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Articles from 2009 In April

Patented PVC Material Helps Hide Soldiers, Vehicles

Military WrapsTM Inc., a defense contractor specializing in one-way visibility and advanced camouflage systems, is changing the way soldiers and their equipment look on the battlefield.

Photo VeilTM is a patent-pending PVC-type mesh material that combines high-resolution megapixel digital images and state-of-the-art inking systems to duplicate any environment. It allows soldiers to see through it without being seen.

"Photo VeilTM is a one-way visibility system that an operator can get behind and look out of but cannot be seen from the exterior side. It would be used for surveillance, counter-surveillance, anyone who would want to camouflage themselves using a lightweight system that would fold up in a backpack or in your pocket." says Trevor Kracker, Military Wraps'TM president and founder. "It's really, really lightweight."

Kracker says Photo VeilTM can be likened to the two-way mirror used by police in interrogation rooms, but is different because is it portable, lightweight, flexible and waterproof.

"We feel no one has patented it because they didn't see the use that we saw in it," he says. "We saw various other uses for something because of our knowledge and expertise. We knew it would work in the battlefield."

Photo VeilTM, which Kracker jokingly calls "a flash of genius," is manufactured in various thicknesses and weights and is only sold to law enforcement and the military. "I had an idea one day and the rest was history."

Military WrapsTM currently has nine U.S. and International patent applications pending, according to Kracker.

Military Wraps

Saturn Demise Might Be Saddest Of All

Saturn Demise Might Be Saddest Of All

The demise of Pontiac has grabbed auto industry headlines over the past few days, but little has been said about GM’s abrupt change in plans for its Saturn Corp. Yesterday, the giant automaker said it no longer plans to build Saturns through the end of 2011. Instead, it will phase out Saturn at the end of the 2009 model year.

That’s sad. Those who recall the history of Saturn know that it grew out of GM’s desire to prove that an American automaker could produce small, reliable, affordable vehicles that could compete with those of foreign automakers. Early on, GM did its best to make that happen. It searched the world for the best ideas, poured money into advanced technology, built gigantic new manufacturing facilities, changed the sales experience, adopted new management practices, and essentially built a wall between Saturn and the rest of the company. In its commercials, Saturn called itself, “a different kind of car company.”

And in the beginning, Saturn really was different. In the 1992 J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Surveys, its vehicles ranked only behind luxury carmakers Lexus and Infiniti. The Saturn brand name quickly developed a reputation for reliability.

But if you’ve watched Consumer Reports’ ratings over the past few years, you’ve probably noticed a steady decline in the perceived reliability of Saturns. This year, the Saturn Vue, Sky and Outlook had “worse than average” ratings. Now, we hear the company’s vehicles will be phased out after this model year.

Obviously, Saturn now has the misfortune of being part of a company with monumental financial problems. But not long ago, many experts would have expected Saturn to be the last of GM’s divisions to fail.

I don’t know how or why that all changed, but the unfortunate bottom line is that America’s biggest automaker made its best attempt to build a so-called “import buster,” and ended up throwing in the towel within 20 years.

John Belushi Definitely Would Not Approve

John Belushi Definitely Would Not Approve

One of the hot trends on college campuses right now is a higher level of environmental consciousness in cafeterias, once plagued by wasteful food fights. The Sustainable Endowments Institute says that 42 percent of the schools it surveyed have cut back on use of trays, and in some cases totally eliminated them. One college estimates it has saved 14,000 gallons of water by eliminating use of trays at just one dining hall. Details can be viewed at the College Sustainability Report Card. There has also been a drop in food waste, based on the theory that people toted more when they had a tray. There’s also a trend to use of biodegradable plates and utensils, which can be thrown in a composter with food waste. Gosh, I remember when we first started using fiberglass trays in the 1950s. They were cool. Now they’re not. I also remember when I scoffed at the idea of using composters to get rid of waste. I have one now in my backyard. But I haven’t stooped to using biodegradable plates and utensils-yet.

B&R Integrates IO Link in X20 System

Motion Control: B&R Industrial Automation has achieved an intelligent sensor/actuator by integrating IO Link in the X20 System. This is made possible by the X20 digital module DS4387. All four channels are IO Link channels, but can also be used as standard inputs or outputs. The specified three-line connection can be implemented thanks to the connector system with 12 terminal points per module that is only available with X20. All specified baud rates are also supported.

IO Link is based on an intelligent point-to-point connection from the I/O module to a sensor or actuator. A simple three-line connection for conventional wiring is used for connecting a conventional device to the controller’s IO Link terminals. The channel runs in normal mode like before, simply digital. IO-Link-capable end devices utilize the benefits of this system, e.g. for transferring parameter data or even for cyclic analog data communication.


Rogers Corp.'s New Selection Guide for BISCO® Silicone Materials

Materials: Rogers Corp. has issued a new 16-page Material Selection Guide for its BISCO® Silicone material. These materials, which are offered in cellular, solid and specialty grades, are used in a wide range of markets, from transportation and communications to electronics and high-intensity lighting. Applications include gaskets and seals, high-temperature PCB thermal insulation and battery shields, automotive heat shields, and vibration and acoustic mitigation pads.

The new BISCO® Selection Guide includes product samples and tips for materials selection based on market applications. There are specification tables for cellular and solid-grade silicones listing typical physical properties, flammability and outgassing, temperature resistance and electrical/thermal properties.

Additional tables provide acoustic and thermal performance values for specialty silicones; thickness tolerances for cellular standard and solid standard; width tolerance for all three grades; aerospace, global and general industry specifications, and product availability.

Rogers’ BISCO® Silicones are resistant to temperature extremes, UV and ozone, and mechanical fatigue. They also exhibit compression set and creep resistance and carry the most stringent UL flame ratings available.


Digi-Key Stocks New Amulet GUI Color Starter Kit

Electronics: Electronic components distributor Digi-Key Corp. announced it now stocks Amulet Technologies‘ new GUI Color Starter Kit.

Available on Digi-Key’s global websites (Digi-Key part number 681-1016-ND), the Color Starter Kit (MSRP $599) is being offered at a special introductory price of USD$299.

Developed as an antidote to costly and cumbersome GUI development tools, Amulet’s new kit enables OEMs to quickly and cost effectively meet customer demand for sophisticated and appealing graphical displays in such products as home appliances, consumer electronics, medical devices and automobiles. The kit provides everything needed to create and drive color-rich GUI displays. Features include:

  • 480 x 272 TFD LCD - 16:9 (wide aspect ratio) display with white LED backlight, integrated resistive touch panel.
  • Amulet AGB75LC04-QU-E (208-pin) Graphical OS Chip.
  • Electronic interface options on demo - USB 2.0, RS232, 3.3v UART.
  • Royalty-free graphical operating system/
  • Onboard memory - 32 megabit serial Flash for storing micro HTMLTM GUI pages, 64-megabit SDRAM (frame buffer).
  • Touch panel controller - built into graphical OS chip.
  • Color supported - up to 24-bit (8-bit red, 8-bit blue, 8-bit green) + alpha channel (8-bit opacity control and anti-aliasing).
  • Graphics supported - PNG, GIF, JPEG
  • Backlight control - PWM built into graphical OS chip. Backlight can be controlled via the touch panel or HTML command.
  • Supports Unicode - foreign language characters set.
  • Font converter - built-in.


Inventor 2010 Demos Hit YouTube

If Autodesk’s Inventor 2010 release has piqued your interest and you’re looking for a fast and convenient way to navigate through all its bells and whistles, here’s a suggestion. The firm has loaded up a library of videos on YouTube to give Inventor users (as well as non-users) a taste of what’s available in the new release.

Currently, 13 videos showcase demos, tutorials and tips and tricks info on new Inventor capabilities like Moldflow integration, AEC Exchange and advanced simulation functions. Want to know more about the software’s cable and harness design capabilities? There’s a YouTube video that illustrates how Inventor maintains electrical design intent and reduces errors by importing wire lists directly from AutoCAD Electrical. Similarly, another video delves into the new sheet metal capabilities of the 3-D CAD software upgrade, including its flat pattern editing environment, dedicated sheet metal commands for making folds, hinges and flanges and its ability to define sheet metal punch libraries to reduce CNC milling costs.

Each video runs a little more than a minute.

Fixed- and Floating-Point Come Together in New DSP

Fixed- and Floating-Point Come Together in New DSP

A new digital signal processor (DSP) from Texas Instruments (TI) combines fixed- and floating-point performance for connected applications that need low cost and low power.

Known as the TMS320C6743, the new product is said to be the lowest cost, lowest power DSP to offer Ethernet connectivity. Texas Instruments says early users of the technology are applying it to such applications as test and measurement systems, oscilloscopes, electrocardiography, conferencing phones, programmable automation, power protection systems and audio foot pedals, among others.

"The good thing about this product is that it offers fixed- and floating-point," says John Dixon, low-power product line manager for TI. "From an applications standpoint, floating point is easier to work with, so you can get to market faster. But fixed point gives you more performance. So you can create a product, get it to market fast and then during the evolution of the product you can upgrade the software and use fixed point where you need the performance."

In the past, engineers who wanted floating-point DSPs typically chose from products oriented toward the audio market. Many of those products offered no USB or Ethernet connectivity, and low-power operation was typically not an option, Dixon says. In contrast, TI's new product operates at 60 mW in standby mode and 490 mW at 300 MHz. In standby, the TMS320C6743 offers days of battery life, Dixon says.

TI says the new product is upward-code-compatible with the company's C6000 fixed- and floating-point cores. The device, which costs $7.85 in quantities of 1,000, also offers 192 KB of on-chip memory.

"It's the lowest cost DSP for both fixed- and floating-point on the market today," Dixon says.

New Barrier Polymer Offers Biodegradability

New Barrier Polymer Offers Biodegradability

A major Japanese materials producer is opening the development door for a novel new vinyl-alcohol resin that features high amorphous content with the capability to tailor crystallinity.

Nippon Gohsei has established a semi-commercial plant in Japan for annual production of 300 tons of Nichigo G-Polymer. Another 2,000 tons of commercial production capacity will also be available this year.

"It's not every day that a new polymer is invented," says Jim Swager, commercial development manager for Soarus LLC, the U.S. sales arm for the material. Key targets will be high-strength, flexible, antistatic and hydrophilic functional products.

One major opportunity area is packaging, including all extrusion processes. One of the more interesting possibilities is the potential to team Nichigo G-Polymer with polylactic acid. "It would be the first 100-percent biodegradable film," says Swager. Currently used barrier layers in PLA film are not biodegradable. The material has a higher barrier than EVOH and has FDA approval for indirect food contact.

There are several development programs in Asia for co-extrudable barrier and acrylic emulsion applications for the new polymer. All are confidential. The material absorbs water, even when chilled, very quickly and is targeted as an inner barrier layer for coextruded or co-injected products. "We did one test that showed the material absorbed water in just three seconds," says Swager.

Ballpark price for an extrusion grade would be about $7/lb, about two to three times higher than competitive materials.

In addition to having excellent gas barrier properties and good chemical resistance compared to PVOH (polyvinyl alcohol) and EVOH (ethylene-vinyl alcohol copolymer) resins, Nichigo G-Polymer is said to have superior extrusion properties, orientability, shrinkability and transparency.

Because it has oxygen and hydrogen barrier properties, its use as a composite with other materials such as metal and inorganic materials could take place for household power fuel cell systems, fuel-cell-powered cars and hydrogen gas stations.

It has exceptionally good dispersing and aqueous solution stabilizing properties, so its use as a sintered binder and coating agent for silica, aluminazol and other metals is anticipated in the manufacture of flat panel displays and their component parts.

Nichigo G-Polymer can also be used in combination with other resins in bicomponent fibers and nonwoven fabrics, filters and polymer alloys.

The U.S. patent for Nichigo G-Polymer has been applied but not yet published.

Tweet-a-Watt Successfully Combines Personal Fabrication, Social Messaging, and Green Electronics

Foresight and inventiveness are required to take disparate emerging trends and combine them into useful applications. Yet, when synthesized correctly, innovations arising from combing new trends represent compelling forward-looking milestones. Limor Fried, MIT graduate and founder of Adafruit Industries, has successfully combined three such emerging trends: personal fabrication, social messaging, and green electronics to create a device that monitors and publically reports energy consumption of appliances and electronics.

Fried’s device, called the Tweet-a-Watt, monitors and reports energy consumed by appliances and electronics plugged into it. As reported in “Show of Power” in Mechanical Engineering Magazine, electricity from a capacitor runs an embedded XBee wireless module within the Tweet-a-Watt just long enough to send daily data through a computer to the Internet. There a social messaging service like Twitter displays the results.

In his 2005 book “FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop - From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication” Neil Gershenfeld describes the future of engineering design as moving away from mass production to personal fabrication. According to Gershenfeld, driven by the desire for personalized products, people will begin modifying technology by adapting commercial products for unique personal applications. A look at the Adafruit Industries Web site suggests the first wave of Gershenfeld’s personal fabrication future is already here.

For example, one cannot buy a Tweet-a-Watt commercially. However, with the help of the Tweet-a-Watt Starter Pack (available for $90 from Adafruit Industries), one can build their own using a Kill-A-Watt module form From P3 International. The Kill-a-Watt itself has gained popularity as a means of measuring vampire power consumption in residential appliances and electronics. I use Kill-A-Watt devices in my research laboratory at UNT to measure power consumption of systems ranging from air conditioner compressors to servers running energy-aware software. The Kill-A-Watt module is plug-and-play; way easier than wiring a logging multi-meter, which makes it a compelling base for the Tweet-a-Watt application.

The stated purpose of Tweet-a-Watt is that in the absence of economic pressures to be green (i.e., carbon taxes), peer pressure can cause people to improve their energy efficiency. If a user’s friends see that he is being wasteful, the user is obliged to change his habits. This concept is compelling for Americans because while our social conscious tells us that we should be better environmental stewards, laws to induce this behavior are slow in coming. So, it is easy to cut corners when no one is watching.

The Tweet-a-Watt concept was so compelling that it won the second Greener Gadgets Design Competition in February 2009. This contest is aimed at generating outstanding design innovations for greener electronics, and by combining personal fabrication, social messaging, and green electronics into a sensible and useful device, Tweet-a-Watt fit the bill.

Now if only Adafruit Industries could figure out how enable Tweet-a-Watt to guarantee radical weight loss in 7 days with no exercise or change in diet while winning reality TV competitions, all of America’s emerging trends would be covered.