes to the environment. Without access to this data, I wouldn’t know something is off until the plant shows warning signs — and as I understand it, that’s when it’s too late.At $99, it’s a good value, and there are only a few competitors in the space. Most are double or triple the price, though their charting products seem more mature.CEO Nate Levine tells TechCrunch Mendel started as a 50/50 partnership with another bootstrapped company, RapidLED out of the Bay Area. This company has sold lights for indoor growers for the last few years and already has an established base of customers in this field. But Levine didn’t start to build a product for monitoring plants; instead, he created, FishBit, a product for monitoring aquariums.The parallels between the two markets helped Levine’s team jump into the indoor gardening space. As Levine told TechCrunch, the consumer demands are similar, and like with aquariums, indoor growers are increasingly looking for ways to increase capabilities. Instead of keeping fish alive, though, they’re trying to get more tomatoes. Or weed.Levine said that unlike with aquariums, indoor growers can be less stingy with their cash, though, right now, with cannabis, margins are slim. There isn’t a gold rush, he said, but noted that the cannabis market, in particular, is at the right spot for companies to launch new products.The company is marketing the same product to home growers, and commercial growers thought this could be a challenge with the current web app. It lacks robust features found on other products. For a small grower like me, it’s okay, but I expect commercial customers expect better logging, more detailed analysis and a variable monitoring cycle instead of just every 15 minutes.To make it available for international users, the company needs to swap out the USB power supply.Don’t call this is a pivot. Or at least Levine doesn’t call it a pivot. As he told TechCrunch, if he goes back to the original pitch deck, the company is still driving at the same goal for FishBit, and everything the team learns on Mendel is implemented in FishBit, too. The goal is to build an entire product line of smart hardware and software for the indoor grower.RapidLED approached Levine and the team at an aquarium conference and offered to build the hardware if Levine could make the software. My plants are happy that the two companies forged the partnership.As for my plants, I’ve learned a few things because of the Mendel Air Sensor. First, my grow lights put out much more heat than I expected, and I need to dump the cheap set and get a name brand unit. Second, the humidity was much lower than I had expected, so I added a humidifier. Finally, monitoring the VPD is much easier than it seems if the calculations are automated.Growing plants is hard, but it’s easier with the data from the Mendel Air Sensor.TECHCRUNCH
Future-Proofing Production: COVID’s Impact on Manufacturing
Marcus Behrendt, Partner, BMW i Ventures, discusses how manufacturing organisations can future-proof there production operations amidst COVID-19.Now is the perfect time to automate. It’s bold advice, as so many in the sector grapple with uncertain futures – and to be sure, the future is indeed uncertain for all of us in manufacturing. But if your uncertainty is around when and not if your factory will reopen and production will kick off again, now is the time to make important changes that will take your manufacturing operations from vulnerable to immune as we brace for the next inevitable disruption. So often, manufacturers have well thought through plans as to when they’ll automate elements of their production line. They know it’s a sound investment in the future and an opportunity to reduce costs, increase output and optimize quality, representing returns that can be harvested down the road, but the cost of shutting down production to deploy next generation automation means missing out of harvesting more immediate returns. So, they wait.But now, with day-to-day business at a standstill, there’s never been a better time to future-proof manufacturing through modernization – and there’s never been a better example in context of the myriad ways next generation automation can protect manufacturers from increased exposure when disaster does hit.Future-Proofing ProductionAnything that’s true of the benefits of intelligent and flexible automation in normal circumstances is doubly true now: it enables more efficiency, lowers cost, increases output and quality – and importantly, it lowers reliance on manual labor. In a crisis like the one we’re all experiencing now, the more self-sufficient manufacturing processes are, the less they’ll be affected by unexpected changes in circumstance, such as a sudden shift in the availability of the workforce. As we all talk about Industry 4.0 nowadays, we should also start thinking about Automation 4.0. Automation in the past might have been independent of labor-related influences, but it was, and still is, far from flexible. It was quite an effort to adapt to changes when needed. But there are new possibilities in automation when it’s powered by software – it offers more dynamic, flexible lines, with changeovers that happen at the touch of a button, as exemplified by the technology of one of our portfolio companies, Bright Machines. This software-defined approach to manufacturing enables a more agile response to demand. As we’re seeing in real-time as manufacturers work to shift their factory floors to address not only shifting consumer demands, but the pressing needs of healthcare providers, the ability to quickly reconfigure a production line cannot be undervalued. Solving for Supply Chain ComplexitiesThose in the electronics manufacturing industry will remember well the impact that the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 had on the global supply chain. That was one localized crisis, but it had massive global repercussions. Now, we’re dealing with a global outbreak that’s affecting every place, every nation. But it presumably strikes at different times with differing severity, making the recovery for supply chains completely unpredictable. The case for scalable, intelligent automation solutions that enable more localized production has never been more clear – and in fact, this has been a discussion point for OEMs well before COVID became a household name. I’m optimistic that supply chains will show resilience and that going forward, the concept of decentralized, localized production will come into clearer focus for manufacturing as an industry. What we’re quickly learning is that shipping products around the globe to save a penny today, might not pay off in these times of crisis. It’s always been a concern for OEMs, especially in complex situations like auto manufacturing, that the complexity of the supply chain will lead to issues when a group of suppliers hasn’t planned well enough for the unexpected, and that the production cycle will be thrown off. The more manufacturers throughout the supply chain are able to better prepare themselves and their lines through implementing flexible, smart automation, the more likely they’ll be able to weather any storm, whether it’s a tsunami, a pandemic, or a trade war.The Time to Automate Is NowThere are of course some who won’t be able to weather this particular storm; it’s a tough time for the world, and those in manufacturing aren’t exempt. That said, if you are confident in your future, I urge you to consider seeing this downtime as the perfect time to rethink your approach and move forward with next generation automation plans.The bottom line: anyone who invests in software-defined automation now – while production allows, because of unforeseen downtime – will be ready to answer the call when things do return to normal, whatever that new normal might look like. Stay safe!MANUFACTURING GLOBAL
Designing Dual 48-V/12-V Battery Automotive Systems
The future of 48-V/12-V battery systems in automobiles now lurks just around the corner. Most major automobile manufacturers across the globe have been working on proving out their systems for the past few years, and it’s evident that their implementation will be relatively near term. This is a necessary and crucial step in the long and arduous journey to the fully autonomous passenger vehicle, which doesn’t require a human at the controls and has true autonomous driving.Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean the 12-V battery is going away—there are far too many legacy systems in the installed vehicle base for this to occur. What it does mean is that autonomous cars will have both a 12-V battery and a 48-V battery (Fig. 1).1. Next-generation cars will be powered by a 12-V and a 48-V battery.A vehicle’s internal systems will either run off the 48-V lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery or the 12-V sealed lead-acid (SLA) battery—but not both. In addition to having two separate charging circuits for these individual batteries due to their respective chemistries, there must also be a mechanism that enables charge to move between them without causing any damage to the batteries or any system within the vehicle. An added benefit is that having two batteries also allows for redundancy should one of them fail during operation.While this certainly complicates the design of the various electrical subsystems within the vehicles, there are some advantages to be gained. According to some auto manufacturers, a 48-V-based electric system results in a 10% to 15% gain in fuel economy for internal combustion engine vehicles, thereby reducing CO2 emissions.Moreover, future vehicles that use a dual 48-V/12-V system will enable engineers to integrate electrical booster technology that operates independently of the engine load, thereby improving acceleration performance. Such compressors are already in the advanced stages of development and will be placed between the induction system and the intercooler, using the 48-V rail to spin-up the turbos.Globally, fuel-economy regulations have been tightening, while autonomous-driving capability with connectivity continues to proliferate in new automobiles. Accordingly, the 12-V automobile electric system has reached its usable power limit. As if these changes aren’t already enough, there has been a significant increase in automotive electronic systems. These changes, coupled with related demands for power, have created a new spectrum of engineering opportunities. Clearly, the 12-V lead-acid battery automotive system with its 3-kW power limit must be supplemented.Furthermore, new automobile standards impact how these systems need to work. A newly proposed automotive standard, known as LV 148, combines a secondary 48-V bus with the existing automotive 12-V system. The 48-V rail includes an integrated starter generator (ISG) or belt start generator, a 48-V Li-Ion battery, and a bidirectional dc-dc converter, which can deliver tens of kilowatts of available energy from the 48- and 12-V batteries. This technology is targeted at conventional, internal combustion automobiles, as well as hybrid electric and mild hybrid vehicles, as auto manufacturers strive to meet increasingly stringent CO2 emission targets.New Power Architectures for 48-V/12-V Battery SystemsThis new standard requires the 12-V bus to continuously power the ignition, lighting, infotainment, and audio systems. The 48-V bus will power active chassis systems, air-conditioning compressors, adjustable suspensions, electric superchargers, turbos, and even regenerative braking.The implementation of an additional 48-V supply network into vehicles isn’t without significant impact. Electronic control units (ECUs) will be affected and must have their operational range adjusted to the higher voltage. In addition, this will necessitate that manufacturers of dc-dc converters introduce specialized ICs to enable these high-power energy transfers with very high efficiency to conserve energy while simultaneously minimizing thermal design aspects.The need for a bidirectional step-down and step-up dc-dc converter that goes between the 12- and 48-V batteries is clearly required. Such converters could be used to charge either of the batteries while simultaneously allowing both batteries to supply current to the same load if required in the system.From a legacy perspective, these initial 48-V/12-V, dual-battery, dc-dc converter designs used different power components to step-up and step-down the voltage. To address the requirements of dual batteries, manufacturers have introduced bidirectional dc-dc controllers that use the same external power components for step-up conversion as they do for step-down conversion.Bidirectional DC-DC ControllersFor example, the LT8228 from Analog Devices is a 100-V bidirectional constant-current or constant-voltage synchronous buck or boost controller with independent compensation networks that helps simplify the design of bidirectional battery-backup systems (Fig. 2). The controller provides a step-down output voltage, V2, from an input voltage, V1, when in buck mode or a step-up output voltage, V1, from an input voltage, V2, when in boost mode. The input and output voltage can be set as high as 100 V.2. Bidirectional dc-dc controllers like the LT8228 shown here simplify the design of bidirectional battery-backup systems.The direction of the power flow is automatically determined by the controller or can be externally controlled. Integrated input and output protection MOSFETs for the V1 and V2 terminals protect against negative voltages, control inrush currents, and provide isolation between terminals under fault conditions such as switching MOSFET shorts.In step-down mode, the protection MOSFETs at the V1 terminal prevent reverse current. In step-up mode, the same MOSFETs regulate the output inrush current and protect themselves with an adjustable timer circuit breaker. In applications such as battery-backup systems, the bidirectional feature allows the battery to be charged from either a higher or lower voltage supply. When the supply is unavailable, the battery boosts or bucks power back to the supply.Dual-battery controllers also offer a bidirectional input and output current limit as well as independent current monitoring. To optimize transient response, the LT8228 has two error amplifiers: EA1 in boost mode and EA2 in buck mode with separate compensation pins VC1 and VC2, respectively. The controller operates in discontinuous conduction mode when reverse inductor current is detected for conditions such as light load operation.Input and output current-limit programming in buck- and boost-mode operation is done using four pins: ISET1P, ISET1N, ISET2P, and ISET2N. The controller also provides independent input and output current monitoring using the IMON1 and IMON2 pins. Current-limit programming and monitoring is functional for the entire input and output voltage range of 0 to 100 V.Masterless, fault-tolerant current sharing allows any controller in parallel to be added or subtracted while maintaining current-sharing accuracy. Each controller regulates to the average output current, eliminating the need for a master controller and providing higher load current, better heat management, and redundancy. Internal and external fault diagnostics and reporting are available via the fault and report pins. When an individual controller is disabled or in a fault condition, it stops contributing to the average bus, making the current-sharing scheme fault-tolerant.To meet stringent automotive standards and efficiency requirements, dual-battery controllers need to provide bidirectional capabilities that simplify overall power system design. Higher levels of performance, control, and simplicity can be achieved with 48-V/12-V, dual-battery, dc-dc automotive systems by allowing the same external power components to be used for step-down and step-up purposes. They enable operation on demand in buck mode from the 48-V bus to the 12-V bus or in boost mode from 12 V to 48 V.When starting the car or when additional power is required, these controllers enable both batteries to supply energy simultaneously to the same load. This gives power-conversion designers a feature-rich, bidirectional converter that can easily configure 12- and 48-V battery systems, which will be required for the fully autonomous vehicles of the near future.ELECTRONICDESIGN
COVID-19’s Impact on the Semiconductor Market
In mid-March, the U.S. stock market was still trying to understand what was happening with the global coronavirus pandemic, having lost nearly 20% of its value in one week. Cooling-off periods (also called “Circuit Breakers”) automatically stopped overheated trading at different intervals.Market indexes fell sharply, as shown in a chart from Google Finance, which shows the relative performance over the first part of the year for both the Dow Jones Industrials and NASDAQ (Fig. 1). It’s been a roller-coaster ride since that date, with the market rising sharply last week and once again tumbling to start off this week.1. The chart shows the relative performance of the Dow Jones Index and NASDAQ over the January to mid-March timeframe.In this time of great financial uncertainty, what does it mean to the chip market?Since The Memory Guy is an engineer by training, I can’t easily explain what’s happening to the global economy, but my background as a semiconductor industry analyst gives me clarity about what’s most likely to happen in the chip market. My aim, in this post, is to provide an extremely abbreviated version of the story that I’m now telling in detail to my clients. It’s today’s version of the story that I always tell when forecasting semiconductors since the market regularly repeats the same cycles.The line of thought, which I will explain below, is the same one that has led to the fact that the Objective Analysis semiconductor forecast has been the most consistently accurate forecast in the industry for the past 13 years. It’s a fact that we highlight by sharing videos of each year’s forecast on a page on our website.Where Memories Go, Semiconductors FollowThere’s a very strong relationship between memory revenue growth and overall semiconductor revenue growth. Figure 2 illustrates this fact.3. Shown is the history of DRAM gigabyte shipments.The points show memory revenue growth vs. total semiconductor revenue growth for every year from 1974-2018. With the exception of six years in the 1980s, the points all fall within the range outlined in the orb. This relationship simplifies the task of creating a semiconductor forecast.Memories are the more volatile portion of the semiconductor market: If you know what memories are likely to do, then you can predict semiconductor revenues.Demand-Driven Downturns are RareI used to tell my clients that demand-driven downturns occurred regularly every 15 years, and that all other downturns were caused by over-investment. Demand downturns occurred in 1970, 1985, and 2000. The pace has recently picked up, with demand-driven downturns in 2009 and 2015. All other semiconductor cycles have been the result of excess capital spending.This isn’t commonly believed, since chip makers usually blame demand for every downturn.Memory Bits Grow PredictablyFigure 3 plots DRAM gigabyte shipments starting in 1991 (red), with a trend line (black) illustrating the gradual slowing of memory bit growth. It’s on a semi-logarithmic chart, since a linear chart would look like a hockey stick. In a semi-log format constant growth shows up as a straight line.Note the call-outs for the Internet Bubble Burst in 2000 and the Global Economic Crisis of 2008-9. While demand did indeed dip in 2009 (from being slightly over trend), it’s relatively difficult to pinpoint a specific drop from the Internet Bubble Burst. Another demand drop, in 2015, shows up on this chart, too, but isn’t called out.COVID-19 is almost certain to cause a demand lapse similar in magnitude to the dips in 2009 and 2015, and that lapse will trigger an oversupply.Throughout this history, growth has resumed as soon as the calamity was brought under control. Objective Analysis expects a COVID-driven demand shortfall that will last less than a year. This may be followed by a short period of unusually high consumption driven by pent-up demand.After that, long-term gigabyte consumption will return to its previous growth rate.Memory Pricing is Also PredictableIt’s a little more difficult to predict memory prices, but it’s not all that difficult. Memory prices tend to flatten during a shortage and collapse to cost at the onset of an oversupply. If you understand what cost is, and if you know when shortages and oversupplies are likely to occur, then you can predict prices.This historical chart (Fig. 4) explains the phenomenon.4. The price (red), cost (black dashed line), and arrows indicate the flat periods.DRAM price per gigabyte history trend line: With today’s events causing a demand shortfall, the result will be an oversupply, and that will cause prices to fall to cost. Once demand catches up with supply, prices will rise above cost.The Market Will Eventually RecoverWhat this leads us to is an expectation that 2020 will be a down year in the chip market, yet this is something that Objective Analysis was already predicting based on excessive capital spending in 2018. The anticipated CapEx-driven oversupply will be accompanied by a demand downturn that will cause more immediate damage to semiconductor revenues.This situation will not last. Since demand is likely to rise back to the trend line, then the future shortage that we have already been predicting is likely to happen on time, driven by insufficient capital spending. The net impact of COVID-19 will be to cause an earlier downturn in 2020 than would have otherwise occurred, but the impact is unlikely to go beyond that.For More In-Depth InformationObjective Analysis’s regular clients get a far deeper look into this analysis and much better insight that allows them to plan around such predictable results of unpredictable phenomena like the COVID-19 pandemic. Readers who aren’t already clients of ours are welcome to contact us to explore ways that we can help you to outperform your competition using a deeper understanding of the market to assist in your planning.We also express our sympathy to those already impacted by the pandemic, as well as those yet to be impacted. Such events are a true test of our strengths as human beings, but we should emerge stronger as a result of the ordeal.ELECTRONICDESIGN
The Evolution of 3D Printing in Manufacturing
Paul Benning, Chief Technologist at 3D Print HP Inc. discusses the current technology trends within the manufacturing industry relating to 3D printing.What is 3D printing?3D printing is a manufacturing process that produces objects in accordance to a 3D digital model. By using a 3D printer and adding material layer by layer, such as plastics and metals, complex objects can be produced both rapidly and at low cost, in short runs or as one-of-a-kind parts. HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D technology enables customers to produce complex parts with controllable physical and functional properties at each point and provides speed, quality and strength throughout the manufacturing process for a range of industries and applications.How has 3D printing evolved over the years?We’re on the cusp of the 4th Industrial Revolution, where physical and digital technologies will radically alter how companies conceive, design, produce, distribute and repair nearly everything. The increased global demand for sustainable solutions and customised products has resulted in a surge in demand for 3D-printed parts and products. Technological innovations in the field have halved costs while delivering twice the performance. As the 3D printing sector moves beyond prototyping, use of this technology, particularly in supply chains, is becoming increasingly widespread. In 2018, HP launched Metal Jet technology, the world’s most advanced 3D printing technology for the high-volume manufacturing of production-grade metal parts. It delivers mechanically functional final parts with up to 50x more productivity than other 3D printing methods, and at significantly lower cost compared to other binder jetting systems. As we see more customers scale for production and further collaboration through a growing ecosystem of partners, the possibilities are growing for a new era of manufacturing. What are the current trends in 3D printing? A trend we’ll see is the accelerated impact of digital manufacturing take hold in the form of production applications, particularly across the automotive, industrial and medical sectors. In the auto sector, we’ve seen an increased focus on developing production-grade materials for auto applications as 3D printing gravitates from prototyping to full production of final parts and products. Additionally, as new platforms such as electric vehicles enter mass production, HP Metal Jet is expected to be leveraged for applications such as the light weighting of fully safety-certified metal parts. Industrial 3D manufacturing also enables the automotive industry to produce applications in new ways that were previously impossible, along with the ability to design application-specific parts for individual systems or models.What innovative technology have you seen being used with 3D printing?One really powerful example of 3D printing we’ve seen in the last few weeks is how 3D suppliers and digital manufacturers are coming together to help produce vital applications to help fight COVID-19. HP and its global network of partners and customers are printing crucial parts such as ventilator valves, face mask adjusters and hands-free door handles - for local hospitals and healthcare providers around the world. Beyond how 3D is supporting the current situation at hand, we’ve seen myriad ways that the technology has been used – everything from customised prosthetic limbs, to parts that are used in cars, to invisible braces helping people to achieve their desired smile. With industries facing increased customer centricity when it comes to the services they provide, how can 3D printing help to drive customer centricity?One of the major benefits of 3D printing is the ability to customise products and parts fully for the end user. This may be in the form of design preference, or it could serve a more practical purpose such as improving the fit or usability of a product. For example, 3D printing makes it easy to customize prosthetic limbs and shortens the production time from weeks to days, and it can deliver custom-fitted and individualized footwear, including insoles, through innovative 3D scanning, dynamic gait analysis and manufacturing technologies.How can 3D printing make manufacturing more agile? By allowing consumers to dictate demand, 3D printing lends itself to increased supply chain mobility, flexibility and adaptability, therefore reducing costs and waste. Companies no longer have to predict consumer demand by gambling on how much of a product they will sell; 3D printing ensures the infinite flexibility as they are able to print what they need.3D printing also allows manufacturers to prototype more successfully, as they can print a new model/part with every advancement or amendment of the design, through a simple tweak on the software, printed instantly. Thus, saving time and money rather than if they had to produce new moulds each time. 3D printing also allows for incredible volumes to be produced in a short time frame. HP customer SmileDirectClub uses Mult Jet Fusion 3D printing solutions to produce more than 50,000 personalised moulds each day, and anticipates printing nearly 20 million mouth molds over the next 12 months alone. In 2018, more than 10 million parts were produced using HP Multi Jet Fusion technology worldwide. How can 3D printing benefit the manufacturing industry?3D printing completely reinvents the way things are conceived, designed, produced and distributed, significantly lowering development and production costs, immensely simplifying logistics, and lowering carbon footprint. It holds great potential to revolutionise supply chains, and we are beginning to see an increase in the number of companies who turn to this form of manufacturing in order to stay competitive and create products faster. 3D printing will be the catalyst for significant shifts within the global manufacturing sector, and leaders will be defined by their ability to harness its full disruptive power. In a fully digital future, the production of goods will be driven closer to the consumer, democratizing manufacturing on a worldwide scale and allowing products to be mass-customized.by traditional processes, designers will be free to create entirely new categories of products, as the line between ideas and physical reality erodes. And manufacturers, no longer tethered to overseas factories, will shorten supply chains with a newfound ability to custom-produce anything, anywhere. What are the challenges of 3D printing?The most significant hurdle is the change of mindset. It is crucial to think about designing for 3D from the first stages of product development, to think about the wider implications of how development is staged to full scale production, and how supply chains can be further optimized. There are deep, engrained sense of limits and hurdles for those who have worked decades in traditional manufacturing. With 3D manufacturing, there is almost a re-learning process that needs to take place – the vast majority those limits no longer apply. The design possibilities are limitless. And, of course, there are new skills that must be developed to fully leverage these possibilities. For engineers, new elements of the design process will be introduced into their roles where they will need to learn the mechanics of 3D printing to become experts in the processes and best support operational functions during production.What applications of 3D printing have you seen within the industry?3D printing is being used in a variety of industries including automotive, manufacturing, healthcare and consumer goods. Alongside the incredible efforts to help support the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve also seen some fantastic applications in the commercial sector. 3D printing is being used by major car manufacturers to produce gear sticks and safety gloves, fashion designers are producing 3D printed handbags and shoes and companies are printing custom foot insoles with just a scan of a patient’s foot. The possibilities really are endless and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of the industry over the next few years. The work being done by Jaguar Land Rover as they advance EV development, or Vestas VBIC, the largest provider of wind turbines in the world, are significant examples of how 3D printing is enabling industries to move seamlessly from prototyping to production, with incredible flexibility to make improvements in near real time.MANUFACTURING GLOBAL
Self-Driving Cars and the Challenges They Face to Gain Acceptance
Radical upheavals are taking place along several different paths. The three key ones are in relation to the powertrain (with the migration away from internal combustion engines and toward electric propulsion), the widespread proliferation of x-by-wire (thereby removing heavy and less reliable mechanical systems) and finally – most importantly of all – who/what will actually be responsible for driving future generations of automobiles.Regardless of which form of motive force is used under the hood, the constituent electronics hardware and the roles that this is taking in vehicles’ management and operation continue to grow at a considerable pace. With this, the degree of autonomy that automotive systems possess is increasing and, consequently, driver involvement is set to diminish in the years ahead.While the previous two blogs in this six-part series focused on the supporting technology – sensors and communication infrastructure respectively – the next two will be concerned with how to bring about its wider adoption, and where there could be potential flashpoints.One aspect of intelligent vehicles that promotes safer traffic conditions is their interconnectivity. Cloud-based systems can not only connect one car, bus or truck with another, but can also connect all of them to a municipal traffic management system. This interconnectivity will help ensure cars are aware of traffic lights, potential obstructions to their route and other road users – thereby reducing the burden placed on simple sensor recognition, and giving a more comprehensive overview of what is happening at any point in time.It should be noted that it is not just a matter of the position, speed and direction of travel pertaining to vehicles in the vicinity. Road etiquette will have a significant influence on the kinds of decisions that self-driving cars make. City driving often requires a degree of assertiveness than would not be normal when on rural roads. It frequently involves manoeuvres – such as merging into a busy lane – that to an autonomous vehicle may appear too risky to undertake.In cultures where drivers in the receiving lane typically slow down to let in another vehicle out of politeness, it will be much easier for the software to decide the level of risk is acceptable and go ahead with the merge. In other parts of the world, however, drivers may not give way so easily. Under such circumstances, the artificial intelligence (AI) software will need to take on a much greater level of risk – pulling into the lane in the expectation that the driver approaching from behind will realize and brake quickly enough.As the early days of autonomous driving will be in environments where machine-based and human drivers coexist, collisions seem inevitable for a variety of reasons. It will not be until much farther into the future that vehicles will be able to negotiate with each other wirelessly and determine who should join the lane based on a queueing algorithm.Another question now being asked is whether road etiquette will be affected by self-driving cars. Studies have already shown that the presence of autonomous vehicles being tested on our roads can change the way drivers in the vicinity behave – more specifically, drivers tend to show a more aggressive and less considerate attitude. Is this purely down to the novelty value of there just being a handful of trial vehicles in operation currently, or is there something more deep-set within the human psyche that needs to be investigated?There have even been cases where individuals have actually been witnessed using handguns to take pot-shots at self-driving vehicles while they were in the process of traveling around their test routes. The motivation for such incidents is unclear. It could be anger about the possibility of autonomous technology leading to people losing their jobs (taxi drivers, haulage drivers, etc.), or maybe just an instinctive aversion to the unknown.It is perhaps naïve to think that society’s willingness to embrace autonomous driving is unlikely to be an amorphous thing. Some demographics are going to be more accepting of it than others, and age (in particular) is certain to be factor. Those who have been driving for several decades are probably not going to be as easily persuaded to consider trying a mode of transport that seems completely alien to them (and where they don’t have full control) as someone who has only just passed their driving test. Initiatives are now underway in several European countries to address this – making sure that older generations’ concerns are not ignored, and attempting to encourage their engagement.By the very nature of AI, the algorithms on which AI inferences are based will need to be programmed by humans, and this, in turn, raises a number of dilemmas. There is already heated debate about the whole decision-making process that autonomous vehicles will need to follow when put in life-critical situations.Questions of this kind have been asked ever since people started handing responsibility for social order to third parties. In this context, law, municipal traffic management, pedestrian safety and myriad other issues pertaining to how vehicles should interact with society will eventually be placed in the hands of solid-state decision-makers (though these will draw on a framework that human engineers have bestowed on them).This responsibility doesn’t rest solely with the vehicle, of course. Autonomous transportation is just one part of the all-encompassing smart city ecosystem. An urban area’s cloud infrastructure will be as critical to traffic safety as the state of the road network or weather conditions. Sophisticated vehicle-to-everything (V2X) network systems must be set up. They will need to be scalable, as well as ultra-reliable and responsive. That burden falls on the engineering community to create the components and subsystems required. At the same time, there are a plethora of fundamental questions that need answering when it comes to who will be accountable if something does go wrong.These will be addressed in the final part of this blog series.NEWELECTRONICS
In Automotive, Is Additive Manufacturing an Answer for Die Cast Tooling?
Wes Byleveld has gotten used to working backward in his sales pitches. The bottom line, he tells Exco Engineering’s automotive customers, is that additively manufactured die cast components can provide a distinct competitive edge. He shows how 3D-printing conformal cooling channels close to the surface of these tools creates a thermally balanced die, and how the benefits cascade into decreased cycle time, lower scrap rates and lower labor costs. And yes, he goes on to say, the mechanical performance of inserts and water jackets printed with maraging steel, which is suitable for sintering via the powder-bed fusion (PBF) process, equals or exceeds the performance of H13 tool steel. Using thermal stress simulations and real-world testing, he presents years’ worth of research that backs up his claims.It’s a pitch that Byleveld has made with a good deal of success for Exco, where he serves as director of additive manufacturing (AM) for the largest high-pressure die cast tool builder in North America. Exco’s top customers are are the Detroit Three automakers, but the list extends to just about every major automotive brand known to the United States.--Through their success, Byleveld and his team of additive champions at Exco seem to be quietly altering the definition of what “production” means when it comes to 3D-printed components for the auto industry.--The result of Byleveld and Exco Additive’s work is that several powertrain, body and structural components on the road today or in the near future will likely be produced with 3D-printed die cast tools. Considering that roughly 70 million cars are produced each year, this is no small feat. But more impressive — and more important to the way we think about additive manufacturing’s role in the industrial landscape — is how Exco has incorporated metal 3D printing into one of the harshest manufacturing environments imaginable. As Byleveld explains, it started with simple curiosity.Insert Additive HereWes Byleveld has been with Exco Engineering for 15 years, beginning in the company’s die cast department doing robotic programming work for die casting process- and workflow-related issues. But for the last four years he’s been fully dedicated to additive manufacturing, an initiative that he says began after learning that one of Exco’s competitors had begun experimenting with the technology. “It was curiosity more than necessity,” as he puts it. But after an initial round of positive benchmarking tests — fueled by the potential to drastically decrease temperatures via 3D-printed conformal cooling channels — Byleveld says he was given broad latitude to bring additive manufacturing into Exco’s production tools.Industrial-scale die casting — the process of forcing molten metal at extremely high pressure into a mold cavity — is an extremely inhospitable environment for metal powder-based 3D printing. Exco’s facility in Toronto comprises 130,000 square feet of heavy-duty machine tools, including a 4000-ton high pressure die cast machine and three massive furnaces. Exco produces several automotive dies for critical parts, including engine blocks, transfer cases, instrument and body panels, wheels, and engine cradles. To be clear, Exco produces the dies and tooling for these parts, not the parts themselves. Some of the dies that Exco ships to customers, such as a V8 engine block die, can weigh hundreds of thousands of pounds.A typical die produced by Exco consists of several components, some of which require complex machining operations for intricate features such as threading and cooling channels. The die cavity insert is a prime example of this. As the name implies, die inserts — which are machined separately due to their geometric complexity — are inserted into a pocket of the die when finished. While machining inserts as standalone components allows the cutting tool to access external faces of the part, internal cooling channel geometries are still limited to basic linear shapes. Because of this, inefficient cooling of the die during and after the casting process creates thermal imbalance, which causes several problems further down the production chain.As Byleveld and his team learned, the transition to 3D printing die casting inserts wasn’t as simple as purchasing the right printer. In fact, the act of finding a 3D printer capable of producing automotive die casting parts — and surviving in a die casting environment — was itself a challenge. As a benchmark part, Byleveld selected an engine block water jacket, a part that features a thick base and extremely thin walls. Byleveld then sent water jackets to several 3D printer OEMs with a challenge attached: “If you can build this part for us, we'll buy your machine,” Byleveld said. “EOS was the only company that took it on and said, ‘Yes, we'll give it a try and we're going to succeed no matter what it takes.’”In 2015, Exco purchased its first 3D printer, an EOS M 400. The next obstacle to overcome was a materials-related issue: H13 tool steel — the standard material used for Exco’s dies — doesn’t play well with the powder bed fusion process.The Trouble With H13“Materials are the name of the game,” Byleveld says. The problem with laser sintering H13 alloys, he says, is that the high degree of carbon in the steel leads to the formation of microcracks throughout the material just like traditional welding. Even with a properly preheated system done just the right way, defects will persist and lead to a highly unreliable part that may get a lot of shots one time and as low as 75 the next. “It’s extremely hard to produce additively,” Byleveld says. “When you look at some of the parts printed with H13, they're cracked and full of porosity. When you're injecting metal at 13,000 PSI in 20 milliseconds, and you have a waterline 1 mm from the surface, if that water line burst during metal injection it blows open the machine. It's a big safety concern for me.”The material solution that Byleveld and his team landed upon is one that dates back to a previous generation of die casting: maraging steel.Maraging steels were developed in the 1960s for high strength pressure vessel applications, specifically rocket motors casings, and were for a time used widely throughout the automotive die casting industry. With its low carbon content, maraging steel is extremely weldable and thus ideal for the powder bed fusion process. Combined with the proper heat treatment and aging processes, Byleveld says that the overall mechanical properties of maraging steel meet and exceed traditional tool steels for die casting while maintaining a high level of dimensional stability and low distortion.Through trial and error and several commissioned studies with a local university, Exco has created a proprietary heat-treating process for 3D printed maraging steel that Byleveld says results in a hardness similar to H13, but with much lower porosity and a higher resistance to cracking. “The material lasts,” he says. “We’ve printed die inserts from maraging steel that have lasted more than 150,000 cycles.”This stat is all the more impressive when you take a close look inside the looping geometries of a 3D-printed die insert.In these 3D-printed test parts, a slight teardrop shape can be seen in the tube on the left. Stress can concentrate within this shape, leading to failure of the part. Exco has experimented with other channel shapes to offset this problem.The Eastern BlockThe rule of thumb for cooling channels within a typical insert is that they must reside no less than 0.75 inches from the die casting surface. Anything closer to that risks failure. But thermal and mechanical simulation testing has allowed Byleveld and his team to push the limits with 3D printed conformal cooling channels, placing them within a fraction of the conventional minimum of 0.75 inches.A heat map shows the drastic temperature differences achieved with conventional (linear) cooling channels versus conformal, 3D-printed channels Exco is also closing in on the ability to pre-stress CAD models in a way that offsets bending and warping that takes place during the printing process. Byleveld showed me printed test strips that he measured on CMM in order to determine the bend rate across a certain distance — the results of which can be input into a modeling method for prestressing inserts. The smaller the insert, the easier this is to accomplish, Byleveld says. This work was part of the motivation for Exco to invest in its second metal 3D printer, an EOS M 400-4, in which four, 400-watt fiber lasers operate in separate quadrants with 100 mm of overlap area in the center. Because a single, large part can now be made with multiple lasers at the same time, the part stays warmer for longer. Because the delta change in temperature is what leads to warpage, keeping the entire part at a steady temperature limits the overall distortion.This simulation model shows low stress levels throughout the shape of the cooling channelsConformal cooling channels have long been touted as a key benefit for utilizing 3D printing in the mold-and-die industry. And Exco’s investment in bringing additive manufacturing to automotive die casting bears this out. Thermal balance within a large automotive die, which contains a dynamic range of thick and thin sections shot through with liquid aluminum, is extremely difficult to control. The ability to do so impacts not only performance, but also cycle time, scrap rates and labor costs — all critical factors in an increasingly competitive global market, especially from Eastern Europe.While powder costs for additive manufacturing — as well as the time and capital expenses on refining the printing processes — elevate the costs for 3D-printed parts like die inserts and water jackets by two-to-five times, Exco says that its parts not only out-perform traditionally manufactured dies, but save substantial time during the solidification process. This, in turn, results in substantial cost savings during the die lifecycleContrast that with intricate setups on a five-axis machine to drill difficult angles, which wastes not only valuable time but also substantial amounts of material. Not to mention that complex machining also requires skilled labor to perform the task. “You can imagine on a 200,000-pound die, as delivered, we're probably removing 40 to 50 percent of material conventionally,” Byleveld says. “You buy a hundred-pound block of H-13 at $5 a pound and whittle it down to 30 or 40 pounds and get 10 cents on the dollar for your waste. Same with a large die insert; you remove 40 percent. With additive, you're only producing what you need plus a little bit of machine stock. Yes, the material is much more expensive, but it actually starts coming closer and closer to conventional manufacturing.”Because this might not be intuitive to his customers’ purchasing departments, Byleveld says that the most important role can be that of a sales engineer. What is the hourly cost on a machine? What is the ROI for a part that lasts several times as long as a traditional part? The savings, he says, can be thousands of dollars compared to a traditionally produced insert.10,000 CyclesUltimately for Exco, delivering dies that out-perform those that are traditionally manufactured allow customers like GM and Chrysler to produce parts faster and remain profitable. One critical component that Byleveld believes can be drastically improved via additive manufacturing is the water jacket — the benchmark part that won EOS the company’s business.Wes Byleveld, director of additive manufacturing for Exco Enginnering, the largest high-pressure die cast tool builder in North AmericaWater jackets inserts essentially create the coolant channel within an engine block. They are difficult to machine, let alone print, due to the variance in thickness of the curved walls from top to bottom. Because temperatures can vary across the face of a water jacket die by as much as 220°F, solder buildup often occurs during the metal injection phase of the casting. Machine-related downtime associated with polishing solder is itself costly. Eventually, fatigue in these areas will crack through the water jacket and result in leaks between the coolant and oil passages on the engine block itself. The typical cost to an auto manufacturer can be upwards of $10,000 per insert, and these inserts often last fewer than 15,000 cycles before having to be discarded.Byleveld says that one of his Big Three automaker customers is testing 3D printed water jackets that contain a water line near the surface to substantially decrease the temperature variance and limit solder formation. While the central geometry of the 3D-printed water jacket is no different than a conventionally produced part, Byleveld is betting that, even at five times the cost, the expense of an additively produced jacket is more than justified when you calculate increased performance, longevity, and machine-related downtime associated with polishing solder.Conformal cooling channel on a 3D-printed water jacket. Full adoption of 3D-printed water jackets by automakers has the potential to be a game changer for Exco in many ways. The company produces roughly 500 of these parts per year conventionally. Byleveld says that even producing 200 a year additively — assuming that the performance enhancements doubled the shot life result — it could justify Exco purchasing another two or three additive machines.Before that happens, the benefits will need to be made clear, Byleveld says. The durability of 3D-printed parts like the water jacket will have to bear out during testing. And a mindset change may need to occur among customers who may consider bottom-line costs before calculating savings for material, labor and performance. “You know, it's a tough sell sometimes, because the cost of one of our additively produced inserts is two- to five-times the cost of a conventional one,” he says. “But when the conventional is a thousand dollars and you're only charging you know three or four thousand for it but you're getting all the benefits, that’s where the real savings are for people.” Until that’s widely understood, he says, he’ll keep doing what he’s been doing: Starting his sales presentations at the end, and working his way back.ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING
New Bill Would End Intelligence Sharing With U.S. Allies Which Utilize Huawei’s 5G Network
Some European countries haven't ruled out the state-supported company despite American ban.Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has introduced a bill that proposes terminating intelligence sharing with allies that utilize Chinese telecommunications company Huawei’s equipment.Cotton’s bill would apply pressure on United States allies, particularly those in Europe, to follow efforts in the U.S. to block Huawei from infiltrating 5G networks to potentially spy on behalf of the Chinese state.U.S. security and foreign policy officials have long voiced grave concerns that Huawei’s 5G network would compromise confidential information, arguing that Huawei is ultimately obligated to serve the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).Last year, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo penned an opinion for POLITICO, stating, “With 5G capabilities, the CCP could use Huawei or ZTE's access to steal private or proprietary information, or use ‘kill switches’ to disrupt critical future applications like electrical grids and telesurgery centers. And one only needs to look at the CCP’s extensive human rights abuses in Xinjiang — so clearly laid out in recently leaked documents — to see how it is using technology for mass repression.”Though Huawei contends that it is a private company and has not received any special treatment from the Chinese government, it is estimated that Beijing substantially subsidizes the company, having provided $75 billion in state support.Despite public relations campaigns, suspiciously modeled after typical CCP techniques, that recast Huawei as simply another tech company, research has revealed employee links between Huawei and China’s military and intelligence services. Furthermore, as the Wall Street Journal exposed this summer, Huawei technicians have already enabled governments in Africa to access information, including encrypted communications, to spy on political opponents.Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has also been a vocal advocate for limiting Huawei’s influence in addition to calling for sanctions against Beijing for its plethora of human rights violations.Despite these concerns, Germany and the United Kingdom have balked at banning Huawei outright as they contemplate contracts for their 5G networks, and Huawei is doing its best to refute ties to the CCP.Nonetheless, Huawei appears to be feeling the sting of American efforts. The company has stated that sales growth in 2019 failed to meet projections, and it anticipates continued strife in 2020.More largely, the world appears to be waking to the national security threat posed by Chinese tech companies as marked by a progressive decline in Chinese participation at the world’s biggest consumer-electronics exhibition, CES in Las Vegas. ALLIANCE FOR AMERICAN MANUFACTURING