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Boeing's Woes Shouldn't Be an Indictment of Electric Cars

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Niel
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Designers without applying knowlege = Danger.
Niel   2/4/2013 7:03:48 AM
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This debarcle reminds me of event's in other industrys, Fix Or Repair Daily fitted a 'new' (to them) diesel engine to an existing product, Perkin's gave them the thermal load data and specified the minimum radiator needed, Fix Or Repair Daily's designers however went with a too small rad. resulting in cooked engines with cracked cylinder heads. Perkins after a short while of replacing engine's at their cost refused to supply anymore unless the rad. was upsized, Fix Or Repair Daily refused to do so and sourced an engine from another supplier, this one being less powerful needed less cooling, but Fix Or Repair Daily's designers fitted a huge cross-flow rad. more than twice the size needed, IF they'd used that with the Perkin's unit's it would have been fine, but the 'loss of face' admitting they were wrong was not acceptable.

Fix Or Repair Daily also had a series of trucks a few years later which were involved in several fatal 'accidents', each time the rear wheels had locked up under braking whilst unloaded slewing the truck sideways into oncoming traffic or pedestrian walkways. The fault was simply the designer deciding that a load/unload valve to compensate for load weight and grip level changes wasn't required. A practical braking systems engineer contracted to solve the issue tried various tricks, including graphite loading the brake shoes, but every time the rears locked up without warning, he fitted a load valve from a larger truck in the same range and it cured the problem. Fix Or Repair Daily's answer to his report was to tel him he was wrong and to fit smaller rear brakes, which whilst fine unloaded were not upto the job when loaded!

I suspect Boeing's designers had access to the huge knowlege pool on L-ion tech, but for space/cost reasons, and factors I will not speculate upon publicly, went with the smallest package possible, living in hope they'd get away without the cooling others, such as auto industry designers, know will be required. Long term if they don't admit their error those with a tech background will refuse to fly in a Boeing, the public perception of other L-ion use will still be tarnished, poor design choice shouldn't be an option, design by accountants needs to be stopped when it involves 'mission and safety critical' systems.

 

Perhaps asking accountants about reputational damage and limitation of risk needs to be part of their, and designers, training?

g_ost
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Re: Designers without applying knowlege = Danger.
g_ost   2/4/2013 8:51:13 AM
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I like this article very much. But in aviation the risk should be precise evaluated and allways minimized (the cost underlinks risk). Li-Ion will remain the most interesting electrical energy storage solution until the large TFBs will come ...2030???

richnass
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Re: Designers without applying knowlege = Danger.
richnass   2/4/2013 8:56:49 AM
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Great post Chuck. If I read this right, the aviation engineers weren't conservative enough in their battery protection. Whereas their automotive counterparts were. Very interesting debate.

Charles Murray
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Re: Designers without applying knowlege = Danger.
Charles Murray   2/4/2013 6:35:38 PM
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The reason for the fires is still somewhat of a mystery at this point, Rich. But your comment about not being conservative enough in their battery protection is probably right. The experts I've talked to have said that -- whatever the reasons for the incidents -- active cooling would have mitigated some of the risk.

3drob
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Re: Designers without applying knowlege = Danger.
3drob   2/5/2013 9:35:37 AM
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It's interesting that in the article there is a reference that a similar amount of energy in the form of gasoline being a bigger fire hazard.  I guess that big tank of jet fuel contained in the same plane, that DIDN't catch fire BTW, is proof only that anything touched by the Green Groupies will be politicized until nothing is left in the conversation but hyperbole.

The fact is, this article (a good one) has a title that's more ironic than probably intended.  Boing's problems ARE an indictment of Electric Car's use of LiIon technology.  If Boing cannot get it right, with the massive safety critical emphasis placed on passenger plane design, how could ANY car company (with the emphasis on minimizing both NRE and recurring cost) be expected to get it right?

Hyperbole aside, Boing's cluster will hopefully help make electric cars and hybrids safer by the lesson's learned (when they are learned, I'll hold off judgment until then).  It certainly points out the non-trivial nature of advanced battery technology.

My Hybrid uses NiMH technology, not perfect but acceptably safe.  Is it's energy density really lower than LiION after you take into account the additional weight of the necessary cooling?

diskguy
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Re: Designers without applying knowlege = Danger.
diskguy   2/5/2013 2:49:32 PM
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Not all lithium batteries require cooling so maybe avoiding heat generating batteries would make this a non issue? 

Analog Bill
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Re: Designers without applying knowlege = Danger.
Analog Bill   2/5/2013 5:47:44 PM
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I agree that plug-in, all-electric cars are a terrible idea ... a case of burning more fuel elsewhere ("not in my back yard") than would be necessary with a good hybrid (kinetic energy-conserving) vehicle. But, notwithstanding that, if Boeing wants to do the battery industry a favor, which I think it owes, it should step up to the plate and admit that they screwed up the design. And as to "how can we expect auto makers to use them right?", just look at Tesla (as I understand it, they've even offered to help Boeing).  All I can think is that Boeing used some interns or newbies to design these battery boxes. I'm no expert, but common sense tells me not to crowd things together if each of them is getting hot ... the cumulative effect could be easily predicted. Shame on Boeing!

gwf_fly
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Re: Designers without applying knowlege = Danger.
gwf_fly   2/6/2013 1:23:07 PM
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Hey Analog,

Perhaps you ought to change the title of your entry:  "Knowledgable designers without applying wisdom = Danger!"  The assumption here is that a company like Tesla has been able to apply lithium ion technology in their car without a single fire!  The computerized thermal management system developed by their engineers has served well so far, so why not share the wealth with Boeing?  There are billions of lithium ion packs scattered over the face of the earth in as many electronic gizmos.  Do you see a panic to dump them for the older nicad or nickel metal hydride?  Boeing would be WISE to accept the help offered by the Tesla engineers!

 

garysoaring

GTOlover
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Re: Designers without applying knowlege = Danger.
GTOlover   2/5/2013 9:47:17 AM
"But the term that too often gets left out of these discussions is "engineering."" This is one of your best lines! We to often (myself included) like to find blame instead of seeking solutions. Then when we find blame, we love to cross-link the resulting mistake to any and all related applications.

As for the modern media, they prostitute themselves on the hyperbolic reality to sell, sell, sell! Investigative reporting is a lost art. Only the stunning or shocking (whether it is true or not) is protrayed. Since only a few 787's were flying, the news must link to a more tangible audience knowledge. Thus, make-up stuff about electric cars and now everyone is clamoring to read the article. Afterall, they need to know if their car is safe!

naperlou
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Re: Designers without applying knowlege = Danger.
naperlou   2/5/2013 10:02:59 AM
Chuck, it is a wonder that the engineers at Boeing do not seem to have provided enough battery protection, or cooling, is puzzling.  It is puzzling on a couple of levels.  The first is that Boeing is an aerospace company, and that kind of thing is very important in that world.  The second is tha they do not seem to be up on the latest research.  Any reading of the information available from vendors of CAE software, such as Ansys and Comsol, would reveal lots of articles about lithium ion battery research from the major auto companies.  One of the recurrent issues is cooling. 

Don't forget, though, that there was that case of the Chevy Volt that had been used in a crash test caught fire after sitting there for a couple of weeks, if I recall correctly.  You wrote an article mentioning it just about one year ago.  And, of course, there is the celebrated case of the Apple laptop batteries that caught fire.  These are power sources that are very good, but do requre, as many of your readers point out, some very good engineering to use safely.  I use one in my laptop and I am now comfortable using it in my lap.  That, in itself, says something.

l_jhanson
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Re: Designers without applying knowlege = Danger.
l_jhanson   2/5/2013 12:41:29 PM
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A couple of issues I have with the overall reporting of this problem...
First, everyone discribes the battery as Boeing's design... Having worked in aerospace, this part very likely was subcontracted... That does not relieve Boeing of responsibility, but the Boeing engineers I have worked with are excellent aerospace people, maybe not battery people... Therefore the possible outsourcing...

Second, many have freely tossed around the word 'fire'... related to this failure... I know, many of our parents probably stated "where there is smoke, there is fire!" but in reality there isn't always... It is obvious there was significant heat released, and a great amount of smoke... but maybe not flame... My experience with lithium-ion batteries leads me to believe there quite possibly was not flame generated... The batteries have high energy density but unlike gasoline, I have not experienced flame or explosion as a result of failure...

Charles Murray
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Re: Designers without applying knowlege = Danger.
Charles Murray   2/5/2013 5:08:10 PM
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Those who have cited concerns about the use of the word "fire" make good points, which are well-received here. In these articles, however, I've used the word "fire" as it was used by the National Transportation Safety Board, which did the teardown and even used the word "fire" in its press release headline of January 14th: "NTSB Provides Second Investigative Update on Boeing 787 Battery Fire in Boston." Also in the lede of the press release: "The National Transportation Safety Board today released a second update on the January 7 fire aboard a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 at Logan International Airport in Boston." As several commenters have suggested, the word "fire" is often used incorrectly. Here, however, it appears to be appropriate, based on the NTSB's investigation.

lightvixen
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Re: Designers without applying knowlege = Danger.
lightvixen   2/5/2013 8:38:39 PM
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Maybe the combination of McDonald Douglas and Boelng, with different managerial concepts, and the rush taken in getting the plane in the air, were contributing factors to the problem.

RMenon
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Re: Designers without applying knowlege = Danger.
RMenon   2/6/2013 3:49:10 PM
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I like the name Fix or Repair Daily.  Years ago, I have also heard the name Found on the Road Dead

Cabe Atwell
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Re: Designers without applying knowlege = Danger.
Cabe Atwell   2/6/2013 5:06:01 PM
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Not to sound like a conspiracy nut, the EV was suppressed for many years. Despite battery tech levels of the past, they were there. I am sure some corporate type somewhere will try to spin this as a reason to avoid electric cars. Oil corps, I'm looking at you...

I, for one, will buy an EV as my next car, without a doubt.

C

apresher
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Boeing's Woes
apresher   2/4/2013 10:30:12 AM
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Excellent post, Chuck. I would have never thought about how the woes at Boeing could spill over as a negative perception of battery technology used elsewhere.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Boeing's Woes
Ann R. Thryft   2/4/2013 12:40:56 PM
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Thanks for this, Chuck. It continues to amaze me how often members of the non-technical press get things wrong.

GeorgeG
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It sucks to be the new kid
GeorgeG   2/5/2013 9:43:27 AM
New technologies are always the target of abuse just like the new kid in a high school. When the fed managed to set a few EVs on fire, this got enormous coverage which ignored the fact that, in one case a seriously damaged vehicle was stored in an unsafe fashion and in another the gasoline vehicle parked beside the EV caught fire taking the EV with it. This piqued my curiousity. Fortunately, there are pretty good publicly available stats to look at. Even though there aren't that many EVs around, the proportion of EVs catching fire proves to be trivial relative to the proportion of gasoline powered cars catching fire while the occurence of spontaneous combustion of gasoline powered cars is astronomically higher than for EVs. Not only that, the stat for vehicle fires causing death is similarly skewed - an ordinary IC vehicle is much more likely to fry its occupants than an EV (on a per vehicle basis). And yet, which one gets the press coverage? This is the classic irrational fear of new things which the press likes to play up. At one time they put out a broadly repeated story that automobiles were dangerous because driving at more than 17 mph could be harmfull. They haven't done a good gasoline fired story since the days of the Firenza.

eafpres
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Re: It sucks to be the new kid
eafpres   2/5/2013 9:56:15 AM
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I agree with George--there is the factor that Boeing was going to take lumps on this thing, and there will probably be more lumps to come.  Surely they knew that, and they will get past this.  In the meantime, while it should not be surprising the non-technical press gets it wrong or jumps to conclusions to sell airtime or imprints, we should expect more from the engineering community.  What amazes me is that with no analytical results so far (a lot of experts working for weeks) we have so many comments on DN and elsewhere condeming, convicting, villifying, etc. Boeing engineers and/or management.  Now who's rushing to judgment?

Regarding the article, I agree with the author in the sense that this is not an apples to apples situation, so we should not go on an automotive witch hunt.  Yet, given the tiny penetration and production of EVs to date, I would expect more issues with them in the future.  Let's face it, the Automotive industry continues to make mistakes after more decades of experience than the Aviation industry.  Bad tire designs, bad suspension designs, bad electronics, bad material choices (remember all the peeling paint when plastic bumper parts came out?), you name it.  What do all these have in common?  Not enough testing.  Or ignoring results.  Or poorly designed tests, which is amazing for such a mature industry as Automotive.  

So while I prefer not to crucify Boeing, let's not anoint the Automotive Industry with sainthood just yet.

Niel
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Re: It sucks to be the new kid
Niel   2/5/2013 10:01:56 AM
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"At one time they put out a broadly repeated story that automobiles were dangerous because driving at more than 17 mph could be harmfull."

I wondered where the UK gov't got the idea 20 mph limits was a good idea!

 

Thanks for that.

aeroEngr512
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Iron
Battery-powered cars and Boeing's Li-ion problem
aeroEngr512   2/5/2013 10:29:56 AM
Recent publications on Li batteries indicate that Li-ion batteries have a problem which NiCads do not: The former melt at a very low temperature and once the process starts, it doesn't end until the battery is consumed in a catastrophic meltdown, thus the fires. NiCads, however, require double the weight for the same energy storage, thus the urge to use Li's.

One can readilly extrapolate that the new Li's used on the aircraft are larger than previous models, thus quite possibly creating a temperature gradient from the innermost cells to the outside which is risky in terms of reaching the melting point within the battery. If this be true, two cures are indicated: (1) active cooling of the batteries (not currently provided for in the Boeing design), including possibly active cooling within the battery volume, and temperture sensing within the battery (also apparently not included) as a control signal to the charging circuitry.

Battery powered cars are a product of the man-made global warming theory and taxpayer subsidies. If one believes in the theory, then one should be prepared to have egg on one's face when the theory is finally accepted as a hoax. Quiz: Who was it that said back in 1933 that "if you tell a lie and keep repeating it, the lie will come to be accepted as the truth ... the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie and thus, by extention, the truth is the mortal enemy of the state"? Hint: der Fuerher loved this guy.

Thinking_J
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Arm chair quarterbacks... ?
Thinking_J   2/5/2013 1:54:30 PM
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Many thoughtful comments .. and better informed than in most media.

The fact remains..

We are just speculating with limited specific knowledge to the details of the two 787 Dreamliners with damaged batteries. This is a very small sample size to make generalizations with. And, yes, media's love of speculation is likely to hurt the image of anything with Li-ion batteries. And that is unfair.

 

Old US Air force definition of an airplane:

A group of compromises , flying in close formation.

 

herbissimus
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Re: Arm chair quarterbacks... ?
herbissimus   2/7/2013 10:41:38 AM
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"Old US Air force definition of an airplane:

A group of compromises , flying in close formation."



what a beautiful quote!!

i'm sure this will come to me as i'm high above the water, crossing the atlantic or pacific, courtesy of an airline and aircraft company on my way to another great travel experience. and the thought will also arise that this quote as much as any i've heard characterises the whole industrial system.

diskguy
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Not all Lithium Batteries need cooling
diskguy   2/5/2013 2:44:43 PM
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There are several lithium ion chemistries available and the cobalt based battery is well known to be thermally unstable.  Recall computer laptop fires? 

If a 'safe' chemistry had been considered, e.g. manganese based lithium then this would have increased the thermal margin such that cooling is not needed and another failure mode is avoided.  Keep it simple!!

Flyby
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Boeing's Woes
Flyby   2/5/2013 4:26:52 PM
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It seems to me that Lithium Ion battery technology has not reached the maturity that resulted in grounding 30+ aircraft, at millions of dollars a day, regardles of any power to weight benefit. If a car has a fire you can quickly pull over and get out. If an aircraft has a fire in flight what do you do?

At the time the US government certified Boeing's 787 Dreamliners as safe, federal rules barred the type of batteries used to power the airliner's electrical systems from being carried as cargo on passenger planes because of the fire risk.

Boeing appears to have taken gamble and lost. Poor design, poor engineering, poor implementation or.... eventually we will know.

Thinking_J
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Re: Boeing's Woes
Thinking_J   2/5/2013 4:58:08 PM
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Wrong .. or at least misleading / outdated info.

The same day the first battery failed on a Dreamliner... FAA had changed the rules concerning shipping of Li-ion batterys..

They (Li-ion batteries) have been cleared for transport on passenger flights.

 

William K.
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Boeing's Woes and electric cars?
William K.   2/5/2013 6:56:53 PM
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Has 9it been mentioned as to how much of the engineering on the battery system on the dreamliner was outsourced? It has been published that Boeing has had problems with quite a few of the places where outsourced talent was used. Problems are exactly what I have learned to expect from outsourced engineering work, so that revalation would not be surprising to me. Keeping high energy batteries in a safe condition is a challenge, there is no question about that, and forgetting to include active cooling is one of those simplifying choices that appears to have been wrong. Of course it is also possible that it is stricktly a quality problem, that has not been mentiond at all, one way or the other. The fact stands that a poorly produced version of an excellent design will probably not perform as intended. That goes for battery packs and many other things, and it needs to be remembered.

Charles Murray
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Re: Boeing's Woes and electric cars?
Charles Murray   2/7/2013 7:36:26 PM
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Good point, William K. Fears about outsourced aircraft maintenance get talked about a lot (Michael Crichton wrote a book about it called "Airframe" many years ago). But for some reason, there's little talk about the effects of outsourced engineering.

William K.
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Re: Boeing's Woes and electric cars?
William K.   2/7/2013 9:50:43 PM
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Charles, One of my bosses years ago had a policy of never admitting to making a mistake on record. Verbally he would acknowledge errors and failures, but never in any form that left a detectable record. So that is one way of never getting nailed for ones errors. I think that is how it works with outsourced engineering, which is that accounting points at how much money they saved and how the incompoetent in-house engineers just messed things up. And very few are ever willing to admit to a failure, because it is bad for one's career.

Charles Murray
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Re: Boeing's Woes and electric cars?
Charles Murray   2/8/2013 6:13:57 PM
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Must be nice, William K. The accountant comes up with the idea to outsource the engineering and gets a pat on the back for saving the company money. If the outsourced engineers mess up, though, no one blames the accountant. What a great deal.

William K.
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Re: Boeing's Woes and electric cars?
William K.   2/8/2013 9:36:20 PM
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Charles, you are exactly right! And sometimes the failures are some seriously bad news. Been there, the company died.

ChasChas
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RISK ASSESSMENT? TRY MONEY ASSESSMENT!
ChasChas   2/5/2013 9:37:35 PM
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In real life, the engineer is not in control. The money people are. The money people make the final assessment - not the engineer - and it is money based. It has nothing to do with safety per se.

They ask questions like how many people may get killed/hurt? and what is our liability? When the product reaches an acceptable risk level - based on money alone - then the product is deemed ready for production.

Sadly, the engineer must take all the blame if something goes wrong.

 

Ozark Sage
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IT is NOT ONLY about ENGINEERING
Ozark Sage   2/5/2013 10:05:06 PM
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Today I had to purchase some new tires so visited our corporate supplier to confirm my conclusion of a defective front left tire.  A very savy service tech confirmed same.  So I told him to figure (2) for the front since it is a FWD car.  He ordered them for installation the next day.  On my arrival for installation I was informed the two NEW TIRES would HAVE TO BE INSTALLED ON THE REAR wheels.  A HEATED discussion comenced!  The store manager (quickly) arrived on the spot and a rather long, but friendly discussion proceeded with most of the customers listening intently.  The manager gave my company 2 more tires FREE to show their appreciation my corporations past patronage and explained to all listening why tire companies are taking this approach. 1. To save customers.  2. To SAVE LAWSUITS!

He went on to explain a new set of Firestones were put on the front with the worn tires moved to the rear.  The driver departed; a rear tire blew; control was lost; car filpped; burned; driver sued; HUGE damages; end of story!

NOW, one might GUESS what BOEING IS THINKING about and the raz-ma-taz  discussed, makes interesting press, but not a wise management call.  Keeping the beast on the ground until ALL the Qs are answered keeps stockholders AND passangers happy.  

 

ervin0072002
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Thank You
ervin0072002   2/6/2013 7:57:13 AM
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My favorite post. Every word true and politically correct. If i was a conspiracy theorist i would say that the oil companies have it in for us and are using the media to delay electric car development. Im not a consipracy theorist hence i blame the ignorance of the media. This is my most favorite post ever.

RMenon
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Due diligence vs. time-to-market
RMenon   2/6/2013 5:28:00 PM
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The oft-repeated mistake manufacturers make, is not doing enough due diligence on the product design.  While this is easier said than done, the pressures within the oragnization and external market forces decide how much or how little test validation gets done on the product before being deployed in the market.  This is not restricted to the aircraft or automotive industry.  Look at the pharmaceutical industry making new drugs as well as generic versions.  The amount of bad side-effects and deaths caused by the drugs itself have increased over the years.  The escape valve that industry has developed, is to have disclaimers that taking that drug will cause all kinds of side effects like puffing of lips, diarrhoea, kidney damage, internal bleeding etc., which protects them from liability claims in our highly litigious society.  Many a times the ingredients they use are at fault or the formulations they produce are deficient.  They push the performance envelope, so much so that the FDA cannot keep pace with all the developments and yet are under pressure to certify those drugs.  Engineered products have the same set of challenges.  Even when the product by itself may perform very well, when put into use in a certain application and/or environment they could fail, sometimes with disastrous/fatal outcomes.  That is the price we pay for technological advances - but we all love i-anything.  Getting back to Boeing, they have had their own problems to deal with, with lost contracts to Airbus Industries, due to delayed delivery dates for their Dreamliner.  I am sure that this put pressure on Boeing as a company as well as their internal stakeholders including their excellent engineering team.  What has drastically changed in the age of the internet, is that bad news reaches the four corners of the earth faster than it ever did before.  News media need to increase their ratings, so under the guise of investigative journalism, we get disconnected facts enough to make everybody nervous to get up in the morning to go to work.  We seek instant gratification, so these kinds of failures are to be expected as a matter of routine.  While the learning curve can be reduced by applying lessons learned from automotive or space industry, certain proceses in life are linear. Performance validation is certainly one of them.  Now let's just shut out the noise, and get back to work!

Ceylon0
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Logic not crisis
Ceylon0   2/13/2013 3:19:12 PM
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The problem here isn't with Boeing having to fix their mistake or electric cars. The problem here is with a media who reports this nonsense. The media seems to think it cannot survive without moving from crisis to crisis and manufacturing a few along the way. These so-called journalists need some basic training in logic. Oh wait, that's why they are journalists. They couldn't handle the math!

sensor pro
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Re: Logic not crisis
sensor pro   2/17/2013 8:43:01 PM
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WOW, you right on. They can not live without crisis. This also adds preasure for immediate solution, when it really has to be done methodically without errors.

Cabe Atwell
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Re: Logic not crisis
Cabe Atwell   3/1/2013 6:59:57 PM
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All is well. A permanent fix is on the way for these batteries. Only a brief incident. Electric cars are safe!

C

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