All posts in “manufacturing”

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 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

Breitling’s Avenger Hurricane 45 watch uses dense composites to stay light

According to horological legend the first luxury watch made of steel – the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak caused great consternation when it launched in 1972. Up until then there were timekeepers – small, cheap watches like Timex and Seiko – and expensive pieces that you handed out at retirements from brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe. To build a luxury watch in steel was an outrage but eventually steel surpassed watches made of precious metals.

Just wait until those steel naysayers hear about a luxury watch made of plastic.

The ultralight Avenger Hurricane 45 chronograph is the latest watch to use Breitling’s Breitlight polymer, essentially a scratch-proof amalgam that is lighter than titanium and stronger than steel. The watch itself contains a manufacture (read “custom”) chronograph movement and comes on a rubberized canvas strap. All of this means that this is one of the strongest and lightest watches you’ll ever wear.

The 45mm piece feels almost evanescent, especially when compared to similarly sized steel chronographs. While I didn’t run this thing over with a truck the polymer was scratch resistant and very comfortable and, because its made of plastic, it’s nice for folks with allergies to metal on the skin. It was a comfortable wear – not heavy at all – and the 45mm face was comfortable to wear and looked smaller than it was.

Why would you want a plastic watch? Breitling has taken pains to explain that this isn’t just a hunk of plastic squeezed into a mold and filled with a movement. This is a specialty material, one made to order by Breitling and produced in very small quantities. There are two other models that use the material, a 24-hour chronograph and the Colt Skyracer, a three hand model. Considering the last big material change in watches came when Chanel and others started using ceramic, plastic isn’t that much of a stretch.

How much is the pleasure of owning a one-of-a-kind plastic watch? Try $8,390, a price that reflects the manufacture movement, the chronograph certification (each Breitling is officially certified for accuracy, a fairly meaningless thing in a world of smartwatches but is still important when it comes to mechanicals), and the ultra light case. It just goes to show you that the definition of luxury changes every few years – or decades – and that todays timekeeper is tomorrows luxury item.

The Avenger Hurricane 45 is shipping now.

Nike-backed Grabit has quietly raised $25 million for robots that handle what others can’t grasp

Robot arms have come a long way since the 1960’s when George C. Devol and Joseph Engelberger created the earliest industrial models. Those had two-finger grippers that, in retrospect, look fit to pluck a rubber ducky out of a bin in a carnival game, but nothing too sophisticated.

By now, robots in factories and warehouses can adjust their grip like human hands, or use suction and pliable materials to move objects wherever they need to go. Problems arise, however, when objects are porous, tiny, or need to be placed with great precision, as with materials handling in textiles, food, automotive and electronics manufacturing.

A startup called Grabit Inc., based in Sunnyvale, Calif., gets around problems with robot dexterity and grip by employing “electroadhesion” to move different materials. Yes, that’s the force that lifts strands of your hair away from your scalp when you rub a balloon on your head.

The Stackit robot, made by Grabit Inc., layers textiles together using electroadhesion.

Electroadhesion, and machine learning, allow Grabit’s Stackit robot to layer textiles on top of each other, including leathers, meshes, and composite fibers, thereby speeding the process of shoe-making or making a pair of jeans in a factory. Its other robots, the Meterit and the Conveyit, handle everything from fragile eggs to much heavier 50 lb. boxes, or even automotive glass, in factories and fulfillment centers.

According to Grabit board member Jim Kim, a founder of Formation 8 and general partner with Builders, the industrial robotics startup is now generating meaningful revenue and recently locked in two new customers, one in apparel and the other in logistics. The investor, and Grabit, declined to name those customers. However, the company is already a strategic partner of Nike Inc.

Originally, Grabit licensed its core technology and spun out from SRI Robotics. The startup has also quietly raised $25 million in venture funding to-date, including from huge manufacturers and funds that don’t shy away from hardware. Nike, Inc., Draper Nexus Ventures and Flex Lab IX (the early-stage investment arm of Flex) were all early backers of Grabit. They were joined by later investors: Formation 8, Danhua Capital, Samsung, Brother Industries, ABB, Shanghai Electric, NTT Docomo and the Esquel Group.

Nectar launches ultrasound-equipped pour spouts to save bar owners money

Restaurants depend on the sale of alcoholic beverages for 60 percent of their revenue. This means that knowing what happens to liquor after it’s put on the shelf behind the bar is critically important to bar owners. Today, connected-device startup Nectar is launching a pour spout and stopper equipped with ultrasound technology to give bar owners eyes on this valuable inventory.

To bar patrons, Nectar’s pourers and stoppers look exactly like every other pourer and stopper on the market. But underneath their black plastic enclosure lies an ultrasound sensor that can instantly capture bottle shape and liquid depth to compute the amount of alcohol that has been consumed from a given bottle.

The data produced from a collection of bottles is then aggregated within Nectar’s inventory management software. The platform makes it easy to track consumption and reorder popular bottles with the touch of a button.

While Nectar is a tech startup, it has more in common with measurement companies like Nielsen than one might think. At scale, insights generated from bars across the country could help to inform the decisions that advertisers and distilleries make about what should be produced for where.

Nectar previously announced a $4.55 million funding round from Joe Lonsdale and Lior Susan. Both Lonsdale and Susan invested outside of their respective funds, 8VC and Eclipse Ventures, alongside Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and a number of angels with connections to the hospitality industry.

The company is accepting preorders for its pourers and stoppers, though they’re not expected to be available immediately. Instead of paying for the sensors upfront, Nectar is charging bars on a subscription basis. Monthly fees will start at $299 and increase for larger bars.