Customized Robotics-as-a-Service Offering Lets Manufacturers ‘Hire’ Robots

It seems as if everything can be as-a-Service these days, now even robotics. Formic Technologies launched recently with a simple value proposition: hire fully customized robots from top vendors at a low hourly rate and no upfront cost. To help small and medium-size manufacturers benefit from automation, Formic handles every aspect of a financing and deployment—from scoping, engineering, purchasing, implementation, and maintenance. The company also guarantees uptime, with customers paying nothing for system downtime.

Purchasing robotics can be expensive and a capital expense rather than an operational expense. This results in a barrier to entry for smaller manufacturers dissuading them from deploying automation altogether.

“We started Formic because we saw all that automation can do, and we wanted to provide a way for any manufacturer to easily adopt automation in a simple, risk-free, and on-demand way,” said Saman Farid, CEO and co-founder. “With Formic’s fundamentally different approach to financing and deployment, manufacturers can do more with automation without high costs or a lengthy and complicated purchasing and deployment process.” 

Formic’s model was designed to systematically remove every barrier to entry, allowing manufacturers to deploy automation efficiently and cost effectively. Testing shows that Formic’s deployments are 50% faster than traditional approaches and save customers 42% on their operating expenses from the first day.

According to Farid, an engineer and robotics start-up investor who founded Formic with former Universal Robots salesperson Misa Ikhechi, a unique combination of products and services make Formic’s model possible:

  • Systematized deployment processes
  • In-house equipment financing
  • Formic-designed solutions featuring products from leading robotic vendors such as Universal Robots, Fanuc, and ABB

“We came to the conclusion that what manufacturers needed was not any specific new technology, but a better way to access the technology that would best meet their needs,” Farid said. “Formic offers that access at a fraction of the cost or energy, as Formic takes on the heavy lifting.”

Mining and Metals Companies Accelerate Focus on Sustainability

Schneider Electric, long-time promoter of sustainability strategies, recently held a media/analyst roundtable with (sister company?) AVEVA to discuss the latest sustainability issues in the mining and metals industries. Their discussion centered on support in four pillars: energy efficiency, yield improvement, low greenhouse emission technology adoption, and new green processes.

Schneider Electric and AVEVA are providing the tools required by organizations to make informed decisions that will empower people across the mining, minerals, and metals value chains to be more strategic in their choices based on sound advice with sustainability in mind. They are assisting operators and managers in these choices leaving these organizations well positioned to tackle some of the challenges associated with adopting sustainable practices, potentially resulting in reduced operating costs and thus providing the rare ability of appeasing all stakeholders.

According to an IDC Technology Spotlight, sponsored by AVEVA and Schneider Electric, Transitioning to Sustainable Mining, Minerals and Metals Practices, the top three market pressures driving the sustainability agendas of mining and metals organizations are:

  • Need to improve brand equity
  • Reduce the risk of an adverse event
  • Ensure compliance with current and future regulations

“Technology has a critical role to play in supporting mining companies,” said Ben Kirkwood, Senior Research Manager, IDC Energy Insights – WW Mining. “Efforts to hit sustainability targets and gain greater visibility and control over operations will enable corporate insight and action relating to energy, water usage, and management of the operational environment. IDC’s global analysis of the revenue growth and profitability of industrial companies shows that those with a committed and ongoing sustainability-based strategy combined with a long-term, funded, digital transformation agenda considerably outperform their competitors.” 

“Digitally integrated operations can address key areas of an organization’s sustainability agenda by combining power and process intelligence and controls,” said David Willick, VP North America, Mining, Minerals and Metals Segment, Schneider Electric. “Digitalization is a critical evolution for the resources industry, and Schneider Electric and AVEVA are uniquely qualified to help. We are experts at marshalling the power of connected systems and human insight to bring operational performance to its highest level. Together, we have won the trust of the world’s leading companies with thousands of implementations onsite and in the cloud. Today our joint customers can benefit from our shared customer-centric innovation culture, unmatched R&D capabilities, and extensive sector-specific expertise.”

“Although the benefits of digital transformation are crystal clear, the mining industry has thus far been limited by legacy infrastructure, data inadequacies, and piecemeal optimization programs,” said Martin Provencher, Industry Principal, Mining, Metals and Materials, AVEVA. “Increasingly virulent cyberattacks and a growing mandate for decarbonized minerals have further emphasized the importance of having high data availability and embracing a secure, cloud-first approach to visualize and contextualize enterprise-wide processes across global operations. The combination of Schneider Electric’s energy management solutions, automation systems and services, and AVEVA’s Digital Mining Transformation solutions enable our customers to transform conventional mining operations into intelligent, resilient and sustainable undertakings.”

Three US State Governments Boost Manufacturing

The meaning lies in the name—The United States of America. Not only are observers from outside the country often confused by some of the nuances of our government, but an unfortunately large number of Americans also don’t really know the complexities behind our many layered governments.

The US government has many manufacturing initiatives sponsored by several federal departments. State governments also boost the economies within their boundaries including initiative to support manufacturing. While I have written about CESMII, a federal initiative in the past, today’s news combines updates from three US states—New York, Ohio, and Illinois.

So, let’s dive in.

NY MEP Cybersecurity Program Helps Brooklyn-based Pvilion Land $1M Defense Contract

Pvilion, a Brooklyn-based manufacturer of solar-powered fabric and rapidly deployable robotic structures, has secured a $1 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) after receiving a DOD Cybersecurity Assistance Grant from FuzeHub and the Advanced Institute for Manufacturing (AIM). (Note: I wrote about Pvilion here.)

The grant, awarded in late 2019, provided Pvilion with risk assessment, policy development, employee training and other tools to fulfill federal cybersecurity requirements. Achieving compliance has become increasingly critical for companies in the supply chain to obtain or renew contracts with the DOD, which began implementing its new cybersecurity provisions in late 2020.

FuzeHub and AIM have since launched the newest iteration of this effort, the NY MEP Cybersecurity Assistance Program, to help manufacturers strengthen their cybersecurity protocols and meet standards in the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS). 

Small- and medium-sized manufacturers in New York State can join the NY MEP Cybersecurity Assistance Program’s cohort of participating companies — free of charge — to gain access to funding and support. Trainings and workshops are ongoing; nearly 70 companies will be eligible for a risk-assessment grant.

“The stakes for safeguarding information have never been higher. Suppliers not in compliance with the Department of Defense — or unmindful of their status — could lose out on lucrative federal projects,” said FuzeHub Executive Director Elena Garuc. “This program helps companies like Pvilion assess their operations, address any issues, and keep DOD contracts in the capable hands of New York’s manufacturing community.”

Empire State Development Acting Commissioner and President & CEO-designate Eric Gertler said, “We’re strengthening New York State’s cybersecurity sector through NYSTAR, our Division of Science, Technology and Innovation, which assists defense-related manufacturers with grant funding, training and assistance through our network of New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership centers. With help from NYSTAR-supported innovation assets, manufacturers like Brooklyn-based Pvilion have access to more opportunities to secure defense contracts and develop innovative tech-driven solutions for use by the U.S. armed forces.”

Pvilion’s recent contracts with the U.S. Air Force are for furnishing autonomous self-erecting shelter systems and expanding the use of solar energy generation to various squadrons and Wing Commands. The latest contract provides funding to deploy and field-test Pvilion’s new robotic shelter that opens and closes at the push of a button, saving time and resources usually required to set up temporary shelters.

“The cybersecurity grant has proven integral to our ability to serve the U.S. armed forces,” said Pvilion CEO and co-founder Colin Touhey. “Pvilion has benefited greatly from this and other programs offered by FuzeHub, which have kept our company at the forefront of solar fabric technology and military-market innovation.”

The NY MEP Cybersecurity Assistance Program is supported by funding from NYSTAR, Empire State Development’s NYS Division of Science, Technology, and Innovation, with funding from the Department of Defense’s Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation.

The program is one element in a robust innovation infrastructure that NYSTAR supports in communities across the state. AIM and FuzeHub are NYSTAR-supported New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NY MEP) centers, serving small- and mid-sized manufacturers in the Mohawk Valley region and statewide.

Blueprint for Manufacturing in Northeast Ohio

The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET), together with more than 100 champions, announced today the launch of “Make It Better: A Blueprint for Manufacturing in Northeast Ohio.”

Bringing together the insights of hundreds of manufacturing CEOs, community leaders, business leaders, academics, workers, students, and nonprofit leaders, the Blueprint offers a vision for the future of manufacturing in the region: one that revitalizes Northeast Ohio as a leader in smart manufacturing, creates thousands of jobs, and transforms the industry.

“Manufacturing in Northeast Ohio has had its ups and downs, but the fact of the matter is the region remains a powerhouse that’s poised for growth,” said Dr. Ethan Karp, President and CEO of MAGNET. “We’ve got all the pieces in place, but to make it happen we’ve got to bridge the talent gap, adopt cutting-edge technologies, and embrace innovation. While no one organization can change the course of our industry, it’s our hope that the stories, expertise, and detailed strategies presented in this Blueprint can show us all what’s possible in Northeast Ohio – and encourage us to work together to build a brighter future.”

Manufacturing in Northeast Ohio constitutes nearly half of the local economy, directly and indirectly supports one million jobs and makes up 38% of the state’s GDP. But it faces persistent challenges: namely, a talent gap and the slow adoption of innovative technologies. In January 2020, almost 60% of manufacturers in the region said they couldn’t find the skilled workers they need to grow – an obstacle that even widespread COVID-19-related layoffs didn’t solve. 

Meanwhile, the Ohio MEP 2020 Manufacturing Survey found that investing in new technologies is near the bottom of the priority list for the vast majority of Northeast Ohio manufacturers.

The Blueprint addresses these and other key issues, grouping its insights and solutions around four key areas: talent, technology transformation, innovation, and leadership. The hope is that stakeholders throughout the region can use the report to guide collaborative efforts to solve these pressing problems.

“Manufacturing is a critical driver of our regional economy.  Accelerating the pace of technological transformation and the growth of manufacturing career engagement will drive more equitable growth throughout our region, putting our region and all of our residents in a better position to prosper,” noted Bill Koehler, CEO of Team NEO. “The Blueprint allows us to pioneer holistic, manufacturing-led workforce solutions, creating a positive force in Northeast Ohio by building pathways to reach diverse and untapped talent.”

In the weeks and months to come, manufacturers and organizations throughout the region will be taking steps to bring the Blueprint to fruition. For instance, the Manufacturing Innovation Council – comprised of many of Northeast Ohio’s leading companies – has identified key action areas to help bring the Blueprint to life. Interested parties can also tap into resources to help with change efforts at makeitbetterohio.org and participate in quarterly champions calls to stay apprised of new ideas.

“Making products that matter is embedded in this region’s DNA given our rich history as a center of industrial innovation that powered America,” said Baiju R. Shah, President and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership and leader of the Cleveland Innovation Project. “Through the Blueprint, we now have the shared vision and commitment to build on that foundation and become the nation’s smart manufacturing capital. We look forward to working together with MAGNET, manufacturing leaders, and many wonderful organizations to realize that vision.”

Added Karp: “The pandemic showed the world Northeast Ohio’s manufacturing potential. After all, we have the manufacturers, big and small. We have the talent. We have the know-how. We have the educational institutions. We have the will. And we have a hundred-year history of bouncing back and getting stronger after every single challenge. This is Northeast Ohio. This is our backbone. This is our heart and soul. We hope that with the help of this Blueprint, we can tap into that – together – and lead the world.

The Blueprint and its partner organizations can be found at makeitbetterohio.org.

Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center Releases New Book Made In Illinois 

The Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC) announced a new book that is described as a guide and valuable resource to help manufacturing companies become successful competitors on the global stage.

IMEC, which is also celebrating its 25th anniversary serving manufacturers, introduces Made In Illinois: A Modern Playbook for Manufacturers To Compete and WinWithin the book, readers gather insights from leaders from Illinois-based companies such as Motorola, Watchfire Signs, F. N. Smith Corporation, G&W Electric, Header Die and Tool, GAM Enterprises, and Ace Metal Crafts. Some of the subjects covered include the value of customer relationships, defining excellence, and integrating technology for greater process innovation. 

Praising Illinois for having a rich manufacturing tradition that presents many assets and strengths, IMEC President David Boulay explained in the book how the creative process was to examine the essential elements of manufacturing success. 

“Every company aims to leverage leadership and strategy to better focus on customers and align operational performance, workforce talent, and knowledge management,” he wrote. “As efforts such as the US Department of Commerce NIST Baldrige Performance Excellence Program has long demonstrated, these are powerful aspects of business success. We frame these elements into three parts: people, performance, and mindset. Within these categories, we share best practices, insights, lessons learned, and questions to inspire new thoughts.” 

Boulay reminds people how essential manufacturers are to everyday life, creating many items that are used around the world.

“Everything we buy from the store or get ‘magically’ delivered to our doorstep comes from a manufacturer,” Boulay wrote. “It’s a reminder how important our incredibly talented makers are for society. With that, we hope Made in Illinois offers readers new insights, validates tried and true practices, and gives way to new thinking about modern manufacturing and its many unsung heroes across the great state of Illinois.” 

Neurala Raises $12 Million to Scale Artificial Intelligence for Industrial Manufacturing

Funding isn’t my primary interest, but this one has interest because of all the hype around artificial intelligence (AI). I continue to see articles in major media that imply that AI is a sort of Star Trek technology rather than something we’ve been using for 30 years or so. However, Neurala has been feeding me a lot of news this year about advances in its vision AI software. Now it has more money to further its development.

Neurala, the leader in vision AI software, announced that it has raised $12 million in funding to advance the development of vision AI for manufacturing. The round, led by Zebra Ventures and Pelion Venture Partners, with participation from Draper Associates, Friulia, AddValue, 360 Capital Partners, Idinvest Partners, Cougar Capital, and industrial investors IMA and Antares Vision, brings the total invested in Neurala to $26 million.

The funding will enable Neurala to evolve and accelerate adoption of its vision AI in the industrial and manufacturing sectors on a global scale, as manufacturers increasingly prioritize automation as part of Industry 4.0 initiatives.

Neurala is a pioneer in vision AI for manufacturing. Built on the company’s deep AI expertise, Neurala’s VIA software delivers an integrated solution designed to help manufacturers improve quality inspection on the production line. With VIA, manufacturers are empowered to answer the call for increased productivity, accuracy and speed.

In the last twelve months, the company has increased its capacity to identify and resolve problems in manufacturing facilities through expert system integrator partners and well-entrenched suppliers. In addition to expanding its work with system integrators threefold, Neurala has also worked with an ever-growing number of OEMs, including investors IMA, IHI Logistics & Machinery and FLIR, to deliver easy-to-use AI solutions that will improve the speed and efficiency of inspections at a price point that makes them affordable for a wide range of customers.

The funding comes at a time when manufacturers are increasingly focused on AI and automation as a key tool in their ability to adapt to new realities established by the pandemic. With this funding, Neurala will be able to evolve VIA to make it more efficient for a wider range of applications and use cases.

“This past year we were able to turn a global crisis into an opportunity to both completely transform our business and to catalyze much-needed innovation in the AI space,” said Max Versace, CEO and co-founder of Neurala. “There was always an opportunity for AI and automation to improve manufacturing, but the pandemic really accelerated the industry’s willingness to embrace the technology. Our team has worked relentlessly over the last year to introduce VIA to partners and customers across the globe, and now that the world is ready to embrace it, we are ready to deliver it. The funding will enable us to do that at a much greater scale that meets the demand we’re seeing in the space.”

This funding comes on the heels of the launch of Neurala’s subsidiary, Neurala Europe, based in Trieste, Italy. The new capital represents the next phase of growth for Neurala as it will be used to expand upon its newfound global presence as the company continues to help manufacturers around the world harness the power of vision AI.

“Today’s manufacturers are leveraging AI and automation to address challenges such as production constraints, supply chain disruptions, and imperfect workforce availability,” said Tony Palcheck, managing director of Zebra Ventures. “Zebra Technologies is proud to invest in Neurala as it commercializes VIA software to enable faster, more cost-effective, easy-to-deploy solutions for customers looking to improve their decision making and productivity on the production line.”

“As a long-time investor in Neurala, we have always recognized the power of its technology to enable smarter, autonomous decision-making in real-world scenarios,” said Ben Lambert, General Partner at Pelion Venture Partners. “Now we’re seeing a significant impact as Neurala has focused on applications in industrial and manufacturing. There’s a big opportunity for Neurala to grow that presence, not only in the US, but in Europe, Asia and beyond. We are excited to support the Neurala team in that journey as we know that it has the right team, the cutting-edge technology, and the global reach to capitalize on this significant market opportunity. “

Manufacturing Reshoring Sets New Record in 2020

As companies grow, they must seek new markets. Necessity pushes these companies to expand internationally. I was a manager in two companies that were not even large but still needed overseas markets in an attempt to survive.

On the other hand, companies begin in one home country that provides access to many things that helped them start and grow. That country has certain vested interests, too.

One of the issues Trump pressed was the feeling that companies had grown too large and too much was taken overseas. He reflected the feeling of many that the US was weakened by these companies‘ growth and subsequent expansion of manufacturing jobs overseas.

Meanwhile Harry Moser and the Reshoring Initiative has been vocal about some companies’ shortsighted financial calculations moving factories from the US to international locations.

That is some background for this press release. I sympathize with both points of view, and I’m sure the pendulum will swing and things will balance. Unless we witness another huge world war again.

Reshoring has been hot in June. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Investment Advisory Council (IAC) reported on June 9 its recommendations, including reshoring of semiconductors and pharmaceuticals. The Reshoring Initiative’s Harry Moser teamed up with TEVA’s Terry Creighton, the driving force on the pharma recommendation, and played a leading role in expanding the focus of IAC to include reshoring in addition to foreign direct investment (FDI). At the meeting, Harry advocated for an even greater focus on reshoring and followed up with Under Secretary Farrell, offering the Reshoring Initiative’s help.

On June 8, 2021, the Biden Administration announced its immediate actions based on Executive Order 14017 “America’s Supply Chains.” The actions include major improvements in self-sufficiency in semiconductor chips, pharmaceuticals, rare earth minerals and electric vehicle (EV) batteries. These emergency actions are needed because we have allowed so many supply chain gaps to develop. The Reshoring Initiative recommends also attacking the root cause: U.S. lack of price competitiveness. 

Despite the economic slowdown caused by COVID, reshoring numbers were up in 2020. Reshoring and foreign direct investment (FDI) job announcements for 2020 were 160,649, bringing the total jobs announced since 2010 tover 1 million (1,057,054). Additionally, the number of companies reporting new reshoring and FDI set a new record: 1,484 companies. All jobs added are good news, but at this rate, it will take 30 years to reach President Biden’s goal of five million jobs. Actions needed to accelerate the trend are presented in the Report.

Top Takeaways from the 2020 Report

  • President Biden is prioritizing reshoring. The gaps in Biden’s plans need to be addressed in order to achieve his goal of returning 5 million more jobs. Details of needed actions are also in our Competitiveness Toolkit
  •  In 2020, U.S. reshoring set a record of 109,000 jobs and outpaced FDI for the first time since 2013. COVID/supply chain uncertainty has resulted in companies emphasizing operations in their home countries.
  • Recent national initiatives to shorten and close supply chain gaps for essential products aim to make the U.S. less vulnerable. The following industries are most likely to benefit: personal protective equipment (PPE), medical, semiconductor chips and defense. Medical equipment and PPE are the first responders of new reshoring and FDI, with 2020 cases up nearly 2,000% and jobs up 400% from 2019.
  • There is continued growth in efforts by Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEPs), economic development organizations (EDOs) and states to enable reshoring. The Reshoring Initiative is deeply involved in these efforts with its Import Substitution Program (ISP). As a measure of corporate interest, the demand for this service is more than ten times the rate of 2019. 
  • We anticipate 2021 reshoring and FDI job announcements to be near 200,000, up by at least 25% from 2020.

See the full report: Reshoring Initiative® 2020 Data Report: COVID Drives Cumulative Jobs Announced Past 1 Million

Slow Recovery Predicted For Post-Covid Industrial Landscape

One of my favorite market intelligence companies, Interact Analysis, published its quarterly industrial market update last week. The highlights:

  • Slow recovery out of pandemic predicted up to end of 2023 or into 2024
  • Manufacturing output growth calculation for 2020 revised up from -3.9% to -3.6%
  • Semiconductors: crash in the market expected in late 2023 or early 2024
  • Quantitative easing will cause inflation in some regions

Market intelligence company Interact Analysis has just published the latest quarterly update of its Manufacturing Industry Output Tracker (MIO). The report announces the inclusion of data from three key new regions – Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam; and predicts a slower-than-previously-expected global recovery from the pandemic. Good performances by the US, South Korea and China are offset by regions such as Europe and Japan, which have struggled with the pandemic but are expected to make a swift recovery, and India and Brazil, which continue to fare badly and are expected to see a slow recovery. Problems in the semiconductor sector are already holding back the manufacturing sector, while inflation is a black cloud on the horizon.

The COVID-19 vaccine roll-out has been uneven, meaning some economies will open up more slowly than others. The EMEA region (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) in particular has fared relatively badly. In February 2021, for example, while the UK registered 89.8 vaccination doses per 100 people, Germany registered only 54.2. France and Italy currently measure 48.6 and 51.9 per 100 respectively. The region saw a major hit to the economy in 2020 with growth slumping by around -10%, and the slow vaccination rate will keep growth down to 6% in 2021.  The US is currently running at around 85.4 doses per 100 people and the economy should be fully open by this summer, turning a relatively modest negative manufacturing growth of -3.7% in 2020 into positive expansion running at 6.4% in 2021. The terrible news coming out of India means that recovery is going to be slow, likewise Brazil, both having the daunting task of turning around from double digit manufacturing declines in 2020 (India: -12.6%; Brazil: -15.8%). They are both projected to achieve a relatively modest year on year growth of around 6% in 2021. China is the only country that saw positive manufacturing growth in 2020 (1.9%) and is now back to normal levels of production, in spite of a limited vaccine roll-out.

A combination of factors has led to a serious shortage of microchips, with major repercussions for the electronics and automotive sectors, and a consequent knock-on effect for industrial automation companies. This is hampering recovery in many regions. In the longer-term, the research shows that the current period of unusually strong semiconductor growth as a result of the shortage will be followed by a crash in the market sometime around the end of 2023 or the beginning of 2024. This is being driven by two factors: semiconductor companies are investing in new capacity to deal with current elevated demand, and semiconductor customers are currently stockpiling and will soon have more than they need.

Adrian Lloyd, CEO at Interact Analysis, comments: “These have been incredibly difficult times for the global manufacturing sector, and we’re by no means out of the woods yet. The chip shortage will continue for some time to come. Furthermore, the vast scale of quantitative easing and financial support that was applied by governments during the pandemic, amounting, for example, to a massive 54.5% of GDP for Japan, and 39.5% and 26.5% for Germany and the US respectively, means that serious inflation is almost inevitable in some key regions. The effects of covid are going to stretch some way into the future.”

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About the MIO

This edition of the MIO has expanded coverage of Southeast Asia, with key manufacturing regions Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam now included. All datasets in the report have been revised to include the new regions, so historic aggregates will be different. Our data analysts have been hard at work, and, with a full year of monthly indicators for 2020, and figures for Q1 of 2021 now under our belt, we are confident that we have a clear picture of the damage caused by the pandemic to global industry. More importantly, we have been able to hone our predictions for future performance on a global and regional level. For further information, click here.

About Interact Analysis

Interact Analysis is an international provider of market research for the Intelligent Automation sector. Our team of experienced industry analysts delivers research into three core sectors: industrial automation, robotics and warehouse automation, and commercial vehicles. Intelligent Automation – which is the integration of artificial intelligence and automation – will change virtually every industry imaginable. This combination enables greater efficiencies, productivity, convenience, and scale. It has the potential to drastically alter the outlook for many traditional industries such as manufacturing, healthcare and automotive as well as to lead to the emergence of entirely new industries.