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Updated: 5 hours 13 min ago

Carbon 3D-Prints Test Swabs, Face Shields to Help Relieve COVID-19 Shortages

16 hours 10 min ago

Digital manufacturing company Carbon announced today that it is producing around one million 3D-printed nasopharyngeal swabs weekly for COVID-19 testing and has the capacity to manufacture millions of them per week. Carbon also reported that it is collaborating with its customer adidas to print and donate face shields to U.S. healthcare workers and first responders.

The Resolution Medical Lattice Swab is manufactured using Carbon's Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) technology and KeySplint Soft Clear material from Keystone Industries. FDA-registered Resolution Medical is distributing the test swab, which has been classified as a Class I 510(k) Exempt in vitro diagnostic medical device.

The hollow structure of the Resolution Medical Lattice Swab optimizes specimen collection. Image courtesy Carbon.

As has been stressed repeatedly by medical experts and media covering the pandemic, patient testing swabs are among the most critical medical supplies needed by healthcare providers. Expanding the availability of testing supplies and testing frequency is a vital part of the timely identification of COVID-19 patients and helping to curb the pandemic’s spread, said Carbon in its news release.

The new Resolution Medical Lattice Swab has a conformal lattice design made with Carbon’s Lattice Engine software. The hollow structure of the lattice is designed for specimen collection efficiency, with a geometry that is also flexible to promote functionality and comfort for patients, said Carbon. The product is now undergoing clinical evaluation at multiple institutions, including Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), a teaching hospital affiliated with Harvard Medical School, and Stanford Medicine.

“We are proud to be collaborating with digital manufacturing company Carbon, to produce the Lattice Swab,” said Shawn Patterson, founder and President of Resolution Medical. “We have worked together urgently to get this product into the hands of healthcare workers to help address immediate needs for increased COVID-19 testing. At scale, we plan to supply over one million swabs per week.”

“Triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Carbon’s engineers and material scientists quickly sprung into action to identify the KeySplint Soft Clear material as having the right balance of properties to make a soft, flexible swab with appropriate strength that could be printed with precision using the Carbon M2 at 75 micron pixels,” said Dr. Joseph DeSimone, Carbon co-founder and Executive Chairman. The material is indicated for the fabrication of orthodontic and dental appliances in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The swabs, which are biocompatible and autoclavable, are currently printed hundreds at a time with a unique serialization present on each strip to facilitate traceability. “Resolution Medical, our production partner since 2018, has been amazing in leading the effort to launch the product,” added DeSimone.

In partnership with adidas, Carbon is producing and donating 18,000 face shields each week. Image courtesy Carbon.

Carbon also announced today its partnership with adidas to produce PPE face shields using the material they developed for adidas' Futurecraft 4D athletic shoes. Silicon Valley–based Carbon is currently producing 18,000 face shields each week using its DLS technology, which grows objects from a pool of resin rather than creating them layer by layer. It has the capacity to produce more than 50,000 of the personal protective gear each week across its global network, said Carbon. The open source design is available on the company’s website and is free to use for anyone with a Carbon printer and material.

10 Candy-Colored Cars for your Easter Basket

20 hours 32 min ago

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

Apollo 13 Movie Was Engineers' "Failure is Not an Option" Moment in the Spotlight

21 hours 22 sec ago

Image source: Universal Pictures

April 11, 2020 is the 50th anniversary of the launch of NASA’s Apollo 13 lunar mission, and this year is also the 25th anniversary of the 1995 film version, directed by Ron Howard. It is this theatrical version of events that is the definitive story of Apollo now for many people, an outcome that was predicted at the time of the movie’s filming by Apollo 15 astronaut Dave Scott, who served as a consultant on the film.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to go to the moon for a long time,” Howard recalled Scott telling him. Speaking for the bonus features on the Collector’s Edition DVD, Howard told the story of Scott’s prediction that future moon voyagers would look back at the film as documentation of the Apollo era.

“Everybody involved is going to be dead and all you’re going to have is some of this archival footage and you’ve seen how incomplete that is,” Howard said, speaking for Scott. “But you know what they’re going to be able to do? They’re going to be able to look at this movie, Apollo 13, and say ‘That’s how they went to the moon.’”

The film scored nine Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture, with Tom Hanks as Commander Jim Lovell, Kevin Bacon as Backup Lunar Module Pilot Jack Swigert, the late Bill Paxton as Command Module Pilot Fred Haise, Gary Sinise as grounded Prime Lunar Module Pilot Ken Mattingly and Ed Harris as Flight Director Gene Kranz. It won two Academy Awards, for Best Sound and for Film Editing and grossed 174 million 1995 dollars at the box office.

Hollywood isn’t known for its keen study of the outside world, but a book proposal by astronaut Lovell caught the attention of people who brought the story to director Howard. “The more I kept learning about the actual mission,” he said, “the more I realized just how dramatic the truth, in this particular instance, is.”

He soon recruited A-lister Hanks to play Lovell. “There’s something about the story of getting back home, which is one of the seven great stories of literature: How do you get back home? And that’s what this is,” Hanks said.

As a longtime space geek, Hanks was already predisposed to favoring the film. “I’ve always wanted to play an astronaut. I’ve always wanted to shoot a vast section of a movie completely encapsulated by nothing but metal, glass and switches, and I finally had a chance to do that,” he said. “This is real dream-come-true stuff here.”

1995 marked the dawn of computer-generated animation, and Apollo 13 uses the early technology to good effect to create some flight scenes. Fortunately, the production crew recognized the shortcomings of CGI and limited its use. For the dramatic splashdown scene near the end of the film, they employed a scale model of the command module on real parachutes, dropped from a helicopter to provide the necessary realism.

But the real challenge was replicating the zero-gravity environment inside the spacecraft during the flight. To gain some insight into this, the cast and crew arranged for a flight in NASA’s zero-g simulating KC-135 cargo aircraft. The experience motivated Howard to investigate actually building sets inside the plane and shooting the movie inside it during zero-g flights. 

“If we really would have had to try to create the weightlessness with wires (on the actors), I sort of shudder to think what the movie would have really looked like,” Howard said.

Instead, the cast flew 612 25-second cycles in the Vomit Comet, totally 3 hours and 54 minutes of weightlessness. “The KC135 was used for most shots where you see our whole bodies,” explained Bacon. “Then we did a lot of the closeups on the ground, and they cut amazingly well. I can’t even remember if this is a KC135 shot or this is a ground shot.”

“Nobody wanted to let this story down,” Howard stated. “Not the actors, not the crew members, no one. I didn’t have to make any motivational speeches on this one. People were coming to work every day ready to give a hundred and fifty percent.”

“I had an acute sense of anxiety that I would be the one who became violently ill and totally incapacitated and a failure to the group,” said Paxton.

Further, with expert advice available, the actors could be confident that they weren’t doing anything grossly unrealistic. “I’m really impressed with the authenticity of how we’re doing this,” observed Apollo 15 commander Dave Scott. “They are interested in getting this accurate and precise, down to not only the word, but the inflection of the word, and the meaning behind the word.”

“With Dave Scott from Apollo 15 here every day,” said Hanks, “we don’t have to do that thing that can happen in films where the director says, ‘Flick some switches.’” 

“Working on the film was kind of like cramming for your final exam or something,” said Ed Harris. “You’ve got all this information in your head, you’re really focused on it, you’re doing your homework the night before about the scene you’re going to do the next day.”

Nevertheless, the film’s defining characteristic turned out not to be the heroism of the astronauts, but that of the engineers on the ground who fought to find a way to save the astronauts. Apollo 13 made stars of engineers and brought the phrase “Failure is not an option,” into popular culture.

“One of the first things that we did once we committed to making the movie was go to Houston, see mission control,” said Howard. “And I realized just how intense it was. How personally they took it. And I began to try to find ways to tell their story too.”

“Once the rocket leaves the launch pad, the flight director, he’s God,” Harris noted. “He’s got more power than the President of the United States at that point. He calls the shots.”

Howard put the same attention to detail that went into shooting authentic weightless scenes into recreating NASA’s mission control in Houston. “Ron is an absolute fanatic about every little detail being correct,” said Apollo 13 flight dynamics officer Jerry Bostic, who consulted on Apollo 13 and worked on the set daily. “I spend 14 hours a day here and I leave and I go look for the elevator,” he laughed. “Because the real control center in Houston was up on the third floor, and I forget because this thing is so real.

“You have a great story and you have all this incredible technology and you have something that was very important historically,” observed Bacon. “This moment was, in so many ways, NASA’s finest hour.”

For engineers, the film Apollo 13 might have been their finest hour too.

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

Screens for Large Appliances have a New Touch

21 hours 41 min ago
Touchscreens have been a part of high-end appliances like Samsung's Family Hub refrigerator (shown), but now they're coming to lower-cost appliances as well. (Image source: Samsung Electronics)

Thanks to the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) touchscreens are finding themselves in more and more places – including our home appliances. Touchscreens have been a part of high-end appliances for a while, but the future is seeing them become a part of more and lower-cost appliances.

Driven by internet-connected applications, features, and services, a touchscreen human machine interface (HMI) solves several operating environment issues and provides aesthetic options as well. Ongoing advances have made touchscreens even more practical and addressed performance and cost issues to extend their use into more mass-market, cost-sensitive appliances. One particular new development, differential mutual (DM) technology, is key to expanding the use cases of touchscreens in appliances all over the home. The added value of DM to a touch sensor more than offsets the increased cost at many points in the appliance’s life from assembly to customer usage.

A Touchy-feely Relationship to Appliances

Let's look at a techie couple to explain what's happening with touchscreen appliances today. We'll call them Pat and Leslie:

Pat and Leslie are a couple that embrace new technology to simplify and improve their lives. They often enjoy spending quality time together in their home, especially in the kitchen and, surprisingly, even the laundry room.

Pat and Leslie both wear silicone cooking gloves or thick dishwashing gloves that have bristles. These gloves give you the dexterity to grab pots, ingredients, and utensils, and even interface with a touchscreen. The only problem is that the gloves are so thick the touchscreen can't detect their fingers.

As a second example, imagine the situation where Pat and Leslie are working in the kitchen preparing for invited guests. One of them drops a pan or heavy pot on the screen's cover glass and it cracks. With today’s designs, this could mean that they have to shut down the stove and disappoint their guests.

A third example involves cooking pasta. While handling the pasta strainer, Leslie drips the salty water onto the touchscreen causing a false touch event where the stove turns back on - even after Pat had previously turned it off. This is a potentially dangerous water immunity issue that could result in a burn with today’s touchscreens.

These are just a few examples of what can change with recently-announced touchscreen technology. However, the right touchscreen technology can address these common or soon to be common use case problems as well as manufacturing and service issues.

A Touchy Subject – New Technology to the Rescue

A touchscreen system is comprised of an array of drive electrodes, receive electrodes, and the circuitry in the touch IC to faithfully detect a user’s touch. Measuring nanocoulombs of charge, the touch IC controller is an extremely sensitive component. Simply touching the touchscreen with a finger changes the incumbent charge of the touch sensors of the screen by a tiny amount that needs to be consistently interpreted properly. Noise can inject significant charge into the sensor to confuse the controller, especially one without sufficient noise immunity.

Similar to the audio noise cancellation that occurs in noise-canceling headphones, a patented approach called differential mutual (DM) technology or DM noise cancellation allows the application of very high gain without amplifying the electrical noise in touch controllers.

In contrast, in the single-ended touch sensing that all regular touch controllers use today, gain applied to common-mode noise increases both the signal and the noise, so the signal to noise ratio (SNR) stays the same at best and in some cases reduces it – especially if the gain saturates the touch controller’s analog front end. In DM, the sense lines are treated in pairs to provide differential signaling, which is used in many communication areas such as Ethernet, USB, HDMI or anywhere high-speed data is sent over cables especially for long distances.

Common mode noise is injected onto both pairs carrying the signal as well as the negative of the signal, it affects both wires the same way. With DM, the signal of the two pairs is subtracted and since the noise is identical on both wires, it cancels, leaving just the desired signal. Since differential signaling removes the common-mode noise, very high gain can be applied to amplify the desired signal without increasing the noise. The increased gain allows the touchscreen sensor to detect valid signals through thick gloves, thick cover lenses, and even airgaps above the touch sensor.

The Advantages of Differential Mutual Technology

DM technology allows the use of bare fingers or gloves through very thick, protective cover lenses. Figure 1 shows the stack up of the glass, a cover lens between the touch sensor, and the finger – the surface that is touched. Historically, the cover lens has had a limited thickness, being made of around 4-mm glass or 2.2 mm of plastic. With DM, a much thicker cover lens can be used. Now, lenses up to 10-mm glass or 5-mm plastic can be supported with excellent performance.

Figure 1. The red arrow shows the protective cover that can be increased and/or have an isolating gap with DM technology. (Image source: Chad Solomon / Microchip Technology)

This is quite important for several reasons.

First, cook tops currently are 3 to 4 mm of glass for an inductive cook top and they are quite large – up to 42 inches diagonally – and quite heavy. Sensing touch through such a thick lens consistently is very difficult, especially with the added noise from the inductive burners.

DM technology provides additional performance margin to sense touch accurately and precisely even through very thick lenses. Historically, controllers could work with bare fingers but they would struggle, especially in the presence of noise, to provide reasonable performance. The additional performance margin of DM allows the support of thick gloves on top of an inductive cooktop as discussed earlier.

Not only can thick gloves be used with a single finger (which was possible with some advanced touch controllers in the past), but now thick glove multi-finger operation is possible thanks to DM. As a result, Pat and Leslie can use multi-finger gestures like pinch, zoom, and rotate. These are convenient actions while searching through a recipe containing small images and text. It also provides better watersplash immunity, as well as improved noise immunity because the signal levels are so much higher that they can be sensed through the thick material.

Meanwhile in the laundry room, laundry machines tend to have plastic cover lenses as shown in Figure 2a because curved surfaces enhance the aesthetic appeal. The rounded front panels differ considerably from the flat boxy shape of kitchen appliances, where glass is more common. The plastic lenses have been limited to 2 to 3 mm using materials like poly methyl methacrylate (PMMA) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) between the touch sensor and the finger.

The thickness limitation was determined by what the previous generation of touch controllers could sense. With DM, industrial designers have more flexibility to use an even thicker material if it is desired. Now, the thickness can be extended up to 5 mm to provide more rounded shapes and the use of different materials. See Figure 2b.

Figure 2a. (Image source: Chad Solomon / Microchip Technology)

 

Figure 2b. The rounded edges desired on washing machines and driers can easily be achieved and extended with DM sensing technology. (Image source: Chad Solomon / Microchip Technology)

Another aspect of DM that impacts the industrial design of appliances is the ability to add an air gap to the display. Adding an air barrier between the touch sensor and the cover lens avoids gluing the cover lenses to the touch sensors, today’s common design approach. Optically clear adhesive (OCA) glue is used in a bonding process where the sensor is physically glued to the lens. This allows a thinner stack up with very good quality optics. However, the process is expensive since it is difficult to achieve without incurring air bubbles between the display and the sensor. Minimizing air bubbles adds to the process cost for either glass or plastic lenses. A third-party bonding expert usually performs this process which adds several steps to the appliance manufacturing operation.

With DM and the added air gap above the touch sensor, the appliance OEM can self-assemble the display with the touch sensor onto the front panel in their own factory. In-house assembly avoids sending the front panel and display module to a third-party optical bonding expert to perform the special gluing, since this type of gluing is rarely performed in the OEM’s factory.

This can significantly change an OEM’s process, especially when dealing with large heavy glass panels such as an inductive cook top. In low-cost assembly regions, it is not unusual for an OEM to ship a large 42 inch diagonal, 4-mm-thick panel to another country to perform the bonding and then shipping the glued assembly to the factory. In addition to the shipping costs which can be significant, breakage can occur during the shipping process. Figure 3 shows the process.

Figure 3. (Image source: Chad Solomon / Microchip Technology)

Eliminating the shipping cost, breakage and the time it takes for the processing outside of the appliance manufacturer, allows the OEM to offset any additional cost for a more capable touchscreen controller. In fact, these savings may totally cover the cost of the touch controller. Among the problems that can occur with external processing are issues related to who owns the yield loses when breakage occurs - the display vendor with inadequate packaging, the carrier, or another? Also, regardless the size of the lens, even manufacturers with smaller displays, such as those in microwave ovens, can benefit by eliminating the external manufacturing process steps and improve their control over the supply chain. Increased freedom and flexibility also allow the use of a second touchscreen display or cover lens sources and ability to easily substitute when required.

A final benefit of the air gap between the touch sensor and the cover lens allowed by a DM controller, and perhaps the most significant, is improved field serviceability. With the display module no longer glued to the front panel, if the front panel gets scratched or broken, the service technician only has to replace the cover glass. Since the display and touch sensor electronics are not replaced as they currently are, the customer has a much lower service expense. Alternatively, if the touch sensor display module fails, just this portion of the appliance can be replaced.

These same benefits occur during the manufacturing process. Currently, once they are glued together, breakage of the display or failure of the touch controller module anywhere in the manufacturing process means replacing the entire control panel assembly. With the air gap above the touch sensor, only the failed portion must be replaced. This increases yield and reduces production costs.

Finishing Touches

The development of DM technology was driven by a combination of customer inputs to solve a specific problem and analysis of the “as is” use cases to provide a more desirable situation through innovative controller design. Customer feedback helped to refine DM and has shaped the timing of implementing DM in further controller updates.

The patented technology already exists, so appliance makers can start considering how it will impact their next designs and future products. It provides flexibility, freedom, and options to industrial designers as well as cost reduction and manufacturing efficiency and improved service in the actual operation.

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Chad Solomon is a member of Microchip Technology’s human machine interface division. He focuses on business development for emerging touchscreen markets such as home appliances and manages a global network of ecosystem partners who develop touchscreens and displays, using Microchip’s touch technology.

COVID-19 Has Makers Building Their Own Ventilators

21 hours 55 min ago
YouTuber Johnny Lee used an Arduino Nano and a repurposed CPAP machine to create an open-source ventilator. (Image source: Johnny Lee / GitHub)

Before we get into this: You should absolutely not be building an Arduino-based ventilator as a substitute for an actual FDA-approved medical device.

As more news comes in of medical equipment shortages and measures being taken to overcome them by companies and groups big and small, the maker community has been experimenting with ways to build their on ventilators.

YouTuber Johnny Lee came upon a novel, low-cost ventilator solution and created a video around his idea for feedback from engineers and medical professionals.

Lee realized that a CPAP machine, for people with sleep apnea, uses a blower that is simply a brushless DC motor that be driven by a standard electronic speed controller – meaning it can also be driven by an Arduino. Connecting an Arduino Nano to the CPAP machine’s blower, and using a repurposed CPAP face mask and a DC power supply, allowed him to use software to control the speed of the blower – creating a simplified ventilator.

Lee posted details of his project on GitHub and is also requesting further input.

He also posted a video of his project:

 

Lee is not the only one looking at low-cost, open-source medtech solutions to the COVID-19 crisis. A Facebook group, called Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies, has formed with the goal of “[Providing] local makers with medically vetted, open-source plans and support in organizing local value chains so you can create and distribute much needed protective gear and equipment to your local communities.” The group currently counts over 69,000 members and is hosting a hackathon around creating an open-source ventilator, among other projects.

Thankfully, those involved in these projects have been very open that their work is not medically-cleared and are encouraging anyone interested in jumping on board to exercise caution and to be aware of the limitations of their projects.

Armstrong Subero, an author and computer engineer, posted a blog addressing some risks of Arduino-based ventilators as well as some guiding principles for makers looking to build their own. He has warned that any Arduino-based design should not be used for medical purposes unless absolutely necessary.

“This is because platforms like the Arduino were designed as a platform to be used in a learning environment. They were not designed for the real time, safety-critical design that is required to build ventilators,” Subero wrote.

The Arduino’s versatility has led many people to use it for applications, such as real time systems, that it was never intended for. “If you have no choice you can use the Arduino for design of a ventilator system. But the lack of debugging makes it difficult to do so and increases the likelihood of bugs in your firmware, and increases the risk of failure within the system,” Subero wrote.

He does however offer several tips for improving design on the sofware and hardware side such as using an RTOS, using a platform with libraries that meet safety requirements, using a watchdog timer, and adding a feedback system (a full list of his tips are on his blog).

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

First All-Plastic Brake Pedal for Porsche Taycan Battery-Electric Sports Car

Tue, 2020-04-07 21:19

In a battery-electric sports car, every gram of weight counts. That is why the first mass-production vehicle in this segment, the Porsche Taycan, is using an all-plastic brake pedal. This safety-critical component has been developed by BOGE Elastmetall GmbH, a global provider of vibration technology and plastics applications for the automotive industry, in close cooperation with the Lanxess High Performance Materials (HPM) business unit. It owes its high mechanical strength and very low weight to a thermoplastic composite design. Its structure comprises an insert made from Tepex dynalite, a continuous-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composite from Lanxess, and several tapes.

All-plastic brake pedal for a battery-electric sports car with an insert made from Tepex dynalite, a continuous-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composite from Lanxess. Photo: Lanxess AG

“The composite structure makes the brake pedal 50 percent lighter than a comparable steel design. The structural component meets the demanding load requirements thanks to the tailor-made fiber-layer construction of the Tepex insert and additional local tape reinforcement. Extensive automation allows the geometrically complex safety-critical component to be manufactured efficiently and in a way that is suitable for large-scale production,” explains Dr. Klaus Vonberg, an expert in lightweight design at HPM's Tepex Automotive Group.

Tepex dynalite uses a thermoplastic matrix that is typically reinforced with layers of continuous glass-fiber fabric. The brake pedal for the battery-electric sports car uses a composite structure with a polyamide 6 matrix, which contains unidirectional fiber layers inside and fabric layers with fibers arranged at 45° angles on the two covering layers. The inner layers are what give the component its excellent tensile and bending strength.

Tapes are thin plastic strips with unidirectionally oriented, high-strength continuous fiber systems embedded in the thermoplastic matrix. Multiple tapes with glass-fiber rovings are used in the brake pedal to reinforce the bottom side of the component. Since the tapes and the Tepex insert consist of mutually compatible plastic matrices, the tapes can simply be welded onto the Tepex insert using a laser. This results in tailor-made laminates with fiber layers that follow the load paths precisely and are adapted to the exact load-specific component requirements. The covering layers of the insert with their 45° fiber layers, combined with the tapes on top, thereby ensure the high torsional strength of the pedal.

“This tailor-made fiber-layer structure and the combination of organic sheets and tapes have made it possible to reduce brake pedal weight even further while simultaneously achieving the exceptionally high level of mechanical characteristics that such a safety-critical component needs to provide,” says Dr. Daniel Häffelin from the Innovation Center at BOGE Elastmetall. There are currently four different brake pedal designs in mass production based on an all-plastic version. For all component versions, the load paths are also optimized to suit the various torsion directions.

The brake pedals are manufactured in an automated process using hybrid molding in short cycle times suitable for large-scale production. The method integrates draping of the Tepex insert and the tapes in the subsequent injection molding process. The first stage of production involves aligning the tapes precisely using optical measuring systems and then positioning them on the Tepex insert so that they can be welded to it. This assembly is thermoformed and then back-molded with polyamide 66 by an injection molding process.

New opportunities are opening up in the field of electric vehicles for thermoplastic composite structures with tailored fiber orientation. According to Vonberg, “Examples of applications for Tepex inserts include front-end systems and bumper beams, brackets for electrical and electronic modules, trunks and spare wheel wells, battery housings and covers, structural components in the vehicle's 'greenhouse' section and structural trims in the underbody area to protect the battery.”

The low carbon footprint relative to metal-based structures is another point in favor of the composite design with Tepex and tapes. Thermoplastic composites are not only much lighter than such alternatives, but the hybrid molding method used means that they also enable functions such as guides, holders and fasteners to be integrated in a way that saves weight, energy and costs. With components of this type, there is no need for time-consuming further processing such as deburring or post-process tapping, as this is typical for metal parts.

Bioplastics Could Help Reduce Plastic Pollution, but First They Must Capture Market Share

Tue, 2020-04-07 13:02

As a percentage of total plastics consumption, bioplastics struggle to gain market share from fossil-fuel-based plastics despite their claimed environmental benefits, according to a report from IDTechEx, Bioplastics 2020-2025. Produced from biomass feedstocks, bioplastics could help solve the problem of plastic pollution in the environment.

Bioplastics such as polylactic acid, polyhydroxyalkaoates and polybutyl succinate are biodegradable and can have similar, if not identical, functionalities to their fossil-based counterparts. Despite their environmental benefits, however, bioplastics are still struggling to wrest market share from conventional plastics. The IDTechEx report explores the factors helping and hindering adoption of bioplastics.

Image courtesy IDTechEx

Barriers to more widespread adoption of bioplastics start with one major issue — they are still more expensive to produce than petrochemically derived materials.

Additionally, although most consumers say they want brands that are sustainable, few are actually willing to pay extra for it. The willingness to pay more falls sharply for products with a so-called green premium over 5%. Oil prices, which fell in 2014 and have stayed low since then, are making it even harder for bioplastics to compete on price, said IDTechEx. As a finite resource, oil prices cannot remain this low forever, but until prices rise, bioplastics producers will have to work hard to cut production costs. (The recent huge drop in oil prices has made virgin resins even less expensive, putting alternatives such as bioplastics even further behind the sustainability curve.)

Another issue is that, despite proofs of concept in academic settings, the transition to industrial-scale production is far from straightforward. Many companies have gone bankrupt trying to make the jump, said Dr. Michael Dent, one of the report’s authors. “A conservative approach to production methods and the complexity of high-volume fermentation do not marry well,” Dent said in the report’s summary. “Furthermore, there is a dearth of capital investment to help academic innovators and early-stage startups expand production, both from VCs and from governments.”

However, governments are increasingly introducing policy changes to help overcome those challenges. IDTechEx notes that in 2019 the EU updated its Bioeconomy Strategy, making funding available for circular economy projects. Also last year, the San Francisco Bay Area introduced a range of restrictions on single-use plastics. Bioplastics companies are increasingly employing innovative technical approaches to reduce costs, including using synthetic biology. That said, the road forward for bioplastics to gain significant market share remains tortuous.

Engineering Salaries Remain Strong

Tue, 2020-04-07 05:15

 

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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.

Does Science Fiction Influence Technology or Vice Versa?

Tue, 2020-04-07 04:26

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." ~ Albert Einstein

Science fiction has long been an inspiration for science and especially technology. The early Apple Newton was in some ways a first attempt at the tricorder from the 1960’s Star Trek TV series. What effect does science fiction really have on technology? Are we seeing the impact of such inspirations in the biomedical space? These are a few of the questions I asked Lou Anders, a long-time and well-known editor and author of science fiction and fantasy novels. 

Design News: What affect does science fiction have on technology?

Lou Anders: There is a wonderful website called “Technovelgy.com” – where science meets fiction – on which they list every sci-fi idea that has become reality. The last time I went to the site, they had something like 2,500 entries listing both the device and the expression of the device. A great many of the devices are there because someone read about them in a sci-fi story.

Design News: How about that other way around, i.e., what affect does technology have on Sci-Fi?

Lou Anders: William Bison and Bruce Sterling created the cyberpunk movement in science fiction. Gibson first wrote about cyberspace on a manual typewriter. Later, he talked about getting his first computer, sent to him by a company that wanted his endorsement. He took apart to the computer and was absolutely depressed to find a disk inside. He said, “well, this is just a record player.” He had expected to see some kind of crystalline thing with red lasers shooting out it. Instead, he found a record player. He said he never would have written cyberspace in “Neuromancer” if I had known that it was implemented on little more than a record player.

Design News: Record player? I assume what he found was the computer’s hard drive or perhaps an early floppy disk. Both systems do look like record players. That brings up an importance difference between science fiction and technology innovation. Most technology improvement, as brought forth by engineers, is accomplished by incremental changes. That’s because most designs are constrained by cost and time-to-market pressures to use existing technology. 

Lou Anders: Do you recall Microsoft’s Project Natal demonstrations? It was the Nintendo Wii minus any kind of physical controller. A camera sat on top of the Xbox monitor just tracks what you’re doing. I saw the demo that they showed their game developer partners event. Microsoft was showing their partners what was coming so the partners could start thinking about what games to put on it. Here’s one example: A kid walks into the living room. On the screen is a monk, who sees him walk in. The monk spontaneous says, “ I see you have returned for another lesson.” Then the kids and the monk battle each other. The kid has no hardware on him at all, not controller or anything. But his image suddenly appears on the screen and his motioned are copied realtime into the game. It blew my mind.

Design News: I knew that Intel and others have been developing commercial grade facial recognition systems, but this application is amazing. It is far more interesting than the digital signature application that I’ve written about. Variations on that theme include headbands that respond to thoughts in the brain, as well as recent developments in chips implants.

Lou Anders: I wouldn’t mind wearing a chip, as soon as I was sure they couldn’t spam it. Nothing frustrates me more than having my computer’s browser stop working when you can’t make a connection. I’d hate to not be able to access my own brain.

We have an author named David Louis Edelman who wrote a trilogy called The Jump 225 Trilogy. It’s a world where, at some point, there was a robot revolution which caused a backlash against technology. Now the society is rebuilding. The way that the people deal with their fears of external technology is to restrict all tech to internal systems. Everybody has nanite threads throughout their bodies and software companies compete for the rights to build the software that runs on it. In this society, you have small 4 and 5 person companies who compete to write this software. One programs is called Poker Face 3.5, which you run during a business meeting so you don’t give anything away during negotiations. All of these software programs are loaded into your body. Whenever a new program comes out, it’s ranked based upon popularity and performance.

But remember; this author wrote this book in 2000. Again, the model is not huge corporations, but smaller five person teams writing quick software that is dumped into a data sea and then ranted instantly. It mirrors what have become the applications on an iPhone!

The crux of the story, though, is the creation of a program called “multi-real,” which allows instantaneous parallel processing of anything you might want to do. So the nanites in a person’s body that run multi-real can do anything. It’s a real game changer for that society.

Design News: Even in this example, science fiction touches upon reality. Embedded multicore systems are everyone, although not yet in our bodies. But few of these multicore devices are true parallel processors. I recently interview a multicore software expert at Intel – Max Domeika – who reiterated that the software challenges in true multicore processing are significant. Here, too, we find that technology moves by increments. Although multicore processors are now readily, software technology is lagging. Most programs are still using non-parallel languages on multicore like C/C++. We must use legacy system for economic and other reasons. That is the inertia. There are “game changing” technologies, like superconductors, nanotech, and other. But they take a while to be realized. Still, the direction we select may be greatly influenced by our imagination – not the engineers, but the writers of Sci-Fi.

Lou Anders: I remember a quote from Robert Anton Wilson: "The future begins first in imagination, then in will, then in reality."

Image Source: Photo by Stefan Cosma on Unsplash

Design News: The theme of our conversation seems to be one of man’s merging with his creations, resulting in the connectivity of everyone at some bizarre level - hardware being the commodity, software being the dynamic variable. How about other areas of technology, like biomedical?

Lou Anders: I think that we have only scraped the surface of genetic engineering. I remember reading somewhere that there is a 60 year cycle from the invention of the technology and the revolutionizing of the world by that technology. We build the first computers and they are giant things that take up whole suites of business building. Now, 60 years later, they have become miniaturized and everyone has one on their watch. Genetic engineering is not yet 50 years old. At some point in the near future, we’ll have a genetic revolution that will be equivalent to the computer revolution. Right now, we’re at the stage where transistors are so cheap that you can buy a birthday card that players music and then throw it away! That will happen with genetic engineering.

Design News: I wrote up a lecture by the late Freeman Dyson on this very topic: “Freeman Dyson, the Great Tidier, Lived Between Two Worlds.”

Lou Anders: Some say this genetic revolution is still 50 to 60 years away. But that is still the 21st century. For the last 40,000 years, we have just used plows to till the earth and hit each other with sticks. Then suddenly, in the last couple of hundred years, we are ramping up asymmetrically. So if I don’t see a genetic revolution in my life time, my children and grandchildren will. That’s still an astronomical leap. I firmly believe that we will not end this century as one human race. We’ve already cracked the genome. Within the next 50 years we will be able to tinker with our own genomes to the point where people will start splicing themselves into what every they want to be. We will be a multiplicity.

Michio Kaku, famous physicist and technology evangelist, has said that 90% of what you see on Star Trek to be real by the end of this century.

Design News: Which 90%, I wonder. Some of the technology on Star Trek was pretty wild.

Lou Anders: It’s interesting what he puts downs as possible and not possible. He’s one of those who think that artificial intelligence – a form of genetic engineering – is a lot further out in time. He thinks that thought processes in the brain at an order of magnitude deeper than people think they are. On the other hand, he thinks the teleporter technology and faster than light travel is right around the corner.

Design News: Right around the corner – direct conversion of mass to energy and vice versa? That doesn’t seem possible. It may be scientifically possible, but to bring it to reality is a daunting task for the engineer. As an engineer, you must move forward cautiously, even pedantically. Of course, you need to be able to dream the future, true. That’s where our science fiction brethren help.

Lou Anders: Science fiction, like science, has to be extremely conservative. Sci-Fi is the art of taking the improbable (not the impossible) and making it seem convincing. Fantasy is taking the impossible and making it seem credible. Sci-Fi is taking the improbable and making it seem convincing. 

One of my favorite quotes of all came from Paramount Studios. DC Comics wanted to create a Star Trek-Superman cross over. They asked Paramount if Superman can go to the Enterprise? The people at Paramount said “no,” since Superman isn’t real, which meant by extension that Star Trek was real because it uses technology.

Design News: Science fiction seems to help shape the future of our technology. What does the future hold for Sci-Fi?

Lou Anders: It’s an odd time for Sci-Fi. It’s being outsold by fantasy and fantasy is being outsold by urban fantasy. That’s any book you see with a girl’s back with a tattoo on either her shoulder or right above her buttock. It actually represents a confluence of the Sci-Fi genre with romance readers.

I think the Sci-Fi category is migrating out of adult and back into Young Readers (YR). Perhaps this is where is should have been, since the golden age of science fiction is 12. At the same time, Sci-Fi is migrating to the mainstream literature, with writers like Cormac McCarthy, Michael Chibon, and everyone else.

I met someone recently who told me that they were a huge fan of Sci-Fi . They went on to describe the physics of faster than light travel and warfare in space. His descriptions sounded a lot like the Mass Effect games form Bioware. Turns out I was right, and he had never read any science fiction. All of his admiration and knowledge came from playing games. This is a little bit what Sci-Fi is up against. Its audience are teenage boys which are getting their Sci-Fi fix from the video games or TV.

Design News: Seems like a bit of an incomplete fix.

Lou Anders: I’m surprised at the sophistication of some of those games and not just in science fiction. Red Dead Redemption 2 is every bit as good as any western film I’ve ever seen. Fantastic dialogue and narrative.

What seems to be happening is that people are getting tired of just blowing the same stuff over and over again in these games. They are looking for more sophisticated narratives. I think long term we will see video games looking to actual writers to bring in the complexity.

It’s the same thing that is happening in Hollywood. The Matrix films – are they progressively better films or worse? Setting aside the narrative, you can see that the technology in the films is improving by leaps and bounds. But what happens when you can do anything with special effect, when they are ubiquitous? Then narrative becomes important again. You need special effects married to a good story. I think that is starting to happen in gaming. Just look at Walter John Williams who wrote the dialog for Spore. We certainly see a wealth of fantasy and science fiction on TV and film. Of course, Michael Chabon is now show-running the new Star Trek: Picard series, so we continue to see parallels between video games and science fiction.

Image Source: Image by 024-657-834 from Pixabay 

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

Retro-Flavored Two-Wheel Social Distancing Inspiration From Honda and BMW

Tue, 2020-04-07 04:10

This concept BMW R 18 was more rakish than the new production version, below. Image source: BMW

BMW and Honda are both looking to the past to inspire new riders with a pair of new motorcycles just in time for Spring. The BMW R 18 is a production model base on the R 18 retro-cruiser-style concept bike of last year, while the Honda CB-F concept is a modern take on the sporty 1981-’82 CB900F.

Although the Honda is labelled a concept, it looks entirely production-ready and likely represents a very accurate preview of a 2021 production model. Each represents a different era, aesthetic, and engine configuration, but most riders would surely be proud to own either.

Honda CB-F concept bike. Image source: Honda Motor Co.

BMW’s newest model introduces the brand’s newest engine, a gargantuan 1,802cc horizontally opposed, air-cooled “boxer” twin in the company’s traditional style. However, this engine represents an all-new “Big Boxer” architecture that adds a reinforcing center main bearing to the crankshaft to help withstand the engine’s 91 horsepower, and more critically, its 117 lb. ft. of torque.

The Big Boxer’s design itself is also a bit of an historical tribute. It references the R 5/R 51 (1936 – 1941) and R 51/2 (1950 – 1951), which were notable as BMW’s only boxer engines to employ two camshafts. The new R 1800 follows the example of those engines, with one cam for each cylinder, which permits shorter, lighter pushrods for improved valve stability at higher engine speeds.

The new production-ready BMW R 18. Image source: BMW

Another BMW boxer tradition is a driveshaft rather than a chain powering the rear wheel, and the R 1800 follows its forebears’ example. Like the earlier models, the R 1800’s shaft is exposed rather than enclosed, providing a view of its action transferring power from the 6-speed transmission.

All of these nods to heritage could create the mistaken impression of an old-tech machine, but the R 1800 also boasts available adaptive lighting for its LED headlight, keyless starting, and rider-selectable modes to control the bike’s stability control system.

1982 Honda CB900F. Image source: Kevin Wethington

Honda doesn’t flip its calendar quite as far back as BMW, partly because, well, Honda’s calendar doesn’t go as far back as BMW’s does! The Japanese motorcycle giant chose instead to focus on a fondly remembered machine from the heyday of the Honda versus Yamaha sales battle in the U.S.: the CB900F.

Like that beloved production model from the early ‘80s, the CB-F concept bike also features a 900cc double overhead cam inline four-cylinder engine. As a concept at this point, Honda has provided few technical details, forcing us to wait for the likely production announcement to come later this year.

Honda CB-F concept. Image source: Honda Motor Co.

Some important differences between the new bike and the original include a switch to liquid cooling for the engine from the old model’s air cooling, and replacement of the old twin-shock rear suspension system with a modern monoshock rear suspension acting on an aluminum single-sided swingarm.

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

Bonus photos of the black-and-orange color scheme of the 1982 Honda CB900F, which I think looks better:

Image source: American Honda Motor Co.

New Sustainable Building Materials Developed from Trees

Tue, 2020-04-07 03:49

Researchers have identified two tree species that they think are a good source of wood for a new sustainable type of building material that could promote a more environmentally friendly construction industry.

The eastern hemlock and eastern white pine—two trees found natively in forests of the northeastern United States—potentially have the structural stability to be used as cross-laminated timber, or CLT, researchers at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst discovered.

Panels of cross-laminated timber (CLT) developed from eastern hemlock and eastern white pine are placed in a strength-testing machine by researchers at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst. (Image source: Peggi Clouston/UMass Amherst)

CLT is a type of mass timber used for wall, floor, and roof construction that could support better forestry management, one of the strategies scientists are eyeing to address climate change, said Peggi Clouston, a professor of wood mechanics and timber engineering in the university’s School of Earth and Sustainability.

CLT also has key sustainability characteristics that make it more environmentally friendly than concrete, including a much lower carbon footprint.

“This is the future--prefabricated, panelized wood,” Clouston said in a press statement. “It’s far more efficient and there’s far less waste than site construction. It’s less time- and labor-intensive than building with cast-in-place concrete.”

To identify if the new tree species that could be used to create CLT, Clouston and her research team developed composite building panels comprised of wooden boards from eastern hemlock and eastern white pine trees growing in the region near the university.

Once constructed, researchers tested them for strength to see if they could be used in construction by breaking them in a strength-testing machine.

Passing the Strength Test

After analyzing the results bycomparing them to engineering requirements, researchers found that both tree species met building standards, with eastern hemlock outperforming pine in their tests.

Researchers published a paper on their work in the Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering.

Eastern hemlock trees are an especially attractive for use in CLT because their wood is actually considered to be of low value for other industries because of a wood defect called ring shake. “Turning this particular species into CLT turns a very low-value material into a very high-value building product,” she said.

This type o tree also is under attack by an insect called the hemlock wooly adelgid which doesn’t harm the wood but can kill the tree in five to 10 years after infection.

For this reason, salvaging wood from eastern hemlock trees is a priority for forest-management services, especially as it is well-suited to provide low-carbon materials for construction--a burgeoning trend in this industry.

“The testing we did shows that anyone who would want to invest in a local plant has a reason to do so,” Clouston said. “The prospect of being able to use local wood in CLT and manufacture it locally makes it all the more sustainable by avoiding the environmental cost of transporting the material long distances.”

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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.

ESA Plans to Send Humans into Space

Tue, 2020-04-07 02:59

As we reach the 50th anniversary of the troubled Apollo 13 Moon mission, we’re just now preparing to send humans back into space for exploration, even for colonization. Unlike the Apollo missions, NASA is now welcoming assistance from the European Space Agency (ESA) as well as private companies. The ESA will contribute a significant portion of the technology and work to get people back into space.

While it has been exciting to watch the various unmanned expeditions around the solar system and beyond, over the past few decades, the whole world has been itching to gwt people back into space exploration. That will begin this decade. Plans are developing between NASA, the ESA, and selected private companies. They are putting together the technology to include humans on space expliditions. Design News reached out to the ESA to get an idea of what to expect from human-based space trips in the coming years.

The International Space Station

The ESA already has personnel on the International Space Station. The ESA will expand its presence by calling on industry to help extend the capabilities of Europe’s Columbus laboratory. The goal is to support science and technology in space beyond 2024.

The Columbus lab is Europe’s single largest contribution to the International Space Station. (Image source: ESA)

The Columbus lab is Europe’s single largest contribution to the International Space Station. Launched in 2008, it is the first permanent European research facility in space. The laboratory has supported over 185 science and technology demonstrations, with plenty more to come.

The lifetime of the station expected to stretch through 2030. ESA plans to use that opportunity to modernize and enhance the lab’s capabilities – starting with an industry workshop at ESA’s technical heart ESTEC in Noordwijk, The Netherlands in November of 2020.

The head of ESA’s astronaut center, Frank De Winne, noted that the modernization of Columbus over the next 10 years will provide room for greater commercial involvement. “That will free up public funds for investment in future space exploration to the Moon and Mars,” said De Winne.

The Gateway to the Moon

The space Gateway is the next structure to be launched by ESA and its partners. During the 2020s, the spaceship will be assembled and operated in the vicinity of the Moon, where it will move between different orbits and enable the most distant human space missions ever attempted.

 The Gateway will offer a staging post for missions to the Moon and Mars.  (Image source: ESA)

Placed farther from Earth than the current International Space Station, the Gateway will offer a staging post for missions to the Moon and Mars. Its flight path is a highly elliptical orbit around the Moon, bringing it both relatively close to the Moon’s surface but also far enough away to make it easy to pick up astronauts and supplies from Earth.

ESA administrators noted it’s like a mountain refuge: It will provide shelter and a place to stock up on supplies for astronauts on their route to more distant destinations. The spaceship will also offer a place to relay communications, and it will act as a base for scientific research.

The Gateway will weigh around 40 tons and will consist of a service module, a communications module, a connecting module, an airlock for spacewalks, a place for the astronauts to live, and an operations station to command the Gateway’s robotic arm or rovers on the Moon. Astronauts will be able to occupy it for up to 90 days at a time.

Orion with the European Service Module

The Orion’s service module is the part of the spacecraft that supplies air, electricity, and propulsion. (Image source (ESA)

Orion is NASA’s next spacecraft to send humans into space. It is designed to send astronauts farther into space than ever before, beyond the Moon to asteroids and even Mars. When they return to Earth, the astronauts will enter the atmosphere at high speeds, but the capsule will protect them and ensure a bumpy-but-safe landing.

ESA is also designing and overseeing the development of Orion’s service module, the part of the spacecraft that supplies air, electricity, and propulsion. Like a train engine pulling passenger carriages, the European Service Module will take the Orion capsule to its destination and back.

Apollo’s Twin: Artemis

ESA’s Artemis-2 will provide a crewed spacecraft. The first mission is technical, testing the capabilities of the Orion spacecraft with NASA’s Space Launch Systems rocket as well as testing maneuvers and trajectories for flights beyond the Moon. The second mission will continue to test its functionality during a crewed mission. Orion will be equipped with oxygen tanks, which are not needed for the ground-controlled Artemis-1. Other additions to the crewed module include crew displays and full life support.

The Artemis-2 will provide a crewed spacecraft. (Image Source: ESA)

Orion’s second mission will be launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, which is currently scheduled for 2022. Once in low-Earth orbit, the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) will fire to insert the spacecraft into a highly elliptical demonstration orbit around Earth. Whereas in the first mission the ICPS fired Orion into its lunar orbit, for the second mission it will be the European Service Module that will give the spacecraft its final push to inject it into translunar orbit.

The crew will fly Orion beyond the Moon before completing a lunar flyby and returning to Earth. The mission will take a minimum of 8 days and will collect valuable flight test data.

ESA’s Moon Plans

The European Space Agency has developed an exploration program based on four main missions.

Luna Resurs will be conducted in a partnership with the Russian agency Roscosmos. Luna Resurs will carry European technology and land it precisely and safely on the Moon. Then it will extract and analyze samples of the lunar terrain.

Orion and the European Service Module will return humans to the Moon and take advantage of the new technology for human space transportation. Orion, the NASA spacecraft, will bring humans farther than they have ever been before. ESA is providing the service modules that will provide propulsion, life support, power, air and water, and control the temperature in the crew module.

ISRU aims to extract and process resources on the Moon into useful products and services. The mission will explore lunar resources, with a target launch of 2025. The goal is to produce drinkable water and possibly breathable oxygen from the Moon’s resources.

The Heracles mission could take off in 2028 with the goal of gaining knowledge on human-robotic interaction while landing a spacecraft on the Moon. The mission will also collect samples with a rover operated from the lunar Gateway and send samples back to Earth.

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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.

COVID-19: Materialise, ‘Maker Army’ Deploy 3D Printing to Mitigate Device Shortages

Mon, 2020-04-06 15:44

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a once-in-a-lifetime wake-up call for the world, as hospitals wrestle with shortages of critical medical equipment and healthcare professionals potentially face the grim prospect of rationing medical care. It’s a scenario that sadly we have seen played out in emerging economies over the years, but not in the most prosperous, technologically advanced economies the world has ever known. In time, we will draw some hard lessons from this calamity, but, first, we must deal with the crisis at hand. We have reported on various initiatives that companies and organizations large and small have taken to meet immediate needs over the last few weeks; here are two more examples of creators, in this instance in the 3D-printing space, stepping up to help.

The dire shortage of ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients has spurred Belgium-based 3D-printing technology company Materialise to develop a connector that can convert standard hospital equipment into a mask that creates positive pressure in lungs to facilitate breathing. These devices fitted with the NIP connector will allow clinicians to reduce the time patients need access to mechanical ventilators, thus helping to reduce the strain on ventilator supplies, said Materialise. The company has deep experience in medical technology and associated regulatory requirements and hopes to have the device broadly available for hospitals by mid-April.

The system developed by Materialise helps patients to breathe while they wait for a ventilator. Image courtesy Materialise.

Because of the extreme shortage of mechanical ventilators, clinicians are exploring different methods to apply positive end expiratory pressure (PEEP) to the lungs of COVID-19 patients. The solution developed by Materialise converts standard hospital equipment into a non-invasive PEEP mask that can be connected to an oxygen supply. This provides patients with some breathing room before mechanical ventilators are required for treatment. It also helps transition them off ventilators earlier, freeing up these devices for patients in critical need. By using standard medical equipment, including a non-invasive ventilation (NIV) mask, filter and PEEP valve, the solution is simple to use and familiar to medical professionals.

Materialise is now fast-tracking the device through the regulatory approval process in Europe and the United States and, in parallel, supporting a clinical trial to test the device’s impact on COVID-19 patients. It expects first results to be available within the next two weeks.

In the meantime, Materialise is upscaling production capability at its ISO 13485–certified facilities in Leuven, Belgium, and Plymouth, MI, to make the solution available broadly and quickly to hospitals that are looking for an emergency solution. The company is also using the on-site 3D-printing facilities of qualified partners and is calling on other companies to join its initiative and help get this solution to as many patients as possible.

“3D printing is playing a crucial role in fighting the global coronavirus pandemic by making it possible to develop innovative solutions and have them available worldwide very quickly,” said Brigitte De Vet, Vice President of Materialise Medical.

Taking a different tack but aiming for similar outcomes is Israel-based Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM). A global humanitarian non-profit launched in 2014 to develop and distribute affordable products for people living with disabilities, the elderly and the poor, TOM has redirected its efforts to provide solutions for COVID-19 patients. “The TOM web-platform now allows individuals and groups of makers around the world to join a ‘Maker Army’ that mass-delivers protective gear and other solutions everywhere by sharing knowledge on a global basis and supporting the manufacturing and distribution of solutions at increasingly more efficient and lower costs,” the organization told PlasticsToday in an e-mail.

TOM is calling on inventors and 3D-printing enthusiasts to join the Maker Army and help create and deliver face shields, face masks, door openers, and other products to help local communities cope with the COVID-19 crisis. Detailed instructions on participating in this project are available on TOM’s COVID-19 online library.

The TOM network is designed to allow rapid scaling of solutions around the globe, said the organization in the e-mail. “Two weeks ago TOM’s COVID-19 Response Teams were involved with local partners in manufacturing hundreds of face shields. By last week, over 10,000 were manufactured, and heading towards 100,000 in two weeks and possibly manufacturing half a million within six weeks.”

Healthcare providers in need of medical supplies can submit requests here, and TOM will work to find a COVID-19-Response Team to assist with manufacturing.

Talent Talk: The COVID-19 Crisis Will End One Day. Then What?

Mon, 2020-04-06 08:30

The fight against COVID-19 has been likened, rightfully, to a war, so I’m calling the day we declare victory V-C Day. I don’t think anyone has coined that yet so let the historians note it happened in PlasticsToday. As a side note, I floated Stuff-Gets-Back-to-Normal Day last week, but it lacked the simplicity needed to go viral.

I thought perhaps sharing what my company is doing to prepare for V-C Day could help other small businesses develop a strategy, and maybe you can share some ideas with me. Although my recruitment services business is very different from a small injection molder or color house, there are some things we all can do.

Image: Elnur/Adobe Stock

For us, the first thing is attitude. In 2008, half of all recruiters were laid off or forced to shut their doors, and 2001 wasn’t a lot better. Knowing this provides a range of possibilities in how one chooses to react.

Right now, there isn’t a big difference among firms that will survive “just okay,” those that will not make it, and those that will thrive. The trajectories of those three groups will quickly begin to diverge, however, and it will be based on their decisions, which will be driven by their attitudes. We are making a conscious choice to view this time as an opportunity to lay the foundation for success after V-C Day. We believe there will be tremendous pent-up demand for talent and resources almost immediately after we have declared victory.

The second thing we are doing is focusing on current customers who really need us, and we are doing anything and everything we can to help them right now. Yes, companies are hiring. We were all out of our comfort zones this week in setting up a new technology platform to enable several remote individual interviews, with a group technical presentation involving multiple people and locations. None of those people had ever had to use this technology in lieu of a face-to-face meeting. The solution needed to mirror the feel of an on-site final interview.

That leads me to the third thing we’re doing — taking a hard look at our own “tech-stack.” Much of what is happening today is probably going to drive fundamental changes; we won’t simply go back to where we were. How that plays out for the hospitality industry and restaurants, I have no idea, but we’re really looking at what is available for our business and making sure we have best-in-class tools. Video interviewing is an example of that, but it won’t be as simple as making sure everyone has a Skype account.

We’re doing a few other things, like just working really hard, but I’ll leave it there. If this helps you think about what you want your business to look like after V-C Day, that’s great. And if you have some ideas of your own, please share them in the comments section below.

About the author

Paul Sturgeon is CEO of KLA Industries, a national search firm specializing in plastics, packaging, and polymer technology. If you have a topic you would like to see discussed, a company that is growing, or other ideas for this blog, e-mail Paul at paul@klaindustries.com.

Ford and GM Resuscitate Shuttered Auto Plants to Make COVID-19 Respirators

Mon, 2020-04-06 05:15

A worker assembles a Ventec ventilator component. Image source: General Motors Co.

U.S. automotive manufacturing has entirely stopped in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, with companies and their employees left waiting to learn when they might be able to resume operations.

General Motors says that its factories’ production status is being evaluated weekly after the company passed its initial shutdown period that ended March 30. “GM and the UAW have always put the health and safety of the people entering GM plants first, and we have agreed to a systematic, orderly suspension of production to aid in fighting COVID-19/coronavirus,” said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra.

Meanwhile, however, GM has reactivated its Kokomo plant to produce Ventec ventilators as part of its partnership with that company. Currently the factory is being prepared and the workforce, which will eventually number 1,000, is being trained. Production is slated to start mid-April.

“Every ventilator we build can help save lives, and GM’s global supply base and manufacturing teams, the UAW, and the Kokomo community are working with passion and unwavering commitment to get the job done,” said Gerald Johnson, GM executive vice president, Global Manufacturing. “People have moved mountains to help increase production of Ventec’s critical care ventilator and we are just weeks away from delivering these lifesaving devices. I have never seen anything like it in my career.”

Workers converting GM's Kokomo plant to make ventilators. Image source: General Motors Co.

Obviously, the same health threats that have suspended automotive production apply to ventilator production, so GM is taking specific steps to mitigate the hazard. Specifically, everyone arriving for work will be required to sanitize their hands immediately upon arrival and have their temperature checked with a non-contact thermometer before entering the job site. Then they will work their shift wearing medical-grade protective masks. Cleaning crews will clean and sanitize common touch surfaces such as door handles, as well as common areas, at least three times per shift. Each workstation will be manned by one person, and each workstation will be spaced at least six feet apart.

Initial production will begin with one shift, with second and third shifts added soon thereafter, with each shift entering and exiting through different doors to minimize social contact. When a shift ends, there will be a 30-minute interval between shifts to allow employees to clean their workstations when they arrive and again before they leave.

Ford acknowledges that its factories will not restart under its initial plan to reopen them starting April 6 at Hermosillo, Mexico and April 14 for key U.S. plants, with new target restart dates to be announced later, according to the company. “The health and safety of our workforce, dealers, customers, partners and communities remains our highest priority,” said Kumar Galhotra, Ford president, North America.

Ford’s Rawsonville Components Plant will begin producing ventilators with additional health measures in place. Workers will have to self-certify online every day that they are not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms. If they are, they will not be allowed to work. Work stations will be spaced at least six feet apart to maintain proper social distancing. Shifts will be separated so there is no contact between workers.

The Airon Model A-E ventilator Ford will manufacture. Image source: Ford Motor Co.

Ford’s Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., will start making the GE Healthcare/Airon Model A-E ventilator the week of April 20. The company says it will produce 1,500 ventilators by the end of April, 12,000 by the end of May and 50,000 by July 4. “The Ford and GE Healthcare teams, working creatively and tirelessly, have found a way to produce this vitally needed ventilator quickly and in meaningful numbers,” said Jim Hackett, Ford’s president and CEO.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is shut down, with no specific plan for when it will be able to reopen factories. “We need to ensure employees feel safe at work and that we are taking every step possible to protect them,” FCA CEO, Mike Manley said. “We will continue to do what is right for our people through this period of uncertainty.”

FCA, like Ford and GM, is producing protective face masks for healthcare workers and emergency responders to wear on the job. Production is just starting, with a target of making a million facemasks per month and donating them to police, EMTs and firefighters, as well as to workers in hospitals and health care clinics.

“Protecting our first responders and health care workers has never been more important,” said Manley. “In addition to the support we are giving to increase the production of ventilators, we canvassed our contacts across the healthcare industry and it was very clear that there is an urgent and critical need for face masks. We’ve marshalled the resources of the FCA Group to focus immediately on installing production capacity for making masks and supporting those most in need on the front line of this pandemic.”  

Toyota Motor Sales, USA, has announced its U.S. plants are closed until April 17, with the goal of reopening them April 20, with the proviso that it is constantly evaluating that schedule.

Toyota's 3D-printed face shields. Image source: Toyota Motors Sales, USA

The company’s emergency response production is still in development, with announced plans to 3D print face shields right away, while it pursues filter suppliers for filtering masks. Additionally, Toyota is working with two ventilator manufacturers to assist in boosting their production volume. 

American Honda Motor Co. says its U.S. car, motorcycle, engine and transmission plants are currently closed through at least April 10.  That is the same target date for Volkswagen of America’s U.S. plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. and for Hyundai Motor America. Kia Motors America is aiming for April 13 to restart its factory.

Those dates seem optimistic, considering the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecast of April 15 for peak resource use in the U.S. in response to the virus, with a slow decline thereafter.

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

Will Coronavirus Infect the US Power Grid?

Mon, 2020-04-06 04:52

America’s aging power grid has faced major obstacles during the last few years. The fire fiasco in California last summer caused the main electric power company - PG&E - to turn off power to major portions of the state whenever a new fire broke out. This was due mainly to older infrastructures that could not be easily separated from town to town.

With the COVID-19 virus sweeping over the country, many leaders have express concern as to whether the power systems in the U.S. will be affected. Some companies in the electricity industry have even suggested that key employees may need to live on the site at power plants and control centers to keep operations going, should the virus outbreak become worse.

The main problem is one of personnel rather than equipment. There is a limited number of operators trained to run power plants, especially electrical, nuclear and oil and gas plants. Their health is now a critical concern for the industry. To that end, many such sites have been stockpiling beds, blankets and food to provide for just such a contingency.

The good news is that the power industry as a whole has been planning for events to keep their highly skilled workers healthy and nearby to their power stations. For example, Maria Korsnick, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, recently said that some of the nation’s nearly 60 nuclear power plants are also “considering measures to isolate a core group to run the plant, stockpiling ready-to-eat meals and disposable tableware, laundry supplies and personal care items.”

Image Stock: Adobe Stock

The power industries even have pandemic plans and procedures in place. Unlike planning for natural disasters, technological failures, or other disruptions, planning for a pandemic requires a different set of working assumptions. Natural disasters – like a hurricane, a fire storm or an earthquake – tend to happen in specific geographical areas and for a certain amount of time. On the other hand, pandemics by their nature are geographically dispersed and could arrive in waves that last several months at a time. Such waves mean that resources like personnel cannot easily be shifted geographically to help an area in need as with natural disasters.

Consider the electric industry. According to their website, pandemic planning has included preparations for events such as storms, earthquakes, and other natural disasters; cyber and physical attacks; and “high absenteeism” events that typically involve health emergencies and that could severely limit the number of employees who are able to report to work.

But what if weather events cause power outages during a pandemic? The main challenge with a pandemic is that businesses must prepare to operate with a significantly smaller workforce, a threatened supply chain for critical equipment and materials, and limited support services for an unknow amount of time. That is why the pandemic plans for electricity generating companies are designed to protect the people working for them and to ensure energy operations and infrastructures are supported properly.

Image Source: US Energy Information Administration (EIA)

Most electric, nuclear and other power stations are run by private companies. About 80% of the electricity in the U.S. is generated by private, investor-owned utilities located across the country. The remaining electricity is produced by the public sector. Still, the private energy companies must coordinate and collaborate with the Department of Energy (DoE) and other federal government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Department of Transportation (DoT), plus state and local authorities.

The DoE is directly involved with the country’s energy power systems – among other things – and has working plans in place to handle the coronavirus outbreak. According to Dr. Chris Fall, Director of the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the DoE’s responsibility is to make sure the electrical grid is resilient and working and working with the private sector that runs that and other elements of the energy system.

Further, power producers in the US have been identified as one of the essential and critical infrastructure workers, according to the DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER). Workers so identified have a special responsibility to maintain their normal work schedules, which is why they may need to be sequestered near power stations and control facilities during the coronavirus crisis. In the total energy sector, the essential and critical infrastructure list includes the electricity industry, petroleum workers, and natural and propane gas workers.

For now, private and public utilities have a governmental as well as legal reasons to protect their critical workers. After all, litigation often followed natural disasters especially as utility shareholders, state governments and actual victims of such disasters try to recoup their losses.

It has been reported from several power facilities that, as one shift ends and another begins, the control rooms surfaces are disinfected by cleaning crews and the incoming workers are checked for high temperatures or other signs of the coronavirus infection. For now, it appears that America’s power stations and grids can handle the current wave of the spreading pandemic. But the industry, especially the electricity grid system, has struggled to handle major weather and fire storms in the very recent past. The next wave of the coronavirus pandemic, which some say may hit in the fall of this year, may be too much for the system to handle. Here’s hoping that it won’t be lights when the second wave hits.

Image Source: DOE / Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)

 

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

3D Printing on the Moon and Mars

Mon, 2020-04-06 03:29

As we hit the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 almost-Moon-mission, it might seem odd we’re just now planning to get back to the Moon. Yet the planning is now developing in earnest. Not only are we expecting to reach the Moon with individual missions, we’re planning to set up shop on the Moon surface. As those plans develop, it looks like 3D printing will be a big part of the build-out.

The 3D printers that are getting developed for the Moon are designed to build the structures and roads from local materials. This would eliminate the costly and time-consuming process of trucking materials to the Moon. Industrial partners including the architects Foster + Partners have joined with European Space Agency (ESA) to test the feasibility of 3D printing using lunar soil.

Foster + Partners devised a weight-bearing catenary dome design with a cellular structured wall to shield against micrometeoroids and space radiation, incorporating a pressurized inflatable to shelter astronauts. (Image source: ESA)

The ability to conduct 3D printing on the moon will require a dependable power source. While using solar power is feasible, it may not be sufficient for all 3D printing processes. “The power needs for implementing the 3D printing processes is still an area under investigation. Advenit Makaya, advanced manufacturing engineer at ESA told Design News. “Solar power is the baseline, but other sources of power may be required, depending on the 3D printing process.”

A number of processes have been developed for Moon- and Mars-based 3D printing. “Processes such as solar sintering would only need power to move the printer head across the printed area, as the energy needed to consolidate the regolith directly comes from the sunlight,” said  Makaya. “Other processes involving lasers or microwaves would need enough power to generate the source of heat in addition to the power required to move the printer head.”

Seeking Materials Already on the Moon and Mars

To make 3D printing on the moon practical, scientists seek materials that are resident on the Moon or Mars, since ferrying materials from Earth to the Moon or Mars would be difficult and expensive. “Engineers and researchers who are active in this field work with what we call regolith simulants. Those simulants are intended to reproduce properties of the actual lunar or Martian regolith which are relevant for the 3D printing process,” said Makaya. “These include particle grain size distribution or mineralogical properties. The development of adequate simulants is an essential important field of investigation that currently involves several actors in and outside Europe.”

While developments are moving forward to prepare for human communities on the Moon and Mars, there is no fixed timeframe. “There is currently no date for activities on the lunar or Martian surface that would require the use of 3D printing,” said Makaya. “Lunar surface exploration missions which are currently planned do not rely on 3D printing. Additive manufacturing using regolith is more seen as a longer-term possibility to ensure sustainable exploration activities.”

 

Italian space research firm Alta SpA worked with Pisa-based engineering university Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna on adapting 3D printing production to a Moon mission and ensuring process quality control. The effect of working in a vacuum was also build into the additive manufacturing methods. (Image source ESA)

Creating a Community for Extraterrestrial Technology

Makaya noted that the  ESA coordinates with NASA on its efforts to develop Moon- and Mars-based technology development. “ESA and NASA are constantly discussing potential partnerships, including in lunar exploration,” said Makaya.

In addition to the space agencies, other organizations are likely to develop extraterrestrial 3D printing. “ESA is relying on mobilizing and fostering the development of the European industrial and academic community across its Member States to support relevant technologies for space activities,” said Makaya. “3D printing for sustainable exploration is included in that.”

Once such commercial partner is Foster + Partners. The company devised a weight-bearing catenary dome design with a cellular structured wall to shield against micrometeoroids and space radiation, incorporating a pressurized inflatable to shelter astronauts. The concept is based on the notion of using 3D printing and materials resident on the Moon surface.

The Italian space research firm Alta SpA has also been involved in developing Moon-based community housing. The company worked with Pisa-based engineering university Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna on adapting 3D printing techniques to a Moon mission and ensuring process quality control. The effect of working in a vacuum was also assessed.

The ESA has launched a formal process to solicit ideas and proposed technology to accomplish 3D printing on the Moon and Mars. “ESA has also recently opened a formal call for ideas on Off-Earth Manufacturing and Construction, where interesting ideas from entities registered in ESA Member States can receive funding to develop concepts and technologies,” said Makaya.

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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.

NXP Turns Any Smartphone, Smartwatch Into Car Keys

Mon, 2020-04-06 02:51

Image source: NXP Semiconductors

In support of the release of version 2.0 of the standardized digital key ecosystem specifications by the Car Connectivity Consortium, NXP Semiconductors has announced its new Digital Key Solution to let smartphones, key fobs and even devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers unlock and start customers’ cars.

While carmakers and smart phone companies have previously collaborated on proprietary solutions permitting phones to be used as car keys, version 2.0 of the CCC’s specification provides for all car and phone makers to work compatibly to provide this service.

“Our customers want cross-vendor interoperability,” explained Olaf Müller, head of Development Digital Access Systems at the BMW Group. “Standardization is the only way to achieve this; proprietary solutions are no longer beneficial.”

Ranier Lutz. Image source: NXP Semiconductors

The system works using Near Field Communications (NFC) technology like that used by credit cards and for mobile payments from phones through ApplePay and Google Pay.

“The 106 companies in the Car Connectivity Consortium, with literally all relevant car manufacturers, they all participate and agreed on one standard,” said Rainer Lutz, NXP’s Director of Digital Key and NFC Segments Secure Car Access.

Various mobile devices already have a secure microprocessor component to handle their payment capabilities and the mobile key feature can be added to them in the future to use this same existing hardware. Drivers need only tap the phone to the car door to open it or to the starter pad to enable the starter button.

A benefit of this compared to today’s commonplace keyless entry systems using a key fob is that the access to the car can be shared. That means drivers can grant other people the ability to use the car. “You can share the key with your neighbor who doesn’t have a car. ‘For the next half-day you can use my car.’ Or share with your kids but only with half the horsepower so they can’t do anything crazy.”

The key works for opening car trunks too, which could be used to accept delivered packages securely when you aren’t home, Lutz proposed. “You could grant a delivery driver one-time access to the trunk to leave a package,” he said

Obviously, the system is secured to prevent hackers from stealing your car, Lutz said. And the phone doesn’t provide any digital clues about the car it is able to start, so there won’t be any unscrupulous people sniffing around for phones that have access to expensive cars. “You don’t want your phone to tell everybody, ‘I have this Porsche and Bentley on my phone so please steal me,’” he noted.

Image source: BMW

The ability to work with smartwatches and fitness trackers means that athletes can lock their things inside the car before going to exercise and then open the car with their wearable device on their return to the car.

In the days of coronavirus quarantine, the technology could even be helpful, Lutz pointed out. Elderly car owners who can’t go out for groceries could grant young, carless neighbors access to their car to retrieve groceries without having to hand over and get back car keys.

There is no announced timetable for the rollout of cars with NXP’s Digital Key Solution built in, but they don’t seem likely to arrive before we are rid of this current plague, so we may have to settle for enjoying the non-virus-related benefits of the technology.

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

What we can Learn About COVID-19 from Apollo 13

Fri, 2020-04-03 04:51

It was the 11th of April 1970 when astronaut’s Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert were launched on the third ever moon landing mission. As they neared their target on the third day of the Apollo 13 mission, one of the oxygen tanks in the Service Module (SM) exploded. It was later determined that the explosion resulted from a series of pre-launch mishaps that led to a sparking from exposed wires within the tank.

The next several days were touch-and-go as the astronauts, Houston ground control and a team of engineers worked to bring the crippled spacecraft and crew safely back to Earth.

Fred Haise (left), Jack Swigert, and Jim Lovell. (Image Source: NASA / Apollo 13)

Aside from the engineering resourcefulness in safely bringing the spaceship home, the Apollo 13 mission was notable for its illnesses. First, one of the original astronauts – Ken Mattingly – was replaced by Jack Swigert one day before the launch. Mattingly had been exposed to German measles and was quarantined from the crew to prevent infecting his follow space travelers. Then, during the actual flight, Haise came down with a kidney infection that made it challenging for him to fully participate in the Apollo 13 crisis.

German measles, also known as rubella, was a viral infection that resulted in a red rash, fever and swollen lymph nodes. The infection was spread from person to person through contact with droplets from an infected person's sneeze or cough.

Interestingly, the first mixed measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was licensed for public use by Merck in 1971 – a year after the Apollo 13 incident. The standalone rubella vaccination had been available from the mid-1960s, but only following many years of research,  development and testing.

Does the story of the Apollo 13 crisis reveal anything useful in dealing with COVID-19?

First, it serves as a reminder that viruses and other bio-medical challenges have and will (probably) forever continue to plague humankind. Secondly, the way we prepare before and perform during a crisis makes all the difference.

The saving grace of Apollo 13 – aside from the experience and bravery of the 3 astronauts – was the thousands of NASA flight controllers and engineers scattered across the U.S.

At the time, it may have appeared to the outside world that MacGyver or Scotty from Star Trek were working at NASA, using their inventive genius to quickly find an on-the-fly solution. Instead, it was the ground team of engineers that worked round the clock to both bring the crippled spacecraft back home while also hacking together a stop-gap carbon dioxide scrubbing canister, so the crew didn’t die of carbon dioxide poisoning. The amazing success of this technical effort was the result of years of training, education, teamwork, discipline, and investment.

Today, we are witnessing a similar technical effort put forth by the world’s open software and hardware, 3D Printing and academic communities to deal with COVID-19. Although impressive, this engineering support is far less organized, less financially supported and greatly scaled down from its Apollo 13 counterpart.

While the engineering profession can often find quick technological solutions to a variety of problems, the same cannot be said of the bio-medical industry. This is in part because of the necessary regulations and testing needed to ensure that any solution is safe for the human community.

It often takes up to 10 years to develop a vaccine from scratch and involves a combination of public and private involvement. It has been reported that Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (N.I.A.I.D.) has noted that a vaccine that you make and start testing in a year is not a vaccine that’s deployable. According to Fauci, the earliest a coronavirus vaccine would be deployable in a year to a year and a half, no matter how fast you go.

The real problem with the past success of vaccines and flu vaccinations is that they seem to breed complacency. The lack of a wide-spread, pandemic-level virus outbreak has given some governments a false sense of security. In turn, this has led to poor decisions like the cutting of or diverting of budges for virus research and vaccine productions to other sometimes politically motivated expenditures.

The result is that today’s bio-medical and health communities are in poor shape to prepare or handle the next major viral epidemic, little lone a pandemic.

It is doubtful there will be a quick fix vaccine for COVID-19 that really works. This means that the Apollo 13 rallying cry of “failure is not an option” has turned into “failure may well be an option” for the COVID-19 pandemic. But failure can be a great teacher if you survive to learn and act on the lessons. Perhaps our best hope is to quickly learn from our mistakes so that we are prepared when the next bio-medical crisis comes our way.

Image Source: CDC

 

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

Friday Funny: Attempted Unsubscribe

Fri, 2020-04-03 04:46

James Veitch – in utter frustration – decided to have some fun when he was not able to unsubscribe from a persistent advertiser.

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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.