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Articles from 2015 In March


Power Plants Have a Big Cyber Security Problem

Power Plants Have a Big Cyber Security Problem

The civilized world is bracing for an almost-inevitable cyber terrorism attack. Many analysts expect disruption of online banking, energy, and healthcare to become a pillar of warfare and terrorism. FBI director James Comey voiced these concerns at a Congressional hearing in 2013, saying, "There are no safe neighborhoods. All of us are neighbors online."

But if an attack significant enough to disrupt normal life happens, it will likely hit a utility plant. According to a survey released last October by the Pew Research Center,

nearly two-thirds of technology experts expect a major cyber attack somewhere in the world that will cause significant loss of life or property in the tens of billions of dollars by 2025.

Cyber Vulnerabilities Across the Grid

As plants add digital networks to increase efficiency, they are also opening the door to potential cyber attacks. "There are vulnerabilities at the plant level and the grid level, down to the substations. The problem with cyber security, is the more we modernize the plant, the more it becomes vulnerable," Darren Hammell, chief strategy officer and co-founder of Princeton Power Systems told Design News. "More technology means greater numbers of ways the plant can be attacked."

For the sophisticated attacker, the goal may involve simply changing the settings of networked devices. "There are control vulnerabilities," said Hammell. "A sensor can be programmed to go out of range, and that can produce a cascading effect. You can cause the plant to go out of balance."

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Cyber Attacks Fuel Security Innovations

It has often been remarked that a wrench thrown at an electrical substation could do as much damage as a cyber attack. After all, the substation is only protected by a chain link fence. Hammell concedes a substation could be damaged by an analog attack, but it wouldn't have the same scale. "Some substations are pathetically protected. They're located away from population centers and protected only by a wire-link fence. You could easily do a physical attack, and a properly tossed wrench could do a lot of damage," said Hammell. "But it's easier to scale a cyber attack across different locations in different regions. That's going to do a lot more damage."

When it comes to protection, nuclear plants are the top dog of fortification. That is, fortified against offline attacks. "Nuclear plants are better protected, but there are ways to penetrate them with cyber attacks," said Hammell. "The ability for a cyber attack to scale and do a lot of damage quickly is frightening."

Surviving an Attack

Even while the FBI and the Department of Defense are wringing their hands about major cyber attacks, the energy industry is not breaking a sweat. "Cyber security is not talked about a whole lot at power plants, even though it's talked about by the Department of Defense," said Hammell. Power plants have been more worried about weather, which is understandable, since weather is a common problem on the grid. "We think about weather events, from building substations on better platforms, to building better walls and barriers," said Hammell. "That's more of a focus than cyber attacks."

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Not Even Air-Gapped Computers Are Secure

Weather is also the challenge that prompts recovery plans. Yet recovery plans from rough weather can be deployed to recover from a digital attack. "Coming out of hurricane Sandy, we talked about resilience, about hardening assets so they don't go down under an attack or under a weather effect," said Hammell. "We use battery systems and solar arrays. We have to invest money in the grid anyway, and that investment is going into resilience."

Hammell believes a cyber attack on a power plant would come as a great shock to the population, even if the idea of an attack has become common knowledge. "We are so used to getting very cheap and reliable energy that we really take it for granted. Nobody thinks about electricity until it's not there," said Hammell. "For the first day without electricity, your cell phone is important. After that, it's about heat and about hospitals."

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: 2014: A Monumental Year for Cyber Attacks

Recent attacks on corporations such as Sony and Anthem get a lot of attention, but the attacks have not done the level of damage that could come from an attack on an energy facility. "The data centers at Sony have new equipment that can be repaired or replaced easily, but a lot of the equipment at power plants was installed in the 1950s," said Hammell. "We have to deal with assets that have been out there a while. It could be hard to recover from damage. It could take months."

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 15 years, 12 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine, Chile Pepper

Myo Wants to Be a Mouse for All Your Electronic Devices

Myo Wants to Be a Mouse for All Your Electronic Devices

Is it finally time to retire your standard computer mouse? Canadian startup Thalmic Labs' Myo is an arm-worn device that lets users control computers, smartphones, and other digital devices using only hand and arm gestures.

Myo's combination of sensors including, EMG sensors, an accelerometer, magnetometer, and gyroscope allow it to detect gross movements as well as small movements including waving and fist clenching. Using Bluetooth Smart, the armband can translate moves into on-screen commands.

Speaking at SXSW Interactive Thalmic Labs CEO Stephen Lake has uses for Myo beyond what's available today in human-computer interfaces. The device has been initially targeted at the consumer market, but has also found a home in other areas, including healthcare technology.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: The 9 Most Innovative Technology Startups of SXSW 2015

MD+DI has reported that Myo has found uses in surgery:

"We have a great partner that's based out of Spain that's actually integrated this into the operating room for surgeons," Lake told an audience at the recent SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas. "They're using this to enable surgeons to interact with the images around them on the monitors in the operating room while they're scrubbed in. If they have preoperative CT scans or MRI scans or 3D images, they can actually go through and zoom in and do things like that while they're operating without needing to scrub out or ask someone else to go in and do whatever they need to do there."

Developers have also used Myo's open API to use the device for stroke rehabilitation -- providing biofeedback to retrain stroke victims for proper movement. With a $199 price tag Myo could soon be a new favorite tool among the DIY/Maker Movement set.

Any cool ideas for projects? Maybe combining the Myo with an Arduino board?

Will This Wearable Device Kill the Computer Mouse? | MD+DI

Chris Wiltz is the Managing Editor of Design News

Seamless 3D Simulation Blending Big Data into CAD

Seamless 3D Simulation Blending Big Data into CAD

For decades, simulation had a specific and narrow role in product design. The process was used to crunch numbers on materials and stress forces for automobiles and spaceships. Simulation work was done by analysts who would wait days, weeks, even months for deep calculations. That was before your iPhone was more powerful than the NASA computers that took us to the moon. Using simulation in design now is easier. Processing speeds are faster and the tools are embedded in the CAD program.

Faster processing speeds have changed the world of 3D simulation. Simulation number crunching has become part of the phenomenon called big data, where vast amounts of data are no longer unwieldy. "Our customers are telling us that it used to take eight hours for simulation, and now it takes only one hour," Ravi Shankar, director of simulation product marketing at Siemens PLM told Design News. "Something that used to take all night now comes back quickly."

One of the critical factors of rapid simulation is the ability to continue working on the design during the simulation process. If you don't have to shift the design off to analysts, and if you can conduct simulation on the same computer running your CAD, you don't have to interrupt the design process. "Design engineers can now communicate design changes more effectively. That's critical in how design processes function. You don't want the disputation you used to get when you had to throw the design over the wall for simulation," said Shankar. "Now it's rapid. You do the simulation. You figure out what needs to change, and you can have two or three simulation iterations each day. That speeds the design process."

Simulation integrated with CAD

One of the big changes for design engineers is the combo of CAD and simulation. This is not simply, here's the simulation tool and here's the CAD tool. Instead the two are integrated in a workflow tool so users can shift from one to another while working on a product. "Typically the investments we make in our software tools offer capabilities that didn't exist before. In the case of simulation and CAD, we make the workflow more efficient," said Shankar. "We invested in going easily from a CAD model to a mesh model so users can get an estimate of the performance of a vehicle or other product seamlessly."

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Software Platform Simulates Operation of Hybrids, EVs

This is more than just eliminating the pause in the design process during simulation. This is blended CAD and simulation. "The world of simulation has changed since the 80s. Users design their work with 3D CAD and simulation. The simulation is integrated. It's embedded in the 3D CAD," Delphine Genouvrier, senior product portfolio manager at SolidWorks told us. "People can use the simulation while they design their products. We can run simulation analysis on the flow in plastic injection while working on the CAD. You don't have to learn a new product or go from one application to another."

The mix of simulation and CAD allows the user to make changes to the design while the simulation is progressing. "You do a search analysis, and it's nonlinear when your product is made of rubber. What we offer is a capability to view the results as you run the analysis," said Genouvrier. "The integration makes it easy to see the progress and make changes without waiting for the simulation to be complete. That allows you to run more analysis in the process."

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Using CFD to Design an Environmentally Friendly Car

The goal is to give the design users an easy way to shift from CAD to simulation and back. So it's not just the same tool for simulation and CAD, it's actually a workflow tool. "At Siemens we're investing in integration of technologies and spending effort to make sure our customers experience a smooth workflow," said Shankar. "We're able to do this with a common mesh of technology.

Reliability is also a factor that can be simulated during the actual product design process. "SolidWorks is strong in tools to design machinery and simulate machinery," said Genouvrier. "Machines experience fatigue after hundreds of times; we do fatigue simulation with vibration and see the reliability of the product. So it's important in use where there are hundreds of times of use."

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 15 years, 12 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine, Chile Pepper.

10 Plastics You Shouldn't Have Missed at NPE2015

At NPE2015, PolyOne introduced its Geon BIO Flexible Solutions line of non-phthalate flexible vinyl with 30% bio-based content. They are formulated with PolyOne’s plant-based reFlex 300 plasticizer, with performance equal to or better than materials conta

In this second materials slideshow from NPE2015, we've got some plastics that vendors were showcasing, including products made with them, and others that were brand-new introductions at the show.

Many of these are vinyls and additives, while others are foam resins, transparent polyamides, copolyesters, cellulosic polymers, and a fiber-reinforced polypropylene. Some focus on sustainability, such as bio-based content from a plant-based plasticizer and additives for reclaimed and recycled plastics and polymer compounds containing recycled content that improve their processing efficiency and performance.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: 9 Next-Gen Materials From NPE2015

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: 6 Innovative Plastics For Cars, Lighting & Building

Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 25 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, machine vision, and all kinds of communications.

Improved Machine Design Can Help Raise Compliance with Lockout/Tagout Safety Rules

Improved Machine Design Can Help Raise Compliance with Lockout/Tagout Safety Rules

Industrial workplaces are governed by OSHA rules, but this isn't to say that rules are always followed. While injuries happen on production floors for a variety of reasons, of the top 10 OSHA rules that are most often ignored in industrial settings, two directly involve machine design: lockout/tagout procedures (LO/TO) and machine guarding.

Lockout/tagout procedures are ostensibly designed to protect employees from the unexpected startup of machinery or the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities. For a variety of reasons, however, these procedures are often bypassed or abbreviated, and this can result in injury or death.

According to OSHA, three million US workers service equipment, and these people face the greatest risk of injury if lockout/tagout procedures are not properly followed. The federal agency estimates that compliance with LO/TO standard (as governed by Standard 29 CFR 1910) prevents an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries each year. A lack of compliance leads directly to lost lives and injuries: One study conducted by the United Auto Workers (UAW) found that 20% of fatalities that occurred among their members between 1973 and 1995 (83 out of 414) were attributed directly to inadequate LO/TO procedures.

Much of the blame for a lack of compliance with LO/TO rules has fallen on the cumbersome nature of the rules, combined with poor machine design. According to George Schuster, a functional safety expert with Rockwell Automation, some of the government regulations range from simply impracticable to nearly impossible with existing equipment.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Why You Should Assess Your Machines' Safety

"Unfortunately, there are many systems where LO/TO rules, combined with a safety system that is poorly integrated with work and maintenance tasks, create an incentive to bypass proper safety procedures," Schuster told Design News. "In some cases, critical maintenance or repairs simply cannot be performed to a system or machine without bypassing a safety procedure or system due to poor safety system design."

Machine technicians and workers who ignore safety rules can appear to be more productive, and employers have been known to look the other way from violations in order to stick to schedules and keep costs down. When accidents do happen, OSHA blames employers, and employers blame employees. Machine designers, however, have a responsibility to take away the incentives to violate rules when it comes to LO/TO.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Double-Lock the Lock-Outs, or Lose a Hand

The focus for designers, Schuster says, should be on finding ways to ensure that machine designs streamline safety tasks, ensuring daily maintenance and operation can be performed quickly and safely. This requires a thorough understanding of all tasks associated with a machine and the associated hazards, and this understanding comes from proper risk assessment.

"Many designers are leveraging the OSHA Minor Servicing Exception, along with ANSI Z244-1 'Control of Hazardous Energy - Lockout/Tagout and Alternative Methods,' to create systems that can safely accommodate the required tasks while streamlining equipment shutdown and restart during maintenance and operation," said Schuster.

In addition, machine designers will be assisted by newer technologies and procedures that ensure safe equipment speed, direction, and position. The result is the elimination of the need to bypass existing safety controls to save time and work, essentially creating an attitude of "the best way is also the safest way."

In addition to safety gains, improved LO/TO safeguards in machine design can also lead to significant reductions in mean time to repair (MTTR) as maintenance, repair, and operational procedures can be shortened and streamlined.

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.

Do You Know How to Engineer, Modify, and Use Emergency Preparedness Systems?

Do You Know How to Engineer, Modify, and Use Emergency Preparedness Systems?

If a major catastrophe strikes your area, will you be prepared? Do you have the right kind of technology in place for disasters typical in your region, like earthquake versus hurricane versus tornado, as well as the necessary tech, tools, and supplies common to all of them? Do you know how to modify the tech you've already got or MacGyver what you need to fit your own situation? Whether you're an engineer, a technician, or a homeowner, you may be on your own for awhile before emergency services arrive, if they do at all, said Jon Gabay, an independent professional in alternative energy and automation technology.

Whether it's hurricanes Sandy or Katrina, Fukushima, the earthquake in Haiti, or the tsunami in Indonesia, natural disasters are on the rise, said Gabay, and many people assume they're prepared until something happens and they realize they're not. He will teach a free, five-day Continuing Education Center course called Engineering Systems for Emergency Preparedness starting Monday, April 6, at 2 p.m. EST. The course will continue through Friday, April 10. Each day's class will last approximately an hour -- a 30 minute lecture followed by a 30-minute online Q&A.

Click here to sign up for Engineering Systems for Emergency Preparedness today.

The course will give attendees an enhanced understanding of what they'd normally consider common sense but are probably unprepared for. "It's important to prepare for disasters typical in your region, but there are other subtleties to consider, such as short-term versus long-term survival challenges," said Gabay. The class will outline basic needs for survival and specific structures, supplies, and equipment for a variety of circumstances.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Model-Based Design of a Smart Emergency Response System

You also need technology that actually works. Gabay has seen some products marketed for emergency preparedness that have insufficient power; don't work; or are actually designed to fail, such as shaker flashlights with a short-circuited coil. He wants to help course attendees shift their thinking into more of a MacGyver process versus a purchase process. "We have to be prepared for unknown situations with the right tools, supplies, resources, and knowhow, and imagination is a big part of it," he said. "Also, in a crisis non-engineers will come to the engineers for help." Gabay was drawn to this subject by personal experience during the ice storm of 2008 in New Hampshire. "I was thrust into a situation with no power or electricity for over a week, in minus 20 degree temperatures with a bunch of people staying with me who had no place else to go."

Engineers designing emergency preparedness products that can save people's lives need to know how to do it right, said Gabay. "You don't want to use fancy enclosures and clips that need fancy mechanical tools. If you have to replace a fuse, you don't want to struggle in the cold and the dark trying to figure out someone else's logic." So designing emergency preparedness systems with simplicity, and for easy disassembly, repair, and reassembly are key, as well as designing for safety. "We aren't designing these systems for engineers anymore, so we can't assume users will know the basics, like don't run a generator inside a house," he said. "But that can be easily fixed by placing a carbon monoxide detector on the generator itself."

Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 25 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, machine vision, and all kinds of communications.

ACE Awards Will Honor the Best in Electronics Design Engineering

ACE Awards Will Honor the Best in Electronics Design Engineering

Nothing needs to be said about how critical electronics design engineers are to our world. Without their ingenuity and technical skills, the myriad tools and devices that we take for granted but depend on every day would not function.

Electronics design engineers - well, the entire electronics components industry, in fact -- deserve recognition for their hard work and tireless efforts. That's why our electronics sister publications EDN and EETimes are welcoming nominations for their ACE (Annual Creativity in Electronics) Awards.

Check out the ACE Awards site or EDN's article for all the different award categories and then nominate a deserving colleague or industry partner. The deadline for nominations is May 15, and finalists will be announced on June 10.

The ACE Awards will be held at Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) Silicon Valley in July, complete with a cocktail reception at the Santa Clara Convention Center. (We know it will be a challenge to pry them away from their boards, development kits, and desks.)

Do you have an ACE up your sleeve?

3D Simulation Goes Mainstream

3D Simulation Goes Mainstream

New industries and small companies are beginning to turn to the power of 3D simulation. Processing speeds are faster and big data processing is less expensive to deploy. Many companies that wouldn't ordinarily use simulation find it has become affordable from cloud-based service companies that sell processing by the drink. 3D simulation is also becoming easier to use, since you can now run your simulation while working on your CAD design -- even on a laptop.

Higher processing speeds can now be attained without resorting to a wall of servers. "Speed has helped people adopt simulation. In the past, when you ran simulation you had to have dedicated servers," Delphine Genouvrier, senior product portfolio manager at SolidWorks told Design News. "New devices can run simulation on a laptop. The multicore of the machine is used and that means you can run it during the day and not have to wait weeks or months to get your results."

Simulation expands beyond automotive and aerospace

Ease of use and speed have attracted a wide range of new users to 3D simulation. For many years, simulation was used primarily in automotive and aerospace. It was used at the end of the cycle. "Now that it's easier to use and more people can use it, we're seeing the democratization of simulation," said Genouvrier. "Investment in simulation has been consistent in automotive and aerospace, but it's increasing in other industries. It's becoming mainstream."

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Learning to Use Big Data

SolidWorks is finding that some of its new customers are coming from high tech and medical. "3D simulation is changing the world. High tech is now using simulation for the cooling process of their devices," said Genouvrier. She also noted that SolidWorks is getting customers from the life sciences. "In health and medical they're using simulation to track fluid inside a device," said Genouvrier. "When the velocity of the fluid is low in some areas, there is the possibility of bacteria growth because of dead zones. We can see that potential problem through simulation."

At Siemens PLM, product marketers are finding a similar diversification of customers for simulation. "We're seeing simulation used in electronics and energy, and to a lesser extent medical devices and consumer products," Ravi Shankar, director of simulation product marketing, told us. He noted that simulation can be used to look at how a bottle gets manufactured. If a company has adopted CAD, it's easier to create the shape, and see how the design is going to function. "This means companies that don't have dedicated analysts can still use simulation," said Shankar.

Small companies turn to simulation

Another shift in 3D simulation is the entry of smaller organizations. "In the past, it was only the largest organizations that used these tools. Now simulation is more affordable, so any product engineer using 3D CAD can also use simulation during product development," said Genouvrier. "Any product engineer can use simulation now."

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: The Power of CFD Simulation Early in Product Design

While 3D simulation is making its way into new industries and onto the laptops at smaller organizations, the tools are also finding their way into the engineering classroom. "In education, more and more students are using 3D simulation as part of their engineering school experience," said Genouvrier. "Students are exposed very early so when they go out to work, they're already familiar with simulation."

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 15 years, 12 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine, Chile Pepper.

Amazon Holds Contest to Innovate Warehouse Automation

Amazon Holds Contest to Innovate Warehouse Automation

After a successful holiday season using robots to assist in its fulfillment centers Amazon has put out a challenge to the larger community to help push it to the next step of warehouse automation. This May at the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society's ICRA conference, teams will square off in the first-ever Amazon Picking Challenge to take on the task of creating robotic hardware and software to identify, pick, and package items from storage shelves.

The problem is deceptively complex as the robots once you consider the massive variety of products Amazon sells. The robots will have to not only work with standard shapes like books but also with odd shapes like toys and even delicate objects like packaged foods. And they'll have to do it with a level of speed and efficiency that makes it worth the time not to just send in a human for the job. Which, granted, may not be hard since most reports say that being a human worker in an Amazon fulfillment center is hell on Earth.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: The Top 6 Emerging Manufacturing Technologies of 2015

Contestants will be scored based on how many of a specified subset of items their robot can pick within a specified time. Points will be deducted for misidentified items, dropping items, or breaking them. The first place winners will take home $20,000.

Speaking with the MIT Technology Review, Pete Wurman, chief technology officer of Kiva Systems -- the Amazon subsidiary whose robots are currently deployed in Amazon's fulfillment centers -- said about 30 academic teams from around the world will be taking part in the challenge.

While some teams are developing their own robots Amazon has partnered with Rethink Robotics, Clearpath Robotics, Olympus Controls, Yaskawa, and Fanuc, to provide base platform robots for contestants to use. In the video below, one team is adapting Rethink's Baxter robot for the task:

No doubt Amazon will be looking to implement some form of the winning technology into its warehouses, but in a statement the company has said, "...Advances in generalized picking will be directly applicable to other domains, like service robotics, in which robots must deal with a large number of common household items; picking an item in a warehouse is essentially the same as picking a book off a shelf in a home."

Amazon Robot Contest May Accelerate Warehouse Automation | MIT Technology Review

Chris Wiltz is the Managing Editor of Design News

Nano-Scale Steel Powders Upgrade Additive Manufacturing Parts

Nano-Scale Steel Powders Upgrade Additive Manufacturing Parts

NanoSteel Co., which develops high-performance steel alloys, began producing steel powders for additive manufacturing (AM) last year and now supplies them commercially for freeform laser deposition and laser powder bed fusion processes.

The powders target high-performance requirements, said to include exceptional hardness (>1,000 HV) and high wear resistance and enabling gradient-material design in AM that allows different properties in the same end-part.

The company formulates "nano-structured" steels. This means crystal structures of the steel form in grain and matrix sizes that are smaller than 100 nanometers -- up to three orders of magnitude less than in conventional steels. These nano-structures are said to enhance the mechanical and physical properties of products.

Some of the AM steel powders also contain nano-scale grains and phases. "These nanostructures provide the materials' unique mechanical and physical properties," said Harald Lemke, NanoSteel's vice president and general manager of engineering powders.

In hardness, for example, the above-1,000 HV level achieved by the powders rivals carbides, ceramics, and the hardest heat-treated tool steels, Lemke notes.

Gradient-material design permits the incorporation of two properties in a part. "It could be useful to have a part with a very hard end-surface, so it does not wear, with the remainder of the part being ductile to provide for impact resistance," Lemke said.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: It's Time to Get Your Feet Wet in Additive Manufacturing - and Production

Normally, this would be achieved by case hardening, a heat treatment that hardens the surface without affecting internal structure.

NanoSteel uses gradient design in its Digital Case Hardening process for AM. "The advantages [of the process] are that there is no limitation to the thickness of the very hard surface, no subsequent heat treatment, and there is more flexibility in deploying different alloys and process parameters," Lemke explained.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Free 3D Printing Database of Industrial Machines & Materials

The powders are entirely ferrous metal (although there is, of course, carbon) and, for now, are formulated from the company's high-wear-resistance alloys. The powders have a uniform metal matrix comprised of two phases: a hard phase embedded in a ductile phase. The hard phase increases wear resistance of the material, according to Lemke, and the ductile phase adds toughness, so the material absorbs impact without cracking.

"The phases of the metal matrix composite work in concert to provide properties that one phase would not be able to on its own," he said.

The powders come in two particle sizes -- 20-45 micron for laser powder bed fusion, and 45-150 micron for freeform laser deposition. The smaller size reportedly produces parts with finer features. Additional sizes can be supplied.

Lemke said the powders are priced competitively with AM materials.

Pat Toensmeier has more than 30 years of experience writing for business-to-business publications. His main areas of coverage have been defense, design, manufacturing, technology and chemicals, especially plastics and composites. He has reported extensively on developments in these areas from the U.S. and Europe, and covered industry events as well in Brazil and Asia. Toensmeier has held various positions at major publishers such as the McGraw-Hill Companies and Hearst Corporation. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a contributing editor for several print and online publications. Toensmeier is based in suburban New Haven, Conn.