Industry is definitely floating on a cloud. Manufacturing is upgrading with new cloud ERP solutions. Other industrial sectors also have started modernizing through the cloud. Smart farming now has its roots in the cloud rather than in the ground. From connected cows to vegetables that stay fresh for weeks, Fujitsu has developed a cloud-based platform that uses IoT tech to improve agriculture.
Cloud ERP is one of the most sweeping upgrades in manufacturing technology. At a time when on-site systems often have trouble dealing with sensor data and the new challenges of the IoT, the cloud offers a solution.
Cloud ERP has become one of the most radical, sweeping upgrades in manufacturing technology. For Pat...
From connected cows to vegetables that stay fresh for weeks, Fujitsu is developing a cloud-based platform that uses IoT technology to increase efficiency and modernize agriculture.
Agriculture used to be guesswork. Once crops were sown, fertilizer was spread and fingers were crossed for a good harvest. Cue the smart farm. By enlisting new technology, including sensors, the cloud and big data analytics, the agriculture sector is trying to increase efficiency and yields. For now, it’s mostly experimental. But one standout test project from Japan is showing how the smart farm can bring vital predictability to agriculture.
Fujitsu has been producing low-potassium lettuce since 2014, a crop which grows quickly and stays fresh for weeks. The food and agriculture cloud project in Fukushima Prefecture, dubbed Akisai, is housed in the company’s 2,000 m² former semiconductor plant that was converted into a vast greenhouse. Inside, sensors measure soil temperature, humidity and light levels to ensure ideal growing conditions, and send environmental data to the cloud in real time.
The goal is to create consistent, predictable conditions for the lettuce in order to increase yields, explains Rishad Marquardt, Fujitsu spokesperson.
Akisai is a cloud-based platform that utilizes information and communication technology to increase efficiencies across a variety of areas in the agricultural industry. One way in which Akisai has been utilized is in the production of low-potassium lettuce that can last for several weeks and still remain perfectly fresh. It tastes great, without the bitter taste that regular lettuce usually has, and can also be eaten raw by dialysis patients and people with chronic kidney disease.
Because there are no agri-chemicals and few microbes present on the crop, it doesn’t even need washing before being eaten. Each crop takes about four weeks from seeding to shipping, and Fujitsu can manage each stage of the process remotely.
Sensors Determine Production
Courtesy of Fujitsu
A networked sensors inside the greenhouse exchange information—soil temperature, humidity, light levels—via software on the cloud to determine the best conditions for production. Calculations in the cloud precisely control the atmosphere and even regulate the active ingredients included in liquid fertilizers. System analyses are performed by Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform, which is also used by GE, Boeing and BMW.
Through the cloud, the closed cultivation area can be monitored remotely and automatically. For example, the calculations performed by cloud software analyzing sunlight and temperature levels activate curtains and fans.
Procedures are also influenced by machine learning. This type of artificial intelligence enables computers to learn without being explicitly programmed. In this case, yields from one crop inform how the next crop is nurtured by the cloud-based software, without any human intervention.
For the moment, the sensors in this test plant are wired, but if Akisai is to work on large-scale farms, wireless wide-area networks will be necessary.
The Akisai cloud is also being used for animal husbandry. In the Gyuho program, pedometers are attached to cows’ legs in Japan and elsewhere to help ranchers better assess breeding receptivity. Program sites include South Korea, Finland, the UK, Turkey and Poland. Julita Bilska, Projects Co-ordinator at Fujitsu Poland, talks about these connected cows:
Cows walk more when they are in estrus, so the system helps to detect how much they walk. Normally, the farmer cannot judge visually when cows are ready for artificial insemination.
The data from each cow are sent from the pedometer to a receiver, then to the Akisai cloud.
It’s very accurate and the data are analyzed in real-time, so the farmers know the exact time to call the vet. It’s a very short window.
Exporting Akisai: Guidance Via the Cloud
The initial success of Akisai has seen it spread to other countries, including Vietnam and Turkey, though for now it’s just for greenhouses. In Vietnam, two Akisai Farm and Vegetable Factories opened in February 2016 near Hanoi, with the goal of combating pesticide overuse in tomato farming. Here, the concept of remote cultivation guidance comes into play.
Engineers and agricultural experts in Japan can offer advice from afar since all the crop data is on the cloud. This is part of Fujitsu’s Akisai Greenhouse Horticulture SaaS (software as a service), which it hopes to roll out globally. Smart agriculture seems poised to grow.
The development of nuclear fusion is no longer limited to government-funded research. Private companies have stepped in and are making impressive progress toward producing virtually endless nuclear energy.
Building on decades of experience, new firms are taking alternative routes to overcome the challenges that have...
littleBits is an electronic building block company that wants to democratize hardware. From a burglar alarm to a smart doorbell, littleBits empowers people to create their own electronic devices by sticking different modules together. DirectIndustry e-magazine talked to Paul Rothman, Director of R&D.
DirectIndustry e-magazine: littleBits makes easy-to-use electronic modules.What are those modules and how do they work?
Paul Rothman: The modules are electronic circuits with individual functions. They are equipped with our own custom magnetic connector that makes it easy to connect them to one another. This allows the user to assemble things very quickly. It also helps them orient the modules correctly.
We have different categories of modules, some of which are outputs, such as a gear or a motor. We also have input modules—sensors, switches or environmental sensors, such as for lighting or temperature, as well as a power module. Then there’s a wire category, for example the WiFi connector modules.
DI e-magazine:Where did the idea for democratizing hardware come from?
Paul Rothman: The idea came from our founder, Ayah Bdeir, who went to the MIT Media Lab. She saw all those new technologies and realized that a majority of people in the world, although they interact with technology many hours a day, don’t know how it works. The project started as project for designers, to allow them to easily use electronics in their work, but quickly turned into an educational tool for everyone. The idea is to make kids and adults comfortable enough with technology to create electronic devices.
DI e-magazine:So you don’t need particular skills to be able to use littleBits?
Paul Rothman: No particular skills are required to use littleBits. Anybody can do it. That’s part of our design philosophy. We tried to design products that don’t require an instruction manual. You can just pick up a Bit and, without any electronics knowledge, plug it into another module, like a Lego.
DI e-magazine: What’s the minimum number of modules you must use?
Paul Rothman: You need a minimum of two modules—a power module and an output module, for example a motor or something else that has an output reaction.
DI e-magazine: Your cloudBit module enables the connection of any electronic device to the cloud. How does it work?
Paul Rothman: The cloudBit is a WiFi-connected module that allows you to connect other littleBits circuits to the internet and control them via your website browser or using the littleBits Invent app. For example, if you put a littleBits button on your doorbell, your phone will send you a text message if someone rings the bell when you’re not home. cloudBit can also send a signal via the internet to activate littleBits circuits. For example, you can use your phone to remotely turn on your electric coffee maker.
DI e-magazine: How long do the modules last?
Paul Rothman: It depends on how many littleBits you have in the circuit and what they are. A simple circuit like a battery and an LED will last 12 to 16 hours. A circuit with a motor will last less—about 6 hours. We also offer a USB power option so that you can plug your modules into a wall socket via a USB adaptor. With the connected cloudBit modules, we recommend keeping them plugged into a wall outlet for permanent operation.
DI e-magazine: What about cybersecurity?
Paul Rothman: We implemented a security protocol for cloudBits so that your modules can only connect to your account. The connection between a user’s cloudBits and the littleBits cloud platform is encrypted using TLS, the same technology that encrypts credit card information for online shopping. Also, littleBits does not store any of the information coming from cloudBits. The absence of a central database for cloudBit user data mitigates privacy concerns.
3D printing is moving from prototyping to heralding a new era in customized production. This was the message last month at K Fair in Germany.
While it may have been over-hyped as a potential consumer product, 3D printing—better known in industry as additive manufacturing—was all the rage at Düsseldorf’s K Fair 2016. Many different 3D printing powders were launched, alongside some world firsts.
Until now, 3D printing has been viewed primarily as a way to develop prototypes quickly and affordably. According to the Consumer Technology Association, 2/3 of manufacturers already use it for product development. But the technology now appears to be maturing into an industrial process.
The core concept remains the same. Once a product design has been created using CAD, it can be produced almost immediately. This creates many opportunities for customization.
K Fair was the occasion to present the world’s first industrial 3D printer able to produce silicone rubber parts.
Munich-based materials and technology manufacturer Wacker Chemie‘s ACEO Imagine Series K printer uses a drop-on-demand method. The printer head deposits tiny silicone droplets on a substrate to build a workpiece layer by layer. The silicone is then vulcanized by UV light.
Courtesy of Wacker Chemie
Wacker offers a webshop service where customers can upload their own designs and order a small number of 3D printed silicone parts. These are produced in the ACEO print facility and shipped anywhere in the world.
Mass customization appears to be the future of 3D printing. It can be used produce parts inexpensively, something that once could only be done via expensive injection molding.
The medical industry is a target for Wacker, as it is for Stratasys. The latter demoed various 3D printed body parts, including cross-sections of the human brain. They were produced by its J750 3D, the world’s first full-color, multi-material 3D printer. The machine also produced shoe prototypes and plastic sushi.
Some foresee a step-change in 3D printing, as it moves from prototyping to a full-fledged industrial process for creating customized products.
Fair exhibitor Covestro announced new filaments, powders and resins enabling 3D printers to create thermally-resistant, transparent and flexible products. As an example, the company demonstrated its personalizable watch straps.
The firm’s Fused Filament Fabricationtechnique employing thermoplastic polyurethane was also used to 3D print a pair of loudspeakers for Audiolens.
Patrick Thomas, Covestro CEO explained:
There are certain things you can only do with 3D printing that you can’t do with molds. But the scale of 3D printing is changing. We’re starting to see free-form 3D printers that use two different polymers, one of which is water-soluble and only acts as scaffolding, which means you can produce almost any imaginable shape.
The message at K Fair was loud and clear. 3D printing isn’t just here to stay, it’s poised to bring fundamental change to industry.
If electric vehicles are to become the norm, new weight-saving polymers, thermally efficient designs and other energy-saving innovations will be required. Some of them were unveiled last month at K Fair in Germany.
Ever since 400,000 people put down US$1,000 each to pre-order a Tesla Model 5 in April 2016, the automotive industry has known one thing—consumers want electric vehicles, and they want them sooner than anyone expected. Since just 1% of the 89 million vehicles projected to be manufactured this year are electric, some serious supply-side innovation is required.
A big complaint about electric cars is that their range rarely exceeds 100 km on a single battery charge. Cue the lightweight automotive designs unveiled at October’s K Fair in Düsseldorf.
Jochen Hardt, VP of Global Marketing, Automotive & Transportation at Covestro says:
With acceleration, weight plays an important role, which is why real-life use of electric cars differs so much from the catalogue battery life, which doesn’t take this into account.
Covestro’s design concept for a contemporary electric car has polycarbonate wrap-around glazing as part of a slim, seamless. Lighter than glass and metal, polycarbonate could help extend range.
This is only a prototype, but using polycarbonate instead of glass saves 30-50% on weight, about the same as for steel. Polycarbonate also has thermal insulation properties, so you would also spend less energy on heating.
Cars with some of these features are expected to be on the road within 3 to 5 years.
Covestro Concept Car, Courtesy of Covestro
Chemistry-driven solutions to the weight problem were also shown off at the fair by Floatility. Their E-floater is a streamlined electric scooter that weighs less than 12 kg and is 80% polymers.
BASF also presented its RN30 non-electric concept race car with Hyundai Motors. The vehicle incorporates BASF’s Elastolit rigid integral foam and its Infinergy expanded thermoplastic polyurethane. The use of such lightweight plastics in motor racing has long informed the development of electric vehicles.
However, polymers can offer much more to electric cars than lightweight designs. Also at K Fair was the new eS2 two-seater electric scooter from Vicenza, Italy-based Askoll. It makes extensive use of a new material called Pocan AF 4110 from LANXESS for the battery housing.
This blend of polybutylene terephthalate and acrylate styrene acrylonitrile reinforced with glass fibers is highly flame-retardant. That’s critical for electric vehicles, because batteries that store as much energy as is found in combustion engines must be able to survive an impact without causing a catastrophic lithium fire.
Similarly, Covestro’s demo of its Greenpack Li-Ion battery module and cell holder used its Bayblend polycarbonate matrix to isolate each cell. It’s another attempt at developing an industry-standard crash cage that will help make electromobility practical.
Frank Lutz, Chief Financial Officer at Covestro evaluates the new thirst for electric cars:
It’s a market with huge potential. In many countries, there now exists the political will to replace internal combustion engine cars with electric cars.
In China, electric ownership is only 1.25%, but it’s growing at a rate of 120% per year.
Last October, Germany’s Bundesrat passed a law enforcing a ban on sales of new vehicles powered by gasoline or diesel engines beyond 2030.
It remains to be seen if that will happen, but we expect more governments incentivizing electric cars.
Regardless of politics, the materials science industries are already in the driver’s seat.
Camille Rustici is a Video Journalist and the Editor-in-Chief for DirectIndustry e-magazine. She has years of experience in business issues for various media including France 24, Associated Press, Radio France…