All posts in “manufacturing”

Watch the Tesla Model 3 assembly line in slow motion

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Tesla is delaying a major announcement to focus on improving the Model 3 production process — so Elon Musk just shared a video of the assembly line in slow motion so that we can see the company is actually working on the new cars. 

The automaker failed to meet its stated Model 3 production goals by a wide margin last quarter, so the car’s manufacturing process is being called into question. A Wall Street Journal report claimed production bottlenecks arose because some parts were still being made by hand, a claim Tesla has vehemently denied. 

Musk shared a new video of the assembly process on Instagram, showing his followers exactly how a Model 3 is put together in the factory. There were no human workers in sight, unsurprisingly, but the footage was much slower than you might expect from an automated assembly line. 

Musk said the video only showed off the process at one-tenth speed.

He added in a tweet that the video wasn’t edited to make the process easier to follow — the automaker actually slowed down the production process IRL. The line was being run at tenth-speed so that Tesla could develop better safeguards in case of a malfunction or other accidents.

One of Musk’s followers edited the video to show the actual speed once production is humming along at full power.  

Tesla hopes to ramp up the Model 3 production to meet its aggressive goal of producing 5,000 units per week by the end of the year, a tall order after only manufacturing 260 Model 3 vehicles from July to September. The Model 3 could be massively important as all-electric cars become more common — but Tesla has to actually get enough cars on the road to actually make a difference. 

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We talk about hoofed spiders with the founder of Outlier clothing


Outlier’s founder Abe Burmeister is a designer who joined the world of clothing manufacturing over five years ago. His clothing – creating with cutting edge fabrics – is touted as high-tech and very chic but what frustrates Burmeister is how slowly the clothing industry is moving.

His latest creation, a rolltop knapsack, uses a unique material to create one of the lightest and strongest backpacks available. The fact that Burmeister is even using this material – a “nonwoven composite of Dyneema brand ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE)” – is odd in an industry that hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years.

I asked Burmeister about trends in clothing materials, why he makes stuff out of UHMWPE, and what we can expect from materials in the future (including whether or not we’ll wear stuff made by spiders with hooves.) Enjoy.

Technotopia is a podcast about a better future by John Biggs. You can subscribe in Stitcher or iTunes and download the MP3 here.

Markforged announces two 3D printers that produce items as strong as steel


Markforged, a 3D printer manufacturer based in Boston, has just announced two new models – the X3 and the X5. Both of these printers are designed to create carbon-fiber infused objects using a standard filament printing system and both can produce items that can replace or are stronger than steel objects.

Both printers have auto-leveling and scanning systems to ensure each printed object is exactly like every other. Further, the printers use Markforged’s special thermoplastic fiber filament while the X5 can add a “strand of continuous fiberglass” to create objects “19X stronger and 10X stiffer than traditional plastics.” This means you can print both usable parts and usable tools using the same machine and thanks to the fiberglass weave you can ensure that the piece won’t snap on use. For example, one customer printed a custom valve wrench in ten minutes using one of these printers.

Now for the bad news. The X3 costs a mere $36,990 while the X5 costs $49,900. These are aimed at what Markforged calls “local manufacturers.” Luckily you’re not stuck with the printer if you outgrow it. The X3 can easily be upgraded to work with X5’s filament and both are aimed at manufacturing shops that need to product finished products on the fly.

“Customers can now, with ease, print same-day parts that optimize strength and affordability for their specific needs,” said CEO Greg Mark.

These printers are part of Markforged’s effort at creating a real “teleporter.” Thanks to the complex scanning and measurement systems built into these units, users can receive a 3D printer model and print it to exacting specifications. The system also has a failsafe mode that restart at any time as the laser scanner can check to see exactly where the print stopped. The company is also hard at work at some impressive metal printing technologies that turn out parts that are usable in complex machines.

Foxconn’s long con

Foxconn CEO Terry Gou and President Trump recently announced a plan to bring 3,000 jobs to Wisconsin at what appears to be a flat screen manufacturing plant. The political press ate it up, alternatively excoriating the program for costing too much in tax breaks and crowing a win for Wisconsin’s conservative governor, Scott Walker.

I wouldn’t encourage either party to hold their breath.

Gou is in the habit of promising big and rarely delivering. Four years ago business journals crowed about a plan to bring a Foxconn flat screen manufacturing plant to Pennsylvania in 2013. The result? Foxconn opened an empty office in Harrisburg and nothing further has been done.

This behavior is not new. Foxconn has signed letters promising to build factories in Indonesia (2013), Vietnam (2007), and Brazil (2011). None of these were completed according to the original pie-in-the-sky spec. Reuters had this to say about the Brazil adventure:

When Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group agreed in April 2011 to make Apple products here, President Dilma Rousseff and her advisers promised that up to $12 billion in investments over six years would transform the Brazilian technology sector, putting it on the cutting edge of touch screen development. A new supply chain would be created, generating high-quality jobs and bringing down prices of the coveted gadgets.

Four years later, none of that has come true.

Foxconn has created only a small fraction of the 100,000 jobs that the government projected, and most of the work is in low-skill assembly. There is little sign that it has catalyzed Brazil’s technology sector or created much of a local supply chain.

The current Wisconsin deal involves a $10 billion investment by Foxconn and a planned tax abatement of “$200 million to $250 million a year for up to 15 years.” This amounts to a taxpayer cost of $230,000 per worker – if Foxconn keeps hiring.

Trump, for his part, is as optimistic as he was when he tried – and failed – to save jobs at Carrier.

“I’d see Terry and say, ‘You’ve got to give us one of these massive places,” he said. “If I didn’t get elected, he definitely wouldn’t be spending $10 billion.”

But politics isn’t a business. Foxconn is in the business of making and shipping products from its massive factories in China. It is not in the business of helping beleaguered economies. End of story. They are more than happy to explore employee investment, robotic assembly lines, and amazing manufacturing techniques in Shenzhen and will pay lip service – but never really come through – on expansion if it suits the company politically. I realize this is a cynical view especially when there are midwestern jobs on the line, but it’s something that Wisconsin and Walker will need to face.

It makes no economic sense to build massive factories in Wisconsin if the export taxes and other assorted costs are wildly higher in the U.S. than they are in China, further, rural Wisconsin would never be able to support anything like the 200,000 employees housed at some Foxconn facilities. Finally, human manufacturing is shrinking while the use of industrial robots is rising. This means you could run a massive factory with fewer workers and each of those workers would need a higher education to manage the intricacies of a robotic assembly line. None of this is addressed in the proposal and I suspect, soon, it won’t really matter.

“It’s not a promise. It’s a wish,” said Gou in January when the idea of a US factory was first floated. I worry that this announcement, too, is a “wish.” Either way, Foxconn – and not the state – wins.

Moglix raises $12M Series B to digitize India’s manufacturing industry


Moglix launched in 2015 as an online store for tools and construction supplies, but now it’s venturing into enterprise software with the launch of GreenGST to help Indian manufacturers become compliant with the country’s new tax codes. The Noida-headquartered startup announced today that it has raised a $12 million Series B, which it will use to develop its supply chain management technology and expand into more manufacturing hubs.

The latest round of funding includes new investors International Finance Corporation (IFC, a member of the World Bank Group) and Rocketship.vc. Existing investors Accel Partners, Jungle Ventures, Shailesh Rao, and Venture Highway also returned to participate. Moglix’s total raised so far is now $18 million. It also counts Ratan Tata, the former chairman of Tata Sons and one of India’s leading industrialists, as a backer.

Founder and CEO Rahul Garg tells TechCrunch that Moglix, named after the main character in The Jungle Book series, wants to “bring global standards to the Indian manufacturing sector.”

Even though the industry is worth $300 billion, just two to three percent of manufacturers currently use software to manage their supply chains, making it one of the least digitized industries in India, says Garg.

India’s recently implemented Goods and Services Tax (GST), however, means that manufacturers will have to digitize in a hurry, because they are now required to file indirect taxes (which include service and sales tax) online. The Modi government is also trying to encourage a cashless economy and get more people to open bank accounts and make digital payments by setting policies like the demonetization of almost all cash in circulation, giving companies even more incentive to start using software.

Launched last month, GreenGST helps manufacturers keep track of deadlines and make sure all the vendors in their supply chain are also compliant with GST. Moglix is already in Delhi NCR, Pune, and Chennai, but will set up operations in three new cities with its Series B capital.

Featured Image: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images