Engineers over use PowerPoints to make technical presentations, and the results can be disastrous. So says Edward Tufte, professor emeritus at Yale University, who is an expert on statistical evidence and analytical design. Example: NASA executives had a fatal misunderstanding of the potential danger to the space shuttle Columbia because of overly simplistic PowerPoint presentations made by Boeing engineers. That may seem hard to believe, but Tufte made a convincing case when he spoke at a seminar in Boston yesterday. His viewpoint was validated by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board in a report issued in 2003. “The board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of technical papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of technical communications at NASA,” the board wrote.
Why are PowerPoints a problem for technical communication? 1) They oversimplify complex technical data, 2) They tend to reflect the biases of the presenter, and 3) Information becomes even more filtered as PowerPoints are summarized and moved up a bureaucratic hierarchy. Tufte puts it simply: “Serious problems require a serious tool: written reports.”
A separate NASA task force investigating escalating communications problems in the agency made this damning statement: “It appears that many young engineers do not understand the need for, or know how to prepare, formal engineering documents such as reports, white papers, or analyses.”
An MIT research team has invented what they see as a solution to the need for biodegradable 3D-printable materials made from something besides petroleum-based sources: a water-based robotic additive extrusion method that makes objects from biodegradable hydrogel composites.
Alcoa has unveiled a new manufacturing and materials technology for making aluminum sheet, aimed especially at automotive, industrial, and packaging applications. If all its claims are true, this is a major breakthrough, and may convince more automotive engineers to use aluminum.
NASA has just installed a giant robot to help in its research on composite aerospace materials, like those used for the Orion spacecraft. The agency wants to shave the time it takes to get composites through design, test, and manufacturing stages.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is working with architects Foster + Partners to test the possibility of using lunar regolith, or moon rocks, and 3D printing to make structures for use on the moon. A new video shows some cool animations of a hypothetical lunar mission that carries out this vision.
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