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Technology Bulletin 558

DN Staff

January 22, 1997

8 Min Read
Technology Bulletin

Sounding out improved materials

Mechanical engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed an inexpensive acoustic wave transducer that soon may make it easier for researchers to decide if new composite materials or film coatings have the proper mechanical properties for specific applications. The transducer sends a pulsed sound wave through a test sample that is submerged in water. The speed of the reflected wave provides a measure of the material's elasticity (its ability to flex under stress). The direction of the reflected wave provides details about crystal planes or defects within the material. Current acoustic microscopes use "lenses" and may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The NIST device uses off-the-shelf parts costing less than $20,000, yet can provide similar data about materials' properties, researchers claim. Instead of a lens, the NIST instrument uses a curved transducer made with an inexpensive piezoelectric plastic film. Electrical signals cause the film to emit relatively low-frequency, pulsed sound waves. The curvature of the film focuses the waves in the same way that curved mirrors in telescopes focus light from distant stars. The transducer is positioned above the sample and then scanned or rotated through different angles to get a full picture of the material's elastic properties. Phone Nelson Hsu at (301) 975-6630.

1997 economic outlook: partly sunny and mild

The U.S. economy remains fundamentally sound, and the current economic expansion that began in the spring of 1991 will continue through 1997. So reports Cahners Economics in the Cahners 1997 Economic Outlook, published by Cahners Publishing Company, a division of Reed Elsevier PLC. The report goes on to predict that overall GDP growth should reach 2.3% this year, with business investment and exports leading the way. Inflation, says Cahners Economics, will remain relatively benign, and long-term interest rates will stay low enough to encourage reasonable gains in consumer durable goods purchases and business capital spending. For a copy of the $50 report, phone (800) 662-7776.

Micromachined silicon to handle fluids

Lucas Novasensor , Fremont, CA, has received a multimillion dollar contract to develop advanced micromachining technologies for microfluidic systems. Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA), the program's objective is to design MEMS (microelectricalmechanical systems) structures for microfluidic system integration. Researchers are employing Deep Reactive Ion Etching (DRIE)--the latest process technology--to achieve the small size required to downsize analysis equipment used in biochemical, biological, and genetic analysis systems. DRIE equipment will sculpt silicon into devices for handling critical fluids within analysis equipment. Fluid handling is critical in the analysis of pharmaceutical, biochemical, and biological liquids. For example, integrated microfluidic solutions are becoming necessary to meet cost and throughput requirements for genetic and DNA analysis systems. Researchers expect that microfluidic handling devices will help reduce equipment size and cost while improving the performance and efficiency of each system. Also involved in the research are Stanford University and Perkin Elmer's Applied Biosystems Group. FAX Lucas at (510) 770-0645.

Flash-memory density doubles

Double Density Flash--or D2--doubles the capacity of flash-memory storage products and significantly reduces flash prices. So claim SanDisk Corp. and Matsushita, who developed the technology. They achieved double density by integrating SanDisk's proprietary flash memory cell and design technology with Matsushita's 0.5-micron CMOS process technology. Flash capacity essentially doubles because the D2 flash enables the storage of two bits of data--instead of the usual one bit--in each flash cell while the chip size increases only by approximately 10% to accommodate the extra circuitry needed. The two firms also announced that they have developed a 64-Mbyte flash chip, which they say is the highest-density component produced with D2 technology. Sampling to OEM customers will begin this quarter. In the works is a 256-Mbyte flash chip. Flash memory is rewritable and retains data without power. It's used in PDAs, cellular base stations, automobiles, digital cameras, digital audio recorders, patient medical monitors, global positioning systems, and many other products. FAX SanDisk at (408) 542-0503.

Metal matrix composite enables lightweight vehicles

Boralyn H and E series of advanced metal matrix composites from Alyn Corp., Irvine, CA, are stiffer and lighter than aluminum and have a greater specific strength and stiffness than titanium, aluminum, or steel, say company officials. These properties make the series of aluminum boron carbide composites ideal for applications in aircraft, satellites, and surface and rail vehicles. Boralyn can be extruded, forged, investment cast, and Alyncast--using a proprietary casting process. The material can be welded to itself and other metals using a standard T.I.G. welder. Manufacturers can also subject the material to rolling, machining, heat treatments, and finishing with such standard techniques as plating, anodizing, and ball burnish. Automotive applications include brake disks, drums, and calipers; and turbine and internal-combustion engine components including cylinder sleeves, gears, drive shafts, rocker arms, pistons, connecting rods, valves, bearing supports, and turbine vanes. Aircraft components include frames, doors, handles, skid plates, and structural members for satellites and antennas. Visit http://www.alyn.com or FAX (714) 475-1525.

Lightweight 'body-in-white' to be made from steel

The UltraLight Steel Auto Body (ULSAB) Consortium has selected vendors to produce various sections of its demonstration bodies-in-white. A body-in-white is a car's architectural structure to which are attached other components such as closures, suspensions, engine and transmission, glass, and interior components. It includes subassemblies for front, underbody, side, and roof modules. The consortium comprises 33 of the world's leading steel companies, and is funding and promoting the project, which seeks to demonstrate the untapped potential of steel to contribute to lighter weight auto bodies that meet a range of safety and performance targets. Each vendor chosen is responsible for building tools and other necessary hardware and for producing and delivering finished parts and subassemblies. Plans call for fully assembled ULSAB demonstration bodies to debut early in 1998. For more information, FAX (810) 351-2691.

DARPA awards contract for battlefield LCDs

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded a $2.75 million contract to dpiX, a Xerox New Enterprise company, to develop high-resolution reflective-mode display technologies that could provide soldiers on land with digital maps, real-time video, and other strategic and tactical information. dpiX has already produced active-matrix liquid-crystal displays containing seven million pixels that provide image resolution of 300 dots per inch over an area the size of an 8.5x11-inch page--the equivalent of reading a paper document on a computer screen. "Team leaders are already carrying ruggedized laptop computers into the battlefield, but weight, glare, and low resolution limit their usefulness," says Carl Cobb, general manager for display products at dpiX. "The reflective LCD technologies we're developing under the DARPA contract could lead to a generation of wrist-mounted and handheld displays that will be much more readable outdoors and provide soldiers in the field with a wider variety of information." Technologies developed under the two-and-a-half year DARPA contract could also be used to create next-generation commercial portable devices. For details, visit http://www.xerox.com/dpix.

Secure contactless smartcards in the works

Motorola has developed a "contactless" smartcard microcontroller with security levels it says match those of contact-based smartcards. Contactless memory cards offer significant benefits in such areas as public transportation, but have to date been limited to applications with low security requirements. Motorola's announcement could pave the way for higher security electronic purse applications, such as those being piloted throughout the world by MasterCard and Mondex. These applications could now in theory be held on multifunction contactless smartcards. "Using a card based on the new chip, a commuter would be able to load his smartcard with money at an ATM or down a telephone line and use the same card as a contactless travel pass, giving huge savings in time and effort," says Mike Inglis, Motorola's worldwide smartcards operations manager. Transport authorities are currently investigating contactless ticketing systems in major cities throughout the world, including Barcelona, Spain; San Francisco; and Adelaide, Australia. In the United Kingdom, London Transport is evaluating systems based on the technology for its Underground rail and bus network. Visit http://design-net.com/csic.

BMW crash-tests virtual reality

BMW's R&D Center is using virtual reality to visualize and interact with crash-test data. At the BMW corporate R&D center in Munich, virtual reality technology is being assessed for various applications within the automotive design and engineering process. In previous years, car manufacturers were obliged to build and crash a large number physical models of any new vehicle. The introduction of electronic models and computational intensive analysis methods have proven to be of real benefit to both the automobile designer and crash test engineer. In cooperation with the University of Erlangen and Sense8 Corporation, a project is being carried out to develop VR techniques for advanced visualization of vehicle crash worthiness simulations. The idea is to allow the user to enter a virtual environment that contains geometry data of the vehicle plus the results from all stages of a simulated crash test from existing analysis methods. Based on both the current finite element analysis testing packages and WorldToolKit, the new environment allows the engineer to interact with virtual objects and analyze crash testing simulation results, thereby obtaining information not readily available in a real world testing situation. Ease of development and performance were considerations in selecting WorldToolKit for this project. For more information, e-mail Tim Johnson at [email protected].

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