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Study Suggests Lego Bricks Could Survive in Ocean for up to 1,300 Years

Design News - Sun, 2020-03-29 21:13

A Lego brick could survive in the ocean for as many as 1,300 years, according to new research. A study led by the University of Plymouth examined the extent to which items of the ever-popular children’s toy were worn down in the marine environment.

1997 Lego spill off southwest England provided sample for study of long-term ocean degradation of plastics. Imagse courtesy of Plymouth University.

By measuring the mass of individual bricks found on beaches against equivalent unused pieces and the age of blocks obtained from storage, researchers estimated that the items could endure for anywhere between 100 and 1,300 years. They say it once again reinforces the message that people need to think carefully about how they dispose of everyday household items.

The research, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, focused on bricks of Lego found washed up on the coastlines of South West England. Over the past decade, voluntary organizations from Cornwall – including Rame Peninsula Beach Care and the Lego Lost at Sea Project – have retrieved thousands of pieces and other plastic waste during regular beach cleans.

Previous studies have indicated that many of these could have either been lost during beach visits or entered the environment via the household waste process.

For this particular study, 50 pieces of weathered Lego – molded from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and collected from beaches – were washed and then weighed in labs at the University, with the size of the studs also being measured.

The chemical characteristics of each block were then determined using an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer, with the results used to confirm the age of individual pieces based on the presence of certain elements no longer in use.

By pairing those items with unweathered sets purchased in the 1970s and 80s, researchers were able to identify levels of wear and – as a result – how long the pieces might continue to endure in the marine environment.

The study was led by Dr Andrew Turner, Associate Professor (Reader) in Environmental Sciences, who has previously conducted extensive research into the chemical properties of items washed up as marine litter.

According to a 2014 BBC report, the container ship Tokio Express was hit by a mammoth wave on 13 February 1997, which resulted 62 containers being lost overboard about 20 miles off Land's End, Cornwall — one of them was filled with nearly 4.8m pieces of Lego. Pieces continue to be washed up to this day, with octopus and dragons reportedly particularly prized by collectors.

3 Things to Always Carry When Venturing Out for Supplies During Lockdown: Gloves, Stylus, Pen

Core 77 - Sun, 2020-03-29 13:05

More localities are going into lockdown, but we're still allowed to venture out for essentials like gas, food and supplies. When heading out into society, I always bring gloves, a stylus and a pen, and I leave my dedicated shopping bag behind (unless you thoroughly disinfect it every time, plastic bags are, sadly, safer).

Gas is the most recent thing I left home for. I'm driving less, but I still need to bring gas back to the farm for the on-property-only farm truck, the chainsaw, the wood chipper and even the mower (mowing season started early down here). The gas pump at my nearest station is self-serve, requiring users to touch the pump handle and the credit card touchscreen. I don't.

I always bring:

- Latex gloves* (don't worry if you don't have these, see below)

- A cheapie capacitive stylus that I got as a freebie at some conference

- A pen

The simple guidelines I follow:- No gloves for touching anything I own (including the stylus)- Gloves for touching things I don't ownFor instance, my sequence at the gas pump:

1. Open gas caps on my car and/or gas cans (no gloves)

2. Dip credit card into reader (no gloves), careful not to touch dipper housing

3. Use stylus to punch in zip code on keypad (no gloves)

4. Stylus goes back into the little-used side thigh pocket on my Carhartts, business end pointed down. This will be disinfected later.

5. Put glove on, right hand only (to save gloves)

6. Grab gas pump handle

6. Select fuel by hitting button using the gas pump handle or nozzle itself

7. Fuel car

8. Return gas pump to dock

9. Remove glove (using this technique), throw it in pump-side trash can

10. Affix gas caps and go

11. Wash hands as soon as possible where you don't have to touch more surfaces

In this manner, I believe I'm reducing my exposure to potential COVID-19 germs, though I'm obviously not a medical professional. (Not being careful enough with the potentially germy tip of the stylus is probably the weak point of this system.)

The stylus comes in handy for both physical-button keypads and capacitive touchscreens, which is what my nearest supermarket has at the self-checkout. However, the local Lowes where I get supplies has a resistive screen. After dipping your credit card to pay, you must sign this resistive screen, typically using the all-plastic stylus attached to the machine.

Image by Mike Mozart is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I do not touch the attached stylus. The rubbery capacitive tip of my own stylus will not register on a resistive screen, but all you need is something hard, so I tilt my stylus to make the edge of the hard collar surrounding the tip come into contact with the screen. This is crude, but enough to get it to register. Your signature will come out way sloppy, but it's sufficient to get the payment to go through.

Capacitive orientation, making contact with the rubbery tip.

Resistive orientation, pressing the hard silver part against the screen.

At the animal feed collective, the clerk provides a paper receipt that must be signed in order to pay. I never touch this receipt. If it's curly I flatten it using the stylus held in my left hand, and sign it using my own pen held in the right hand. I don't take the receipt. The pen and the stylus then go in different pockets.

*Gloves. I have a small stash of latex gloves on hand for certain farm tasks, but recognize that you may not (and they'll probably go into short supply, if they haven't already). Absent the latex gloves, I would probably carry a dishwashing glove that I'd turn inside out after each use, and would bleach at home.

Failing that, I'd get creative: A regular glove covered in a plastic bag, maybe? I think some protection is better than no protection at all.

And styluses are pretty cheap--just a few bucks each at Walmart, for instance (2 for $4.88 or 10 for $5.99). Alternatively, if you need a DIY project while you're cooped up and have the materials on-hand, Instructables has a tutorial for how to make your own.


Do you have any crazy rituals you follow when venturing out for supplies? I'm especially eager to hear how you shop for food--I can't figure out a good way to reduce potential germ transmission, short of disinfecting everything before we bring it home (and how do you disinfect a pineapple?).

A Call for Industrial Designers to Donate Their Spare N95 Masks to Hospitals

Core 77 - Sun, 2020-03-29 13:05

Do you have N95 masks in your shop that you can donate? Industrial designer Craig Mackiewicz writes:

"Calling all industrial designers, model makers, painters, builders and those in the trades: Our industries use the same masks that are currently protecting the doctors and nurses on the front lines of this pandemic. We know that they are running low on N95 masks.

"If you know of any stockpiles of N95 masks in your woodshops, model making studios, workshops, or supply cabinets--hospitals are currently taking donations. These masks are critical for them to stay safe and help those in need. Please reach out to anyone you know who might have N95 masks and urge them to donate them to their local ER. If you have masks, call your local hospital and ask if they are taking donations."

A note I'll add: I assume hospitals will not accept the masks unless they are still in their packaging, so check yours.

How to Remove Protective Gloves Without Contacting the Outside of Them With Your Bare Hands

Core 77 - Sun, 2020-03-29 13:05

Wearing gloves to protect yourself from germs isn't much help if, in the process of removing them, you accidentally wipe those germs all over your bare skin. Here's the right way to take them off.

As seen here in the video on facemasks, healthcare professionals are trained to remove their facemasks without touching the outside of them. It's the same with gloves, as seen in this diagram by the CDC [PDF]:

A quick video to demonstrate:

"Objectified" Design Documentary Streaming for Free for the Next Six Days

Core 77 - Sun, 2020-03-29 13:05

Running out of things to watch during the lockdown? Filmmaker Gary Hustwit has thoughtfully made his design documentaries free to screen--for a limited time. Every seven days he "unlocks" one, and for this week (March 24th to 31st) it's "Objectified," his product-design-focused video from 2009.

Objectified (2009, 75 minutes) is a documentary film about our complex relationship with manufactured objects and, by extension, the people who design them. What can we learn about who we are, and who we want to be, from the objects with which we surround ourselves? With Paola Antonelli, Chris Bangle, Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Tim Brown, Dunne & Raby, IDEO, Naoto Fukasawa, Jonathan Ive, Hella Jongerius, Marc Newson, Dieter Rams, Karim Rashid, Alice Rawsthorn, Smart Design, Jane Fulton Suri, Rob Walker and more.

You can watch it here.

How to Disinfect a Variety of Materials, as Demonstrated by a Car Detailing Expert

Core 77 - Sun, 2020-03-29 13:05

Car interiors contain everything from plastic, metal and glass to leather, fabric and rubber. Cleaning and disinfecting them requires different approaches.

Learning these techniques can be helpful for disinfecting not just your car, but a variety of items that you carry in and out of your house. In the video below, car detailing expert Larry Kosilla of Ammo Auto Care shows you how he disinfects--not just cleans nor sanitizes, but disinfects--the multi-material interior of a car. (He also explains the difference between those three terms.)

You might think "What does a car detailer know about germs?" While he points out he isn't a medical expert, the chemistry-savvy Kosilla has carefully gone through the EPA, WHO and CDC recommendations, and taken pains to spot helpful information buried in the label copy that you or I might have missed. (As one example: One product requires being left on a surface and visibly wet for just 15 seconds to sanitize--but a full three minutes to disinfect.)

And as a bonus, he demonstrates the proper way to remove germ-covered gloves without touching your exposed skin in the process. (Hint: You use different methods for the first and second gloves.)

Check it all out:

via Jalopnik

Formlabs Is 3D Printing More than 100,000 COVID-19 Test Swabs Daily

Design News - Sun, 2020-03-29 10:46

3D printer company Formlabs reports that it is now using its 250+ in-house 3D printers at its Ohio-based printing facility to produce up to 150,000 COVID-19 test swabs per day. The swabs are being used on patients at hospitals and healthcare providers across the country experiencing test kit shortages, including New York’s largest hospital system, Northwell Health, and Tampa General Hospital.

Over the span of one weekend, Formlabs, Northwell Health, and University of South Florida (USF) Health worked together to develop and test a nasal swab prototype, said Formlabs. In just two days, USF Health and Northwell, using Formlabs’ 3D printers and autoclavable resins, developed prototypes that received a variety of hospital approvals, and have now received FDA Class I Exempt status and are in compliance with new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, said Formlabs. The nasopharyngeal swabs will be provided to patients at Northwell Health and USF Health, and the design will be shared with other institutions across the country via Formlabs COVID-19 Response page.

3D-printed nasal swabs. Image courtesy Formlabs/University of South Florida Health.

"This is a prime example of the incredible impact we can have on human lives when teams of experts across academia, healthcare delivery, and the tech industry come together," said Charles J. Lockwood, MD, MHCM, Senior Vice President for USF Health and Dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. "During this current COVID-19 outbreak, there is little time for delay, and the swift, agile, and adept action of everyone on this effort will greatly improve this nation's ability to test patients,” Lockwood said in a prepared statement.

"When we were notified of the shortage of swabs by Dr. Lockwood, we immediately began working as a team to create a novel design in a printed material that was proven safe for patients, as is Formlabs' surgical-grade resin," said Summer Decker, PhD, Associate Professor in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Director for 3D Clinical Applications in USF Health's Department of Radiology. "We reached out to Northwell Health and Formlabs to work with us on this response initiative. With 3D-printed swabs, we will be able to add thousands of swabs a day to testing kits developed here at USF Health, and treat more patients safely and effectively. We look forward to continuing to work with Northwell Health and Formlabs to further combat the COVID-19 pandemic."

"Northwell Health is proud to collaborate with Formlabs and USF to address the global health crisis of COVID-19," said Todd Goldstein, PhD, Director of Northwell Health 3D Design and Innovation. "When we saw that the testing kits were limited in supply, our 3D-printing lab immediately changed focus from creating materials for surgeries to designing and creating materials that help our frontline healthcare providers treating COVID-19 patients. In one weekend, we worked together to develop a nasal swab prototype and test it in the lab. After our positive testing results, we then immediately went to work and have already started producing 1,000 to 1,500 swabs per day. Not only will these swabs be provided to Northwell Health patients, we are also proud to be sharing the design with other institutions that can 3D print so that patients across the country can benefit from our work."

Formlabs' CEO and co-founder, Max Lobovsky, said: "Formlabs has been working around the clock to provide assistance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we're hopeful that our efforts will help patients get the care they need. It is important that the medical devices we supply to medical professionals on the frontlines battling this disease are safe and work effectively so as not to put workers or their patients at risk. By working hand-in-hand with Northwell Health and USF Health to design and safely produce these swabs, Formlabs is providing a viable solution to the current shortage of nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs and can now produce them at scale to help hospitals better treat patients."

It is worth noting that the "FDA believes that a nasopharyngeal specimen is the preferred choice for swab-based SARS-CoV-2 testing," and that "collection should be conducted with a sterile swab," said Formlabs in a press release. With years of experience in the medical industry and hundreds of hospitals already using its technology to develop tools for surgery on-premises, Formlabs stressed that it adheres to a range of required sterilization, regulatory, safety, biocompatibility, and manufacturing standards. The company produces sterilizable, surgical-grade plastics for use in medical and dental applications, and its FDA-registered manufacturing site has an ISO 13485 certification. By turning to proven 3D-printing technology to improve production processes, shorten supply chains and localize manufacturing, healthcare providers can quickly and efficiently gain better access to the supplies they need to combat COVID-19, added Formlabs.

The company recently launched the Formlabs Support Network for COVID-19 Response, an initiative that matches healthcare organizations and providers with Formlabs customers who are willing to use their printers and volunteer their time to help address critical supply-chain shortages and other healthcare needs. Formlabs said that it is working closely with health systems, government agencies, and its network of more than 1,500 volunteers to help design, prototype, and produce parts to be tested and potentially adopted by clinicians.

In addition to the nasal swabs, Formlabs has launched projects to print components for ventilators, face masks, and respirators. The clinical steps that have been completed and the current status of these projects is posted on the Formlabs website.

President Trump: Please Take the Olive Branch

Design News - Fri, 2020-03-27 08:15

We’ve all seen the photograph. In President Trump’s typed speech, the word “Corona” was crossed out with a Sharpie and replaced with “CHINESE,” presumably in Trump’s handwriting. Instead of reading “Corona Virus,” it now read “Chinese Virus.” It’s obvious Trump wants to put the blame on China for America’s current coronavirus pandemic. 

As usual, Beijing played the tit-for-tat game. It came up with a conspiracy theory that the virus originated from the U.S. Army. But this week, China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, expressed his opposition to Beijing’s unfounded theory, describing it as “crazy.”

Image: Tiuzhin/Adobe Stock

In an interview with Axios on HBO, Cui remarked, “Such speculation will help nothing. It’s very harmful. Eventually, we must have an answer to where the virus originally came from. But this is the job for the scientists to do, not for diplomats.”

These were not off-the-cuff remarks from a rogue diplomat. Beijing plans everything. President Xi Jingping told Cui to say what he said and the timing was no coincidence. Xi is offering Trump an olive branch at possibly America’s and Trump’s most vulnerable time in history. But why?

Xi has a vested interest in America’s economy. A strong America means, for China, hundreds of billions of dollars of export business. In 2018, China sold $540 billion worth of furniture, toys, plastics, and machinery to the United States. China appears to be recovering from the pandemic as quarantines are lifted, doctors and nurses at the coronavirus epicenter return home, and workers head back to the factories. China’s manufacturing machine is running again and needs customers. 

So, what should Trump do? Take the olive branch with open arms. Don’t worry about saving face — let’s start saving lives.

We desperately need thousands of ventilators as well as millions of respirators, test kits, latex gloves, hospital gowns, pipette tips, biohazard waste bags, hand sanitizers, and more. In a wartime effort, China has mobilized thousands of factories to make medical products 24/7 and has shipped them to more than 80 countries so far. 

On top of the supplies, hundreds of Chinese doctors and nurses, just off the Wuhan frontlines, have landed in Italy, Slovenia, Iran, Iraq, and Spain. That’s exactly what American hospitals need — medical professionals who have the know-how and experience to combat the coronavirus. They’ve been through the war already and can provide valuable, hands-on training to our American health professionals. 

Now is not the time to blame China or to find a scapegoat. China made the first conciliatory move. Take the olive branch — ask for help and save lives. It’s that simple.


About the author

Stanley Chao is the author of Selling to China, and is Managing Director of All In Consulting. Follow Chao on Twitter, @stanleychao6.

20 Famous Women Scientists and Engineers with a Lot to Say

Design News - Fri, 2020-03-27 05:30



John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

Machine-Learning Research from Stanford, Toyota Bolsters EV Battery Design

Design News - Fri, 2020-03-27 03:36

As electric vehicles (EVs) become a real alternative to cars that use fossil fuels for power, researchers continue to work to improve the performance of EV batteries.

To this end, a team of researchers at Stanford University—working with automobile manufacturer Toyota through the Toyota Research Institute—has developed a method of machine learning that can test batteries based on performance during the development process.

From left, the team that created a new machine-learning technique to reduce the time it takes to design EV batteries: Stanford Professor William Chueh, Toyota Research Institute scientist Muratahan Aykol, Stanford PhD student Aditya Grover, Stanford PhD alumnus Peter Attia, Stanford Professor Stefano Ermon and TRI scientist Patrick Herring. (Image source: Farrin Abbott)

The new technique—invented by a team led by Stanford professors Stefano Ermon and William Chueh—can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to test batteries, paving the way for more efficient development of longer-lasting, faster-charging EV batteries.

Chueh said the impetus for his team to develop the method was the current pace of research and development in the field of creating new EV technologies, which he said is quite slow. This is due to the evaluation time it takes to evaluate EV batteries during the development process, which can take months or even years to determine how long the devices will last, Chueh said.

“We were inspired by the pace of R&D for battery technology, which typically takes several years per year,” he told Design News. “This pace is dominated by both the long lifetime of batteries as well as the large design space that must be explored.”

Cutting Development Time

To hasten development by reducing evaluation times, the team created a software program that, based on only a few charging cycles, can predict how batteries would respond to different charging approaches, Chueh told us.

“We have developed a machine-learning platform which substantially reduces battery optimization time by predicting battery lifetime using minimal testing data and by intelligently exploring the design space--specifically, avoiding part of the design space that generates undesired results,” he explained to Design News.

The software also can decide in real time what charging approaches to focus on or ignore, which means it minimizes both the length and number of trials a battery must go through, Chueh said. Using their technique, researchers managed to cut the testing process from almost two years to 16 days.

While the team tested their method on battery charge speed, researchers said it can be applied to numerous other parts of the battery development pipeline and even to non-energy technologies.

Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Nature.

Multi-faceted Approach

The team eyes using its approach to accelerate nearly every aspect of the battery-development pipeline: from design to form factor to the manufacturing process.

“Developing batteries that can meet multiple metrics simultaneously, such as energy density, fast charging, and safety, is challenging,” Chueh acknowledged. “In this work, we demonstrate that it’s possible to optimize batteries for fast charging--approaching the refueling time of gas cars--requiring 30 times less time compared to conventional optimization approaches.”

Researchers also believe their work can broad implications not only for EVs but for other types of energy storage, even in the area of developing storage solutions that can expand the use renewable energy like solar and wind on a global scale.


Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

Friday Funny: Sticky Cactus

Design News - Fri, 2020-03-27 03:28

Today’s Friday Funny isn’t very funny if you’re the person with cactus stuck on your leg. Otherwise, it’s kinda charming. There are way more brutal videos of cactus/human interactions, but they’re no fun to watch.




Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

The Battery Show Call for Speakers Deadline Extended

Design News - Fri, 2020-03-27 02:30

In order to provide extra time for businesses and workers adjusting to working remotely due to the COVID-19 virus, The Battery Show (TBS) and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology (EVT) Conference Call for Speakers deadline is extended by one week. The new submission deadline is Friday, April 10, for the September 14-17 event.

Proposals can be submitted through the electronic portal.

We encourage talks that reveal new ways of thinking about and applying battery and E/HV technologies. Real-world examples that show a novel application of technology or illustrate a solution to a technical challenge will be given preference. Of particular interest are emerging electrification markets such as marine, aero, fleet, and off-road.

Track topics include but are not limited to:

  • Advanced Battery Technologies Industry Outlook
  • Advanced Battery Materials
  • Battery Design & Manufacturing
  • Stationary Power
  • E/HV Technologies Industry Outlook
  • Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Components
  • Hybrid Vehicle Design Advancements
  • Charging & Infrastructure Advancements

Sample topic areas for each track can be seen here: http://Novi2020.c4p.eesubs.com

Proposals must be submitted by April 10, 2020, through the electronic portal.

For more information about attending any of the events, please visit:

If you have any questions on the Call for Speakers, please contact Naomi Price, Conference Content Director, at naomi.price@informa.com.

Plastics Processors, Mold Makers Deemed Essential during COVID-19 Outbreak

Design News - Thu, 2020-03-26 15:28

The plastics industry is deemed essential during the COVID-19 outbreak, and most processors, as well as mold-making companies and equipment makers, are staying open to supply the components and products required by the healthcare industry. Over the past few decades, the medical industry has become one of the biggest markets served by the plastics industry. PlasticsToday has heard from a number of processors and mold makers giving us their status.

Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) President and CEO Tony Radoszewski issued a statement on March 20 requesting that all local, state, and federal governments consider plastic resin and plastic product manufacturers as essential in order to stay open when shelter-in-place orders are issued. “With more and more businesses being ordered to close during the pandemic crisis, it is critical that healthcare workers have access to plastic products. Single-use plastics can literally be the difference between life and death. Items such as IV bags and ventilators, which are of the utmost importance right now, have components made of single-use plastics. The single-use hospital gowns, gloves, and masks that protect our healthcare workers every day are also made of plastic. I would venture to say that every machine, piece of medical equipment, hospital bed, examination scope, and tool has a component made of plastic, most of which are molded to exacting tolerances, which is possible due to the resin and machinery being used.”

Wittmann Battenfeld USA is remaining open for business during the COVID-19 outbreak, having been deemed an essential business by Connecticut for supplying machinery, equipment, and support to numerous medical and packaging molders, who are ramping up operations to provide critical supplies to battle the pandemic.

“As of today, we have received 45 ‘essential status’ letters from customers who mold products that are critical to saving lives and battling this pandemic,” said David Preusse, President of Wittmann Battenfeld Inc. “We are doing all we can to support these customers with our molding machines, robots, auxiliary equipment, spare parts and customer support.”

Wittmann Battenfeld has received essential status letters from customers across the country, including industry leaders such as BD, Jabil Healthcare, Baxter Healthcare, Eli Lilly, 3M, Nemera, Flex, Cardinal Healthcare, Corning Life Sciences, Technimark, and Comar, to name a few.  These customers are making essential plastic parts for ventilators, laboratory supplies, blood-testing devices, drug-delivery systems and more.

Some companies are taking steps to make their work places safer so that employees who are needed on the job can be in a healthy environment. Pyramid Mold & Tool, a mold manufacturer in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, is taking “precautionary measures necessary to help ensure the well-being of our employees, customers, and facility operations,” said Stephen Hoare, President of Pyramid Mold & Tool, a company that serves the healthcare industry.

“To support the health and safety of all, we are enhancing the overall purity of our facility by installing several Puro UV germicidal lighting systems,” said Hoare. “Puro Helo F1 and F2 disinfecting lighting fixtures, powered by Violet Defense technology, are FDA approved and are a proven method for surface and air disinfection using high-intensity, broad-spectrum UV-C, UV-B and UV-A light.”

Hoare said Pyramid is “closely monitoring” CDC updates, has implemented a “more robust general cleaning protocol that focuses on high-traffic areas,” and is “screening employee and visitor health before they enter the facility.”

R&D/Leverage in Lees Summit, MO, also has taken steps to protect its workforce to “ensure we can continue to work and meet expected delivery dates,” said Mike Stiles, CEO. “However, as this situation evolves, we must evaluate what is required to best keep ourselves and those around us healthy and safe.”

Stiles noted that the company is restricting employee business travel plans for the next 30 days, and in-house visits will be limited to work repair on equipment and deliveries only. “We anticipate no changes to business operations or services as we are working closely with our vendors to make sure we have adequate supplies and personnel to remain operational.”

In Canada, Shepherd Thermoforming, based in Brampton, ON, has many customers whose services are deemed essential by Health Canada and the World Health Organization. Shepherd is also deemed an essential service by the province of Ontario and will carry on operating and supplying thermoformed tooling and products, said Mark Shepherd, Vice President.

Shepherd outlined some of the steps the company is taking, including a strict hand-washing policy for both employees and visitors before entering the production area; distribution of disposable gloves for employee use during shifts; and increased cleaning of high-touch surfaces. Additionally, all meetings have either been postponed or moved to telecommunications/online platforms. Temperature screening and social distancing have also been implemented.

Rick Finnie, President of M.R. Mold & Engineering in Brea, CA, sent out a notice that the company falls under the essential business designation, which allows it to continue to operate as a critical infrastructure sector. Among the sectors listed is critical manufacturing, which includes workers necessary for manufacturing of products for the medical supply chain and emergency service industries.

“We have been advised by our legal counsel that we are qualified as an essential business and, therefore, are allowed to continue providing services to all our customers,” said Finnie. “We are relieved and happy to state that we are open for business and look forward to serving all within the guidelines set forth. M.R. Mold is adhering to the precautions recommended by the CDC for our employees and their family’s safety.”

Wittmann Battenfeld’s Preusse noted that while the company continues operations, Wittmann Battenfeld has taken its own measures to prevent the spread of the virus and has directed many of its employees to work from home.

“We have about 30 staff on hand at our two plants in Torrington, CT, to work on the essential jobs,” he said. “Luckily, we took action to be ahead of the curve. We tested our IT systems before we [had] to shutter all office staff and most manufacturing staff, in a ‘hot state.’ We have more than 50 staff now working remotely.”

Adjustments have been made to some of the company’s customer services to help ensure molders can continue receiving the support they need. A series of webinars for robot training have been created to temporarily take the place of in-person classes, for example. Also, the company has numerous apps and online support systems available for customers 24/7.

Preusse added: “Plastics are essential materials for manufacturing items that are essential to battle the COVID-19 crisis. The importance of plastics in a time like this cannot be overstated, and we are proud to be a part of this industry. It should be noted that the ‘plastic is bad’ mantra that was in the news just weeks ago has become just the opposite now, as the world sees just how much plastic is the essential material used in saving lives.”

Image: ibreakstock/Adobe Stock

Advanced Technology Lets Virtual Racing Fill Sports Void

Design News - Thu, 2020-03-26 12:23

Denny Hamlin's FedEx-sponsored Toyota edges past Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet for the win. Image source: iRacing

The cessation of all public activities has simultaneously wiped out popular sporting events and created a home-bound audience craving entertainment, and the engineers and coders who have steadily constructed a virtual racing world stepped forward to fill the void with real competition between real drivers who happen to be at home rather than at a race track.

Race drivers traded fire suits for barefoot comfort, in the case of Nascar champion Denny Hamlin and Bobby Labonte. The weekend of March 21 and 22nd, Nascar stock car racing and IMSA sports cars debuted virtual replacements for their races at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Sebring International Raceway.

Formula 1 directed attention to a long-running virtual series that parallels its races. That series normally has its own virtual racing experts, but in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus, the series welcomed in some current and previous F1 drivers.

Indycar took a different approach with its virtual Indycar Challenge. Rather than attempting to replicate the weekend’s cancelled event, Indycar had fans vote to pick a track where the series’ regular drivers will compete March 28 in a virtual race streamed online to fans. The opening virtual race event will be followed by Barber Motorsports Park (April 4), "Driver's Choice" track (April 11), "Random Draw" track (April 18), Circuit of The Americas (April 25) and a non-Indycar "Dream" track (May 2).

Nascar, IMSA and Indycar all use the popular iRacing online racing platform to host their virtual events, while Formula 1 has its own proprietary F1 eSports platform for its virtual races.

iRacing was founded in 2004 by Dave Kaemmer and John Henry. Kaemmer was co-founder of Papyrus Design Group, developers of award-winning racing simulations including "Grand Prix Legends" and NASCAR 2003." Henry is principal owner of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool Football Club, as well as co-owner of NASCAR's Roush Fenway Racing. 

“iRacing is a sim racing game that combines a true-to-life racing experience with an online community of virtual racers all over the globe,” the company explains in a promotional video. “iRacing offers a multitude of officially licensed cars and tracks, laser-scanned with millimeter accuracy. Their car models and mechanical systems are based on real-world physics and engineered in cooperation with manufacturers and race teams.”

Before its newfound exposure, iRacing boasted 60,000 member and partnerships with Nascar, Indycar, International Speedway Corporation, Speedway Motorsports, IMSA, World of Outlaws, Mazda Motorsports, McLaren Racing, Williams F1, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Volkswagen, the Skip Barber Racing School and General Motors.

IMSA’s virtual Sebring race ran first, on March 21, with a livestream on YouTube and Twitch including commentary from the Radio Le Mans commentary crew that is familiar to fans, for a realistic feeling to the broadcast.

Teams entered their regular drivers or guest drivers from other series such as Indycar to pilot the virtual representations of their cars. iRacing permits extremely fine control of setup and tuning for these virtual cars, a fact that the factory BMW team exploited in having their regular race engineers work with their drivers to optimize their cars’ setup for the notoriously bumpy Sebring circuit.

“They can really fine tune the driving and get the best out of the car,” noted third-place finisher Jesse Krohn in the post-race press conference. “iRacing is the platform I find so realistic; they laser scan the tracks and have a great job with the cars. The [BMW] M8 is the same as in real life. It correlates to the real thing as well."

This preparation worked, as the BMWs dominated, cruising to a solid 1-2-3 finish over the rival Porsches, Ferraris, and Fords. “"To give you a sense how big this was, I just got a message from Jens Marquardt, who is the BMW motorsports director” said Nicky Catsburg, runner-up in the race. “He was watching. It shows the importance of this event."

Bruno Spengler's race-winning BMW. Image source: iRacing

Meanwhile, the top three drivers were all safely socially isolated in their homes in France, Finland and Belgium. “Passing start/finish, I had goosebumps,” exclaimed race winner Bruno Spengler. I was almost screaming on the radio! But I had my dog and wife sitting next to me as I was racing. Normally, they are far away!”

All three drivers noted that they found it is challenging to maintain focus during virtual racing because of the dearth of sensory input from the real world. "It is very difficult to stay focused for an hour and a half without any sort of feedback in G-force, or the bumps,” said Spengler. “It’s purely mental concentration. You’re sweating quite a lot. It works your concentration very hard, and it’s the best you can do if you can’t race. Probably even more than the racecar."

Krohn opts for virtual reality headset over the typical spread of video display screens. "I use VR, so for me it feels like I’m sitting in the car,” he said. “I feel in the zone with the VR goggles. It feels like I’m in the car. Some people say it’s a disadvantage because of the refresh rate. But if I can look around the corner, and this helps me concentrate in race situations, it helps give a broader view of the car next to me. It feels more real versus having three screens around me."

Nascar has a far bigger following and took a more aggressive approach to its show, which was broadcast on Fox Sports 1 television channel, where it scored an audience of more than 900,000 viewers. That made the eNascar iRacing Pro Invitational Series Dixie Vodka 150 a true cultural happening by providing live sports with an assist from technology.

Round two of the series will take place at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway March 29, and racers are reportedly spending their time to upgrade their equipment and their familiarity with virtual racing to avoid embarrassments like seven-time Nascar champ Jimmie Johnson’s repeated crashes as he tried to learn the ropes of virtual racing.

While the track and vehicle dynamics modeling by iRacing is crucial to delivering a representative experience, there is also hardware on the driver’s end that is needed to deliver that experience.

iRacing runs on 64-bit Windows software, with a requirement of a 4-core CPU such as an Intel Core i5, a gaming graphics card with a minimum of 2G of dedicated memory, 10G of free hard disk space, a steering wheel and pedals and a high-speed internet connection that isn’t a satellite-based system.

Technically, even the steering wheel and pedals aren’t strictly necessary, because it is possible to drive with a mouse or joystick, but a non-force feedback steering wheel and pedals would have to be considered the baseline for racer.

This is typically about $100 from a company like Thustmaster, and the steering wheel just clamps to the desk where the computer sits. As an upgrade from that, force-feedback steering wheels like the Logitech G920 cost $399 and give the driver some feeling through the steering wheel for the car’s handling. These also clamp to the desktop.

Logitech G920 Driving Force steering wheel and pedals. Image source: Logitech

Either way, these add-on steering wheels and pedals provide an effective way for gamers to start out racing online. For more serious online racers there are elaborate, and expensive, racing cockpits that aim to replicate the entire experience of being in a racecar. These can run in the tens of thousands of dollars and they are the sort of system most of the pro racers are now using.

But not all of them. Top-rated Nascar online racer Ty Majeski, who was a favorite to win the inaugural Nascar Invitational race against household names like three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr., is famous in the online racing community for using exactly the kind of humble clamp-on steering wheel setup that casual gamers use.

“Many of [the well-equipped pros] started on Logitech gear, so they are very familiar with our gear,” remarked Logitech gaming device press spokesman Derek Perez. “Those tens-of-thousands-of-dollars rigs, that’s not our market. For everyone else out there, if you are just starting out or it is your hobby, our products cover that gamut.”

Demand for input devices built during the week before the opening weekend of these new, high-profile online racing events. “The week leading up to the eNascar race on Sunday we started noticing a large number of teams getting set up,” observed Perez. “They called, asking ‘How can I get a wheel or a mouse and keyboard?’ I’d say we got 25 to 30 requests from pro racers or their teams. This week has been another spike in people asking for gear.”

Those pros were scrambling for the pricey high-end simulators too. “We got a lot of inquiries and phone calls,” reported Zach McAfee, managing director of Sim Seats, which makes the high-end driving simulators. “One week ago, we had eight sims here in our showroom that you can look at and today we have 2 left. They’re all gone because so many drivers want to get into the series.”

Sim Seats Legend Package. Image source: Sim Seats

Sim Seats’ top-of-the-line motion iRacing package, which includes the steering wheel, pedals, seat, shifter, computer, displays, and speakers, starts at $35,475 with the Nascar-style steering wheel. A Formula 1-worthy carbon fiber steering wheel adds $3,000 to that price.

Even with such high-end hardware, Sim Seats’ McAfee appreciates the accessibility of the consumer-grade components used by most racers. “If you had to have an expensive rig to do iRacing it would alienate a lot of people,” he observed. “Seeing Ty [Majeski] with a laptop and a steering wheel clamped to his desk, I think it is great.”

And fans do see their favorite drivers because of their heavy engagement through social media. Jimmie Johnson streamed his drive live, while Hamlin quickly tweeted out video clips from his house. “I loved the environment, I loved the race, I loved the interactivity,” enthused Perez. “I thought all of it was fun. It was an hour and a half where fans could sit and watch and be entertained.”

The Sim Seats setup costs so much because of the quality of the components that go into building it.  Such rigs include a real racing seat from a supplier like Sparco and pedals from companies like Tilton and Wilwood that are the same parts as go into the real racecars. And they connect to hydraulic master cylinders, just like in the car too.

The rig has to have a very rigid structure so it doesn’t deform when the driver stomps the brake pedal or wrestles against a direct-drive force-feedback steering wheel when the car is sliding, according to McAfee. Plus, it is critical to have an ergonomically efficient layout for the driver, one that accurately replicates the driver’s position in the race car, he added.

For Nascar, that means an upright seating position with the steering wheel very close to the driver. For Indycar and Formula 1, it means a reclined position, with the steering wheel farther away.

Sim Seats mounts all of this to D-Box Technologies motion actuators to provide the sensation of actually driving. “Motion is not just a party trick,” stated McAfee. “It needs to provide feedback to feel what the car would feel like in real life.” 

Sim Seats uses D-Box actuators because “they have bar-none the best motion coding available. You can feel rumble strips on the curbing, or engine vibration or going into a four-wheel skid,” McAfee said. “It is very nuanced.”

The result of this incredible array of technology, from iRacing, the teams and the drivers, has created the possibility of providing sports action to an audience that is starved for competitive entertainment.

“iRacing is at a tipping point,” said Perez. “Cancellation of racing and those racers looking for an outlet provided this opportunity.” iRacing has been around since 2004, but until now, many fans and racers held virtual racing at arm’s length. “There has been a line between real racing and sim racing, and now this line is now being blurred,” he said.

And as with so many people now conducting their profession from home, other lines are being blurred too. So rather than wearing his usual suit, Hamlin drove in casual tee shirt and jeans. And no shoes. "I like feeling the pedals, with shoes I just can’t do it, so I always go barefoot," Hamlin said.

Denny Hamlin in his iRacing rig. Image source: Denny Hamlin via Twitter

Real racing series should start worrying that their casual-Friday drivers won’t want to come back to their hot, sweaty fire suits, gloves and shoes after the comfort of working from home. 

Though it is possible drivers’ families will insist, judging from the video Hamlin tweeted, explaining that he owes the family swear jar a dollar, of him exclaiming at the excitement of his win and his stunned seven-year daughter hearing her dad yell the things that are normally said in the privacy of his race car.


Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

Architect/Artist David Hansen's Fantastic "Photographic Impressions"

Core 77 - Thu, 2020-03-26 12:18

In search of some visual peace amidst all of the bad public news, I've been trawling art websites and just stumbled across the work of David Hansen. Hansen, an architect with 25 years of experience, creates wonderful and evocative images of cities and architectural spaces using a self-invented technique:

Photographic Impressions, and "Architectural Landscapes" as [Hansen] has coined the finished pieces, are a unique new expression from exposing traditional photographic images to the new digital darkroom and creative tools and techniques. His subject matter is broad, spanning from local Utah landscapes and Architecture, to exotic figure work and beyond. His art exposes a passion for the beauty, complexity and unity of the natural world in which we exist.

Hansen sells his work on Fine Art America. Here's a sampling:

Streetscape 1

Streetscape 3

Along The Boulevard

City Lights

Padre Bay

Red Rock City 2


Dark Tower 1

Bad Weather

City of Color 1

An Architectural Landscape

Check out more of Hansen's work here.

Luxury Communal End-of-the-World Shelters

Core 77 - Thu, 2020-03-26 12:18

Disaster preppers are often thought of as DIY blue-collar folk, steadily stacking cans inside their self-modified underground shipping containers. But Robert Vicino, founder of the Vivos Group, is betting that there are plenty of moneyed families who also believe in impending global doom, are not interested in learning to build their own hydroponic gardens and would like to ride out the catastrophe in style.

Thus Vicino's company built Vivos Indiana, an "impervious underground complex" built in a Cold-War-era nuclear shelter and kitted out with luxury amenities. The idea is that you sign up in advance and plunk down $35,000 per person ($25,000 for kids) to secure one of the 80 spots available within the shelter. In the event of disaster, travel to the publicly-undisclosed location in Indiana and make it inside before they lock it down, and then you can survive for a year amidst leather couches, 600-thread-count sheets and gourmet chow.

Vivos Massive Underground Survival Bunkers from Vivos Group on Vimeo.

A fascinating Vice article looks at Vivos' system, talks to Vicino, and examines the type of paranoia that drives disaster preppers. One thing the article doesn't mention is the well-rounded community--perhaps society is a better word--that Vivos Indiana is hoping to pull together underground. Think about it: If you've got a shelter filled with 80 people whose sole credential is that they each have 35 grand to burn, but none of them know how to turn a wrench or boil water, you're going to have some problems.

And so Vivos has apparently been selective in their admissions process. The company claims they've signed up "active duty and retired military officers, police, combat veterans, security experts, doctors, nurses, surgeons, psychologists, caregivers, nutritionists, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, farmers, lawyers, pilots, teachers, computer and internet professionals, chefs; as well as experts in hospitality, housekeeping, transportation, banking, finance, accounting, management, strategic planning, radio communications, and much more."

Furthermore the company says "There are very few remaining spaces for this shelter," and "discounts are available to members with needed skill sets." (Don't you feel silly for choosing industrial design as your career? There's no way your knowledge of injection molding cycle times is going to get you that discount, not when mass production has ceased to exist.)

Now I know what the super-rich among you are thinking--"Do I really want to live side by side in a shelter with, like, plumbers and electricians?" Ew, am I right? Well, don't worry; all you've got to do is skip Indiana and get on the list for Vivos Europa One, their much-larger European shelter—"one of the most fortified and massive underground survival shelters on Earth, deep below a limestone mountain"—designed exclusively for 34 "high net worth families."

Available by invitation only, each family will be provided a private 2,500 square foot floor area, capable of two-story living quarters, with a build-out potential of up to 5,000 square feet. With fit and finish comparable to a mega-yacht, each family will commission the build-out of their living quarters, to the standard they require…including pools, theaters, gyms, a kitchen, bar, bedrooms and deluxe bathrooms. The possibilities are limited only by each member's personal desire. Once each member's private accommodations are completed, furnished and fully outfitted, their respective quarters will be locked and secured, limiting access only to their family and personal staff prior to lockdown; while Vivos will operate and maintain all common areas (under and above-ground) pending a catastrophic event. Members will arrive at their own discretion, prior to lockdown, landing their private planes at nearby airports. Vivos helicopters will then be deployed to rendezvous with each member group, and fly them back to the shelter compound, safely secured from the general public, behind sealed and secured gates.

I wonder if either of these places will have any need for a design blogger.

10 Photos of the Worst Home Offices, That Will Make You Feel Better About Yours

Core 77 - Thu, 2020-03-26 12:18

If you're unexpectedly working from home, don't feel bad if your neglected home office isn't exactly Instagrammable. Someone always has it worse than you, as these photos clearly show.

"Conveniently close to the fitness center"

"The trick to not getting crumbs in the keyboard: Seal the gaps first with sauces"

"The headphones are red, so I can find them if I ever put them down"

"I like to surround my workspace with reminders of inspirational brands: Newport, Heineken, Red Bull, McDonald's"

"I didn't care for the color of the floor, and found an easy way to obscure it"

"I like the convenience of having documents that take me 20 minutes to find, all within arm's reach"

"Design-wise, I'm going for the 'Fugitive in a Crawlspace' look"

"The beauty of working out of a converted school bus: I can just pick up and go, anytime I like. It makes me feel very free"

"I wanted my home office to provide a seamless blend between indoors and outdoors"

"Ironically, I can't find my 'Bless This Mess' sign"

Liquid Soap Is Essentially Bottled Water

Core 77 - Thu, 2020-03-26 12:18

This past February a report from Greenpeace confirmed suspicions about how few plastics, despite being explicitly labelled as recyclable, are not actually being recycled. Looking at this new data, the facts of how much waste single-use plastic is creating through the ill-equipped US recycling system is more undeniable than ever. With this bleak new reminder I found myself once again looking around my apartment, through the cabinets and closets, taking stock of all the problematic plastic I am shackled to. Distressingly, I found plastics to be plentiful in my bathroom.

Shampoos, ointments, creams, and all sorts of liquid soaps packaged in single-use bottles. Which is why the recent kickstarter, FORGO, is interested in etching out plastic packaging from the cosmetic industry. With its first product, a liquid soap alternative, FORGO cuts out the need for single-use plastic soap dispensers. All that is required is their reusable dispenser, a twelve gram paper-packet of soap powder, and 250ml of hot water from the tap. Give it a shake, and with that you have yourself a bottle of liquid soap that foams when it is dispensed. The space-efficient packets of powder are shipped to those who subscribe to the service in recycled cardboard and recycled paper packaging.

Maximizing functionality and sustainability with this minimal design was the goal of Form Us With Love (FUWL), the Stockholm-based studio that designed the product . This alternative for liquid soap is founded upon one notable fact: liquid soap is pretty much water. As are many liquid "personal care" products. While this fact has not been hidden - and actually seems kind of obvious when you think about it - it certainly isn't advertised.

FORGO saw the truth of liquid soap's simple mixture as an opportunity for minimizing the impact of an often wasteful product. Though there is another obvious way to avoid all the problems associated with liquid soap products—one could use a bar of soap. This is an already existing ecological solution that FORGO is quick to acknowledge but instead of shrugging their shoulders and moving on, FORGO recognized that people still buy liquid soap and it likely isn't going anywhere soon. Acknowledging that reality, FORGO appeases the cultural and market ubiquity of liquid soap and offers their refillable system as sustainable alternative to single-use plastic.

In function and the strictly modern design, FORGO lives up to its name. The utilitarian bottle is almost entirely unornamented. Graphically, it is as sterile as you hope to have your hands after using it and the paper packaging is nearly as brief.

No flowers, no flowing honey, no gradients, no sparkles, no bright colors, nor gushing blue waters adorn this soap dispenser. While I admit that I am sometimes charmed by the comically excessive graphics and scent descriptions of Palmolive (Dial), Unilever (Dove), Henkel AG & Co (Softsoap), P&G (Ivory) soap dispensers—the graphic communication of most of these liquid soap products acts only as hollow marketing for these atrocious industrial polluters. FORGO's soap not only illuminates the fact that liquid soap is basically water but also, through its packaging, it reminds us that so much of visual communication used by soap packaging is as insubstantial as the product it contains.

Soap and the access to sanitation it provides is incredibly important, this has been made brutally apparent in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet relying on excessively designed, single-use plastic to store that soap is simply unnecessary and wasteful. While I would advocate for anyone to just use a bar of soap if they can, FORGO's deconstruction of liquid soap is a great example of using design as a means of disentangling elaborate and often ecologically-destructive marketing-myths about the products we use everyday.

Meet the Female Engineers Gaining Ground in the NTT Indycar Series

Design News - Thu, 2020-03-26 05:30



Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.