Issue #44 - The Future of Manufacturing
Topics this time: the manufacturing talent shortage, adoption of robots, the industrial metaverse, automated fulfillment centers, the Tesla Mafia, and new funding rounds in Q1 2023.
👋 Welcome to Issue #44 👋
I hope you had a successful Q1.
The past three months have been dominated by the progress in AI, turbulences in the financial markets, and new subsidies for local production facilities. All of these developments will influence the manufacturing industry. In particular, I’m very curious how the American and European subsidy programs will impact the local manufacturing industry. As an example, European companies such as Northvolt or Climateworks are thinking about setting up production in the US due to the local subsidies there.
This edition focuses on the manufacturing talent shortage (as often), the increasing adoption of robots, the industrial metaverse, and new funding rounds that were announced in Q1 2023.
With Kwest, we continue to help solar companies to grow. Our structured way of managing solar installations helps them to install faster and to manage more installations. By automating processes, we help solar companies to save time and reduce frustrating, manual work for project managers. If you want to learn more, let’s chat.
Enjoy reading - and as always, sharing and feedback is a gift.
Got a friend or colleague interested in the future of manufacturing? Help me spread the word by sharing the newsletter if you like it!
Thanks for reading The Future of Manufacturing! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
I. What I’ve enjoyed reading 👇
🤖 Another record year for robots in North America
North American companies struggling to hire workers due to the tightest labor market in decades brought on more robots last year than ever before. In 2022, companies ordered just over 44,100 robots, an 11% increase over the previous year and a new record, with the majority of the orders coming from the car industry. The shift towards automation is seen as a quick fix for companies struggling to find workers amid the lowest US unemployment rate since 1969. For new electric vehicle and battery factories, I’m sure this trend is here to stay - in the US, but also in Europe.
🤖 Amazon is doubling down on robots
Amazon has introduced a new robotic system called Sparrow to streamline its fulfillment process. Sparrow is capable of detecting, selecting, and handling individual products in Amazon's inventory. It uses computer vision and AI to recognize and handle millions of items, allowing employees to focus on other tasks. The technology will benefit employees by taking on repetitive tasks and advancing safety while also driving efficiency. Amazon also claims, it has a robot prototype that can pick 1,000 items per hour. By being able to manufacture 300,000+ robots per year in-house, it’s no co-incidence that the number of robots at Amazon is growing that fast:
🤖 Roadblocks and Opportunities in Manufacturing Automation
Jeff Diamond from Fika Ventures has written a blog post that discusses the challenges faced by the manufacturing industry in implementing automation technologies and highlights some of the companies that are driving change. The post identifies five roadblocks to automation, including adoption, current skills gap, fragmented tech-stack, complexity in manufacturing, and human-in-the-loop. He explores the opportunities for innovation, including quality/performance improvements and labor optimization. Given the huge manufacturing labor shortage, labor optimization won’t be enough. Personally, I’m very excited about creative solutions to increase the labor pool in the manufacturing and energy sector.
🤖 Solving the manufacturing’s talent problem
Sam Flamini has written a long and detailed post about the American manufacturing talent shortage, its historical development, and ways to inspire a new generation to enter the American manufacturing field. One suggestion is to use media and influencers to “make manufacturing cool again”. Another suggestion is to increase competitiveness in the labor markets by offering competitive pay, career advancement opportunities, and quality treatment to manufacturing employees. Sam also recommends creating educational opportunities beyond traditional trade schools or 4-year degrees, such as coding bootcamps for skilled manufacturing work. I think this is something we urgently need to build.
🤖 The rise of electrical vehicles causes car factory boom in the US
The United States car industry is experiencing a surge in factory building due to the shift to electric vehicles and new federal subsidies aimed at boosting US battery manufacturing. According to the Center for Automotive Research, around $33 billion in new auto factory investment has been pledged in the US through November, and two-thirds of this investment is going to sites in the US South. The annual figure of new auto factory spending is up from $9 billion in 2017 and represents a more than eightfold increase from two decades ago. The shift to electric vehicles is the biggest factor behind the factory spending surge, and the federal climate package passed in 2022 is expected to further accelerate investment.
🤖 Metaverse + Factories = Industrial Metaverse
Siemens and NVIDIA have announced a partnership to build the Industrial Metaverse, a real-time, immersive platform that connects hardware and software using AI-enabled digital twins (picture below). NVIDIA’s vision is that companies of all sizes will be able to employ digital twins with real-time performance data and create innovative industrial IoT solutions.
In April 2021, I’ve written about similar partnerships by NVIDIA, such as the one with BMW for a digital twin of a factory. In January this year, NVIDIA also announced a similar partnership with Mercedes Benz to use its digital twin tech to modernize Mercedes factories.
II. About industrial Startups and Companies
🤑 Kewazo has raised a $10M Series A led by Fifth Wall
Munich-based startup Kewazo has announced a $10M Series A funding round, led by Fifth Wall, to expand its automated construction technology. The firm's Liftbot hoist system automates the ascent and descent of scaffolding systems without manual interference. Kewazo got a boost during the pandemic as construction firms struggled to fill roles amid labour shortages, and as companies looked for ways to sustain their businesses without relying on an uncertain labour supply.
🤑 AG5 has raised a €6M round led by Headline
AG5, a SaaS platform used to map and track factory employees' skills and qualifications, has raised €6M in a new round of investment from Headline, Peak, and Acadian Ventures. The company's solution helps organizations simplify skills management and delivers scalable capacity planning and insights for audits and training programs. AG5's platform is available in several languages and offers technical integrations with various HRM and e-learning platforms, planning systems, and training management systems.
🤑 EthonAI has raised a $6.8M seed round led by Earlybird & La Famiglia
EthonAI, a spin-off from ETH Zurich, has secured a $6.8M seed round co-led by Earlybird Venture Capital and La Famiglia. EthonAI's AI-powered platform helps manufacturers detect, monitor, and prevent quality losses by providing vision-based defect detection, process monitoring, and root cause analysis. The platform offers no-code software tools and integrates with a facility's existing camera systems or off-the-shelf industrial cameras. EthonAI's horizontal platform investigates factory-like sensor data to identify early when processes start to behave differently, and its analytics provide historical insights to monitor the efficacy of production health and design experiments.
🤑 The “Tesla Mafia”
You can say what you want about Tesla. One thing is certain: their alumni network is creating a lot of new companies in the energy and mobility industry:
🤑 Figure comes out of stealth with its first humanoid robot
Figure, a startup that has come out of stealth, is building a general-purpose bipedal humanoid robot. The company, which is being funded by Archer co-founder Brett Adcock, has a 40-person staff with experience at Boston Dynamics, Tesla, and Apple. The robot is focused on a wide range of manual labor tasks in industries such as manufacturing, shipping and logistics, warehousing and retail. The startup's first-step applications will be in these industries where labor shortages are the most severe. Figure's vision is to build horizontal hardware that can scale to many applications.
III. Additional funding news in short 👇
👉 Memfault (US): has raised a $24M Series B led by Stripes to help companies manage their growing IoT device fleets. Read more…
👉 Fulfil Solutions (US): has raised a $60M Series B led by Eclipse for its automated micro-fulfillment centers for online grocery. Read more…
👉 Plus One (US): has raised a $50M Series C led by Scale Venture Partners for its parcel robotics vision systems. Read more…
👉 Nimble Robotics (US): has raised a $65M Series B led by Cedar Pine to build a nationwide network of autonomous 3PL fulfillment centers. Read more…
👉 Brightpick (SVK): has added $19M to its Series B led by Taiwania Capital for its end-to-end robotic solution. Read more…
👉 RIICO (DE): has raised a $1.5M pre-seed led by Earlybird to advance AI-powered digital twins in manufacturing. Read more…
IV. Additional content and the I4.0 Landscape
My Industry 4.0 Landscape
I updated my Industry 4.0 Landscape in January 2023. There are more than 500 active startups in this landscape. I also needed to remove 30+ companies that either got acquired or shut down in 2022. Click on the image below for a larger version.
If you think there is something missing, then please let me know.
You can find the landscape in high-resolution as a .pdf here:
Thank you for reading The Future of Manufacturing! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.