“We wanted to build an automated machine for farmers,” said the co-founder of FarmWise, Thomas Palomares. “We saw the labor challenges, the problems with chemicals and all the regulations around them, and we had an idea to help.” In December of 2017, he and his friend Sébastien Boyer formed their startup and started conducting a seed round of funding. With the 5.7 million dollars they raised, they began to design and build their prototype. The prototype was able to differentiate between weeds and crops as it drove over the field and pull out weeds, leaving the crops unscathed. Once the working prototype was built, they began to conduct the initial test in California.
While the initial tests were a huge success, they started to run into a bit of hurdle. They machines were working perfectly, but they had no way to mass produce them. “We had a big challenge – getting everything ready for a huge scale-up of machine-making,” Palomares said. “That meant all aspects of scaling – not just manufacturing, but support, shipping, hardware, and more as machines hit the fields.”
Through PlanetM, a Michigan based partnership that connects companies with automotive manufactures, FarmWise was able to partner up with Roush Industries, a design and manufacturing firm based in Detroit that has a lot of experience in auto racing. “We’ve been known for many things over time,” said the CEO of Roush, Evan Lyall. “Now we specialize in product development, commercialization, and engineering consultation.” FarmWise’s concept of an automated vehicle wasn’t completely new to Roush. They had previously worked on a self-driving automobile for Google’s Waymo project, about a decade ago. “We have other things in the works in a similar vein as well – but those are confidential,” Lyall said.
Roush was exactly what FarmWise needed. “This was a great opportunity for FarmWise to make use of Roush’s capabilities,” said Lyall. “We can serve as a bridge between low and super-high production volume. As they get big, we can help them move to automated systems, and move their manufacturing to scale.”
“This is a very exciting partnership and exchange of knowledge,” said Palomares. “It’s giving us exposure into what it takes to make long-lasting products for harsh environments. Roush already had an extensive knowledge of what works – and it’s impossible to re-invent everything.”
Another important partnership for FarmWise was with the farmers themselves. “We’ve been working with farmers from day one,” Palomares explained. “We’ve shared what we’re doing and we’ve been getting their feedback on a daily basis. We wanted to make sure we’re building a machine they want, and that they’re willing to pay for.”
The framing partnership was a new experience for Roush. “This is an interesting example of how the world is changing,” Lyall said. “From our end, we’ve seen it before in automotive, aerospace, and defense – the increasing use of automated vehicles. Now we’re seeing it in agriculture.”
“We’re proud of the partnership,” Lyall stated. “It’s great to help make tech come to life quicker, in a way that will benefit all of us.”
As FarmWise begins to scale-up their production, they are conducting a final review of their designs and manufacturing process. Their goal for this year is to produce around a dozen automated weeding machines. “We’ve got their supply chain all set up,” said Lyall. “The scale-up will offer an opportunity to continue to refine it.”
FarmWise is continuing to refine things from their side as well. “This is what it means to bring innovation together with knowledge in a given field,” Palomares said. “We’re building new technology on top of existing things that already work very well. We don’t have to disrupt everything.”
Once they get their autonomous weeder in full production, FarmWise plans to apply their technology to other farming applications. One idea they’re currently considering is automating fertilization for different crops. For the moment, both companies are very pleased with their partnership and how it was able to bring together very different skill sets from very different parts of the country. “This is just a great example of Silicon Valley and the Midwest working together,” said Lyall. “It’s the California technology startup FarmWise bringing their expertise to bear on a common farm problem, and then taking advantage of the industrial knowledge in the Midwest for manufacturing.”
Due to cutting edge technologies that would have resembled something from science fiction to early astronauts, landing humans on another planet may be closer to a reality than we think. NASA has stated that it has plans for a manned mission to Mars, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done and questions that need to be answered to accomplish this feat. These questions aren’t just about how to get there, but more importantly how to live there. NASA believes that 3D printing could be crucial to our success in creating Mars Colony and here’s why.
One of the most important things the astronauts are going to have to build for themselves once they arrive is shelter. Earlier this year, AI Space Factory was award $500,000 by NASA for their design of a structure that could be 3D printed from basalt, a natural volcanic rock found in abundance on the surface of Mars. When extracted and mixed with a renewable bioplastic obtained from plants in a hydroponic garden, the rock can create a 3D printing filament similar to polylactic acid. The resulting structure would be able to provide protection for all sorts of natural environmental dangers on Mars like violent dust storms, harsh temperature swings, and extreme radiation.
After constructing your 3D printed house, you’ll need to make sure you have a consistent food source. You’ll be able to obtain some nutrients from the hydroponic garden mentioned above, but that won’t be enough to meet all your nutritional needs. Packing enough food and keeping that food fresh for the 32 month space trip and the subsequent years on Mars is an unrealistic task and the dry arid environment of Mars won’t help this problem any further. 3D printing food is still in it’s early stages of development, but with the right advancements, it could be a potential solution to this food shortage issue. Currently, researchers have only been able to create small chocolates and candies, but hopefully in the future, they’ll be able to print a whole meal, helping astronauts get the nutrients they need for their lengthy space trip.
In order for this Mars mission to be a success, We need to plan for any kind of accident or sickness that could arise. Bioprinting has seen some huge growth in the recent years. With bioprinting, astronauts would be able to us bioinks to 3D print artificial organs and other body parts. Currently, researchers are trying to perfect this equipment for us in a low gravity environment. They’re hoping to be able to replicate everything from skin tissue to bone cartilage. In addition to bioprinting, 3D printing could offer another medical advantage in printing specific medicine or prescription.
Creating a colony on Mars would take a lot of equipment and that equipment is bound to break, especially on the rough terrain of Mars. This is where additive manufacturing could help out. It wouldn’t seem all too likely for the early stages of the colony, but further down the road it would make sense to bring 3D printers capable of printing with different types of materials and printing in different atmospheric conditions to Mars. These printers could use the planet’s natural resources to print a variety and help solve a lot of spare part and maintenance problems.
Regardless of which additive technology you’re using, weather it be additive construction, bioprinting or additive manufacturing, 3D printers are, at their core tools for solving problems. Many companies today have started using these wonderful machines to solve countless problems, like Pfizer Corporation, a pharmaceutical lab in Connecticut. They used their 3D printer for many different uses like creating a fish-food dispenser to help mix the proper amount of fish with the drug they were testing, test tube holders to hold them in specific orientations, a tablet for counting pills that was easier to use the previous tablet they had. They were able to solve problems and make improvements to situations that normally they would have to just accept. Being able to do this on Mars with the hydroponic gardens or rovers would be an incredible tool and there’s no doubt that 3D printing will be insanely valuable to a Mars Colony.
Wanna find out more about the latest in 3D printers? Learn about how S-Squared 3D Printers made a 500 square foot house using additive construction.
Even though companies in almost every industry have begun to invest some time into digital transformation, there is still much more time that needs to be put in to perfect it. The truth of it is that regardless of various press reports and notable users stories, a completely holistic product development process has yet to become the norm and still remains an outlier in today’s market. Even without looking at newer technologies, Product Lifecycle Management and different approaches towards syncing stakeholders with the engineering process have all failed to live up to their transformational potential.
“If you’re a product company and you want to do digitalization, then your Product Lifecycle Management game needs to be pretty on point” says vice president of CIMdata, Stan Przybylinski. “It’s amazing how many companies adopt these core data and process management platforms with lofty goals and most remain stuck in Product Data Management. Even while vendors add all these new capabilities, the majority of companies are just doing basic blocking and tackling.”
The Problem with Silo Mentality
Due to complicated technologies, engineering tends to trail behind in the digitalization process compared to other sectors like marketing or sales. The biggest hurdle facing engineering isn’t setting up these new technologies but is actually getting rid of traditional siloed methods towards product data and workflow “Most of the time companies get stuck due to organizational stuff. Organizations are not necessarily structured in a way that promotes optimal collaboration,” says Stan Przybylinski. “Instead, they are still operating as separate functions.” Another large hurdle facing the engineering side of business is their hesitation to share work in progress designs and their tendency to protect their siloed product data.
“With Product Lifecycle Management, we see a lot of complaining that others will see into their department or work product, and that comes from a silo mentality,” says chief architect at Razorleaf, a consultancy specializing in Product Lifecycle Management and engineering-related implementations, Jonathan Scott. “If you work in product definition, you are supposed to work with people in other domains. You need to be in continuous integration mode where everyone is involved in evolving the baseline. Exposing work should not be viewed in a bad way, but in a good way that lets you move ahead.”
Similarly, if transformation is about reformulating old process to boost innovation and trying new business models, then companies have to broaden their objectives past just engineering. There needs to be a smooth continuous data flow that incorporate the entire operational lifecycle. This is where the idea of digital thread can help out greatly.
Similarly to Product Lifecycle Management, there has been a lot of speculation about digital thread could streamline processes greatly and give us countless insights. These insights could lead to predictive maintenance services, innovative products, and custom manufacturing practices. These all sound like great improvements, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of clarity at what digital thread actually is and even less certainty on how to implement this effectively.
Another critical component for successful digital transformation of engineering is called Digital Twin. Much like digital thread, there is uncertainty between different providers as to what it is. Some companies like Siemens Product Lifecycle Management Software and Dassault Systèmes see it as a complete 3D portrayal of the product and its behaviors. Others like PTC connect a digital twin with a particular, serial numbered product.
Digital Twin and digital thread aren’t without their flaws though. Sometimes there can be obvious gaps or loose ends in the data flow. For instance, if a company were to create a digital twin of a product and then start collecting specific usage data in the field, sometimes they can’t utilize that data for further iterations because they have no way to deliver that data back to the engineers, creating an ineffective open-loop workflow. In a similar instance, some companies have made great steps towards integrating CAD and software development data, but often handle this data in a separate system. By doing this they create a data flow that isn’t complete or seamless, undercutting the usefulness of digital thread.
“Companies need to focus on how the digital thread connects data used all the way through the lifecycle to generate better decisions and to get upgrades and better products out the door. If engineering is focused on one-off projects, they might improve the customer experience,”says director of marketing at Aras, Mark Reisig.” but if they’re not connecting processes throughout the end-to-end lifecycle, they are not helping the business.”
According to Bertrand Dutilleul, the CIO of french boat manufacturer, Beneteau, it’s looking to shorten development time and aid its boat assembly workers by steering its Product Lifecycle Management foundation to a continuous digital flow of data. Over the next 18 months, they plan to implement PTC’s Windchill Product Lifecycle Management platform. The first six months will focus on converting current boat design into precise assembly instructions. To bolster confidence within the workers using this new digital approach, the following six months focuses on building a new boat to be pushed to the shop floor. Once the flaws are ironed out, this new digital workflow is distributed plant by plant.
“It is very important to have a reference plant—the key to success is selecting the right team for your first project,” says Bertrand Dutilleul.“You need an energetic, visionary project leader to establish momentum and provide continued executive sponsorship.”
After implementing the core Product Lifecycle Management, Beneteau hopes to expand its digital transformation by adding new capabilities like augmented reality. With these new capabilities, Beneteau would be able to help assembly workers with work instructions and they could make it more effortless for their customers to customize their boat designs. With the Internet of Things, Beneteau would be able to better inform themselves on how their boats are used in the real world, which would lead to smarter design decisions for future iterations and preventive maintenance. “These use cases are only made possible by first building a solid foundation through PLM,” says Bertrand Dutilleul
Without first creating a solid Product Lifecycle Management foundation, engineering and manufacturing companies can get caught in periods of idleness by concentrating on acquiring new attractive technologies like 3D printing or Virtual Reality.“Oftentimes, organizations are buying technology with no particular plan,” says Mark Reisig. “They are not looking at the business horizontally and this is where they get stuck.”
Digital transformation is not just about integrating previously siloed data into a new system, it’s also about normalizing various processes throughout the company so that every employee is on the same page. This is no easy task however, because change is almost always unwelcome and will be met with some sort of push back, especially if there are no glarring or blatant problems with the old system.
“The drive to harmonize processes is typically a company perspective,” says the vice president of PTC, Mark Taber. “but engineers doing the work may not be dissatisfied enough, thus are not anxious to change what they do except in incremental ways.”
For already established and successful companies, this transformation can be a huge headache and can cause some major disruptions for their already existing product development practices and product portfolio. “You’re thinking about how you get from here to there, not where you want to be,” explains Jonathan Scott of Razorleaf. “If you have to bring along the baggage of what you’re always done, you’ve got an extra constraint to deal with, and it’s a big one.”
“The projects I see failing never fail for technology reasons. They fail because of change management,” says the CEO of Dassault Systèmes, Guillaume Vendroux. “That can be avoided. The problem of transformation is likely to happen when a business is not engaged. The business needs to engage. It needs to build digitally minded processes in order to leverage the technology to get the value out of it. I see that on a constant basis.”
How to Bring about Change Effectively
In order to begin to sow the digital thread, Companies need to start dismantling their silo mentality by introducing model-based systems engineering practices. These practices focus on using models to represent a specific product throughout its entire development process, including information like shape, behavior and contextual information. “Systems engineering helps us see across discipline lines by looking at the design and definition of a product while things are still fuzzy,” explains Jonathan Scott. “Getting everyone in the various disciplines to look up higher in the process is how we become more holistic.”
According to Stan Przybylinski, vice president of CIMdata, another noteworthy breakthrough when it comes to completing complicated initiatives like Product Lifecycle Management is taking advantage of different agile practices.These practices can help dismantle complexity barriers that come with implementing these initiatives, but they may also produce additional obstacles. “The agile methodology allows you make errors and correct them quickly because you learn from the errors.This is the reason why people are using agile,” says Vendroux. “even though if you look on paper, it is significantly more complicated to manage and so therefore costs a bit more. But, it’s so much more powerful at the end of the day.”
By making a product centered view instead of the typical functional view, companies can stimulate and strengthen cross-discipline cooperation. Not only can this create multidisciplinary teams within the engineering sector but it can also extend further beyond to include other role in other areas like supply chain and manufacturing. “You need to create teams with multiple skills that have one common vision for product features,” says Brillio’s head of digital infrastructure, Vinod Subramanyam.
Recruiting a vital executive as a sponsor is just as crucial as team collaboration and new management for getting the essential buy-in. In order to accomplish this, engineering management has to be able to accurate and effective argument for the digitalization process. “So many folks in engineering talk in bits and bytes and that doesn’t help people to understand what they’re talking about,” says Jonathan Scott. “Executives won’t fund what they don’t understand.”
Sometimes the pressure for digital transformation can both come from the higher ups and from down below. That was the case at American professional motorsports organization Team Penske. In 2018, the race team began to integrate a new engineering platform based no Siemens Software’s NX called Teamcenter. After an entire year of migrating legacy data, creating system architecture and end-user training, the race team began to introduce digital twin methodology. With this they were able to iterate through prototypes much quicker, bringing them to life in virtual models and simulations before any physical products were built.
“End users have become aware of what’s possible with digital models, making their daily tasks more straightforward and allowing them to be more effective,” says the design engineering manager for Team Penske, Drew Kessler. “Top management has been pushing for performance increases at a faster rate, which is also enabled by digital methods.”
In order to diminish the time between design and manufacturing, Team Penske plans to incorporate Teamcenter Manufacturing with the build processes. “Having a functional digital twin and using virtual/digital development methods allows us to develop at a rate faster than our competition,” Drew Kessler explains. “Time to market is critical in motorsports—there is a race on the track every weekend, but between the weekends, there is a race to develop and manufacture new parts.”
Ultimately companies need to realize that digital transformation is not a sprint to the finished line, but a marathon to increase productivity incrementally. “You’re talking about people modifying the way they’ve done things before,” says senior vice president of Siemens Product Lifecycle Management Software’s Americas’ digital industry software division, Del Costy. “Companies that set a vision and see it through end-to-end get great results identifying new business opportunities and driving profitability—and that’s the holy grail of transformation.”
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The manufacturing industry business conditions continue to improve and the outlook remains positive. US Manufacturing reports from March show increased factory activity for the fifth straight month with factories expanding despite a strong U.S. dollar, which makes American products more expensive in overseas markets. They also have recovered from big cutbacks in the energy industry, which reflected low oil prices. Factory orders were up 5.5 percent from a year ago with total shipments of manufactured goods increased 0.2 percent after surging 2.5 percent in December. Manufacturing, which accounts for about 12 percent of the U.S. economy, is regaining its footing after being buffeted by lower oil prices and a strong dollar. The truly successful companies know that to be successful, outsourcing deployments require finding the right partner. Enser’s extensive experience as a leading engineering services company uniquely positions us to provide the best and most cost-effective solutions. ENSER can provide integrated solutions from the best tooling solutions and custom developed equipment & machines, to test and measurement devices, to prototyping, component and part fabrication, we deliver cost effective solutions reliably.
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