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Articles from 2009 In February

Metal-Ceramic Co-Molding Produces Conductive Medical Forceps

Metal-Ceramic Co-Molding Produces Conductive Medical Forceps

Two-pole medical forceps are under development in Germany using an exciting new metal to ceramic co-molding process. Two-component plastic injection molding is widely used to mate dissimilar materials, such as polypropylene and thermoplastic elastomer. Co-molding has not worked well for powder materials, such as ceramic and metal, because of widely differing shrinkage rates, particularly in the post-mold sintering process used to remove binders. But researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems (IKTS) in Dresden, Germany have identified compatible feedstocks through simulation studies. They also say that particle density is critical in developing shrink-compatible powder feedstocks. In one of their most interesting projects, they have prototyped conductive forceps in which a metal layer conducts electricity and ceramics provide insulation. Current flows to a human body through one arm and returns through another. In currently used forceps, current flows into the patient’s body, and then back into the forceps. The purpose of the current is to cauterize tissue. The current entering the body is described as minimal. But the new technology would be even safer. The forceps are being tested now by various partners in Germany.

SpaceClaim Rolls out 2009 Update

SpaceClaim Rolls out 2009 Update

Continuing the industry momentum behind direct modeling, SpaceClaim rolled out the fourth release of its 3-D design tool offerings, including new model preparation and enhanced analysis functions along with enhancements for dealing with multi-CAD models.

SpaceClaim, a direct modeling program released in April 2007, reopened an ongoing debate in the CAD industry over the merits of parametric or history-based CAD tools popularized by PTC's Pro/ENGINEER and now sold by the majority of CAD vendors and direct modelers which up until recently constituted only a handful of products. In the year or so since the SpaceClaim debut, there has been a flurry of announcements and activity in the direct modeling space, most notably Siemens PLM Software's Synchronous Technology, found in its NX and Solid Edge 3-D MCAD tools, PTC's acquisition of CoCreate and most recently Autodesk's preview of its Inventor Fusion technology.

According to SpaceClaim and others jumping into the market, direct modeling capabilities provide greater flexibility, a shorter learning curve and more "design freedom" than traditional history-based CAD tools, thereby serving to open up the market to non-CAD jockeys. "We see direct modeling as the vehicle to break the glass ceiling of one million seats sold of solid modeling tools and get an order of magnitude of new growth in the market," says Blake Courter, SpaceClaim's co-founder.

SpaceClaim is hoping the features of its first new 2009 release will help propel such growth. SpaceClaim Engineer, the flagship tool, has new model-preparation tools to detect and repair problems with imported designs and to simplify models prior to analysis, Courter says. The software also offers increased surfacing power for highly stylized designs and features new analysis tools for industrial design visualization and manufacturing validation, including curvature display, zebra striping and draft creation. There are also improved translators to open and edit 3-D PDFs and open tessellated formats.

Pricing for SpaceClaim Engineers starts at $1,995 a seat.

Engineers of different disciplines can balance trade-offs in SpaceClaim to create a new product concept in the context of CAD data from existing designs.

Engineering Materials Expand Potential for Digital Manufacturing

Engineering Materials Expand Potential for Digital Manufacturing

The potential for direct digital manufacturing is heating up as leading players add high-level engineering thermoplastics to their materials' lineups.

Stratasys, the leading supplier of rapid prototyping equipment by volume, is now teaming up Ultem 9085 polether imide with new machines designed for direct digital manufacturing, which is the production of parts directly from CAD files. EOS is now offering PEEK (polyetheretherketone) polymer from Victrex for its laser sintering systems. Other manufacturers, such as Z Corp. and 3D Systems, are developing stronger proprietary materials.

Ultem extends the digital manufacturing process into the aircraft market in a major way. Until now, Ultem 9085 was only available for use in conventional processing methods, such as injection molding, which require expensive tooling. 

Manufacturing using equipment originally developed for rapid prototyping creates opportunities for design engineers to make parts even more complex than is possible with injection molds. The cost of the materials coupled with processing time, however, will limit adoption, at least for now to low-volume parts.

"Having Ultem 9085 available for the FDM process will allow aerospace manufacturers to adopt direct digital manufacturing on a larger scale," says Jeff DeGrange, vice president of direct digital manufacturing at Stratasys (and formerly at Boeing). Ultem is strong, flexible and 5- to 15-percent lighter than interior parts made with other plastics. It's an obvious fit for the new models such as the Boeing Dreamliner where light weight is particularly valued.

""DDM can even allow the production of parts that couldn't otherwise be manufactured with traditional methods," says DeGrange. "This can improve the assembly, design and performance."

Ultem 9085 is heat-resistant up to 320F (160C) and is inherently flame-retardant, meeting important compliance standards such as OSU (Ohio State University) heat release of less than 55/55, or 55 kw min/m2 for heat release and 55 kw/m2 for peak heat release.

Other target markets include the marine-product and automotive industries.

Special machinery too

The material will be used on the FDM 900mc that was developed specifically for direct digital manufacturing.

Stratasys says the 900mc has an accuracy rating of ±.005 inch (or ±.0015 inch per inch, whichever is greater). "This rivals injection molding for accuracy and repeatability," says Product Manager Patrick Robb. "For low-volume production, it's a more cost-effective technique than traditional manufacturing." Achievable accuracy, of course, is dependent on part geometry.

The Stratasys systems also work with polycarbonate, polyphenylene sulfone and ABS as well as other materials.

EOS is also targeting aircraft markets with the first PEEK polymer than can be processed on its high-end P 800 machine that was introduced at the end of last year in Germany.

"The development of this system was a logical step forward into the future because laser-sintering is ideally suited for premium and complex applications which are frequently based on high-performance polymers," says Dr. Hans Langer, the founder and CEO of EOS, which is based in Kralling, Germany.

Designated PEEK HP3, the new material is fire-resistant and light, while possessing high tensile strength. Besides aircraft applications, the polymer will also be aimed at medical applications because of its biocompatibility.

Look for other new developments in the rapidly developing DDM market.

Web-made creatures

In one of the interesting spins, players can design unique creatures using the Spore Creature Creator with hundreds of flexible drag-and-drop body parts and a virtually infinite number of possible configurations. Players can then digitally paint their creatures with unique patterns. Players can then upload their digital creations to and place their order. The ZPrinted models (up to 4 inches tall) will be shipped directly to consumers.
Electronic Arts sells the Spore Sculptures for $49.50.    

Z Corp. uses various powder/binder/infiltrant systems to make parts. The strongest for industrial uses are high-performance composites, such as zp 131. Z Corp. uses an inkjet printer system that combines binders and powders.

Digital Pricing Systems Could Expose Consumers to Real-Time Grocery Prices

It has happened to all of us. You pass your favorite low-price gas station on the commute home. You check the gas price, check the gas gauge, and decide you can go one more day without a fill up. On your way to work the next morning; drat! The gas price has increased 13 cents per gallon in response to some global crisis on oil demand.

2008 saw dramatic increases in world food prices owing to increased demand for biofuel feedstock material (see “Fuel, Food, Security - Pick Two“). However, while grocery process may have been increasing week to week, an ear of corn generally cost the same when a customer started shopping as when he checked out.

What if grocery store food prices, like gasoline prices, and especially electricity prices could fluctuate in real time as market supply and demand changed? A technology that may have the potential to link food prices to commodity spot prices is on full display at Whole Foods Market in Texas.

When I first saw these nodes, part of the Whole Foods digital pricing system, I assumed they were labor-saving devices to eliminate need to change product prices manually. However, I found a blog posting on-line by Jon Ray entitled “Whole Foods is Watching You!” that suggests a more sophisticated motive to deploy this technology.

Based on his observation that these digital pricing nodes changed as he shopped the Whole Foods in Austin, Mr. Ray speculates that the supermarket might be adjusting the price of products in real time. The post goes on to objectively outline pros and cons of this technology, concluding that if used correctly these nodes could benefit consumers while promoting advantageous shopping patterns in stores.

Someday soon, we might find ourselves charging our plug-in hybrid cars late at night to pay off-peak electricity rates while shopping early on Wednesday mornings to pay off-peak banana rates.

Look out Lego -- Here comes Uberstix

These Uberstix pieces mate with recycled household items such as Popsicle sticks, paper clips and straws.

Nanogenerator Sheet in Action


Hamster Generates Electrical Current


Alibre Helps Give The Gift Of CAD

Want to do something nice for a fellow engineer? Check out Alibre’s “Buy One-Give One” program. If you buy a full license of Alibre Design CAD software, the company will pony up a second copy of the same license level to a lucky recipient of your choice. According to an Alibre press release, “the recipient can be an associate, a subcontractor or supplier, a co-worker or a deserving engineer of the customer’s choice.” The one stipulation: That the recipient be in the same country as the purchaser.

Alibre says it’s borrowing a page from other “buy one, give one” programs, including the One Laptop Per Child or  . To help launch its initiative, Alibre will contribute 101 licenses of Alibre Design Standard (which normally sells for $999) and ask current customers to nominate deserving individuals.

Alibre officials say they’re launching the program to help engineers and designers that might not be able to afford a professional 3-D CAD license due unemployment or other reasons. “Alibre is enabling customers to make a contribution to others in need so that they can develop and use their 3D design skills to positively impact their careers, employment and the economies in which they live,” said J. Paul Grayson, Alibre’s CEO, in a press release.

Separately, Alibre announced Alibre Translate, a new product which adds an extensive set of import and export filters to  Alibre Design, including SolidWorks Export, Pro/Engineer Import, Inventor, Parasolid Import, Parasolid Export, Solid Edge Import and CATIA V5 Import.

Producers Target Growth Markets

Producers Target Growth Markets

In 2003, for example, Allegheny Technologies Inc. committed 12 percent of its $1.9 billion in annual sales to the automotive market. The percentage dropped to nine in 2008, as total overall sales boomed to $5.6 billion. ATI's three most important markets are aerospace and defense at 28 percent, up from 23 percent; chemical process industries, 23 percent, up from 11; and electricity generation at 16 percent, up from 11. Emphasis is on differentiated specialty products made of titanium, steel and other metals.
"ATI is more resilient to economic downturns than at any time in the past," says L. Patrick Hassey, chief executive officer of ATI, which is based in Pittsburgh.
What recession?
Allegheny Technologies Inc. is building a new advanced specialty metals hot rolling and processing mill in Brackenridge, PA, pending local approvals. "Our flat-rolled products segment has been repositioned over the last several years with an improved cost structure and product mix and a diversified global market focus," says CEO L. Patrick Hassey. According to ATI, the mill will be the "most powerful in the world" for production of nickel-based and specialty alloys, titanium and titanium alloys, zirconium alloys and other specialty flat-rolled products. Bands will be rolled up to 78.62 inches or 2m wide. The mill will supply products for a variety of end products, including Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles for the U.S. Dept. of Defense.

Producers Target Growth Markets
A stainless alternative

EnduraMet(R) 32 Stainless is a new grade of high-quality, low-nickel reinforcing bar positioned as a lower-cost alternative to stainless alloy 2205 and AISI 316LN. EnduraMet(R) 32 Stainless can be considered for bridge decks and parapets, barrier and retaining walls, anchoring systems, chemical plant infrastructure, coastal piers and wharves, pilings, dowel bars, welded-wire mesh and tie wire, and many other applications where excellent corrosion resistance and superior strength are required. When imbedded in concrete, the new rebar alloy has corrosion resistance and strength comparable to that of the well-known premium quality materials. The new product is made by Talley Metals, a subsidiary of Carpenter Technology Corp. of Wyomissing, PA.

Producers Target Growth Markets

Lightweight solar frames
Hydro Aluminum's Extrusion is supplying custom products for use in the trough frames to the Palma del Rio II solar power plant, located in southern Spain, and the Majadas plant in Extremadura, east of Madrid. Palma del Rio II will utilize 9,153 frames, while the Majadas construction will use 8,700. Hydro will ship nearly 15 million lb of aluminum for the two projects during a 10-month period. Both facilities are being built by Acciona, a Spanish energy company. Extruded aluminum frames provide rigidity, light weight, durability and tight tolerance. Hydro's will be produced in the company's Phoenix plant, fabricated at its Guaymas, Mexico facility and assembled on site in Spain. Each frame is about 26 ft long and 12 ft high, holding parabolic mirrors that work with a computer-controlled system to track the sun. The mirrors focus the sun's rays on a tube filled with heat-transfer fluid. The heated liquid generates steam, driving a turbine that creates electricity.

Producers Target Growth Markets

Americans Continue To Lose Faith In Detroit

Americans Continue To Lose Faith In Detroit

It sounds ridiculous to say that Americans are losing faith in Detroit. Most Americans, after all, would argue that their faith in Detroit disappeared a long time ago.

But according to a Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey, Americans really are losing faith in the American auto industry. The report, released last week, said that “64% of U.S. voters are opposed to providing any additional taxpayer-backed loans” for General Motors and Chrysler.

Here’s what’s interesting about that: In December, a similar survey showed that just 40% of Americans thought it was better to let the auto companies fail.

It’s not surprising that the tide is turning against GM and Chrysler. Even those of us who have argued on behalf of Detroit are starting to wonder. Sure, we recognize the staggering ripple effects of an auto industry collapse. But now - as Detroit puts its hand out again just three months after its first request - Americans are growing leery. Fifty-seven percent of those polled by Rasmussen believe that GM and Chrysler will go out of business in the next few years, anyway.

What do you think? Are GM and Chrysler destined for scrap heap, no matter what we do? Or should we reach for our wallets again?