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Articles from 2016 In April

Harvesting Energy from Swaying Buildings

Researchers already have come up with a number of creative ways to harvest energy from uncommon means, such as ambient energy in the air, motion, and even people’s footsteps. Now a researcher from The Ohio State University has designed tiny, tree-like objects that can harness vibrations from the movement of swaying buildings or bridges to provide energy for structural sensors and other applications.

Ryan Harne, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State, who directs the university’s Laboratory of Sound and Vibration Research, is the leader of the research. He and his team are working on the design of tiny objects that look somewhat like trees with only a few branches that can generate renewable power when they are shaken by the wind. They also can convert into energy the structural vibrations of bridges or buildings when they sway, he said.

“Buildings sway ever so slightly in the wind, bridges oscillate when we drive on them, and car suspensions absorb bumps in the road,” Harne said in an article on The Ohio State website. "In fact, there’s a massive amount of kinetic energy associated with those motions that is otherwise lost. We want to recover and recycle some of that energy.”

A mechanical engineer at The Ohio State University is exploring how to tap the vibration created when objects such as buildings or trees sway or are shaken to harvest energy for structural sensors.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Harne declined to be interviewed by Design News.

The initial goal of Harne’s work is to power sensors that monitor the structural integrity of buildings, bridges, and the like, without having to use batteries or plug sensors directly into power lines, which is how it’s typically done. Energy harvesting would be a better and less expensive solution, especially for sensors in remote or hard-to-reach locations, he said.

While capturing wind or vibration energies from movement to generate energy has been explored in other research, most projects have tested similar energy harvesting objects using idealized vibrational patterns, and not the random ones found in real-world scenarios.

Harne set about trying to capture realistic ambient vibrations with tree-shape electromechanical devices, first determining through mathematical modeling that it is possible for tree-like structures to maintain vibrations at a consistent frequency despite large, random inputs. Called internal resonance, this allows energy to be captured and stored effectively through power circuitry.

Harne found a way to use this internal resonance to make an electromechanical tree vibrate with large amplitudes at a consistent low frequency even when experiencing only high-frequency forces. He and his team then tested this mathematical model in an experiment, for which they built a device out of two small steel beams connected by a strip of polyvinylidene fluoride, which was used as the electromechanical material.

The team tested the device -- which converted the structural movements into electrical energy, on an object that shook it back and forth at high frequencies. The result of the experiment was the production of a small voltage -- about 0.8V -- from the motion.

Another experiment added noise to the project -- which acted to randomly nudge the tree-like device slightly more in one direction. This produced something called “saturation phenomenon” that channeled the high-frequency energy into a low-frequency oscillation, more than doubling the voltage of the previous experiment to about 2V, Harne said.

These voltages are extremely low, he noted, but Harne plans to continue his work -- which he began as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Michigan before moving to Ohio State -- to improve on the amount of energy generated.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

ORNL Wants You To License Its Fast, Cheap Carbon Fiber

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), which helped make possible Local Motors' first 3D-printed car, has developed a carbon fiber production method it wants to share with you. That is, if your company wants to license a faster, cheaper, greener method for manufacturing industrial-grade structural carbon fiber. The deadline to apply is May 15.

The benefits of composites reinforced with carbon fiber are well known: primarily strength-to-weight ratios that can't be beat. But the high cost of manufacturing carbon fiber, not to mention the cost of making composites, can be prohibitive for many industries outside aerospace and high-end sports cars. After more than a decade of research, extensive analysis, and use by industrial partners in prototyping, the lab's Carbon Fiber Technology Facility is demonstrating the process and making it available for licensing. ORNL says its production method will reduce the cost of carbon fiber by up to 50% and the energy used in its production by over 60%.

In Oak Ridge National Laboratory's new production method, carbon fiber is processed at a much higher throughput than possible with conventional methods. The lab says the process will reduce the cost of carbon fiber by up to 50% and the energy used in its production by over 60%.
(Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

As a technology partner in the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing (IACMI), ORNL has been working on technology to enable the use of low-cost carbon fiber composites in multiple new clean energy products, from high-pressure tanks for natural gas storage to offshore wind turbines. The lab's researchers hope their method will accelerate the adoption of carbon fiber composites in high-volume industrial applications like these, as well as for more mainstream uses such as automobiles.

ORNL researchers believed that textile-grade polyacrylonitrile (PAN), chemically similar to a commodity acrylic fiber used in clothing and carpets, could be used as the precursor fiber for making lower-cost carbon fiber than the specialty grade PAN now used in industry. The conversion process for specialty precursor materials is also energy- and capital-intensive, another principal contributor to their high cost. Laboratory-scale experiments, however, weren't sufficient for exploring the potential of the lower-cost fiber at a production scale. So the lab got funding from the Department of Energy's Advanced Manufacturing and Vehicle Technologies offices for research and operations at the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Carbon Fiber Technology Facility is a 42,000 square foot carbon fiber conversion plant with a 390-foot processing line and a capacity of up to 20 tons per year. It's used by government and commercial partners to validate conversion of their carbon fiber precursors at a semi-production scale.
(Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

This facility, a 42,000 square foot carbon fiber conversion plant with a 390-foot processing line, has a capacity of up to 20 tons per year. It can do custom unit operation configuration, and can be used by government and commercial partners to validate conversion of their carbon fiber precursors at a semi-production scale. The facility also has lots of instrumentation.

ORNL conducted extensive mechanical property tests on carbon fiber from the new process. Several car manufacturers and suppliers used the fiber for prototyping, and demonstrated tensile strength, tensile modulus, and strain-to-failure values of 400 ksi, 40 Msi, and 1%, respectively. Cost reductions in the new process were determined by a detailed analysis comparing the new carbon fiber production process to a published baseline for conventional production. Nine major process steps were included, from precursor and pretreatment to finishing with surface treatment, sizing, winding, inspection, and shipping.

ORNL is accepting applications for licenses to use the new low-cost carbon fiber process through May 15. US manufacturers can find licensing information here.

Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 28 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.

Advances in Position Sensors—Achieving Precise Position and Motion Data

9 New 3D Printing Technologies: Composites, Metals & Multimaterials

<br> Prototypes made with the Stratasys J750 can include a vast array of colors, materials, and properties in the same part, enabling prototypes that match products more realistically, like this 3D-printed plastic sushi. Product designers, engineers, a

We've got some boundary-breaking 3D printers and printing technologies in this slideshow, which includes several versions of multi-materials machines, two different composites processes including one at microscale, and two vastly different metals processes. As before, some of them come from countries outside the US.

Most of these are available now, some designed for prototyping and some for production parts. A few are new R&D developments that you won't be able to buy anytime soon, but with the potential to change the game down the line. That's probably true of all three microscale techniques we tell you about: copper microprinting, graphene-based supercapacitors, and microscale composites.

Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 28 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.

Cybersecurity Is Top Concern of IEEE Members

A new survey of hot technologies from IEEE Computer Society members and non-members from technology companies finds that cybersecurity ranked number one among all industry segments. Fully, 56% to 58% of respondents said cybersecurity is having the greatest impact on their industry.

After cybersecurity, the second most influential technology ranked differently depending on the size of company and experience of the respondents. In companies with greater than 100 employees and among respondents with more than 10 years' experience, big data was the second most important technology. Among companies of less than 100 employees and with professionals having less than 10 years' experience, machine learning and intelligent systems ranked second.

This year isn’t the first time cybersecurity has topped the list of critical technologies among IEEE members. “In January we conducted the survey of 200,000 computer professionals asking what technologies are having the biggest impact,” Ken Chong, senior manager of marketing programs at IEEE Computer Society, told Design News. “Cybersecurity has been consistently one of the leading technologies, though the areas within cybersecurity are different from year to year.”

Chong noted that cybersecurity related to the Internet of Things has grabbed the attention of technology professionals. “IoT is hot. When you connect IoT to a house or business or factory, there is a rise in the number of devices that can be hacked,” said Chong. “As IoT becomes a bigger issue, so does cybersecurity.”

Risk Assessment and Cyber Insurance

Another recent development in cybersecurity is risk management. The risk of attack is common enough now that companies are picking and choosing what they protect, and they’re buying insurance to mitigate any damage. “Cybersecurity is getting more complicated. We’re seeing risk-based cybersecurity,” said Chong. “Companies are doing a risk assessment to identify critical assets that must be protected, since 100% protection is not possible. We’re also seeing the emergence of insurance against cyber attacks.”

Companies that specialize in cybersecurity are seeing the emergence of sophisticated security strategies backed by larger budgets. “Risk management is becoming a highly focused priority. The very slim budgets that are spent on IT security are usually 5% of a company’s IT budget,” Tim Weil, IEEE Computer Society member and principal at SecurityFeeds, told us. “That benchmark has been around for years, but it went up after recent national security threats. I’m convinced it will go up much higher.”

Another shift in the world of cyber crime is the sophistication of the perpetrator. The weekend hacker has given way to organized crime. “It’s indisputable that the profit margin for cyber attacks has gone way up. Its’ not just kiddies who are looking for fun any longer,” said Weil. “Digital Attack Map provides a daily report of attacks on every continent. You can see the sophistication and scale of the attacks go way beyond what they were before.”

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.

CAD in the Cloud Increases Performance and Relieves Administration Headaches

Hosted CAD or PDM systems, or CAD in the cloud, is an emerging technology that offers many advantages over traditional on premise workstation CAD configurations and is making many companies rethink how to deliver future CAD software solutions. Unlike previous CAD software that is typically loaded onto a local computer or laptop at your desk, CAD in the cloud runs software over an Internet browser on virtual machines with powerful graphics processors that are much closer to the central database itself. Not only does this result in a better performance value, it’s also easier to maintain and upgrade software from an administrator’s point of view.

Better Performance Value

Because a cloud hosted CAD system uses a web-based technology delivery method, it provides a higher performance value offering. To understand how this technology works, the user interface or Virtual Desktop Interface (VDI) of the CAD software is streamed from the virtual host machine directly to the standard browser on the end user’s device, similar to a video. However, unlike a video, the user interactively controls these images in real time (making it feel as if the software is installed right at the user’s desk, even if it is actually installed several time zones away). The advantage is that now any device with an Internet browser and reasonable bandwidth connection can achieve fast performance speeds similar to a more expensive, higher end workstation.

Accessibility to data is also improved because now companies can easily run their CAD systems on a wider variety of new operating systems and platforms -- including smartphones and tablets -- especially when located in remote areas. This in turn encourages more collaboration and mobility for the extended design team and supply chain stakeholders. Additionally, companies can also revitalize and resurrect older computers and laptops that were previously lying dormant because this new technology allows these older machines to perform much faster. This reduces the need for new equipment purchases and further reduces future expenses because older equipment can now be reused and redeployed.

Cloud-based CAD and PDM systems offer a higher performance value and simplify administration upgrades and support
(Source: Digitalart at

VDI’s are also very flexible and performance can easily be upgraded or downgraded as needed to optimize computing and budgetary constraints. As an example, let’s say that during 90% of the development cycle, only regular CAD designing and documentation is needed. During these phases, a standard performance configuration would work just fine. However, during certain crucial phases of development -- such as industrial design conceptualization or FEA simulation -- a higher-performance workstation is needed in order to meet tight project schedules.

Instead of purchasing an extremely expensive workstation that would only use a fraction of its performance capability over the majority of the project, a VDI configuration could be temporarily upgraded to meet the higher performance requirements only needed during these crucial phases. Higher processing power could be “rented” out for a shorter period of time, saving large amounts of money while still delivering the results needed. In this way, an on-demand VDI provides great value by giving users the right processing power at the right time for the right cost.

Less Administration Headaches

Due to global resourcing and frequent corporate mergers and acquisitions, many CAD users today are experiencing the nightmare of having legacy part files and assembly files scattered across multiple servers, throughout multiple locations. This makes it virtually impossible to effectively coordinate and manage engineering change releases and also wastes tremendous amounts of time trying to find the latest, correct version of the part. While some Internet file sharing sites do offer some basic relief, experience has clearly shown this is only a temporary solution and does not keep pace with the full functionality a real Product Data Management (PDM) system provides. By using a cloud-hosted technology to create a virtual, centralized PDM system, these problems can be quickly resolved. A hosted PDM system allows all users from anywhere in the world to control and access their needed files -- saving time and producing more efficient workflows.

In addition, hosted systems provide system administrators with other significant benefits such as:

  • Easier upgrade planning. Since all users are now connected to the same central platform, upgrades are much simpler, making it no longer necessary to travel to each computer at each different location. Time is also saved by using standard system configurations and by not having to relearn each computer’s unique patchwork of software or virus scan settings.
  • Easier to handle diverse operating systems. Older, legacy computers and operating systems can now easily run VDI solutions over a standard Internet browser (without having to upgrade to a new operating system).
  • Room to grow. Hosted systems are also very scalable for future engineering applications or for any upcoming department staffing needs. Additional user seats, data storage, or processor capacity can be easily upgraded to quickly meet future business needs on demand.

The Ability to Do More

Hosted CAD and PDM in the cloud solutions offer more flexibility, higher performance values and easier support than existing desktop technologies. In general, hosted CAD and PDM systems give companies more time to focus on what they do best by improving accessibility, enhancing performance, and reducing administration headaches and distractions.

Chad Garrish is Epigrid Corporation’s CTO overseeing general operations and technical sales implementations.

Best Paying Bachelor's Degrees? Engineering, By Far

<br>Early career pay: $101,000 <br>Mid-career pay: $168,000 <br> (image source:</p>

PayScale ranked the top 15 salaries for bachelor degrees, and 13 of the highest-paid degrees are in engineering. The data covers both early-career and mid-career salaries. The two that are not in engineering are in mathematics. This data can be helpful when determining how much debt a student is willing to take on in order to earn a particular bachelor's degree.

Click on the image below to begin slideshow:

In an upcoming article, we'll look at how PayScale's updated data shows engineering salaries ranked by school.

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.

Microbial Battery Eyed as Viable Storage for Renewables

Researchers for some time have been developing bio-batteries -- or batteries based on organic materials, such as bacteria -- as possible replacements for less environmentally friendly lithium-ion and other types of storage devices. They also have been working on better and more efficient ways to store renewable energy in a variety of battery systems, including liquid and solid-state options that range from small-scale to grid-capable.

These two areas of research have now come together in work by scientists at Wageningen University and Westus in The Netherlands to develop a microbial-based battery they said could one day help store energy from local renewable sources like solar power safely and at a lower cost than current options.

A team that includes PhD student Sam Molenaar -- lead author on a paper published in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters -- has developed, for what researchers claim is the first time, two separate microbial energy systems. One uses bacteria to form acetate from electricity, and one converts what’s produced back into electricity.

Researchers in The Netherlands have developed a two-part microbial-based bioelectrochemical system that could provide reliable, safe storage for renewable energy.
(Source: Thinkstock)

“Bioelectrochemical systems hold potential for both conversion of electricity into chemicals through microbial electrosynthesis (MES) and the provision of electrical power by oxidation of organics using microbial fuel cells (MFCs),” Molenaar and his colleagues wrote in an abstract of the paper. Their work provides a proof of concept for a microbial rechargeable battery that allows for storage of electricity by combining MES and a MFC in one system, showing a new potential application area for bioelectrochemical systems as a future local energy storage device, they said.

The team used hexacyanoferrate as counter redox couple, with acetate being the main energy carrier, they said. An energy density of about 0.1 kilowatt hour per cubic meter -- normalized to anode electrolyte volume -- was achieved at a full cycle energy efficiency of 30% to 40%, with a nominal power output during discharge of 190 watts per cubic meter, normalized to anode volume.

Researchers successfully charged the battery over a 16-hour period and discharged it over the next eight hours to mimic the day-night pattern that’s typical in solar-energy production. They then repeated this cycle 15 times in as many days, which demonstrated that the process was able to be repeated.

As they continue to optimize the battery, researchers said that the battery’s energy density could be competitive with conventional technologies to store and reuse renewable energy sources.

Indeed, storage for renewable energy is a growing need and opportunity, with various battery chemistries likely to come into play as the market evolves and matures. Research firm Lux Research is predicting the market for energy storage for solar-energy systems alone will grow to $8 billion by 2026.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

Partnership Sends Sensor Data into the Cloud

BinMaster and Device Solutions have put together an end-to-end remote monitoring system for sensor-based networks that is designed to automate data collection, dissemination, and reporting. Called BinCom, the system was created to help users monitor and manage data from all types of sensors, including level, temperature, moisture, humidity, and flow. Users can be alerted when pre-determined thresholds are met. Other system features include the ability to track assets and automatically optimize routes for delivery vehicles.

While each company was providing a portion of the IIoT picture, the combination of the sensors and software allowed the companies to create a complete package. “We were looking for a system that could get data from our sensors into a cloud. But we’re not a software company, so we sought a partner,” Scott Hudson, VP of marketing at BinMaster, told Design News. “This system brings it all together and let’s us get all the data in to our customers in the way they need it.”

The backbone of the system is a wireless communication device based upon the Cellio IIoT platform developed by Device Solutions. Transceivers and gateways send data from sensors to cloud-based application software. The system will offer a variety of models compatible with Cellular CDMA, Cellular GSM, WiFi, or Ethernet communication platforms. Remote data monitoring can be done via a PC, tablet, or Smart Phone and it can be set up to send automated alerts via email or SMS text.

Since the companies serve markets where users are often out in the field, BinCom was designed to be accessed on the run when necessary. “The data is available on any mobile device, iPhone or Android. It’s a native application that is not just accessed on a website,” Bob Witter, CEO of Device Solutions, told us. The system was also designed with an eye to efficiency. “We concentrate on long battery life on the sensor life and very low data to keep the costs low, both for the initial cost and for the ongoing costs".

The standard BinCom interfaces include both Analog and Digital and support 0-5V DC, 4-20 mA, dry contacts, Modbus, and RS-485 outputs. The BinCom data monitoring and asset tracking system is a complete system that includes sensors, BinCom transceivers, gateways and asset trackers, cloud-based services, and other options such as local monitoring consoles.

The goal of the partnership was to create an affordable, scalable, and reliable system with end-to-end data collection and analytics that would work for a wide range of applications. “The analytics can range from change in level or range that creates an alert –- an indication on a dashboard to more sophisticated analytics like truck routing,” said Witter. “One of the first applications was using this in a large mill where they were trying to determine the level of grain in a bin.”

BinCom was designed for customers who are not interested in cobbling together a system for a variety of vendors. “A lot of our clients were looking for a whole system, not just the parts of a system. So we created a one-stop package that offers everything they need to collect the data and use it on the backend,” said Witter. “This is an off-the-shelf product that provides the entire eco system in one stop.”

[images via BinCom]

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.

UL and EOS to Teach Users 3D Printing/AM Best Practices

UL (Underwriters Laboratories) is partnering with metals additive manufacturing (AM) supplier EOS to provide AM training to EOS's customers. The training will include some specific to EOS's machines and technology, and some from UL's own existing curriculum. Like UL's training partnership with the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE), this agreement will help promote correct usage of AM technologies by OEMs and others in manufacturing.

This is UL's first collaboration with an AM supplier, and the company is open to similar partnerships with others, the strategy and innovation director for its Digital Manufacturing Technologies division, Chris Krampitz, told Design News. The memorandum of understanding, signed by Germany-based EOS and UL, includes joint training, conformity advisory services, and facility safety management. Training will be offered to customers already using the technology, or planning on using it in the near future.

Final production, 3D-printed borescope bosses like this one, made by German engine maker MTU Aero Engines for Pratt & Whitney's PurePower PW1100G-JM jet engine, are made using EOS's DMLS (direct metal laser sintering) technology. UL is training EOS customers to help promote correct usage of AM technologies by manufacturers for end-production parts.
(Source: MTU Aero Engines)

UL is focusing on AM technologies that can be used for production, not prototyping, and metals AM is currently a top priority. "In 12 to 18 months polymer composites will also be of great interest for production parts," said Krampitz. "A third materials priority will be ceramics for electrical and electronics applications." EOS has technologies that produce parts in all three materials classes, and its metals AM production machines have been widely adopted by manufacturers globally. The company is seen by many as a leader in metals AM especially for high-end aerospace and medical products.

Some of the training will consist of UL's existing three-tier curriculum, some will be specific to EOS's machines/technology, and some will be specific to industries such as aerospace and medical that have products requiring safety certification. Conformity advisory services are what UL already offers to manufacturers, said Krampitz. These include testing and inspection protocols, plus training plans across their organizations to meet regulatory and industry standards, or by their customers. UL's facility safety management program is geared to help adopters of the technology assure that their facilities are set up to meet the needs of the new technology, as well as industry standards, and safety procedures such as how materials are disposed of.

UL is open to similar programs with other 3D printing/AM manufacturers, as well as software companies, materials manufacturers, trade organizations, and non-profits. For example, the partnership with SPE gives SPE members discounts on UL's training courses and related content. UL is also sponsoring new members who are interested in this training by paying their SPE dues.

Other organizations such as the ISO, ASTM, and America Makes are working on broader standards development. UL will partner and work with them, but in more of a support role, said Krampitz. Each separate industry that wants to use AM will need its own set of standards, such as automotive, aerospace, and medical, and it will take several years to create standards for all of them. "Meanwhile, manufacturers want to use the technology now," said Krampitz. "So we work with them to develop their own internal standards and operating procedures, which are aligned with the roadmaps for longer-term standards."

UL wants to avoid what happened in the shift from ISO-9001 to AS-9100 in aerospace a few years ago. "ISO-9001 wasn't sufficient anymore, so each aerospace company developed its own internal standards," said Krampitz. "This resulted in incompatibilities and a confused supply chain, plus it drove costs up." Eventually, all the aerospace companies came together to harmonize their individual standards, which resulted in AS-9100, but it took three years to sort everything out.

Find out more about UL's training curriculum here.

Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 28 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.