Washington Beat

By: 
June 23, 1997

NHTSA to add auto rollovers to crash-test list

The federal government is devising a test that will rate vehicles on how vulnerable they are to rolling over in an accident. Officials of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) expect to have the test method ready by the end of next year. They say the test will involve driving vehicles around corners to measure how stable they are. Automakers question the value of yet another crash test by NHTSA. Bad driving, not bad vehicle design, is the overwhelming cause of rollovers, contend officials of the Automobile Manufacturers Association. Automakers are also upset with another recent NHTSA decision. The agency announced that in 2001 manufacturers must go back to installing powerful air bags in cars. In March, NHTSA had given automakers permission to install air bags up to 35% less forceful to reduce harm to children and small adults in low-impact collisions. NHTSA hopes to force engineers to design a better system in four years. Automakers complain that NHTSA has not said what its safety criteria will be for such a system. What's more, they add, the required early return to more forceful bags will impede innovation.

New rules present opportunities to food-machinery designers

Demand is expected to soar for new types of sanitary machinery and equipment used in food processing. Reason: the U.S. Department of Agriculture is broadening regulations to reduce contaminants in processing of meat and poultry products. All slaughter and processing plants are required to adopt a system of process controls, known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), to prevent food-safety hazards. For the first time, such plants will be required to systematically target and reduce harmful bacteria. This year each plant must adopt a written plan for meeting sanitation requirements. Implementation dates for the plans will phase in starting with large plants next January 26 and covering all federally inspected plants by January 25, 2000. The Food Safety and Inspection Service is helping industry test new technology, including advanced testing tools, for meeting the HACCP rules.


Antimicrobial conveyor belts among promising products

Habasit Belting Inc. of Atlanta is preparing to profit from the HACCP regulations. "There is a lot of interest in the belting world," Steve Broadwell, Habasit's vice president and marketing director tells Design News. Habasit is developing a new type of conveyor belt that incorporates antimicrobial chemicals to fight bacteria. The firm also sees demand for a belt that resists staining from food products. Stains often confuse in-process inspection devices. Also under design is a bioluminescence machine belt that makes bacteria glow for easier detection.


First space station launch delayed eight months

The first launch of a component of the international space station is now scheduled for June 1998 instead of this November as previously planned. The Space Station Control Board expects to set other launch dates at a fall meeting. The delay stems from slow funding by Russia for construction of the service module, its chief contribution to the early part of the massive engineering venture. Work on the module has resumed. In fact, Program Manager Randy Brinkley has high praise for a general design review of the component that he attended in Russia in late April. He calls it "a major milestone in the program." However, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) continues to prepare an alternative to the Russian module--just in case. That undertaking plus modifications that would be needed to accommodate the substitute module to other components would cost NASA up to $200 million. The price tag will rise when NASA gets around to the cost of additional design work. Meanwhile, space station opponents on Capitol Hill, led by Tim Roemer (D., IN), have launched a new drive to shelve the entire space station project.


NAE awards dozen fellowships in integrated manufacturing

The National Academy of Engineering has selected 12 predoctoral fellows for research projects in integrated manufacturing at various colleges. Among the 1997 award-winning projects is one that will use concepts from industrial ecology to help designers and managers reduce environmental impacts of products and the process used to manufacture them. Another project will tackle the design, prototyping, and product development of customized wrist braces. One fellow seeks to improve performance of machine parts at negligible cost by developing new methods to characterize, measure, and compensate for machine-tool errors. Each award carries an annual stipend of $20,000 and cost-of-education allowance of up to $15,000 per year for three years. A similar competition is planned for 1998. You can get more information on the fellowships via the Internet at www2.nas.edu/fo/.

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