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Design News by Kevin Clemens - 8h ago

July 16, 1969

The Apollo 11 Saturn V lifts off with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. at 9:32 a.m. EDT July 16, 1969, from Kennedy's Launch Complex 39A.(Image source: NASA)

It began at 9:32 am Eastern time on July 16, 1969. The mighty Saturn V rocket launched the Apollo 11 spacecraft from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On board were mission commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. Apollo 11 would be the third time that astronauts would leave Earth orbit—Apollo 8 had orbited the moon in December of 1968, and in May Apollo 10 had served as a dress rehearsal, orbiting the moon and testing the systems and lunar lander without actually touching down on the lunar surface. Now, all was ready for humans to set foot on the moon.

2 hours, 44 minutes into the flight, after one-and-a-half Earth orbits, the S-IVB third stage of the Saturn V reignited for a second burn of 5 minutes, 48 seconds. The thrust served to place Apollo 11 into a translunar orbit. Then, the command and service module, or CSM, named “Columbia” separated from the third stage. Columbia rotated around to face the spacecraft-lunar module adapter, or SLA, which contained the lunar module, or LM, named “Eagle”. Columbia and Eagle docked for the first time and the lunar module was extracted from the SLA. The S-IVB stage separated and another firing of its rocket injected it into heliocentric orbit 4 hours, 40 minutes into the flight.

Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon!

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

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 
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For any company relying on parts manufactured by third parties, the threat of counterfeiting is very real. Where there is money to be made with fake, substandard parts, there will be people willing to produce them. As a result, there is a lively industry for the detection of counterfeit goods and parts.

InfraTrac's method uses a small spot of compatible print materials as taggant, layered inside like peanut butter and jelly hidden in a sandwich. (Image source: David Ian Forbes)

At the consumer level, anti-counterfeit technology could include a holographic tag on a garment – an expensive collector’s football jersey, for example -- to reassure the customer shelling out big bucks that the garment is authentic. It might be about placing tiny, covert scanners inside the products themselves. In some cases, chemical signatures are used in the manufacturing process and then scanned to ensure all the parts of a product or machine are authentic.

The problem with anti-counterfeit technology has traditionally been that once a method for detecting counterfeiting becomes established, the counterfeiters determine how to get around it. This is particularly true of overt methods of counterfeit detection, such as holographic tags.

“Overt protections reassure the consumer that the football jersey with the hologram tag is likely to be authorized and authentic, but they telegraph to the counterfeiter exactly what to spoof, so those holograms, alas, are no longer trustworthy,” Dr. Sharon Flank, CEO of InfraTrac, told Design News. “You can buy your own in rogue marketplaces. Covert protections have the advantage of working behind the scenes.”

Anti-counterfeit Measures Are Failing

Unfortunately, even some covert methods are becoming easier to get around, particularly with the wide availability of 3D scanners, which means that techniques such as laser etching or tiny barcodes are no longer reliably covert. Manufacturers may be staking their brand reputation, and the safety of their customers, on the authenticity of parts and materials. Products produced via additive manufacturing are particularly vulnerable, since the printing is often outsourced, creating even more spots in the supply chain where trouble in the form of poor-quality counterfeits can slip in

Forensic measures – generally considered the most secure methods to detect fakes --  have historically required expensive lab equipment manipulated by expensive experts, but recent advances in photonics have enabled an explosion of new portable, easy-to-use instruments that put forensic-quality science in the hands of field personnel, with near-instant authentication capability.

New Measures to Protect Additive Manufactured Parts

As more complex parts are created with additive manufacturing, methods are required to authenticate parts created by multimaterial processes involving the laser bed powder fusion (LBPF) process. Maryland-based InfraTrac recently partnered with Belgium-based SLS 3D printer manufacturer Aerosint to ensure the integrity of multimaterial parts created with LPBF.

The partnership became possible when Aerosint recently debuted the first multi-powder SLS 3D printer. Since InfraTrac’s anti-counterfeiting technique embeds a different material -- preferably during the printing process – it can only be used in a multimaterial print processes. Until Aerosint’s innovation, LBPF was not a multimaterial process.

InfraTrac’s tagging model uses commodity taggants for scalability. A taggant is a substance with a chemistry that features unique codes that are nearly impossible to replicate. Optimally, taggant is placed in a small subsurface spot during the print. Selecting a single, highly detectable taggant and dispersing it throughout the product (in filament or mixed into pellets or powders) may seem like a good idea, but placing taggant everywhere makes it easier for counterfeiters to locate it and copy it. Instead, InfraTrac uses compatible chemicals as taggants, as part of the print process, and hides them in a small covert spot so they’re nearly impossible for counterfeiters to replicate.

Anti-counterfeiting Needs to be Integral to Additive Manufacturing

Flank stresses that the forensic counterfeiting detection methods must be easy to use if they’re to be reliable. As a result, the prototypes produced by the partnership between InfraTrac and Aerosint have chemical signatures are read with off-the-shelf handheld spectrometers: near-infrared spectrometers for polymers and x-ray fluorescence spectrometers for metals. The signatures are then checked for a match using chemometric algorithms, with support from InfraTrac’s partner Camo Analytics.

“Complexity is the enemy of security: difficult procedures invite work-arounds,” said Dr. Flank. “That’s what makes us reuse passwords even when we know we shouldn’t. Security procedures that align with existing processes are most likely to be adopted, and less likely to be circumvented. Applying taggant or codes should be part of the standard print or manufacturing workflow, not an add-on.  Detection should take seconds, with inexpensive, portable, off-the-shelf equipment.”

Every Company with a Brand Needs a Security Plan

While many anti-counterfeiting technologies are focused on copyright and patent protections, there are far fewer focused on safety and supply chain integrity. While patent-related technologies generally authenticate the software and the printing processes, anti-counterfeiting for additive manufacturing needs to be integral to the final printed product, even if it’s a multimaterial part.

“In recent years, aerospace and defense, automotive, and heavy equipment manufacturers have all been looking for good security options for LBPF, especially for metals,” said Flank. “Every company with a brand and customers to protect needs a security plan, and as AM gains traction, they know AM security will be important as well.”

For now, the two companies are creating simplistic demonstrator parts made from polymer and metal that integrate “fingerprinting” sites based on a powder formulation developed by InfraTrac. Going forward, InfraTrac and Aerosint plan to create more safety solutions for more materials, more part shapes, and more printer types, guided by the needs of their customers.

Tracey Schelmetic graduated from Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. and began her long career as a technology and science writer and editor at Appleton & Lange. Later, as the editorial director of telecom trade journal Customer Interaction Solutions (today Customer magazine), she became a well-recognized voice in the contact center industry. Today, she is a freelance writer specializing in manufacturing and technology, telecommunications, and enterprise software.

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

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Graphene is known as a wonder material for scientists, with myriad uses due to its unique combination of light weight, strength, flexibility, and high electrical conductivity.

One of its drawbacks, however, is that synthesis of the carbon-based material is complex and costly, inspiring researchers around the world to find cheaper, easier, and faster ways to do it.

A collaborative effort between researchers in Australia and India has developed a way to synthesize graphene using eucalyptus bark, potentially making the material more cost-effective and accessible to global industry. (Image source: RMIT University)

From Australia

Researchers now have discovered a natural source of a key agent for synthesizing graphene in eucalyptus trees, an abundant species in Australia.

The research—a collaboration between scientists at RMIT University in Australia and the National Institute of Technology in Warangal, India—developed a method that uses eucalyptus bark to synthesize graphene that is cheaper and more sustainable than current ones, researchers said.

“Traditionally, synthesis of graphene requires highly controlled environments and toxic reducing agents, which involves lot of complex and costly operations,” Suresh Bhargava, a distinguished professor at RMIT, told Design News. “Thus, we have looked for a cheaper, eco-friendly, and affordable way to produce graphene.”

Researchers seem to have found that in eucalyptus bark extract, which can used as a reducing agent for the reduction of graphene oxide to graphene, he told us. This is the first time this material has been used in the fabrication of graphene, researchers said.

“Previously, eucalyptus tree leaves were used to produce oils, which contained polyphenolic compounds,” Bhargava told Design News. “Naturally, these polyphenolic compounds act as reducing agents, which drives us to use this idea in our synthesis.”

Virtually No Cost

Chemical reduction is the most common method for synthesizing graphene oxide, allowing for the production of graphene at a low cost in bulk quantities. Instead of using toxic, chemical reducing agents, the work now provides an option to use a natural, virtually no-cost material, he said.

“The advantages are the eucalyptus trees are abundant and no cost involved using theses bark waste, and do not produce any toxic waste in the synthesis process,” Bhargava told Design News. Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal ACS journal Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering.

Graphene produced using this method in tests already has produced quality and performance on par with graphene synthesized in more tradition ways, researchers reported.

They also believe their method will drive the cost of making graphene down significantly, from $100 per gram to just 50 cents, which would make it more accessible and available to industries worldwide for new technology development.

Now that researchers have successfully tested the graphene they’ve developed using eucalyptus bark in supercapacitors, they plan to use it in other applications as well, such as batteries or in a biocompatible material, Bhargava told us.

“Further, it can be used in various applications from water filtration to renewable energy [and] sensors,” he said.

The team plans to continue its work to take the research out of the lab and into the marketplace, Bhargava told Design News.

“We know the secrets and intellectual property,” he told us. “Also, we want to make graphene-based composites for further improving its performance in various applications. In true sense, the sky is the limit for R&D in this area.”

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.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

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Design News by Kevin Clemens - 1d ago

 

Fifty years ago this week, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Moon (Image source: NASA)

When Apollo 11 landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, it was the culmination of the work of more than 400,000 engineers, working for almost a decade to solve problems that had never before been imagined.

To commemorate their work and success, Design News is celebrating SPACE WEEK. For this entire week we will present summaries of the day’s activities from the Apollo 11 mission, 50 years ago, along with a series of interesting feature stories by the Design News editorial team.

We hope you will join us in our celebration of one of humankind’s greatest achievements!

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Scientists long have looked to hydrogen-based fuels and fuel cells as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels for energy production.

However, one drawback has been that hydrogen gas is extremely flammable when mixed with air, which means any automobile or other vehicle using this type of fuel needs to have a reliable and super-fast sensor to ensure safety.

Researchers in Sweden believe they’ve solved that problem with the development of an optical nanosensor that they said responds the fastest to date when hydrogen has escaped into the air.

The sensor—developed by a team at Chalmers University of Technology--is based on an optical phenomenon called a plasmon, which occurs when metal nanoparticles are illuminated and capture visible light. This effect causes the sensor to change color when the amount of hydrogen in the environment changes, researchers said.

“We use arrays of palladium-gold alloy nanoparticles as transducer that can be read-off optically,” Ferry Nugroho, a researcher at the Department of Physics at Chalmers who worked on the research, told Design News. “These particles are then covered with thin polymeric film.”

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have developed a hydrogen sensor that can detect hydrogen in the air faster than any invented to date. This is key to the use of hydrogen-based energy sources, as the element is highly flammable with only minimal contact with air. (Image source: Yen Strandqvist)

Key to the sensor’s design is that it is encapsulated in plastic, which has a twofold purpose. It increases the sensor’s response time speeding the uptake of the hydrogen gas molecules into the metal particles where they can be detected, he said. It also acts as an effective barrier to the environment, preventing any other molecules from entering and deactivating the sensor.

“In the work we used tandem polymers comprising PTFE and PMMA,” Nugroho told Design News. “The former modifies the interaction between hydrogen atom and nanoparticle surface, so that hydrogen can goes in and out the nanoparticle quicker, while the latter acts as sieve that prevents other gas molecules than hydrogen pass through.”

The plastic barrier is key to the performance of the sensor and is a point of differentiation over similar technologies created to date, Nugroho said.

“Unlike today's hydrogen sensors, our solution does not need to be recalibrated as often, as it is protected by the plastic,” he said in a press statement.

The Need for Speed

The automotive industry has been eyeing the use of hydrogen fuel cells to replace fossil fuels in cars and provide a cleaner source of energy. However, in order for this to become a reality, automobiles also must have a hydrogen sensor with the ability to detect 0.1 percent hydrogen in the air in less than a second to pass rigorous safety standards.

Detecting hydrogen is no easy feat, as the gas is invisible and has no smell but at the same time is quite volatile and very flammable. To the latter point, it requires only 4 percent hydrogen in the air to produce what’s called oxyhydrogen gas—also known as knallgas—which will catch fire at the smallest spark.

This means researchers really had to focus on the sensor’s ability to very quickly detect hydrogen in the air at even the smallest amounts, said Christoph Langhammer, professor in the Chalmers Department of Physics who also worked on the research. They accomplished this almost by accident when they discovered that the plastic they used to protect the sensor also make its response time faster, he said.

This knowledge inspired researchers to work more quickly to develop a solution to the problem, Nugroho said in the statement. “We wanted to find the ultimate combination of nanoparticles and plastic, understand how they worked together and what made it so fast,” he said. The team published a paper on its work in the journal Nature Materials.

Researchers plan to continue their work “to further optimize the detection limit and response speed by tailoring the nanoparticle-polymer combination,” Nugroho told Design News.

While the sensor is aimed at detecting hydrogen to promote the use of hydrogen fuels for the automotive industry, there also are organizations in other industries that could benefit from an efficient hydrogen sensor—including electricity networks, chemical and nuclear power plants, and medical diagnostics.

Researchers also are eyeing efficient fabrication as part of their strategy, hoping to use 3D-printer technology to manufacture the sensors for industry use, they 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.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

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Welcome to Funny Fridays Engineering Humor, a new feature for Design News. Every Friday we’re going to offer up some bright sunny – or sometimes wickedly dark – engineering humor to finish off the work week with a grand splash. Or at least a trickle of smirks.

Humor at work | Andrew Tarvin | TEDxOhioStateUniversity - YouTube

In this talk Andrew Tarvin talks about how he brought humor to the workplace while he worked at Procter & Gamble. After being complimented by co-workers on how humor helped them enjoy their work, Andrew decided to start becoming a humor engineer--using humor to help people become more efficient and effective in the workplace.

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.

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

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Manufacturers and their suppliers are doing well in the current economy, yet there are some core challenges that persist. MFG.com has released its MFGWatch 2019 Manufacturing Report that reveals that companies are turning to greater automation to solve labor shortages. The survey respondents include sourcing professionals and small- to mid-size custom manufacturers who use MFG.com.

Many manufacturers are turing to automation technology to solve labor ahortage issues. (Image source: MFG.com

The results include the following:

Business is growing. Manufacturers and their suppliers plan to increase staff in 2019 to keep up with demand, with more than 44% saying they will invest in their workforce and acquire new technology. Thirty four percent of buyers will focus more on technology infrastructure and not the workforce, with almost 33% planning to increase both this year.  

Despite growth, there are concerns. Fifty percent of suppliers agree that the availability of materials is an issue, with 44% citing tariffs as a stumbling block. On the buyer side, tariffs and shipping costs affect their supply chain strategies. Interestingly, tariffs were not a concern on the last MFGWatch survey published three years ago. The growing shortage of skilled workers was also a key concern.

Companies are sourcing in the United States. Given that many of the respondents work for smaller manufacturers, it wasn’t surprising that nearly 90%  of buyers and sourcing professionals cited the US as their company’s primary sourcing destination for manufacturing their products. For those sourcing overseas, 79% have made no changes to bring production back to North America from lower-cost countries.

Other Signs of Prosperity

Sixty-five percent of respondents said they received more work this year than last year—a more than 50% jump over last year’s results. More than 50% said their available capacity increased in 2018 while 37% said it stayed the same year-over-year.

Similarly, 61% of suppliers said they experienced an increase in RFQs in 2018, suggesting that the trend continues for buyers actively looking to source custom parts through American suppliers. Only 12% of suppliers surveyed saw a decrease in RFQs. Nearly 60% of sourcing professionals indicated they experienced growth in the last year, a jump from 47% in the previous MFGWatch report.

MFGWatch noted that survey respondents came from a mix of industries. On the supplier side, consumer products and machinery tools and equipment were the largest represented groups, each at 31%. It was similar on the buyer side, with 30% of respondents in the consumer products industry. Machinery tools and equipment came in third at 24%. The balance was “other.”

Using Automation to Trim the Workforce

The report revealed that manufacturers and suppliers are focusing more on technology. This can include robotics, automated lines, IoT, even 3D printing. “In general, manufacturers and suppliers are talking about updating their equipment portfolio to include technologies that are faster, reduce waste, and provide higher yields or improved quality,” Andy Richardson, VP of marketplace sales at MFG.com told Design News. “Naturally, this often includes more automation and allows companies to interconnect their systems online, as with IoT for remote monitoring and controlling. We’re also seeing traditional manufacturers adopting leading-edge technologies such as 3D printing.”

Low unemployment is resulting in shortages in labor for manufacturers. The report reveals this has become further impetus to deploy technology. Yet the additional automation also requires highly skilled workers, just not as many as the jobs the technology replaces. “Skilled trade workers are certainly needed to operate new equipment, but as the new technologies provide faster throughput and easier operation, the number of workers required to control the same amount of work goes down,” said Richardson. “That being said, however, there is definitely still a shortage of skilled trade workers. This is a serious concern since technology updates can’t replace their craft altogether.”

The Problem of Tariffs and US Sourcing

The problem the respondents face with tariffs is an unknown, since tariffs could vanish in an instant or persist for years. Many of the respondents find that prospect of sourcing from North America is actually feasible. It depends on whether you’re a buyer or supplier. “On the buyer side, bringing production back home is very feasible,” said Richardson. “There are some challenges with moving large, expensive tooling for existing programs, but it is doable. However, there are some additional costs associated with relaunching and requalifying a program, so the cost and time required to make the change have to be considered.”

Richardson noted it’s the flip side for supply manufacturers. ”It’s a much more difficult and costly process for suppliers, one not likely to happen at the current time due to tariffs,” said Richardson. “This is because the cost of relocating or rebuilding a factory in North America would likely far outweigh the additional expense of the tariffs.”

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.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

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The Tesla Model 3 represents almost the entirety of electric vehicle sales in the US market. (Image source: Tesla)

With the US electric vehicle (EV) sales at just 1.3% of the market in May of 2019, it would be easy to dismiss the impact that battery-powered vehicles have on the auto industry. That would be a mistake. Despite relatively small numbers, EVs have begun to disrupt the industry in ways that would have been difficult to predict—disruption that ranges from the basics of vehicle design, to the manufacturing floor, and even to corporate boardrooms.

Strange Bedfellows

For more than a decade, European and Japanese companies have formed partnerships with Chinese firms to build a successful auto industry in China. That country has become the biggest market for EVs and companies like VW, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Honda have a presence there, thanks to these partnerships.

The strategic matchups are however beginning to move outside of China. BMW and Daimler, Mercedes-Benz’s parent company, announced earlier this year a new partnership to work together on the development of electric next-gen autonomous vehicles. According to a joint press release, the new partnership between the traditional long-time rivals will focus on “advancing the development of next-generation technologies for driver assistance systems, automated driving on highways and parking features (up to SAE Level 4).”

Meanwhile, according to Automotive News Europe, Ford and Volkswagen have reached an agreement to “share electric and autonomous car technologies.” The plan will allow VW to share its MEB electric vehicle platform with Ford, helping both companies move more quickly into mainstream EV markets. Ford had recently announced a $500 million investment in electric pickup truck start-up Rivian. The companies have agreed to work together to develop an all-new, next-generation battery electric vehicle for Ford using Rivian’s skateboard platform.

A Shakeup

BMW launched its electric i3 model in 2013. It was quickly followed by a plug-in hybrid sports car, the i8, in 2014. The launch of these two EVs gave BMW a lead over other European automakers and a chance to expand their electrification strategy. Instead, the company seemed to lose its way and BMW executives have recently expressed reservation and doubt over the future of electric vehicles, a sentiment not at all popular in the German press. The scapegoat has become 53-year-old CEO Harald Krüger, who announced recently that he would not ask for a second term after four years as BMW’s leader. Less than a year after Krüger took over as CEO, four of BMW i's top managers & VPs left the company to join a Chinese electric vehicle startup amid signals that electrification would not be as much a priority as had initially been expected. BMW’s inability to compete with its gasoline engine cars in the US against the all-electric Tesla may have also been a factor that brought down BMW’s CEO.

EV Growth                        

Speaking of Tesla, in a year that has, so far, seen a drop of US passenger car sales of 9.5%, and a gain in light truck sales of 0.4%, sales of EVs have grown by 10.1% (through April 2019), largely pushed by Tesla Model 3 sales. In fact, Tesla sales represent 77% of all battery electric vehicles sold in the US in May of this year, and the company’s second quarter set a delivery record of 95,200 vehicles. Remember that no company, including Tesla, currently produces an electric pickup truck, and it’s pickup truck sales that are still hot among US buyers.

Although there are currently 15 battery electric vehicle models available in the US, none of them reach anything like Tesla’s sales volumes, and nearly all are showing sales declines compared to last year. It has been easy for major automakers to dismiss Tesla as an unimportant upstart, however the all-electric company’s sales numbers are rapidly outpacing some of the best-known gasoline engine competitors.

“The fact that EVs still represent barely 1% of the total vehicle market is a key factor that’s impacting the industry,” Sam Abuelsamid, Principal Analyst at Navigant Research told Design News.  “Regulatory mandates in various regions around the world are generating a push for electric vehicles, but the consumer pull simply isn’t there because for average consumers, the economics still don’t make sense,” he added. But those economics are changing. “The cost premium is too high, especially in the US where we still have relatively cheap gas but manufacturers have to spend billions to develop and build these vehicles creating a catch-22,” said Abuelsamid. “As the cost of EVs continues to decline and ICEs get more expensive trying to meet emissions standards, this equation will reverse, but in the meantime, automakers are being driven into each other’s arms to try to spread costs over more volume,” he told us.

VW, Ford, and GM are among the companies that have promised an array of new EVs within the next few years, but with sales of everything but Tesla’s EVs flat or falling, will the companies have enough faith in the technology to continue to devote billions to development? The stakes are extremely high and unless EV demand suddenly increases sharply, more heads from corporate suites could end up on the chopping block.

Head Count

One thing that seems certain—a transition to more EVs will result in a reduction of the size of the workforce in the auto industry worldwide. EVs have very few moving parts and are easier to assemble that gasoline powered vehicles, so require fewer assembly-line workers. What’s more, their drivetrains are less prone to wear and more reliable than the present-day gasoline engines and transmissions, which require frequent oil changes and maintenance. As a result, EVs will spend less time in a dealership’s service bay, an area that is a significant profit center. Fewer cars to service means fewer mechanics and technicians are needed, further reducing the head count. In general these will be good-paying jobs that will be lost—leaving one to wonder: Who will be able to afford to buy a new electric car?

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.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

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Adhesives have been a mind boggle for materials scientists for as long as they’ve been around. Though adhesives exist that can stick well, anyone who has ever tried to remove the adhesive once its fully stuck on knows that it can be a process that’s difficult or even painful—as in the case of something like a Band-Aid.

This ability to reverse adhesion—from super-sticky to something that comes off smoothly—is something scientists have sought to solve for years. Now researchers at the University of Pennsylvania believe they have solved the puzzle.

A team at Penn Engineering led by Shu Yang, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, took inspiration from snail slime—which achieves this reversible adhesion in nature—to discover a new polymer material with similar adhesive results.

“In our daily life, we use adhesives in many occasions,” Yang told Design News. “We have a choice of using glue, which is liquid and permanent after cure and could be messy to apply, or tape, which is neater, flat, but less strong in adhesion strength. While glue offers stronger adhesion, once applied, if we made a mistake or it’s not perfectly aligned, we cannot take the glued object apart and redo it.”

Yang and her team had been working on solving this problem for some time, but mainly used geckos as their natural inspiration for material biomimicry. However, they could only get so far with this work, she said.

“Geckos can put one hand down and then release it, so the gecko’s adhesion is reversible, but it’s very low adhesion,” Yang told us. “A gecko is 50 grams, and a human is at least 50 kilograms. If you want to hold a human on a wall, it’s not possible using the same adhesive.”

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered a polymer hydrogel that has similar reversal adhesive properties as snail slime. (Image source: University of Pennsylvania)

Unexpected Discovery

It took work on another project—involving a hydrogel comprised of a polymer called polyhydroxyethylmethacrylate (PHEMA)—to achieve the breakthrough the team needed to develop the snail slime-like material.

One of the researchers, Gaoxiang Wu, noticed that PHEMA—which is rubbery when wet but rigid when dry—also had strong adhesive properties. When wet, the material conforms and sticks to both smooth surfaces as well as those with ridges and grooves, the team noticed.

However, while this quality is important to making a good adhesive, it’s not the only requirement. PHEMA’s behavior when it dries—becoming rigid but without shrinking—is what was the key to researchers’ interest in it. This behavior causes the material, when dry, to harden into the cavities, fastening itself securely to the surface, researchers said.

“When materials dry, they usually shrink,” Yang said in a press statement. “If it shrinks from the surface, it no longer wants to conform to the microcavities and it’ll pop out.”

The PHEMA adhesive, on the other hand, doesn’t pop it; instead it stays conformal and remembers the shape even when it’s rigid and dry, she said.

The slime a snail uses to stick to surfaces—called epiphragm—acts similarly. When wet, it conforms to a surface and hardens to hold the snail in place. When the air becomes more humid, the epiphragm softens and lets the creature move freely again.

The Human-Suspension Test

The team tested the PHEMA hydrogel to see if its wet flexibility and dry adhesion also would reverse, as well as to see how much weight it could hold. What they found was that it acted quite similarly to snail epiphragm as well as 89 times stronger than the gecko adhesion that had inspired other materials.

“When it’s conformal and rigid, it’s like super glue,” Yang said in a statement. “You can’t pull it off. But, magically, you can rewet it, and it slips off effortlessly.”

It also could maintain adhesion even when one of the researchers, Jason Chirstopher Jolly, suspended himself from a harness held up only by a patch of the adhesive the size of a postage stamp, researchers said. The team published a paper on their work in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Due to its reverse adhesion and strength, researchers believe the material has great potential for various applications, including household products, robotics systems, and industrial assembly.

However, the material also has its limitations, as its reversibility is controlled by water, Yang said. This means it may not be suitable for a number of applications—such as car assembly and other industrial uses—in which reverse adhesion would be helpful but water activation would not, she said.

The team aims to continue its work to engineer similarly performing adhesives without this limitation as well as ones that can respond to different activation cues, Yang said.

“We hope to find other materials that can possess similar properties like PHEMA but can be activated by heat, light, electric, or a magnetic field to switch the mechanical properties, thus, adhesion,” she told us.

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.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

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