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Serving the 21st Century Design Engineer
Updated: 6 days 4 hours ago

2018 STEM Toys Holiday Gift List

Tue, 2018-12-04 05:00

 

By Engineers, For Engineers. Join our in-depth conference program with over 100 technical paper sessions, panels, and tutorials spanning 15 tracks. Mark Shields will present a paper “Thermoelectric Performance of Copper Clad Laminate” on January 31st.

Early Bird Registration now extended until December 8. Save up to $300 today!

Learn more: DesignCon. Jan. 29-31, 2019, in Santa Clara, CA. Register to attend. Hosted by Design News’ parent company, UBM.

Looking at Ways to Boost PCB Performance

Tue, 2018-12-04 04:00

It’s easy to take much of the technology in modern electronic devices for granted. But at some stage in every part and component, engineers must make decisions and develop solutions that allow a device to operate and to improve its performance. One example is the materials and requirements that must be considered when making printed circuits.

Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are typically made up of laminates of a non-conducting substrate (frequently, fiberglass reinforced resins) and a thin layer of conducting copper foil. Although PCBs have been around for a long time, the constantly evolving performance of electronics continues to push their development.

Faster Rates, Higher Demands

According to Mark Shields, director of OEM sales and marketing, North America for Nan Ya Plastics Corporation, USA, “The issue that we are addressing is with the demand for higher frequency and faster data transmission rate. There is going to be resulting higher operating temperatures. Our paper tests and addresses the relationship between temperature and electrical performance. In this case, electrical performance is defined as insertion loss.”

All PCBs exhibit insertion losses, which result in the following: an attenuation of electrical signal strength through conduction losses resulting from resistance in the copper conductor, and dielectric losses resulting from the electric field polarization that occurs within the insulating laminate material. With 5G technology, enhanced Internet performance requirements, and next generation CPUs, there is going to be a lot more heat generated. This will require an examination of the impact of heat on insertion loss.

Testing inside a chamber allowed the insertion loss measurements of laminates to be made at elevated temperatures. (Image source: Nan Ya Plastics)

Examining Different Materials

Shields will present a paper titled, “Thermoelectric Performance of Copper Clad Laminate,” on January 31st at DesignCon 2019. In it, he will detail research undertaken at the Nan Ya technology center in Taiwan. “What we did is to choose ten laminate materials—different grades (of resin), if you will, that range from standard loss to ultra-low loss,” explained Shields. “They go from standard loss phenolic epoxy blends to some modified phenolic epoxy blends in our mid-loss, to some PPE and PTFE materials in our ultra-low loss. We have a combination of halogen-free and halogen or lead-free brominated systems,” he added.

The Intel Standard Delta L test was used to characterize the insertion losses. Shields pointed out that the results from the Delta L testing provides engineers a common language and the insertion loss numbers are well understood. “We did a twelve layer stack-up. The layer being measured was layer ten. We had two environments that we subjected the boards to—a high moisture environment (85% relative humidity) and a high-temperature environment (85°C) with conditioning for two weeks,” said Shields.

The results for the moisture tests were not unexpected. “There was not much of a moisture effect—in this case, up to 20 GHz. The lower loss, higher performance materials have lower moisture absorption characteristics. So that was even smaller than the low effects on the standard loss material,” said Shields.

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Temperature Effects Were Significant

The effects of elevated temperature were more significant. “There is a correlation with elevated insertion loss at higher temperatures. Measurements were taken at 20°C and then the boards were put into a chamber and heated at a stable temperature of 60°C and at 80°C. Insertion loss measurements were taken at these elevated temperatures. Measurements were taken at 4, 8, and 12.89 GHz, and the conclusion was that there is a temperature effect that correlates to the loss class of the material. The standard loss materials had the greatest increase in terms of percentage. And then progressively, the increase percent decreased as you went from standard loss to low loss and to ultra-low loss. The increase in loss was greater at 80°C than it was at 60°C, and that was found at the three frequencies,” explained Shields.

The purpose of the research and the reason Mark Shields wants to speak at DesignCon are similar. “My goal is to engage with the end users, and the topic of what impact temperature has on loss is an important topic right now,” said Shields. “For signal integrity engineers, when they are designing the next generation stack-ups and circuit designs, looking at the heat that the boards are going to be in means that they need to factor in what the insertion loss is going to be at elevated temperature,” he noted.

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.

By Engineers, For Engineers. Join our in-depth conference program with over 100 technical paper sessions, panels, and tutorials spanning 15 tracks. Mark Shields will present a paper “Thermoelectric Performance of Copper Clad Laminate” on January 31st.

Early Bird Registration now extended until December 8. Save up to $300 today!

Learn more: DesignCon. Jan. 29-31, 2019, in Santa Clara, CA. Register to attend. Hosted by Design News’ parent company, UBM.

 

Digital Advances Continue to Transform Design and Manufacturing

Tue, 2018-12-04 03:00

For years, advanced design and manufacturing technology was mostly in the hands of the very largest companies—from GM and GE to Boeing and PG. That’s changed remarkably over the last five years. We’re continued advances in industrial technology but, more to the point, we’re seeing the democratization of that technology.

This illustration shows the convergence of design, manufacturing, and customer use. (Image source: Autodesk)

The proliferation of design and manufacturing technology is beginning to change the nature of what it means to be a design engineer. “The future we’re making is affected by all of the trends that are happening. In past years, design engineers were constrained by the manufacturing process,” Stephen Hooper, VP and general manager for Fusion 360 at Autodesk, said at the Autodesk Accelerate conference. “As a designer, you had a lot of ideas, but you were constrained by manufacturing technology. That’s changed.”

Hooper pointed to three major changes that have affected the future of industrial design:

1.) The convergence of design and manufacturing

2.) The overall connectivity that spans all areas of product development—from design concepts through development, manufacturing, the supply chain, and even to the customer 

3.) The changes in the nature of object design brought about by generative design

Convergence between Design and Manufacturing

One of the major changes brought on by new technology is the collapse of the wall between design and manufacturing. While collaboration between the two groups has increased in recent years, the wall is disappearing. “We’re now seeing a convergence between design and manufacturing. 3D printing and six-axis robots are unlocking the design department. You cannot disconnect the new technology from the design process,” said Hooper. “You have to design with the manufacturing process in mind. It’s becoming one contiguous process. If you can integrate that effectively, you can speed the whole process up.”

The swingarm of the electric motorcycle LS-218 from Lightning Motorcycles was designed using Autodesk’s generative design algorithm to minimize weight without compromising stiffness.  (Image source: Lightning Motorcycles)

The change that brought about this convergence isn’t just advances in design tools. It’s also due to advances in the way products get manufactured. “The convergence is fueled by changes in the very means of manufacturing. We’re seeing the democratization of the technology—the more advanced forms of manufacturing that are becoming available to everyone," said Hooper. Six-axis robots are becoming available to almost every manufacturer.”

Everything Is Getting Connected

Digital connectivity is at the heart of the changes in design and manufacturing. “Everything is getting hyper-connected, which is democratizing access to compute power. You can create new processes that radically change manufacturing,” said Hooper. “The technology is accessible to anyone in the organization. In the past, there were a lot of steps from design to production. The sketch, the prototyping, managing the data, and determining how you’re going to manufacture in a way that is affordable to your organization. That’s all connected now.”

The high degree of connectivity allows data sharing between design and manufacturing, which begins to blend the two disciplines. “We want to put your data in the center of a seamless blend of design and manufacturing,” said Hooper. “This integrates all the aspects of the process and lets design engineers seamlessly move through all of the tasks. Once we’ve connected all of the processes, you can take all of the elements and deploy machine learning, such as generative design or parallel simulation.”

Hooper points to a customer that offers wide access to everyone involved in developing and manufacturing the product. “Lightning Motorcycles designs its products in the cloud. Anyone can access it and mark it up. This allows you to move from styling into an engineering environment for structure analysis, then move it over to manufacturing,” said Hooper. “It opens up the opportunity for anyone to contribute to one dataset. We’ve collapsed all of our technologies together.”

Generative Design Is Changing What an Object Can Be

The ability of design tools to suggest improved ways to shape an object is a major game-changer for both design and manufacturing. This is computing at its best—creating designs that couldn’t have been conceived by a human. “Generative design gives you the full math model. You can go back through the process to check the design. General Motors is showing us that this is not just science fiction,” said Hooper. “GM used generative design on a seatbelt assembly. Instead of using an assembly with nine components, it became one piece that is less costly by 40% and it’s lighter.”

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Autodesk—which began life as a design software company—sees its ongoing work in the realm of both design and manufacturing. “We trying to provide a singular design and manufacturing platform that can include machine learning tools like generative design,” said Hooper. “We’re building a community of people to explore this technology.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 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.

SAVE THE DATE FOR PACIFIC DESIGN & MANUFACTURING 2019!    
Pacific Design & Manufacturing, North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, will be back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 5-7, 2019! Don’t miss your chance to connect and share your expertise with industry peers during this can't-miss event. Click here to pre-register for the event today!

 

Choosing the Best Advanced Precision Motor for Robotics and Automation

Mon, 2018-12-03 05:00

Frameless BLDC motor designs like Sensata’s model DIP34 allow for the motor to be fully integrated within a given assembly. (Image source: Sensata)

People have been improving industrial processes since the first factories harnessed water and wind. Manufacturing means motion, and engineers have tried to improve industrial processes using every technology at their disposal—from motion-efficiency studies in human workers to advanced management paperwork systems.

With the advances in automation technology, the current trend has been less toward making humans more efficient, and more toward making more efficient robotics and automated production systems. This puts additional pressure on process engineers to develop motion-enabled solutions that are powerful, small, precise, and efficient. Being cost effective would also be a plus.

Electric motors have been around for over a hundred years. (The electric trolley has existed since the late 19th century.) But the first designs were large, inefficient, and imprecise. The advent of rare-earth magnets and advanced brushless DC (BLDC) motor design has empowered a new range of motors small enough to fit into confined spaces, powerful enough to do real work, and efficient enough to be used in wireless or remote applications.

The pressure to make products that are both highly functional yet cost effective means that electronic engineers must draw the optimum performance out of every system they design.

High-performance BLDC motors can provide the levels of output and economy that today’s demanding applications require. In the case of industrial systems, this means that you can put enough functionality in a robotic arm to do real work while having it run efficiently, serve reliably, and generate very little waste heat or electrical noise.

Strength and Reliability

When it comes to industrial applications, the motors in robotic handling and assembly systems must be extremely reliable, cost effective, and space efficient. For example, the ability to incorporate the motor itself into a robotic arm, instead of attaching it to an external movement point, means you can put more robots in a given space. A frameless BLDC motor design—also known as a rotor/stator part set—allows for the motor to become fully integrated within an assembly, which results in the greatest torque-to-volume possible.

Most people think of planes or cars when they think of unmanned self-guiding vehicles, but the field reaches further than that. Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) in a manufacturing environment can integrate the entire process, bridging and connecting separate portions in a factory to a seamless whole, moving parts and assemblies from the end of one line to the beginning of the next.

There are examples of useful industrial roving systems at both ends of the scale, as not all ROVs are the size of a golf cart. For example, the inspection-class ROVs used to check out remote or human-inaccessible areas must be small and portable, so they can be easily moved to and deployed at the locations where they are needed. The latest generation of advanced BLDC motors not only meets ROV Inspection Class requirements, but their small size, power, and efficiency enable a compact design with low acoustic noise. Customizable motors serve this specialty market segment with both housed and frameless mechanical configurations.

A major advantage in an electrical system is the ability to safely operate in almost any human environment—even cleanrooms. Such an ability is impossible with a propulsion system that emits exhaust of any nature. Automated forklifts, mobile equipment carts and parts bins, shop-floor scooters, and other self-driven gear also operate much more quietly when driven by electric motors, making integration into the workplace easier.

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Battery Life

A powerful electric motor operating at a relatively high duty cycle places strict demands upon its energy delivery and storage system. Additionally, the power infrastructure must be as cost effective as possible. An efficient electric motor reduces those demands. In an automated production system, most of the machines are tethered, and therefore easy to “set and forget.” But any remote system must have energy storage of some kind.

Making the most out of a battery is important to everyone, not just mission-critical systems. The person whose RC model plane tanks from a dead battery is just as upset as someone whose ROV drops a million-dollar skid of mil-spec, hand-wound solid-gold relays on a concrete floor. The biggest difference is in the money lost. That’s why the more money involved, the more robust and reliable a robotic solution must be—and that’s not just because of battery life. Everything you do that maximizes efficiency has cascading benefits across the board. The better your motors are, the better the whole system can be.

Choose Wisely

The latest frameless and brushless DC motors come in multiple configurations—the best to fit specific application spaces. The more torque you can pack into a space may not be as important as precision or other performance capacities not directly related to force. In harsh environments like oil and gas applications, motors need to perform at up to 205°C and 30,000 PSI, while handling shocks in excess of 1000g and vibration of 25g RMS.

Factory environments can be quite harsh in ways not involving shake, rattle, and roll. Often, there is a working fluid, secondary moisture, or a downright wet environment. Motors used in these environments must be able to run efficiently enough to be packaged sufficiently to resist solvents, corrosives, or other potentially toxic and hazardous environments. If a motor overheats because it can’t dump all the heat it produces, you are in serious trouble.

The spread of advanced automation technology in manufacturing is rapidly advancing, with facilities both old and new implementing the latest in smart manufacturing and intelligent robotic systems. The need for precise motion control is driven by many demands now placed on the line, from moving products around on the manufacturing floor to a variety of work stations to the logistics of moving the finished product through a facility. Having the proper motion solution can greatly reduce this pressure for the designer.

Walter Smith is a senior applications engineer at Sensata Technologies, where he specializes in brushless DC (BLDC) motors

Process Design Kits Are Necessary for Photonics Maturity

Mon, 2018-12-03 04:00

Process design kits (PDKs) will be the key enabler to more widespread use of photonics, enabling the devices to more easily make the leap from research to commercial production, a panel of engineers will say at the upcoming DesignCon 2019 conference.

The kits, which started to emerge early this year, will take the development of photonics integrated circuits (ICs) out of the hands of a few experts, and place it in the realm of a greater number of circuit designers. “The PDK enables engineers to get out of device-level design and optimization of every single component,” James Pond, chief technology officer of Lumerical, told Design News. “They can start to think about their design at the circuit level, and not in terms of the individual component level anymore.”

James Pond of Lumerical: “The PDK enables engineers to get out of device-level design and optimization of every single component.” (Image source: Lumerical)

In a panel session, Photonics Coming of Age — The Emergence of PDKs, Pond will be joined by speakers from Cadence Design Systems, Inc., Mentor, TowerJazz, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd., and Smart Photonics. The panelists will discuss the use of PDKs from the perspective of foundries, electronic-design-automation (EDA) suppliers, and simulation vendors.

Pond contends that the use of PDKs is important for the maturity of photonics. Photonics—the science of photon generation, detection, and manipulation—is far behind the electronics industry in terms of device integration. “Integrated photonics is where integrated electronics was in the 1980s,” Pond said. “The number of components that go onto a circuit is typically measured in the hundreds, not in the billions.”

To change that, and to bring photonic ICs into such applications as data centers, RF applications, and sensing, industry engineers need to embrace PDKs, he said. PDKs provide access to foundry technology through the use of tools for simulation, schematic capture, layout, and design rule checkers. Today, such tools are broadly available to designers of electronic ICs, but have only started to come online for developers of photonics ICs.

“In building photonic circuits before PDKs, you really had to have engineers with PhDs in photonics to do anything,” Pond told us. “But with a PDK, you’ve got the possibility of enabling more junior engineers, who are thinking about things at the circuit board level, to build larger-scale circuits and integrate them into electronic-photonic systems.”

Making that happen, however, will involve awareness and education about PDK technology, Pond said. “In the integrated electronics world, people are fully convinced of this view,” he said. “But in the photonics design world, it’s been a little bit of a challenge to move toward the ecosystem and PDK-centered viewpoint.”

At the panel session, pioneers of photonic PDKs will discuss the challenges in their development, as well as their application in photonic design. They will also show how the tools are linked to emerging commercial foundries and demonstrate their roles in future applications.

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“We’re in a period of transition from research to commercialization,” noted Rich Goldman, head of marketing for Lumerical. “And a growing ecosystem is a key enabler of that.”

The panel session will take place on Tuesday, January 29, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 34 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

By Engineers, For Engineers. Join our in-depth conference program with over 100 technical paper sessions, panels, and tutorials spanning 15 tracks. Learn more: DesignCon. Jan. 29-31, 2019, in Santa Clara, CA. Register to attend, hosted by Design News’ parent company UBM.

 

One-Step Printing Process Results In New Complex Objects

Mon, 2018-12-03 03:00

Researchers already have used inspiration from the Japanese paper art of origami to create new designs in batteries and self-actuation. Now, a team from Georgia Institute of Technology has merged this art with 3D printing in the development of a one-step approach to fabricating complex structures.

Typically, to fabricate origami structures using 3D printing, a process would require multiple steps, more than one material, and assembly of the final part from smaller parts, said Glaucio Paulino, the chair of Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, in a Georgia Tech news release.

Close-up of a complex origami structure that researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology created through a 3D-printing process called digital light processing. (Image source: Christopher Moore, Georgia Tech)

Digital Light Processing

Now, he and his team have taken these complexities out of the process using a new kind of 3D printing called digital light processing (DLP), which creates structures by printing successive layers of a liquid resin that is then cured, or hardened, by ultraviolet light.  “What we have here is the proof of concept of an integrated system for manufacturing complex origami,” Paulino said. It has tremendous potential applications, from biomedical devices to equipment used in space exploration, he added.

The process the team developed results in origami structures that are not only capable of holding significant weight, but can also be folded and refolded repeatedly in an action similar to the slow push and pull of an accordion, researchers said.

An Evolution from Zippered Tubes

Paulino first reported the design of these structures, which he called “zippered tubes,” in 2015. However, they were made of paper and required gluing. The current work is an evolution of this research, with the development of zippered tubes composed of polymer that do not require assembly, he said.

To achieve the current results, researchers knew they needed a material that was not only soft, but could be folded hundreds of times without breaking. They developed a new resin that had these properties, exhibiting significant strength after curing. Moreover, the resin played a key role in the fabrication of tiny hinges that are present along the creases where the origami structure folds. These hinges—made of a thinner layer of resin than the object’s larger panels—allow for this multiple-folding capability, researchers said.

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The team used DLP to create several origami structures ranging from the individual origami cells that comprise zippered tubes to a complex bridge composed of many zippered tubes.  In tests, the objects demonstrated an ability to carry about 100 times the weight of the origami structure, as well as withstand repeated folding without breaking, said H. Jerry Qi, a faculty fellow at Georgia Tech’s School of Mechanical Engineering.

Moreover, they seem to hold up in terms of longevity as well. “I have a piece that I printed about six months ago that I demonstrate for people all the time, and it’s still fine,” Qi said.

The team plans to continue its work on different aspects of the process to improve it for the future. For his part, Qi is working to make the printing even easier while exploring ways to print materials with different properties, he said. Meanwhile, Paulino’s team recently created a new origami pattern on the computer that requires them to design a new system in order to “bring it to life,” he said.

Researchers published a paper detailing their work in the journal Soft Matter.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for 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.

SAVE THE DATE FOR PACIFIC DESIGN & MANUFACTURING 2019! 
Pacific Design & Manufacturing, North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, will be back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 5-7, 2019! Don’t miss your chance to connect and share your expertise with industry peers during this can't-miss event. Click here to pre-register for the event today!

 

Medical Adhesives: More than Meets the Eye

Fri, 2018-11-30 16:04

While November is officially Diabetes Awareness Month, many people are only too aware of diabetes year-round. According to the American Diabetes Association, 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4% of the population, had diabetes in 2015. Given all of the developments in medical devices and treatments, managing diabetes has become somewhat easier and more effective. This is thanks in large part to wearable options like glucose monitors—devices that go on the abdomen or the arm, thanks to adhesives, to provide real-time feedback as needed related to glucose levels. Although these solutions seem simple, however, a lot of research and consideration goes into the adhesives used to stick them to the patient—and keep them there. We spoke to Del Lawson, manager of a 3M laboratory that works the medical technologies business, about the key challenges facing medical adhesives for diabetes in particular.

In the management and treatment of diabetes, adhesives play a key role. Yet many variables can affect their performance and success. (Image source: Pixabay)

Lawson explained, “The issue around adhesives is that there are permanent types of adhesives like the Superglues that are out there. The issue with skin is that typically, we want these things to be temporary. They’re not like tattoos or something where you want it to always be there. So we have to balance the desire to have the medical device wearable. And in this case, it might be a continuous glucose monitor that someone with diabetes would wear, which is there when you want it and then, when it’s time to remove that monitor, it comes off without doing any harm to your skin.”

The choice of adhesive obviously depends on the solution and the application. Patients have individual treatment needs. A medical device may only need to be on for a few hours, for example. A device for delivering a drug, like an insulin pumps, may typically be worn for a few days. Glucose monitors are worn for as long as 14 days. The trick is for the device to stay in the same position on the skin but not cause any harm or damage when it’s removed—quite a feat.

To further complicate this issue, everyone’s skin is different based on age, gender, etc. Also, skin changes constantly, but is especially different at various periods in our lives. “First and foremost, there’s the age factor—very sensitive when we’re young and old, fairly tough and resilient when we’re in our middle ages,” Lawson noted. “Then we have what skin is and what its role is, which is primarily as a barrier to keep us from harm from the environment. It keeps moisture in and is our primary defense against bacteria. It helps us control temperature through sweat. We have the sweat glands, hair follicles, bacteria on our skin that normally will do no harm, and the skin changes on a regular basis. We call this the forgotten reptile part of our body because every 14 days, that top layer of skin tends to slough off and get replaced by the epidermis underneath, creating a new layer of cells that rise to the top and then die. This is the brick and mortar that saves us from harm and the environment and things like that.”

According to Lawson, there are three common challenges that arise with medical adhesives as a result of these elements:

1.) Device Falls off Prematurely.

This translates into a need to engineer adhesives for multiple types of skin. “For about 95 percent of the population, our standard adhesives work extremely well and hold in place,” Lawson noted. “But we can’t protect against clothing pulls, etc., so one of the things we’ve engineered over the years is an extension around the device—we call it a ‘skirt’—that gives 5 or 6 mm excess adhesive and the backing that sticks out beyond the edge. This helps to alleviate the lift that can occur. The skirts tend to be the insurance against creating that first little bit of lift that then sort of continues and eventually leads to the device falling off.”

For a small number of patients, their skin—be it oily, dry, or having some other characteristics—simply won’t take as well to the adhesive. Lawson said, “We’re still trying to understand the 5% of the population that we call ‘low stickers.’ In future studies, we’ll try to figure out how to manage those outliers and better determine and identify the root cause. This doesn’t mean that they won’t stick for more than a few days; it just means they don’t hit the target wear time. Say they want 10 days. For low stickers, it may fall off after six or seven days, so they never quite hit the target. Solutions include wearing a strap over it or cover tape over it.”

2. Skin Irritation Occurs.

“There’s a medical condition called MARSI (medical adhesive-related skin injury) and there’s six or seven types of injury that can result from improper usage of an adhesive,” Lawson explained. “You can tear the skin, you can strip off the top layer of skin, you can trap moisture and have something called maceration, you can get an allergic reaction, you can get folliculitis, which is an irritation of the hair, or dermatitis, which is another form of irritation. In all of those cases, what we try to do to avoid those is make sure the right adhesive aggressiveness is used for the type of skin you have and the amount of time you want to wear it. We do a lot of work around biocompatibility and cytotoxicity as well, where we take the chemicals that are used, extract them, do testing to make sure that those materials do not cause allergic reactions or have any toxicity associated with them that would cause a problem when they’re used—especially for extended use, where the body is in contact with them for long periods of time.”

3. Moisture Gets Trapped.

Our skin is dynamic in terms of whether it is dry or moist. Just think of how the body will sweat with exercise or when the body needs to cool down. When the sweat evaporates, it cools the body. Lawson noted, “If we intervene in the wrong way by putting something on the skin that traps that moisture, then in the normal evaporation process, which takes place when we sweat, that moisture gets trapped against the skin. You get that bathtub effect of having been in the bathtub for too long. Normally, when you get out of the bath, it takes half an hour and your skin returns to normal. If you’re wearing a tape of some sort that traps that moisture for an extended period of time—days on end—that skin can become sensitized to the point that an actual injury occurs. For extended wear devices—glucose monitors and things like them, which stay on for many days—we’re trying to manage moisture. We work very hard to make sure that the adhesive itself has the ability to wick moisture and the backings that we use are not just traditional low-moisture vapor transmission material that could trap that moisture. Moisture management is this other secret component to make sure that we do no harm and we don’t create those MARSI-type events.”

Obviously, all of these variables mean that there’s no silver bullet adhesive that will work across different people and stay on for three hours or three weeks. Among the products that 3M provides to customers are traditional acrylate-based adhesives, which work well for many different applications. For their part, silicone-based adhesives avoid sticking to the protein layer so that when you remove the adhesive, it does not take off that top layer of skin. “With sensitive skin,” Lawson noted, “that top layer of skin may be what stands between you and the epidermis underneath, which can cause an injury or a skin tear, which can take some time to heal or be a source of infection. So silicones are again parts of our ammunition that we can throw at these types of applications for the very young or the very old. Or, if you’re in a sensitive location where an injury is more prone to occur.”

Future adhesives made from silicones may enable treatment and management options that are more discreet, can be replaced less frequently, and can be used on a larger variety of patients. (Image source: 3M)

To share its legacy knowledge in the medical adhesive space, 3M has raised its efforts to have scientists do skin presentations and produce publications sharing 3M’s knowledge of adhesives for the people and engineers working on medical devices. The company also put together a web site called findmyadhesive.com, which allows people who are not experts in adhesives to answer a few simple questions and get some guidance as to what sort of adhesive would work best, depending on the application.

What the Future Holds

Development is of course ongoing to further improve adhesives. Lawson said, “We’re trying to engineer silicones to be able to go into that extended-wear (beyond seven days) category. That will be something coming out in the next year—the ability to stick aggressively, not be prone to skin tearing, and able to be used for adolescent, juvenile, and senior populations. While I said there’s no silver bullet, we’re pretty excited about the possibility of silicones being in that range where you could wear them for longer periods of time, avoid injury on sensitive skin, and the people with normal skin may be able to wear them as well and get the performance they desire.”

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Lawson also noted the dream for the diabetes world to eventually be able to provide treatment via a kind of artificial pancreas—a measurement device and a pump all self-contained in a small, easy to use device that measures the glucose and can deliver small quantities of insulin to maintain the glucose level in the blood. Adhesives will play a crucial part in holding that device in place.

In addition, Lawson stated, “I think about psycho-social issues associated with diabetes or any chronic condition where you’re wearing something that advertises that you have a condition. For some people, they may not care. But for younger people or those with different personality types, it can be a traumatic sort of thing. I hope at some point, adhesives combined with the overall device design can make it almost invisible to the wearer to place and forget or for it to be private or camouflaged if you don’t want it to be known that you have this chronic condition.”

Nancy Friedrich is Editor-in-Chief of Design News. With a 20-year background in covering the electronic and mechanical engineering segments, Nancy has expertise across many areas. At Design News, she focuses on wireless and related areas.

Hurry, early-bird discount has been extended until December 8! Join our in-depth conference program with over 100 technical paper sessions, panels, and tutorials spanning 15 tracks. Learn more: DesignCon. Jan. 29-31, 2019, in Santa Clara, CA. Register to attend, hosted by Design News’ parent company UBM.

 

Get Ready for the Newest EV Media Sensation

Fri, 2018-11-30 11:00

Rivian Automotive LLC launched the era of the electric pickup at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, and did it with a bang.

The startup, which plans to build vehicles in a former Mitsubishi plant in central Illinois, unveiled its R1T battery-electric pickup at the historic Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, joined by pop icon Rihanna clad in high-heeled boots.  

The intro was, in short, a media sensation. Autoblog called Rivian “the start-up that stole the auto show.” TIME called the unveiling a “pickup truck event with star power.” Reuters and Wired compared the new company to Tesla. Slashgear went one better, opining that Tesla could learn from Rivian’s business plan. And the Los Angeles Times quoted a source as saying Rivian’s MIT-educated CEO, R.J. Scaringe, is “the version of Elon Musk you’d want your daughter to marry.”

Rivian calls its R1T pickup an “electric adventure vehicle.” (Image source: Rivian Automotive LLC)

The vehicle that inspired all that excitement, however, was an unlikely candidate—not a sleek sports car, but a 7,600-lb, five-passenger pickup truck. Called the R1T, it won’t reach the market until late 2020. But early data reveals that the R1T is decidedly different. Rivian calls it an “electric adventure vehicle,” saying the R1T was “developed to help customers get out and explore the world.” In its press information, the company emphasized storage space that allows users to haul surf boards, fishing rods, and snowboards. Similarly, integrated locking cables enable users to secure bicycle frames to the truck bed. The company also highlighted the R1T’s torque specs, which are said to be good for high-speed cornering and low-speed rock crawling.

Cost Challenge

The key to its capabilities lies in the truck’s use of a “skateboard”—not unlike the ones previously employed on the Chevy Volt and Tesla Model S. The skateboard houses a liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack (specific chemistry still unknown) sized to either 180 kWh (400+-mile range) or 135 kWh (300+-mile range). A smaller pack of 105 kWh (250+ miles) will follow about 12 months after the start of production.

R1T’s design includes a 350-liter “gear tunnel” for storage of such items as snowboards and fishing rods. It also serves as a step for users to lace up their hiking boots. (Image source: Rivian Automotive LLC)

The company’s skateboard houses a liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack, sized to either 180 kWh (400+-mile range) or 135 kWh (300+-mile range). It is used on the R1T pickup and the R1S SUV. (Image source: Rivian Automotive LLC)

The skateboard will serve not only as the foundation for the R1T, but as the power source for Rivian’s other vehicle: the R1S, a seven-passenger SUV. The R1S was introduced at the LA Auto Show the day after the pickup and is also expected to hit the market in late 2020.

Both vehicles will employ a quad-motor powertrain. The motors, deployed at each wheel, will deliver a maximum torque of 826 lb-ft and provide an extraordinary 0-60 mph launch time ranging from three seconds flat to 4.9 seconds, depending on the battery configuration.

Industry observers described Rivian’s approach as a sensible one, given the direction of the American market. Today, they said, most big automakers are shedding their sedans in favor of pickups and SUVs. “Instead of coming out with a tiny compact electric car that’s not in the center of the market, why not try to produce what is already popular in the US, and put it into an electric package?” asked Mike Ramsey, a senior director and analyst at Gartner, Inc.

The challenge, however, might lie in the price of the vehicles and the cost of its batteries. Even at an optimistic pack cost of $200/kWh, a 180-kWh battery pack would run $36,000, experts say.

Hence, the R1T electric pickup will start around $69,000 before the federal tax credit of $7,500. Similarly, the R1S SUV will start around $72,500 before credits.

Those starting prices would place the two new vehicles squarely at the high end of the market. The R1T, for example, would be at least $30,000 more expensive than the two most popular US pickups: the Ford F-150 and the Chevy Silverado. For that reason, it is believed the vehicle will compete more directly with luxury pickups and SUVs, like those from Land Rover.

The all-electric R1S SUV seats seven and can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in as little as 3.0 seconds. (Image source: Rivian Automotive LLC)

The question, Ramsey said, is whether there’s enough consumer interest in SUVs and pickups at that level of the market. “They might be able to build a market, but will it be a significantly sized market?” he asked. “Is it going to be a big enough market for them to survive? The market isn’t always there when you’re talking about $70,000, $80,000, and $90,000 vehicles.”

Ramsey pointed out that luxury manufacturers, such as Aston Martin and Jaguar Land Rover, have struggled at the high end.

Thirty-five-year-old CEO Scaringe clearly believes the market has room for Rivian, however. An engineer, he earned his PhD while working in MIT’s Sloan Automotive Laboratory, and launched Rivian in 2009. During the past nine years, he has kept the company in stealth mode while developing its new vehicles and reportedly acquiring backing from such companies as Sumitomo Corp. of America and Saudi Arabian conglomerate Abdul Latif Jameel Co.  

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Rivian’s plan to launch its business at the high end of the market mirrors that of Tesla, which started a decade ago with the all-electric Roadster—a sports car with a base price of $80,000. But analysts point out that Tesla’s survival as an automotive startup is rare. And even then, the company still is not profitable after almost 16 years.

“With all startups, the question is always, is it real?” Ramsey said. “This is an interesting company and an interesting car, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 34 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

By Engineers, For Engineers. Join our in-depth conference program with over 100 technical paper sessions, panels, and tutorials spanning 15 tracks. Learn more: DesignCon. Jan. 29-31, 2019, in Santa Clara, CA. Register to attend, hosted by Design News’ parent company UBM.

Siemens Pushes Cybersecurity to the Highest Levels

Fri, 2018-11-30 05:00

Over the past few years, cybersecurity has become a major concern for those deploying advanced automation systems. With major security breaches making headlines month after month, security is threatening to put a damper on digitalization. Cybersecurity has gained the attention of the C-suite globally. But Siemens wants to take it higher—up to the leaders of the largest governments. The company is asking for cybersecurity to be a major topic at the 2019 G7 meeting.

Siemens is pushing to make cybersecurity important to government as well as technology companies. (Image source: Siemens)

“The understanding of the importance of cybersecurity has to reach the highest leaders. Merkel and Trump have to get it,” Eva Schulz-Kamm, Siemens global head of government affairs, told Design News at a cybersecurity meeting in Munich this week. “We are risking our democratic values with security. The products are getting smarter, but they’re also getting dangerous. “

The Charter of Trust Initiative

The issue of cybersecurity has become a major concern as companies decide whether to implement digitalized systems. “If you talk with a CEO of a mid-cap company, you have to convince that CEO to invest in the digitization,” said Schulz-Kamm. “In the smart factory, it’s essential that you provide the evidence that these products are not only smart, but secure.”

Siemens has emphasized that cybersecurity is critical to the success of the digital economy. The company believes that people will actively support the digital transformation only if the security of data and networked systems is guaranteed. “Digitalization and cybersecurity are two sides of the same coin. Customers want the smart solutions. They find it really attractive. But they wonder if they can trust the solution,” said Schulz-Kamm. “They say, ‘Do I really want to open my factory when it’s been running smoothly? Do I want to take the chance that others can open it and disrupt it? What is the evidence and proof that a digital system can be trusted?’ We created the Charter of Trust to show what we mean by trust.”

Earlier this year, Siemens teamed up with other governmental and business partners to present the Charter of Trust (CoT) initiative. One of the initiative’s key goals is to develop and implement rules for ensuring cybersecurity throughout the networked environment. Those who have joined the CoT along with Siemens include MSC, IBM, Daimler, Allianz, Airbus, SGS, Deutsche Telekom, Dell, Cisco, TÜV Süd, NXP, Enel and AES, and Atos.

The Charter of Trust identifies three key areas that need to be addressed in the world of cybersecurity:

1.) Protect society from cyber threats and risks.

2.) Increase trust in digital solutions and provide competitive advantage.

3.) Accelerate customers' digital transformation and boost digital business.

The Stuxnet Worm as a Catalyst for Change

Schulz-Kamm noted that Siemens shifted its thinking about security when the Stuxnet worm hit in 2010. The worm targeted Siemens specifically. Many believe the worm was developed by the U.S. and Israel governments as a cyber hit on Iran’s nuclear program. The damage was aimed at Siemens PLCs. “Stuxnet was the moment when we completely reset our cybersecurity system in Siemens,” she said. “We didn’t know what our vulnerabilities were until then. We had to rethink it.”

The whole notion of smart technology hinges on trust, according to Schulz-Kamm. “There is no smart solution without security. Everybody is talking about smart, but it’s not smart if it can be attacked,” she explained. “If the customer cannot trust it, then everybody should take that seriously. Digitalization and cybersecurity have to move forward hand in hand."

Raising the Bar on Trust

Schulz-Kamm sees the Charter of Trust as a way to convince companies and governments that the technology companies are making security a crucial priority. “The CoT is an agreement that asks all members to take it seriously. We really want them to follow the principles CoT sets out,” said Schulz-Kamm. “We aim to end up with 30 partners. We started it as Europe-centric, but now we have the U.S. involved. We’ve pushed it up to the highest levels, and we’ve asked that it be a key topic at the G7 in 2019. Governments have to look at it carefully and act on it.”

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The goal of the CoT is to set out principles for secure systems and create KPIs to measure the effective security of those systems. “We can make a difference in cybersecurity. It doesn’t mean the world will be secure, but we can do something about it,” said Schulz-Kamm. “We want to raise the bar on cybersecurity. We need to protect the data, prevent damage, and create a reliable foundation. It’s a KPI for trust.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 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.

SAVE THE DATE FOR PACIFIC DESIGN & MANUFACTURING 2019!     
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Addressing the Issue of Mischaracterized Materials

Fri, 2018-11-30 04:00

Engineers who use laminate materials for printed circuit boards need to be aware that the manufacturers’ numbers describing those materials may not always be correct, experts will tell attendees at the upcoming DesignCon 2019 conference.

“The buyer needs to be aware,” Bill Hargin, director of everything for Z-zero, LP, told Design News. “If the laminate manufacturer is giving you numbers that are 20% away from reality, that might be something you want to avoid.”

Bill Hargin of Z-zero: “It’s like the wild, wild West out there right now.” (Image source: Z-zero, LP)

Hargin, along with CCN president Don DeGroot, will discuss the matter in a DesignCon session titled, Apples-to-Apples PCB Laminate Characterizations. Their message is an important one for users of copper-clad laminate materials because misleading characterizations can lead to signal and power integrity issues in circuit boards. In many cases, engineers are unknowingly introducing uncertainty into their designs, they said.

Two parameters—the dielectric constant (Dk) and the loss tangent (Df)—are particularly important and often mischaracterized in the tables published by material manufacturers, they added. “We’ve seen some materials that match up on the dielectric constant, but miss on the loss tangent,” DeGroot said. “And we’ve seen other materials that match up on the loss tangent, but miss on the dielectric constant. Not all of the data is bad, but you need to know that you can’t just plug in the numbers from the tables.”

At their session, Hargin and DeGroot will discuss the need for engineers to make their own measurements. Their two companies are teaming up on a methodology that would enable engineers to do that in a simple and accessible way. “We’re not inventing a new method,” DeGroot said. “We’re making a modification to an existing IPC test method. And we’re making it in such a way that people can put a slip of material in a clamp, hit a button, and be assured they are getting the right answer.”

In essence, Hargin and DeGroot are aiming to clear up some of the mystery that surrounds materials testing. Today, they said, there are too many methods for characterizing the dielectric constant and loss tangent of a material. As a result, engineers are often hesitant to make the measurements themselves because they’re not sure which method to use. “It’s like the wild, wild West out there right now,” Hargin told us.

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Their goal is to make engineers aware of the potential problems, as well as the solutions. “The thing that every engineer needs to be ‘woked’ to is that their numbers aren’t always matching,” DeGroot said. “You need better data. And how do you get that data? Do it yourself.”

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 34 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

By Engineers, For Engineers. Join our in-depth conference program with over 100 technical paper sessions, panels, and tutorials spanning 15 tracks. Learn more: DesignCon. Jan. 29-31, 2019, in Santa Clara, CA. Register to attend, hosted by Design News’ parent company UBM.

 

Composite Process Developed to Use Sun's Heat Energy

Fri, 2018-11-30 03:00

While more people are catching on to the benefits of solar energy in the United States, it still only accounts for less than 2 percent of electricity production. However, a new material and manufacturing process from researchers at Purdue University could help boost that number by making the use of solar-based heat energy more efficient.

Researchers from Purdue—collaborating with the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Department of Energy’s (DoE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory—set out to solve a key problem with the materials and process used to convert solar heat energy into electricity, they said in a Purdue news release. In doing this, they can make solar energy cost-competitive with fossil fuels in the United States, which still account for more than 60 percent of electricity production.

A recent development would make electricity generation from the sun's heat more efficient by using ceramic metal plates for heat transfer at higher temperatures and at elevated pressures. (Image source: Purdue University illustration/Raymond Hassan)

Storing Heat

“Storing solar energy as heat can already be cheaper than storing energy via batteries, so the next step is reducing the cost of generating electricity from the sun's heat with the added benefit of zero greenhouse gas emissions,” said Kenneth Sandhage, a professor of materials engineering at Purdue who led the research.

Today, what are called “concentrated” solar power plants typically convert solar energy into electricity by using mirrors or lenses to concentrate a lot of light onto a small area. This generates heat that is transferred to a molten salt, which is then transferred to a "working" fluid—supercritical carbon dioxide—that expands and works to spin a turbine for generating electricity, researchers said.

To lower the cost of solar-powered electricity in this process, the turbine engine should generate even more electricity for the same amount of heat, which means the engine needs to run even hotter, researchers said. However, the problem with the current process is that the heat exchangers that transfer heat from the hot molten salt to the working fluid are made of stainless steel or nickel-based alloys. These materials get too soft at the desired higher temperatures and at the elevated pressure of supercritical carbon dioxide, limiting their current performance.

New Materials From Rocket Science

To solve this issue, Sandhage worked with fellow researcher Asegun Henry, formerly at Georgia Tech and now at MIT, to draw on previous experience developing composite materials for applications such as solid-fuel rocket nozzles that can handle high heat and pressure. They came up with a combination of two materials for a composite for the heat exchangers—the ceramic material zirconium carbide and the metal tungsten.

The Purdue team created plates with customizable channels comprised of the new composite for tailoring the exchange of heat, Sandhage said. Simulations conducted at Georgia Tech guided the design of the plates’ channels.

The team then conducted mechanical tests at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and corrosion tests at Wisconsin-Madison. These tests demonstrated that researchers could tailor the new composite material to successfully withstand the higher temperature and high-pressure supercritical carbon dioxide required for generating electricity more efficiently than today’s heat exchangers, Sandhage said.

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Able to Scale

Georgia Tech and Purdue researchers also completed an economic analysis proving that the heat exchangers could scale in manufacturing at comparable or lower cost than stainless steel or nickel alloy-based ones, making the new solution more cost-effective as well, Sandhage said. “Ultimately, with continued development, this technology would allow for large-scale penetration of renewable solar energy into the electricity grid,” he said. “This would mean dramatic reductions in man-made carbon dioxide emissions from electricity production.”

Researchers have recently received funding from the DoE to develop and scale the technology further. They also filed a patent application for their work. A YouTube video demonstrating the work is available online.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for 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.

SAVE THE DATE FOR PACIFIC DESIGN & MANUFACTURING 2019! 
Pacific Design & Manufacturing, North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, will be back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 5-7, 2019! Don’t miss your chance to connect and share your expertise with industry peers during this can't-miss event. Click here to pre-register for the event today!

 

The 12 Automotive Startups to Watch in 2019

Thu, 2018-11-29 16:00

 

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

A Solution to the Aluminum Air Battery Issue

Thu, 2018-11-29 05:00

Metal air batteries are among the lightest and most energy-dense electrochemical storage devices. They use an anode made from a pure metal and a cathode that uses oxygen from the air. Metal air batteries are typically primary (non-rechargeable) single-use batteries. During discharge, an oxidation reaction occurs at the anode and a reduction reaction at the cathode, which contains a porous membrane that allows oxygen from the air to become a reactant. An electrolyte (usually aqueous) allows the transfer of ions from the cathode to the anode during discharge.

Aluminum Is Interesting

Aluminum air batteries are particularly interesting for several reasons. The energy density (watt-hours per kilogram) is as much as five to ten times that of current production lithium ion cells. Aluminum metal for the anode is extremely light and, as the cathode is air, the overall package can be much lighter than most other battery types. Aluminum is also cheap—especially when compared to the rising costs of lithium. Aluminum air batteries have been used as experimental range extenders for electric vehicles, supplementing the built-in rechargeable batteries. They have also found limited uses in the military for aircraft and underwater vehicles, where their high power and light weight are of great benefit.

Unfortunately, aluminum air batteries also have some limitations. Thus far, the design has only been practical for non-rechargeable batteries. During the electrochemical reaction of the aluminum anode with the electrolyte, the aluminum is converted into a hydrated alumina that can no longer take part in the reaction. Work is underway to develop replaceable aluminum anode electrodes so that the battery can have more than one useful life.

A sample of aluminum is plunged into a beaker containing a layer of oil floating on water. When the sample enters the water layer, all the oil that clung to the surface on the way down is repelled and quickly falls away, showing its property of underwater oleophobicity. (Image source: MIT)

Losing Their Mojo

Another problem with aluminum air batteries is how quickly they lose their charge. The batteries can be stored for long periods of time in their unused condition. Once they are switched on, however, they begin to degrade very quickly. Where a typical commercial lithium ion battery might lose about 5 percent of its charge after a month of storage, an aluminum air battery will lose about 80 percent of its charge over the same period, as the electrolyte reacts with the aluminum anode.

Several methods have been tried to reduce the corrosion reaction of the aluminum anode. Changes in the electrolyte formulation, for example, can reduce the degradation of the material, but also have been found to drastically reduce the power output of the battery. Others have tried pumping the electrolyte out of the cell when the battery is not in use, and pumping it back in when battery power is needed. This approach works, but aluminum corrosion products can often clog the plumbing system that pumps the electrolyte.

MIT researchers have built upon the electrolyte pumping concept with a new system that introduces an oil barrier between the aluminum anode and the electrolyte when the battery is not in use. It pumps the oil away when the battery is called on to produce electricity. In an MIT news release, energy loss of just 0.02 percent per month is reported for the new system.

Oil and Aluminum

According to the MIT news release, “A key to the new system is a thin membrane placed between the battery electrodes. When the battery is in use, both sides of the membrane are filled with a liquid electrolyte. But when the battery is put on standby, oil is pumped into the side closest to the aluminum electrode, which protects the aluminum surface from the electrolyte on the other side of the membrane.”

Aluminum has another property that is taken advantage of with the MIT battery: the fact that it is hydrophilic (water-attracting). When the aqueous (water-based) electrolyte is pumped back into the cell as it is reactivated, the electrolyte easily displaces the oil. The oil is repelled from the aluminum surface thanks to a property of aluminum called “underwater oleophobicity”—when aluminum is immersed in water, it repels oil from its surface.

While metal air batteries can be made from a variety of metals, such as sodium, lithium, magnesium, zinc, or iron, aluminum is the preferred choice. In the news release, MIT professor of engineering, Douglas P. Hart, explains that in addition to its low cost, aluminum is one of the “highest chemical energy-density storage materials we know of.” Hart goes on to say that many experts think that aluminum air batteries may be the only viable replacement for lithium ion batteries and for gasoline in cars.

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Hart believes that the new MIT system will have a variety of important applications. With the existing versions, he explains, “You can flush it and delay the process, but you can’t really shut it off.” However, if MIT’s new system were used, for example, as a range extender in a car, “you could use it and then pull into your driveway and park it for a month, and then come back and still expect it to have a usable battery…I really think this is a game-changer in terms of the use of these batteries."

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.

SAVE THE DATE FOR PACIFIC DESIGN & MANUFACTURING 2019! 
Pacific Design & Manufacturing, North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, will be back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 5-7, 2019! Don’t miss your chance to connect and share your expertise with industry peers during this can't-miss event. Click here to pre-register for the event today!

 

Drone Technology Evolves for the Construction Industry

Thu, 2018-11-29 04:00
Drones such as the Explore1 from Skycatch (shown) leverage machine learning processing on the edge to save time and costs on construction sites. (Image source: Skycatch)

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are typically thought of in terms of warfare or entertainment (i.e., film and photography) applications. Yet the technology is growing to unbelievable heights and finding use cases in enterprise as well—particularly in the construction industry.

Today, most clients actually look for a construction team with drone technology. Using drones for construction has made constructing procedures easier and less time consuming. The purpose and use of the drone can change according to the situations, time, people, and the plan. But drones are used in different ways and for different purposes on a construction site, including:

  • Remote Viewing: Looking at an entire construction site or area is difficult from any point of view. Even a photo or video that covers the entire site will be difficult to capture. Drones can be used to view the entire site from the top of the area. By getting an overhead view, workers can see the entire structure with every nook and corner covered.

  • Progress Tracking: Drones in a construction site can be used to analyze the progress of the work already accomplished, current work, and the work yet to be implemented. It can give accurate information about the day-to-day progress of the construction site. The site owner does not need to visit the site daily to look at the work going on because the information adopted from the drones will be accurate.

  • Materials Handling: Drones can also be used to track the count and information about the materials being used. By having an exact count of this at any point in time, the owner can analyze the amount spent and the amount of materials being used. Along with this, the owner can calculate the exact overall budget of the project as it progresses.

“There are millions of changes happening every day on a construction site, so capturing daily progress with daily drone data capture is the single best way to capitalize on drones,” said Jacqueline Guilbault, marketing director at Skycatch, a company that designs drone systems and solutions for enterprise applications. “Some of our customers even fly multiple times a day because their sites evolve so quickly.” The team at Skycatch said the greatest benefits they have found from drones in construction include: quality assurance and control, the ability to bid more competitively, saving time on surveying, increasing safety, preventing expensive rework, and keeping track of schedule changes.

Guilbault noted that satellite maps are outdated by years and not very high-resolution. But using drones to capture data daily allows teams to assess the specific day's progress, identify potential issues before they evolve into larger problems, and plan the next day’s work.

“Users can also go back and identify what was done on the project to the day. And having that historical archive has proven invaluable as customers use them for everything from verifying invoices to resolving claims,” Guilbault said.

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The way Skycatch designs drones involves spending time with their construction customers on their job sites, so they can detect firsthand what their customer’s needs entail. During the designing process, Guilbault said, “…We optimize the camera, the data collection, and the processing speed of the flight data. Our ruggedized enclosure, proprietary camera, and the precision RTK [Real Time Kinematic] GNSS [Global Navigation Satellite System] we have built is specifically designed for high-stakes business. Our onboard computer ties together the positioning from the high-precision GPS and the timing from our custom high-res, mechanical shutter camera so that you know exactly where each photo was taken to within centimeter-level accuracy.”

Skycatch recently entered into an agreement with Japanese construction equipment manufacturer, Komatsu, under which Komatsu will distribute Skycatch's fully autonomous Explore1 drone and accompanying Edge1 base station to Komatsu sites. According to a press statement from Komatsu, more than 10,000 job sites across Japan have been using the Skycatch platform to eliminate the need for ground control points (GCPs).

Think of GCPs as sort of thumbtacks on a map. Marking certain locations in an area of interest (i.e., a construction site) allows drones to more accurately map the area. Here, Skycatch's platform relies on the use of the Edge1, a base station that provides drones with the location data they need without requiring a cloud-based connection or service. The Edge1 integrates a GNSS receiver—enabling signals from various location tracking technologies, such as GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, and Galileo—with an Nvidia TX2 mobile GPU to allow for machine learning processing in the device, on the edge.

Drones like Skycatch's Explore1 (manufactured by DJI) are equipped with many technologies that have enhanced their usage in various industries, such as obstacle detection sensors. While these sensors scan the entire area, the software algorithms help in the production of 3D images, which are scanned by the sensor. 3D maps are eventually produced from these images. These 3D maps help the flight controller to sense and hence avoid objects.

Enabling edge processing in its platform allows the Skycatch to create maps and, based on location signals, create predictions in the field much faster than a system that requires cloud connectivity. According to the company, the Edge1 base station, combined with the Explore1 drone, can deliver data as accurate as 5 cm in arbitrary or local coordinate systems within 30 minutes.

“We’re best known for our level of accuracy, time to data, and ease of use,” Guilbault said. “We’ve automated on-site data processing with the Edge1 GNSS base station by integrating machine learning, artificial intelligence, and edge computing so that the data can be delivered to you on-site and the customer can make important decisions faster.”

Nichole Heydenburg is a Content Writer for Apex Waves, an electronic test equipment company based in Cary, NC.

GM to Stop Production of Chevy Volt

Wed, 2018-11-28 13:25

Chevy Volt, the face of vehicle electrification at General Motors for the past eight years, will be discontinued in March 2019, the automaker announced this week.

The Volt, which combines a gasoline engine with an electric powertrain, didn’t fit GM’s long-term direction, which calls for battery-electric models rather than plug-in hybrids. “There were a number of different reasons, but the main one was that we’re committed to an all-electric future,” GM spokesman Kevin Kelly told Design News.

GM rolled out the Chevy Volt concept vehicle at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show to throngs of publicity. (Image source: General Motors)

The Volt announcement was part of a sweeping corporate transformation that involved the discontinuation of five different models, the shuttering of four plants, and layoffs of 14% of GM workers. Other discontinued models include the Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac CT6, Chevy Impala, and Chevy Cruze.

The Volt was the biggest and most surprising portfolio announcement, however—largely because it was accompanied by so much publicity from the moment it was introduced as a concept vehicle at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show. Within hours of its rollout, every major news venue from The New York Times to Newsweek wrote about it. Within days, more than 250,000 people had responded to a GM.com survey saying they would consider buying a Volt. The vehicle even spawned its own independent fan web site.  

But the Volt apparently no longer fit in the rapidly changing electric vehicle landscape. Sales never quite hit GM’s expectations, reaching a high of 24,739 units in the US in 2016, according to InsideEVs.com. “The problem with the Volt is that it was an extremely elegant piece of technology to solve the problems that electric vehicles posed in 1999,” Mike Ramsey, senior director and analyst for Gartner, Inc., told Design News. “All of a sudden, the idea of the Volt as a perfect solution became undermined by its own compromises. It had an engine and a battery, limited sizing and styling. It became a compromise vehicle.”

In 2017, GM announced that it would roll out 20 new electric cars by 2023. To underscore its effort, the automaker released a photo of eight different vehicles silhouetted underneath drapes. (Image source: General Motors)

Rumors swirled around the Volt for more than a year, since GM announced last year that it would produce 20 new electric vehicles by 2023. The automaker said its decision was based on “learnings” from the development of the Chevy Bolt EV. “We’ve cracked the code,” Kelly told Design News at the time. “We know how to do it.”

In contrast, the Volt was becoming more of a challenge, given its need for an engine, battery, fuel tank, motors, inverters, power controls, and other dual-powertrain components. “It was just a challenge economically to make it work—especially since the economics of electric vehicles are getting better,” Ramsey said.

Still, experts don’t know whether consumers will embrace battery-electric vehicles or whether the Bolt will fare any better than the Volt. Last year, pure electrics made up only about one-half of a percent of the vehicles sold in the US, suggesting that the move to full electrics is fraught with risk. “All of the companies that are plowing headlong into EVs are taking a leap of faith,” Ramsey said. “But that leap of faith is based on the idea that oil is a finite resource.”

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In essence, the Volt served as a bridge to the era of full electrification, experts say. “It was a fantastic vehicle, and it will be remembered as one of GM’s technological highlights,” Ramsey said. “But it makes sense that they’re going to discontinue it.”

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 34 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

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Simulation Tool Aims to Correct Additive Manufacturing Distortion

Wed, 2018-11-28 05:00

Siemens has developed the additive manufacturing process simulation solution, Simcenter 3D Additive Manufacturing (SC3D AM), to predict distortion during 3D printing. The product is integrated into Siemens’ end-to-end additive manufacturing solution, which is designed to assist manufacturers in designing and printing useful parts at scale. The simulation tool builds on both Siemens' digital innovation platform and the Simcenter portfolio.

The additive manufacturing process simulation can determine the distortion or shrinkage that occurs through the heat involved in 3D metal printing. (Image source: Siemens PLM)

The simulation tool uses a digital twin to simulate the build process prior to printing, anticipating distortion within the printing process and automatically generating the corrected geometry to compensate for these distortions. The distortion correction is important for constructing a first-time-right print. It’s a necessary part of gaining the efficiencies required of a fully industrialized additive manufacturing process, according to Siemens.

Based on Individual Materials

When metal parts are 3D printed, the method used to fuse the layers of the print typically involves heat. As the layers build up, the residual heat can cause parts to warp inside the printer, resulting in various problems—from structural issues within the part itself to print stoppage. These issues cause many prints to fail, making a first-time-right print very difficult. Simulating the printing process helps to alleviate many of these problems.

Simulations from the SC3D AM tool are designed to overcome the distortion and shrinkage that occurs with particular 3D printing materials. “SC3D AM is designed to predict distortion based on an enhanced inherent strain method. The material parameters for simulation are calibrated based on a printed test specimen,” Ravi Shankar, global director of product marketing for Simcenter at Siemens PLM, told Design News.This allows users to test different materials in the simulation. Each material that is used in the simulation is calibrated to get meaningful and high-quality results. Siemens provides a set of materials with the installation. The material definitions are stored in the tool's material database.”

Specific Printers and Generative Designs

The simulation also takes into account whether the object will be produced by a printer from Markforged, EOS, HP, GE, or some other printer. “SC3D AM gives the user high flexibility in defining the process parameters. A combination of printer and material can be defined and stored in the database,” said Shankar. “For the process parameters, information like layer thickness, recoating time, hatching distance, and much more are defined as well as laser properties. This allows the user to specify printer-specific properties and therefore take into account if an object is printed on different printers with different process parameters.”

The additive manufacturing process simulation can determine whether generative-designed metal parts retain their full functionality through the printing process. (Image source: Siemens PLM)

SC3D AM can also accommodate the generative design (GD) process, so new and unusual design structures can be simulated to determine whether the design will retain its structural integrity through the printing process. “The process simulation can be executed on the results of a generative design process. Typically, GD processes generate faceted models to represent bionic shapes easily. The faceted data can be directly used in the process simulation without any geometric reconstruction,” said Shankar. “Additionally, printer-specific constraints can already be defined during the generative design process. Wall thickness constraints can be defined, and the optimizer can search for design proposals that have as few supports as possible for a predefined print direction.”

The Siemens AM process simulation tool is expected to be available in January 2019 as part of the latest NX software and Simcenter 3D software.

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Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 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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Novel Device Treats Damaged Nerves, then Dissolves

Wed, 2018-11-28 04:00

One of the Holy Grail inventions of medical devices is one that is bio-compatible, serves a therapeutic function, and can be reabsorbed into the human system when its work is finished. Researchers at Northwestern University and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have developed what they said is the first example of this future for medicine with an implantable, biodegradable wireless device. This device speeds nerve regeneration to improve the healing of a damaged nerve.

Regrowth of Nerves With Electrical Stimulation

Materials scientists and engineers at Northwestern and neurosurgeons at Washington University put their heads together to develop the device, which can deliver regular pulses of electricity to damaged peripheral nerves in rats after a surgical repair process. The team showed in tests that this accelerates the regrowth of nerves in the rats' legs, enhancing the ultimate recovery of muscle strength and control, according to a Northwestern University news release.

“These engineered systems provide active, therapeutic function in a programmable, dosed format and then naturally disappear into the body, without a trace,” said John A. Rogers, professor of materials science and engineering, biomedical engineering, and neurological surgery at Northwestern, and a pioneer in bio-integrated technologies. “This approach to therapy allows one to think about options that go beyond drugs and chemistry.”

The bioresorbable electronic medical device developed by the team is tiny—just the size of a dime and the thickness of a sheet of paper—and can operate wirelessly for about two weeks before naturally absorbing into the body, researchers said.

A bioresorbable device developed by researchers to provide stimulation to nerves to promote healing is showed on a model of a human nerve. Researchers at Northwestern University and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis invented the device. (Image source: Northwestern University and Washington University School of Medicine)

Replacing Pharmaceuticals

Scientists envision that such devices can not just complement, but even replace pharmaceutical treatments or implants for various medical conditions. The key is that they provide treatment for an allotted period of time directly at a site where such treatment is needed. This type of treatment can reduce side effects or risks associated with medications or other types of medical implants, including surgeries to implant and replace devices, researchers said.

Specifically, the device wraps around an injured nerve and delivers electrical pulses at selected time points for days before dissolving. A transmitter outside the body powers and controls the device remotely.

The team so far has tested the device only in rats with injured sciatic nerves, using it to send signals up and down the legs and control the hamstrings and muscles of the lower legs and feet. The device provided one hour per day of electrical stimulation to the rats for one, three, or six days—or no electrical stimulation at all—while researchers monitored the rats’ recovery for the next 10 weeks. 

No Adverse Effects

What the team discovered is that any electrical stimulation was better than none at helping the rats recover muscle mass and muscle strength in the damaged areas, said Dr. Wilson Ray, an associate professor of neurosurgery, biomedical engineering, and orthopedic surgery at Washington University. In addition, the more days of electrical stimulation the rats received, the more quickly and thoroughly they recovered nerve signaling and muscle strength, he said. Moreover, researchers found no adverse biological effects from the device and its reabsorption. 

“Before we did this study, we weren’t sure that longer stimulation would make a difference, and now that we know it does, we can start trying to find the ideal time frame to maximize recovery,” Ray said. “Had we delivered electrical stimulation for 12 days instead of six, would there have been more therapeutic benefit? Maybe. We’re looking into that now.”  

The team controlled the precise number of days the device remained functional inside the body by varying the composition and thickness of the materials in the device, Rogers said. Some of the newer versions of the device they developed can provide electrical pulses for weeks before degrading—which takes the place of a surgery to remove the device, he said.

Transient Electronic Devices

“This notion of transient electronic devices has been a topic of deep interest in my group for nearly 10 years—a grand quest in materials science, in a sense,” Rogers said. “We are excited because we now have the pieces—the materials, the devices, the fabrication approaches, the system-level engineering concepts—to exploit these concepts in ways that could have relevance to grand challenges in human health.”

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Researchers envision that the device also can work as a temporary pacemaker and as an interface to the spinal cord and other stimulation sites across the body, showing utility beyond just the peripheral nervous system. So far, the device has not yet been tested in humans. However, researchers believe it shows promise as a future therapeutic option for nerve-injury patients and will continue their research to build a human-compatible device for future medical use.

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

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for 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.

SAVE THE DATE FOR PACIFIC DESIGN & MANUFACTURING 2019! 
Pacific Design & Manufacturing, North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, will be back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 5-7, 2019! Don’t miss your chance to connect and share your expertise with industry peers during this can't-miss event. Click here to pre-register for the event today!