Home | Feed aggregator | Sources |

Design News

Design News
Serving the 21st Century Design Engineer
Updated: 11 hours 22 min ago

This “American Factory” run by Chinese is no workers' paradise

Mon, 2020-02-17 18:43

At this year's Academy Awards, Netflix’s American Factory, produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground, won for best feature-length documentary. The title should have been “Chinese Factory,” because the only thing American about it is the factory’s location in the small town of Moraine, outside of Dayton, OH. While the documentary opens with the 2008 closing of what was once a General Motors factory making automotive glass, we are never told the back story of that closing, and the role that Obama’s policies—and the bailout of GM and Chrysler—played in the plant’s closing, and the deals cut with the United Auto Workers (UAW).

Image from American Factory courtesy Netflix.

An article in the Sept. 13, 2019, edition of the Wall Street Journal by Mike Turner noted that “despite being one of the top GM facilities for quality, efficiency and production in the country, it was shuttered.” The Moraine plant was a union factory, but many of the employees were non-union (workers cannot be forced to join a union as a condition for employment), leaving many of those workers transfered to other GM plants in the region in difficulty.

In 2014, Chinese businessman Cao Dewang bought the plant. He was known to workers as “Chairman Cao,” a monicker that echoes another chairman whose Great Leap Forward killed an estimated 45 million people in four years. (Some estimates put the total number of people killed throughout his rule to be upwards of 80 million.)

To the out-of-work citizens of Moraine, the arrival of Chairman Cao’s Fuyao Glass Inc. and the re-opening of the plant that would soon employ 2,000 people was greeted with open arms. Fuyao was seen as the “savior” of Moraine and its citizens.

At the plant’s grand opening, however, there were already signs of trouble ahead when Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown spoke to the crowd of Ohio’s “rich history of unions.” Immediately, Chairman Cao made Sen. Brown persona non grata on company property. “If union comes in, it will hurt our production,” commented Chairman Cao. “We’ll shut it down.”

The honeymoon was short-lived, as the employees began their indoctrination into the Chinese way of how manufacturing plants are run. Some 200 Chinese workers were sent from China to Ohio to provide training in plant operations. The Chinese groused that “Americans are slow to train” because they have “fat fingers.”

The working conditions were very hot, as one might expect in a factory where extremely high heat is needed to turn sand into glass. “Our American colleagues are very afraid of heat,” commented one Chinese worker. The American managers, supervisors and the president of the company tried to get Chairman Cao to make changes after OSHA found that the work areas were “too dense,” but nothing changed.

Americans also complained that the work was repetitive—“doing the same thing over and over again,” remarked one worker. “Do we have the stamina and will to continue?” He was doubtful. American employees of the new Fuyao plant, which supplied automotive glass to many vehicle makers in the U.S., were grateful for the jobs but, as one woman commented, “at GM I made $29 an hour.” Now she was earning half that.

Given that “output is first, speed is second,” injuries were commonplace. One injured man commented that he’d never been injured in all his 15 years working for GM, but now after two years at Fuyao, he incurred a severe cut injury.

It’s not that Fuyao doesn’t have a union in its Chinese plants—it has a “union” in the Communist Party headquarters at the plant. I’ve written in the past about how U.S. companies must give Chinese workers a certain amount of time off during the week to attend Communist Party meetings.

Productivity at the Moraine plant was low—not up to the standards of Fuyao’s Chinese plants—and there were myriad quality problems. The Fuyao plant was not reaching its goals. Chinese trainers complained that “American workers are not efficient and output is low,” said a trainer. “I can’t manage them. They threaten to get help from the union.”

Another manager commented that “American workers are lazy—it’s just their nature,” he said, adding that “every person can be changed; we have some diligent, motivated workers in China.”

I’m sure they do, and it probably doesn’t involve a motivational speaker! Obviously there is no work/life balance in the Chinese mindset.

To help provide a better look at the way Fuyao’s Chinese plants are run, a group of American managers was sent to China to see first-hand the Chinese way. If this section of the documentary doesn’t make you eternally grateful that you are an American working for an American company, nothing will.

The Fuyao factory experience in China showed the American managers an almost militaristic way of managing. The 19 shift workers lined up shoulder-to-shoulder, in two rows, and counted off. The supervisor then confirmed that all 19 shift workers were present and accounted for. They then marched to their work stations.

Religious fervor for the state, first, and the company, second, was evident. At company meetings, “hymns” of praise are sung in deep gratitude for the good life the company, and Chairman Cao, has given them.

When the American managers returned, the documentary showed one manager trying to emulate the Chinese style. His shift workers were sort of lined up. They stood there looking rather glum—like, “why are we here?”—while he tried to give a bit of a pep talk. It obviously wasn’t working so he thanked them and dismissed them to start work.

Chinese workers in China commented that they work 12 hours a day, seven days a week with two days off a month. One worker said she goes home twice a year, and most of them don’t see their families much.

I’ve written about the Chinese dormitories where the workers live, sometimes eight to a small room on the premises of the factory. I’m reminded of the time I was visiting a large-sized custom injection molding company. I was in the conference room interviewing the president and owner of the company, when he pointed to a large framed photograph hanging on the wall of an elevated view of a large facility surrounded by a chain link fence topped with razor wire. “That’s our new China facility,” he boasted proudly to me.

I couldn’t help myself, and replied, “Is that fence with the razor wire there to keep the bad guys out or the workers in?”

Crickets.

We in the manufacturing sector know quite a lot about how the Chinese run their factories, and it ain’t pretty! I know personally several people who have worked for U.S. companies at their plants in China, attempting to do the reverse of what Chairman Cao tried to do at the Moraine facility. I’ve written about this many times over the years.

There was one really poignant moment in the documentary. During a large dinner celebration, the American managers were treated to entertainment by singers and dancers, both adults and children with happy, smiling faces and excited voices. At the end, the American managers got up on stage and did their rendition of YMCA by the Village People. The Chinese audience was greatly entertained, and they laughed and applauded.

The camera then shot a close-up of one of the American managers who seemed rather emotional. He got up and walked out into a hallway, commenting that he now sees something he’d not seen before. “We are all one,” he commented. “We are truly all one.” A young woman who started to walk past him turned and looked. “We are all one,” he repeated. “Yes, she replied, “all one company.”

This young Chinese woman had completely missed the American’s point. In many religious and spiritual traditions in the West we hear people promoting the idea that we are all one, great human family who all just want the same things: To be happy, to have meaningful work, to feed our families and enjoy life. In Buddhism, which it appeared that Chairman Cao practiced, there is a saying: “Everyone just wants to be happy and free from suffering.” In that respect, we are all one, something that the American manager suddenly realized, but the young Chinese woman didn’t.

I’d guess that the majority of U.S. manufacturing companies—small or large—want a safe work environment, because it’s the right thing to do, and pay their employees good wages, especially with the heavy competition for workers caused by extremely low unemployment.

As the former President of the Fuyao Glass factory acknowledged before he was fired, “We are not a union shop—we do things right by employees,” a reminder that it doesn’t take a union to create a good workplace and good wages.

If you thought this was going to be a movie showing how great a benefit unions are to the American manufacturing workplace, it was a fail in that regard. This isn’t a documentary about an American factory but a Chinese factory transplanted into America; it was about the attempts to meld two very different cultures, one of those a Communist culture that is very difficult for Americans to fathom.

At least the threat of union organization gave the Chinese management the impetus to clean up its act and realize that they are operating on American soil under American rules. While companies don’t have to be unionized to be safe and productive with well-paid workers, they really must “do the right thing.”

As one American woman worker noted toward the end of the documentary, “When we walk in the door of this plant, we’re in China.”

An attempt to unionize the Fuyao plant failed, primarily, as one worker pointed out, after the vote (60% against organizing), “They’re afraid of losing their jobs.”

Another worker commented, “they’re working their tails off and getting no pats on the back.”

To that the new Chinese president of the company (who replaced the fired American president) responded to complaints that Americans are hostile to the Chinese workers, and are super-confident: “You must take advantage of these American characteristics. Americans love being flattered to death—donkeys love being touched in the direction their hair grows.”

Are you insulted enough now?

In receiving the Oscar award, one of the directors of the film, Julia Reichert, gave a “shout out” to Karl Marx in her acceptance speech: “. . . people put on a uniform, punch a clock, trying to make their families have a better life. Working people have it harder and harder these days. We believe that things will get better when workers of the world unite.”

Does that quote sound familiar?

One other poignant moment at the end of the film is when Chairman Cao shows some introspection into his life. He lights incense at a Buddhist shrine, and wonders aloud if he is “a contributor or a sinner.” He is obviously an unhappy man, but concluded, as a good Communist might: “The point of living is to work.”

If you haven’t seen this documentary yet, please watch it on Netflix, and be very grateful for the life we have as Americans. And remember that throughout 2020.

World’s Most Powerful 3-Cylinder Engine Propels Toyota Gazoo Racing Yaris WRC

Mon, 2020-02-17 03:09

In Japanese tuner-car slang, “gazoo” refers to the speed shops where car enthusiasts toil to wring extra speed from their machines. Toyota president Akio Toyoda is such an enthusiast himself, and his desire is to infuse some of that gazoo grease-under-the-nails ethos to his whole company.

That is why Toyota launched Gazoo Racing a few years ago and subsequently began badging sports cars with the brand. But the provenance of those sports cars bothered Toyoda, as the Toyota 86 relies on Subaru for most of its design and hardware and the new Supra is largely a BMW product that is contract manufacturered by Magna in Graz, Austria.

“I have always wanted a sports car purely made by Toyota,” Toyoda explained in remarks posted on the company’s YouTube channel. To do that, the company has developed the stunning Gazoo Racing Yaris. The Yaris, you’ll recall, is Toyota’s subcompact hatchback city car, which might seem a surprising foundation for a sports car. But the GR Yaris is a Yaris in name only. It is actually a purpose-designed and built all-wheel drive machine optimized for rally racing.

New, more restrictive rules for the 2021 World Rally Championship require that race cars conform more closely to their production counterparts to be eligible. Toyota’s response is to prepare a homologation special that will give Toyota’s racing team the most competitive foundation possible.

Image source: Toyota

As a benefit, customers in global markets where the WRC is popular will be able to buy street-legal versions of this race car. The minimum sales requirement for racing eligibility is 25,000 cars over a three-year span. The U.S. market has not been announced as a destination for the subcompact GR Yaris, but rumors hint at some of its technology appearing in a U.S.-spec compact Corolla.

The GR Yaris boasts three critical factors that point toward the car being fun to drive for buyers and potentially competitive in rally racing: A lightweight, aerodynamic and rigid body shell, a compact and technically advanced direct-injected, turbocharged 1.6-liter inline 3-cylinder engine, and a newly-developed all-wheel drive system that provides accessible performance to drivers. 

“It was felt that whilst we are excited about the roadgoing Yaris, it wasn’t the shape and size to provide a championship-winning platform for WRC,” explained ex-engineer, now senior Toyota PR manager, James Clark.

Image source: Toyota

The GR Yaris bodyshell is a visible departure from the design of the regular Yaris. It is a two-door hatchback with a low, swooping roofline that tapers at the rear of the car to minimize aerodynamic drag at racing speeds. At the same time, the body is as wide as that of a car a class larger, providing ample space for fat, sticky racing tires and long-travel suspension to absorb the bumps and jumps that are characteristic of most rally routes.

The body is formed from a mostly steel shell that has a lightweight SMC carbon fiber roof panel grafted on and all of the closure panels such as the doors, hood and hatch are all aluminum. “One of the joys of making a bespoke body is you can go to town on it,” observed Clark.  “Use of the right materials to save weight while maintaining strength, even though it adds cost, it saves weight and adds structural rigidity and performance. The structure is vastly stiffer than it would have been,” in the all-steel, conventional Yaris economy car.

Front suspension on this solid foundation is typical MacPherson strut design, while the rear employs a double wishbone layout. As a well-balanced all-wheel drive machine, the GR Yaris wears 225/40ZR18 tires on BBS forged aluminum wheels at all four corners. Braking hardware is provided by Brembo, with four-piston front calipers and two-piston rears.

Image source: Toyota

Powering this lighter, stronger, slipperier skeleton is a seemingly curious choice of engines: A turbocharged, direct-injected 1.6-liter three-cylinder. But a three-cylinder engine provides the ideal combination of size, mass and power for the rally driving application, according to Clark. 

“Light weight was massively important to the chief engineer,” he explained. “So when you find areas where you can save weight, you have to take them.” While size and mass were priorities, the race version will be trying to beat competitors, so the engine has to make good power too.

In production trim, the G16E-GTS triple in street-legal GR Yarises will be rated at 268 horsepower and 273 lb. ft. of torque. The engine passes that power to a conventional 6-speed manual gearbox with an H-pattern shifter and clutch pedal. This will surely thrill purists who love the old-style do-it-yourself transmissions, but it contrasts with the usual rally configuration of a sequential manual transmission with a fore-and-aft sequential shifter.

Image source: Toyota

It sends power to a center computer-controlled multi-plate center clutch that splits power between the front and rear wheels. While it technically could send as much as 100 percent of the torque to either axle, Toyota has programmed the computer to permit the driver three choices: 30/70 percent front/rear torque split, 50/50 and 60/40. Depending on the conditions these simplified options will give drivers the best results, according to Clark.

At each end of the car power is split between the left and right wheels by torque-sensing differentials. Combined with the settings of the center differential, this hardware works magic, swears Clark. “I’ve driven it in all three modes,” he reported. “It makes me look like (legendary rally driver) Tomi Makinen!”

Image source: Toyota

Current Gazoo Racing WRC driver Jari-Matti Latvala also vouches for the result in the production version of the car he will race starting in 2021. “This car is built so that you can drive it everywhere: on snow, on ice, on tarmac, on gravel,” he said in a promotional video. “This is the specialty of this car. It is made for all the conditions, four-by-four.”

The opportunity for WRC fans in global markets to pretend to be Latvala while driving the GR Yaris will surely fuel sales of all 25,000 required units. Fingers crossed we eventually get some of them in the U.S.

Image source: Toyota

RELATED ARTICLES:

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

Plastics driving advances in electric and autonomous vehicles

Sun, 2020-02-16 21:43

Widescreen displays and a minimally obstructed view outside will be a feature of the next generation of electric and autonomous vehicles. Image courtesy of Byton.

There’s a common misconception in the industry that electric vehicles, having fewer components, in particular moving ones, are easier to design and build and, thus, the entry barriers to this market segment are a lot lower than they are for traditional internal combustion engine-powered vehicles. After all, anyone can buy some batteries and motors and connect them up, cooling is super easy so you don’t need any front-facing air intakes, and braking is simpler because you can turn the electric motor in reverse to assist in decelerating, right?

Well according to David Twohig, CTO at Chinese start-up EV maker Byton, “EVs are very, very hard to do,” and in fact more challenging to do successfully compared with ICEVs. Having played a key role in the development of the Nissan Leaf and sister vehicle Renault Zoe, debuting in 2010 and 2012, respectively, Twohig has the right to be taken seriously. Byton was co-founded by former BMW and Nissan Motor executives and recently completed a factory in Nanjing with capacity of 300,000 vehicles/year.

Stating his case, Twohig concedes that anyone can buy batteries, but they need to be protected from side impacts such as collisions with poles, as of course do the occupants. And here’s the interesting point—the batteries are more sensitive than the human body, capable of absorbing “only” 60 G of force versus 80 G for the driver or passenger. As such, the implications are substantial for material selection and design of impact zones. Honeycomb structure crush zones constructed from thermoplastic composites may prove a viable solution here given the emphasis on lightweighting. Further lightweighting will be achievable by replacing aluminum or steel used in the top and bottom layers for battery enclosures with carbon fiber- and glass fiber-reinforced composites, the first examples of which are set to debut.

An all-electric drive chain brings with it numerous engineering challenges, particularly with regards to motor and battery cooling and vehicle interior heating. Image courtesy of Byton.

And perhaps counterintuitively, EVs are actually harder to cool, according to Byton’s Twohig: “EVs run at 60°C versus 105°C for ICEVs but you need to move a lot of air, even at low speeds, to thermally manage an EV.” Twohig notes that EVs are harder to heat in winter as there is no waste heat (in fact the batteries need to be heated, too), and harder to cool in summer due to the lower T (consult a thermodynamics textbook to find out why). End result: EVs need larger air intakes, and plastic is a perfect material to create openings at the front of the vehicle. To boot, four to five brushless radiator fans should be installed behind the bumper, delivering more opportunities for plastic components. “EVs require heat pumps and there are 30-40% more components in a well-built EV cooling system,” says Twohig.

Turning to deceleration, a two-tonne SUV EV requires a mammoth 1300 kW of energy to brake whereas the traction motors only generate around 500 KW of power. Thus, an EV requires a vacuum-independent electromechanical brake booster powered by the vehicle’s main battery couple with backup through a 12-V system in case the battery fails. “We’re getting to aircraft level redundancy [in EVs],” Twohig notes, and all of the systems integrated into EVs adopt a high degree of plastic components.

Engineers at reputable EV OEMs have solved these challenges and the good news is that there are many well-engineered EVs on the market. The bad news is that because engineers were so busy solving these fundamental problems, the EV driving experience is essentially the same as driving an ICEV. “The industry has had no time to introduce new experiences, and EV interiors are basically the same as there have been for the last 50 years, including the familiar center console originally developed to cover the gearbox and drivetrain.

Say goodbye to the traditional instrument panel and console. The next-generation of front seat functionality will be much more immersive and content-rich. Image courtesy of Byton.

Byton, however, aims to revolutionize the EV interior with its M-Byte SUV slated for release in China later this year. The key feature of the vehicle will be a massive 48-inch display that will be more than just a big screen. Facial recognition, tactile control for driver and passenger, and gesture control will be enabled by sensors and functional plastic films, but there will still be a few buttons, assures Twohig.

In the autonomous car of the future, data power is going to be more important than driving power, predicts Twohig. “Data will be more important than oversteer. [OEMs] need to consider what people will do in the car.”

Plastics used in telecommunications infrastructure will also play a key role in autonomy and data transfer for next-generation vehicles. Case-in-point: Ryan McGee, Director, Connected Vehicle Platform and Products, at Ford Motor Co. (China) notes that all Ford vehicles will be cellular vehicle-to-everything (CVTE) ready for models starting 2022. CVTE enables an autonomous vehicle to connect, for example, to traffic lights or pedestrians on the street. These safety-critical functionalities will be supported by plastics whose performance has been proved in 4G and eventually 5G telecom networks.

CVTE will enable intent sharing, for example, if a driver jams on the brakes, cooperative driving like a caravan, enhanced traffic efficiency if traffic light timing can be ascertained, and increased situational awareness such as when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk, which contribute to safety or reduced energy consumption.

Autonomous vehicles will pack in multiple sensors for safety and comfort. Image courtesy of Sony.

Safety and interior technologies of the future were also highlighted at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas by Sony. The electronics company’s Vision-S housed 33 sensors, including 12 cameras, three solid-state lidar sensors, and an array of nearly 20 radar and ultrasonic sensors to keep the car safe in autonomous mode. Infrared (IR)-transparent resins are a key requirement for optical LiDAR components.

The skateboard has made a comeback in recent years, and it is emerging as a key design concept not only for mainstream EVs, but also for specialty, and potentially multifunctional vehicle platforms. Image courtesy of Rinspeed AG.

“Electric vehicles are known for their ‘silent’ driving characteristics, which creates a need for dedicated insulation solutions that are capable of reducing the rolling and wind noises transmitted into the passenger compartment,” says Kay Kosar, Head of Marketing & Sales Acoustics & Thermal Solutions (A&TS) Europe at FoamPartner. “At the same time, extensive thermal insulation is needed to minimize the battery power consumed for heating and air conditioning, thus maximizing the mileage range.”

FoamPartner partnered Swiss mobility think tank Rinspeed in the development of the MetroSnap Concept Car. The MetroSnap features a ‘Skateboard’ chassis and quick-change superstructures or ‘Pods’ for passenger and cargo transportation. It utilizes composite, steel and 3D-printed components as well as advanced navigation and safety equipment, including lidar sensors and a drive-by-wire system. The interior design takes advantage of state-of-the-art materials engineering, including lightweighting insulation foam technology from FoamPartner.

EVs lend themselves to the skateboard concept given the battery and electric motors are positioned as low as possible for a lower center of gravity. This concept may lead to a transformation of the supply chain structure for autos, where drivetrain experts capable of engineering safe and solid designs may market these platforms to third parties with expertise in electronics, aesthetic bodywork and interior design, as the case is with Sony and Magna.

Smart insulin-delivery patch could revolutionize diabetes management one day

Fri, 2020-02-14 13:38

A smart insulin-delivery patch that monitors blood-sugar levels and automatically delivers the proper dosage of insulin could dramatically improve the quality of life for people with diabetes. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing the technology, which they describe in a recent issue of Nature Biomedical Engineering. Having successfully tested the technology on animals, the research team, led by Zhen Gu, PhD, professor of bioengineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, has applied for FDA approval of clinical trials in humans.

Micro-needles in the patch automatically release insulin when blood-sugar levels reach a certain threshold. Image courtesy Zhen Gu Lab, UCLA.

The adhesive patch is about the size of a quarter and is intended for once-a-day use. It is simple to manufacture by means of in situ photopolymerization, according to the researchers.

The device monitors blood-sugar, or glucose, levels via micro-needles made from a glucose-sensing polymer. Less than 1 mm long, the micro-needles are pre-loaded with insulin, which is released when blood-sugar levels reach a certain threshold. As the blood-sugar levels return to normal, insulin delivery slows down. In addition to bringing unprecedented convenience to patients, the device can help prevent insulin overdoses, which can lead to hypoglycemia, seizures, coma or even death, said the researchers.

"We developed this kind of glucose-responsive polymer based on the glucose-sensitive phenylboronic acid group," researcher Jicheng Yu explained to PlasticsToday. “Phenylboronic acid can reversibly interact with glucose to generate a negatively charged group, which causes the change in electrostatic charges in the microneedles.”

The article abstract goes into greater detail. “Under hyperglycaemic conditions, phenylboronic acid units within the polymeric matrix reversibly form glucose–boronate complexes that—owing to their increased negative charge—induce the swelling of the polymeric matrix and weaken the electrostatic interactions between the negatively charged insulin and polymers, promoting the rapid release of insulin,” write the researchers.

Much smaller than regular needles, the micro-needles penetrate about a half-millimeter below the skin, making the patch less painful than a pinprick. The depth of penetration is sufficient to deliver insulin into the body, added the researchers.

"Our main goal is to enhance health and improve the quality of life for people who have diabetes," said Gu, a former professor in the UNC/NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering. "This smart patch takes away the need to constantly check one's blood sugar and then inject insulin if and when it's needed. It mimics the regulatory function of the pancreas but in a way that's easy to use."

Although diabetes is recognized as a huge market opportunity by medical device companies—reportedly, more than 400 million people worldwide are diagnosed as diabetic—technological advances have been largely incremental. Medtronic’s MiniMed 780G automated insulin dosing system, which is expected to ship this year, and Tandem’s Control-IQ technology paired with its t:slim X2 insulin pump and Dexcom’s G6 continuous glucose monitoring system, cleared by FDA late last year, both move the needle somewhat in diabetes management. But, as stated in the press release describing the smart patch, treatment for the disease hasn't changed much in decades in most of the world.

“Patients with diabetes draw their blood using a device that measures glucose levels," said the press release. "They then self-administer a necessary dose of insulin. The insulin can be injected with a needle and syringe, a pen-like device, or delivered by an insulin pump. A smart insulin patch would sense the need for insulin and deliver it.”

"It has always been a dream to achieve insulin delivery in a smart and convenient manner," said study co-author John Buse, MD, PhD, director of the UNC Diabetes Center and the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. "This smart insulin patch, if proven safe and effective in human trials, would revolutionize the patient experience of diabetes care."

The technology has been accepted into FDA’s Emerging Technology Program, which provides assistance to companies during the regulatory process. The researchers are applying for FDA approval for human clinical trials, which they anticipate could start within a few years.

8 Heart-Racing New Rides You Will Love

Fri, 2020-02-14 05:30

RELATED ARTICLES:

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

Light-Based Nano Antennas Developed For IoT Data Transfer

Fri, 2020-02-14 03:22

Speedy and efficient data transfer is key to making the Internet of Things (IoT) a true reality, as more and more devices beyond smartphones and tablets are beginning to communicate through various wireless transfer technology and protocols. While currently radio-based antennas included in devices is typically the way they communicate, there now is the potential for another, more direct option for data transfer that allows for smaller form factors.

Researchers developed the world's first electrically powered photon-based antenna at the University of Würzburg's Department of Physics. (Image source: Department of Physics/Physikalisches Institut)

Physicists at the University of Wurzburg in Germany have for the first time successfully converted electrical signals into photons and radiated them in specific directions using a low-footprint optical antenna that is only 800 nanometers in size.

A team led by Physics Professor Bert Hecht developed technology that can generate directed infrared light using an electrically driven antenna made of gold, which researchers called “Yagi-Uda.” The antenna is so-named because two Japanese researchers, Hidetsugu Yagi and Shintaro Uda, invented the antenna in the 1920s.

The breakthrough is significant for a number of reasons, said René Kullock, a member of the nano-optics team who worked on the project. One is that the directional antennas used today--which convert electrical signals to radio waves and then emit them in a particular direction—radiate electromagnetic waves evenly in all directions. This is not the case in the Yagi-Uda antenna. “This does not occur evenly in all directions but through the selective superposition of the radiated waves using special elements, the so-called reflectors and directors," Kullock. "This results in constructive interference in one direction and destructive interference in all other directions."

In this way, the antenna can only receive light coming from the same direction when operated as a receiver, thus emitting its signals only in one direction rather than all directions, researchers said.

Lighting The Way For Data

As all Internet-based communication uses optical light communication, directional antennas that use light as a data-transfer method are an obvious choice to exchange data between different processor cores with little loss and at the speed of light. Developing the antenna—which required researchers to take the laws of typical antenna technology and apply them at nanoscale--was not without its challenges, Kullock said.

While the team previously demonstrated that the principle of an electrically driven light antenna works, they had to expand this work to create the complex Yagi-Uda antenna. "We bombarded gold with gallium ions which enabled us to cut out the antenna shape with all reflectors and directors as well as the necessary connecting wires from high-purity gold crystals with great precision," Hecht explained.

Researchers then positioned a gold nanoparticle in the active element so that it touches one wire of the active element while staying a short distance--one nanometer—away from the other wire. This narrow gap allows electrons to cross it when voltage is applied using a process known as quantum tunneling, Hecht said. This charge motion generates vibrations with optical frequencies in the antenna which are then emitted in a specific direction due to the specific arrangement of the reflectors and directors.

The team published a paper on their work in the journal Nature Communications.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Researchers see their work as a significant breakthrough for providing light-based data transfer in a nano-sized antenna well-suited to the smaller IoT devices and sensors currently being developed. However, researchers have a number of improvements to make to the technology before it can be commercially used.

The team plans to continue to work on the Yagi-Uda antenna by improving the counterpart that receives light signals, as well as boosting the efficiency and stability of the device, researchers said.

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

Engineering the Future, by Design

Pacific Design & Manufacturing is the West coast's leading trade show for design engineers offering the latest in 3D printing, automation, and CAD/CAM software from igus, Protolabs, and Smalley and hundreds more. Register now!

 

IoT Is Getting Embedded In Packaging Equipment

Fri, 2020-02-14 03:15

Schneider Electric is offering built-in IoT connectivity to help users engineer, build, and commission packaging machines efficiently, thus decreasing time to market. These innovations were designed to support machine builders in the digital age. “We’re leveraging augmented reality in order to place digital materials within the mobile workflow of the person managing and maintaining the equipment. Simone Gianotti, IIoT Solutions Deployment Leader at Schneider Electric told Design News.

According to Gianotti, when an issue arises, users can virtually “see inside” a machine to learn what the problem is and how to properly address it without stopping the machine or opening a cabinet. “They won’t need to spend time diagnosing the issue, because the platform will direct them to the problem,” said Gianotti. “Operators won’t need to stop in the middle of a repair for a tool or a part, because they can plan appropriately before starting the project. They won’t have to search for hard-copy manuals, because they can now access the information with a tap on the screen.”

EcoStruxure Machine Expert: Intuitive Machine Programming

Schneider’s EcoStruxure Machine Expert is a software solution designed for developing, configuring, and commissioning the entire machine in a single software environment, including logic, motion control, HMI, and related network automation functions. Using predefined templates, packaging OEMs can apply complete libraries or even a new machine module in tool-based software.

Here’s a quick demonstration of some of its capabilities:

“The EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor was developed to leverage innovative augmented reality technology to address classic industry challenges,” said Gianotti. “This solution combines contextual and local information on a mobile device, creating a fusion of the physical, real-life environment with virtual objects.”

The goal was to get real-time data in the hands of the operator. The software also allows young workers to effectively deploy advanced digital tools. “By putting this real-time information at the operator’s fingertips, we are able to improve operational efficiency by reducing maintenance time, enhancing safety, and ensuring consistency of maintenance,” said Gianotti. “As the aging workforce is replaced by younger, less experienced professionals, this tool can provide access to maintenance procedures and support to help them through the necessary repairs and do so on a mobile platform that they are already comfortable working in.”

Workforce Issues

The software is designed to improve efficiency as well as safety. “EcoStruxure Augmented Operator helps people work more efficiently, more safely and more consistently. This provides a new level of workforce empowerment for those in the CPG industry,” said Gianotti. “Digitizing repair manuals and integrating them into this platform with other tools, like procedural guides, videos, and checklists, packaging professionals have the information needed to properly manage and maintain their equipment.”

Gianotti noted that the software assists managers as well as operators. “This workforce empowerment extends to management as well. Integrating this technology allows them to provide an additional level of safety for their employees,” said Gianotti. “By integrating the maintenance procedures into the tool, they are also supporting consistency in their machine maintenance and a digital record of when the maintenance was performed, who performed it and how long it took.”

IoT-Ready Schneider Equipment

The Modicon M262 controller is IIoT-ready for logic and motion applications offering intuitive, scalable and reliable machine integration into the Industry 4.0 environment. The Modicon M262 is designed and delivered with intuitive direct cloud connectivity to enable OEMs to maximize profitability and optimize their time, from the design of performance demanding applications to the commissioning of the machine.

The TeSys Island digital load management system was developed to make machines smarter and help reduce machine stoppages and downtime for unprecedented productivity. The new connected system digitally integrates multifunction motor starters into machine control panels, allowing fast installation and configuration for the direct control and management of low voltage loads thanks to an end-to-end digital customer experience.

RELATED ARTICLES:

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.

Engineering the Future, by Design

Pacific Design & Manufacturing is the West coast's leading trade show for design engineers offering the latest in 3D printing, automation, and CAD/CAM software from igus, Protolabs, and Smalley and hundreds more. Register now!

 

WTFriday: The 28K crib

Thu, 2020-02-13 17:10

An early front-runner for the most baffling invention of the year award goes to Swedish energy company Vattenfall. Check out the crib pictured below, and tell us what you think it costs. If you guessed $28,885, come on down!

The reason the crib costs this insane amount of money is because it is made completely without the use of fossil fuels. None of the materials used in its fabrication required the use of coal, gas or oil, explains a press release touting this must-have item for woke new parents with endless resources. The bedding is hand-woven from Texel-island wool transported by sailboat; the wood was felled, sawn and dried using green electricity; and even the logo uses the first steel in the world made with hydrogen, which was transported by train and electric car. The objective, said Vattenfall, is to illustrate the complex challenges involved in making a fossil-fuel-free product.

Vattenfall’s Cindy Kroon explained that the crib “demonstrates the challenge for the coming years in getting these types of processes scalable and affordable. We are of course an energy company, not a furniture manufacturer, but we do want to take a broader perspective and seek cooperation to help industry and the transport sector in becoming fossil free,” said Kroon.

The press release goes on to say that “across Europe, a number of industries have already almost disappeared and crafts that have been handed down over generations are in danger of becoming history. The price of losing these skills and the time needed to create a totally green item is too high and must be brought down to ensure a better and cleaner future for the next generation.”

OK, and a 28K crib somehow is supposed to drive that agenda? I just don’t get it. I’m all for preserving artisanal crafts and fully appreciate that they should command a premium. But there’s a reason that plastics and modern manufacturing technologies have conquered the world—they put much-needed products within the financial reach of the average consumer. I think we can find some middle ground between a wasteful use of natural resources—and, as we have shown countless times in PlasticsToday, polymers are not the villain in this regard that they are made out to be—and a revival of hundred-year-old technologies.

But I do want to thank Vattenfall for contributing fodder for the first installment in our occasional WTFriday series.

Federal bill seeks to hold plastics industry responsible for dealing with waste

Thu, 2020-02-13 13:17

Banning various single-use items made from conventional plastics hasn’t really worked. It’s only created demand for more, less eco-friendly single-use products, such as those made from biodegradable materials that either must be left in the open environment or sent to landfills. Recycling works only to the extent that recyclers can get their hands on the most readily recyclable plastics such as PET or HDPE.

Now, the federal government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that shifting the responsibility for recycling from consumers to the plastics industry is the way to go. A new bill was introduced in Congress on Feb. 11 because, of course, more laws are needed to address the plastic waste “crisis.” The “Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act 2020,” introduced by Democratic lawmakers, “would be the most ambitious regulation the U.S. plastics industry has ever seen,” said media reports.

Similar to “extended producer responsibility” enacted in the EU, the bill would require plastics producers to collect and recycle their own waste, create a nationwide drink-container refund scheme and phase out certain single-use plastic items. The bill doesn’t specifically say which plastics producers—those who manufacture recyclable PET or HDPE resins or those who produce all resins, even if they are not recyclable—will be responsible for collecting and recycling plastic waste. I can’t see making producers collect plastic waste that isn’t recyclable having any value.

Also, what about the companies that produce the products themselves. Will they play a role under this bill? A company that makes PET bottles should have some role in the recycling process: Coca-Cola makes hundreds of thousands of PET bottles and has announced plans to recycle them, for example. The company is even putting recycling instructions on its bottles to help consumers do the right thing.

But, given that consumers are human, will they do the right thing? I’m not so sure considering that the primary problem with plastic waste is people who throw their used bottles and containers into the environment. The big key to recycling, I’ve often been told by recyclers, is “getting our hands on the material.” That’s made more difficult if bottles and containers are not put in recycling bins.

Here’s the real kicker in this bill: “Permitting of new plastic production would be paused for up to three years under the proposal,” said a news item in Phys.org.   

To that idea, Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) President and CEO Tony Radoszewski said in a statement: “As drafted, we do not believe the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 would effectively address pollution in the U.S. or globally. The title of this bill suggests it is more interested in garnering headlines than it is in finding solutions.”

Radoszewski reminded Congress that “plastics only account for 13% of municipal solid waste in the U.S. Any effort to specifically target plastic materials—that, after life-cycle analysis, prove to be more environmentally desirable than other materials—would be misguided at best and harmful at worst. Furthermore, this legislation’s efforts to shut down plastics manufacturing would hurt the nearly one million hard-working men and women in our industry and the nation’s economy as a whole.”

Radoszewski proposes making it easier for everyone to recycle and to make recycling more profitable to “truly reduce the amount of litter that is finding its way into our waterways and, ultimately, our oceans.”

The Recycling Partnership’s “2020 State of Curbside Recycling” report finds that we still have a long way to go with curbside recycling in the United States “to deliver its enormous potential economic and environmental benefits.” In its Feb. 13, 2020, announcement, the Recycling Partnership said that only half of Americans have the same level of access to curbside recycling as they do to trash. Some who have access do not participate, and not all who participate do so fully.

As a result, only 32% of what’s available to capture in single-family U.S. homes is recycled, leaving more than 20  million tons of curbside recyclable materials lost to disposal each year, said the report, which urges that new and substantial action be taken by all stakeholders to solve the problem of low recycling rates.

“It it clear that unless stakeholders from across the value chain align and step up, we will not be able to drive the change necessary to move recycling in the U.S. to the next level,” said Keefe Harrison, CEO of the Recycling Partnership. “Every day we hear from citizens, communities, policymakers, corporate leaders and NGOs who all want the same thing—a stronger recycling system. It will take bold public-private partnerships and leadership to make lasting improvements. Now is the time for action.”

Radoszewski points to measures such as the Recover Act, which “would designate funds to improve the recycling infrastructure in this country, and other efforts like the Recycle Act and the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act that provide better approaches than what we’ve seen in the ‘Break Free’ act,” he said.

It’s obvious that the two sponsors of this bill, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Alan Lowenthal, Democratic congressman from California, do not understand the business of plastics or the challenges of recyclers getting their hands on recyclable materials. They can think of nothing better than to legislate against plastics. The reality is certainly more complex than refusing to permit new plastic production for up to three years under the economically misguided idea that if we don’t make more plastic the problem is solved.

Never mind that the alternative materials needed in the meantime to replace the lack of recyclable plastics will be more harmful to the environment—as well as to the economy—than conventional, recyclable plastics. While the sponsors of the “Break Free” bill make it sound easy to hold resin producers responsible for plastic waste, it will be a lengthy, complex process to incorporate the current collection and recycling infrastructure into privatized collection and recycling by the large resin producers.

But, after all, Udall and Lowenthal are from the government, and they’re here to help.

Image: MarekPhotoDesign.com/Adobe Stock

Workforce development and business growth top concerns in mold making survey

Thu, 2020-02-13 12:09

Fourth-quarter performance may have been a precursor to what 2020 holds for the mold manufacturing industry. “I’m concerned about the [2019] fourth-quarter performance,” commented Troy Nix, Executive Director of the American Mold Builders Association (AMBA; Indianapolis) during a webinar in which the results of the AMBA survey were released. “Challenges have shifted a bit for this year, with workforce development and growth being the top two, respectively.”

A total of 113 respondents, 80% of whom were mold makers (10% die cast and 10% other), answered the AMBA survey between Dec. 13, 2019, and Jan. 17, 2020, most of them in the upper Midwest and eastern states. Seven percent of respondents had sales under $1 million and 43% were in the $1 million to $4.99 million bracket, for a total of 50% of the respondents. Thirty-seven percent of respondents reported sales of $5 million to $14.9 million; 9% were in the $15 million to $49.9 million range; and 4% had $50+ million in sales.

Primary markets served by the respondents are automotive (67%), consumer products (54%), medical/dental/optical (42%) and packaging (25%). Of those markets, 26% of respondents were most optimistic about the medical/dental/optical sector as an area of potential new business growth. By contrast, only 18% were optimistic about the automotive market.

When it comes to automotive, said Nix, it all depends on “who your customer is.” With car sales down in 2019 and truck and SUV sales up, along with an industry projection for 2020 of 16.8 million units, the global demand for vehicles is “dragging.”

Among industry challenges, workforce development topped the survey for the fourth year in a row, with 93% of respondents citing it as the biggest challenge. Age demographics in the survey show that 13% of employees are 61+ years of age and 42% of shops have employees aged 46 to 60, meaning that 55% of respondents’ current workforce is on the cusp of retirement as the baby boomer generation continues its exodus from the workplace. Twenty-four percent of responding shops have employees in the 31 to 45 age group, and 21% have employees aged 18 to 30. Sixty-four percent of respondents are looking to hire this year, with 24% “not sure.” Twelve percent are not hiring.

New business development came in as the second biggest challenge (46%), but 36% of respondents anticipate business “will increase” while 53% said business will “remain the same.” Eleven percent expect a decrease in business. Foreign competition ranked third (27%) as an industry challenge. Tied for fourth place were maintaining profitability and continuous improvement, each one a challenge for 20% of respondents.

Recognizing a need to be more competitive, 26% of respondents said they will buy new equipment or update equipment in 2020, while 15% said they will invest in workforce development. Thirty-five percent intend to make capital expenditures on primary equipment; 26% will spend on equipment repair and maintenance; and 26% will make capital expenditures on technology.

Many mold manufacturers were hoping to get a bounce in business growth from the tariffs on molds coming from China. AMBA asked: “Based on the reinstatement of tariffs on Chinese molds, what is the impact on your company?”

Twenty percent responded that they have seen no impact on their business; 28% have seen none yet, but are hoping for a positive impact; 44% are quoting some new opportunities; and 6% are seeing “significant quoting.” None of the respondents, however, have landed any new business as a result of the tariffs.

Omar Nashashibi, a partner at Franklin Partnership LLP who works with AMBA, commented that it was clear that “China would not live up to WTO agreements.” It took perseverance to get the tariffs reinstated this past December, but there was obviously a lot at stake. “Government-owned companies are our competition,” Nashashibi said, adding that 50 companies requested exclusion from these tariffs.

“Exclusions were granted based on quality and availability [of molds], and OEMs would mask it by saying they couldn’t get molds here,” said Nashashibi. However, AMBA’s surveys have shown there is excess capacity in most mold shops, with the current survey showing an average of 67% capacity utilization.

Mold shops typically forecast their future workload by looking at their backlog—work in the pipeline. Four percent of shops responding to the AMBA 2020 survey are “empty and desperate” and 47% said they are “not full enough.” Only 27% said they have an “adequate” amount of work in the pipeline; 15% are “full” and 6% are “oversold.”

Anticipated capacity utilization in 2020 for mold shops under $1 million in sales is estimated to be 66%; for shops from $1 million to $4.99 million and $5 million to $14.9 million, the projection is 70% utilization. Shops in the $15 million to $49.9 million range, are estimating a 67% utilization rate, and shops with sales in excess of $50 million estimate an 83% capacity utilization rate.

“Importers filed over 30 requests to continue keeping tariffs off molds,” said Nashashibi. “We proved that [mold makers] exist and have open capacity. If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Some opponents to reinstating the tariffs called for separating out design costs from materials costs, but the U.S. Trade Representative said no to that idea. Additionally, the Chinese say they’ll get around these tariffs by “parking” molds in Malaysia for a week. “We need to watch for tariff evasion schemes,” said Nashashibi. “Trump is building momentum and winning on trade agreements.”

Image: Peterschreiber.media/Adobe Stock

GM's Lab Tortures Batteries In Preparation For Upcoming EVs

Thu, 2020-02-13 04:06

An engineer handles a battery cell. Image source: General Motors Co.

Years of consumer experience with familiar AA-through-D-cell batteries makes it easy for us to conflate battery cells and battery packs.

The recent problem of unscrupulous online vape and flashlight sellers installing raw lithium-ion cells into their products with the expectation that consumers will replace these cells themselves is making the problem worse. It is a situation that LG Chem is addressing with full-page newspaper advertisements and a dedicated web site reminding consumers that bare lithium-ion cells are not consumer battery products that are safe to use on their own.

LG Chem is General Motors’ partner in a planned $2.3 billion conversion of the Lordstown, Ohio assembly plant into a battery plant to supply GM’s planned wave of EV models. Those EVs will come from GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant, which it has announced will undergo a $2.2 billion conversion to produce only electric vehicles, starting with an electric pickup truck such as the GMC Hummer in late 2021.

The Chevrolet Bolt EV will soon be joined by an electric pickup truck. Image source: General Motors Co.

As we saw with battery files in laptop computers and even the first Boeing 787 airliners, even lithium-ion batteries that are properly packaged and electronically managed can suffer pyrotechnic failures. This is why General Motors operates a mammoth battery laboratory at its Warren Technical Center, where it tests battery packs to confirm their safety.

The first thing the lab does is test cells to compare them with the specifications provided by their manufacturers, according to Doug Drauch, lead engineer for battery test system integration. Manufacturers’ specs used to be fairly optimistic, though current suppliers tend to be more accurate in their specifications. “Nowadays, they are pretty straight with us,” Drauch reported.

Nevertheless, there’s a difference between basic specs and how the batteries perform in an automotive application, which is why the lab needs to test them, he said. “Early on, very few suppliers understood how the cells would work in a car,” he explained.

Battery test stations in GM's battery test lab. Image source: General Motors Co.

The lab has 40 battery test stations where engineers put the battery packs through their paces, charging and discharging exactly as if they were working in an EV. “We vary the levels of power based on a drive profile,” said Drauch. “As far as the battery pack is concerned, it is in a vehicle,” though it does not experience the vibration of actual driving.

One of the most important functions of this testing is developing the software algorithms that forecast battery life. It is easy for a combustion engine vehicle to measure and report the volume of liquid fuel remaining in its fuel tank, but the recoverable energy in a battery depends on so many variables that it is difficult to gauge. 

Engineers rolling a BEV battery pack from the climate chamber room. Image source: General Motors Co.

That is compounded by the fact that EVs’ range is affected by temperature, lighting, speed, and traffic, which makes remaining driving range as tough to forecast as the weather. “The battery state estimator is one of the most important pieces of code we have in the car,” Drauch said. “You can’t just go out and buy a battery state of charge estimator.” Fully a third of the test channels of data on the batteries in the lab are dedicated to developing this software, he said.

In addition to the battery test stations, GM’s lab also has 18 climate chambers that can freeze and cook the battery packs to verify their ability to withstand extreme weather conditions.

Freezing a battery pack in the climate chamber. Image source: General Motors Co.

Today, the lab is working with GM’s next-generation battery packs, after developing the T-shaped pack for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and the flat, under-floor pack for the Bolt battery electric vehicle. 

The 2020 Bolt features an updated version of its pack, referred to now as the BEV2 pack, and the company is preparing the BEV3 pack for use in upcoming vehicles.

Tweaks to the BEV2 pack and its programming have wrung a few extra miles out of it, with a driving range rating of 259 miles for the 2020 Bolt compared to 238 miles for the 2019 model.

GM's under-floor 2019 Battery Electric Vehicle pack. Image source: General Motors Co.

BEV3 features changes similar to those that Ford announced for the Mustang Mach-E’s pack. This is a larger package that covers more floor area, but it is shallower, making it more friendly for use in vehicles that aren’t as tall as the Bolt.

The pack is designed to be modular, so the same basic pack can be used in plug-in hybrid duty for supplemental power, battery-electric vehicle duty for regular around-town service, and long-range BEV driving service. Its configuration can vary, with 6, 8, 10, 12 or 24 packs of cells inside.

The 400-volt versions of the pack will support 150-kW DC fast charging, and the 800-volt packs will work with 350-kW DC fast chargers. All of this rigorous testing and packaging of the basic cells underscores the message that lithium-ion battery cells are raw material and not finished consumer products, as GM’s battery packs are when they go into cars.

The 2022 GMC Hummer will use the BEV3 battery pack. Image source: General Motors Co.

With the battery lab putting these packs through their paces in preparation for use by real customers, all that remains is for GM to introduce the vehicles that will use them so we can give them a try!

RELATED ARTICLES:

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

'Chameleon' Metals Change Surface In Response To Heat

Thu, 2020-02-13 03:13

This illustration shows how a particle of "chameleon metal" reacts to higher and higher temperatures by sequentially changing its surface structure. (Image source: Andrew Martin, Iowa State University)

Researchers at Iowa State University have discovered a new way to change the surface structure of metals in response to heat – a breakthrough that paves the way for new “smart” alloys and the development of new types of metals that are better protected against damage.

Scientists treated particles of liquid-metal alloys with heat and found that this causes them to roughen their surfaces with tiny spheres, or nanowires. They called the new materials that formed “chameleon” metals, because they respond to heat and change in the same way a chameleon’s skin responds to color and changes.

The researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

By controlling the heat, the researchers could also control surface patterns, which could lead to the design of smart alloy systems that evolve their surface patterns and composition with temperature, Martin Thuo, an Iowa State assistant professor of materials science and engineering, told Design News. These new alloys could be used in applications ranging from sensing to catalysis, he said.

“We show that understanding the surface of a material opens new pathways to efficiently engineer a material with very limited resources – a very frugal approach to surface engineering,” Thuo told Design News. “Besides the product, surface modification of a material is often riddled with challenges in bonding between the modifier and the host; here that is out of question as the material is the same.”

Though the process also could potentially work with a solid metal, Thuo’s team worked with a liquid metal alloy of gallium, indium, and tin synthesized into particles covered with a smooth oxide shell that was chemically stabilized.

As they heated the particles of metal, they found that the surface of the material thickened and stiffened, acting more like a solid than a liquid.

Heat Inspires Change

Thuo said eventually this process led to a break in the surface of the metal—with gallium breaking through first – allowing the liquid metal to come inside. By applying more heat, he and his team could also bring indium and tin to the surface, with the latter requiring the most heat (about 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit) to break through.

“This process repeats, releasing features that are different in composition and at very specific temperatures,” Thuo told us. “Just like a chameleon responds to color, these metals are responding to heat.”

Because the metal particles are responding to a controlled environment in which time, temperature, and oxygen levels are all carefully set, the researchers said they can predict and program the exact surface texture of the particles.

“This is not a top-down or bottom-up approach, but rather a self-triggering response to the stimuli. Change the conditions and you get a new material,” Thuo said.

The technology could be used to fine-tune a metal’s performance as a catalyst or its ability to absorb compounds, Thuo said.

“We are exploring how this phenomena can be used in a temperature-driven catalyst release or surface reconstitution,” he told Design News. “This kind of behavior can also be used to protect metals from damage.”

The researchers believe their process also will work with other metal alloys. “We are exploring other alloys and also trying to change the kind of features growing on the surface,” Thuo said.

RELATED ARTICLES:

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.

4 Women Guide ASTM Standards To Make Every Day 'Women's Day In Science'

Thu, 2020-02-13 03:11

The failure of Apple's Health app to include a function to let women track their periods was an infamous example of the blind spots that exist in monocultures. That is why it is critical for standards bodies like ASTM International to include a diversity of voices as they shape the technical standards that steer future products and projects. 

With consideration of female perpectives from the creation of technical standards and onward throughout the product development process, women should be free of the "shrink it and pink it" mentality in products and services.

Watch President Kathie Morgan and four ASTM International members — Teresa Alleman from U.S. National Renewal Energy Laboratory; Laura Woodburn from Hersheypark; Elena Messina from U.S. National Institute of Science and Technology; and Yong-Li McFarland of Southwest Research Institute — discuss the importance of diversity in standards development.

RELATED ARTICLES:

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.

20 Products Trending In High-Speed Interconnect Technologies

Wed, 2020-02-12 05:30

 

RELATED ARTICLES:

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.

How Smart Engineering Puts The $100,000 2021 Jaguar F-Type Back On Top

Wed, 2020-02-12 04:23

1980s tennis bad boy Andre Agassi used to exclaim that “Image is everything,” and the 2021 Jaguar F-Type seems to be evidence that Agassi’s thesis is still valid. Consider the car’s new LED headlamps, which change both how Jaguar’s two-seat sports car looks and how drivers can see from behind the wheel at night.

These new 128-LED lights slash a bold horizonal line below the car’s hood, where the 2020 car’s lights stretched up and backward. The new look is decidedly more contemporary and menacing, where the original design was maybe anchored a little too firmly in Jaguar’s illustrious heritage.

“The new headlight pulls your eye down, and makes the bonnet look much longer,” noted Jaguar design director, Julian Thomson. This seemingly slight change, along with the addition of some muscular curves elsewhere in the sheet metal, revitalizes the design of a car that debuted in 2013.How Smart Engineering Puts The $100,000 2021 Jaguar F-Type Back On Top

But those lights also change the view from the F-Type, not just of the F-Type. At least, they do at night. The lights feature what Jaguar terms pixel technology, wherein the individually aimed elements of the lights switch on an off according to a computer analysis of the road ahead. This means the car can dim those elements that would dazzle an oncoming car as it passes while leaving the others still at full brightness to light the road ahead.

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover

They similarly dim to avoid scorching the trunk of the car ahead, while still lighting the road around and even potentially ahead of the leading car, giving both cars the benefit of the improved illumination.

Experiencing these lights on the media introduction drive in Portugal was a revelation. Seeing technology fulfill the promise of its promoters is exciting, and we in the U.S. have been denied this technology so far by government regulators who still think in binary on-off terms only for high beam headlights.

Jaguar calls the ability to be more granular with its lighting “pixel” technology, though after driving the car it might be better consider these to be the blocky kind of 8-bit pixels we remember from the Atari 2600 video game console rather than the slick high-resolution pixels of a modern smart phone.

This makes it easier to watch the blocks darken and lighten around other cars as they pass, though surely the technology will advance sufficiently to precisely surround other cars with a light silhouette tailored like a victim’s police chalk outline on a sidewalk.

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover

These lights are an exclusive feature of our tested $103,200, 575-horsepower, 516 lb.-ft., supercharged 5.0-liter V8 coupe model. A drop-top version starts at $105,900. It sends power through a ZF 8HP70 8-speed planetary automatic transmission to a computer-controlled all-wheel drive system, accelerating to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds to reach an electronically limited top speed of 186 mph.

We also get the choice of a U.S. market-only mid-level model, the P380. That car is also all-wheel drive with the same automatic transmission, but draws power from a supercharged 380-hp, 339 lb.ft., 3.0-liter V6 engine, with coupe pricing starting at $81,800 and the convertible at $84,900.

Jaguar F-Type vehicle dynamics manager Tanmay Dube was born in India, but relocated to the U.K. as a baby and graduated from the University of Bath with a master's degree in Automotive Engineering in 2010. Straight out of school, Dube started at McLaren Automotive during the launch phase of the MP4-12C, that company's first mass-produced model. He was able to work on McLaren's legendary P1 hybrid electric hypercar and took the lead developing the current 720S. Dube joined Jaguar in 2018, and was responsible for whole-vehicle integration and attribute delivery for the 2021 F-Type. Image source: Jaguar Land Rover.

The P380 zooms to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, and continues to a top speed of 171 mph. This model, as a U.S.-only car, was unavailable for evaluation at the test drive in Portugal.

We did, however, also get to drive the lighter and more accessible F-Type P300. This model starts at $61,600 for the coupe and $64,700 for the roadster. It packs a 296-hp, 295-lb. ft. turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. This is a rear-drive model, using ZF’s 8HP45 8-speed automatic transmission.

There is no conventional H-pattern manual transmission available in the F-Type. This of course is an anathema to sports car traditionalists, but their numbers are dwindling to the point that carmakers are increasingly unable to make a rational business case for offering a DIY gearbox option.

Between the lighter engine, lighter transmission and the elimination of the all-wheel drive system, the F-Type P300 coupe weighs 3,351, which is almost exactly 500 lbs. lighter than the V8, AWD F-Type R. This mass reduction shifts the car’s weight balance to the rear wheels by a couple percentage points and contributes to the car’s ability to sprint to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. Terminal velocity of this model is electronically limited to 155 mph.

It might take some getting used to for customers to think about spending more than $60,000 for a luxury sports car that has only four cylinders beneath its graceful hood, but hours spent slicing through the sinuous roads of Portugal’s Serra de Estrela mountains demonstrated this concern to be misplaced.

The four-cylinder not only delivers ample power, as illustrated by its excellent 0-60 acceleration, but it is accompanied by an entirely appropriate soundtrack. The inline cylinder arrangement seemingly delivers a more invigorating aural component to the drive than is the case with the horizontally opposed flat-four engine of the Porsche 718 Boxster and Cayman models.

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover

As fun as the P300 is, the V8 F-Type R is an entirely different experience, with its astonishing rush of power and thundering American muscle car voice. The most surprising aspect of the V8 car is how it turns into curves with alacrity despite the extra weight over the front wheels and the understeer-inducing potential of the power coursing through the front tires.

Previously, Jaguar tried to avoid this by dialing in intentional oversteer, a trait that could be hair-raising in a car with the V8 F-Type’s power.  “The old V8 had a tendency to be a bit more scary,” noted Tanmay Dube, F-Type vehicle integration manager. “This is more progressive.”

The answer came, not from the front suspension, but the rear. Dube tapped his experience developing cars like the McLaren 720S before he joined Jaguar to identify weaknesses in the old car’s rear suspension.

They were solved with the selection of beefy die-cast aluminum rear hub carriers that feature enlarged wheel bearings and upgraded upper ball joints to increase camber stiffness by 37 percent and toe stiffness by 41 percent. The resultingly more precise control of the rear tires’ contact patches contributes to the new car’s more connected steering feel from the front tires’ contact patches.

On the F-Type R, the tires making that contact are 265/35ZR20 front and 305/30ZR20 rear Pirelli P Zeros that are 10 mm wider than the rubber on last year’s model. Power channeled to those tires is metered by the Intelligent Driveline Dynamics system that sends optimum torque to each wheel, as well as a rear electronic active differential that also helps maximize grip.

Despite all this wizardry and improvement, none of this is regarded by Dube as the area of biggest improvement for the 2021 F-Type. “The real standout factor is the recalibrated steering,” he insisted. “It has sharper on-center feel and more effort on turn-in. It took us months and months tuning the steering with (test driver) Mike Cross.”

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover

It wasn’t a matter of waiting for Cross to return from a drive to hear what needed changing for the next test. “The calibration guys rode along and tuned it live with Mike while he was driving,” Dube said.

How they rode along on Jaguar’s test track while making changes to the response of the car’s electric power steering while test driver Cross tore around the circuit without suffering debilitation motion sickness may be a future medical paper, but in the meanwhile, we’ll just appreciate the fruits of their labor, because the car really does deliver on the engineers’ promises of crisp, responsive steering response, strong feedback of the status of the tires and confidence-inspiring stability even while accelerating hard out of fast turns, when the previous car could lead to some white-knuckle experiences.

The V8 car, of course, boasts a lovely singing voice, so there is no surprise as with the P300 that it sounds good on the road. But the previous edition could be too raucous even for enthusiasts while driving and threatened neighborly relations with its excessive start-up roar that was unappreciated when it rattled windows in the dark morning hours.

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover

Jaguar has added a quiet start feature to quell that racket when drivers and their neighbors aren’t interested in hearing from each of the F-Type’s 575 horses individually. But almost as importantly, the switch from vacuum-actuated muffler bypass valves to electric ones, along with the installation of close-coupled particulate filters on all F-Types seems to have taken the edge off the car’s crackle on overrun. The motivation for the sound, which is intentionally cultivated with a touch of “over fueling” that is programmed into the fuel injection system on lift-throttle conditions, is laudable, as it reminds drivers that their V8 sports car is supposed to be fun.

But in practice, it could be police-baitingly excessive, to the point of possibly embarrassing drivers long graduated from their learner’s permits. Now, the F-Type, with its exhaust changes and stabilized handling characteristics is easier for drivers to love.

“It is more refined and mature,” concluded Dube. Which can be critical when "Image is everything!"

RELATED ARTICLES:

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

Would You Like A Side Of Mold, Sir?

Wed, 2020-02-12 03:38

When former British Prime Minister, Theresa May, proclaimed that she wasn’t opposed to scraping off mold from the top of a jar of jam and eating the product underneath, it sparked a conversation about what moldy foods were safe to eat. On the whole, eating moldy food is not an advisable practice – mold is the scourge of the food industry with producers striving to deliver the freshest produce possible to their customers. However, the world of technology is rapidly advancing, with applications making their way into all areas of food production. These advances help manufacturers combat unnecessary food spoilage and waste.

Food spoilage is a severe safety hazard. Manufacturers strive to bring the freshest possible produce to customers in order to avoid hefty fines and a damaged reputation. (Image source: ABB)

In an industry where the demands of the customer are ever evolving, it is hard for food manufacturers to keep up with the latest trends. This is where data analytics can come into play, giving a level of insight that is invaluable. The use of data analytics in marketing and customer insight is well known, but its uses can go far wider, helping food producers to keep their products at the pinnacle of quality and freshness.

Product Monitoring

Over the course of time, the quality and the characteristics of a product can change. Yet, by using integrated data analytics, manufacturers can learn more about the factors that affect the shelf life of their products. This information can then be used to adapt the product or process to increase shelf life, potentially saving the manufacturer money and time, as well as reducing food waste.

Data analytics also has its uses when maintaining and improving the quality of a consumable product. For instance, during the beer brewing process, monitoring alcohol levels is critical and is something that is regularly analyzed. However, it is a time-consuming process and can be disruptive to the production line. As a result, there are new methods coming into play that allow testing to be carried out without disrupting production and data analytics is being used to measure whether these methods are as insightful and effective as the traditional wet chemistry method.

Monitoring product conditions is also vital for food safety. Keeping food cold is important to ensure its safety and quality, as well as to extend its shelf life. Failure to provide the necessary temperature conditions for a food item has a direct influence on the product, which can be hazardous to consumers. For example, inadequate chilling of cooked meat or failure to maintain the cold chain can lead to microbiological growth, making the product no longer safe for consumption.

Tracking And Traceability

Traceability is the ability to track food through all stages of production, processing and distribution. Most legislation requires producers to be able to trace products one step backwards and one step forwards, at any point in the supply chain. However, it is good practice for a food and beverage producer to trace every single ingredient throughout the whole of their supply chain.

Monitoring and analysis in the food and beverage industry is vital — customers demand that their favorite product tastes the same no matter where they are in the world or where it was manufactured or packaged. The process requires strict control and repeatable standard solutions that can be rolled out across multiple production sites.

Data analytics can provide manufacturers with complete transparency over the whole production line, allowing supreme monitoring of product safety. (Image source: ABB)

Manufacturing Execution System (MES) services offer wide visibility into the complete end-to-end process, from incoming raw materials to the finished shipped product. The MES incorporates functions such as equipment maintenance management, genealogy tracking from raw material as well as material tracing and tracking management. All these features are designed to support food and beverage manufacturers maximize the performance of their plant.

So, even if your customers tastes are as strange as Teresa May’s, by incorporating rigorous monitoring and data analysis across your manufacturing facility, you can be sure that your product is at its very best when it reaches the customer.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Tatjana Milenovic is group VP of ABB’s Food & Beverage. She has over fifteen years’ experience in regulated industries and a wide understanding of automation, robotics and digitalization.

Engineering the Future, by Design

Pacific Design & Manufacturing is the West coast's leading trade show for design engineers offering the latest in 3D printing, automation, and CAD/CAM software from igus, Protolabs, and Smalley and hundreds more. Register now!

 

Boston Micro Fabrication unveils high-resolution microscale 3D-printing technology

Tue, 2020-02-11 22:43

Boston Micro Fabrication (BMF), a pioneer in microscale 3D-printing systems, announced on Feb. 11 the global launch of microArch, which the company calls “the industry’s most accurate and precise high-resolution microscale 3D-printing solution for commercial use.”

MicroArch technology allows users to print ultra-high-resolution parts with greater accuracy and precision at scale, said the company. It was successfully launched during the past 18 months in Asia and over 40 systems have been installed for multiple customers across a range of industries.

“When it comes to additive manufacturing, the next frontier of innovation isn’t big, it’s high-precision, small parts,” said John Kawola, founder and CEO at Boston-based BMF. “We’re seeing a convergence of major trends as the lines between additive manufacturing and miniaturization begin to dissolve. There’s no question that additive manufacturing starts to lose its appeal as parts get smaller. Challenges with precision and accuracy have stymied innovation for engineers and manufacturers looking to develop small, high-resolution parts. That’s all about to change with the introduction of microArch,” said Kawola.

MicroArch uses a proprietary approach to 3D printing named Projection Micro-Stereolithography (PµSL) that leverages light to produce high-resolution prints. Unlike injection molding and CNC machining, microArch can deliver accurate and precise prints at a scale more than 100 times smaller than a human hair and it supports a variety of different materials including tough, elastic, casting and high-temperature resins. This versatility offers engineers and designers, particularly in the medical and electronics industries, the flexibility to experiment with rapid prototyping while leaving the door open for economical mass production, BMF explains.

BMF co-founder Dr. Nick Fang, a professor at MIT, commented: “Curiosity was one of the primary drivers of this discovery. After realizing that we could print using light, we started to imagine the broader technology and business implications—envisioning how we might break down the barriers that previously prevented manufacturers from taking advantage of 3D printing for the production of microscale parts. At that moment we created the business to explore the possibilities, and I am incredibly excited to see what our customers will accomplish using the microArch.”

Out of the box, microArch technology can print to a resolution of 2 µm at tolerances between ±10 and ±25 µm and at volumes that are cost competitive with injection molding, said the company.

“As devices and parts get smaller, the need for accuracy and precision grows even more important and, until now, more difficult to achieve,” added Kawola. “Prior to microArch, there were a number of economical and technological limitations that made it near impossible for manufacturers to capitalize on the benefits of 3D printing for small parts. We’re eliminating those limitations with a new approach that we expect to have a big impact.”

Composite profiles reduce bus emissions in Finland

Tue, 2020-02-11 20:57

Exel Composites has supplied Chinese bus and coach manufacturer Yutong with fiberglass profiles for 33 electric buses which have been delivered to Helsinki, Finland. The introduction of the electric buses is part of the country’s goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. For 2030, the EU commission has set a target for Finland to reduce GHG emissions from transport by 50% compared to 2005.

Headquartered in Vantaa, Finland, Exel designs and manufactures some of the largest and most complex carbon fiber and fiberglass composite profiles on the market. The fiberglass panels delivered to Yutong were manufactured in China and included the skirt and side panels for the electric buses. Yutong delivered the buses to the Finnish bus and road operator, Pohjolan Liikenne. We are continuing to work with Yutong to develop and manufacture composite solutions for their vehicles.

The delivery of the electric buses marks Yutong’s entry into the Finnish market. This is also the largest volume of buses that Finland has purchased from overseas. Finland aims to have 400 electric buses operating in the capital by 2025.

“Light weight fiberglass was important to this project as it reduces operating costs, and helps to increase energy efficiency and that helps improve environmental sustainability,” explained Olli Tevä, SVP, Sales and Marketing, at Exel. “Additionally, our composite profiles resist deformation and corrosion from the harsh road environments typical in Finnish winters. Repairing fiberglass is straightforward and can be done in the depot. This means that the overall lifetime operational and maintenance costs of the buses are decreased.”

Exel is a global manufacturer with production plants in six countries. Its composites help reduce weight, improve performance, and decrease total life cycle costs, all while helping increase energy efficiencies and supporting environmental sustainability.

 

 

 

The 15 Coolest Classic Cars From The Paris Retromobile Show

Tue, 2020-02-11 05:15

The 2020 edition of the annual Paris Retromobile classic car bonanza at the Porte de Versailles Exhibition Centre boasts more than 1,000 of the world's finest classic cars and provides the opportunity for the French auto industry to showcase its heritage. 

RELATED ARTICLES:

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

5 Keys To Successfully Managing Legacy Code

Tue, 2020-02-11 03:29

I feel like there is always a big focus on developing new features, launching the next product or the next big thing, but once those things are successful there is an extraordinary challenge that teams face in managing their legacy code. Even the latest and greatest software at some point becomes legacy and it isn’t always possible to just drop the product line and move on to something else (unless of course you are Google).

Image source: Jacom Beningo

Once there is a user base, the code may need to be maintained for a decade or more. In my travels and online conversations, I encounter a lot of teams who struggle to maintain their code. I’ve found that they often are solely focused on the code, but it turns out that there are actually five keys to successfully managing legacy software in a timely and cost-effective manner. In this post, we will briefly explore these five keys.

Key #1 – People Management

The first key to successfully managing legacy code is to manage the people on the team. Now I’m not necessarily talking about day to day management of developers, but I have seen a lot of very successful developers whose skillset have become frozen in time. They start out with the latest and greatest skills and processes, but from constant work, pressures to deliver the product and updates to it, they fall out of sync with the rest of the industry and before anyone realizes it, they are frozen relics using outdated processes, tools and techniques. These developers may still be successful, but they may not be as efficient as they could be and depending on the processes and skills it may make it very hard to collaborate on the code or make changes to it within a predictable timeframe.

Now before anyone gets embarrassed thinking that I may be describing them, this is something that can happen to any development team. I’ve been working in embedded systems now professionally for over 15 years and I’ve found myself occasionally starting to become a frozen relic if I allow myself to get too heads down on project work. Several times throughout my career I’ve scheduled considerable time to learn, test and implement new processes, techniques, technologies and so forth. No team is immune and therefore should have a plan in place to not just help their team stay up on the latest industry trends and techniques, but to also have the time to test and implement those skills and make improvements. New skills are critical to ensuring that developers can successfully leverage the latest skills and techniques when managing and developing software.

Key #2 – Process Management

I’ve found throughout my career so far that processes are the necessary evil that can generate consistent, predictable results. Industry processes change over time. Some processes that gather a large following may be found to not produce the desired result and might be abandoned. Others may prove to be a foundational cornerstone that no team should go without. The teams that I have worked with that have been the most successful are teams that carefully manage the development and business processes.

Over time, processes tend to accumulate to a point that they can choke out innovation and cause more headaches than they fix. This is why it’s important that teams remain flexible with their process management by performing annual spring cleaning on their processes. If certain processes are tying developers’ hands too much, remove them. If developers have too much freedom and are tripping over themselves, find an effective process that can produce reliable and repeatable results. Carefully balancing the processes that a team uses and making sure that they are updated over time can help to ensure that legacy software is updated and maintained in such a way that it is evolving with the times, which can minimize large modernization efforts.

Key #3 – Technology Management

Managing the technology that a product is based on can have a dramatic effect on how easy it is to manage legacy code. I’ve found that sometimes once the hardware is designed for a product, developers become accustomed to working with that single microcontroller, or that toolchain, or that framework. Technology evolves at a rapid rate and just because we used a particular development environment five years ago when we first developed the product doesn’t mean that is best or most effective environment for us to be working in. It may be the most comfortable for the moment, but there could be others that allow us to work faster and more efficiently. Just in the past three years I’ve seen huge leaps in compiler efficiency, code tracing technology, memory management and even security technologies.

Teams should be carefully reviewing what technologies they are using to maintain their software and evaluating what the latest and greatest technologies are. A team may decide to continue on the path they are on, but just being aware of what is there and planning for it to be implemented can help developers to plan for those changes and technologies. Then when the time comes, it’s not a major overhaul but just a seamless transition that was expected and garners new value to the team.

Key #4 – Tools Management

The tools that we use to develop and manage our software is so crucial that it’s often hard for me to come up with the right words to describe it. Imagine for instance that there are two home builders who are building identical homes. Each needs to frame the house but they decide to use different tools. Builder one decides to use hammer and nails because it’s what he’s most familiar with, it’s the way he has always done it and he doesn’t have time to learn any other way of doing it. Builder two, who is also familiar with using a hammer and nails, decides to purchase a nail gun. If they both start at the same time, who do you think will have their home frame first? Undoubtedly it would be the builder with the nail gun, even if he had to spend a little time at the start to learn how to use it.

Legacy code can be maintained and updated successfully if the right tools are used. These tools do change over time as there are always innovative companies and open source developers who are providing solutions to all sorts of problems. This is why there also has to be a process in place to learn about new tools, how they work and to outfit developers with them. Proper tool management can make things so much easier. For example, I’ve come across legacy code bases there were hundreds of thousands of lines of code. No documentation, monolithic, a nightmare if I were to try to understand the architecture and pieces only by doing a code review. Instead, I use a tool like Understand or Lattix or some other tool that helps me to quickly visualize the code, understand the architecture and then I can start asking the right questions (and far faster than if I did it manually). The right tool for the right job.  

Key #5 – Code Management

Finally, we come to the actual code management. The code itself, and even the software architecture should evolve over time. We often look at the code and the software architecture as fixed, but they do not necessarily need to be. For example, I often come across monolithic, tightly coupled code. The application code directly makes calls to the hardware which would make changing processors or hardware a major rewrite of the software.

As I encounter code like this, I’ll often draw up how the current architecture looks and then draw up how I would like it to look. This usually involves identifying architectural boundaries and then within the code, with each release, making minor improvements and evolving the code towards the preferred architecture. I’ve found that this approach is very effective at evolving a legacy code base architecturally and that it minimizes major rewrites and headaches but still brings the code up to a modern standard. (Obviously with quite a few other things going on but I hope you get the picture).

Conclusions

Legacy code can be challenging to maintain. The trick to successfully and efficiently maintaining that code though is to understand that there is more to it than simply managing the code! We’ve examined the five keys to successfully managing legacy code:

  • People
  • Processes
  • Technologies
  • Tools
  • Code

All five areas to be managed successfully in order to make legacy code management not only successful but cost effective and efficient.

RELATED ARTICLES:

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

Engineering the Future, by Design

Pacific Design & Manufacturing is the West coast's leading trade show for design engineers offering the latest in 3D printing, automation, and CAD/CAM software from igus, Protolabs, and Smalley and hundreds more. Register now!