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Articles from 2016 In September


Elon Musk Has 4 Keys to Colonizing Mars

While NASA is hard at work on its own ambitions for Mars and is projecting to have the first humans set foot on the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has identified the key challenges that he believes, once overcome, will allow humanity to create a self-sustaining city on Mars.

Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Sept. 27, Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla Motors, outlined SpaceX's vision for creating, not an outpost, but an actual functioning civilization on Mars.

Musk told the IAC audience that cost is the (unsurprising) biggest hurdle to putting us on Mars. Using traditional methods he estimated the cost of traveling to Mars today is about $10 billion per person. He reasoned that if the per-person cost of going to Mars could be lowered to something equivalent of the median house price in the US (about $200,000 he said) then the probability of establishing a civilization on Mars would be very high, particularly once you factor in that an early Mars colony would have a high demand for labor.

In essence, SpaceX wants to do for Earth-Mars travel what the Union Pacific Railroad did for North America. But how can such a high orders of magnitude decrease in price be achieved? Musk outlined four key factors:

Full Reusability

The system that gets us to Mars will have to be fully reusable, Musk said. Looking to commercial flight today as an example, Musk pointed to the $9 million commercial Boeing aircraft. "[It] would cost half a million dollars for single use. But you can buy a ticket on Southwest [airlines] from LA to Vegas for $43, including taxes," Musk said. "This doesn't apply as much to Mars because the number of times they could reuse the spaceship part of the system would be less because the Earth-Mars rendezvous only occurs every 26 months."

But Musk added that while you only get to use the spaceship part of the system roughly every two years, you get to use the booster and the tank as frequently as you'd like. SpaceX's novel solution to this comes in the form of its Interplanetary Transport System (ITS). In a simulation video, based on the company's actual CAD models, and not artist conceptions, the ITS demonstrates itself as essentially a system of spaceships capable of parking in orbit until they can be refueled to make the trek to Mars.

The SpaceX rocket would have 42 separate engines that ignite with 28.7 million pounds of thrust, almost four times the power of the Saturn V rocket used for the Apollo missions. After exiting Earth's atmosphere the ITS would achieve a stage separation wherein the carbon fiber spaceship goes into parking orbit while the booster returns to Earth. Musk estimated it would take about 20 minutes for the booster to return.

Refilling in Orbit

Rather than a splashdown landing, the booster then lands back at the launch mount, where a propellant tanker is loaded onto it as well as any needed cargo. The booster then relaunches back up to the spaceship in orbit to refill it and transfer cargo, before the tanker returns to Earth. Musk said this process would repeat itself about three to five times before the spaceship finally takes off for Mars. "It makes sense to load the spaceships into orbit because you've got two years to do so, then make frequent use of the booster and the tanker," Musk told the audience.

Automation Vendors Validate the Importance of IoT

Two automation vendors – ABB and Schneider Electric – have conducted independent studies to determine whether plants are moving to the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve their operations. In both cases, the survey data was intended to see what companies were already engaged in rolling out IoT systems and what companies were planning to roll out in the coming months. Both companies have recently released reports showing that IoT investment is not a trend on the horizon but rather a technology that has already arrived.

In a global survey of more than 200 executives at electricity, gas, and water utilities, ABB found that 58% of respondents either have a strategy or are actively planning a strategy to leverage the IoT for asset management. The survey showed interest in the IoT is growing: 55% reported the importance of using connectivity to improve asset management has increased over the past 12 months.

ABB’s survey also revealed that executives want plant data distributed through the organizations. They expressed the need to bring together once disparate technologies and systems to better understand their increasingly complex asset base and share those insights with the people across the organization, in order to improve planning, productivity, and safety.

Respondents articulated numerous benefits of integrating the IoT into asset management operations. On a scale of one to five, they ranked better long-term planning (4.86) as the highest priority. Other benefits that ranked high included increased staff productivity (4.43), improved safety (3.98), and better use of capital (3.68).

The Schneider Electric study also examined the IoT technology from an asset management point of view. Schneider conducted more than 2,500 interviews with decision makers at companies with 100 or more employees. The interviews spanned 12 development countries in North America, Europe, and Asia.

Schneider’s study found that IoT delivers value in both asset availability and performance. Respondents agreed that through predictive analytics, mission-critical machinery can operate continuously, avoiding costly shutdowns. Respondents also believe that equipment can run more efficiently, use less power, and perform within specifications to extend product life through the use of connectivity.

Like ABB, Schneider also looked at some energy plants to validate the deployment of IoT. Schneider’s report noted that a major power utility in the US is experiencing great success using IoT-enabled software to enhance asset performance through condition monitoring and predictive analytics. With sensors on critical equipment throughout its operations, the utility has been able to translate data (such as temperature change patterns) into actionable information, preventing downtime and saving millions.

Schneider included recommendations for deploying IoT projects:

  • Start small with pilot projects and stay focused.
  • Evaluate ROI before broadening project scope.
  • Make early strides with energy efficiency projects.
  • Integrate asset monitoring and management projects.
  • Move to comprehensive asset coverage within a dynamic network.
[image via ABB]

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.

Overmolding Gets Big Boost from Proto Labs

Proto Labs, known for its super-fast-turn prototyping and low-volume production services with multiple materials and processes, has added another service to its repertoire: rapid overmolding. At last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis show, I saw several examples of overmolded parts made with this new service that can be delivered in less than 15 days.

Overmolding itself isn't new, but it used to be expensive and time consuming, so it was only cost effective in higher volumes, Proto Labs' product manager, Becky Cater, told Design News. The new service, an expansion of the company's existing injection molding service, can produce Proto Labs' standard 25 to 10,000+ custom overmolded parts in its typical turnaround time of 15 days or less.

Engineers and product designers use overmolding for several different reasons, Cater told us. One main reason is because it reduces the cost of multiple-part assemblies, since there's no separate assembly required to join parts made of two or more materials. From a product design standpoint, overmolding can add the esthetics and/or branding of two-color molding to a part. Alternatively, it can add a soft touch for both esthetics and functionality by overmolding an exterior softer material on top of an interior harder material.

Products with that exterior soft touch can help improve grip and durability or dampen vibration. Some examples of products made with overmolding that combine multiple materials are tool handles, personal care products, and medical devices. In surgeon's tools, the exterior soft touch improves a surgeon's grip on the tool, while retaining the strength of the harder material underneath, said Cater.

In Proto Labs' overmolding process, engineering-grade thermoplastics and liquid silicone rubber materials are used to create overmolded prototypes and end-use production parts. You can access design guidelines and material options for the new service here.

The secret to the new speedy service is Proto Labs' trademark method of automating everything. Because of the digital thread, it's now possible to fully automate the entire process, said Cater. Why wasn't this done before? Because with overmolding there are three CAD files that must be integrated, not just a single part file to deal with: the substrate file, the overmold file, and an assembly file for how they fit together. "The challenge was in getting all three working well enough together so we could analyze all three together," she said. "That took awhile. Once we got there, the process could be fully automated."

Because of this automation, there's another benefit to the service, said Cater: design-for-manufacturing feedback. This service comes as part of the free quote after you upload your design files. In addition to the price quote, Proto Labs engineers will give feedback on whether the part design is manufacturable and if any changes are needed.


[images via Proto Labs] Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 29 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.

Overmolding Gets Big Boost from Proto Labs

Overmolding Gets Big Boost from Proto Labs

Proto Labs, known for its super-fast-turn prototyping and low-volume production services with multiple materials and processes, has added another service to its repertoire: rapid overmolding. At last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis show, I saw several examples of overmolded parts made with this new service that can be delivered in less than 15 days.

Overmolding itself isn't new, but it used to be expensive and time consuming, so it was only cost effective in higher volumes, Proto Labs' product manager, Becky Cater, told Design News. The new service, an expansion of the company's existing injection molding service, can produce Proto Labs' standard 25 to 10,000+ custom overmolded parts in its typical turnaround time of 15 days or less.

Engineers and product designers use overmolding for several different reasons, Cater told us. One main reason is because it reduces the cost of multiple-part assemblies, since there's no separate assembly required to join parts made of two or more materials. From a product design standpoint, overmolding can add the esthetics and/or branding of two-color molding to a part. Alternatively, it can add a soft touch for both esthetics and functionality by overmolding an exterior softer material on top of an interior harder material.

Products with that exterior soft touch can help improve grip and durability or dampen vibration. Some examples of products made with overmolding that combine multiple materials are tool handles, personal care products, and medical devices. In surgeon's tools, the exterior soft touch improves a surgeon's grip on the tool, while retaining the strength of the harder material underneath, said Cater.

In Proto Labs' overmolding process, engineering-grade thermoplastics and liquid silicone rubber materials are used to create overmolded prototypes and end-use production parts. You can access design guidelines and material options for the new service here.

The secret to the new speedy service is Proto Labs' trademark method of automating everything. Because of the digital thread, it's now possible to fully automate the entire process, said Cater. Why wasn't this done before? Because with overmolding there are three CAD files that must be integrated, not just a single part file to deal with: the substrate file, the overmold file, and an assembly file for how they fit together. "The challenge was in getting all three working well enough together so we could analyze all three together," she said. "That took awhile. Once we got there, the process could be fully automated."

Because of this automation, there's another benefit to the service, said Cater: design-for-manufacturing feedback. This service comes as part of the free quote after you upload your design files. In addition to the price quote, Proto Labs engineers will give feedback on whether the part design is manufacturable and if any changes are needed.


[images via Proto Labs]

Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 29 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.

Overcoming the Challenges of Motors and Drives Operating in Demanding Wet Environments

9 Ways Tech Can Get You In Trouble

Technology has proven over and over again to be tremendously empowering, to individuals and organizations alike. Misuse that power, however, and you might find yourself in big trouble, at minimum with others in private, or worst case as the defendant in a civil and/or criminal court case.

Don't believe me? Click on the image below to check out these nine examples.

Your kids are with you at work for the day, are bored, and happen to have their tablet computers with them. Or out-of-town friends are visiting for the weekend. What's the harm in giving them your WiFi SSID and password details? Potentially plenty, regardless of how trustworthy they really are (versus how trustworthy you think they are). If your company's IT department finds out you've given unsanctioned network access to someone, you'll likely be in big trouble regardless of whether anything nefarious actually occurs. If your friends tap into the same home network you use, they're able to "see" everything else on it; your computers, network storage devices, etc. (all hopefully password-protected, too, but still ...). And even if you have a newer router that implements a separate "guest" network that firewall-blocks users from the rest of the LAN, they're still sharing your WAN connection ... if that common IP address gets flagged by the authorities as being used for illegal activities (keep reading), you'll have a hard time proving it wasn't you.

(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wi-Fi)

Brian Dipert is the principal at Sierra Media, which provides technology analysis and consulting, along with multimedia development and publishing. He is also editor-in-chief of the Embedded Vision Alliance, and senior analyst at BDTI (Berkeley Design Technology Inc.). Brian has a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. His professional career began at Magnavox Electronics Systems in Fort Wayne, Ind.; Brian subsequently spent eight years at Intel Corp. in Folsom, Calif.

Chevy Bets Big on Diesel in New SUV

The giant automaker announced last week that the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox sport utility vehicle (SUV) and the 2017 Cruze compact car will both offer a diesel option, despite sluggish demand for the technology in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal. “We think there’s an open-door opportunity for light-duty diesels right now,” GM spokesman Tom Read told Design News. “Diesel customers are well aware of the benefits in fuel economy, performance, and even resale value.”

The 2018 Chevy Equinox SUV will offer an optional, 1.6-liter, cast aluminum, turbocharged diesel engine.

(Source: Chevrolet)

The new Equinox and Cruze will offer a 1.6-liter, cast aluminum, turbocharged diesel engine that delivers a peak torque of 236 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm and an estimated fuel economy of 40 mpg. “Normally, a performance like that costs you in terms of fuel economy,” Read said. “But here, the improvement comes with great efficiency.”

That improvement, however, comes a year after Volkswagen publicly admitted to deceptively programming its turbocharged direct injection (TDI) engines to meet US emissions standards, even while they emitted 40 times more NOx in real-world driving. When the deception became public, it made headlines around the world, harming the reputation of the technology, at least temporarily.

"It’s definitely trending lower since the Volkswagen scandal,” Dave Sullivan, an analyst for AutoPacific Inc., told us.

Click on the image below to view more photos.

Chevy offered an optional 2.0-liter diesel in the 2014 Chevy Cruze. The 2017 Cruze will also feature an optional diesel. This time, however, the diesel is downsized to 1.6 liters.

(Source: Chevrolet)

Still, GM has stuck with the technology, even improving it, since reintroducing it in the 2014 Chevy Cruze after a 28-year hiatus in passenger cars. Back then, the company employed a 2.0-liter engine that offered 258 lb-ft of torque. By comparison, the new engine offers 236 lb-ft in a 1.6-liter displacement, a per-liter improvement of about 14%.

The new engine is designed at engineering centers located in Italy, Germany, and the US. It employs a turbocharger from BorgWarner Inc., GM said, and comes at a time when diesel technology is better than ever. Noise, exhaust soot, and foul smells were engineered out of the engines a long time ago, and their natural fuel efficiency had begun to look more appealing. “European diesels are wonderful engines,” David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research, told Design News in 2013.

But while diesel engines still capture more than 40% of the passenger car market in Europe, they’ve been less successful in the US. Predictions of a 6% US market share by 2015 haven’t materialized. And new diesels in the Ford F-150, Ram 1500, and Jeep Grand Cherokee haven’t sold as hoped, Sullivan said.

GM, however, is hoping to fill the diesel vacuum left by Volkswagen’s US exit. “GM’s definitely looking at going after some white space,” Sullivan said. “Volkswagen is not going to be selling diesels here, probably in this decade, at least.”

The question for automakers is whether the Volkswagen scandal will cause consumers to shy away from diesels in general. Historically, buyers have quickly forgotten such mistakes, Sullivan said. “It’s not like people are saying, ‘I’m not going to buy Hondas because they have Takata airbags,’” he told us. “The forgiveness factor is pretty high in automotive.”

GM is betting that it will be. “There’s a lot of merit to diesel,” Read said. “It remains the most efficient internal combustion engine out there.”

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 32 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

Critical Security Controls Could Thwart 70% of Cyber Attacks

Most cyber attacks could be avoided by adopting a list of Critical Security Controls that were created by the Center for Internet Security. That’s the message from Steve Mustard at his session at Design and Manufacturing Minneapolis last week. Mustard is a cyber security expert with the Automation Federation. His talk featured the newest version of the Critical Security Controls which was released by the Center for Internet Security in August.

While Mustard noted there is no perfect solution for avoiding attacks, he insisted that using the practices on the list will knock out most intrusions. “The thing about security, like safety, is you can’t make it 100%, and you have to keep improving it,” he said. “Yet the majority of cyber attacks -- 70% -- could be prevented by using the controls on the list.”

Center for Internet Security’s Critical Security Controls:

  • Inventory of Authorized and Unauthorized Devices
  • Inventory of Authorized and Unauthorized Software
  • Secure Configurations for Hardware and Software on Mobile Devices, Laptops, Workstations, and Servers
  • Continuous Vulnerability Assessment and Remediation
  • Controlled Use of Administrative Privileges
  • Maintenance, Monitoring, and Analysis of Audit Logs
  • Email and Web Browser Protections 27
  • Malware Defenses
  • Limitation and Control of Network Ports, Protocols, and Services
  • Data Recovery Capability
  • Secure Configurations for Network Devices such as Firewalls, Routers, and Switches
  • Boundary Defense
  • Data Protection
  • Controlled Access Based on the Need to Know
  • Wireless Access Control
  • Account Monitoring and Control
  • Security Skills Assessment and Appropriate Training to Fill Gaps
  • Application Software Security
  • Incident Response and Management
  • Penetration Tests and Red Team Exercises

Part of creating effective cyber protection is getting a good idea what needs to be protected and where the entry points might be. “You have to establish a good monitoring regime. The key thing is you have to understand what equipment you have and how it’s connected,” said Mustard. “If you don’t understand that, you’re going to struggle in protecting your assets.”

Employees Can Make a Difference with Security

Cybersecurity isn’t just technology and it isn’t just the IT department. Everyone within the plant needs to be trained to spot intrusions. “One of the things that can really help is the people in the organization. They can tell if one of their machines begins to operate in a funny way, or whether there are more pop-ups than usual,” said Mustard. “People can start to draw conclusions. When employees are aware and know what they can do to prevent an attack, the more likely you can avoid an attack in the first place.”

While employees can help detect intrusions, they can also inadvertently invite intrusions. “People are a good first line of defense, but they are also the weak link in the chain, since they might open an attachment that lets the attack into the system,” said Mustard. “Even the best firewall on the perimeter isn’t sufficient if an employee puts an unsecured USB stick into a computer on the system.”

One overlooked area of vulnerability is the mobile devices that employees bring to work. Mobile devices can turn out to be a problem. “Mobile devices are a permanent way people are doing business now. Bringing your own device to work is common at most companies. Most people prefer to have own devices. If it’s a personal device, they will probably protect it in their own way, which won’t be as secure as you’d like,” said Mustard. “Part of your protection is to make your people aware that their devices may be used as a way into the system.”

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.

How 3D Printing Can Be More Than Prototyping

How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk -- More Than Prototyping: Digital Manufacturing's Role in Industry 4.0 -- by Proto Labs' CTO Rich Baker at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis.

In his talk, Baker discussed several topics, including the limitations of materials and 3D printing processes on the design and production cycle, use cases for 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM), the opportunities and challenges of using these technologies for end-to-end production, and how these and other new technologies are driving shifts in system design methodology.

In aerospace and medical applications, the two industries that have already adopted AM extensively, the use cases are clear, said Baker. They include concept models; functioning prototypes with real materials and finishes for test marketing, use testing, and testing for manufacturability with another process, such as molding or casting. 3D printing and AM can also be used to make parts that help develop a production process, as well as final end-production parts.

He said some 3D printing processes and materials are useful for making production parts. These are primarily direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and selective laser sintering (SLS). These processes can make fully dense parts with no embrittlement; that are UV stable; and with reliable, lot-to-lot mechanical properties. By contrast, parts made with fused deposition modeling (FDM) are not fully dense, and their material properties are not consistent from one layer to the next. The photoreactive materials used for making parts with stereolithography (SLA) have UV-stable problems, as well as embrittlement issues.

Parts reduction, along with the much wider range of geometries made possible, are frequently cited as opportunities that 3D printing brings. "Some of the biggest opportunities with 3D printing are the design freedom it offers," said Baker. "It's especially useful for designing internal passages, entwined parts that can't be assembled separately, and curved surfaces that are not easily machined."

But using 3D printing and AM for production also comes with challenges, and some of these are still formidable. Cost, for example. "The cost of manufacturing with additive methods may be as high as three orders of magnitude above the cost of other processes, depending on [part] size," said Baker. Complexity challenges include the ability to make corrections for a certain amount of distortion that occurs in manufacturing, and process controls for determining materials properties. Secondary operations also need to be addressed, such as post-processing, quality control, and inspection.

At the same time, new technologies such as AM are driving future design methodology to move past system engineering. The old model of system design where requirements flow down at project start, they are developed from past experience, and the process is incremental by definition is changing. "3D printing design freedom brings the potential for a new way to work," said Baker. This is a system model-based design approach, where the system model resides in the cloud.

More than one engineer can contribute to the cloud-based system model, and a part's design-for-manufacturability can be evaluated at each iteration in the model instead of in a physical prototype. In this methodology, which includes topology optimization, multiple multi-physics models integrate computational fluid dynamics, thermal, chemical, durability, stress, and RF characteristics into a complete system model. "Within one generation, I predict that engineers will default to this method of multi-physics models, like they did with handbooks 30 years ago," said Baker.

Baker joined Proto Labs in May this year from a similar position at PaR Systems, a custom provider of automated systems. He has held similar positions at MTS Systems, and Rohm and Haas, and holds a PhD in theoretical physics and applied mechanics from Cornell University, in addition to engineering degrees.

Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 29 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.

What's Happening to Range Anxiety? New EVs Offer More Miles

General Motors said its anxiously-awaited Chevy Bolt will churn out a surprising 238 miles on a charge when it reaches production later this year. And Tesla Motors announced the release of its Model S P100D with Ludicrous mode, which offers an astounding all-electric range of 315 miles. That’s the best ever by a major automaker’s electric vehicle. Meanwhile, Tesla continues to work on its lower-cost Model 3 EV, which it says will offer a range of more than 200 miles.

At the same time, Ford, Hyundai and Volkswagen are preparing to make electric vehicle announcements for the 2017 model year.

How do those compare with the rest of the auto industry? From the Bolt and the Leaf to the Model S Ludicrous mode, we offer a peek at the current crop of new battery-powered cars, along with their all-electric ranges, so you can judge for yourself.

Click the image below to start the slideshow

General Motors rocked the automotive world when it recently said its highly touted Bolt electric car would top out at 238 miles of all-electric range. The vehicle, which was expected to come in at 200 miles, will be the auto industry’s first mainstream, long-range electric car when it hits showrooms later this year. It’s expected to cost $30,000 after a $7,500 federal tax credit.

(Source: Chevrolet)

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 32 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.