There’s a lot going on with the factory right now… a lot. Recently, we talked about future factories that will stack like Jenga towers and be kept in order by machine learning and patrolling drones roaming factory floors. Today, we’re going to dive a little deeper, and get a better picture of the future tech of the factory…. because the phrase that’s being thrown around in this space is “manufacturing renaissance”, and there may be something to it.
Did you know that every dollar spent in America on manufacturing contributes an additional $2.79 to the economy, higher than any other industry, and that manufacturers perform almost 60% of our private sector R&D? Point being that factories are key for the success of the U.S. For better or worse, for a bit, we had stars in our eyes at the promises of offshoring, and our manufacturing sector shows it. Now… we bring back our factories, but with a twist.
Future Factory Tech
The next iteration of the factory that America will see come to fruition will be cleaner, more in step with the larger ecosystem, and digital-first. We can see evidence of this everywhere we look. Recently, we’ve seen companies working within these bounds through partnerships like that between Mercedes and Nvidia, with the two working together to use software platform Omniverse Enterprise, which Mercedes will use to will design, plan, and optimize its factories.
Using the Omniverse platform, Mercedes will build a digital twin of their factory, and then simulate new production processes within that environment. This means that “work” can be done long before any work is actually done. A virtual workflow means no disruptions or reconfigurations in the factory necessary until the models have been run and the data crunched. This is the metaverse in the wild, some of the promise we knew was there.
Another staple of future factory tech is something once considered a bit out of place in the factory setting, additive manufacturing… or, in simpler terms, 3-D printing, but at a large scale specifically for the factory setting. Maybe that doesn’t sound plausible, but we wouldn’t be so sure… the technology has come a long way, fast, and companies are finding a place for it. Companies like General Electric, which 3D prints jet engine fuel nozzles for Airbus and Boeing planes.
Driven by factors like rising demand for 3D printing in the aerospace industry, and the Biden administration’s seeming insistence on moving this space forward, expected growth here is almost 20% a year through to 2030. We mention this specifically because additive manufacturing, done right, has the potential to ease supply chain issues, which are increasingly a problem. We need parts for phones or a rocket, no problem, we just print it ourselves.
Deals To Watch
VulcanForms, founded in 2015, already has something of a reputation. The company utilizes additive manufacturing and is known for the invention and commercialization of the world’s first industrially scalable laser metal additive manufacturing (AM) solution. In other words, they build their own proprietary machines, and then use those machines to make parts for customers, rather than selling the machines they make to their customers.
Recently, the company raised $355 million in venture funding, with a long list of investors that include Atlas Innovate, Boston Seed Capital, Industry Ventures, Stata Venture Partners, Fontinalis Partners, and others. With their technology, the company has quickly found favor among leading companies and has been able to serve clients in aerospace, medical, semiconductors, and defense. VulcanForms is uniquely positioned right now, because they are growing up at a time when reducing our reliance on overseas manufacturing is of the utmost importance.
6K, founded in North Andover, Massachusetts, is a leader in the sustainable production of engineered materials for lithium-ion batteries and additive manufacturing produced from its UniMelt® plasma technology. The technology, which is a proprietary advanced microwave plasma production system, is in fact the world’s only microwave production scale plasma system. The system is named after the number 6000, which is the temperature of the sun’s surface, and the temperature of the operation of UniMelt®.
Using this technology, the company transforms engineered materials into products across industries such as additive manufacturing, renewable energy, aerospace, consumer electronics, and others. The company’s focus is the production of low-cost, sustainable, and domestically produced battery material, which right now is a hot commodity. They’ve recently raised $102M via Series D funding, which is the first of two funding closes, expected to reach over $150M in total.
So, the future factory tech that’ll catapult us into the newest installment of changes in store for our species includes digital twins, mixed-reality factory layouts, and 3-D printing. We are seeing innovative uses like mixed-reality factory layouts being planned with tools that include VR headsets and holograms. Future factories will need to be incredibly agile, and we’re excited to see how they make it work. Come back next week, we’ll have more from the world of IPOs.