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Articles from 2007 In October

Materials Innovations from K 2007

The K Fair is the biggest plastics show in the world. For K 2007, more than 3,100 exhibitors filled 19 halls in the Messe Center in Düsseldorf, Germany. Contributing Editor Doug Smock has been to all K Fairs except one since 1986. Read through his coverage of this year's fair for the scoop on materials innovations straight from the show floor.K 2007: A Yankee Scribbler’s Perspective The main purpose for launching the K in 1952 was to convince the public that this “kunst stoffe,” or synthetic material, should be considered in a positive way. In many ways, it seems like the K is still like that.

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RTP Shows Carbon Nanotube Compounds RTP Co. is introducing carbon nanotube compounds (CNT) in several different resin systems for improved electrical performance.

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Goodyear Develops Tire With Bioplastic One of the most interesting new products comes from Novamont, which is showing a tire in which bioplastics made from starch replace some of the carbon black and silica used in automobile tires.

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Eastman Breaks Ground on Copolyester Tritan copolyester uses a new monomer (not identified) to provide a higher glass transition temperature (Tg) than traditional copolyesters.

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Sweet New Deal for Polyethylene For many years, the United States enjoyed a cost advantage for olefinic plastics because of lower prices for natural gas used to make feedstocks. It looks now like Brazil may become the country with a feedstock cost advantage because of its huge sugar cane crop.

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New Hybrid for Mechatronics New plastics/metal hybrids introduced at K 2007 by A. Schulman eliminate soldering for electronic parts and also create shielded housings.

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Dow, GLS Combine on Copolymer A new elastomer technology announced at K 2007 in Düsseldorf will give design engineers new options, particularly for overmolding and applications such as gaskets with demanding compression-set requirements.

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New Foam Developed for Dreamliner A brand new lightweight material for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was announced at K 2007. BASF will produce a new ultra-light foam for the interior of the groundbreaking aircraft.

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SABIC Goes for Solar Power One of the best stories from K 2007 is the effort under way at SABIC Innovative Plastics to develop new technologies that reduce use of oil and natural gas.

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Solar Impulse Advances Composites for Aircraft A Swiss aircraft project will advance composites technology for the aircraft industry by a factor of two to three, says Andre Borschberg, CEO of a company called Solar Impulse, which will launch its first test flight next month of the first manned solar-powered airplane.

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DuPont Introduces Nano Hybrid A metal/polymer hybrid featuring nanotechnology aimed at extremely lightweight components was introduced at K 2007 by DuPont Engineering Polymers and partners.

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DuPont Expands BioPlastic Grade Slate DuPont announced an expanded slate of renewably sourced polymers that will contribute to the company’s goal of doubling revenues from sustainable resources to at least $8 billion by 2015.

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Clariant Offers FR-Compliant Color One of the big trends from K 2007 is the availability of new compounds that deal with tightening regulations on chemicals used to make plastics flame retardant, particularly for consumer electronics products.

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Plastic Breakthroughs Emerge for K 2007 New design opportunities will be the focus of innovative plastic compounds introduced at K 2007. These include biobased materials, hybrid structures and fast-flow plastics.

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Punkin Chunkin 2007

Just in time for the holidays, Gadget Freaks get your pumpkins ready - the 2007 Punkin Chunkin World Championships is this week. In case you aren’t familiar with the event, thousands descend on “the Chunk” in Bridgeville, DE. With a schedule of events filling all three days, the Canons are the gadget of choice for these fierce competitors all vying for one thing – to chunk their pumpkin the farthest. The 2006 adult winner catapulted its pumpkin last year a whopping 3,870.50 ft! Now that’s some far sailing orange vegetable! You can check out all the past winners’ distances here.


Sponsored by the Punkin’Chunkin’ Association, the annual event has a category for everyone from youngsters to teens to adults. You can go to the event’s official website for a look at all the classes and contest rules.


Now that’s something to watch!



Environmental benefits calculator available for evaluating computers

Environmental benefits calculator available for evaluating computers

You can now calculate the environmental benefits of your EPEAT-registered desktop or laptop computer. The Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies at the University of Tennessee has developed the Electronics Environmental Benefits Calculator (EEBC) to assist institutional purchasers – including those in the Federal Electronic Challenge program – to quantifying the benefits of environmentally sound equipment. The tool is currently designed to evaluate desktop and laptop computers registered with EPEAT.


The metrics used to measure the environmental benefits of products include:


  • Savings in energy use
  • Savings in virgin material use (increase in recycled materials)
  • Savings in CO2 or greenhouse gas emissions
  • Savings in air emissions
  • Savings in water emissions
  • Savings is toxic materials
  • Savings in municipal solid waste generation
  • Savings in hazardous waste generation
  • Savings in cost


The University of Texas developed the calculator under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. EPA and with support from Abt Associates and Dillon Environmental Associates.


The beta version of the calculator is in Excel format, but the EPA plans to make the calculator available soon as a web-based tool.

Solar Voltaic Cells Fuel Innovative SolarApplications

As the cost comes down and the technology becomes more efficient, solar voltaic cells are being used for a number of new applications. Once an exotic technology, solar voltaic cells are now widespread throughout cities and rural environments, independent from the grid, or even adding power back to it. Energy density, efficiency and style are major concerns for solar voltaic cell applications, especially since market demand depends on practicality and aesthetics.

For compact applications, high energy density is crucial. “If you do a roof-top application where you are powering a house, you have the entire roof as a support,” says James Bears, director of research, development and engineering for Solar Outdoor Lighting Inc. (SOL) based out of Palm City, Florida. “You may then go to thin film more readily than if you are on a street light where you won’t want to block too much of the sky.”

SOL designs lights for transit and municipal applications, particularly in rural or developing areas that may not have access to a power grid or in instances where trenching costs are prohibitive for a connection to the grid.

“You want a fairly efficient panel for a street light to keep the size of the panel down, and those tend to be the polysilicon rather than the thin film, which are less efficient,” says Bears. “The thin film tends to be thinner, and one of the implications of that is the various wavelengths tend to travel through without being absorbed completely.”

Efficiency is always a concern when it comes to solar cells and energy collection. “The way I see it going is solar panels will use more quantum mechanical and nanotechnical innovations, thereby becoming more and more efficient, some approaching 50- and 60-percent efficiency as the panels use more of the different wavelengths of light, using quantum wells and that sort of thing,” says Bears.

Another company that is addressing the availability of solar voltaic cells and their ability to substitute grid-connected power supplies is Voltaic Systems, based in New York. Voltaic Systems has developed backpacks and bags with integrated solar panels used to charge personal electronic devices.

The bags use a monocrystalline cell to charge a lithium-ion battery, which then distributes the charge to an iPod or cell phone and (coming soon) to a laptop. A single cell is approximately 184 mm by 88 mm, has a peak voltage of 10.2V, a peak current of 133 mA and a peak watt rating of 1.36W. According to the website, the average time to charge a cell phone in direct sunlight is 4-6 hours, and to completely charge the battery would take 8-10 hours.

Solar trees, sculptural and functional representations of trees that use solar panels in place of leaves to gather the sun’s radiation, serve as another artistic and functional solar application. SMA International, a company based in Germany, suggests these solar trees be placed in the empty corners of parking lots. According to its website, “with an average power of 400 Wp (watt peak), the individual units are admittedly not particularly powerful, but there are many free corners, which add up to a lot of electricity.”

Various devices and systems are being developed around solar voltaic energy. However, according to Bears, “the technology is moving but the promises are far more readily available than some of these products.”

Solar Voltaic Cells Fuel Innovative Solar Applications

Timken Outstanding Engineer Reads Outstanding Publications (Design News)

Timken Outstanding Engineer Reads Outstanding Publications (Design News)


Normally, we do not cover internal company recognition for engineers, but here’s one we can’t pass up — Michael Kotzalas, PhD, as Outstanding Young Engineer at the Timken Company. Why cover this? Well, I’ll let the quote from the Timken feature that speaks to Kotzalas’ great taste in reading:


"Mike Kotzalas grew up in Pittsburgh, where he was raised on football, good food and family traditions. His grandfather and father, who immigrated to the United States from Greece, were engineers. During Mike’s childhood his father, Nick Kotzalas, worked on government-classified projects at the Westinghouse nuclear lab. Unable to talk about his work, he brought home copies of Design News and Machine Design to share with his children. “I used to read them as a kid,” Kotzalas says, noting the early indication of his interest in mechanical works."


The press release about Kotzalas about contained the following information:


"Kotzalas, 34, is a technical group leader for The Timken Company.  He is responsible for the application and design engineering of off-highway and marine power-transmission applications.  Prior to Timken, he was a research assistant at the Applied Research Laboratory for The Pennsylvania State University. 


Kotzalas holds two U.S. patents for cylindrical roller bearing designs.  He is the co-author of the fifth edition of Rolling Bearing Analysis (CRC Press, New York, 2006), an encyclopedic, two-text engineering reference widely regarded as the industry standard.  He has also published nine papers in peer-reviewed journals and four papers in conference proceedings.  He is the recipient of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Tribology Division’s Best Paper Award and a two-time recipient of the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers’ (STLE) Hodson Award.


A member of SAE International, Kotzalas is also a member of ASME, where he is secretary and treasurer of the Tribology Division, and STLE.  He also instructs courses for the American Bearing Manufacturer’s Association. Kotzalas holds his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering from The Pennsylvania State University.  He resides in North Canton, Ohio."

APEM Releases Environmentally Sealed MT Toggle Switches

APEM recently introduced its MT Series of toggle switches. The new environmentally sealed switch functions as a rocker or rotary switch. The switch is IP68 rated and is available in two or three positions.

The MT series toggle switches feature silver- or gold-plated brass contacts and an 11/16 threaded bushing. The switches also feature a rating of 3A at 250V AC or 6A at 125V AC for an expected 50,000 cycles over their life and 0.4 VA at 20V DC for an expected 100,000 cycles over their life.

Applications include portable handheld devices such as radio remote controls. The switches are suitable for medical, security, marine, military, transportation and agricultural industries. The MT series switches come in either a standard chrome finish or a matte black finish. Pricing is not defined yet but will be approximately $20 per switch at item one.

Editor-In-Chief Takes Low Blow at MIT Solar 7

Editor-In-Chief Takes Low Blow at MIT Solar 7

Frankly, I am disgusted by John Dodge’s recent Solar Decathlon post, “Germans prevail in Solar Decathlon, MIT dogs it” in which he takes a sucker punch at MIT (my grad school alma mater). Reading between the lines, I sense John’s implication that MIT is undeserving of its prestigious reputation because of its less-than-stellar Solar Decathlon 2007 performance.


As is pointed out by one of my blog readers, “MIT didn’t score well primarily because the group wasn’t representative of MIT” (see “Does Solar Decathlon Pedigree Prove Energy Engineering is a Real Discipline?”). The Solar Decathlon house attributed to MIT represented the heroic performance of a small collection of dedicated volunteers with almost zero help from the Institute. MIT allowed its name to be stamped on the house, which is about the extent of support tendered. To get the job done, the MIT Solar 7 group had to plug many holes in their team’s portfolio of expertise by importing experts from outside the Institute hailing from the surrounding Boston sustainable building community. Given MIT’s new emphasis on energy (which this alumnus maintains is a farce designed to steal money from legitimate, pre-existing energy research programs), the Institute should be absolutely ashamed of itself for not allowing the Solar 7 Team full access to the MIT resource base on Day 1.


John, MIT’s 13th place finish at Solar Decathlon 2007 can not be misconstrued to suggest that the teams who placed higher represent inherently better schools. Pound for pound, MIT can eat Darmstadt (or any other engineering school in the Solar System) for breakfast. What we saw at Solar Decathlon 2007 was simply a failure of the Institute to support its own and focus its resources.


By the way, despite entering Solar Decathlon 2007 blind, deaf, sunburned, gagged, bleeding, with two arms and a leg tied behind their back, and a knife plunged in between their shoulder blades, MIT still swept the floor with Carnegie Mellon, Cincinnati, Puerto Rico, Texas A&M, Kansas, Cornell, and Lawrence Tech. Plus, a few of those teams had been in the Decathlon previously in 2005 and should have been way ahead of MIT on their way up the learning curve.


John, to be fair, let’s see a post from you on how ashamed students, faculty, and alumni from those seven super-loser schools should be, having been beaten by a mere crippled shadow of MIT.


Motion Control & Fluid Power: Electric WheelTug System to Move Planes on the Ground

October 29, 2007
Spotlight Story:
Electric WheelTug System to Move Planes on the Ground
As an alternative to relying on their engines or airport tugs, aircraft may soon taxi with the help of an all-electric drive system based on a high-torque-density induction motor. Full Story
Special Coverage: Green Designs Ever wonder how companies keep up with the global effort to save the environment? Our Green Designs content package features stories, podcasts and photos highlighting the latest green innovations in packaging, electronics, materials and design tools. Explore Now
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At the University of Virginia's Holt-Géléoc Lab of Sensory Neurophysiology, researchers use piezo actuators and nano-positioning devices to help unlock the secrets of human hearing. In this podcast, Dr. Jeffrey Holt tells us about the design and capabilities of these precision motion control systems.
Read about more about the lab's work in this Design News article.

Fixing New Orleans’ Flood Pumps
Did the engineers who built New Orleans’ huge flood protection pumps after Hurricane Katrina get a bad rap? Judge for yourself. Full Story
Yaskawa's Next Generation Motion System
Yaskawa Electric America today at the Pack Expo show unveiled a souped-up servo system that offers improvements in positioning accuracy and speed, a reduction in size, and the addition of new auto-tuning and vibration-suppression capabilities. Full Story

In this podcast, Bruce Kucera, vice president of Norland International, will tell us how his company created a blow-molding machine specifically for use with polylactic acid (PLA), one of the biopolymers.
Engineering Green Packaging
The move toward ‘green’ or sustainable packaging will usher in biopolymers as well as other material and package design changes. Engineers will have to develop packaging machines that can keep pace. Full Story
New TURCK BL ident Modular RFID System

TURCK introduces BL ident, the world's first modular RFID system with built-in I/O capability. With BL ident, users may add additional I/O modules to the RFID system: up to 8 channels of RFID, plus up to 32 additional I/O modules within a single node on the network. BL ident is IP67-rated and can be integrated into existing platforms. Learn more today! Click Here.
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Case Study: Flexible Product Demands Flexible Handling In partnership with Bishop Wisecarver
A good deal of ingenuity was needed to design a handling and assembly system for 9.84 foot long washing machine hosing. Heller Automation had to provide the necessary operational flexibility needed by this application right up to the packaging station. It required a complete integrated package that was cost effective in design and build time. Read More

MechatronicsZone – The Top 10 Essential Technologies for Motion Control In partnership with Microchip, National Instruments and UGS
This resource covers the top 10 key technologies that impact your high-performance motion control applications. Motion controllers have incorporated key technologies over the years to meet the increasing demands of high-performance applications such as profile cutting and wafer inspection. Read More

New Optical Encoder Technology for Miniaturization In partnership with Avago Technologies
Do you understand the market, characteristics and advantages of optical encoders? Know what the criteria and parameters are for a reflective encoder? What technology is new in the market? To find the answer to these and other questions, download and listen to this informative webcast. Read More

Collaboration in Supply Chain Management Webcast In partnership with Microsoft
Learn how other organizations are reaching better maturity levels through best practices in collaborative product development. Attendees can access a one-year FREE trial of Microsoft Office Groove 2007! Read More

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Electric WheelTug System to Move Planes on the Ground
Fixing New Orleans’ Flood Pumps
Yaskawa's Next Generation Motion System

Engineering Green Packaging
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Joseph Ogando,
Senior Editor

If you've been following our coverage of the Boeing 787, you know that new aircraft have started to adopt "more electric" architectures in which electric drives replace some of the hydraulic or pneumatic systems. Existing aircraft may also become a bit more electric as well. For an example, check out today's featured article about a new all-electric integrated tug system that Delta is developing for its fleet of 737s. Email me with your thoughts.

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K 2007: A Yankee Scribbler’s Perspective

K 2007: A Yankee Scribbler’s Perspective

The K Fair is the biggest plastics show in the world. More than 3,100 exhibitors fill 19 halls in the Messe Center in Düsseldorf, Germany. It’s been held every three years since the first exhibition in 1952, and I’ve been to all of the fairs except one since 1986.  That’s a lot of wurst und alt.


The main purpose for launching the K in 1952 was to convince the public that this “kunst” “stoffe”, or synthetic material, should be considered in a positive way. In many ways, it seems like the K is still like that. In almost every hall there is some kind of a sign that some new plastic is “environmentally friendly” or provides great benefits to modern life. In a way, it is still a PR statement because on weekends German families pour into the show (after paying a special admission fee) to pick up barrels, hula hoops, cups, and whatever else is being used to demonstrate new tools, machines or resins.


The plastics industry certainly has been good to Germany. It’s a huge industry here. One of three exhibitors, understandably, is from Germany, occupying 73,312 square meters of floor space. The Germans really dominate in machinery and tooling, occupying two-thirds of the floor space in those halls. German manufacturers specialize in the most technical and advanced systems. The U.S. has fared less well. There are only two locations left in the USA that even make injection molding machinery: Milacron in Batavia, OH and Engel in York, PA. Engel, of course, is an Austrian company. And Milacron, the last US manufacturer is suffering from a steep decline in US injection molding machine sales as production has moved to Asia. My apologies to Ross Perot, but the huge sucking sound went west, not south. The amount of floor space used by American exhibitors has held steady since K 2004, despite a weak US dollar, while the Asian exhibitors have grown by 38 percent. Even the German exhibit space has grown slightly.


The United States remains the most important plastic resins producer, but the American slice of the pie is declining as our longtime feedstock advantage has eroded. New capacity is exploding in Asia. American ownership of key players is declining, witnessed most recently by the sale of GE Plastics, one of the industry pioneers, to the Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Corp. It’s a good move for the Massachusetts-based business. Major public American companies are driven by shareholders who want predictable quarterly profit growth. That’s not the nature of the plastics industry, which has been buffeted by ups and downs. And the feedstock advantage long-term may be shifting to countries such as Brazil, which can offer sugar cane as a source of the molecules needed to make basic plastics. When oil is more than $40 a barrel, sugar cane is less costly. And with oil above $90 a barrel, the Brazilians are sitting pretty. And as Dow executives affirmed here this week, corn is not a desirable plastics feedstock from a cost or environmental perspective.


The lesson Americans can learn here from the Germans is that our future is in technical specialization. And there are many promising signs of that, ranging from DuPont’s impressive work on photovoltaic systems and nano technology to enterprising toolbuilders and molding specialists who are forming long-term relationships based on technical advantages.