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Serving the 21st Century Design Engineer
Updated: 2 hours 44 min ago

From Battery Engineer to Nobel-Winning Rock Star

17 hours 42 min ago

John Goodenough never wanted rock-star status.

But the self-effacing, 97-year-old engineering professor had little choice last week after getting the call that would vault him to worldwide prominence. During that call, he was told he had won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his co-development of lithium-ion batteries that have touched the lives of billions. In London at the time, Goodenough flew back to his home in Austin, TX, where he was met by a police detail.

University of Texas engineering professor John Goodenough met with the press this week after winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. (Image source: Design News)

“We had to send a police escort to the airport because his face was in every newspaper in the world,” noted John Holden, a science writer and media specialist at the University of Texas at Austin, where Goodenough serves as a mechanical engineering professor. “We were afraid people would recognize him and crowd around him, so we sent the police so that ‘Elvis’ would be able to leave the building.”

While the world-at-large may just now be learning his name, however, the scientific community has long been aware of Goodenough’s contributions to technology. He is credited with co-inventing a succession of battery chemistries that may turn out to be the most important of the past hundred years. First, there was lithium cobalt oxide, which serves as the power source for millions of phones and laptops. Then, he co-invented manganese spinel lithium batteries, now employed in millions of hybrids and electric vehicles. Later, he co-developed lithium iron phosphate chemistries, which continue to serve in products ranging from handheld power tools to plug-in cars to grid storage systems.

The technical community has repeatedly honored Goodenough for those efforts. Last week, he was in London to receive the British Royal Society’s distinguished Copley Medal for scientific research. In 2013, he was presented the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama. And in 2018, Design News awarded him its Lifetime Achiever Award.

Goodenough was in London last week when the Nobel committee called from Stockholm with the news about its 2019 award. Colleagues at the University of Texas said they had difficulty tracking him down because, ironically, he doesn’t own a cell phone.

Goodenough is sharing the Nobel with two other scientists: British researcher M. Stanley Whittingham of Binghamton University and Akiro Yoshino of Japan. Whittingham is credited with laying the foundation for lithium-ion in the 1970s with a lithium battery that used a titanium disulfide anode. Goodenough later altered Whittingham’s chemistry, doubling the voltage of that chemistry and making it safer. Yoshino is credited with creating the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery. Together, the three scientists will share the $900,000 Nobel award.

At an impromptu news conference on Monday punctuated by Goodenough’s frequent, high-pitched laughter, the new Nobel laureate told a small group of reporters that he was lucky that the University of Texas has allowed him to work past the conventional retirement age. Prior to UT, he said, he served at the University of Oxford in the England, until learning that he would lose his job at retirement. “They have a problem,” he said on Monday. “They retire people at 65. I’ve been fortunate to be able to come here, escape retirement, and work another 33 years.”

Colleagues at Monday’s conference said that Goodenough has a traditional view of his role as an engineering professor – that is, he believes his main role is his contribution to the greater body of technical knowledge. During his career, he has published 550 papers, 85 book chapters, and five books. He earned no commercialization money for his work on lithium cobalt oxide or manganese spinel lithium batteries. It is not known how much he earned for commercialization of lithium iron phosphate.

Goodenough’s first lithium battery chemistry employed a cobalt oxide cathode. He later developed manganese spinel lithium and lithium iron phosphate chemistries. (Image source: Johan Jarnestad/The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)   

Goodenough has said he plans to continue working on lithium batteries. His current project is a solid-state version, which he hopes will solve some of the shortcomings of today’s chemistries. He told Design News in 2018 that the big goal for his next battery is faster charging times. “Today, the solution is to charge overnight,” he said. “But with an electric car, you don’t want to have to charge overnight. You want to drive up and get charged in ten minutes.”

He said this week that his work on solid-state lithium will take time. “People have told me I need to live to 105,” he said. “Well, I’ll try.”

In the meantime, he is also learning to cope with his new role as a scientific celebrity. Colleagues said he has been inundated with letters requesting autographs. He is also receiving more media requests than he can possibly fulfill.

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But he’s coping. “You never think you’re going to win a nice award like this,” Goodenough said of the Nobel. “All I can tell you is that if you live long enough, you never know what’s going to happen.”

Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

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3 Major Trends from Arm Techcon 2019

18 hours 42 min ago

This past week I attended the 2019 Arm Techcon in San Jose, California which hosted a series of technology announcements, developer educational sessions, and workshops focused around the Arm ecosystem. It was the 15th annual Arm Techcon and as I attended the various keynotes, walked the show floor, and attended the conference sessions, I noticed several major trends that will resonate throughout the embedded systems industry not just over the next year, but over the coming decade. Let’s examine these trends.

The major trends from this year's Arm Techcon included artificial intelligence everywhere, security, and pervasiveness of multicore processors. (Image source: Arm)

Trend #1 – Artificial Intelligence Everywhere

Artificial intelligence and machine learning have become some of the embedded systems industries greatest driving buzz words, and at Techcon this year they were everywhere. The conference itself had 70 speaking sessions and as I peruse the conference website, I count 25 sessions on artificial intelligence! There’s talk about AI taking over in the next 25 years, but it’s already conquering industry conferences.

While there were talks at the conference ranging from panels on the future of AI, to object detection with neural networks, the sessions that I found most interesting were those that discussed AI at the edge. Many of these talks weren’t talking about edge AI running on powerful multicore class-A processors, but instead discussed running AI inferences on microcontrollers! Various applications were discussed for AI running these resource constrained devices ranging from simple object detection and keyword spotting to more interesting techniques like predictive maintenance by processing audio from a motor.

If anything was clear, it was that we can soon expect AI algorithms to be running everywhere, in the cloud, at the edge, on our wearable devices, and in our most resource constrained devices.

Trend #2 – End-to-End Security

As I talk and interact with developers, teams and companies through-out the world I’ve generally had the feeling that security is still neglected in IoT devices. While I still hold this view, it was encouraging to see that a major trend was end-to-end security and providing the frameworks, tools, and processors that developers need to properly secure their products. For example, I saw that there were several announcements about upcoming processor cores that would provide better isolation within the core to improve security.

There also seemed to be an increasing number of developers attending security-related sessions. A few critical topics discussed the Platform Security Architecture along with the API’s that have been designed around PSA. There was also a lot of discussion around Trusted Firmware for Cortex-M (TF-M) and Arm Trustzone. It’s interesting to see that there are foundational open source security solutions that developers can leverage to help accelerate their security implementations. Of course, you have to first perform a security threats analysis to understand what level of security you need in your system which I gave a talk on at the conference.

Trend #3 – The Coming Pervasiveness of Multicore Processors

While the server and PC markets have long made use of multicore processors, developers working on real-time embedded systems have often been able to ignore multiprocessing. Most microcontrollers are just a single processing core, and if the application requires multi-tasking, developers often leverage an RTOS to properly schedule multiple tasks on that single CPU. It’s become interesting to see that more and more silicon vendors who manufacture microcontrollers are releasing multicore processors. There seem to be several reasons for this.

First, in order to secure IoT applications, some vendors are opting for multicore solutions. An example of this is the Cypress PSoC 64 secure microcontrollers. These microcontrollers have two cores, a Cortex-M0+ which is used as a secure execution environment and then a Cortex-M4 that is used as a rich execution environment for “non-secure” application core.

Second, multiple cores are becoming necessary to handle all the processing that needs to be done by the application. There are plenty of processors out there, but one that I’ve started to experiment with is the STM32H747 which has one Cortex-M7 core and a second Cortex-M4 core. These processors can be independently controlled so one core might be used to run a machine learning inference while a second core is used to handle sensors and cloud connectivity stacks.

Conclusions

Arm Techcon provided a wealth of new insights and glimpses about where the industry is focused over the coming year and decade. While there are certainly many additional themes, AI, security, and multi-core processing stood out as the major themes. Each of these is a foundational technology that supports the IoT and our connected world. Companies might still be struggling to determine exactly what their use cases are for their products, but it’s time that developers start to understand how to leverage these technologies so that when the use cases are fleshed out, they’ll be ready.

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Jacob Beningo is an embedded software consultant who currently works with clients in more than a dozen countries to dramatically transform their businesses by improving product quality, cost and time to market. He has published more than 200 articles on embedded software development techniques, is a sought-after speaker and technical trainer, and holds three degrees which include a Masters of Engineering from the University of Michigan. Feel free to contact him at jacob@beningo.com, at his website, and sign-up for his monthly Embedded Bytes Newsletter.

Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

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Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including esign and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!

 

New Reactor Turns Carbon Dioxide into Green Fuels

19 hours 12 min ago

One of the chief aims of researchers looking to help mitigate the effects of climate change is a way to transform greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide into something more useful, such as fuel sources.

An electrocatalysis reactor built at Rice University recycles carbon dioxide to produce pure liquid fuel solutions using electricity. Researchers who developed the invention hope it will become an efficient and profitable way to reuse the greenhouse gas and keep it out of the atmosphere. (Image source: Jeff Fitlow)

Researchers at Rice University have made a breakthrough in this goal with a new reactor that uses renewable energy to produce pure liquid fuels from carbon dioxide.

The catalytic reactor—also called an electrolyzer and developed in the lab of Rice chemical and biomolecular engineer Haotian Wang—produces high concentrations of formic acid that is more pure than typically can be produced, he said.

“Formic acid is an energy carrier,” Wang said in a press statement. “It’s a fuel-cell fuel that can generate electricity and emit carbon dioxide--which you can grab and recycle again.”

Usually formic acid produced by traditional carbon dioxide devices needs a series of purification steps, which can be costly and time consuming, he said. With the reactor he and his team developed, pure formic acid can be produced directly, thus making the conversion of carbon dioxide to fuel more accessible on a wider scale, Wang said.

Secrets to Success

Researchers cited two key developments they made to enable the design of the reactor: a bismuth catalyst and a solid-state electrolyte that doesn’t need salt for a reaction.

Using bismuth created a very stable catalyst for a couple of reasons, Wang said. One is that bismuth a very heavy atom--compared to transition metals like copper, iron or cobalt—and its mobility is much lower, particularly under reaction conditions. “So that stabilizes the catalyst,” he said in the press statement.

Researchers also structured the reactor to keep water from contacting the catalyst, another reason for its stability, Wang added.

The team also knew that using an electrolyte that didn’t require salt would preclude the need to remove salt from the formic acid created in the chemical reaction, Wang said.  

Typically people reduce carbon dioxide for fuel in a traditional liquid electrolyte such as salty water, which helps ions move freely in an electrolyte to optimally conduct electricity, he said.

“But when you generate formic acid that way, it mixes with the salts,” he said in the release. “For a majority of applications you have to remove the salts from the end product, which takes a lot of energy and cost. So we employed solid electrolytes that conduct protons and can be made of insoluble polymers or inorganic compounds, eliminating the need for salts.”

Researchers also coated their polymer-based solid electrolyte with sulfonic acid ligands to conduct positive charge or amino functional groups to conduct negative ions, Wang said.

The team detailed its work in a paper in the journal Nature Energy.

Design in Action

In tests, the new electrocatalyst reached an energy conversion efficiency of about 42 percent, so about half of the electrical energy generated by it can be stored in formic acid as liquid fuel.

In a catalyzer such as the one the Rice team built, the rate at which water flows through the product chamber determines the concentration of the resulting solution, researchers said.

 The performance of the current device produces a solution that is nearly 30 percent formic acid by weight, they reported. However, faster flows would allow for customization of the concentration, something the team is aiming for in future iterations of the design, according to the team.

The lab used the device to generate formic acid continuously for 100 hours without much degradation of the reactor’s components, including the nanoscale catalysts, Wang said. Moreover, he believes that the reactor could also produce even higher-value fuels, such as acetic acid, ethanol, or propanol.

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“The big picture is that carbon dioxide reduction is very important for its effect on global warming as well as for green chemical synthesis,” Wang said in the press statement. “If the electricity comes from renewable sources like the sun or wind, we can create a loop that turns carbon dioxide into something important without emitting more of it.”

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.

Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

The Midwest's largest advanced design and manufacturing event!
Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including esign and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!

 

Nanolaser Can Perform Medical Procedures Without Damaging Tissue

Mon, 2019-10-14 13:33

Researchers have used novel materials to create a nanolaser that can function inside the human body without damaging healthy tissues. (Image source: Northwestern University)

Researchers are eyeing next-generation, bio-compatible medical devices to perform complex procedures inside the human body without being majorly invasive.

As part of this endeavor, researchers at Northwestern and Columbia Universities have developed a nanolaser that is they say is biocompatible and can function inside living tissues without harming them. The researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Nature Materials.

The researchers envision their laser can be used not only for internal medical purposes such as targeted diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer, but also as part of lab-on-a-chip schemes for fast and large-scale molecular characterization, sensing, and synthesis.

There are two key aspects of the laser’s design: One is that the laser is comprised mostly of glass, which is an inherently biocompatible material. The other is that it can be excited with longer wavelengths of light and emit at shorter wavelengths.

Moreover, the laser is just 50 to 150 nanometers thick, or about 1/1,000th the thickness of a single human hair. This means it can fit and function inside extremely confined spaces – including quantum circuits, microprocessors, and even living tissues, researchers said.

Some of the tasks it might perform inside the human body in particular include the detection of disease biomarkers or the treatment of deep-brain neurological disorders, such as epilepsy, the researchers said.

Novel Size and Performance

P. James Schuck, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University, co-led the research with Teri Odom, professor of chemistry in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Science. Schuck said the laser offers a number of benefits to next-generation medical applications.

The nanolaser has “the potential ability to provide a bright light source within very confined spaces such as within a cell or in tissue without a significantly perturbing the system,” Schuck told Design News.

Another benefit of the laser for use inside the human body, particularly inside human tissue, is that it can operate without being tethered to a wire or optical fiber. “This is because the infrared light used to power the laser can penetrate much deeper into tissue than visible light,” Schuck said.

It has been historically difficult to create similar-sized laser systems that can operate at room and biological temperatures and remain stable. The nanolaser developed by Shuck and his team can do this. It also needs much less power than comparable existing lasers, Schuck said, “thus there is less chance for thermal or optical damage to the sample when pumping the laser.”

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Unique Use of New Materials

Key to the design of the laser are the unique properties of the arrays of metal nanoparticles of which it’s comprised, which allow for its extremely small size and thinness, Schuck said

“The thickness is truly nanoscale, and well below the wavelength of the light that it is producing,” he said. “Conventional lasers cannot operate if their dimensions are below roughly half the wavelength of the emitted light.”

The team also used a relatively novel type of optical material for producing the emitted light – specially-designed upconverting nanoparticles, or UCNPs, which are capable of absorbing low-energy infrared and efficiently converting the infrared photons into higher-energy visible light.

“The UCNPs are (easily) coated onto the plasmonic nanoparticle array, and the visible light interacts with the array to create the laser beam,” Schuck explained.

The result is a nanolaser that overcomes many of the limitations that until now have hindered the design of this type of technology.

Aside from medical uses, Schuck added the nanolaser also could be used to enable faster, wider-bandwidth, lower-power on-chip photonic circuitry.

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.

Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

The Midwest's largest advanced design and manufacturing event!
Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including design and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!

 

Manufacturing Contraction: How Will It Affect Advanced Manufacturing?

Mon, 2019-10-14 07:50

According to the Institute for Supply Management, manufacturing in the US has been contracting for two months. That’s the first time since 2009. An ISM number below 50% constitutes a contraction in manufacturing. In August we saw 49.5%, in September, 47.8%. The reports are fanning fears of recession, and most analysts point to tariffs as the problem.

This chart from the Institute of Supply Management shows the downturn in manufacturing folloiwng government tariffs. (Image source: ISM)

What does this contraction mean for the mid-market manufacturers who have been adding advanced manufacturing tools over the last few years? We caught up with Eskander Yavar, the national leader of BDO’s Manufacturing & Distribution practice. He explains how the downturn in manufacturing will affect manufacturers as they toward Industry 4.0.

Design News: Can you explain what you’re seeing in the US manufacturing sector now?

Eskander Yavar: It’s clear every day that the contraction is upon us. It started with the tariffs on China, and now the trade conflicts have become broader. We’re seeing many different sectors of manufacturing getting affected. The tariffs are the primary driver on the lower volume of goods and volume of output. There is the combination of tariffs and the value of the dollar that is affecting manufacturers, but the tariffs of the last two years are driving the contraction. I think we’ll be in this situation for the next 12 or 18 months. We’re probably going to see positive new advances regarding trade because of the election, but it will be 12 to 18 months before we see positive results in output.

Design News: Which manufacturing sectors have been hardest hit by the trade war and the manufacturing slowdown?

Eskander Yavar: Those with a direct involvement in raw materials such as steel and aluminum, or those in agriculture were the first to get hit. I talked with a supply chain expert in oil and gas, and they’re affected too as oil prices moderate. They’re feeling the pain right now. Oil field services are also getting affected. There is spillover is hitting automotive in tiers one, two, and three. A lot of the pain is tied to the actual sectors involved in the trade tariffs.

Design News: How are mid-market manufacturers responding to the trade turbulence?

Eskander Yavar: We’re seeing capital asset expenditures going down. Industry 4.0 investments are going down. Yet that could change with the demeaner of the administration. In the meantime, consumer spending is still high. Manufacturing is a leading indicator for the health of our economy, so a downturn could follow a manufacturing contraction. The middle market manufacturers are getting more conservative. They’re getting ready to hold back. Job losses in manufacturing may hit 400,000 by the end of the year. You’ll see conservative fiscal policy with the CFOs who want to wait and see instead of investing in equipment.

Design News: If the contraction leads to a recession, what would that mean for manufacturing jobs?

Eskander Yavar: I’m still seeing a tight labor market in manufacturing. One of the concerns is that in the last recession, there were a lot of workers who dropped out of the job market and retired or moved to Uber. They left the manufacturing job market. That’s part of the contraction. That will probably be a continuing trend. People will find alternative means of living, so we could see a net loss in the job population in manufacturing when it rebounds in the future.

Design News: How will the slowdown impact manufacturers’ Industry 4.0 investments?

Eskander Yavar: The factory of the future is new to mid-market manufacturers. It’s going to take a hit. We just released our annual survey on the effect of Industry 4.0 on mid-market manufacturers – that’s companies with $250,000 million to four billion in annual sales. That audience has been adopting robotics on the shop floor, as well as IoT and predictive maintenance. The contraction will put the brakes on some of the investment at these companies as they become cash strapped. Capital outlays will be monitored closely. We’ll see the brakes put on Industry 4.0 investments.

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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.

Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

The Midwest's largest advanced design and manufacturing event!
Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including design and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!

 

VeoRide's E-Scooters Know If You're Wearing a Helmet

Mon, 2019-10-14 06:30
(Image source: VeoRide)

Is AI the solution to safer e-scooters?

Depending on who you ask, e-scooters are either the next revolution in personal transportation or the worst thing to happen to cities since the traffic congestion they were designed to help alleviate.

However you feel about the popular scooters, there's no denying they could be safer.

VeoRide, a Chicago-based company that distributes its e-scooters throughout the Midwestern US has unveiled a new addition to its scooter app that can tell if riders have a helmet on. Called, Helmet Detection Technology, the company's app can now use the camera on a potential rider's phone to determine if they are wearing a helmet. Riders who are found to be wearing a helmet can be incentivized with discounts or other perks. Someday, if regulations require it, it could even potentially bar riders from activating a scooter if they are not wearing a helmet.

"By creatively using advanced deep learning capabilities, our team has been able to break through and pioneer a workable solution to a very complex technical issue," VeoRide's CTO, Li Zhou said, "We are eager to contribute to an important shift in safety consciousness by developing this innovation which encourages and incentivizes people to wear helmets when riding e-scooters."

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A representative from VeoRide told Design News the algorithm behind the helmet detection technology employs an object recognition model that has been trained to specifically recognize helmets. VeoRide said the app was trained with millions of photos in order to be able to detect helmets in real time. The company says the algorithm has been trained well enough that it won't be tricked by hats, a big head of hair, or other types of headgear that could be mistaken for a helmet.

VeoRide's helmet detection AI isn't tricked by hats or other headwear. (Image source: VeoRide)

Of course the rider's safety is still very much their own responsibility. The system won't be able to tell if you take your helmet off while riding for some reason.

But helmet detection is only the first in what the company says will be a series of steps to leverage AI to make e-scooters safer. For example, the company is also working on similar detection technology that can be used to determine if a scooter is being driven on a sidewalk (which is prohibited in many cities).

As e-scooters have become an increasingly more common sight (or annoyance) in major cities, there are also growing concerns regarding their safety.

A 2019 study conducted by JAMA in the Santa Monica, Calif. area (location of Bird HQ and arguably ground zero for the e-scooter wave) documented over 200 e-scooter related injuries occurring over the the course of a year that required emergency room visits. The study also found a low instance of helmet use among e-scooter riders (most e-scooters such as the ones available from Bird and Lime travel at a top speed of 15-20 mph). A 2019 investigation by Consumer Reports found there have been at least 1,545 accidents involving e-scooters over the past year that have resulted in injury.

In 2018 a lack of key safety features led Fast Company to declare e-scooters the worst design of the year. The magazine wrote:

“... scooters simply haven’t been designed well enough to get people around safely, legally, or in an environmentally sound way. That includes the industrial design, all the way up to the larger experience design of how scooters inhabit cities.”

VeoRide is currently testing its Helmet Detection Technology in select markets and plans a full rollout of the technology in 2020.

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

The Midwest's largest advanced design and manufacturing event!
Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including design and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!

12 Ways Technology Has Transformed Halloween

Fri, 2019-10-11 07:00

Senior Editor Kevin Clemens has been writing about energy, automotive, and transportation topics for more than 30 years. He has masters degrees in Materials Engineering and Environmental Education and a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. He has set several world land speed records on electric motorcycles that he built in his workshop.

RELATED ARTICLES:   Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

The Midwest's largest advanced design and manufacturing event!
Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including esign and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!

Friday Funny: The Impossible Pinball in a Wooden Cube

Fri, 2019-10-11 07:00

While this may not be funny in the usual way, it is certainly a fascinating feat 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.

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Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

The Midwest's largest advanced design and manufacturing event!
Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including design and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!

 

iPhone 11 and 11 Pro Max Teardowns: More Cameras and an Unusual Battery

Thu, 2019-10-10 07:00
There's more to the iPhone 11 Pro Max's battery than its unique L shape. (Image source: iFixit)

Apple's latest iPhones, the 11 and 11 Pro Max, are all about camera upgrades. But while consumers were eagerly waiting to snap high-quality pics for their Instagram, the rest of us wanted to see what was going on under the hood.

Thankfully iFixit has delivered, with new teardowns of the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro Max respectively. While other smartphone companies are focusing more on software to improve image quality in their cameras, Apple made a big investment in camera hardware this year. The new cameras have also had an impact on the design engineering choices behind the phones' logic boards and batteries as well.

But that's not all that's going on with the 11 Pro Max's battery.

iPhone 11: Not Quite Pro

The iPhone 11 has some camera upgrades over the iPhone X, albiet not as significant as the Pro. The 11 has new wide and ultra-wide lenses and sensors – essentially meaning better night photos and a faster shutter speed. To make room for those new sensors Apple opted to use a double-decker logic board in the 11, a first for a phone of its size.

The battery is your expected rectangular shape, but it boasts more capacity over previous models. At 40.81 x 96.93 x 3.97 mm, and weighing in at 44.1 g, the 11's battery is slightly smaller than the iPhone XR's but it has a capacity of 3110 mAh, a 7% increase over the XR.

The iFixit team noted that the iPhone 11's battery only has one connector, which doesn't seem that significant until you consider an interesting quirk found in the Pro Max.

iPhone 11 Pro Max: What's that Connector For?

The Pro Max's battery is actually thicker, larger, and heavier than the XS Max's battery, but it packs significantly more punch. iFixit rated the battery at 3969 mAh at 3.79 V, for a total of 15.04 Wh, putting it at 2.96 Wh more than the XS Max's battery. Yes, this thicker battery means the phone itself is thicker as well, but Apple has said that extra bit of thickness goes a long way – touting the Pro Max as having five hours more battery life than previous models.

The Pro Max battery also takes on the single-cell, L-shaped designed that Apple first introduced in the iPhone XS. It's a clever design trick that allows Apple engineers to save even more space inside the device (more on this in a bit).

What's of particular note with the Pro Max's battery is that it has a second connector. While the purpose of this connector isn't immediately clear, the iFixit team speculates this could be meant to facilitate two-way wireless charging, a rumored feature of the phone.

Two-way, or bilateral, wireless charging essentially means the phone can not only be wirelessly charged, but can also wirelessly charge other devices. Two-way charging turns a smartphone into a wireless charging pad in a way similar to how enabling hotspot can turn a phone into a Wi-Fi hub. The teardown seems to confirm that at least Pro Max can do this (perhaps it was abandoned on the 11, hence the single connector), but Apple seems to have disabled the function via software.

Whether Apple plans to unveil the feature at a later date or whether the iPhone's hardware is just giving a glimpse at what could have been is still uncertain.

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The most notable upgrade to the 11 Pro Max is its camera array. The Pro Max has the same new ultra-wide sensor and lens as the 11, but with the addition of a standard wide-angle and telephoto lens as well. Accommodating this new hardware is likely where the L-shaped battery comes in handy again.

Apple has also trimmed down the logic board to make room for the new camera hardware. All that hardware must generate a good amount of heat because a notable new bit of engineering to the 11 Pro Max's board its new thermal design. There are several layers of graphite thermal transfer material backing the phone's RF board. Heat from the logic board goes through the graphite layers and dissipates into the rear case. This is how Apple was able to achieve what it calls the “best sustained performance ever in an iPhone.”

Overall, iFixit gave both the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro Max repairability scores of 6 out of 10. Both have made the display and battery easy to access and replace for savvy users, but the glass front and back on both models present some major issues and require a full case replacement if cracked or damaged.

Visit iFixit to see the full iPhone 11 and 11 Pro Max teardowns.

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

The Midwest's largest advanced design and manufacturing event!
Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including design and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!

This New Aluminum Battery Design Could be More Sustainable Than Lithium Ion

Thu, 2019-10-10 06:30

A new aluminum battery design from researchers in Europe consists of an anode and cathode made of aluminum and an anthraquinone-based organic material, respectively. ​​​​(Image source: Yen Strandqvist​)

A team of researchers in Europe believes their concept for an aluminum battery will prove to be more energy-dense and environmentally-friendly than lithium-ion.

Developed by scientists from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, and the National Institute of Chemistry, Slovenia, the design shows a viable, sustainable alternative to current lithium-ion batteries, said Niklas Lindahl, a researcher from Chalmers University.

“We have developed a new concept for more sustainable batteries [that are] less

environmentally harmful compared to lithium-ion batteries,” he told Design News. “Aluminum batteries are more sustainable mainly due to their use of only abundant materials.”

The researchers recently published a paper on their work in the journal Energy Storage Materials.

Lithium-ion batteries have been the norm for myriad electronic devices for some time. But since they aren’t particularly eco-friendly, scientists have long been searching for new designs and materials that will have less impact on the environment.

While the new design is not the first time scientists have attempted to come up with an aluminum battery on par with lithium-ion batteries, it is one of the most successful, the researchers said.

In previous designs, researchers used aluminum as the anode – the negative electrode – and graphite as the cathode – the positive electrode. But graphite does not provide the energy needed for useful battery performance.

In the new design, researchers replaced graphite with an organic, nanostructured cathode made of the carbon-based molecule anthraquinone. This material enables storage of positive charge-carriers from the electrolyte – the solution in which ions move between the electrodes—creating substantially higher energy density than previous aluminum battery designs, Lindahl said.

“Hence, the energy density (the amount of stored energy per mass of active material) could be doubled, compared to previous state-of-the-art aluminum batteries,” Lindahl told Design News. “Or put differently, a battery of the same weight could store twice as much energy.”

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Designs for the Future

The use of aluminum over lithium has key advantages for battery design, according to the Lindahl. Aside from its abundance and the already established manufacturing structures in place for the material—which would make battery fabrication less expensive and more sustainable—it is also, in principle, a significantly better charge carrier than lithium. “[Aluminum] is multivalent, which means every ion compensates for several electrons,” Lindahl explained.

However, this also presents a design challenge for the researchers, in terms of developing compatible electrolytes and cathodes. There are also challenges to making an aluminum battery with the same scale and performance levels as lithium-ion batteries

“Although this work shows that novel cathode materials can double the energy density, aluminum batteries are less than half as energy-dense as lithium-ion batteries,” Lindahl said. “But our long-term goal is to achieve the same energy density.”

To achieve this, researchers plan to continue their work to develop better charging mechanisms for the battery electrolyte, among other improvements.

While the scientists aren’t sure aluminum batteries would entirely replace current battery designs, at the very least they could be complementary and used for applications, such as IoT devices and for storage of solar and wind energy, Lindahl told Design News.

This would reserve lithium-ion batteries for use only “where strictly necessary, [such as] in mobile applications where high energy density is most important,” he said.

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.

Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

The Midwest's largest advanced design and manufacturing event!
Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including design and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!

Pioneers of the Lithium-Ion Battery Awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Wed, 2019-10-09 19:24
An illustration of John Goodenough's early battery design. His work made a significant impact on the power of lithium batteries. (Image source: Johan Jarnestad/The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)

The 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has gone to the three men who made the world rechargeable.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced Wednesday that this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry has gone to John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham, and Akira Yoshino for their work in the development of lithium-ion batteries.

“Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionized our lives since they first entered the market in 1991,” the Academy said in a press statement. “They have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind.”

You'd be hard pressed these days to find an electronic device that doesn't take advantage of lithium-ion. And while researchers are always looking to make new improvements on the batteries or find alternatives, that hasn't stopped lithium batteries from becoming ubiquitous in our mobile electronics and a key component to the resurgence of electric vehicles.

At 97 years old Goodenough himself is still working to further the technology he pioneered. In an interview with Design News last year he discussed how he is working on a new design for a solid-state lithium-ion battery. A solid-state version would eliminate issues with overheating and significantly improve charging times for lithium-ion batteries. Imagine, instead of having to charge for hours or overnight, being able to charge your electric car in the amount of time it takes you to pump a full tank of gas – that's the promise of Goodenough's continued work.

“People have tried to make a solid state battery, and they could only do it with very thin films and not much capacity,” Goodenough told Design News. “It’s a very tricky problem. But I believe it will be ready in five years.”

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First discovered in 1817, lithium found its footing in batteries in the early 1970s when Stanley Whittingham, then working as a researcher for Exxon (now ExxonMobile), discovered that by using lithium as the negative electrode (anode) of a battery he could create a battery that was rechargeable. In Whittigham's design lithium ions flowed from the lithium in the anode to positive electrode (cathode), which was made of titanium disulphide. When the battery was charged, the lithium ions flowed back again.

Also, yes, you read that right. Back in the 1970s Exxon, the oil giant, actually funded research into batteries out of fear that oil supplies were running low. Exxon figured it could get ahead of an impending oil crisis by being the first to provide a battery that could power a car. However, when oil prices fell dramatically in the 1980s Exxon shifted back to business as usual and all of those battery ambitions went out of the window.

John Goodenough picked up where Whittingham left off in the 1980s. Realizing it was possible to manufacture batteries in an uncharged state and charge them later, Goodenough came upon the idea to use cobalt oxide as the battery's cathode material. It was a change that not only nearly doubled the potential of lithium batteries, but also allowed them to become smaller and lighter.

But it was Akira Yoshino who would make lithium-ion batteries commercially viable. Yoshino worked for the Asahi Kasei Corporation in the 1980s, at a time when Japanese electronics companies were demanding better and smaller batteries for the new wave of portable electronics hitting the market such as camcorders, computers, and cordless telephones.

Ironically, it was the oil industry that would lead Yoshino to his own battery breakthrough. He used the lithium-cobalt oxide material developed by Goodenough in the battery's cathode and for the anode he used petroleum coke, a byproduct of the oil refining process. Petroleum coke can also intercalate lithium ions, meaning instead of chemical reactions the battery could now allow lithium ions to flow back and forth between the electrodes. Yoshino's lithium battery was the lightest and most powerful yet. And because it didn't use any pure lithium it was also the safest. Yoshino himself told the Academy that the moment the battery passed critical safety tests was, “the moment when the lithium-ion battery was born.”

Development of lithium-ion batteries continues to this day as consumers demand thinner devices with longer battery life (mainly smartphones) and researchers look for new and innovative ways to wring even more power out of the batteries while reducing their form factor. Apple is playing with unique battery shapes in its iPhones. Researchers are applying nanotechnology to improve battery life and charging times. There is even work being done to create batteries that are flexible.

While materials such as aluminum are being examined as possible alternatives to lithium-ion, no one has managed to overtake lithium-ion yet. Thanks to the work of Whittingham, Goodenough, Yoshino it looks like lithium-ion will be at the king of the battery hill for a long time to come.

Watch the full Nobel Prize in Chemistry announcement below:

 

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

The Midwest's largest advanced design and manufacturing event!
Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including esign and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!

9 Books for Budding Engineers

Wed, 2019-10-09 15:30

Amee Meghani is a mechanical engineer graduate from The University of Texas at Austin and engineering manager at GoEngineer. Her industry experience is in material handling and consumer products, focusing on product development.

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Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

The Midwest's largest advanced design and manufacturing event!
Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including design and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!

Digital Twin Technology Is a Powerful Tool for Industrial Automation

Wed, 2019-10-09 06:30

Digital Twin technology has emerged as a potentially powerful tool for implementing automation and control applications. The technology offers a new approach that promises to enable model-based machine development.

Wearing VR or AR headsets, machine developers can use Digital Twin Technology to interact directly with their model, and directly connect to a B&R machine controller for testing. (Image source: B&R)

At the most recent ODVA Technical Conference, Todd Snide and Merrill Harriman of Schneider Electric delivered an excellent paper on this topic describing the digital twin as the “cyber” part of Cyber Physical Systems. The idea is that the “digital twin” (a combination of software, hardware and communications) is “a representation of a physical entity indicating an ideal or object state of that entity, in constant comparison with its actual conditions.”

While it is a digital representation, the twin is directly associated with a physical device. Systems have a need for performance, which is being aided by new IoT communication developments, and an ability to support simulation and measurement/integration of real-time operation metrics.

From CAD Data to Digital Twin

B&R Automation has recently announced a new simulation tool for model-based machine development that integrates what they call “industrialPhysics simulation” into its Automation Studio engineering environment. It makes it possible for developers to directly import CAD data from machine components or entire machines to quickly and easily generate a digital twin for developing and testing machine software. Developers are able to run the virtual model of the machine on a PC, and then also directly connect it with the machine controller.

New software tools powered by Digital Twin technology make it easier to transfer useful live information and update machine parameters without the need for additional programming, making full use of the improved data transparency. (Image source: Mitsubishi & CONTACT Software)

Digital Twin data is imported in STEP format which includes properties of the CAD design such as mass and density, and enables machine designers to view the behavior of the machine in real time. The tool can also be used to simulate the flow of materials through the line to identify potential problem areas. An additional bonus is viewing the machine model using virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) headsets.

IoT Software Elements

CONTACT Software, a new member of Mitsubishi Electric’s e-F@ctory Alliance, has introduced Using Elements for IoT software which enables the lifecycle of machinery to be managed from a single reference point. Starting with CAD files of the equipment, a virtual operational model is built-up, and then connected to a physical production site.

This approach uses live data from machine tools, robots, PLCs and other smart devices to create a digital twin. The twin is then used to achieve maintenance on-demand, it can reliably predict service requirements, improving operational efficiency and reducing downtime.

Parameterizing connections to the machines makes it easier to transfer useful live information without additional programming, making full use of the improved data transparency. This kind of data transparency for individual machines and devices across multiple locations allows for efficient planning, management and predictive maintenance.

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Cross-Domain Virtual Models

A final application example of Digital Twin technology is how Siemens is implementing cross-domain virtual models in software that accurately represents a product or production. Using this approach, data collected with IIoT platforms provides detailed insights into production operations.

By connecting this information to high fidelity digital twin models, the goal is that companies can create a consistent digital thread that enables them to speed up development, optimize manufacturing processes and improve products for their next version or iteration with real-time insights.

By combining MindSphere with Siemens’ Teamcenter software product data management collaboration tool, the digital twin evolves and continuously updates to reflect any change to the physical counterpart throughout the lifecycle to create closed-loop feedback in a virtual environment.

Finally Model-based Design

Snide and Harriman have predicted that “digital twins will be a major feature of all automation systems in the near future. It is a matter of what one puts in the digital twin not IF one wants to design a digital twin. The digital twin will be a common part of the system.

I highly recommend reading their paper for an overview of this technology, and more information on design implications and how Digital Twin Technology will be useful and implemented in CIP and EtherNet/IP networks.

Al Presher is a veteran contributing writer for Design News, covering automation and control, motion control, power transmission, robotics, and fluid power.

Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

The Midwest's largest advanced design and manufacturing event!
Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including design and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!

 

Nanotechnology Eyed for Longer Battery Life, Faster Charging

Wed, 2019-10-09 06:00
An artist rendering of a coin cell battery with a copper electrode (left) containing a black nanochain structure. Researchers have discovered nanochains could increase the capacity of batteries battery and reduce charging time. (Image source: Purdue University illustration/Henry Hamann)

Even with advancements such as fast charging and longer lifespans, overall battery performance for ubiquitous devices like smartphones has been slow to evolve. But a team of chemical engineers at Purdue University have used nanomaterials called “nanochains” in a electrode design they say can improve the life and charging speed of current lithium batteries.

The team published a paper on its work in the journal Applied Nano Materials.

Nanochains are nanoparticles of an element that are connected together, forming a chain-like architecture, P.V. Ramachandran, a professor of organic chemistry at Purdue told Design News. The net-like nanochain structure is comprised of antimony, a metalloid known to enhance lithium ion charge capacity in batteries, he said.

“Because of the chain-like architecture, the lithium ions and electrons move faster, reducing charging time and providing increased capacity because of the allowable expansion during charging,” Ramachandran said.

He said this performance is an improvement over typical lithium-ion battery electrodes, which are typically comprised of graphite.

A battery’s longevity is based on how many lithium ions can be stored in the battery’s negative electrode material. The challenge with current battery designs is that materials with a higher lithium ion storage capacity are either too heavy or the wrong shape to replace graphite, “which possess lower capacity value compared to the  antimony-based anode,” Ramachandran said.

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Avoiding Expansion

Researchers developed the antimony electrode by applying a reducing agent and a nucleating agent to connect tiny antimony particles into a nanochain shape.

While some types of commercial batteries already use carbon-metal composites similar to antimony metal negative electrodes like the one Purdue team developed, there is a limitation to this design, the researchers said. The composite tends to expand up to three times as it takes in lithium ions, causing it to become a safety hazard as the battery charges.

Ramachandran said he and his team had to accommodate for this expansion in their design. They used ammonia-borane specifically to create empty spaces, or pores inside the nanochain, to accommodate expansion and suppress electrode failure.

After some experimentation, the team found that antimony-chloride produced the desired nanochain structure for optimal electrode performance. The resulting material performed well in tests, keeping lithium-ion capacity stable after charging for 30 minutes for at least 100 charging-discharging cycles, according to the researchers. They believe, however, that this is nowhere near the limit of battery life for devices using the electrode.

The electrode design has the potential to scale for larger batteries as well. Ramachandran and his team have plans to test it next in pouch cell batteries. The team will also explore using different anode materials for future battery designs.

“We are working towards understanding the scientific mechanism of such chain-like architectures that can be mimicked to other anode materials such as tin, silicon, etc. to make even more efficient batteries,” Ramachandran said.

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.

Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

The Midwest's largest advanced design and manufacturing event!
Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including design and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!