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Articles from 2013 In October


Slideshow: Robots Tackle Surprising Tasks

The RI-MAN was designed to look after the elderly. It was specifically engineered to lift and carry humans. The 5-ft, 220-lb RI-MAN includes sensors that allow it to see, hear, touch, and smell. <br> (Source: Bio-Mimetic Control Research Center)

These days, robots come in every shape and size -- and even change shape -- for a wide range of purposes, from helping autistic kids to swarming into a sensor network in a war zone. Some robots are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, while others are more than two stories tall.

Zeno helps diagnose autism and can also provide therapy to autistic kids. Soldiers are now aided by a carrier robot that helps with the growing burden of equipment that they need in combat.

There's a stainless-steel robot that helps in drug research, and Japan's growing elder population has prompted the development of a wide range of helper robots for hospitals and home care. One will wash your hair, some will dispense your medications, another will communicate with your doctor.

Click on the photo below to see just how advanced these bots have become.

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Video: 3D Printing Gets Spooky

Video: 3D Printing Gets Spooky

Here's a spooky way to demonstrate the power and creativity of 3D printing. Take a look at this video that shows what 3D printing can bring to a scary Halloween costume.

NeoMek -- a design engineering firm in Batavia, Ill. -- put together the custom Halloween costume to show off the range of possibilities in 3D printing, Jim Clark, NeoMek's vice president, told Design News. "We put it together as a project to bring awareness of the technology in a subject that is familiar to everyone -- like Halloween," he told us. "I've been doing this every day for years. When I tell people, they give me a blank stare."

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Slideshow: Latest 3D Printing Materials Include Nickel Alloy

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A new 3D printing material that's resistant to heat and corrosion debuted at the K 2013 trade fair and conference in Germany last month. Its manufacturer, EOS, also introduced two new plastic materials in the company's PrimePart line for creating industrial final production parts: a PEBA 2301 and a flame-retardant PA 12.

NickelAlloy HX, for use in the EOSINT M 280 metal system, is a nickel-chrome-iron-molybdenum alloy that has fairly high operating temperatures compared to other metals, Joseph Weilhammer, metals product manager at EOS, told Design News in an email. Operating temperatures are comparable to those of Inconel. The alloy's wrought and cast forms are usually solution annealed, but parts made with this laser-sintered version have high strength and elongation. They are processed with 20-micron-thick layers. If a part is also solution-annealed after laser sintering, its microstructure becomes homogenized, which decreases strength slightly, but also increases elongation.

The material is also resistant to oxidization at temperatures of up to 1,200C. The alloy's composition corresponds to UNS N06002. Typical applications include components of aircraft combustion chambers, industrial blast furnaces, conveyor ovens, and heating elements. NickelAlloy HX parts can be heat-treated, and their material properties can vary with a certain range. Both heat-treated and as-built parts can be welded, machined, spark-eroded, and micro shot-peened, as well as polished and coated.

Siemens Energy uses NickelAlloy HX for making production parts quickly, as well as for prototypes and repairs. The company has seen time and costs for repair of industrial gas turbines drop as a result, according to Andreas Graichen, product developer for gas turbines. "We leave the structure intact, remove the outer 20 mm, and then simply print a new combustion-head," he said in a press release.

The new PrimePart materials include PrimePart FR, a PA 2241 FR, and PrimePart ST, the PEBA 2301. Designed for demanding applications like aerospace, PrimePart FR has an elongation at break of 15 percent and tensile strength of 49 MPa, specs which are greater than those of EOS's previous flame-retardant PA 12, PA 2210 FR. Typical aircraft interior uses include outlet vents and ventilation ducts. PrimePart FR is available now for EOSINT P 395, P390, P 730, and P 760 systems, according to a press release.

Designed for making flexible, rubber-like components, PrimePart ST has an elongation break of 200 percent, as well as rebound elasticity and elastic restoration ability. It also has good fatigue performance between -40°C and 90°C. Parts can be painted, flocked, roto-finished, and flame-treated. Applications include sporting goods and consumer goods, as well as industrial and medical uses. It's available for the EOSINT P 395 and will be soon for EOSINT P 760 and FORMIGA P 110 machines.

At the K show, EOS also demonstrated how its metals systems are helping to produce tooling solutions, such as those for injection molding. Its plastics systems are being used in various industrial applications. Kuhn-Stoff, for example, used the predecessor of the FORMIGA P 110 plastics processing system to create a bronchial gripper for Wittmann Robot Systeme. The gripper reduced parts count, weight, production time, and cost.

The EOSINT M280 metals machine has been used to produce tooling cores for injection molding. Because of the design freedom available with additive manufacturing, Innomia could make cooling channels with greater precision than is possible with drilling methods, at lower cost in less time, according to managing director Lubos Rozkosny in a press release. Conformal cooling is helping to reduce overall injection molding cycle time by up to 30 percent.

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Control Switch Saves Shelf Lighting

Control Switch Saves Shelf Lighting

When my wife and I remodeled our kitchen in the mid '90s, we decided to build a new kitchen in a different area of the house. This gave us the luxury of redoing the kitchen without having to first shut down the old one. This in turn relieved much of the urgency, and we quickly developed a willingness to prototype things to see how they would work before committing resources. We bought cabinets, which we installed and found that there is a wide assortment of accessories that go with them. One such accessory was a pull down bookshelf which mounts to the underside of a wall cabinet.

We did not skimp on the under-cabinet lighting, but soon after we started using the kitchen we realized that, while there was plenty of light on the counter tops, there was only ambient light on the cookbooks. To fix this, we installed a small under-cabinet halogen fixture which fit nicely between the stowed shelf and the bottom of the cabinet. It shined much needed light on the books resting on the deployed shelf.

A little later, when the smoke alarm went off, we knew immediately that we had an issue. Halogen bulbs get very hot and when the shelf was stowed, the system quickly overheated. The halogen fixture was wired into the main under-cabinet light circuit and could be quickly turned off for the moment, but we needed a solution that would permit using the counter lighting while the shelf was stowed. To accomplish this, I found a salvaged micro switch in the basement and installed it in the hinge mechanism in such a way that when the shelf is stowed, the switch opens and the halogen light goes off. Problem solved!

This worked well for several years until my wife decided she needed a wider shelf to accommodate multiple references. We made this from matching scrap wood left over from the cabinet installation. Reusing the same hinges made the switch available, but it was not robust enough to power two halogen fixtures and one was not enough to illuminate the wider shelf. We were able to find a nice thin light bar with three powerful LEDs to replace the halogen fixture. This too fit nicely between the stowed shelf and the underside of the cabinet, and the cool LEDs did not need to be shut down when the shelf is stowed. However, the switch was already in place and wired so we retained it and now we do not have to tolerate light leaks from within the stowed system.

Tell us your experience in solving a knotty engineering problem. Send stories to Rob Spiegel for Sherlock Ohms.

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Single-Piece Aluminum Tank Hull Will Resist IEDs

Single-Piece Aluminum Tank Hull Will Resist IEDs

A couple of commenters on our story about Alcoa's new version of aluminum armor for military vehicles said aluminum had proven to be less than blast-proof in ships in some military situations, such as the 1982 Falklands War and a Persian Gulf incident in 1987. I don't know if those ships had aluminum armor plate back then, but the armor plate we wrote about wasn't designed to be blast-proof, only blast-resistant.

Almost as if they were reading our comments, the US Army Research Lab and Alcoa Defense have since said they're going to co-develop the biggest ever single piece of aluminum for tank hulls. The new single-piece hull for ground combat vehicles will be better able to withstand the threat posed to soldiers in combat zones from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

The R&D will be part of the Army's effort to use the latest affordable manufacturing technologies and materials to give soldiers better defense against threats, including IEDs. That effort is called the Affordable Protection from Objective Threats program. According to a brochure on the Army's Manufacturing Technology (ManTech) program, Affordable Protection from Objective Threats "provides affordable manufacturing technologies to enable production for critically needed underbody protection, ballistic and multi-threat armor assembly, and armor materials including ceramics, metallics, and hybridized composites."

The new tank hull will be designed to cover the lower section of all combat vehicles. It will be made of a continuous, seamless piece of aluminum, which will eliminate the welds used in conventional hull manufacture. This is expected to increase protection from blasts and resistance to damage, which will also be enhanced by the use of more of Alcoa's blast-absorbent alloys.

Since the hull will be forged as a single unit, Alcoa will better be able to optimize thickness where it's needed for maximum protection and reduce thickness where it's not, which will also decrease vehicle weight. That weight reduction will also make assembly faster and simpler. So the Army expects to gain a reduction in the cost of materials and production, as well as the cost of fuel over the vehicle's life cycle.

A single-piece hull for tanks and other ground combat vehicles isn't a new idea, but forging one from aluminum is. Alcoa has already produced a single-piece forged component for the bulkhead of the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.

In the next year and a half, the Army's Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM), along with DARPA and Alcoa Defense, will work together at the Alcoa Technical Center. There they will fine-tune the hull design and figure out the requirements of which alloy to use. Next, Alcoa will begin designing and producing 20 ft x 7 ft demonstrator hulls using a 50,000-ton forging press.

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AMD’s Video Card Is Tops for Gaming & Great for CAD

AMD’s Video Card Is Tops for Gaming &amp; Great for CAD

The video card wars are heating up once again between NVIDIA and AMD, with no signs of slowing anytime soon. This rivalry has been going on for the better part of two decades. However, there have been brief periods of one-sidedness over those decades -- the last being a few years ago when NViDIA released its GTX 600 series line that shattered AMD's HD 7000 series cards in raw video game power. Soon after, NVIDIA launched its GTX 700 series (including the Titan), AMD, the "red team," fired back with the R7 and R9 series of video cards that have nearly dominated the market at almost any price point over the "green machine."

AMD's R9 290X is on par with NVIDIA's GTX 780, and in some benchmarks is neck and neck with the company's performance beast, the Titan. However, AMD's flagship sails far ahead, costing significantly less than the competition at roughly $550, versus $1,000. While these cards have been designed and manufactured for gaming purposes, there is a little talk about added bonus. Gaming cards are topping the application-based benchmarks at a low dollar value.

Both companies offer workstation solutions that are designed for CAD and other rendering tasks (AMD's FirePro series and NVIDIA's Quadro line, respectively). These cards are costly (priced anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000), but they do offer a surprising amount of punch when it comes to gaming (when compared to their gaming counterparts). Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about using gaming cards used for professional applications -- at least that used to be the consensus.

In yet another surprising twist, AMD's R9 290X series cards were recently put to the test against both professional and gaming offerings from both companies' current and previous line of cards in a series of benchmark trials. The outcome was indeed surprising in both 2D and 3D applications, with the R9 card coming within spitting distance to NVIDIA's Quadro K4000.

Since 2D CAD isn't very demanding in pushing the pixels, almost every card (gaming or professional) released in recent years can handle that particular workload with relative ease. Of course, that story changed when the same cards were tested in 3D applications using the same Cadalyst 2012 (AutoCAD-based) benchmark. Gaming cards benefit greatly when using the DirectX platform, which is prominent in some CAD applications such as Autodesk and Inventor.

The results in this category placed NVIDIA's GTX 690 (dual-GPU card) at the top, beating both company's professional line of cards, as well as the R9 290X, which hovered in the middle of the result list. When subjected to the Inventor benchmark, the tables were turned with AMD's HD 7990 reigning over all others, including NVIDIA's GTX 690 (with the R9 290X hovering only a few rungs below the 7990), as well as over the professional line of cards, which seems rather odd since they were designed just for this purpose.

The gaming card party came to a crashing halt as OpenGL-based benchmarks were used. Testing using Maya 2013 and Lightwave animation and production benchmarks showed the professional-based cards to take the crown with NVIDIA's Quadro K5000 and AMD's Firepro W9000 coming in at first and second, respectively. Strangely enough, the R9 290X still had game, hovering in the middle of the pack running both benchmarks. Why the gaming series cards beat out the professional-grade offerings (and vice-versa) is no secret. It was due to the different drivers optimized for each platform, even though the cards may use the same architecture. Still, the numbers do not lie. Gaming-based cards can, and have been used in workstations just fine without the need to spend thousands of dollars.

The distinctions between the two are consistently becoming blurred as new card designs are released to the market. AMD's new R9 series exemplifies this notion. Those looking for a decent workstation card that can handle gaming, will do well to give AMD's new card line a look.

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Teardown: Inside the Anki Drive System

The Anki Drive system of smartphone-controlled cars uses a specialty mat developed by Anki, a tech startup aiming to bring artificial intelligence and adaptability to objects in the physical world. This is its first offering.

We've been itching to get our hands on the Anki Drive system -- a system of smartphone-controlled cars -- since it was unveiled at Apple's WWDC. Now that it has finally rolled in, it feels like Christmas morning at iFixit, with itty bitty plastic cars zipping overland and underfoot.

But as much as we'd like to keep reenacting our favorite scenes from The Fast and the Furious films, it's time to find out what lies under those tiny robotic hoods.

Click on the photo below to start the slideshow.

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Teardown: Inside the Anki Drive System

Teardown: Inside the Anki Drive System

We've been itching to get our hands on the Anki Drive system -- a system of smartphone-controlled cars -- since it was unveiled at Apple's WWDC. Now that it has finally rolled in, it feels like Christmas morning at iFixit, with itty bitty plastic cars zipping overland and underfoot.

But as much as we'd like to keep reenacting our favorite scenes from The Fast and the Furious films, it's time to find out what lies under those tiny robotic hoods.

Click on the photo below to start the slideshow.

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Decaying Rubber Has Whistle Effect

Decaying Rubber Has Whistle Effect

A few weeks ago, I started having performance issues with my 2003 Mercury Sable. After a couple of days, I popped the hood and started looking for the usual suspects. About that time, my wife wandered by and asked what that funny sound was.

She was right; there was a definite hissing sound. I put on a pair of gloves and started feeling around. Then, the vacuum from a rubber elbow grabbed the edge of my glove, and, wrapping my finger around the hidden elbow, I changed the sound.

This is the PVC elbow that comes off the intake to the PVC valve. It was cracked on the outside, but more interestingly, it looked like it was chewed up on the inside. I speculated that the oil fumes from the crankcase must have affected it. One trip to the auto parts store and a quick swap was all it took to fix the problem.

That night I remembered how my son's 2002 Ford has had a whistle for a few months, and we even went so far as pulling the intake manifold looking for the leak, but we didn't find it. On a whim, I grabbed a pair of gloves, and using one as a rubber piece, I felt near the similar elbow on his car. Sure enough, the glove was drawn to it and the whistle ceased. Again, one trip to the auto parts store solved the problem.

I have had a 1985 Dodge van since it was new and a similar hose on it is still the original. There is no sign of decay or being chewed up by the presence of oil. Yet, the molded Ford elbow is stocked at two different auto parts store and clearly shows signs of decay. I don't know whether to blame the manufacturer for not specifying the correct rubber for the elbow, or if it's an environmental issue that forced a material change, but this elbow is definitely a part to watch. If it's a matter of specifying the wrong rubber, it was definitely designed by Monkeys.

Tell us your experiences with Monkey-designed products. Send stories to Rob Spiegel for Made by Monkeys.

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Thinfilm Offers Printed-Electronics Standalone Sensor System

Thinfilm Offers Printed-Electronics Standalone Sensor System

A Norwegian company claims it's built the first standalone smart-label sensor from printed electronics, a battery-driven system that can be used to provide temperature management for perishable goods.

Thinfilm Electronics, based in Oslo, will begin offering next year a low-power smart temperature-tracking label that uses a built-in sensor that can be used to gauge whether goods like meat, fish, or vegetables have been kept at the appropriate temperature as they travel from supplier to stores, Heidi Arnesen, communications manager for Thinfilm, told Design News in an interview.

Printed electronics are those that use polymers and other materials rather than silicon, and are printed through a variety of methods -- such as rotogravure or slot-die coating, making them more cost effective than silicon products, she told us.

Thinfilm, founded in the mid-1990s as a subsidiary of Opticom, already offers a number of electronically printed products, including printed rewriteable memory and a brand-protection system that can be placed on goods and can be scanned to ensure the goods are authentic.

The new smart label is an extension of its product line and one in what will be a number of smart labels that can provide different functions at a low cost to comparative, silicon-based technology, Arnesen said. "A silicon tag on a crate of melons costs 14 or 11 dollars," she said. "We are aiming for a cost of between 30 cents to 50 cents a tag."

The label itself is about the size of a credit card with a display that communicates with a temperature sensor through transistors. The sensor uses embedded logic to determine whether a set temperature threshold has been exceeded, then sends that information to the display, which will light up with an alert that someone in the supply chain can read and remedy the situation, Arnesen said.

Thinfilm worked with a number of partners for components of the smart label. While the company itself provided the memory, PARC, a Xerox Company based in California, provided the logic, Arnesen said. Other companies -- Acreo in Sweden and PST Sensors in South Africa -- provided the display and sensor technology, respectively.

Smart labels like Thinfilm's can be enabling technology for the Internet of Things, in which everyday items have intelligence through technology that allows them to communicate with each other and devices, Arnesen said. "By making the items in the world a little bit smarter, we're one step closer to enabling the Internet of everything," she told us.

The next step for the smart labels is to support wireless protocols so they can be read remotely and interact with other wireless devices, Arnesen added. Thinfilm expects the labels to be available in 2014.

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