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Updated: 3 hours 4 min ago

171,000 Manufacturing Jobs Reshored in 2017

8 hours 39 min ago

Manufacturing jobs are coming back from Asia at an apparently quick clip. The Reshoring Initiative has released its 2017 Reshoring Report, which contains data on U.S. reshoring and foreign direct investment (FDI) by companies that have shifted production or sourcing from offshore to the US. The report includes cumulative data from 2010 through 2017, as well as projections for 2018. According to founder Harry Moser, the numbers demonstrate that reshoring and FDI are major contributing factors to the country’s rebounding manufacturing sector.

Manufacturing jobs are returning to the US due to logistics, proximity to customers, government incentives, and the value of Made in the USA branding. (Image source: Reshoring Initiative)

The report notes that last year, combined reshoring and related FDI announcements surged, adding over 171,000 jobs—up 2,800 percent from 2010. The report also shows upward revisions of 67,000 jobs from prior-year data, bringing the total number of manufacturing jobs brought to the US from offshore to 576,000 since the manufacturing employment low of 2010. The report claims that the 171,000 reshoring and FDI jobs announced equal 90 percent of the 189,000 total manufacturing jobs added in 2017.

Millions of Jobs Remain Offshore

Moser noted that the progress in 2017 is just a small portion of the US manufacturing jobs that have moved offshore. “With 3 to 4 million manufacturing jobs still offshore, as measured by our $500 billion per year trade deficit, there is potential for much more growth,” said Moser. “We call on the Administration and Congress to enact policy changes to make the United States competitive again. Our Competitiveness Toolkit is available to help quantify the impact of policy alternatives, including a stronger skilled workforce, continued corporate tax and regulatory reductions, as well as a lower US dollar.”

Combined reshoring and FDI jobs were up 122 percent compared to unrevised 2016 totals and 52 percent compared to revised 2016 totals. The Reshoring Initiative largely attributes the huge increases to anticipation of greater US competitiveness due to expected corporate tax and regulatory cuts following the 2016 election. Similar to the previous few years, FDI continued to exceed reshoring in terms of total jobs added. But reshoring has closed most of the gap since 2015.

Why Are Manufacturing Jobs Coming Back?

Moser noted that one of the reasons jobs are returning is that the cost differential between home-produced goods and landed goods from overseas has shrunk markedly. “We know where the imports are by country, and we know the price difference between the foreign price and the US price. The total cost of foreign-made goods delivered to the US is a full 95% of the cost of US-produced goods,” said Moser. “We know how much you have to shift it to make the US competitive with China.”

Proximity to customers remained the leading factor driving reshoring and FDI in 2017, followed by the ability to brand products as Made in the USA. Other reasons include government incentives and supply-chain synergies. On the FDI side, Moser noted that new investments from Asia are making a big difference. “For the first time, Asia surpassed Western Europe in generating jobs by FDI, due mostly to increased investment by China and continued strong showings by Japan and Korea.”

Where Are the Jobs Landing?

As for where the reshored and FDI jobs are showing up in the US, the Southeast and Texas remain the top regions for reshoring and FDI, with the Midwest gaining ground due to its strong industrial base. When it comes to industries involved in reshoring, transportation equipment remained the strongest industry, accounting for nearly 36% of total jobs returned. Apparel and medical equipment also saw large increases.

READ MORE ARTICLES ON RESHORING:

Moser noted that reshoring has been increasing at a similar rate as FDI: “That shows that US-headquartered companies are starting to understand the benefit of US production that foreign companies have seen for the last few years.” As for 2018, Moser noted that growth is continuing at a rapid rate. “Preliminary 2018 data trends are at least as strong as 2017. We’re optimistic about 2018 unless something stupid happens.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

The Why and How of EV Charging

9 hours 9 min ago

One thing people like most about owning an electric vehicle is never having to stop at a gas station. For most EV owners, plugging in overnight gives them the equivalent of a full tank of gas every morning. Unfortunately, because EVs are still a new and emerging technology, there is a bewildering array of charging systems and connectors that need to be navigated—either when charging at home or at one of the increasing number of public charging stations.

Lead versus lithium

Charging a lithium ion battery is not as simple as charging the traditional lead acid starting battery that most gasoline cars have under their hoods. A lead acid battery charger is relatively simple and charges the battery with a constant current until an upper charge voltage is reached. At that point, the current tapers until it reaches a low level, when the battery is fully charged. A float or “trickle” charge can be used to keep a lead acid battery topped up almost indefinitely.

Lithium ion batteries are much more sensitive to charging conditions and cannot accept overcharging or trickle charging. They typically charge to 4.2 volts +/- 50 mV per cell. Prolonged charging at too high a voltage can cause the lithium ion cells to catch fire if safety devices don’t interrupt charging. On the other hand, charging to less than a full charge (say 80%) can prolong the life of a lithium ion battery.

When done properly, a lithium ion battery is charged at a constant current until its voltage reaches its maximum. Then, the current decreases, tapering until it reaches about 3% of the rated current for the battery cells. The current at which the lithium ion battery can be charged depends upon its construction. Charging at a higher current can reduce the time in which the voltage reaches its maximum, but not the time during which the current tapers. If charging to less than the maximum capacity, however, a higher current charging can be used to reduce the time the vehicle is connected to the charger. It is also worth noting that when the lithium ion battery is fully charged, it cannot be “trickle” charged like a lead acid battery.

EV charging basics

Of course, for the average EV user, none of this is important and it is all incorporated into the components that make up a home or public charging system. The first important thing to know is that the charging of an EV, under most circumstances, takes place using an on-board charger installed in the vehicle. This charger connects to AC power from a plug on the wall and converts it into DC power that is used to charge the vehicle’s on-board battery pack.

Shown is a Level 2 home EV charging system. (Image source: Siemens)

There are two levels of charging for most home and public charging stations. Level 1 uses a standard 120-volt household power outlet (in the U.S.) and is the slowest type of charging. Because most household circuits are limited to 20 amps of current, the maximum power available through Level 1 charging is 1.9 kilowatts (kW) at 16 amps. Typically, using Level 1 charging, about 4 miles of range are added for every hour of charging. This is practical for overnight charging, but not for topping up (or so-called “opportunity charging”) when traveling any distances.

Level 2 charging uses 220-volt household current, such as might be used for an electric dryer or oven. Level 2 requires a special plug at the end of a cable that goes from a dedicated charging station to a port on the EV. The charger that converts AC to DC is still on-board the vehicle, but the Level 2 charging station is often hardwired into the household or business 220-volt AC circuit.

Different EVs have on-board chargers of varied sizes. Early Nissan Leaf models, for example, had 3.3 kW chargers, which would allow about 12 miles of range per hour of charging. Later Leafs came with 6.6 kW chargers, which effectively doubled the range per hour. On the other extreme, Tesla models can charge at up to 20 kW, adding up to 58 miles per hour of charging.

Level 2 chargers are available online and at home improvement stores. They cost between $500 and $1,000. Level 2 chargers require installation by a certified electrician (which can cost several hundred dollars or more), although home installation is possible by an experienced home builder. Dan, who lives in Raleigh, NC, went the DIY route: “It was easy to install; I just ran a box off the main outside panel and ran a wire across the house to the charger. Works like a charm,” he told Design News.

The standard connector for Level 2 charging is the SAE J1772 EV plug. Charging at home could be difficult if you don’t have a garage, but public Level 2 chargers are becoming common in cities and towns. More are being added nationwide nearly daily.

Pictured is the J1772 Combo Charging System (CCS) plug. (Image source: SAE)

The fast way

The fastest way to recharge an EV is using DC Fast Charging (DCFC), also called Level 3 charging. Instead of using an onboard charger that converts AC to DC, direct current comes directly from the charging station in DCFC. Typically, DCFC charges at 50 kW and can provide 75-100 miles of range during a 30 minute charge. Level 3 charging takes the typical EV out of the daily commuter category, making a trip of several hundred miles during a day a real possibility. Tesla has its own DCFC system, called “Supercharger.” It can charge at up to 120 kW, providing up to 170 miles during a 30 minute charge. Dumping huge amounts of energy into an EV battery can reduce its life, and many DCFC systems limit the fast charging to 80% of capacity. They may also reduce the charging rate on sequential charges during a single trip.

Tesla has its own DC Fast Charging system called "Supercharger" (Image source: Tesla)

Unfortunately, the plug systems used for DCFC are not completely standardized. DCFC was first developed in Japan for the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi MiEV and uses the CHAdeMO (CHArge on the Move) standard and plug. In 2012, the SAE in the U.S. launched its Combo Charging System (CCS), which is based upon the J1772 Level 2 connector but adds two DC pins for DCFC. Meanwhile, the Tesla Supercharger system has its own plug and charging protocol. Tesla has made a CHAdeMO adapter available for its owners who wish to charge at CHAdeMO stations. It is the only such adapter available right now, however. Otherwise, the three DCFC systems are, as yet, incompatible. Attempts are underway to reconcile the differences.

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

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Heating Heals Lithium Dendrites

10 hours 39 min ago

Rechargeable lithium ion batteries are well-established as safe and reliable sources of electrical power for personal electronics, electric vehicles, and even as backup for power grids. Their limitation is the amount of electrical energy that they can store. A battery with the potential for greater storage capacity could be used to produce devices that are smaller and lighter, or electric vehicles with improved range between recharging.

One way to improve battery storage capability is to increase the ability of the anode to store lithium ions during the charging phase. Although lithium metal can be used as an anode to increase the availability of lithium ions, it can have safety issues. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY have published results in Science, detailing novel heating of the anode. Their goal is to solve some of the problems that arise in the use of lithium metal in batteries.

A lithium ion battery is made up of a negative electrode (the anode), a positive electrode (the cathode), and an electrolyte that allows the transfer of lithium ion between the two electrodes. When a lithium ion battery is discharged, lithium ions travel from the anode, through the electrolyte, to the cathode. During the chemical process, excess electrons travel through an external electrical circuit, powering an electronic device before returning to the cathode. When the battery is charged, the opposite occurs as lithium ions are transported from the cathode back to the anode.

Ideally, the source of lithium ions at the anode is a foil made from lithium metal, as pure metal would provide the maximum number of ions for transfer. Unfortunately, when lithium ions reach an anode made from pure metal during charging, they don’t form a smooth layer. Rather, they form spiky structures called dendrites. These dendrites can grow large enough after several charge and discharge cycles that they can create a short circuit between the anode and cathode, which could even result in a fire.

Lithium ion limits

In a modern, commercial lithium ion battery, the dendritic growth of lithium is prevented by making the anode out of sheets of carbon graphite. The lithium ions diffuse in those graphite sheets and are stored in the carbon matrix. Because the lithium ions are isolated from one another and separated by carbon, they don’t form dendritic crystals. However, it takes six carbon atoms to isolate and contain one lithium atom. As a result, much of the weight of the anode doesn’t contribute lithium ions to generate electricity.

“Lithium-ion batteries with carbon-based anodes are the best available option, but they can no longer keep up with the storage-capacity demand,” said RPI Professor Nikhil Koratkar, co-author of the Science paper, in a press release from the university. “For any significant new improvements, we must look elsewhere. The best option would be a lithium metal system,” he said.

Smooth metal

The spiky lithium dendrites that form on the surface of lithium metal during charging are smoothed when the anode is exposed to high temperatures from resistive heating. (Image source: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

The RPI research team discovered that if the lithium metal making up the anode was heated, the lithium metal would experience surface diffusion, smoothing out the dendrites and merging them into an almost smooth, uniform layer. What’s more, the heating of the anode could be accomplished through internal resistive heating—passing a high current through the anode and allowing the resistance of the metal to current flow to produce the required heating. The researchers proved the idea worked using an experimental lithium-sulfur battery.

Spreading the dendrites into an even layer could take place as part of a healing process, whereby the battery would undergo a few cycles at a high rate of charge and discharge. It would be controlled by a battery management system, which would trigger heating of the anode when needed. “A limited amount of cycles at high current density would occur to heal the dendrites, and then normal operations can be resumed,” said Koratkar. “Self-healing would occur as a maintenance strategy, long before the dendrites become a safety hazard,” he added.

Ordinarily, charging and discharging a lithium battery at very high currents can result in unwanted dendrite growth. So using the technique to fuse the dendrites into a smooth surface is an interesting concept. Although the technique to heal dendrite growth appears to hold promise, the effect of high temperatures on electrolytes and the cathode materials will need further investigation. As with so much of present-day battery research, the success and reliability of the technology developed by the RPI researchers will only be proven when it has been commercialized.

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

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DesignCon 2018 Best Paper Awards Honor More Than 50 Engineering Professionals

14 hours 39 min ago

DesignCon, the premier conference for chip, board and systems design engineers in the high-speed communications and semiconductor communities, announces the recipients of its 2018 Best Paper Awards.

DesignCon Paper Awards recognize outstanding contributions to the educational goals of the DesignCon program. Papers were judged both on the merits of the written document and on the quality of their presentation at the DesignCon conference

The first step of the selection process was a review of the 82 full-length papers accepted for the 2018 program. Members of the DesignCon Technical Program Committee (TPC), which is comprised of more than 90 leading experts in the electronic design space, ranked all submitted papers based on quality, relevance, impact, originality, and lack of commercial content. Based on these rankings, the TPC co-chairpersons for each track recommended the papers that they felt merited the honor of being a DesignCon Best Paper Award finalist. The first-round finalists were judged based on attendee feedback, collected at DesignCon 2018, on the impact of their presentation.

The 2018 winning papers cover three categories of design: Board/System-Level Design, Serial Link Design, and Power & RF Design. A list of the winners is below. See the 2018 and previous Best Paper Award winners on the DesignCon website.

Congratulations to these 2018 Best Paper Award winners and to all of the 2018 finalists. You can see the 2018 awards presentation during DesignCon 2019, January 29-31.

 

DesignCon 2018 Best Paper Award Winners

 

Board/System-Level Design

“16Gb/s and Beyond with Single-Ended I/O in High-Performance Graphics Memory”

Tim Hollis, Micron Technology,

Salman Jiva, Micron Semiconductor Products

Martin Brox, Micron Semiconductor

Wolfgang Spirkl, Micron Semiconductor

Thomas Hein, Micron Semiconductor

Dave Ovard, Micron Technology,

Roy Greeff, Micron Technology,

Dan Lin, Micron Technology,

Michael Richter, Micron Semiconductor

Peter Mayer, Micron Semiconductor

Walt Moden, Micron Technology,

Maksim Kuzmenka, Micron Semiconductor

Mani Balakrishnan, Micron Semiconductor

Milena Ivanov, Micron Semiconductor

Manfred Plan, Micron Semiconductor

Marcos Alvarez Gonzalez, Micron Semiconductor

Bryce Gardiner, Micron Technology,

Dong Soon Lim, Micron Technology,

 

“Statistical-Based RE DCD Jitter Analysis in High Speed NAND Flash Memory”

Sayed Mobin, Western Digital
Cindy Cui, Keysight Technologies

 

Serial-Link Design

A Study of Forward Error Correction Codes for SAS Channel”

Haitao (Tony) Xia, Broadcom Ltd

Haotian Zhang, Broadcom Ltd

Aravind Nayak, Broadcom Ltd

Bruce Wilson, Broadcom Ltd

Jun Yao, Etopus

 

Effective Link Equalizations using FIR, CTLE, FFE, DFE, and FEC for Serial Links at 112 Gbps and Beyond”

Hsinho Wu, Intel

Masashi Shimanouchi, Intel

Mike Peng Li, Intel

 

“Efficient Sensitivity-Aware Assessment of High-Speed Links Using PCE and Implications for COM”

Torsten Reuschel, Hamburg University of Technology

Ömer Yildiz, Hamburg University of Technology

Jayaprakash Balachandran, Cisco Systems

Cristian Filip, Mentor Graphics

Nitin Bhagwath, Mentor Graphics

Bidyut Sen, Cisco Systems

Christian Schuster, Hamburg University of Technology

 

“Feedforward Equalizer Location Study for High Speed Serial Systems”

Kevin Zheng, Stanford University

Boris Murmann, Stanford University

Hongtao Zhang, Xilinx

Geoff Zhang, Xilinx

 

Power & RF Design

 

“40 GHz PCB Interconnect Validation: Expectations vs Reality”

Marko Marin, Infinera
Yuriy Shlepnev, Simberian

 

“A Causal Conductor Roughness Model and its Effect on Transmission Line Characteristics”

Vladimir Dmitriev-Zdorov, Mentor Graphics

Bert Simonovich, Lamsim Enterprises

Igor Kochikov, Mentor Graphics

 

“A NIST Traceable PCB Kit for Evaluating the Accuracy of De-Embedding Algorithms and Corresponding Metrics”

Heidi Barnes, Keysight Technologies

Eric Bogatin, Teledyne LeCroy

José Moreira, Advantest

Jason Ellison, The Siemon Company

Jim Nadolny, Samtec

Ching-Chao Huang, Ataitec

Mikheil Tsiklauri, Missouri University of Science and Technology

Se-Jung Moon, Intel

Volker Herrmann, Rohde and Schwarz

 

Accurate and Fast RFI Prediction Based on Dipole Moment Sources and Reciprocity

Qiaolei Huang, Missouri University of Science and Technology

Takashi Enomoto, Sony Global Manufacturing and Operations

Shingo Seto, Sony Global Manufacturing and Operations

Kenji Araki, Sony Global Manufacturing and Operations

Jun Fan, Missouri University of Science and Technology

Chulsoon Hwang, Missouri University of Science and Technology

 

See previous Best Paper Award winners on the DesignCon website.

WiFi Innovator Says IoT Is an Opportunity and a Responsibility

Mon, 2018-04-23 17:09

Cees Links has a message for engineers in the age of the Internet of Things: “Be flexible! And if you like to build things, make sure you train and educate yourself and stay current in the industry.”

The impact of IoT on jobs is a hotly debated topic right now, with some arguing we will have to change the definition of workers from “blue collar to “new collar” to reflect the changes in (and losses of) certain positions. Links, best known as one of the guiding innovators behind WiFi, believes the IoT will provide a boon to engineers, so long as they are careful.

Cees Links believes the emergence of IoT will open up many new opportunities for engineers. (image source: Cees Links) 

“The reality is the Internet of Things is a complex beast...” Cees told Design News. “A fitness band, for example, sounds very thingy. But a fitness band is just part of a larger system...If you think through these things, the IoT goes way beyond electrics and things and into communications and wireless standards. It's something big.”

During a keynote at the 2018 Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) in Boston, Links said he envisions particular opportunities in hardware engineering, telecom, software engineering, and emerging applications, such as artificial intelligence, coming about as the IoT proliferates.

The key, he told the ESC audience, is to make sure enough is invested in training and enough consideration is given to the actual impact of new IoT technologies. He likened what's happening today as being not unlike previous industrial revolutions. During his keynote, Cees cited the invention of the spinning wheel for fabric and its effects in Cologne, Germany. “One spinning wheel put 100 people out of a job. They were torched because they were eliminating jobs.” Ultimately, however, the availability of the spinning wheel drove down the price of clothing, making what was considered a luxury item more affordable overall. “With every revolution, mankind's prosperity has increased in general,” he said. “What is always the key point is that the transition can be very painful.”

He also emphasized the key role employers will play in all of this. “Employers need to be wiling to invest in training of their employees,” Links said. “Most of the technology companies that I've been exposed to know that continuous training is critical and an implicit part of the job.”

Links admitted technology will always have an impact on jobs. But that doesn't mean it automatically creates a better world for everyone. “The real problem of change is it creates winners and losers and if you don't manage that properly, the revolution will lead to poverty, and inequality, and revolt,” he told Design News. "There are limitations to capitalism because capitalism is kind of ruthless...We have a responsibility to guide the revolution so it doesn't split the world into winners and losers.”

Watch Cees Links' full ESC Boston 2018 keynote below in which he discusses more on the impact of IoT on engineering jobs, the impact of regulation, and how the latest controversy at Facebook could affect the IoT landscape going forward.

And for more regular video updates, be sure to follow Design News on Facebook.  

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

Smart Ink Can 3D Print Devices that Change Shape and Color

Mon, 2018-04-23 05:00

It wasn’t long ago that 3D printing was a novel technology. But now, it’s rapidly evolving into its next generation: 4D printing, in which structures printed in 3D can transform themselves after fabrication. To advance this new phase, researchers at Dartmouth College have developed a smart ink that turns 3D-printed structures into objects that can change shape and color. This invention has the potential to add even more functionality to 3D-printed objects for industries ranging from biomedicine to energy and beyond, researchers said.

Today, most 3D-printed objects rely on photo-curing resins or thermoplastic materials that are static, explained Chenfeng Ke, an assistant professor of chemistry at Dartmouthwho led the project. Once the form is printed, it’s final, he told Design News. To take these materials to the next level, Ke’s team incorporated smart molecules into 3D-printed objects after printing. Those molecules alter their chemical structures upon environmental change. 

An example from research out of Dartmouth College shows how a 3D-printed object composed of a hydrogel can change size after printing. The example demonstrates the result of being printed with smart ink invented by researchers at the college. (Image source: Chenfeng Ke, Dartmouth College)

“Our material is more ‘living,’” he explained. “The forms of molecular structure can be refined through our printing process—for example, they can change shape with chemical fuels or they can change color with lights.”

Specifically, the team used a polymer-based “vehicle” with the chemical name Pluronic F127 to integrate intelligent molecular systems into the ink and allow the transformation of their molecular functions to life-scale, Ke said.

“We use an extrusion-based 3D-printing method called direct-ink writing,” he explained. “With the polymer-based ‘vehicle,’ the functional molecules will self-assemble to a certain molecular architecture in the inks. After the ink is fabricated by direct-ink writing, this architecture is refined through an evaporation process. Then we introduce a series of post-printing reactions, which further lock the active ingredients together.”

Materials May Vary

Researchers can print both hard materials like silica and soft materials like hydrogels, he said. “The shape of the object is defined by 3D printing, and the function of the object is defined by the smart molecule we choose,” Ke explained.

Using this combination of pre-printing and post-printing techniques, researchers achieved a reduction in the size of printed objects to 1 percent of their original sizes and with 10 times the resolution, they said. The team even was able to animate 3D-printed objects to repeatedly expand and contract in size through the use of supramolecular pillars. Using fluorescent trackers, they also made the objects change color in response to an external stimulus such as light.

READ MORE ARTICLES BY ELIZABETH:

Because scientists will now have the ability to design objects that can change shape and function after printing, the technique can have a wide range of applications, Ke said. The design of new soft robots and responsive-sensing devices are just two of the areas that can benefit from the work, and researchers will continue to experiment to see what can be done, he said.

“By taking advantages of precise geometries controlled by 3D printing and living functions integrated by our chemistry, 3D-printed materials and devices with multiple functions for chemical engineering or biological applications are currently undergoing,” Ke said. Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

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

Massive 3D Printer Could Build Engine Blocks

Fri, 2018-04-20 05:00

A gigantic new metal additive manufacturing system at Roush Industries may finally give engineers a glimpse of 3D printing’s ultimate potential in the auto industry.

The new system, an X Line 2000R 3D printer from Concept Laser GmbH, could enable automakers to build radical new test versions of engines, transmissions, and other large components that could previously only have been built by conventional means. By doing so, it could allow OEM engineers and suppliers to consider concepts that they couldn’t previously. “Now they can ask, ‘If we threw out all the rules, does this engine block need to look this way?’” noted Brandi Badami, business development manager for Roush Industries. “’Does it need to be manufactured this way? If we wanted to build the best engine we could without restrictions, what would it look like?’”

 

The X Line 2000R has a build-envelope of 32” x 16” x 20.” (Image source: Concept Laser GmbH)

 

The X Line permits engineers to think in such ways because its build-envelope (32” x 16” x 20”) is unlike anything that has preceded it in metal additive manufacturing. Measuring approximately 17 feet long, the machine is so big that it couldn’t be transported by air; Roush instead had it shipped from Germany to the US by boat. The machine includes two staircases, work platforms, a cooling system, and a material handling system.

As a result of its size, it allows automotive engineers to create 3D-printed engine blocks and large transmission parts, as well as suspension components, chassis components, driveline components, and heat exchangers. It also enables them to redesign multi-part assemblies – integrating them into large single-piece components. Roush Industries, a service bureau that does design and manufacturing work for the auto industry, has already used the machine to incorporate a specialized cylinder head onto an engine block. Badami said the company has more such projects in the works.

“A lot of companies have been embracing additive manufacturing in the last few years, but they’ve been restricted by the size of the build envelope,” she told us. “Now they can consider the components they couldn’t before.”

Badami said the initial, obvious application for the machine is in test. “You can print an engine block and test it before you spend all your time with casting tooling,” she told Design News. “In conventional manufacturing, if there’s an engineering change, it’s expensive and time-consuming to change casting tooling. Here, you can work out the product development up front, before committing all the time and money to tooling.”

In the process, engineers are able to try new ideas, she added. Complex geometries, such as corkscrews, baffles, and tight channels, could be added to an engine block as a test.

To date, the X Line machine has been employed for the creation of aluminum parts using an AlSi10Mg aluminum alloy. Parts produced with the system reportedly exceed or are equal to conventionally manufactured aluminum parts—both in terms of mechanical properties and dimensional tolerances.

Badami said that automotive OEMs have been anxious to employ such ideas for several years, but have been deterred—not only by the small build envelopes, but by the low-volume nature of 3D printing. “Medical and aerospace have perfect (production) volumes for additive manufacturing,” she said. “But in automotive, you have millions of parts, so a lot of engineers haven’t considered it. Now, though, the machines are getting bigger and faster, so automotive has the opportunity to catch up and use this technology.”

Roush Industries, a sister division to Roush Performance, knows the auto industry well. It provides expertise in design, engineering, test, assembly, machining, inspection, and manufacturing to automotive, as well as to the aerospace, consumer, energy, and entertainment industries. The company also has 15 years of experience with 3D printing.

Initial expectations for the new 3D printing system in automotive are mainly for test and low-volume applications, Badami said. But that could change over time. “When people start trusting the technology and the materials, and start thinking more in terms of additive manufacturing, we’ll see more complex engineering programs,” she told us.   

 Read More Articles on Automotive Technology

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

 

Today's Insights. Tomorrow's Technologies.
ESC returns to Boston, April 18-19, 2018, with a fresh, in-depth, two-day educational program designed specifically for the needs of today's embedded systems professionals. With four comprehensive tracks, new technical tutorials, and a host of top engineering talent on stage, you'll get the specialized training you need to create competitive embedded products. Get hands-on in the classroom and speak directly to the engineers and developers who can help you work faster, cheaper, and smarter.  Use the Code DESIGNNEWS to save 20% when you register today!

Two Unlikely Failures Contributed to Southwest Airlines Incident

Thu, 2018-04-19 20:20

Investigators don't yet know the cause of Tuesday's fatal incident on a Southwest Airlines flight. But they do know that two successive, unlikely events contributed to it.

First, a fan blade on one of the Boeing 737’s engines cracked. That, in itself, is rare. Then the engine’s cowling failed. “It was a very unfortunate combination of factors that caused it to be this bad,” Sammy Tin, a professor of materials engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology, told Design News. “Usually, when a fan blade goes, the housing on the engine is able to contain the damage. In this case, there was also a failure of the cowling. It came off as well.”

NTSB investigators examine the CFM56-7B engine that broke apart during flight this week. (Image source: NTSB)

The incident occurred during a flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday morning. Passengers on the Boeing 737-700 said they heard a loud boom. Oxygen masks dropped and shrapnel from the damaged engine slammed against a window, breaking it, according to The Wall Street Journal. At one point, passengers held onto a woman in an attempt to keep her from being sucked out the broken window. That passenger later died. 

The crippled plane made an emergency landing in Philadelphia. The engine’s cowling was found on the ground about 70 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

The engine, a CFM56-7B built by CFM International, is a type that is said to have logged more than 350 million miles of safe travel. On Tuesday, however, it broke apart while the plane was cruising at about 32,000 feet. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board found two cracks in one of its 24 blades. One crack was located near the point where the blade attached to the engine’s hub; the other was about halfway up. NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt said that the interior crack was “certainly not detectable from looking at it from the outside,” according to CNN.

Experts said it’s not unusual for such cracks to be located in spots that aren’t easy to see. “If it’s not in a direct line of sight, then they may not necessarily have seen it during inspection,” he told us. “In some cases, to see a crack, they may have to remove the blade to inspect it.”

Within 24 hours of the incident, NTSB investigators had concluded that one of the two cracks showed signs of metal fatigue. Metal fatigue, a weakening of the material caused by high cyclic loading, is a phenomenon common to virtually all metal structures as they age. If not detected, it can cause parts to yield at stresses below their designated tensile capacity, which may have happened in Tuesday’s incident.

"Fatigue failures are probabilistic events," Tin said. "They may not always occur, but the probablity of them occurring becomes higher after a longer number of loading cycles." 

Tuesday’s incident was not the first case of metal fatigue on a CFM56 engine. A similar failure happened in August 2016, when a Southwest Airlines jet traveling from New Orleans to Orlando made an emergency landing after a fan blade separated from a CFM56 engine and ripped a foot-long hole in the plane’s fuselage. The Federal Aviation Administration subsequently proposed ultrasonic inspections of similar fan blades, but the directive hadn’t yet been finalized before Tuesday’s incident.

“Having it occur back to back, about one-and-a-half years apart, means it has to be looked into further,” Tin said. “What’s raising eyebrows here is the fact that there have been two failures.”

In a statement, CFM International wrote that it is deploying about 40 aircraft engine technicians to support Southwest Airlines’ inspection of the CFM56-7B engine. It also said that ultrasonic inspections are being conducted on a “population” of fan blades.

According to Professor Tin of Illinois Institute of Technology, “Fatigue failures are probabilistic events. They may not always occur, but the probability of them occurring becomes higher after a long number of loading cycles.” (Image source: IIT)

After this week’s incident, investigators cited the possibility that the metal fatigue may have been caused by factors other than aging and cyclic loading. “The NTSB mentioned that it may have been due to some kind of inclusion or defect that was trapped in the material during manufacturing and was never caught,” Tin said. “That can accelerate the rate of fatigue crack growth.”

If the metal fatigue was caused by a manufacturing defect, it wouldn’t be the first such case. In October 2016, an American Airlines flight experienced an “uncontained failure” of a GE-80C2B6 engine during a take-off roll at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, according to the NTSB. The resulting explosion and fire was traced to metal fatigue cracks in the engine’s metal-alloy disk. Metal fatigue accelerated the rate of the crack’s growth, leading to the failure, the NTSB concluded earlier this year.

A piece of the engine housing was found about 70 miles northwest of Philadelphia. (Image source: NTSB)

Tin said that such incidents serve as teaching moments for design engineers. When designing, he said, engineers need to do proper fatigue analysis up front to ensure that components are able to meet their life requirements. “Usually, there’s scheduled inspection and maintenance, so that before a part fails catastrophically, it’s removed from service and replaced,” he said. “But before that, design engineers always need to remember that what they are doing now may have an impact 10 or 15 years down the line.”

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

For AI, the Human Brain Is the Goal and the Solution

Thu, 2018-04-19 16:00

There's a scene in The Matrix where Neo, after instantly learning kung fu, is challenged to a fight by Morpheus. During the fight, it's not Neo's technique that Morpheus praises, it's “adaptation and improvisation.”

For Anatoly Gorshechnikov, the co-founder and CTO of artificial intelligence company Neurala, this is where artificial intelligence should be headed. While AI excels at a number of specific and niche applications, researchers and engineers ultimately want to move toward “generalized” artificial intelligence capable of learning, intuiting, and adapting like humans.

Unfortunately, he said that's a long way off. “Deep learning is not sufficient enough to be called AI,” he told an audience at the 2018 Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) in Boston. “While DNNs [deep learning neural networks] outperform humans at certain tasks, they're still way behind us in terms of versatility...We still need to pay attention to how the brain does things if we want to develop AI further.”

While new processor hardware is enabling AI to learn at increasingly rapid speeds, Gorshechnikov said that even Nvidia's powerhouse DGX-2, “the world's largest GPU” and one specialized for AI, isn't sufficient.

Neurala concerns itself with designing AI that works in the same way that a biological brain does. Doing this, Gorshechnikov said, naturally leads toward overcoming some of the major obstacles around AI.

One of these is the idea of catastrophic forgetting. Put simply, most neural networks are designed in a way that you have to start from scratch in order to teach them about new data sets. In order to learn anything new, the system has to forget everything, then re-learn everything along with the new information. It's not a very efficient process, especially if AI is going to be deployed in time-sensitive applications such as in the manufacturing and medical spaces.

“How can we add data to existing DNN knowledge without forgetting the old data?” Gorshechnikov asked. “...The solution is simple, we look at the brain.”

Watch Anatoly Gorshechnikov's full ESC Boston 2018 keynote below in which he discusses more about catastrophic forgetting and creating AI that mimics the human brain.

And for more regular video updates, be sure to follow Design News on Facebook.  

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

[main image source: Neurala]

Will Trump’s New Standards Affect EV Sales?

Thu, 2018-04-19 05:00

The Trump administration’s planned rollback of emissions standards is likely to be good for the business of US automakers in the near term. But it could serve as a competitive stumbling block for them in the global market.

The rollback, which will reduce emission targets and cut fuel economy requirements, is expected to siphon off some of the motivation for automakers to push electric vehicles, experts said last week. “Vehicle manufacturers will not have a reason to push them, to sell them, or to incentivize them," Brett Smith, a program director at the Center for Automotive Research, told Design News. “You’re not going to see subsidized lease rates or subsidized lower-priced vehicles. Therefore, cost is going to be even more of a barrier than it is today.”

The Trump administration’s planned policy change, announced on April 2nd, is not yet specific in terms of how it would affect greenhouse gas emissions or corporate average fuel economy regulations. But EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a press release that the Obama-era standards “didn’t comport with reality.” The agency added that new standards will allow “auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford…”

Many in the auto industry viewed the existing regulatory targets—especially the proposed 54.5-mpg corporate average fuel economy standard—as a costly goal that could only be met with large fleets of electric cars.

 

GM sold 23,297 Chevy Bolt EVs in 2017, according to Inside EVs, making it the second-leading electric seller in the US last year. (Image source: Design News)

“For vehicle manufacturers, this is definitely a near-term reprieve,” Smith told us. “They were stressed out about the (proposed) increase in fuel efficiency. They see this as an adjustment toward what the market is really pulling for.”

Analysts say that today, the vast majority of automakers have to subsidize the price of their electric vehicles—sometimes in excess of 30% of the MSRP—in order to sell them. Those subsidies are in addition to the federal and state government tax incentives, which can be as high as $7,500 per vehicle. “Even Tesla, which is selling as many vehicles as they can build, is subsidizing because they are barely covering their fixed costs,” Smith said.

 

But while the Trump plan may provide a respite from the need to heavily subsidize electric cars, it also brings some uncertainty, Smith said. Many automakers are already out of compliance with EPA standards, and are using up government-issued credits that enable them to avoid penalties. “If the current administration is still in place in 2021, that won’t be a problem,” Smith noted. “But if the current administration is replaced, the automakers may be in trouble, because at that point the EPA may not be willing to look the other way.”

Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that California has already filed a lawsuit, along with other states, attempting to force the Trump administration to meet tougher standards.

Moreover, manufacturers who slow their development of next-generation powertrain technologies may find themselves falling behind in the global marketplace, Smith said. China is now the leading electric car manufacturer in the world, and other countries, including France, Norway, and The Netherlands, plan to eventually ban sales of gasoline- and diesel-burning cars. “The big problem is that the US could increasingly become an outlier,” Smith said. “You cannot stop deploying global technology if you’re a global company because, clearly, China and Europe are forcing the issue.”

For now, however, automakers appear to be focusing their concerns on near-term profits while the 54.5-mpg standard remains on hold. “A year ago, some companies were saying, ‘We’ve designed our last V-6 engine,’” Smith told us. “We’re not hearing that today.”

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

 

Today's Insights. Tomorrow's Technologies.
ESC returns to Boston, April 18-19, 2018, with a fresh, in-depth, two-day educational program designed specifically for the needs of today's embedded systems professionals. With four comprehensive tracks, new technical tutorials, and a host of top engineering talent on stage, you'll get the specialized training you need to create competitive embedded products. Get hands-on in the classroom and speak directly to the engineers and developers who can help you work faster, cheaper, and smarter.  Use the Code DESIGNNEWS to save 20% when you register today!

 

Giving Lithium Some Air

Thu, 2018-04-19 04:00

Lithium-ion batteries have made continuous progress since first introduced to commercial production by Sony in 1991. But their performance is limited by the rate of diffusion of lithium ions through the solid materials that make up their anode and cathode electrodes. Thus, there has been an emphasis by battery researchers to find materials that improve this diffusion rate and also make the electrodes lighter to increase the energy density (Wh/kg) of lithium-based batteries.

What if you could replace one of the electrodes with air? That’s the concept behind the lithium air battery, estimated by battery experts to be capable of holding 5 times the electrical energy of a lithium-ion battery of the same weight. In a lithium air battery, the anode is made from lithium metal. The cathode is a permeable carbon-based surface that is covered with oxygen molecules, which comes from the surrounding air. During discharge, as the lithium oxidizes into lithium peroxide (which collects on the cathode), it releases energy in the form of electrons that can be used to power an electronic device.

Lithium ions can combine with water vapor and with carbon dioxide from the air, producing compounds which build up on the cathode, eventually coating it so it is unable to function. Still, single-use (non-rechargeable) lithium air batteries have been successfully produced and tiny lightweight models are sold to power hearing aids.

Building a rechargeable lithium air battery, however, is a different proposition. In addition to the buildup on the cathode, the lithium metal of the anode is highly reactive, particularly with water. So any water vapor in the incoming air can cause problems. Many experimental batteries operate on tanks of pure oxygen—a solution that is obviously not practical for real world applications. During charging, lithium metal also can build up spikey dendrites on its surface—some so large that they can reach the cathode and short circuit the battery.

 

A schematic drawing of the lithium-air battery. (Image source: UIC and Argonne National Laboratories)

Despite these limitations, development of lithium air batteries has continued. Recently, in a paper published in Nature, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory detailed a few tricks that might eventually make lithium air batteries possible.

First of all, the carbon lattice structure that makes up the cathode is coated with a molybdenum disulfide catalyst to help promote the lithium oxygen reactions while suppressing reactions with other elements and compounds in the air. The electrolyte was also specially developed to help reduce those unwanted reactions.

 

At the anode, the lithium metal is coated with a thin layer of lithium carbonate. It allows lithium ions to travel from the anode to and from the electrolyte, while preventing unwanted compounds (such as oxygen and water vapor) from reaching the highly reactive metal. In the paper, the researchers report a battery life of up to 700 charge and discharge cycles—far more than the handful of cycles most experimental lithium air batteries achieve. “The complete architectural overhaul we performed on this battery by redesigning every part of it helped us enable the reactions we wanted to occur, and prevent and block those that would ultimately cause the battery to go dead,” said Amin Salehi-Khojin, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-author of the Nature paper in a press release from the university.

The research paper states the results were obtained with “a simulated air atmosphere,” which might be an indication that there is more work to be done before rechargeable lithium air batteries are ready for prime time. The question of dendrite growth on the lithium metal surface during charging also needs to be addressed. “This first demonstration of a true lithium-air battery is an important step toward what we call ‘beyond lithium-ion’ batteries, but we have more work to do in order to commercialize it,” said Salehi-Khojin in the university release.

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

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Wed, 2018-04-18 05:00

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

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Major Tech Companies Create Cybersecurity Charter of Trust

Wed, 2018-04-18 04:00

Eight technology industry partners have joined the Munich Security Conference in creating a charter to establish rules and standards for cybersecurity. The Charter of Trust is designed to foster trust in cybersecurity and further advance secure digitalization. The charter includes Airbus, Allianz, Daimler Group, IBM, NXP, SGS, Siemens, and Deutsche Telekom.

The Charter of Trust sets out 10 action areas in cybersecurity, where governments and businesses must both become active. It asks that those at the highest levels of government and business assume responsibility for cybersecurity. The charter calls for governments to introduce a dedicated cybersecurity ministry and asks companies to assign chief information security officers.

Eight tech leaders formed the Charter of Trust at the Munich Security Conference with the aim of curbing cyber threats. (Image source: Siemens)

The charter also calls for companies to introduce mandatory, independent third-party certification for critical infrastructure. In addition, they must provide solutions where dangerous situations can arise, such as with autonomous vehicles or robots that interact directly with humans. Going forward, the charter asks that security and data-protection functions be preconfigured in technology and devices, and that cybersecurity regulations be incorporated into free trade agreements. Finally, the charter calls for greater efforts to “foster an understanding of cybersecurity through training and continuing education as well as international initiatives.”

The Revolution in Connectivity Requires a Revolution in Security

With the huge rush to connectivity, companies are creating vulnerable systems. “Billions of devices are being connected by the Internet of Things and they’re interacting on an entirely new level and scale. As much as these advances are improving our lives and economies, the risk of exposure to malicious cyber-attacks is also growing dramatically,” Leo Simonovich, VP of Industrial Cyber and Digital Security at Siemens Energy, told Design News. “Failure to protect the systems that control our homes, hospitals, factories, grids, and virtually all of our infrastructure could have devastating consequences.”

Simonovich noted that security has to grow with connectivity or the development and benefits of connected systems and devices will stall. “Cybersecurity is and has to be more than a seatbelt or an airbag. Security is a factor that’s crucial to the success of the digital economy,” said Simonovich. “People and organizations need to trust that their digital technologies are safe and secure. Otherwise, they won’t embrace the digital transformation. Digitalization and cybersecurity must evolve hand in hand.”

For years, there has been a neck-to-neck race between hackers and those tasked with protecting cyber networks. In recent years, intruders have become very sophisticated. Many of the hackers are now nation states. “In order to keep pace with continuous advances in the market as well as cyber threats, companies and governments must join forces and take decisive action,” said Simonovich. “This means making every effort to protect the data and assets of individuals and businesses, prevent damage from people, businesses, and infrastructures, and build a reliable basis for trust in a connected and digital world.”

Industry Is Particularly Vulnerable

While most internet-connected systems have some vulnerabilities, industrial networks—operation technology (OT)—are particularly vulnerable. They were not originally designed to extend beyond the plant. “Through the eyes of a hacker, OT is not only valuable, it’s vulnerable. Most OT environments were designed to work in isolation. Now they’re being connected to the outside world, as cyber criminals hope cybersecurity efforts continue to lag the speed of digitalization,” said Simonovich. “Making matters even more difficult, many OT systems cannot be taken offline for patching cycles and updates. In some cases, patching may void a manufacturer warranty.”

The charter recognizes that security for cyber-based networks will require a collection of solutions. “This can’t be achieved by a single company or entity; it must be the result of close collaborations on all levels,” said Simonovich. “In this charter, the signing partners outline the key principles we consider essential for establishing a new charter of trust between society, politics, business partners, and customers.”

How Were Members of the Charter Chosen?

The charter was officially launched earlier this year at the Munich Security Conference (MSC). “At the MSC, we laid the cornerstone of the Charter of Trust initiative. Our aspiration and desire is to recruit more comrades in arms for our initiative worldwide, and to create a digital world that is based on trust in the digital and hyper-connected world,” said Simonovich. “The partners are among the leading representatives of their own governments and branches of industry. By signing, they commit themselves to act as Siemens does, and in that way to concern themselves with greater security and trust in a digital world.”

Simonovich noted that the charter is a first step in what is hoped to be an extensive initiative that involves all of the stakeholders in cybersecurity. “This can only be a starting point. No group or individual company can solve this challenge alone. That’s why we invite companies to share our ambition and join the Charter of Trust initiative,” said Simonovich. “We also invite governments of the world and civil society to engage in a focused dialogue: Trust matters to everyone. It must not stop at borders or sectoral limits.”

The Enormity of the Cybersecurity Issue

Simonovich stressed that network security is becoming the most pressing security concern across the globe. “Cybersecurity will be the most important security issue of the future—for societies and companies all over the world,” said Simonovich. “The digital transformation is only going to succeed if we can rely on the security of data and connected systems. Digitalization and cybersecurity are two sides of the same coin.”

READ MORE ARTICLES ON CYBERSECURITY:

He also pointed to the growing cost of attacks—now reaching into the billions annually. “The complexity of attacks and sophistication of malicious actions in cyberspace continue to increase. The threats are asymmetrical, with large interconnected systems vulnerable to attacks by small groups of individuals or rogue states,” said Simonovich. “The economic impact is material: Global ransomware damages are predicted to exceed $5 billion in 2017. As all aspects of life and business become increasingly networked and digitalized, the topic will take on a new dimension. Recent attacks like Wannacry, Industroyer, or Petya are evidence of an increasing threat level.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

Keynote: The Impact of IoT on Engineering Jobs As the Internet of Things (IoT) pushes automation to new heights, people will perform fewer and fewer “simple tasks.” Does that mean the demand for highly technical employees will increase as the need for less-technical employees decreases? What will be the immediate and long-term effects on the overall job market? What about our privacy and is the IoT secure? These are loaded questions, but ones that are asked often. Cees Links, wireless pioneer, entrepreneur, and general manager of the Wireless Connectivity business unit in Qorvo, will address these questions, as well as expectations for IoT’s impact on society, in this ESC Boston 2018 keynote presentation, Thursday, April 19, at 1 pm. Use the Code DESIGNNEWS to save 20% when you register for the two-day conference today!