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Articles from 2015 In August


New Directions in Energy Efficiency and Energy Harvesting

Energy efficiency is fast becoming a priority for a number of design and manufacturing industries. Taking energy from renewable sources, recycling existing energy, or using components that don’t need much juice are becoming popular options for organizations looking to cut energy costs in their production and other facilities.

University of Texas Arlington researchers have developed a storage cell that can store solar energy even when it’s dark.
(Source: UT Arlington)

There has been significant research in a number of areas to achieve these goals, especially in the areas of alternative energy sources — which include harvesting energy from the environment and the devices themselves — and in the development of low-power electronics that can use their own energy or don’t consume much to operate.

Solar Energy When The Sun Doesn’t Shine

To get the most out of renewable or reusable energy sources, researchers are trying to understand concepts that will help optimize energy generation from these sources — for example, how to harvest energy even at night.

To this end, a team at the University of Texas at Arlington Materials Science and Engineering Department, led by assistant professor Fuqiang Liu, have found a way to solve this issue with an all-vanadium photoelectrochemical flow cell that can store solar energy on a large scale, even at night.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Capturing the Essentials of Low-Power Design

Most solar energy systems rely on using sunlight immediately, which is more limiting than if they could also use energy at night or when it’s cloudy. A system like the one Liu and his team developed could be a huge breakthrough for the use of solar energy. Researchers are currently working on a larger prototype of the system to test how well it scales, he said.

Reuse and Recycle

Renewable sources of energy like the wind and the sun are obvious targets for energy harvesting, but they certainly aren’t the only ones. New technologies like piezoelectric-based devices can be used to harvest energy from vibration, motion, and pressure, which can be convenient for powering a variety of small electronic devices and components like switches, microcontrollers, and FPGAs.

A piezoelectric energy source can be derived in bursts, often storing and accumulating for later use. In very simple systems, a simple capacitor storage system may be sufficient to give a very low-power MCU the juice needed to power up and perform simple calculations several times a second.

Smart use of the MCU’s low-power states is usually critical in low-power applications, and newer MCUs can sleep indefinitely while using only microamperes of current. This makes it possible to use them in these types of very low-power applications.

System designers can choose from components that use harvested energy for power, so they are less energy-taxing on a system overall. ZF Friedrichshafen AG’s CHERRY electronics business unit, for example, has developed a switch that uses the energy from the flipping action of the switch itself -- be it manual or automated -- to power its wireless transmission, which not only reduces energy consumption but also eliminates some of the cabling typically used to connect components.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Chip Makers Target Internet of Things Complexity

Less Is More When It Comes to Power

Keeping system power consumption low isn’t always easy, since sometimes components are required that need to perform heavy-duty jobs. The good news is that there are low-power components that can still perform at a high level and allow for energy optimization even with large performance demands.

Digital signal processors (DSPs) are a good example of this. DSPs began as standalone devices for processing audio signals 30 years ago but now have evolved into small-scale and massively parallel multicore processors that combine with general-purpose processors (GPP) and other types of processing cores in heterogeneous system-on-a-chip (SoC) devices.

Even though DSPs now act as an essential cog in the innovative new applications emerging today -- such as machine vision, automotive and infotainment systems, home and industrial automation, video encoding/decoding, biometrics, and high-performance computing -- they don’t consume a lot of power, making them a low-energy component that packs a mighty punch.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: MCUs Embrace New Demand for Ultra-Low Power Innovation

On the other hand, FPGAs, which also have a big responsibility in a system, using programmable fabric to create custom logic, have not traditionally been low-power components. But there are some new FPGAs available now that can still perform at a high level without massive power consumption.

MCUs also are going low-power for optimizing energy consumption, with some of the newest ones offering very low standby power or even battery back-up modes with power in the nA range.

Texas Instruments and STMicroelectronics recently rolled out MCUs featuring what they’re calling "best-in-the-industry" efficiency. The new breed of MCUs also offer searing performance based on ARM Cortex cores.

You can delve into more details on everything that is happening in energy efficiency and harvesting design in the new Design News Technology Roundup e-book: Energy Efficiency and Energy Harvesting.

The e-book is sponsored by Newark element 14 and delivers latest insights into the cutting-edge work and hardware and components that are making energy-efficient and energy-harvesting design happen. Articles include: Using Energy Harvesting to Power MCUs and FPGAs; picoPower — Enabling Next Generation Embedded Devices; Processing Power, Programming Ease Keep DSPs Rolling Along; and MCUs Embrace New Demand for Ultra-Low Power Innovation.

As industry demand for both optimization in both energy generation and consumption has grown, it’s clear many in the industry are working on meeting these challenges without sacrificing -- and at times even enhancing -- performance.

We’re heading to Philly and Houston! Design & Manufacturing Philadelphia will take place Oct. 7-8, while Design & Manufacturing Texas will be in Houston Oct. 13-14. Get up close with the latest design and manufacturing technologies, meet qualified suppliers for your applications, and expand your network. Learn from experts at educational conferences and specialty events. Register today for our premier industry showcases in Philadelphia and Texas!

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.

ECIA Says Electronic Component Sales Are Still Sluggish

ECIA Says Electronic Component Sales Are Still Sluggish

Sales of semiconductors, interconnects and other electronic components in North America were flat through the second quarter of 2015, reflecting a pattern that’s been repeating itself for several years, according to a new report from the Electronic Components Industry Association (ECIA).

The report, known as the Q2 Distribution Sales Report, stated that the industry continues to feel the effects of a “sluggish economy and a lackluster economic environment.” It described growth as “inconsistent” and market sales as “choppy.”

“It’s the story of the Americas,” Jim Bruorton, vice president of industry statistics and business analytics for ECIA, told Design News. “It’s up and down like a yo-yo. It’s been a struggle for several years.”

ECIA’s report said that electromechanical components and passive devices exhibited the biggest sales drops. Based mostly on poor sales of power supplies and switches, electromechanical components were down 5.5%. Meanwhile, passives were down 3.6%, the report said.

Semiconductor components, on the other hand, showed a modest growth rate of about 1% over the same quarter in 2014. Most of that was based on the sales of embedded processors and discrete components.

The ECIA results paralleled recent statements by distributors. In an earnings call in July, Arrow Electronics CEO Michael J. Long said lackluster sales performance “has been persistent for two years,” particularly in the Americas. “…We expect little change in the environment heading to the back half of 2015,” he added.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: ECIA Coverage: Let Your Customers Innovate

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 31 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

TI Releases E-Book Guide to the IIoT

Before the Internet, getting up to snuff on a particular element of electronic design required obtaining and reading “the” book on the subject. Theory, as well as working designs, could be found in the pages of books like Don Lancaster’s “TTL Cookbook,” Intel’s “8-Bit Embedded Controller Handbook,” and the “GE Transistor Manual.” If you were working with Ni-Cad batteries, GE’s “Nickel Cadmium Battery Application Engineering Handbook” was required reading for assistance with designing battery-powered devices.

Looking to bring trend into the digital age, Texas Instruments has produced an e-book intended to give a comprehensive look at the Industrial Internet of Things from the TI point of view. TI wants its 45-page e-book,  “Understanding Wireless Connectivity in the Industrial IoT.” to be “the” book for IIoT.

The e-book also includes references and document links for all of the Texas Instruments IoT and IIoT products. The e-book, which includes references and document links for all of the Texas Instruments IoT and IIoT products, does not assume that you have any in-depth knowledge of IoT or IIoT, and its sections can be read in any order.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Who Will Come Out on Top of the IoT Protocol Wars?

An IIoT White Paper

The e-book begins with an informative white paper on sensor-based industrial networking. It is worth the read even if you have working knowledge of IoT concepts, and the information conveyed in this section of the e-book can also be applied to commercial IoT applications such as home automation and home security.

The white paper discusses proper sizing of an IIoT network and briefly describes how TI’s line of IIoT radio products fits into each size category. The document also includes a very nice table that describes how the currently available IIoT wireless networks differ in range, data throughput, and power consumption. Design considerations for network security, supplementing existing wired networks, and accessing cloud resources are also discussed.

The white paper presentation is followed by a collection of blog posts. This area of the e-book begins by describing the IoT in terms of industrial use. One particular post introduces TI’s SimpleLink IoT radio products. If you are unfamiliar with them, this post provides a very thorough introduction. All of the blog posts contain references to key terms and featured TI products in the form of links to supporting documentation. I think you will find the Bluetooth Smart post particularly interesting.

Reference Designs

The bulk of the e-book consists of industrial and commercial reference designs. The e-book’s reference design pages give you access to fully documented designs ranging from a temperature/humidity sensor with 10+ year battery life to a smart home and energy gateway. As with the blog posts, the e-book uses links to data sheets and supporting documentation as information force multipliers.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: TI Boosts Performance of Ultra-Low Power MCUs

Product Overviews

The final section of the e-book contains various TI IoT product overviews. The TI products included in this section support the gamut of IoT and IIoT protocols. This portion of the e-book describes the SimpleLink Ultra-Low Power Wireless Microcontroller Platform, which is capable of supporting Bluetooth Low Energy, 6LoWPAN, Sub 1GHz, and ZigBee. The SimpleLink WiFi family of devices is also covered here.

You can get your copy of the e-book: here

We’re heading to Philly and Houston! Design & Manufacturing Philadelphia will take place Oct. 7-8, while Design & Manufacturing Texas will be in Houston Oct. 13-14. Get up close with the latest design and manufacturing technologies, meet qualified suppliers for your applications, and expand your network. Learn from experts at educational conferences and specialty events. Register today for our premier industry showcases in Philadelphia and Texas!

Fred Eady is the owner of EDTP Electronics, which was established in 1988 following the publication of his first magazine article. Since the formation of EDTP Electronics, Fred has written thousands of magazine articles. He has written for all of the major electronic magazines, including Radio Electronics, Electronics Now, Nuts and Volts, Servo, MicroComputer Journal, and Circuit Cellar. To date, he has authored four books and contributed to a fifth. He currently works as a PIC microcontroller consultant and is a Microchip Authorized Design Partner. Fred also authors monthly columns in Nuts and Volts and Servo magazines. His customers include machine shops, specialty startup companies, medical machine manufacturers, coin-operated device businesses, and various other research and development companies. He has a very close working relationship with Microchip Technology, the manufacturer of PIC microcontrollers, and has taught Ethernet and WiFi classes at Microchip's annual Masters Conference.

Solar-Powered Schoolbags Are a Light in the Lives of Underprivileged Students

Solar-Powered Schoolbags Are a Light in the Lives of Underprivileged Students

Rethaka, a woman-owned startup based in Rustenberg, South Africa,  has found a creative way to combine recycled plastic with solar power to give schoolchildren in underprivileged regions not only a stylish bag for their schoolbooks, but also light to help them complete their studies at home.

The company has developed Repurpose Schoolbags to provide children with backpacks that double as a source of light for children in places where electricity is lacking. The bags include solar-powered lamps that can charge during daylight hours, as well as reflector patches that will help keep kids safe when walking along roads—which in some poorer regions of South Africa have no pedestrian sidewalks—to and from school. Indeed, three children die daily on South African roads, while 11.4 million South African students walk to school daily, according to statistics by the South African Parliament cited on the Rethaka website.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Backpack Is a Wireless, Wearable Charging System

The bags also are waterproof in case of rain and the solar panel, after charging, can provide up to 12 hours of lamp light for children to study or read by in the night-time hours.

“We believe that children should worry about calculating maths sums not the cost of purchasing kerosene and candles,” a statement on the project website said. These kerosene lighting also can be deadly. Citing statistics from Eight19, a manufacturer of plastic-based solar cells, Rethaka said that kerosene lanterns and alternative means of lighting kill at least 3 million people each year, mostly children and women.

To create the bags, Rethaka recycles plastic shopping bags and turns them into textile by fusing them together at a high temperature—something that could be used for other applications as one way to help mitigate the plastic pollution crises, according to a blog post on Plastics Today.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Soccer Field Powers Brazilian Slum

The team behind Rethaka and Repurpose is a group of woman who do everything from sourcing the material to sewing and decorating the bags and aim to sustain a for-profit, environmentally friendly organization, according to the Rethaka website. “Through our green innovations, we redefine societal problems into solutions,” the website said. “We make it our business to uncover sustainable opportunities that create a far-reaching impact for low-income communities, with a particular focus on children and women.”

To distribute the bags, Rethaka identifies disadvantaged schools that lack basic supplies and may have students walking long distances to attend. It then pairs what’s called a “Giving Partner” with one of the schools to provide bags to the students there.

In addition to manufacturing and distributing the bags, Rethaka also has launched PurposeTextile Banks, a plastic bag collection service that can be set up in a public area—such as a school, corporate office or church—to source raw materials for the bags and other future products. Rethaka provides the infrastructure and materials to set up the bank, with a local bank manager running the site.

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.

Future of Industrial 3D Printing Will Be Metals and End-Production, Say Engineers

Future of Industrial 3D Printing Will Be Metals and End-Production, Say Engineers

An in-depth survey of 700 current and future users of 3D printing (3DP) holds few surprises about the future of the technology, but its results emphasize some major trends already in progress. Two standouts are the big growth in end-use parts and metal additive manufacturing (AM) expected by most respondents.

Unlike many other 3DP/AM studies, this one surveyed North American designers, engineers, and executives at companies either already using these technologies for product development, or committed to doing so in the next three years. Results of the survey, commissioned by leading service bureau Stratasys Direct Manufacturing (SDM), were revealed during a recent media summit at the company's Austin, Texas, facility.

SDM and parent company Stratasys wanted to find out where professional 3D printing is headed, said Joe Allison, SDM CEO, at the summit meeting. "How will companies use 3D printing in the next three years, and what are the greatest hurdles to its adoption?" he said. They wanted to learn what common themes unite companies adopting and integrating 3D printing into their manufacturing processes, in terms of business benefits and challenges, applications, equipment, materials, and services.

Most respondents work in the aerospace, automotive, medical, and consumer products sectors. More than half have a production role in concepts and design, functional prototyping, or both, and 40% work in manufacturing engineering. Forty percent of respondents work for companies with over $50 million in revenue.

The current state of 3DP and AM is a somewhat mixed bag. When asked to name the most significant benefit of AM, 79% of respondents said more complex design capabilities and 76% said shorter lead times, a refrain we at Design News keep hearing, especially in aerospace. The benefits of outsourcing AM projects to a service bureau were access to advanced equipment at 73%, followed by less investment risk 60%, the ability to produce parts they can't make internally 53%, and access to AM expertise 47%.

Despite these clear overall benefits, several major challenges remain to implementing 3DP/AM technologies. Two of the top four are equipment and manufacturing costs, in addition to post-processing requirements and limited materials. These results emphasize some well-known and much-discussed ongoing barriers to implementation.

When asked what one issue would have the greatest impact on the future of AM and 3DP, respondents mentioned several with no single issue standing out. These included cost of equipment (20%), mechanical properties (16%), materials available (10%), and slow equipment (8%). Cost of materials was cited by only 5%, along with volume constraints and design accuracy at 5% each.

Both current and future users strongly believe more end-use parts will be designed for AM within the next three years. The industries expanding their use of this the most are aerospace and automotive, not surprising since these were among the first to begin implementing AM for this use. By 2018 more companies will outsource new end-part production to service bureaus than will tackle this internally. Other uses increasing during that time include trial/bridge production, tooling and patterns, and manufacturing tools. AM for prototyping will increase only 1%.

Most respondents said they expect to continue using outside service bureaus, regardless of their internal AM capabilities. More companies in aerospace and medical will grow their own in-house operations, due perhaps to the very tight controls they must have over these highly regulated products. Consumer and energy industries will most likely increase the outsourcing of their AM needs. The technologies cited most often for outsourcing are those requiring more post-processing, such as laser sintering and DMLS (direct metal laser sintering).

When it comes to materials, an overwhelming 84% of respondents said they want to see metals developed further for AM, across all industries, not just aerospace. This was followed by rubber-like materials, high-temperature plastic, carbon fiber, conductive-filled/circuitry materials, bio-based materials, and soluble materials.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: 3DP in End-Production: What's It Gonna Take?

This popularity of metals AM was also reflected in survey takers' expectation that metal processes such as DMLS and EBM (electron beam melting) will nearly double in the next three years. Nearly three times as many users will turn to service providers for these technologies as will use them in-house. Considering how difficult implementation can be, and how expensive for extremely low quantities, this make sense. The greatest interest in metals AM comes from medical, oil and gas, and aerospace.

Common themes include growth of AM across multiple industries, the expansion of end-use applications, and an increasing demand for additive metals, said Allison. SDM is taking specific steps in response to the survey results. "We'll continue to champion end-use part production," he said. "We have to help customers develop their own part and process specifications, which results in a comprehensive set of design guidelines and process and material specs for each customer." SDM has also tripled its own capacity in additive metals over the last 12 to 15 months.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: 3D Print Complete Electronic Prototypes in A Few Hours?

Another theme was the high demand for knowledge shown by all respondents in their plans for transitioning from traditional manufacturing to AM. These included training designers and engineers, partnering with service providers, funding research or investing in AM development, and recruiting already experienced employees.

In response, Allison said SDM is scaling up its own expertise. For example, customers will now first contact a project engineer who can steer them toward the right technology. Applications engineers will provide customers with help optimizing 3D printing processes for their products. SDM is also expanding the capacity of its facilities. Most of this will be establishing advanced manufacturing centers for producing end-use parts to achieve economies of scale, such as with DMLS and FDM.

You can download the full report, "Trend Forecast: 3D Printing's Imminent Impact on Manufacturing," on this page.

Ann R. Thryft is senior technology editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 27 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.

BWG President: Here's Why Women's Perception of Manufacturing Is Turning Around

BWG President: Here's Why Women's Perception of Manufacturing Is Turning Around

Technology and global expansion are playing key roles in making manufacturing an attractive field for women to join, more than ever before, said the president of a woman-owned family of companies in the industry.

Pamela Kan, president of Bishop-Wisecarver Group -- a group of Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)-certified companies -- said the lingering perception that manufacturing requires working in a "dark, dank facility that's dirty and you're lifting heavy things" is not even close to accurate anymore. Manufacturing now offers a wide range of creative and high-tech opportunities for young women, who before might not have considered the sector as a career option, she said.

This change in perception is attributed to additive manufacturing and other automation technologies that are bringing manufacturing to the cutting edge and making it attractive to the best and brightest young minds, both male and female, Kan said. Combine these technologies with the need to stay on the cutting edge to remain competitive overseas and manufacturing is becoming a creative and exciting sector that is beginning to overcome its traditional stereotype, she said.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: StemBox Offers Subscription Science Kits for Girls

"My money line is 'it's about brain, not brawn,'" she said. "It's actually a very safe, clean technologically advanced environment. That's what I'm always telling younger women. If you want to be on the cutting edge of technology, that's very much where manufacturing is."

The manufacturing supply chain is also becoming increasingly more collaborative and global, as US companies aim to compete worldwide in a more challenging economic environment, Kan said. Though she said she does not like to generalize, she does find that women have the types of skills and qualities that make them well suited to managing relationships in the new paradigm of the global supply chain.

"In order to survive, you have to have a global supply chain, you need to have strategic alliances," Kan said. "I think women manage those types of relationships well. They are bringing new shifts in creativity and management and just in terms of how things get done with partners and getting three or four sources to come together. I just think they have creative ways of solving the problem."

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: KANO 'DIY' Computer to Inspire Girls in Pioneering STEM Program

Bishop-Wisecarver works with manufacturers to engineer, produce, and build custom complex assemblies, linear motion solutions, and optimal embedded intelligence systems. Kan's father started the business in 1950; it became fully women-owned and WBENC-certified in 2011, when she became the primary stakeholder.

Kan said she did not expect to go into the business when she was growing up, as her older brothers had more interest in what their father was doing than she did. But after starting her own career in retail, Kan found herself back in the family business and discovered that manufacturing did, indeed, interest her at a very basic level.

"I had to learn who I was, and what I found out was that I liked to build and grow businesses," she said. "Really, it doesn't matter so much what it is. It really is the ability to build and grow something."

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Manufacturing Growth Threatened by Lack of Interest from Millennial-Age Workers

Manufacturing also requires a substantial amount of creativity, especially as it becomes more technologically advanced, she said. This is something that she stresses not only to young women but to all young people she meets in STEM-oriented events that Bishop-Wisecarver supports. Among them is the annual FIRST Robotics competition, of which the company has sponsored an all-girl team from Sacramento called, appropriately, the FemBots.

In the end you're making something," she said. "I think there is nothing more exciting than making something. That is a really cool thing. If that's what lights your fire, go for it. It's very, very creative. If you like to play with technology, then this is the perfect sandbox."

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.

It's Too Soon to Put Reshoring on the Pedestal

It's Too Soon to Put Reshoring on the Pedestal

A few years ago, reshoring roared onto the scene as the next great movement in manufacturing, timed with the sector's well-publicized role with helping the US crawl out of the deep recession. The manufacturing renaissance was hot in the news and among politicians trumpeting jobs. But now it seems some stark realities have hit.

After much-heralded calls by major US brands to bring offshored manufacturing back home during reshoring's initial halcyon days, announcements have been less frequent -- though at press time, the Reshoring Initiative announced a new accelerative program in partnership with Walmart's ten-year pledge to buy $250 billion in US manufactured goods by 2023. Reshoring is still happening, for sure, but at the same time stories of companies' difficulties in returning their manufacturing to US soil have surfaced in the business press.

Perhaps having backed off from the overly aggressive offshoring pace of the 1990s and 2000s and hearing about how China's labor wages have skyrocketed have given us an overly confident picture of reshoring, because at best, it has had minimal impact on US manufacturing growth based on the numbers so far.

Harry Moser, a former machine tool industry executive and founder of the Reshoring Initiative, has undoubtedly educated many on total cost of ownership analysis, highlighting the hidden costs of outsourcing, but he also has remarked about reshoring's challenges at many manufacturing and business forums. Near the top of the list is the not-so-simple reconfiguring of massive supply chains, networks, and infrastructure for both materiel and people. For its part, the Reshoring Initiative has ongoing efforts to help companies with US supply efforts, which are now coordinated with Walmart's own guidance on US manufacturing resources.

The conversation around reshoring, however, inevitably winds up about jobs. Reshoring is supposed to bring work back into American hands and reenergize the US manufacturing labor force. It simply hasn't. According to multiple accounts, about 80,000 offshored manufacturing jobs have been returned to the country in the past three years. That's hardly a rousing number, although the Reshoring Initiative in a recent report said 60,000 manufacturing jobs were reshored or generated from foreign direct investment in 2014 - the most to date.

Still, do not expect reshoring to be a big jobs driver or an impactful trend soon. In a press release, the Reshoring Initiative called Walmart "the largest force driving reshoring," calculating that the retailer has added about 4,600 US manufacturing jobs to date - a far cry from the 300,000 expected to be generated by its decade-long domestic commitment. Despite that Chinese wages have risen rapidly, they are still a measly 12 percent of average US wages, according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). And the big energy cost advantage the US now enjoys has not resulted in gangbusters reshoring. Energy costs remain low on the totem pole of reasons cited for reshoring, and, if anything, the crash in oil prices has made overseas freight transportation easy to swallow. The ITIF says that for 90 percent of the manufacturing sector, energy costs make up less than 5 percent of manufactured goods' shipment value.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: More Must Be Done to Overcome the Challenges to Reshoring

After the heartwarming declarations in recent years, the cold fact is that companies are realizing they can reshore only if it makes economic sense. Why uproot the supply chains and infrastructure they have long established in foreign countries, even if the products could be produced cost competitively here? Many firms found out that patriotism and brand image weren't enough, after conducting their due diligence and operations analyses, while those that came back encountered difficulties, which are well documented in the business media.

In plenty of other reshoring cases, overseas manufacturing was brought back to be automated for greater cost efficiency and productivity. Almost all reshoring is from low-wage countries, and the business end-game is still about suppressing costs and being profitable. When polled, American consumers tell you they want to buy Made in USA, but their real choices lie where their cash goes. Cheaper imported goods continue to take more expensive American labor out of the reshoring feasibility equation.

The majority of the manufacturing that has gone overseas in the past couple of decades (and which continues to do so) has been commodity work. While plenty of manufacturing and business surveys signal a strong notion to reshore it, does it make a whole lot of sense to bring that type of low-grade, low-value work back? Reshore the high-tech, high-value goods that shouldn't have left in the first place.

Calling the reshoring trend a myth - as some have -- might be extreme, but reshoring is a misguided exercise if it continues to try and resurrect the past. With so many large-scale efforts now focused on advanced manufacturing and developing a high-tech industrial workforce for the future, in the acknowledgment that they have greater value to a nation's prosperity, looking to reshoring as a great savior might be premature.

Editor-in-Chief William Ng has been in business journalism for more than 15 years, many of which have been devoted to covering manufacturing, technology, and industry.

Is New Patent a Signal of Ford Readying for Self-Driving Cars?

In another sign that self-driving cars are on the distant horizon, Ford Motor Co. has been granted a patent for an “autonomous vehicle with reconfigurable seats.”

The patent calls for passengers in the front of the car to be able to turn their seats around and face those in the rear while the vehicle drives itself. In essence, it allows for future vehicles to serve as lounges for business meetings or social get-togethers.

Ford Global Technologies LLC, which handles IP for the carmaker, was awarded a patent for a vehicle interior concept that calls for front seats to turn and face rearward while a vehicle drives itself. The concept applies to bucket seats, captain’s seats, and bench seats. (Source: US Patent Office)

A Ford representative acknowledged that the patent was filed by Ford Global Technologies LLC, a subsidiary that handles the automaker’s intellectual property. “We’re always innovating, and that’s what you do when you innovate,” Alan Hall of Ford told Design News. “You have to protect your IP.” He added that such patents don’t necessarily indicate any specific future product plans.

The patent is surprising in its breadth, especially considering that many automakers would want to adopt the concept if self-driving cars ever take off in a big way. It calls for a reconfigurable interior with motorized front seats that pivot and face rearward. It also describes how the rearward seat orientation would affect airbag operation.

The concept is reminiscent of a similar idea presented by Mercedes-Benz at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show. The Mercedes-Benz F 015, which is targeted for launch about 2030, employs rotating chairs, which allow passengers to sit in face-to-face configurations, and “saloon doors” for easy ingress and egress. The F 015 concept also includes giant entertainment screens on the vehicle’s interior walls.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Mercedes-Benz showed off its F 015 concept car. With a production version targeted for about 2030, the F 015 employs rotating chairs -- to allow passengers to sit in face-to-face configurations -- and “saloon doors” for easy ingress and egress. (Source: Mercedes-Benz)


MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Future Cars Will Have Radical Interior Designs

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Such futuristic concepts aren’t likely to be used any time soon, however. Earlier this year, Lux Research Inc. published a study predicting that full autonomy would represent just a tiny sliver of the expected growth in advanced driver assist systems. “Partial autonomy is coming,” Maryanna Saenko, author of the report, told Design News. “By 2030, it will very likely be common in mid- and high-level cars. But the idea of the car picking you up at your house, driving you anywhere, and dropping you off -- that’s still a long way off.”

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Partial Autonomy Coming, Full Autonomy Still a Long Way Off

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We’re heading to Philly and Houston! Design & Manufacturing Philadelphia will take place Oct. 7-8, while Design & Manufacturing Texas will be in Houston Oct. 13-14. Get up close with the latest design and manufacturing technologies, meet qualified suppliers for your applications, and expand your network. Learn from experts at educational conferences and specialty events. Register today for our premier industry showcases in Philadelphia and Texas!

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 31 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

Is New Patent a Signal of Ford Readying for Self-Driving Cars?

Is New Patent a Signal of Ford Readying for Self-Driving Cars?

In another sign that self-driving cars are on the distant horizon, Ford Motor Co. has been granted a patent for an "autonomous vehicle with reconfigurable seats."

The patent calls for passengers in the front of the car to be able to turn their seats around and face those in the rear while the vehicle drives itself. In essence, it allows for future vehicles to serve as lounges for business meetings or social get-togethers.

A Ford representative acknowledged that the patent was filed by Ford Global Technologies LLC, a subsidiary that handles the automaker's intellectual property. "We're always innovating, and that's what you do when you innovate," Alan Hall of Ford told Design News. "You have to protect your IP." He added that such patents don't necessarily indicate any specific future product plans.

The patent is surprising in its breadth, especially considering that many automakers would want to adopt the concept if self-driving cars ever take off in a big way. It calls for a reconfigurable interior with motorized front seats that pivot and face rearward. It also describes how the rearward seat orientation would affect airbag operation.

The concept is reminiscent of a similar idea presented by Mercedes-Benz at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show. The Mercedes-Benz F 015, which is targeted for launch about 2030, employs rotating chairs, which allow passengers to sit in face-to-face configurations, and "saloon doors" for easy ingress and egress. The F 015 concept also includes giant entertainment screens on the vehicle's interior walls.


MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Future Cars Will Have Radical Interior Designs

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Such futuristic concepts aren't likely to be used any time soon, however. Earlier this year, Lux Research Inc. published a study predicting that full autonomy would represent just a tiny sliver of the expected growth in advanced driver assist systems. "Partial autonomy is coming," Maryanna Saenko, author of the report, told Design News. "By 2030, it will very likely be common in mid- and high-level cars. But the idea of the car picking you up at your house, driving you anywhere, and dropping you off -- that's still a long way off."

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Partial Autonomy Coming, Full Autonomy Still a Long Way Off

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Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 31 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

The Top 10 Degrees for Earnings Are All STEM

Here’s a peek at the top 10 bachelor’s degrees for career earnings. All of them are STEM degrees, and seven of them are engineering degrees. The stats were compiled by PayScale, which collected data from degreed US workers.

Workers with advanced degrees were excluded in order to avoid skewing the income results. The survey analyzed starting and mid-career salaries for 120 of the most popular undergrad programs. Mid-career salaries measure earnings 15 years after graduation. PayScale cautions that the high starting salaries do not suggest ease in finding employment. Yet the high starting salaries must have some correlation to demand.

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Which Engineering Disciplines Have the Most Job Openings?

While engineering degrees nabbed seven of the top 10 spots, even the three non-engineering degrees were close in kind: physics, applied math, and computer science. Looks like these are good years for STEM degrees.

Click on the image to begin the slideshow.

Median starting salary: $97,900

Mid-Career average: $155,000
(Source: gocollege.com)

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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.