Better Factory KTE knowledge transfer experiments

Better Factory is a project funded by the European Commission, which supports manufacturing SMEs to collaborate with artists and technology providers to develop new and personalised products through the Better Factory experiments.

The 7 teams that passed through the first round of Better Factory embark on an experimental journey, where together and supported by the Better Factory consortium, they contribute to the promises of industry 4.0: supporting the path to digital transformation and expanding the portfolio. Each Knowledge Transfer Experiment received access to the Robotics and Automation MarketPlace (RAMP), training to re-skill staff, business support and mentoring, and get up to EUR 200,000 funding, to conduct their experiments.

In this news article, we would like to introduce and share the projects of the 7 first candidates. In 2023, a second batch with 9 other experiments will start. Read more about them here.

  • FOLD – Modular Cobot for production of Stone Paper Innovative Products
    From handmade cellulose-based paper solutions to efficient automated production of stone paper products.

The FOLD project evolved around exploring and pushing the boundaries of the use of stone paper within the context of a manufacturer of paper packaging products in Bulgaria. Stone paper is an alternative to regular, wood-based paper. It is made of a combination of calcium carbonate and plastic. Calcium carbonate, which is 80% of the paper, is a by-product from the production of marble or limestone. In a mix, with 20% plastics, usually HDPE plastics, it forms a useful alternative to regular paper. Stone paper consumes less water to produce, makes a current waste stream valuable, and does not require trees to create the paper. Challenges are the involvement of oil-based plastics, the remaining need for mining to produce the calcium carbonate, the risks of microplastics in the environment and the fact that calcium carbonate gets downgraded and impossible to recycle by mixing it with a second material.

The FOLD project aimed to automate the stonepaper processing within the factory as well as explore the wider possibilities of the material for producing replacement products (a wine growth tube) as well as new product possibilities. The automation would allow for production capacity expansion, allowing the SME to enter new markets and increase sales. The product development aims to improve the quality of the growth tube product on the short term as well as develop a portfolio of product possibilities for long term expansion of stone paper in the market.

The FOLD project developed and deployed a stacking, folding and gluing robotic cell to realize the automation and production expansion. This robotic cell is producing the, by the artist redesigned wine growth tube, successfully for the Bulgarian as well as, as of this year and as a result of Better Factory, the Romanian market.

The artist in the project explored and pushed the boundaries of stone paper by conceiving a series of prototype objects ranging from stone paper-made lamps, to wallets, and even trench coats. Of this catalogue of experiments, the lamp is the first product to be incorporated in the portfolio of the manufacturer, thereby expanding their markets with this material.

Finally, the artist and the tech supplier developed a proof-of-concept process for stone paper 3D printing, demonstrating the possibilities to turn the paper into printable paste. In a follow-up project, the consortium continues to develop this technology, currently working towards a prototype 3D printer for stone paper production.

The FOLD project led to increased production capacity, an improved existing product, the introduction of a completely new product, and the continuation of an art-driven innovation project to develop the worlds first stone paper 3D printing system. The project won the 2022 – I4MS Award.

  • ODC3D – Optimization of Digital Craftmanship in 3D Printing
    AI and craftmanship combination for optimized and efficient 3D printing of customized recycled plastic products.

The ODC3D project took place within the context of a small-scale, additive manufacturing, plastics recycling manufacturer of outside furniture objects with a high standard of aesthetics and design. This process led to a high level of recycling (upcycling) of industrial or consumer plastic waste streams, a key ingredient towards a production reality based on the principles of circularity.

In the ODC3D project, the manufacturer – the New Raw, a pioneer of a new wave of industrial producers, runs into the limitations of additive manufacturing of scalable solutions because of printing errors. In additive manufacturing, managing control variables is key to realizing stable production. In addition, the manufacturer seeks to develop the market for printing large-scale objects of use by exploring new ways to develop products.

The ODC3D project developed an intelligent, real-time, temperature control solution for large scale 3D printing, merging the technology suppliers development with the Better Factory APPS modules Pro Opt and MPMS.

The artist, Gareth Neal, developed a new printing technique based on artisanal crafts like weaving, sewing and knitting. By translating these ancient old techniques to a 3D modelling tool, the project managed to demonstrate both how this expands the possibilities of designing for additive manufacturing for artistic outcomes as well as functional objects.

The technological solution, from Artific Intelligence, led to an increase in the control of production quality for the SME, which in turn allowed for the successful implementation of the artisanal craft-based new printing technique.

The outcomes of the project were showcased at Design Miami 2022 and the continuation of collaboration between the partners. The project was scouted for the S+T+ARTS prize for innovative collaboration 2023.

  • WRC – Welded metal door design and fabrication, and innovation and automatization of production.
    Integrated digitalization for improving the working environment of traditionally manual welded metal doors. New mechanical and aesthetical designs and functions are explored.

The WRC project dealt with the topic of robotization within metal welding and the possibilities this would give to rethink the ways in which containers can be produced. The project was set within a Slovakian manufacturing factory, Zovos-Eko, that specializes in customized containers for anything but shipping.

The WRC project aimed to increase productivity within the factory through the introduction of a robotic welding cell, as well as explore the area of welding which goes beyond human capacities but lies within the possibilities of the robot.

The WRC project realized the development, installation and operation of the robotic welding cell within the walls of the factory. This robotic cell was used to test its capabilities to weld metal container doors in completely new, and beyond-human, ways.

The artist in the project researched and explored welding possibilities, ranging from spot welding to fluid form welding, which could be instructed to the robotic cell. This led to the realization of a metal welded door with the need for less support material, less welds to produce and complete new aesthetic qualities, partly realized as a result of the welding.

The WRC project led to increased productivity, lowering the time to weld a singular door from five hours to one hour, less need for support materials (thus less waste) and less need for welds (thus saving energy) by art-driven experimentation of ways in which metal containers can be welded in the age of robotics.

  • DSBSF – Digital Solutions for Better Scales Factory
    Across the globe remote design of customizes advanced weighing scales and customer support through augmented reality visualization

The DSBSF project focused on a specialistic manufacturing industry: the development and production of custom industrial weighing scales, in Greece. This factory of Delmac Scales, characterised by a mix of design, engineering and production, makes to-order complex weighing scales. The project evolved around introducing Industry 4.0 solutions to improve different areas of the manufacturer, from worker well-being to connecting scales with automated vehicles.
The DSBSF project aimed to use these solutions to take scale production to the next level and expand their market reach to oversees markets because of the connectivity providing opportunities for sales, support, services and repair at distance.

The DSBSF project realized a computer controlled scale assembly process, in combination with AGV device integration at a distance, and AR break rooms for individual workers.

The artist in the project, Sara Made, focused on the role digital technology could play in improving worker health and wellbeing within the factory. This led to the development of personalised AR break rooms, allowing workers to retreat into a mixed reality environment filled with personal attributes as well as possibilities to exercise mindfulness and mediation while taking a break. The AR rooms are accessed through a Hololens.
The DSBSF project led to an, in the words of the manufacturer, ‘big eye on the process’, allowing for optimization and control, prototyped solution to add connectivity to their products which can be tested with real clients, and a prototyped solution for worker health and well-being in mixed reality.

  • SMARTHamSupervised manufacturing of real-time traceability in ham production
    Innovating a centuries-old and highly restrictive sales process of Parma ham by introducing digital and data-driven technologies for improved traceability and customized products.

The SMARTHAM project is set in the context of a centuries old regulated manufacturing process, the production of Parma hams. In order to be able to sell ham products as Parma ham, a very strictly controlled process of processing of the product has to be followed, allowing for little innovation as a consequence. This project explored ways in which digital technologies can enforce the production of hams without conflicting with the rules, as well as experiment ways in which humans eating Parma hams can experience its distinguishing taste, without being able to change the way it is presented or packaged due to these same restrictions.

The SMARTHAM project took place at the manufacturing company Capanna Prosciutti and aimed to add monitoring to the hams in different phases of curing in order to create insight for inventory control as well as forecasting. To innovate on the eating experience, the project aimed to capture the taste of the ham in novel ways with the use of AI technology.

The SMARTHAM project realized the system for inventory monitoring and intelligent forecasting, introducing RFID tags into the process and collecting data on processes like ageing, greasing and salting of the hams. With hundreds of thousands of hams cured annually, this could lead to massive improvements in quality control and improvement. However, the process of curing is a multi-year process, meaning the actual value of these interventions are not known yet and take more time to surface.

The artist in the project, Frederik de Wilde, focused on developing the idea of taste mapping by measuring and translating brain stimulation activity while tasting Parma ham. Such an algorithm did not exist, and the artist developed a first working prototype of such a mapping tool. Feeding the algorithm with current state of the art knowledge on brain – taste relations, the tool shows highly detailed and specific taste experiences which are captured by the brain, yet not necessarily experienced by the body.

The SMARTHAM project led to a set of early stage usages of digital, AI based tools, which could contribute to the future of Parma ham production and consumption while not interfering with the centuries old standards of the brand. However, due to the slow process as well as the beyond state-of-the-art direction of solutions, only time will tell whether this is the case.

  • MiniRoboFab –Exploring Product Customisation and Robotic Fabrication in a Small Factory

The MiniRoboFab project took place within the factory of a manufacturer of outdoor electrical enclosures. These enclosures, present in every living and working area around Europe, require ultimate safety and protection for weather conditions to protect the electrical circuits inside. For this, extensive metal powder coating is applied, a process accompanied with a lot of powder waste. This project centred around answering the question how to recycle the waste powder in the best possible way.

The MiniRoboFab project aimed to develop a new process in the manufacturing line, allowing for collection of waste powder, recycling of waste powder, and either re-introducing the powder in the original process, or, using the waste powder to develop a new process of powdering. This involved introducing a weighing and stock management system to re-include the waste powder in the process. Moreover, the project aimed to introduce robotic welding into the factory, as a way to increase efficiency of production as well as introduce the possibilities of customization of electrical enclosures.

The MiniRoboFab project achieved success in developing and applying the new process of waste powder re-use in the manufacturing line for customized and personalized product development and powdering, which was the main focus of the artist in the project. The artistic experiments led to the identification and implementation of options to customize powdering of electrical enclosures for purposes of aesthetics (aligning the colour scheme with the environment) as well as for durability. Higher durability, resulting in lower maintenance, is achieved by not seeing the enclosure as single sheets to coat evenly, but applying coating in different thicknesses or mixes on those parts of the sheets which require it. For example due to higher UV exposure on one side or increased rain/wind exposure because of its physical location.

The MiniRoboFab project led to the introduction of a new line of products resulting from the experiments with reusing waste powder coating, which are currently being introduced on the British market. Moreover, the ability to reuse powder coating has led to a decrease in purchasing costs for virgin powder, and therefor an efficiency gain for the manufacturer.

  • BCF: Better CNC Factory
    State-of-the-art CNC wood production of highly customised furniture and architecture using a programming system for automized process reconfiguration. New designs will be adapted to the wasted material available.

The BetterCNCFactory project aimed to innovate the process of CNC cutting of wood within the walls of a factory specialized in customized wooden furniture and construction elements, ranging from theatre decors to kitchens or complete interiors. Their process nearly always involves cutting designs out of wooden sheets, a process which involves CNC machinery. The project looked at the question how, through a mix of art and technology, the process of nesting (plotting designed elements on the sheets), could be changed to bring down the amount of waste material drastically. At the beginning of the project, the factory looked at, on average, 30-40% waste material per wooden sheet, an enormous percentage of unused good material.

The BetterCNCFactory developed, tested and implemented a complete new nesting process which they call FoundObjects. The solution, involving four steps, allows the manufacturer to optimize the nesting their own project funnel, both within and across projects, plus opens up the process for the introduction of parametric design of third party objects, plus introduces algorithmic design of AI generated components on the left-over spaces of the sheets. This combination of levels of intelligence embedded in the new process results in the massive waste reduction aimed for, bringing the waste down to as little as 3-5% per sheet. This leads to increased efficiency, reduction of material costs, as well as opens up enormous new opportunities for new product market combinations for the manufacturer.

The artist in the project focused on anchoring the ideas of parametric design and algorithmic design into the joint solution, by co-developing the software solution FoundObjects together with the technology supplier in the project. Not only did this lead to even less waste residue than what would have been the case if the solution solely focused on the manufacturers project funnel, but, and more importantly, this allows for extensive diversification of the offerings of the manufacturer. In first instance as service provider to third parties, like artists, designers and architects, who can add their files to the FoundObjects system nesting cue, thereby saving time and cost (because the software nests it in the most efficient way) for producing their objects. In second instance, as a developer of new possibilities, by being suggested new possibilities by the AI driven algorithmic design tool, on a regular basis.

The FoundObjects outcome of the BetterCNCFactory is being used daily in the factory itself, and has been showcased at Dutch Design Week 2022, as well as Milan Design Week 2023. Moreover, the project led to continued collaborations between the three parties, who continue developing the solution through a follow up project involving more artists and designers, as well as through diffusing the solution to other, nesting based, manufacturing companies in Europe.

The team existed of:

Manufacturing company: Fiction Factory
Artist: Jesse Howard
Technology Provider: Iaac

On the Better factory website, all teams of the Better Factory experiments are presented with more details.