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Articles from 2015 In January


5G WiFi and Smart Test Equipment Will Change the Tech World

5G WiFi and Smart Test Equipment Will Change the Tech World

WiFi speeds a thousand-fold faster than 4G and software-enhanced test equipment will lead the technology future, according to National Instruments (NI). Each year, NI produces Trend Watch, a document that outlines the current or soon-to-be-current technologies that will change industry and change our lives.

In Trend Watch 2015, NI points to the major technologies that will alter our world in the near term. This is the first of a two-part article on NI's Trend Watch 2015. This article looks at developments leading to 5G, super-fast WiFi designed to speed data transfer a thousand times quicker than the current 4G. NI also expects to see smarter equipment for test engineers as the traditional automated test equipment (ATE) becomes antiquated.

The concept behind Trend Watch is to showcase the emerging technology NI sees in its horizontal view of global industry. The company plays in the technology of many sectors, so its view is wide. "The motivation for the Trend Watch is based on the unique position we're in with servicing technology companies all over the world," Ray Almgren, a VP at National Instruments, told Design News. "We see the major industry trends, so we thought it would be useful to document and communicate the three to five trends that are having the biggest impact on technology and the economy."

5G may unleash enormous economic potential

5G is expected to be a quantum leap forward in WiFi speed. A user will be able to download a HD video in seconds rather than the 40 minutes is presently takes on a 4G system. The need for 5G comes from the limited spectrum of today's networks. Since the spectrum can't be expanded, the amount of data moving through the existing spectrum will need to increase. The goal of 5G is to address spectrum efficiency using the existing network infrastructure to accommodate more users and devices, squeezing out more bits per hertz. That means addressing network response time (latency).

"Technically 5G is very challenging, and early developers are working on multiple approaches. The impact will be increased bandwidth," said Almgren. "5G will make things possible that we can't even imagine. 5G is the long pole in the tent of connectedness. A lot of work will go into it and it will generate a lot of business for the companies involved."

Test engineers will need smarter equipment

NI's Trend Watch states that "Big Iron ATE will rust when it's exposed to IoT." NI's Trend Watch asserts that traditional test equipment falls short in supporting the development of the Internet of Things (IoT). "IoT transforms every company into a tech company, and if you chose not to incorporate IoT into your products, you probably won't be around much longer," said Almgren. "Companies that do adopt IoT will have to use connected devices defined by software that will progress rapidly. They will need software defined on platforms that can quickly adapt to the evolving device." Almgren notes that traditional ATE cannot accommodate this.

This is the first of a two-part series on NI's Trend Watch 2015.

Design engineers and professionals, the West Coast's most important design, innovation, and manufacturing event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing, is taking place in Anaheim, Feb. 10-12, 2015. A Design News event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing is your chance to meet qualified suppliers, get hands-on access to the latest technologies, be informed from a world-class conference program, and expand your network. (You might even meet a Design News editor.) Learn more about Pacific Design & Manufacturing here.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 15 years, 12 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.

Tesla’s 'Insane' Button Doesn’t Disappoint

Tesla. The car’s very name inspires one to think of insanely good design; insanely great engineering; a founder so insanely amazing at innovation, he’s leading the industry, not just in the realm of electric vehicles, but also when it comes to opening up patents and pushing for Mars missions. And now Tesla can add another “insane” to that list, and it’s actually a built-in feature of its new Model S P85D.

The new $120,000 electric beast boasts a 221-horsepower front motor and a 470-horsepower rear motor that packs such a punch, the car is able to go from 0-60 MPH in just 3.1 seconds … quietly.

And how does one do that? By pressing the honest-to-goodness-it’s-designed-in “insane” button, which engages both motors simultaneously and causes any unsuspecting passengers to scream like kids at an amusement park.

Filming a clip for automotive website DragTimes, Brooks Weisblat plasters guest after guest to the back of their seats from the car’s crazy (I can’t keep using the word “insane”) G-Force. How strong is that force? Strong enough to knock a teenager’s cell-phone from their hands … that’s how strong!

The following video contains some strong language, but I guarantee you’ll want to watch it more than once:

Apparently, according to Weisblat, while the experience looks terrifying (in a fun way), it isn’t too dangerous. "It's very safe, the car has all-wheel drive and is very stable the entire time," he said in an interview with Mashable. Weisblat even said his crew had attained 0-60 mph in 3.3 seconds in the rain “with no tire spin at all."

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  • Perhaps the only disappointing aspect of “insane” mode is that it doesn’t quite launch the driver into orbit, but I’m sure Elon Musk is working on that already.

    Would you test drive a Tesla to try out “insane mode”? Would you have the stomach for it? Let us know in the comments section below.

    Design engineers and professionals, the West Coast’s most important design, innovation, and manufacturing event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing, is taking place in Anaheim, Feb. 10-12, 2015. A Design News event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing is your chance to meet qualified suppliers, get hands-on access to the latest technologies, be informed from a world-class conference program, and expand your network. (You might even meet a Design News editor.) Learn more about Pacific Design & Manufacturing here.

    A regular speaker on the tech conference circuit and a Senior Director at FTI Consulting, Sylvie is an authority on the electronics space, social media in a b2b context, digital content creation and distribution. She has a passion for gadgets, electronics, and science fiction.

    New Composites Institute Chief Talks About Grand Challenges

    New Composites Institute Chief Talks About Grand Challenges

    The new composites manufacturing innovation center is intended to be a source of grand challenges for industry, like the kind that got us to the moon under JFK. These aren't the words its new CEO Craig Blue used, but that's the idea and the vision behind the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI).

    Blue is the institute's interim CEO until the consortium headed by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville finalizes its funding contract with the Department of Energy in March or April, he told Design News. The IACMI expects to be fully operational this year. Previously, Blue headed the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), a key partner in the new institute.

    The most recent grand challenges he likes to talk about are the ones lots of people are talking about, and they happened under his direction and the vision he set for the MDF. They involve both advanced carbon composites and 3D printing, two of ORNL's main focuses in manufacturing R&D, and had specific timelines and goals for production. The MDF's most recent accomplishment is building a replica of the historic Shelby Cobra sports car by 3D printing it with advanced carbon composites in only six weeks. Before that, the MDF was a key partner with Local Motors to develop what became Cincinnati Inc.'s BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing) machine, used to print the Strati car on the IMTS show floor last fall using carbon composites.

    These MDF challenges parallel the ones Blue thinks will help drive the new institute. "When we took a look at the presidential competition document and what it takes to develop a successful institute, we saw that it's a lot like what we already do at the MDF," he said. For example, the Shelby Cobra project showed what can be done in terms of making high-quality advanced carbon composites a lot faster, advancing assembly techniques, and cutting the car's weight in half compared to metals. The IACMI's very ambitious operating goals already constitute grand challenges in themselves: reduce overall composites manufacturing costs by 50%, reduce the energy used to make them by 75%, and increase their recyclability to over 95% within the next 10 years.

    Also important is the answer to industry's need for access to an educated talent pool of potential employees. This part of the institute's work will include curriculum at universites and colleges, and degrees ranging from a two-year community college through bachelor's, master's, and doctorate. "Especially for small and medium-sized enterprises, if they want to get into a new area like composites it makes sense to hire those people just out of their hands-on training," said Blue. "Every individual that came through our MDF in some training form or another has been hired."

    Although automotive isn't the only industry the IACMI will target, it's a top priority. In addition to developing composites for lighter and longer wind turbine blades, and for high-pressure gas tanks in natural gas-fueled cars, developing advanced composites that could be used in production automotive manufacturing is a main focus because that's where the volume will be.

    To make this happen, the institute's members constitute an ecosystem of key players: large OEMs such as Ford and Volkswagen, carbon fiber makers, composites manufacturers and others in the supply chain, as well as universities and national labs. It was especially important to include OEMs that already have a big vision of what they want and need to accomplish. "The way we'll launch projects is to take the lead from industry; they're looking for specific goals with milestones to enable large-scale production, and we'll have a process for specific proposals, typically working off of existing roadmaps," said Blue. "But there will also be targets for larger projects of the grand challenge type." One of the launch projects, for example, contains a grand challenge.

    IACMI projects will work throughout the entire supply chain, enabling a business case via R&D so successful investments can be made to ensure high-volume production of composite materials. "Where there was expertise, we went and got it," said Blue. "Where there are holes, we'll fill them. This is truly a national effort."

    Design engineers and professionals, the West Coast's most important design, innovation, and manufacturing event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing, is taking place in Anaheim, Feb. 10-12, 2015. A Design News event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing is your chance to meet qualified suppliers, get hands-on access to the latest technologies, be informed from a world-class conference program, and expand your network. (You might even meet a Design News editor.) Learn more about Pacific Design & Manufacturing here.

    Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 25 years.

    Solving Aircraft Interior Design Challenges with Standardized Mechanisms

    Solving Aircraft Interior Design Challenges with Standardized Mechanisms

    In response to fuel costs, major aircraft carriers are concentrating on redesigning their fleets by reducing weight to optimize fuel consumption and the passenger experience. Lightweight composites and engineered alloys are being integrated into every aspect of aircraft design, from exterior structural elements to the interior cabin modules and seating. The lightweighting trend will continue to impact every aspect of aircraft design, manufacturing, maintenance and passenger comfort within the aircraft interior.

    With lightweighting rapidly accelerating, aircraft OEMs are continually examining new ways to provide a high-value experience while lowering manufacturing costs. For design engineers, this means sourcing components that not only meet end-user expectations for quality and usability but can be standardized for use across a variety of applications, throughout the aircraft cabin, such as seating, access paneling, storage equipment and galleys.

    Benefits of Standardized Mechanisms

    When designing aircraft interior applications, the selection of proven latching and hinging solutions can save both time and engineering costs from the start. Through the integration of these previously validated solutions, product development teams have a greater level of confidence at the beginning of the design process and their focus can be redirected to more critical areas. This results in a more cost-effective new product development process because it reduces the possibility of multiple design iterations, which can result in excess design, analysis and product validation costs.

    Aerospace OEMs are seeing value in investing in higher production tooling for lower overall program costs. For instance, with plastic molded and die cast components, the cost to manufacture is significantly lower after the initial tooling investment is made, which is counter to CNC machining components for each individual application. Not only are injection molded and cast products manufactured in a much faster process, but with proper mold flow analysis and tool coring, significantly lighter and stronger products can be achieved.

    Designing in a standardized mechanism not only results in cost and time savings, it allows OEMs to tool up one solution and use it across multiple aircraft platforms and significantly reduce the product validation process. Another area of flexibility is the ability to change product styling by just modifying the A-surface of the product. This provides the engineer with the confidence of a proven mechanism while also satisfying the styling requirements with a look that matches the aircraft.

    Using standardized mechanisms also enables the design engineer to maximize functionality in the areas of the aircraft that the passenger interacts with, such as seating and interior cabin applications. Proven mechanisms ensure reliability of operation, which can ultimately influence a passenger's perception of airline quality. For example, a poorly designed mechanism that rattles or squeaks during operation can only add to a passenger's anxiety regarding the mechanical reliability of the aircraft. High-quality and reliable mechanisms, on the other hand, can greatly increase the passenger's overall flight experience.

    Enhanced Ergonomics and User-friendly Features

    Aside from these benefits, integrating lightweight mechanisms into certain functional aspects of aircraft interior design could still have a negative effect on the passenger experience. In some cases, replacing materials with their lightweight counterparts may actually cause the passenger to associate the lighter weight with lower quality. However, adding standardized torque hinging solutions into these applications helps create a quality experience for the passenger through enhanced control of motion and vibration dampening.

    For instance, position control hinges designed with pre-engineered friction technology provide continuous resistance against motion and can make a lightweight plastic table or tray feel heavier and more substantial for the end user. This type of positioning technology also provides the flexibility to have the proper torque designed for the specific weight and function of the application, and is available in both symmetric and asymmetric versions.

    Torque hinges can also be incorporated into new inflight entertainment (IFE) systems that are designed to accommodate personal electronic devices, versus traditional systems that are integrated directly into the seats. Aerospace OEMs are choosing to design next-generation IFE mounts into armrests or on the backs of seating that can be easily folded out and stowed when not in use. Pre-validated constant torque hinges are ideal for these applications because they provide reliable positioning of a passenger's tablet or smartphone and prevent drift caused by fingertip use or vibration during flight.

    Improved Inflight Safety and Security

    In this age of heightened security measures, standardized mechanisms can also be used to solve safety and security challenges within the aircraft interior. Electronically actuated push-to-close latches, in particular, offer a simple, versatile solution that can be applied across the cabin to achieve remote access and security. The latch mechanism is concealed when installed within any door or panel in the cabin, allowing a clean exterior surface that does not disrupt aesthetic design.

    In addition to the reliable, secure latching and remote access control capabilities that electronic access solutions provide, they also offer space and power reduction capabilities that can help to reduce the overall operational footprint of an aircraft. Electronic access solutions that require significantly lower power to operate means that less power generation and lighter systems are required. Less power needed per electronic latch point allows more available generated power for new devices, opening up areas for increased "feature density" within the aircraft interior. As a result, the carrier is able to provide a better experience by having more room to add passenger-friendly features.

    Conclusion

    As the lightweighting trend continues to be a driving factor in aircraft design, aerospace OEMs must explore innovative ways of meeting production demands while ensuring reliable operation of interior touch points. Versatile, proven engineered solutions that are designed to meet the needs of the aerospace industry provide engineers with standardized solutions for conserving weight across interior applications, ultimately contributing to the overall reduction of operation and fuel costs in large-scale aircraft design. Integrating validated, standardized mechanisms in these applications allows design flexibility at a much lower cost over time, improves industrial design and ultimately enhances end-user functionality.

    Design engineers and professionals, the West Coast's most important design, innovation, and manufacturing event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing, is taking place in Anaheim, Feb. 10-12, 2015. A Design News event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing is your chance to meet qualified suppliers, get hands-on access to the latest technologies, be informed from a world-class conference program, and expand your network. (You might even meet a Design News editor.) Learn more about Pacific Design & Manufacturing here.

    As Business Development Manager for Southco's Transportation Strategic Business Unit, Bob Straka oversees innovative, customer-driven engineering solutions for the global transportation industry. Straka has worked at Southco for 14-plus years in various levels of the engineering process, from product design to production. He holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Temple University and a master's degree in business and administration from Penn State University.

    Belichick's 'DeflateGate' Explanation Falls Flat on Technical Details

    Belichick's 'DeflateGate' Explanation Falls Flat on Technical Details

    The ideal gas law, first stated in 1834, has suddenly become big news.

    The law, which describes a relationship between temperature and pressure, hit the national news scene recently after players in the NFL's AFC championship game between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts noticed that the balls were, well, soft. Measurements ensued, fingers were pointed, and within days the nation was treated to the sight of Patriots coach Bill Belichick attempting to explain the relationship between temperature and pressure in a gaseous system. "The preparation of the ball caused the ball to be, I would say, artificially high in psi," he said during a press conference that was called to address the unexpected effects of the ideal gas law. "It reached its equilibrium at some point later on -- you know, an hour, two hours. That level (in psi) was below what was set in this climatic condition." (The game was played in New England.)

    In a broad scientific sense, Belichick's fumbling explanation was, in fact, correct. According to the ideal gas law, a rise in temperature (assuming all other factors are equal) causes a rise in pressure. "The more the temperature goes up, the more the molecules fly around," Eric Nauman, professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, told Design News. "The faster they go, the harder they bang into each other, and the harder they bang into the walls of an air cylinder or a football. And when they push against the walls, the pressure goes up."

    Motion control engineers know this phenomenon all too well. Ultra-precise positioning systems powered by air can be affected by temperature. The caveat, however, is that it must be a large temperature swing, they say. "If you set up a system with a positioning accuracy of hundredths of an inch in a 70 degree room, and then you deploy it in a -10 degree room, yes, you will definitely get different measurements," said Frank Langro, director of marketing and product management for Festo Corp., a manufacturer of pneumatic systems. Langro adds that NASA engineers face those temperature-related challenges all the time when deploying air-powered systems inside spacecraft.

    But as Langro points out, the temperature swings must be vast. As would be expected, a small temperature swing causes a small change in pressure. That's why the claim that the balls lost between 1.5 psi and 2.0 psi as the result of a 20F temperature swing seems unlikely. Nauman estimated that in reality, the ball should have lost only about 1 psi. He described a loss of 2 psi as "fishy."

    Then there's the issue of time. Experts say that car tires lose three or four psi over the course of months -- from July to January, for example. The same holds true for basketballs and volleyballs -- they go flat after weeks, not hours, in a car trunk. "Some processes are fast and some are slow," Langro told us. "Temperature is a slow process."

    The bottom line is that Belichick's reliance on the ideal gas law, while broadly correct, falls flat on the details. "It's too much pressure drop, too little time," Langro said. "That's where Bill Belichick needs to go back to school."

    What is your opinion on DeflateGate? Tell us in the comments section below.

    Design engineers and professionals, the West Coast's most important design, innovation, and manufacturing event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing, is taking place in Anaheim, Feb. 10-12, 2015. A Design News event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing is your chance to meet qualified suppliers, get hands-on access to the latest technologies, be informed from a world-class conference program, and expand your network. (You might even meet a Design News editor.) Learn more about Pacific Design & Manufacturing here.

    Bill Gates Discusses the Future of Tech, AI, and 'Poop Water'

    Bill Gates Discusses the Future of Tech, AI, and 'Poop Water'

    Bill Gates took to Reddit for an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Wednesday and fielded questions on everything from his outlook on the future of technology to who he's rooting for in the Super Bowl (it's the Seahawks).

    With 2015 marking the 40th anniversary of Microsoft, Gates believes the coming decades will see more technological progress than ever before. “Even in the next 10 [years] problems like vision and speech understanding and translation will be very good,” Gates said. “Mechanical robot tasks like picking fruit or moving a hospital patient will be solved. Once computers/robots get to a level of capability where seeing and moving is easy for them then they will be used very extensively.”

    He does however have fears about AI and automation technology. “I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with [Telsa CEO] Elon Musk and some others on this and don't understand why some people are not concerned,” Gates said.

    Asked for career advice, Gates also shared that he believes learning to code is still safe bet. “It is safe for now! It is also a lot of fun and helps shape your thinking on all issues to be more logical. There is a prospect for change in this area for the next generation but that is true for most fields and understanding how to program will always be useful.”

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  • Gates Foundation Flushes Out Winning Toilet Designs
  • Of course Reddit users were also curious about Gates' latest works and his thoughts on the latest developments coming out of Microsoft. He called HoloLens, Microsoft's holographic headset, “pretty amazing” and added, “Making the device so you don't get dizzy or nauseous is really hard - the speed of the alignment has to be super super fast. It will take a few years of software applications being built to realize the full promise of this.”

    One of the biggest question on many users' minds seemed to be around Bates' experience with the Omniprocessor, a machine built by Seattle-based engineering firm Janicki Bioenergy that turns human feces into drinkable water. The hope is that the technology will provide cheap, clean water to developing and impoverished nations.

    Regarding the “poop water,” Gates responded that it would take about five years to get hundreds of the machines out into dozens of cities, but that it could be scaled up from there. He also talked about the challenges around the success of the machine. “Sewage is a problem. Since it costs money to process it just gets dumped in slums in poor countries. The system the rich world uses of pumping in clean water and pumping it to a processing plant is too expensive,” Gates said. “I challenged engineers to create a processor of sewage where the costs could be covered by the energy and water (clean water) that it outputs. We have made progress on that.” He added that Janicki is sending a prototype machine to Senegal later this year.

    Read Bill Gates' full AMA on Reddit.

    Design engineers and professionals, the West Coast’s most important design, innovation, and manufacturing event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing, is taking place in Anaheim, Feb. 10-12, 2015. A Design News event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing is your chance to meet qualified suppliers, get hands-on access to the latest technologies, be informed from a world-class conference program, and expand your network. (You might even meet a Design News editor.) Learn more about Pacific Design & Manufacturing here.

    Chris Wiltz is the Managing Editor of Design News.

    Corrections: A previous version of this article identified 2015 as Microsoft's 30th anniversary. It is the 40th anniversary.

    Solar Impulse 2 Preps for Round-the-World Flight

    The 100% solar-powered single-seater airplane Solar Impulse 2 on its first outing in its host city, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The ultralight aircraft is prepping for its manned flight, becoming the first plane to fly around the world without using

    The 100% solar-powered airplane we told you about last year, Solar Impulse 2, is prepping for its round-the-world flight in March or April of this year. This ultralight aircraft will become the first plane to fly around the world without using fuel. It's able to do so because of above-average performance by all of the technologies that go into it, especially materials.

    In 2013, the first prototype model of the Solar Impulse plane completed a piloted, cross-country flight over the US from Mountain View, California's Moffett Field to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. Last year the second model, Solar Impulse 2, aka HB-SIB, underwent several test flights. You can find out more about the project here.

    Solar Impulse project leaders and co-pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg recently announced the plane's itinerary, which will begin at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in the Persian Gulf and end there five months later after flying 32,000 km (19,883.87 miles). In between the plane will stop for breaks in several cities to relieve the pilots. These cities include Muscat in Oman, Varanasi and Ahmedabad in India, Chongqing and Nanjing in China, and Phoenix, Ariz. The plane will also stop once more in either Europe or North Africa. One of the longest legs will be a non-stop flight from China to Hawaii -- five days and nights.

    Watch a video of the press conference (beginning at 10:51):

    Weighing 2.3 metric tons (2,300 kg), the plane is powered by 17,248 solar cells on its wings, which have a wingspan of 72m (236 ft), about the same as the largest passenger airliners. Its 633 kg of lithium batteries, recharged during the day by the solar cells, will allow the plane to fly at night. The plane is made of extremely lightweight materials, many of them designed by Bayer MaterialScience and Solvay Specialty Polymers. Also on the Solar Impulse team are three engineers from ABB. The company says it is helping to improve ground operations control systems, enhance the charging electronics for the plane's battery systems, and resolve various obstacles that may occur along the plane's route.

    Several of the plane's materials come from Bayer MaterialScience, which has been an official sponsor of the project since 2010, and was responsible for the entire design of the cockpit shell. These materials include highly efficient insulating foams for the cockpit. Baytherm Microcell, which Bayer says has insulating performance 10% better than the current standard, is used for the cockpit door. Other rigid polyurethane foams insulate the batteries. Bayer also supplied thin sheets of transparent, high-performance polycarbonate for the window, a polyurethane/carbon fiber composite material for the door locks, and raw materials for the aircraft's silvery coating and for adhesives holding the textile fabric underneath the wings.

    Solvay has also been a major contributor of materials to the Solar Impulse 2, starting in 2004. When I wrote about the US flight last year, they revealed some information about what they're doing, but since then there's a lot more details available. A recent press release gives highlights. Check out the slideshow below (click on the image to begin) for pictures of Solar Impulse, as well as more information on Solvay's extensive contributions in materials for energy capture, energy storage, cockpit and wing structures, and lightweighting metal replacement.

    Design engineers and professionals, the West Coast's most important design, innovation, and manufacturing event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing, is taking place in Anaheim, Feb. 10-12, 2015. A Design News event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing is your chance to meet qualified suppliers, get hands-on access to the latest technologies, be informed from a world-class conference program, and expand your network. (You might even meet a Design News editor.) Learn more about Pacific Design & Manufacturing here.

    Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 25 years.

    Related posts:

    Solar Impulse 2 Preps for Round-the-World Flight

    Solar Impulse 2 Preps for Round-the-World Flight

    The 100% solar-powered airplane we told you about last year, Solar Impulse 2, is prepping for its round-the-world flight in March or April of this year. This ultralight aircraft will become the first plane to fly around the world without using fuel. It's able to do so because of above-average performance by all of the technologies that go into it, especially materials.

    In 2013, the first prototype model of the Solar Impulse plane completed a piloted, cross-country flight over the US from Mountain View, California's Moffett Field to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. Last year the second model, Solar Impulse 2, aka HB-SIB, underwent several test flights. You can find out more about the project here.

    Solar Impulse project leaders and co-pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg recently announced the plane's itinerary, which will begin at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in the Persian Gulf and end there five months later after flying 32,000 km (19,883.87 miles). In between the plane will stop for breaks in several cities to relieve the pilots. These cities include Muscat in Oman, Varanasi and Ahmedabad in India, Chongqing and Nanjing in China, and Phoenix, Ariz. The plane will also stop once more in either Europe or North Africa. One of the longest legs will be a non-stop flight from China to Hawaii -- five days and nights.

    Watch a video of the press conference (beginning at 10:51):

    Weighing 2.3 metric tons (2,300 kg), the plane is powered by 17,248 solar cells on its wings, which have a wingspan of 72m (236 ft), about the same as the largest passenger airliners. Its 633 kg of lithium batteries, recharged during the day by the solar cells, will allow the plane to fly at night. The plane is made of extremely lightweight materials, many of them designed by Bayer MaterialScience and Solvay Specialty Polymers. Also on the Solar Impulse team are three engineers from ABB. The company says it is helping to improve ground operations control systems, enhance the charging electronics for the plane's battery systems, and resolve various obstacles that may occur along the plane's route.

    Several of the plane's materials come from Bayer MaterialScience, which has been an official sponsor of the project since 2010, and was responsible for the entire design of the cockpit shell. These materials include highly efficient insulating foams for the cockpit. Baytherm Microcell, which Bayer says has insulating performance 10% better than the current standard, is used for the cockpit door. Other rigid polyurethane foams insulate the batteries. Bayer also supplied thin sheets of transparent, high-performance polycarbonate for the window, a polyurethane/carbon fiber composite material for the door locks, and raw materials for the aircraft's silvery coating and for adhesives holding the textile fabric underneath the wings.

    Solvay has also been a major contributor of materials to the Solar Impulse 2, starting in 2004. When I wrote about the US flight last year, they revealed some information about what they're doing, but since then there's a lot more details available. A recent press release gives highlights. Check out the slideshow below (click on the image to begin) for pictures of Solar Impulse, as well as more information on Solvay's extensive contributions in materials for energy capture, energy storage, cockpit and wing structures, and lightweighting metal replacement.

    Design engineers and professionals, the West Coast's most important design, innovation, and manufacturing event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing, is taking place in Anaheim, Feb. 10-12, 2015. A Design News event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing is your chance to meet qualified suppliers, get hands-on access to the latest technologies, be informed from a world-class conference program, and expand your network. (You might even meet a Design News editor.) Learn more about Pacific Design & Manufacturing here.

    Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 25 years.

    Related posts:

    Choosing the Right Hardware for Electronics Prototyping

    Choosing the Right Hardware for Electronics Prototyping

    When prototyping an electronic product idea, it's important to choose components that will help prove the concept, allow the design to be evaluated and give a basis from which the final product can be derived. There are many options for hardware to use in prototypes, from costly, proprietary and all-in-one packages to low-cost and open-source options.

    Different projects have different requirements. And different products might be necessary depending on your goal, but with any selection, established hardware criteria to look for are multilingual support, easy integration and cost-effectiveness.

    Factors in Choosing Hardware for Prototyping

    Prototyping is an important stage of design, allowing the evaluation of an idea while enabling development of the final implementation. If done well, prototyping will catch issues and allow the design to be optimized for the user before large-scale implementation occurs.

    Hardware selection should be based on what enables software development and system integration; allows quick development; facilitates proof of concept; could be used in the final design; and lowers development risks, time, and cost.

    Research done by RosenFeld Media shows that in prototyping, the three factors that contribute greatest to what tools and methods design engineers use are:

    • The time and effort required to produce a working prototype
    • The ability to create usable prototypes for testing
    • The price.

    Other factors like the ability to create working source code and the learning curve also play design-decision roles, and many designers will have their own requirements as well. The bottom line is a solution must be efficient and effective.

    Key Factors in the Design Decision

    • Time and effort required for developing a working prototype depends heavily on experience and the complexity of the idea being developed. Any hardware will have its own suite of languages and environments it supports, so the ability to prototype quickly relies on your experience with the hardware and its environment. Using development boards requires some electronics know-how to evaluate the shields and to implement them and any peripherals. For designers with coding experience, who haven't used hardware extensively, there exists hardware with considerable language support, which includes an API for C#, C/C++, Java, Python, Visual Basic, Ruby, LabVIEW, Max/MSP, and more.
    • Ability to create a usable prototype for testing is possible with most hardware options. As hardware gets more popular, more tutorials and example code appear online for designers wanting to get started. As with third-party options, not all code is going to be well written. Look for reliable example code in several languages that suits most products and can easily be adapted for any project. As you go up the cost-scale, there tend to be more toolkits, tutorials, ready-to-run examples, and professional support available for the hardware.
    • Price plays a key role in what hardware designers choose to use for their prototypes. Arduino offers one of the most cost-effective solutions, with a starter kit for about $100.

    However, these factors also should be considered:

    • Ability to create usable prototype for testing
    • Cost effectiveness
    • Low learning curve for people who know coding
    • Easy to create own GUI widgets and patterns with C#, Visual Basic, LabVIEW, LiveCode, Max/MSP, and other code examples
    • Full support for Windows, Mac and Linux. Partial support for Android and iOS
    • Example code for each piece of hardware
    • Language support for C#, C/C++, Java, Python, Cocoa, Visual Basic, iOS, Android Java, Applescript, AutoIt, Ruby, LabVIEW, MATLAB, Adobe Director, Flash AS3, LiveCode, Max/MSP, Delphi
    • Phone and email support with an in-house engineer, manuals, tutorials, example code, forums

    Considering the Final Implementation

    Creating a usable design should be a top priority for designers. More than half of prototypes end up using the same hardware in the final implementation, which means the end-use must be considered. The most obvious consideration is whether the design can be standalone or computer dependent. With development boards and embedded solutions, all of the code can reside on the device, allowing it to standalone. With peripherals, the application code runs on a computer, which must always be connected to the device. Several prototypes have attached such a hardware platform to a Raspberry Pi, which runs the application, allowing for a fairly cost-effective and portable design.

    Another consideration is responsiveness. With peripherals, reaction requires a roundtrip through the computer operating system and your application, giving a practically imperceptible lag of 10-30 milliseconds. When the code runs on the microcontroller - assuming the code is well written - lag can be controlled down to mere microseconds. For the most responsive service, some products in the higher price range have real-time performance in the nanoseconds.

    The vast majority of systems do not need microsecond-level real-time performance. FAA-certified flight simulators have time constraints that can be easily met by a mid-market solution, and systems from industrial control monitoring systems to data loggers can easily operate on half a second of lag. Even live interactive art has been done without perceptible delay in responsiveness, but some artists may be more choosey. Certain types of medical applications, transportation systems, nuclear plant/reactor monitoring and other mission-critical applications rely more on nanosecond performance.

    Keep the final application -- if it needs to be standalone and what level of responsiveness is required -- in mind. While there are many aspects to choosing hardware for the prototype, remember that more than half of prototypes end up using the same hardware in the final implementation, so choosing a solution that can be put into the final product is a huge benefit.

    Selecting the Prototyping Solution

    Choosing the right hardware for electronics prototyping enables quick development and efficient design. The key factors that will influence the decision are the time and effort required for developing a working prototype, the ability to create a usable prototype for testing, and the price. Many hardware solutions can meet these requirements, but for someone unfamiliar with the language and software provided with the hardware or needing to connect to other resources through the application, alternative and more specialized options exist in the market.

    Design engineers and professionals, the West Coast's most important design, innovation, and manufacturing event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing, is taking place in Anaheim, Feb. 10-12, 2015. A Design News event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing is your chance to meet qualified suppliers, get hands-on access to the latest technologies, be informed from a world-class conference program, and expand your network. (You might even meet a Design News editor.) Learn more about Pacific Design & Manufacturing here.

    Kat Dornian is Project Outreach Manager for Phidgets Inc., which specializes in making affordable, easy-to-use USB-based sensors and controllers. Phidgets works in many popular programming languages and operating systems.

    How to Handle Design Disagreements

    Many people would prefer to avoid disagreements. In the engineering world, however, disagreements are almost inevitable. It’s natural that different people will have different ideas about the best way to solve a given engineering problem. In fact, most of the time, it’s a good thing. If everyone were to agree right off the bat, this could be a sign of groupthink , a problem I wrote about in a previous Design News article. Diversity of viewpoints is almost always healthy and constructive. If a design decision everyone agrees with turns out to be wrong, a lot of time could be wasted that might have been saved if someone had suggested a different approach.

    Good engineers tend to be passionate about their work, so it’s possible for disagreements to get heated at times. Furthermore, engineers are often under a lot of pressure to resolve problems quickly. The stakes can be high: the success or failure of a project, large sums of money, jobs (including one’s own), or even the safety and wellbeing of the public. In such situations, an engineer who fails to advocate strongly for what, in his or her professional judgment, is the correct solution, is shirking an ethical responsibility.

    Given these facts, how can we keep disagreements from getting out of hand? Most importantly, how can we resolve disagreements and arrive at the correct solution?

    One of the most important things I’ve learned in my engineering career is that a lot of things that sound reasonable aren’t actually true. An idea may seem extremely clear and logical in your mind, but that’s not a guarantee that it’s correct. Intelligent people may have different opinions from one another, but the universe has its own opinion -- and in the end, it’s the only one that counts.

    How can we determine what the universe’s opinion is? By designing and carrying out experiments. Every time we perform a test, we’re asking the universe a question.

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  • Of course, the universe has a tendency to answer exactly the question we’ve asked, so if we ask the question in the wrong way, we might wind up with an unhelpful or misleading answer. That’s why it’s so important to design tests carefully. It’s essential to understand the limitations of the test method (including uncertainty, bias, and any potential sources of error), and to choose a sample size that’s large enough to provide meaningful results. The testing conditions may or may not mimic real-world conditions; if they don’t, it’s important to recognize how they differ, and how this might affect the test’s outcome. As Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

    It’s also essential to be aware of your own biases. The experiment must be set up in such a way that it’s possible to disprove what you think is true. After all, experiments that are simply designed to prove what we already “know” tend to achieve their desired result, whether correct or not. This means you need to seriously consider the possibility that you could be wrong. This is uncomfortable for many people, since it requires humility. It means that you cannot adopt the attitude of 100% certainty that some people think is necessary of an “expert.” However, it is the only way to reach a meaningful answer.

    First and foremost, you need to have a very clear statement of the question. Without this, you can collect massive amounts of data, and still get nowhere. On the other hand, if you can state a question clearly enough, then you’re already part of the way toward an answer.

    How can we use this to resolve disagreements? Every technical disagreement can be reduced to a question, or series of questions, that can be answered by means of data. If we can all agree on a clear statement of the question, then we should be able to agree on a way to collect and interpret the data that will answer it. Then we can let the facts speak for themselves.

    It shouldn’t matter how many years of experience you have; experience can be helpful, but sometimes it can trick us into believing that the problems of the present are the same as the problems of the past. It shouldn’t matter what academic qualifications you have; education is a wonderful thing, but sometimes a non-degreed technician can see things more clearly than someone with a doctorate. Still less should it matter where you went to school, or what your position in the company is. It shouldn’t matter, either, how many people agree with you; democracy may be a good way to decide questions of public policy, but it’s a lousy way to decide questions of truth or falsehood. The only thing that should matter is what the data says.

    Good engineering designs are those that work in the real world; bad designs are those that don’t. If we agree to set our egos aside and let the real world be our guide, we can resolve nearly any disagreement.

    Design engineers and professionals, the West Coast’s most important design, innovation, and manufacturing event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing, is taking place in Anaheim, Feb. 10-12, 2015. A Design News event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing is your chance to meet qualified suppliers, get hands-on access to the latest technologies, be informed from a world-class conference program, and expand your network. (You might even meet a Design News editor.) Learn more about Pacific Design & Manufacturing here.

    Dave Palmer, P.E., is a licensed professional metallurgical engineer specializing in failure analysis and prevention. He earned his B.S. degree at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and his M.S. degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.