It is always interesting to see emerging technologies tackling new issues. At this year’s South by Southwest in Austin, TX, 3D printing is being shown in a whole new light. Icon, an Austin-based construction startup focused on 3D-printing technology, is showcasing one of its newest 3D-printed homes, dubbed “House Zero,” in East Austin. The project is aimed at showing the possibilities of 3D-printed housing. CEO and founder Jason Ballard sees a future where neighborhoods and towns and cities are going to be built by robots, which according to Ballard, will be more affordable and more sustainable. House Zero was built using Icon’s Vulcan printer, which printed the house layer by layer. The home’s features include a curved dining room and exposed walls to showcase the construction method. Ballard said he sees 3D printing as having the potential to revolutionize the way we build homes, and even structures for defense purposes or space operations. The 3D-printing construction method offers versatility, range, speed and lower costs than traditional construction, according to the company. And now on to this week’s logistics news.
The ongoing Russia – Ukraine war continues to disrupt global supply chains. Russian forces are cutting off shipping routes, logistics firms are suspending services, and air freight rates are skyrocketing. Russian naval forces have closed shipping in and out of the Sea of Azov, which is one of the few access points to ocean trade in Ukraine. This has created a heavy buildup of ships waiting to get through the Kerch strait. And with 70 percent of Ukraine’s exports distributed via ship, the problem is only getting worse. Cargo movements are also at a standstill as the Ukrainian ports of Odessa and Mariupol are closed, damaged, or under attack. Parts of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov are now dangerous or unpassable. There have been missile attacks on vessels and ship arrests and lane closures for commercial shipping. And while the situation with over-the-road cargo remains fluid, reports from the area are difficult or impossible to confirm.
President Biden has announced that the US, EU, and G7 countries are moving to revoke Russia’s “most favored nation” trade status over its invasion of Ukraine. A most-favored-nation status designation means two countries have agreed to trade with each other under the best possible terms — low tariffs, few barriers to trade and the highest-possible imports allowed. Bipartisan lawmakers have been calling on President Biden to revoke the status, known in the US as “permanent normal trade relations,” with Russia. The preferred status means that nations cannot discriminate in their treatment of their trading partners, and the removal of that status means the US and allies will be able to impose tariffs on Russian imports. The White House says Biden will work closely with Congress to revoke that permanent normal trade relations status from Russia. The US will also take steps to ban the import of Russian seafood, diamonds, and vodka.
Authorities in China’s southern tech Shenzhen hub ordered the city of 17.5 million into lockdown to combat an outbreak of COVID-19. Residents were told to work from home, with all non-essential businesses and public transport shut. This could have a major impact on online orders placed through global e-commerce platforms. The moves are already creating significant disruption to the production and delivery of goods sold on major online marketplaces, including those run by Amazon and Walmart. Shenzhen is also home to some of the world’s largest ports and is a major terminus in trade between the US and China. When authorities halted operations at Shenzhen’s Yantian port to tackle a COVID outbreak last June, it caused a shipping backlog that took months to ease. Yantian is the world’s fourth largest port and processes roughly 90 percent of China’s electronics shipments. One executive at shipping giant Maersk described last year’s four-week port closure as “a much bigger disruption than the Ever Given getting stuck in the Suez Canal.”
Walmart GoLocal, Walmart’s white-label delivery-as-a-service business, will join the platform of Delivery Solutions, a provider of third-party aggregation and orchestration software for last-mile delivery and fulfillment, as a last-mile delivery service provider. Delivery Solutions’ end-to-end white-label solution includes everything from e-commerce delivery intelligence while the consumer is browsing, to post-purchase tracking, visibility and communication. The company provides brands and customers with innovative fulfillment, delivery and post-purchase customer notifications while also offering a competitive offering for traditional brick-and-mortar retail clients. Launched last August, Walmart GoLocal empowers businesses to grow using Walmart’s delivery capabilities and nationwide coverage at competitive pricing. The offering is part of Walmart’s overall strategy, which includes diversifying its revenue streams and profit pools with initiatives such as Walmart Connect and Walmart Fulfillment Services
Amazon has joined the BOTTLE (Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment) consortium, which is a key research initiative under the US Department of Energy (DOE), to help reduce plastic pollution through innovation in materials and recycling. Led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the BOTTLE consortium was launched in 2020 to spur innovation and advance new technologies to address plastic pollution by bringing together cutting-edge talent and capabilities from both the public and private sectors. According to the BOTTLE consortium, 5.7 billion metric tons of discarded plastic have never been recycled. Amazon joined the DOE-backed project to help further progress in developing new chemical upcycling strategies for today’s plastics and redesigning tomorrow’s plastics to be recyclable by design. As part of the consortium, Amazon’s growing team of materials scientists and experts hopes to develop technologies and materials that will enable the full life cycle of plastics to be net-zero carbon.
More and more companies continue to explore the use of alternative fuel vehicles, with an emphasis on electric delivery vehicles. A new arrival is joining the market: Arrival. The British startup is partnering with UPS, which has placed an order for 10,000 of the company’s electric delivery vans. Arrival plans to start producing the vehicles later this year in the United Kingdom and the United States. The two companies are collaborating to design vans for drivers making dozens of daily stops, who are hauling ever-growing volumes of goods. Modules beneath the floorboard, connected like Lego bricks, have a combined capacity of 111 kilowatt-hours — enough to travel about 180 miles on a single charge. Up front, a large touchscreen has replaced the dashboard, allowing drivers to track their routes and monitor the batteries’ charge levels.
Ford’s Advanced Manufacturing Center has developed an interface that allows machines from different suppliers to speak to each other in the same language and operate parts of the production line autonomously. Ford’s patent-pending system solves a crucial bottleneck in the production line by using robots to operate the 3D printers through the night without human interaction. The autonomous system marks the first time the Carbon 3D printers and the KUKA-built robots can talk to each other in the same language, opening limitless possibilities for other machines involved throughout the production process to collaborate. So far, the venture has helped produce low-volume, custom car parts such as the brake line bracket for Mustang Shelby GT500 sports cars equipped with the Performance Package. Once the Carbon 3D tells the robot that the printed car component is ready, Javier retrieves it and puts it aside for a human operator to collect later.
That’s all for this week. Enjoy the weekend and the song of the week, Home, by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros.