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Articles from 2016 In December


Looking Ahead at Hot Developments in Design Tool Integration

design tools, integration, CAD, CAE, big data, manufacturing, simulation, PLM

2016 saw a slew of announcements showing a convergence of design tools. The goal is to make it easier -- and faster -- for the design engineer to move from design tool to design tool. Often, a product lifecycle management (PLM) system is at the center of the integrated collection of tools.

(Source: Arena Solutions)

A wide range of tools are coming together in this integrated systems, from CAD and CAE to simulation and materials analysis. The convergence of the different design tools aims to accomplish a number of efficiencies. For one, it supports collaboration. This is collaboration beyond simply bringing analysis together with CAD design. Often we’re seeing the marketing team looking at early designs and digital prototypes.

Data from product performance out in the field is also getting integrated into the design process, so the next iteration of a product gets the benefit of the customer experience of the product. Quality data and manufacturing configuration is also getting integrated, so any changes at one end of the design process can be updated at the other end of the process. Here are some recent articles from Design News that show the future in integrated product design.

Changes in CAD Functionality Keep Coming

In just the last year, CAD programs are glowing with the luster of shiny new functionality. 3D printing has revamped the whole notion of what constitutes shape. 3D PDFs are changing the way drafts are shared, and new tools guide design engineers to create objects that are manufacturing friendly. And smart storage systems are in place now to let you know the archive contains a pre-designed product that is very similar to the image you're creating on your screen.

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Design Tool Zaps the Weight Out of Objects

Energy efficiency demands are forcing companies to produce products that are lighter while maintaining strength and integrity. In order to meet government mandates and produce easy-to-manufacture products -- from cars to plant equipment -- design engineers need to redesign their products. Automakers are striving to take weight out of vehicles without sacrificing strength and structural integrity. To help accomplish this, solidThinking has introduced Inspire 2016, which includes PolyNURBS functionality. The design tool helps users optimize their designs into manufacturable products by wrapping topology results with NURBS geometry.

Crawling the Dark Places for Data

With a plethora of new data-gathering tools swarming the market, increasing amounts of data is being collected. Yet some of the most important data is going unused because it can't be found by the right person at the critical time. With all the data coming over the transom, there is plenty of "Dark Data" that isn't getting analyzed. Consequently, potentially useful trends are missed. Some companies are seeking advances in data collection and storage to help solve the problem. Even machine learning is coming into play so the data you need can find you.

New Design Apps: from Augmented Reality to Smartphones

Design hardware and software is morphing in a dozen different directions, from video-game-like augmented reality to connected design tools that support worldwide collaboration. Some apps take standard design tools and put them in the Cloud or on a mobile design, while others integrated disparate tools such as PLM and Quality Management Systems (QMS).

NI Leverages HP to Manage Big Data

With the Internet of Things and a gazillion more connected devices and sensors, design, test, and manufacturing systems are generating a nearly unmanageable amount of data. Companies have been challenged to the breaking point, stringing together multiple PCs to handle the data flow. Turning to the company's IT team does not always bring relief.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 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.

The new year is here and already proving to offer significant opportunities and advances on 2016. Before you dive to deeply into 2017, prepare yourself for what will surely be an innovative year with more stories from Design News' "Look Ahead: 7 Areas of Advancing Engineering Opportunity in 2017" article series.

Hot Design Advances Create the Digital Twin for Product Design

Siemens PLM, digital twin, CAE, simulation, big data, CAD

Going back to 2016’s Hannover Messe, Siemens introduced the term, Digital Twin, to explain the design principle of the future. The idea is that a digital version of each product will be developed for all aspects of design, development, manufacturing, and aftermarket maintenance and improvements.

Here’s an example of a Digital Twin. (Source: Siemens PLM)

The Digital Twin will include all aspects of the product, including its parts list, simulation and analysis results, its materials, its manufacturing requirements, and its quality data. Once the product goes out to users, data will continue to be collected with the goal of using field performance to enhance future models.

The Digital Twin gathers a number of individual technologies related to the product, from CAD and CAE data to 3D-printed prototypes and even PLM data. All of this is connected to the company’s ERP system so that marketing and sales information is also available. Here are some of the stories that have appeared in Design News over the past years that include elements that make up the Digital Twin.

Simulation Takes on Bigger Roles in Product Development

Simulation has become so accurate, that the world it creates for testing new products is more on the mark than real-world testing. That’s the essence of the Digital Twin, a virtual version of a product that can be run through tests that are wider ranging and more accurate than what can be done with the actual product.

Seeking the Big Data that Makes a Difference

Manufacturers are generating tons of product data as well as data on the machines used to produce the product. Add the data coming back from customers who are using the product and the result can be an overwhelming flow, prompting the question: What data matters? The ability to choose the right data can help a company decipher aspects of the product that support continual improvement in manufacturing and field performance.

Autodesk and Microsoft Explore Holographic Design

Thanks to a joint effort between Autodesk and Microsoft, designers and engineers could soon be able to collaborate on product designs by interacting together on full-size, three-dimensional holographic models -- walking around them, discussing them, testing them, and even editing them in real time.

Design Apps to Speed the Design Process

Design Twin technology also supports improvements in the speed of design. Software vendors are continually releasing new applications to hurry design and shorten the distance and time from idea to final manufacturable blueprint, helping design engineers accelerate their companies' speed to market for new products. Here are a number of apps that streamline the design process with the goal of getting the products to end-users as quickly as possible.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 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.

3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing Will Grow in 2017: New and Better Materials

Arconic, Alcoa, aluminum, 3D printing, metal powders

In 2017, materials for 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) will be getting better and more closely fine-tuned for higher-quality and larger end-production parts. At the same time, the types of materials available for 3D printing processes continue to widen, at the low, medium, and high ends. The expansion of engineering-grade materials is being helped along by multiple sources. These include standards bodies, government labs, consortia, and other groups, as well as more large materials companies like Solvay entering the fray. Another major source will be companies leveraging off of HP's Multi Jet Fusion ecosystem open materials market headed by products from Evonik and BASF.

Standards and Guidelines for Improving AM Materials

Making high-quality end-production parts with AM and 3D printing methods requires some carefully defined standards and guidelines for materials and printed parts, as well as machines and processes. This is especially true for metal parts, which continue to be the fastest-growing segment of commercial 3D printing, according to a recent study by IdTechEx. Several different types of organizations are getting into the act, beyond the well-known standards bodies, and these efforts will increase in 2017.

Alcoa's 3D printing metal powder production facility is located at its Technology Center, the world's largest light metals research center, now part of Arconic. There it's developing proprietary titanium, nickel, and aluminum powders optimized for 3D printing aerospace parts. (Source: Arconic)

In 2016, the creators of the free, searchable Senvol Database began issuing a new set of industrial AM and 3D printing tools for engineers wanting to use additive technology for end-production. The Senvol Indexes are datasets for AM material characterization, and the only source of commercially available data of this kind. The Indexes, like the Database, were developed without involvement from machine OEMs or material suppliers, to reduce the barriers of entry for companies interested in additive for end-production.

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For example, an Index detailing Arcam (AP&C) Ti6Al4V (45 - 106 microns) powder processed on the Arcam Q20 machine includes data such as material properties, process parameters, powder characteristics, and hot isostatic pressing (HIP) effects, gathered according to aerospace best practices. The Indexes were created to replace the duplicative efforts of aerospace companies doing their own material characterization. Since different industries use very similar materials -- for example, Ti6Al4V is also used in medical implants -- the dataset can be shared between aerospace and medical, and any other industry where engineers want to use this material on that specific printer.

Senvol president Annie Wang has been selected as vice chair of the Data Management Committee for the SAE AMS-AM Additive Manufacturing Committee, a technical committee in SAE's Aerospace Materials Systems Group. Her focus will be establishing a system to ensure that material specifications are controlled and traceable to statistically substantiated data that's been analyzed by documented procedures. The Data Management Committee will also coordinate with the SAE's MMPDS Emerging Technology Working Group for new metallic materials and CMH-17 for new polymer composite materials.

Metals, Metals, and More Metals

As we've heard many times from pundits and engineers alike, metals technologies, plus the shift to end-production parts, are the future of industrial and commercial 3D printing and AM. The recent IdTechEx report says metals printer sales are growing at 48% and material sales are growing at 32%, in a wide variety of industries.

The report covers selective laser melting (SLM), electron beam melting (EBM), blown powder, metal + binder, welding, and some emerging technologies, using a wide range of alloys: aluminum, cobalt alloys, nickel alloys, steels, nitinol, titanium alloys, gold, platinum, palladium, silver, copper, bronze, and tungsten. Because of the heavy emphasis on aerospace and medical applications, which have led metals AM, the titanium alloys used by both have a 31% market share by volume. The aerospace industry is also heavily investing in cobalt, nickel, and aluminum alloys.

A more targeted study by Absolute Reports, looking only at SLM and EBM, predicts a growth rate of 26.86% by 2021, and reports that in Europe metals AM tech grew by 54.92% from 2011 to 2016.

One of the biggest influences on powder metals is now the rise of AM, as we reported recently. Most leading metal powder makers are developing powders for additive, although there are only about 15 commercially available, and most installations producing parts with metals AM are doing short runs of 100 units or less.

Since metal powders used for 3D printing durable, high-quality aerospace parts are available in only limited quantities, aluminum leader Alcoa opened a new plant specifically to produce 3D printing metal powders at its Pittsburgh, Penn. Alcoa Technical Center. There it's developing proprietary titanium, nickel, and aluminum powders optimized for 3D printing aerospace parts. The facility is now part of Arconic after the recent separation from Alcoa's traditional commodity business.

Much recent activity has also been aimed at producing better metal powders. The main problem is that many metal alloys produced into powders for use in AM were not designed for that environment, but for casting. So many materials makers are redesigning them from the ground up for 3D printing. NanoSteel, for example, is designing metal powders specifically for the fast-cooling environment of AM, not just translating them from powders originally designed for casting.

The availability of new metal powders developed specifically for 3D printing will continue and expand in 2017. Also expect continual work to understand and verify the microstructures of 3D printed parts, especially metal ones.

For example, at Carnegie Mellon University's leading NextManufacturing Center for AM, researchers have used synchrotron-based x-ray microtomography to make detailed images of 3D-printed titanium parts, to help characterize materials and improve the parts' internal structure.

Previous research found that most tensile properties of 3D-printed titanium components made with Ti-6Al-4V alloy on an EBM machine met or exceeded conventional manufacturing standards. But because of excessive porosity, the fatigue properties of parts were consistently inferior. The team found that most of this porosity can be eliminated by adjusting the printer's process parameters, but methods must include enough information to properly characterize it. The center's method, which does, gave a minimum feature resolution of 1.5 microns.

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory discovered interactions that can lead to porosity in parts produced by laser powder bed fusion metal processes, contributing to future better part performance. (Source: Julie Russell/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory also looked at porosity issues. They discovered what interactions can lead to porosity in parts produced by laser powder bed fusion metal processes. Due to evaporation that occurs when the laser irradiates the metal powder during a build, vapor flux clears away powder near the laser's path. This reduces how much powder is available when the laser makes its next pass, and that causes gaps and defects in the finished part.

The team used a vacuum chamber, an ultra high-speed camera, and a custom-built microscope setup to observe ejection of metal powder away from the laser during the melting process. Through computer simulation and fluid dynamics, the researchers also built models to help explain the particle movement. The effect has important implications for part quality and build speed, so it must be captured and used to update simulation models, which will help optimize the process. Next steps will be investigating how porosity develops in real time and exploring advanced diagnostics and modifications to the process for improving build quality, using the new information.

But Metals aren't the Only Materials that Count

Metals, of course, aren't the only materials that count in 3D printing. Photopolymers still represent the biggest part of AM materials at 59.8% in 2015, according to a recent report from BCC Research. But it's also the slowest growing segment, and expected to decline to 47% by 2021. During that time, the report predicts that thermoplastics will remain the second-largest group at 25% to 26% of the market. Ceramic, metals, and other materials comprise the remaining categories.

One of the latest entries into engineering-grade polymers for 3D printing is Evonik's recently announced VESTOSINT 3D Z2773. This material is its first new plastic powder developed with HP for use with HP's Multi Jet Fusion 3D printers, and the first certified material in HP's Open Platform program, announced last May, which will support this line of printers.

The new PA-12 powder has superior mechanical properties and is FDA (Food and Drug Administration) compliant, so components printed with it can be approved by the FDA for food contact. For several years, Evonik has produced plastics for the industrial production of high-performance components using 3D printing technologies. These include other PA 12-based VESTOSINT powders with high quality and processing capabilities, and with properties profiles for each powder matched to a specific 3D printing technology.

BASF, an HP materials partner in the same program, also said recently it's beginning development of 3D printing materials with HP, leveraging its broad portfolio of engineering thermoplastics, polyurethanes, photopolymers, and other polymers, as well as metal systems. HP's other Open Platform materials partners include Arkema and Lehman & Voss.

A 3D-printed fuel intake runner fabricated from Solvay's KetaSpire PEEK instead of the typical aluminum uses 10% glass fill. (Source: Solvay)

Although polymer leader Solvay makes existing 3D printing materials, the company recently announced it will expand those capabilities  as part of its advanced lightweighting solutions that aim at replacing metals. Building on its established AM technical center and production facility for Sinterline Technyl in Lyon, France, Solvay has opened a new laboratory at its Research & Innovation Center in Alpharetta, Georgia for advanced AM materials.

The company has contributed its materials expertise to a 3D printed part for the Polimotor 2 all-plastic engine, designed by industry pioneer Matti Holtzberg. The project aims to leverage advanced polymer technology for a four-cylinder, double-overhead CAM engine weighing 40kg less than today's standard production engine. The plenum chamber is 3D printed with selective laser sintering (SLS) using Solvay's Sinterline Technyl PA 6 powder grade reinforced with a 40% loading of glass beads.

Solvay has also conducted tests comparing the tensile properties of samples 3D printed and injection molded from KetaSpire KT-820 PEEK. In a 3D-printed fuel intake runner fabricated with this material, the KT-820 custom-formulated grade is reinforced with 10% glass fill, and was produced with Arevo Labs' Reinforced Filament Fusion technology. Other plastics products the company is developing for AM include its AvaSpire PAEK, KetaSpire PEEK, and Radel polyphenylsulfone (PPSU) for Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) processes, along with PEKK for SLS.

Ann R. Thryft has been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 29 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.

The new year is here and already proving to offer significant opportunities and advances on 2016. Before you dive to deeply into 2017, prepare yourself for what will surely be an innovative year with more stories from Design News' "Look Ahead: 7 Areas of Advancing Engineering Opportunity in 2017" article series.

Look for More IoT Processors in 2017

Look for More IoT Processors in 2017

Microcontroller (MCU) makers will continue to target their products at the Internet of Things (IoT) in 2017 by adding such features as connectivity and security.

The new breed of MCUs will meet a growing market demand for secure, wireless IoT applications. “You’re going see improved processor capabilities, more focus on battery life, more connectivity of various types, and greater security,” noted Bob O’Donnell, founder of TECHnalysis Research LLC. “Those features will make it easier for people who have not been involved in SoCs (system-on-chips) to get involved.”

Indeed, the idea is to make it easier for a broad swath of the developer community to enter the world of the IoT. And device manufacturers are quickly recognizing that need. In October, ARM Holdings plc rolled out a pair of processor architectures aimed at shoring up IoT security. The new architectures are almost sure to spawn a multitude of IoT MCUs in 2017 from manufacturers who adopt ARM’s core designs. Although ARM is less-known for its efforts in the IoT space, its influence on the larger electronics industry is enormous. Last year, ARM’s partners shipped 15 billion chips based on its architectures.

The trend toward IoT processors will go well beyond ARM licensees, however. Days after ARM’s October announcement, Intel rolled out the Intel Atom E3900 Series, which is targeted at IoT applications in industrial, automotive, video, manufacturing, and retail. The new processor series is said to offer 1.7 times more computing power than the previous generation of Atom processors, along with powerful graphics and security capabilities. In a press release, the semiconductor giant explained its IoT effort by saying the “IoT is expected to be a multi-trillion-dollar market, with 50 billion devices creating 44 zettabytes (or 44 trillion gigabytes) of data annually by 2020.”

A ‘Fresh Look’ for MCUs

The move to IoT processors is not new, of course. The trend has been gathering momentum for several years, and much of the effort has been centered around connectivity. Marvell Semiconductor Inc., for example, recently rolled out its EZ-Connect WiFi microcontroller for a wide variety of IoT applications, ranging from connected air and water purifiers to smoke alarms and smart light bulbs. Similarly, Texas Instruments introduced a platform called the SimpleLink WiFi family, which is described as an “Internet-on-a-chip” solution. Early members of the family, such as the CC2640 wireless MCU, include an ARM Cortex-M3-based MCU, a radio using a separate Cortex-M0 core, and a sensor-controller engine, all on a single chip.

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O’Donnell said that connectivity is a key differentiator for IoT applications. “In the past, a lot of these were plain microcontrollers without connectivity,” he told us. “Today, the big difference is we’re seeing the connectivity piece being added on.”

That connectivity, however, creates an issue for developers. Many fear that their wireless applications will be more vulnerable to hackers than they were in the past. “Security is a huge deal,” O’Donnell said. “Connectivity is great, but it also creates an opening for the bad guys, as well as the good guys. And that can be a challenge.”

That’s why ARM is addressing security with two new architectures, the first in a new family of ARMv8-M processors. ARM’s Cortex-M23 and -M33 will incorporate TrustZone technology, a hardware-based form of security that enables developers to “lock” applications in a safe space. ARM describes the M33 as a “mainstream, general purpose, 32-bit MCU for secure applications” and says the M23 is built for “the smallest, most-energy-sipping types of embedded products.”

Such processors are sure to be part of a trend in 2017, experts say. They may not represent a dramatic departure from devices that were available just a few years ago, but they’re increasingly being tailored to a growing set of new applications. “A lot of these devices are not radically new,” O’Donnell told us. “They’re just next-generation MCUs, but they’re getting a fresh look because of the IoT.”

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 32 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

The new year is here and already proving to offer significant opportunities and advances on 2016. Before you dive to deeply into 2017, prepare yourself for what will surely be an innovative year with more stories from Design News' "Look Ahead: 7 Areas of Advancing Engineering Opportunity in 2017" article series.

Virtual Reality by the Numbers: 5 Things You Need to Know in 2017

Virtual Reality by the Numbers: 5 Things You Need to Know in 2017

Virtual Reality (VR) has finally arrived. Questions of affordabilty aside, 2016 was the year that VR products finally hit store shelves in a major way. But now that the products are out there, the big test is whether consumers will actually use them. And if they do what will they use them for? So will VR hardware become as popular as smartphones? Or will this be a trend we see fizzling out sooner than later? We took at look at some of the numbers and came up with five things everyone should know about VR in 2017:

According to ReportLinker the majority of Americans are not aware of the major VR brands (Image source: ReportLinker) 

1.) Most Americans Don't Understand VR

There may be a section devoted to VR gear at your local Best Buy already but that doesn't mean consumers understand why it's there. A 2016 survey by ReportLinker found that “the majority of respondents do not understand the concept of virtual reality and fully half cannot name a single brand behind the VR technology.” According to the survey 58% of Americans have heard about VR, but aren't able to “explain what it's all about.” Not surprisingly, millennials exhibited the greatest familiarity with VR. What this represents however is a disconnect between the dollars going into developing and marketing VR technology and actual consumer understanding of what the big deal is. 

2.) No One Agrees How Much the VR Market Will be Worth

Depending on whom you ask, analysts are estimating the VR market to grow into the tens of billions in the next 3 years. Estimates are placing the VR market at anywhere from $10 billion to as high as $70 billion by the 2020s. Factor in augmented reality (AR) products as well and market estimates balloon into the hundreds of billions. A 2016 report by MarketsandMarkets estimated the market will be worth $33.9 billion by 2022, coinciding with estimates from other analyst groups such as Digi-Capital. Meanwhile, a 2015 report released by TrendForce estimated the VR hardware and software market would reach $6.7 billion in 2016 and hit $70 billion by 2017. Most analysts agree that hardware will be the major driver in the VR segment, generating upwards of 61% of revenue in the coming years (according to Greenlight Insights). However in its report, TrendForce noted that app development, particularly from independent developers could also be a major driver of market growth.

Projections estimate the VR market will be worth anywhere from $30-70 billion by 2020. (Image source: Greenlight Insights)

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3.) VR Hardware Comes in 3 Categories

With so many different product offering hitting the market it can be easy to get confused. However it's best and easiest to think of VR hardware as falling into one of three categories:

  1. PC Headsets – Arguably the most popular at the moment, these include the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. These headsets require high power computers to run but enjoy a growing base of app support thanks to networks like Valve's Steam network for download games and VR apps.
  2. Console Headsets – The first of these to make a major impact was the Playstation VR headset. Likely companies like Sony and other console makers like Microsoft and Nintendo will be relying on the popularity and ease of console gaming to bring VR into the limelight. Among gamers, console VR headsets will likely boast the same debates as console vs. PC-based gaming in terms of quality of performance and content.
  3. Untethered / Mobile Headsets – the cheapest option. These include Samsung's Galaxy Gear, the Freefly VR headset, and Google's DayDream View headsets. Essentially these are standalone rigs that rely on a high-end smartphone inserted into them to handle all the heavy lifting. These can be a nice option for casual users who already own the latest model smartphone, but won't satisfy serious consumers looking for a hardcore VR experience.
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4.) There's Big Market Potential Beyond Gaming

Gaming to VR is like film and TV to television sets. Although the video game market (and to a slightly lesser extent entertainment like movies and live events) is widely projected to be the major revenue driver for VR, analysts are also predicting a major impact in other markets as well. In 2015, Walker and Sands conducted its first Future of Retail survey and found that, “More than a third of consumers (35 percent) say they would shop more online if they were able to try on a product virtually using a product like Oculus Rift, and 63 percent said they expect it to impact their shopping experience in the future.” The healthcare market is also expecting a major disruption from VR and AR technology. In a January 2016 report, Goldman Sachs, estimated VR and AR present a revenue opportunity that could reach $5.1 billion by 2025 because of the potential for VR and AR in telepresence, treating phobias, adding in medical procedures and training, and disrupting the market for patient monitoring devices. In the engineering sector, Goldman Sachs has estimated VR and AR will generate $4.7 billion in revenue by 2025. In its calculations, the firm estimated that 3.2 million engineers will be using VR and/or AR as part of their workflow by 2025 given VR and AR's potential in computer-aided design and product development.

Sony's Playstation VR is the first major console-based VR headset to hit the market. (Image source: Sony Computer Entertainment). 

5.) There are 11 Major Players in VR to Watch

On the software / app side expect to see a wide array of companies getting into the market. But on the hardware end there are 11 major companies to keep an eye on”

  1. Alphabet – the parent company of Google. The company has already invested into VR and AR hardware with products such as Google Glass and DayDream VR. The company is also well positioned on the content side – YouTube already offers support for 360-degree streaming video and Google should have a big presence in the VR advertising market.
  2. AMD – The chipmaker will be among many that manufacture the high-end processors needed to run VR on PCs and other systems.
  3. Facebook – The parent company of Oculus VR. Facebook is the owner of the company that put VR back on the map and is heavily invested in making VR a social experience. In a February 2016 earnings call, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that over 1 million hours of 360-degree video through Facebook via devices like the Samsung Galaxy Gear.
  4. GoPro – the leading name in consumer head-mounted cameras. GoPro is looking to be a leader in producing VR content. The company has already launched the Omni, a six-camera spherical array for creating 360-degree content.
  5. HTC – Creators of the Vive, the main competitor to the Oculus Rift in the PC VR headset market. The Vive also boasts support from Valve's Steam network, a platform for downloading game content from developers at all levels that boasts over 100 million subscribers.
  6. Largen Precision – According to Goldman Sachs, the lens manufacturer is poised to become a major name in supplying lenses for hardware behind creating and experiencing VR. According to Goldman Sachs, “In our research on VR hardware, plastic Fresnel convex lenses would be the mainstream VR HMD magnifying lenses. We believe Largan’s expertise in plastic lenses could enable it to outperform its competitors...”
  7. Microsoft – to date Microsoft has kept its focus squarely in the AR market with its Hololens product – targeted mainly at enterprise applications over entertainment. However as a major name in gaming consumers should not be surprised if Microsft also begins a push into VR either through a strategic partnership with a company like Oculus or HTC or through going the Sony route and developing its own hardware.
  8. Nvidia – According to Goldman Sachs, “Nvidia has partnerships in place with approx. 250 companies to work on VR applications with its DesignWorks and GameWorks platforms, including vendors such as Oculus and HTC.” Perhaps known best for its high-end graphics processors (GPUs) for gaming, Nvidia has also been actively developing and released GPUs targeted at bringing VR to enterprise applications such as product design.
  9. Qualcomm – As a big name in mobile hardware, Qualcomm is already positioned to take advantage of the demand for stronger processors in the mobile VR market. However the company is also looking to enable OEMs looking to develop their own VR hardware. Earlier in 2016 the company released a development kit built around its Snapdragon VR820 processor.
  10. Samsung – Makers of the Galaxy Gear VR. Samsung has already established itself as the major name in mobile VR. Consumers should look for it to maintain this position with further iterations of the Gear VR.
  11. Sony – the first gaming console maker to create its own headset, the Playstation VR, which was released in October 2016. 2017 will be the first big test of the Playstation VR as the company releases its first wave of big titles for the hardware. Depending on whether hardcore gamers and enthusiasts jump on board the Playstation VR could be the first indication of just how strong the market and demand for console-based VR really is.

Chris Wiltz is the Managing Editor of Design News.

The new year is here and already proving to offer significant opportunities and advances on 2016. Before you dive to deeply into 2017, prepare yourself for what will surely be an innovative year with more stories from Design News' "Look Ahead: 7 Areas of Advancing Engineering Opportunity in 2017" article series.

3D Printing & Additive Manufacturing Will Grow in 2017: Manufacturing Processes

Carnegie Mellon University, NextManufacturing Center Consortium

In 2017, we'll see more 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) processes made for large-scale pieces and final production parts. Stratasys' Infinite Build and Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrators, for example, may become systems fully realized on manufacturers' shop floors, while HP's and other high-speed technologies will continue to be refined. We'll also see continuance of the trend toward faster printing as other large-scale methods become commercialized and more readily available. In large-scale and end-production parts, automotive, aerospace, and medical industries will lead the way, along with  tooling & fixtures. Metals processes, including hybrid AM/CNC methods, will become increasingly important as they, too, become more fine-tuned.

More OEMs in many industries will be incorporating 3D-printed end-production parts into their products. This is happening not only in medical and aerospace, the long-time leaders in this trend, but also in automotive. For example, BMW, an early adopter of AM in cars, will expand the use of 3D printing even more in the future. To date, the carmaker has already incorporated more than 10,000 3D-printed parts in its Rolls-Royce Phantom, and has started using the technology for parts  in the Rolls-Royce Dawn luxury car. BMW is an HP Multi-Jet Fusion ecosystem partner, which will be used for the first time in car manufacturing in BMW machines. The company's plans to expand the role of 3D printing in series manufacturing are based on expectations of much faster production speeds from this technology, as well as Carbon's CLIP  (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) method.

Stratasys' fully automated Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator, shown here, and its Infinite Build 3D Demonstrator may help to bring accurate, repeatable manufacturing of very large thermoplastic and composite parts onto the factory floor. Developed in response to automotive and aerospace industry needs, both are fully functioning, fully automated, manufacturing workcell demonstrators. They use existing and new FDM extrusion technologies to make enormous production parts at least 10 times faster than current FDM systems. (Source: Stratasys)

Meanwhile, Daimler is using selective laser sintering (SLS) for producing after-sale spare parts for its Mercedes-Benz Trucks. The company already uses 3D printing as the standard method for making high-quality plastic spare parts. Examples of those include covers, spacers, spring caps, air and cable ducts, clamps, mountings, and control elements.

Buy or Build Your Own AM Tech

Some OEMs are buying, building -- or both -- their own AM technologies, and this will continue in 2017. GE's 2016 high-profile acquisition of majority interest stakes in Concept Laser (75%) and Arcam (73.5%), both suppliers of high-quality metals AM technologies, was certainly the biggest total purchase to date.

Another recent acquisition was Siemens Power & Gas Division's purchase of 85% of Materials Solutions, a specialized service bureau using EOS' direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) technology to produce high-performance metal components. One of Materials Solutions' specialties is making turbomachinery parts, especially high-temperature ones for gas turbines where accuracy, surface finish, and high-quality materials are critical to the parts' performance in service. The company has also developed its own processes for several metals. Both OEMs have long histories of investing in AM technologies, and GE has been developing its own internally for several years.

One specialty of Materials Solutions, which Siemens recently purchased a majority interest in, is making high-temperature turbomachinery parts for gas turbines where accuracy, surface finish, and the highest quality materials are critical to the parts' operational performance in service. An example is this burner head.

One specialty of Materials Solutions, which Siemens recently purchased a majority interest in, is making high-temperature turbomachinery parts for gas turbines where accuracy, surface finish, and the highest quality materials are critical to the parts' operational performance in service. An example is this burner head. (Source: Siemens)

Other OEMs, along with machine makers and materials suppliers, are building their own processes and doing internal R&D. Alcoa, for example, has expanded the world's largest light metals research center, the Alcoa Technical Center near Pittsburgh, Penn., to advance 3D printing materials and processes for aerospace, automotive, and medical applications. That expansion includes new materials designed specifically for several AM technologies, as well as a proprietary hybrid process, Ampliforge, that combines additive and traditional metals manufacturing. Alcoa has a 20-year history in AM, primarily building 3D-printed tools, molds, and prototypes. Although aerospace is a key market, the company has also been using AM for much of its rapid prototyping and product development in other areas, including oil & gas and some automotive.

Russia-headquartered aluminum producer UC RUSAL and Sauer GmbH, part of metal-cutting machine tools maker DMG MORI, are co-developing industrial 3D printing technology  for use with aluminum and aluminum alloys. The technology will be used to print aluminum parts in the aerospace, automotive, and machinery sectors. The agreement includes RUSAL's development of alloys to convert them into powders for 3D printing, which will be tested with Sauer equipment.

Sauer will also support the setup of new production and promote the new technology among its own customers for making products. Although the companies didn't specify which AM technologies they will develop, Sauer Lasertec has already integrated laser deposition AM with powder nozzles, welding, and precision 5-axis milling in its hybrid  Lasertec 65 3D system, introduced at RAPID 2016. Hybrid AM/CNC machines will also increase in 2017, including lower-cost models like Optomec's latest systems introduced in 2016. These combine LENS blown powder metal AM print engine technology with conventional compact mill CNC vertical milling platforms from Fryer Machine Systems.

Hybrid AM/CNC machines for metal parts will multiply in 2017. Sauer Lasertec has already integrated laser deposition AM with powder nozzles, welding, and precision 5-axis milling in its hybrid Lasertec 65 3D system. (Source: DMG MORI)

Although several consortia already exist for advancing AM and improving some 3D printing technologies, another one formed last July. This one's headed by Carnegie Mellon University's NextManufacturing Center, which is all about metals AM among other advanced manufacturing processes. The NextManufacturing Center Consortium 's purpose is to bring together leading industry, government, and nonprofit organizations. The Center wants to develop new ways of thinking to make 3D printing a mainstream manufacturing process, plus new tools for multiple complex manufacturing processes. It's compiling data from all parts of the process to create a fully integrated understanding that will optimize part geometries, material properties, cost, and design. 

The Center's 11 founding members, headed by GE, want to optimize the design, materials, and processes of additive manufacturing for applications in industries such as aerospace and automotive. Members include Alcoa, ANSYS, Bechtel Marine Propulsion, Bosch, Carpenter Technology, the FAA, Ingersoll Rand, the National Energy Technology Laboratory, SAE International, and United States Steel.

Samples of objects 3D printed using metal processes. (Source: Carnegie Mellon University)

Since many such groups and partnerships are focused in a certain region of the US, or in specific areas of other industrialized nations, or they serve particular industries, none of them can be all things to all users. Expect more of these in 2017, bringing together industry, supplier, academic, nonprofit, and/or government entities.

Standards and Guidelines for AM Processes and Parts

Making high-quality production parts with AM and 3D printing methods will require some carefully defined standards and guidelines for machines and processes, as well as for materials, and printed parts. Multiple standards efforts are already underway to define specifications and practices for some of the myriad aspects of 3D printing and AM. Because several different standards bodies are doing this, last spring America Makes and the American National Standards Organization (ANSI) formed a collaborative, in an attempt to coordinate and accelerate all these efforts.

The America Makes & ANSI Additive Manufacturing Standardization Collaborative (AMSC) is open to all interested persons. Members include representatives from private industry, OEMs, material suppliers, government, academia, standards developing organizations, and certification bodies. The AMSC will identify which standards already exist and which are in development, determine gaps, and recommend top priority areas for developing more standards. Recommendations will consider standards needs already identified in America Makes' Additive Manufacturing Technology Roadmap.

More recently, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and ASTM International have jointly created the Additive Manufacturing Standards Development Structure , which they describe  as a framework for creating global AM technical standards.

The structure can be used to develop three different levels of standards: general standards such as concepts, common requirements, and guides; standards for broad categories of materials or specific AM processes; and specialized standards for a specific material, process, or industry application. Its intent is similar to that of the AMSC: to guide standards development work, identify gaps, prevent duplicative efforts, and identify priorities.

It will be interesting to see how long these two efforts operate independently.

What About 4D Printing?

The concept of 4D printing isn't new, but processes that use new types of environmental stimuli keep appearing. 4D printing is usually defined as 3D printing with materials that change an object's shape in response to changes in light, heat, water, air pressure, or other factors. It usually combines 3D printing with shape-memory materials.

Aside from Skylar Tibbits' well known work in MIT's Self-Assembly Lab with 4D-printed self-assembling shapes made of programmable carbon composites and wood, other work to advance 4D printing continues. For example, a new process developed by a team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) makes shapes fold up like origami. Researchers there have 3D-printed shape-shifting structures that can fold themselves up and unfold themselves, or expand and contract in size, when prompted by changes in electricity or heat. The primary shapes they created were printed with shape-memory polymer inks developed by the team using a direct-ink writing 3D printing process.

Ann R. Thryft has been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 29 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.

5 Energy-Harvesting Technologies to Watch in 2017

<p><strong>Motion Energy Harvesters</strong></p><p>Many of the wearable devices on the market today are fitness trackers and others aimed at health applications, which makes them well-suited to be powered by human motion. To that end, researchers are devising a number of ways to generate mechanical energy from movements of the human body not only in standalone devices but also by integrating technology into fabrics. One example of the latter, shown, is fabric that can simultaneously harvest energy from both sunshine and motion, developed by a team at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Others have created purely motion-generated harvesters. Expect new technologies to emerge in this area in 2017, especially as wearables become more plentiful and popular with consumers. (Source: Georgia Institute of Technology)</p>

As devices get smaller and smaller and the demand for energy to power our gadgets increases, energy harvesting is becoming the way forward to help supplement battery power or lose the need for it altogether. Energy harvesting also is a good way to generate energy for a device when a battery is drained and there’s not a power outlet in sight.

Generally researchers are eyeing energy-harvesting to power ultra-low-power devices, wearable technology, and other things that don’t need a lot of power or don’t come in a battery-friendly form factor. Here are a few of the energy-harvesting technologies that will continue to evolve on their way to broader adoption in 2017.

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The new year is here and already proving to offer significant opportunities and advances on 2016. Before you dive to deeply into 2017, prepare yourself for what will surely be an innovative year with more stories from Design News' "Look Ahead: 7 Areas of Advancing Engineering Opportunity in 2017" article series.

EV Battery Demand Will Soar in 2017

EV Battery Demand Will Soar in 2017

The key to the market growth, experts say, is the use of battery packs that are in some cases two to three times bigger than those employed in electric cars just five years ago. “When you look at some of the models coming out -- like the BMW i3, the Volkswagen e-Golf, and the Chevy Bolt -- you can easily see that pack sizes are getting larger, Christopher Robinson, an energy storage analyst at Lux Research Inc., told Design News. “And 2017 is the year that a lot of those models are releasing the bigger packs.”

Big EV batteries, such as those in the all-electric Chevy Bolt, will drive greater lithium-ion cell production in 2017. (Source: General Motors)

By incorporating bigger batteries, the new vehicles will offer greater all-electric ranges. The Chevy Bolt, for example, will feature a battery of approximately 60 kWh, which is expected to produce a range of 238 miles. Similarly, the Tesla Model 3 is expected to use a battery of more than 50 kWh to produce a range of about 215 miles when it hits the streets late in 2017. And Volkswagen recently announced that its new e-Golf will feature a 35.8-kWh battery, resulting in a range of about 120 miles. Other big battery improvements are expected from Nissan’s all-electric Leaf and the BMW’s i3.

The new batteries represent a huge capacity increase over the batteries of just a few years ago. The much-hyped 2011 Nissan Leaf, for example, offered a 24-kWh battery and an EPA range rating of just 73 miles.

For battery makers, all of this translates to a bigger market with greater manufacturing production. And some of it has already begun. Lux Research estimates that worldwide EV battery production hit 5.6 GWh in the third quarter of 2016 alone. Moreover, annual production could approach 20 GWh in 2017, the firm said. By comparison, industry-wide production of EV batteries was just 8 GWh as recently as 2013.

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“It’s happening for two reasons,” Robinson told us. “First, established OEMs are producing plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. Second, all of those vehicles are using bigger pack sizes.”

Larger production numbers are, in turn, yielding economies of scale and lower costs, Robinson said. In 2015, GM executive vice president Mark Reuss presented a slide at an investors’ conference showing that EV battery cell costs would drop to $145/kWh by 2017, and to $100/kWh by 2021. Similarly, Tesla executives have publicly stated that the cost of their packs (cells, cooling systems, and electronics) is about $190/kWh.

Those numbers are a far cry from those of a decade ago. At that time, The National Academy of Engineering produced an estimate of about $500 and $1,500/kWh. Similarly, a McKinsey report set it at $700 to $1,500/kWh, and a 2009 Carnegie Mellon study estimated it to be $1,000/kWh.

Lux researchers believe the most recent figures from Tesla and GM are the industry’s best, and that not all OEMs are reaching those figures, however. “Those are the two best-case scenarios,” Robinson said. “OEMs who can’t command the same volumes as GM and Tesla are probably looking at closer to $250 to $300/kWh for the cost of a cell.” He added that LG Chem, which makes the battery for the Chevy Bolt, has razor thin margins and may not be making any profit on those Bolt batteries.

Still, the cost numbers will continue to decline, he believes. “The economies of scale that lithium-ion has achieved are impressive,” Robinson said. “And the cost reductions have come quicker than most of the industry expected.”

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 32 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

LG Chem CEO Denise Gray Looks at the Future of Lithium-Ion

U.S. Lawmakers Call Out BYD as a Societal Threat
<p><strong>Denise Gray</strong></p><p>Denise Gray is the president and CEO of <a href="https://www.designnews.com/automotive-0/lg-chem-ceo-denise-gray-looks-future-lithium-ion/129080423646208" target="_blank">LG Chem Power Inc</a>. (LGCPI), one of the largest producers of lithium-ion batteries for automotive and industrial applications. LGCPI is most noted for partnering with Chevy on the design and implementation of the battery cells, pack, cooling, and powertrain of <a href="https://www.designnews.com/automotive-0/lg-chem-ceo-denise-gray-looks-future-lithium-ion/129080423646208" target="_blank">2017 Chevy Bolt</a>.</p><p>Gray holds a bachelor's degree in electrical and electronics engineering from Kettering University and earned her master's in engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.</p><p><em>Design News </em>conducted a <a href="https://www.designnews.com/automotive-0/lg-chem-ceo-denise-gray-looks-future-lithium-ion/129080423646208" target="_blank">full interview</a> with Gray in 2016, shortly after she took her position at LGCPI.</p><p><small>[image source: LG Chem Power Inc.]</small></p>

When the Chevy Bolt reaches full production in 2017, it is expected to offer an all-electric range of 238 miles, despite its relatively low cost when compared to previous generations of EVs. The key to achieving the combination of performance and cost is a nickel-rich, lithium-ion battery design from LG Chem Power Inc. In providing the battery, LG Chem was more than a supplier. It partnered with GM on the design of the battery cells, pack, cooling, and powertrain of the car.

                        Denise Gray

To learn more about how battery technologies like LG Chem’s will affect the future of the auto industry, Design News talked with Denise Gray, CEO and president of LG Chem Power Inc. Gray is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an engineer who previously served in the design of electro-mechanical systems, powertrain software and transmission controls with General Motors. Here, she offers her view on the future of lithium-ion battery technology.

Design News: GM’s Bolt is reportedly getting 238 miles of range per charge. What’s that mean for the future of lithium-ion batteries? Will they keep getting better, or is it time to start looking at new chemistries?

Gray: When GM introduced the (Chevy) Volt a few years ago, people asked if lithium-ion was even ready, because most of the technology was nickel metal-hydride. And the answer was a resounding yes. We’re now in the second generation of lithium, and the question is whether there will be a third generation.

I still think there is room for optimization -- optimization of the cell itself, the chemistry, and the secret sauce inside. Also, the whole powertrain, the whole vehicle needs to be optimized for increased performance.

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DN: A few years ago, some experts were saying that we need to move to lithium-air or lithium-sulfur chemistries to get to the next level. Is that still the case? Or is the performance of lithium-ion pushing those technologies farther out on to the horizon?

Gray: I don’t think anyone has moved completely away from those technologies. The reason people are looking at lithium-air and lithium-sulfur is they offer a level of energy density that’s favorable. But putting them together in a package has been an issue. The problem is, how do you put the right combination of materials together -- the anode materials, the cathode materials, the electrolytes, and additives? It’s something we won’t see in the next five years. Fifteen years? Twenty years? Maybe.

DN: GM has said it expects cell costs to be $145/kWh by 2017. That’s a surprising number. Can cell cost drop even lower in the next few years?

Gray: Price depends on performance -- whether you want power or energy. I can’t agree or disagree with GM’s number, but I can say that LG Chem has been working with the United States Advanced Battery Consortium, and they have a target of $100/kWh for battery electric vehicles. It’s a target. It’s aggressive. We don’t have a roadmap that’s going to get us there tomorrow. But everybody is working toward it.

DN: A decade ago, the National Academy of Engineering estimated battery cost to be more than $1,000/kWh. How did you bring it down so much in 10 years?

Gray: There are three elements at work here. First is the commitment of companies like LG Chem to the application of lithium-ion. Lithium-ion was already out there in 2005 in cell phones, computers, and power tools. And companies like LG Chem saw the technology come alive in the consumer sector, and saw an opportunity to expand it. Second, auto companies have been working hard to bring alternative propulsion systems into vehicles. At GM, we worked on ethanol, fuel cells, diesels, and EV technologies. And, third, early adopters were saying, “Bring the technology on, and we’ll work with it.”

DN: What battery technologies have been responsible for the improvement?

Gray: It’s the chemistry. Cathode materials are usually the most expensive, and we’ve had to come up with the right combination.

But it’s also been a matter of getting real field data from our consumers. In 2005, if someone asked, can this battery last 100,000 miles, no one had an answer. It was too new. But now we have data to give us more confidence, more assurance, as to what the chemistry needs to be.

The other part is manufacturing. Having really good pharmaceutical-grade quality is very important. And it takes experience to do that.

DN: What’s the specific advantage of your chemistry?

Gray: Our current technology for the Bolt is a nickel-rich chemistry. But we are also working with 25 different OEMs on a variety of battery types for electric vehicles, plug-in vehicles, and hybrids. Also, we do pouch cells. Having a pouch cell gives us a little more flexibility in terms of packaging.

DN: We hear about aftermarket lithium-ion batteries that can be had for much lower cost. What’s the difference between those and the ones we see the big OEMs using?

Gray: One element that makes a difference is time under the curve -- experience with lithium-ion in the automotive realm. One of the keys to having high reliability is time. LG Chem and probably two other suppliers have been working with OEMs, and actually have vehicles out there in the field gathering great data on how they really operate. It’s not just how we think it’s going to do based on lab data, but how we know it’s doing, based on field experience.

DN: So what does that translate to for the consumer? Safety? Reliability?

Gray: It’s reliability. The question is, will those batteries live for 100,000 miles? Can you drive those vehicles in the coldest weather? Can you take them to Phoenix, Arizona in summer? Will they work reliably? That’s the differentiator -- how long will they live?

DN: So are we there yet? Or is there still a lot of improvement left to go?

Gray: Generation One was about getting experience and getting information back. Generation Two was about technology improvement. There’s still a Generation Three, Four, and Five for lithium-ion.

On the vehicle side, they’re just starting to harmonize their designs with the new capabilities of these electric power sources.

I think we’ve just begun.

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 32 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

Berkeley Lab Researchers’ Work Paves the Way for Metastable Materials

Berkeley Lab Researchers’ Work Paves the Way for Metastable Materials

We know that when atoms or molecules come together to form a solid, some atomic arrangements are more favorable than others. These different atomic arrangements, known by their crystal structures, each have different energies, and the most favorable crystal structure is the one with the lowest energy. It’s also the most thermodynamically stable structure.

The Materials Project uses the power of supercomputing to provide open Web-based access to computed information on known and predicted materials as well as powerful analysis tools to inspire and design novel materials. (Image source: The Materials Project) 

To date, materials science has primarily focused on the design and engineering of stable structures. However, many materials can exist for extended periods in what’s known as “metastable structures,” which are not the lowest-energy crystalline arrangement, usually because there is a barrier to transforming to a more stable form.

Some metastable structures can be technologically useful. Diamonds, which are a metastable arrangement of carbon atoms (the stable form is graphite), have spectacular properties, including high hardness and thermal conductivity (and they’re also quite pretty). Increasingly, researchers are looking for ways to identify other useful metastable materials.

Researchers from the Department of Energy's (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are forging a path toward an easy way to design and create promising next-generation materials for use in everything from semiconductors to pharmaceuticals to steels, according to Wenhao Sun, one of the researchers on the project.

The research was published last month in the journal Science Advances.

“The first step to designing new metastable materials is to understand the differences in energy between metastable structures and their stable structures,” Dr. Sun told Design News. “And that is what our study aimed to do. We measured the thermodynamic scale of metastability for all known inorganic solids, by a large-scale data-mining of our computed materials property database, named the Materials Project.”

Because investigations of metastable materials have been limited to date, and the information that did exist was scattered, materials scientists have had a relatively poor understanding of which material chemistries and compositions can be metastable, and how metastable they can be. Sun calls the new research a way to begin “building intuition” when it comes to metastable materials.

“By studying the metastability of existing materials, we can better predict which new metastable materials can be made,” he said. “Our data-mining study revealed some new trends in metastable materials, that could be used to help a materials designer estimate whether a predicted metastable material could be made or not.”

Thanks to quantum-mechanical methods used to directly compute materials properties, the team was essentially able to calculate the properties of all known inorganic materials. The calculated properties are put into extremely large databases – the Materials Project being one – and this enables the team to make very broad and general observations about metastability.

A better understanding of metastability will open many new avenues in materials science. While metastability in materials like steel are better understood because steel has a long history of being engineered for new properties, the new knowledge can help materials researchers build new properties into it.

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“More recently, people have become interested in amorphous metals (glassy materials with no long-range crystal structure), which are metastable; and there is another very exciting class of steels, known as high-entropy dual-phase alloys, that can be metastable and can exhibit both strength and toughness, whereas traditional steels must be either one or the other,” Sun told Design News.

There are also promising implications for pharmacology when it comes to metastable materials. For drug molecules to be bioactive, they must be dissolvable in the stomach. The simplest and most preferable way to deliver drugs is in pill form, wherein drug molecules can be packed into different crystal structures. Sometimes the lowest-energy structure is so stable that the pill can’t dissolve fast enough to release the drug molecules. In this case it’s preferable to have a metastable, higher-energy structure that dissolves more readily.

According to Berkeley Lab researchers, the most exciting potential for the work is how it will predict promising new technological materials by computation rather than expensive and time-consuming trial-and-error.

“Sometimes, the promising materials we identify are metastable – so, how do we go to the laboratory to make them, instead of the stable structure?” Sun said. “It’s well-known that the metastable structure can actually become the stable structure under different thermodynamic conditions (temperatures, pressures, size, electrochemical voltage, etc.) We propose to synthesize predicted metastable structures under conditions where they are stable, and then retain them as ‘remnants’ of those conditions. We termed this concept ‘remnant metastability.’ ”

Dr. Sun noted that there is still a long way to go, and the researchers will continuously work with experimentalists to compare their predicted theories with experimental observations. The research group is involved in a large theory/experiment collaboration across numerous universities, called the Center for Next Generation Materials by Design: Incorporating Metastability. They will attempt to synthesize new metastable materials while refining their understanding of fundamental synthesis science.

Tracey Schelmetic graduated from Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. and began her long career as a technology and science writer and editor at Appleton & Lange, the now-defunct medical publishing arm of Simon & Schuster. Later, as the editorial director of telecom trade journal Customer Interaction Solutions (today Customer magazine) she became a well-recognized voice in the contact center industry. Today, she is a freelance writer specializing in manufacturing and technology, telecommunications, and enterprise software.