Posts about manufacturing

Manufacture Biological Sensors Using Silk and Looms

The fabric chip platform from Achira Labs in India uses looms to manufacture biological sensors.

Image of process for creating silk test strips

image by Achira Labs

Yarn coated with appropriate biological reagents like antibodies or enzymes is woven into a piece of fabric at the desired location. Strips of fabric are then cut out, packaged and can form the substrate for di erent biological assays. Even a simple handloom could produce thousands of these sensors at very low cost.

The resulting fabrics can be used to test for pregnancy, diabetes, chronic diseases, etc.. Achira Labs, an Indian start-up, received $100,000 in Canadian funding in 2013 to develop a silk strip that can diagnose rotavirus, a common cause of diarrhea and can be used in diapers.

The company is planing to start selling silk diabetes test strips using there process this year and expects costs to be about 1/3 of the existing test strips using conventional manufacturing processes.

Related: Appropriate Technology Health Care Solution Could Save 72,000 Lives a YearWater WheelUsing Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies in Roadless AreasAppropriate Technology: Self Adjusting Glasses

Open Source Ecology: Using Open Engineering to Create Economic Benefit

Open Source Philosophy. from Open Source Ecology on Vimeo.

I think the video’s message is overly simplistic and unrealistic (great innovations often seem unrealistic so I don’t mind people trying things I don’t think are likely to succeed in the ways they imagine). But I believe in the concepts of using our knowledge to use appropriate technology to make the standard of living better for everyone. Open access to scientific knowledge is important to such efforts and to the economic well being of modern society.

Open Source Ecology provides a modular, DIY (open access), low-cost, high-performance platform that allows for the easy fabrication of the 50 different Industrial Machines that it takes to build a small, sustainable civilization with modern comforts. The are recruiting for an Operations Manager, and an Executive Team (based in Kansas City or New York City in the USA).

Related: Pay as You Go Solar in IndiaStudent Engineers Without Borders Project: Learning While Making a Difference in KenyaReducing Poverty Through Entrepreneurism

Using a Virus to Improve Solar-cell Efficiency Over 30%

Solar and wind energy are making great strides, and are already contributing significantly to providing relatively clean energy.

Researchers at MIT have found a way to make significant improvements to the power-conversion efficiency of solar cells by enlisting the services of tiny viruses to perform detailed assembly work at the microscopic level.

In a solar cell, sunlight hits a light-harvesting material, causing it to release electrons that can be harnessed to produce an electric current. The research, is based on findings that carbon nanotubes ”” microscopic, hollow cylinders of pure carbon ”” can enhance the efficiency of electron collection from a solar cell’s surface.

Previous attempts to use the nanotubes, however, had been thwarted by two problems. First, the making of carbon nanotubes generally produces a mix of two types, some of which act as semiconductors (sometimes allowing an electric current to flow, sometimes not) or metals (which act like wires, allowing current to flow easily). The new research, for the first time, showed that the effects of these two types tend to be different, because the semiconducting nanotubes can enhance the performance of solar cells, but the metallic ones have the opposite effect. Second, nanotubes tend to clump together, which reduces their effectiveness.

And that”™s where viruses come to the rescue. Graduate students Xiangnan Dang and Hyunjung Yi ”” working with Angela Belcher, the W. M. Keck Professor of Energy, and several other researchers ”” found that a genetically engineered version of a virus called M13, which normally infects bacteria, can be used to control the arrangement of the nanotubes on a surface, keeping the tubes separate so they can”™t short out the circuits, and keeping the tubes apart so they don”™t clump.

The system the researchers tested used a type of solar cell known as dye-sensitized solar cells, a lightweight and inexpensive type where the active layer is composed of titanium dioxide, rather than the silicon used in conventional solar cells. But the same technique could be applied to other types as well, including quantum-dot and organic solar cells, the researchers say. In their tests, adding the virus-built structures enhanced the power conversion efficiency to 10.6% from 8% ”” almost a one-third improvement.

Read the full press release

Related: Using Virus to Build BatteriesUsing Viruses to Construct ElectrodesUsing Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into Cells

Wave Disk Engine Could Increase Efficiency 5 Times

Norbert Müller”™s group has received $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) in 2010 to build and develop the wave disk engine, which uses turbo combustion “shock wave” technology to convert either liquid fuel or compressed natural gas or hydrogen into electrical power. With this engine, fuel efficiency for hybrid vehicles could increase 5 times compared to internal combustion engine vehicles on the road today (and 3.5 times less than current hybrid cars), while reducing costs by 30%. The goal of Müller”™s team is to produce an engine that would give hybrid vehicles a 500-mile driving range and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 90%.

In the video he says they hope to have the engines in production vehicles within 3 years. My guess is he is being quite optimistic, but we will see. The new engine would allow 1,000 pounds to be removed from the weight of cars (by removing the need for drive train, radiator…).

Related: $10 Million X Prize for 100 MPG CarEconomic Benefits Brought by Investing in Engineering59 MPG Toyota iQ Diesel Available in Europe (2008)MIT Hosts Student Vehicle Design Summit (2006)

Engineering a Better Football

The football (soccer ball) for the 2010 FIFA World Cup features completely new, ground-breaking technology. Eight 3-D spherically formed panels are moulded together, harmoniously enveloping the inner carcass. The result is an energetic unit combined with perfect roundness.

Aero grooves create the clearly visible profile on the ball’s surface. The Grip’n’Groove profile circles around the entire ball in an optimal aerodynamic way. The integrated grooves provide unmatched flight characteristics, making this the most stable and most accurate Adidas football. The ground breaking performance features have been confirmed in comprehensive comparison tests at Loughborough University in England and countless checks in wind tunnel and the Adidas football laboratory in Scheinfeld, Germany.

The process, shown in the video, for manufacturing the footballs is way more complicate than I thought it would be.

Related: Full Adidas press releaseThe Science of the Football SwerveEngineering Basketball FlopSports Engineering

How the Practice and Instruction of Engineering Must Change

Chief Scientist for the Rocky Mountain Institute and MacArthur Fellow, Amory Lovins, describes how small gains in efficiency at the consumption point can trigger gains that are magnitudes larger at higher levels and discusses how engineering must be practiced and taught fundamentally different.

Related: MIT Hosts Student Vehicle Design Summit59 MPG Toyota iQ Diesel Available in EuropeWebcast: Engineering Education in the 21st Century

Zubbles – Get Your Colored Bubbles

photo of blue bubblephoto of blue colored bubble.

I first posted on this in 2005: Colored Bubbles. Now you can order your own via Zubbles. Colored Bubbles Have Landed (and Popped and Vanished)

Having solved the colored bubble dilemma, we spent most of 2006 trying to refine our dyes and the manufacturing process. We had invented several completely new dyes and a few derivatives of existing dyes. But the manufacturing process was long, tedious and expensive. It took three days just to make a few grams of each dye. It quickly became apparent that we needed to radically streamline the production process in order to have a viable product.

The complexities of the chemistry resembled a pharmaceutical more than a toy. So I enlisted the help of Gary Willingham, and the Belgium development team, at Fisher Scientific. Fisher is a pharmaceutical chemical manufacturer with the equipment and expertise needed to manufacture tons of our dyes.

Due to the complexities of the chemistry, Jamm decided to stay close to the production process and manufacture Zubbles in the US. The first bottles rolled off the line this week. Jamm presented me with the very first case of Zubbles. And it was a very strange feeling to finally hold the product in my hand””15 years after I mixed my first batch of dishwashing detergent and food coloring.

Being an entrepreneur is a challenge any time. When your product requires complex science and engineering that adds additional challenges. It is great to see this product is now available.

Related: Making Magnificent Mirrors with Math1979 “iPod-like” Music PlayerThe Glove ”“ Engineering Coolnessscience and engineering gadgets and giftsBuild Your Own Tabletop Interactive Multi-touch ComputerAwesome Cat Cam

FreeWave’s Data Radios Bring Employee Bonuses

It is easy with the existing economic news to think things are bleak everywhere. But even within the current climate companies find success. Founded in 1993, FreeWave Technologies is a world leader in the innovative design and manufacture of ISM Band radios and wireless data solutions. Their data-transmitting radios span the globe from the Middle East to Mount Everest; from the Amazon Rainforest to Antarctica to New York. They are used by defense contractors, oil and gas companies, city and county municipalities and industrial manufacturers.

photo of Hedy LamarrHedy Lamarr from the trailer for the film Boom Town, 1940

FreeWave’s data radios are based on Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum Technology. Spread Spectrum was originally created for the U.S. Navy during World War II to prevent the Germans from “jamming” American radio transmissions for radio-guided torpedoes. The technology was invented by Hedy Lamar, a famous movie star of the 1940”™s. The original radios contained a roll of paper slotted like a player piano to cause channel switching. Hedy’s close friend, Inventor/Musician George Antheil, designed the first successful synchronization device that brought Hedy”™s idea to fruition. In 1941, Hedy and George were granted a U.S. patent for the first “Secret Communications System.” The original system used merely 88 frequencies. Today, the switching is controlled in embedded firmware code that enables a radio to change frequencies hundreds of times per second and use more than 100 channels.

Engineering these radios is something the company takes quite seriously. And hiring the best talent is part of this philosophy. Every single employee considers it his/her job to ensure that customers receive top-notch service seven days a week. This extends all the way through the organization up to senior management. FreeWave is so dedicated to making its customers front and center that it provides 24-hour technical support ”“ even rotating senior management to be on call at nights and on the weekends.

The privately held company is based in Boulder, Colorado, the company offers network design, pre-installation engineering services and manufactures its own radios (manufacturing them in Boulder).

FreeWave’s increase in revenues of 112 percent from 2003 to 2007. The company has paid this bonus every six months since the first one was paid in July 1995. Over the past year, FreeWave has invested in expanding its facility to accommodate more staff; growing its manufacturing space and capabilities; dedicating more resources and technology to its product development; increasing its customer and partner training; and, investing in marketing and sales.
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How to Develop Products like Toyota

How to Develop Products like Toyota

Sobek also says Toyota tends to stay as flexible as possible until relatively late in the development stage. He cites as an example Toyota”™s practice of leaving manufacturing tolerances to be set by die makers rather than by design engineers creating the prints. Die makers make die dimensions as close as practical to those in the CAD database, but have the flexibility to modify them so body parts fit together well. Manufacturing engineers then set tolerances around manufacturing capabilities.

“Test first, then design. First run simulations and understand where the boundaries of solutions lie. Once you understand the alternate spaces between competing choices, you narrow the options in what are called integrating events.”

Integrating events are an opportunity to eliminate weak opportunities. It is only after these events are complete that detailed design commences. “The point is that you don”™t get to detailed design until everything works,” says Kennedy. “That is the reason Toyota focuses so intently up front on understanding trade-offs.”

This is very similar to agile software development practices. Though due to different processes, software versus car manufacture the two process are not identical.

Though Toyota is adept at developing products, it may be a mistake to adopt its practices wholesale, no matter how good they are. “Much of the lean community tries to crow-bar Toyota’s approach into their own very different business model,”

This is always true. Copying what others do does not work. You can learn from others by understanding the benefits of their process and then adapting the ideas to your organization.

Toyota has several tools that help its engineers organize the tasks at hand. One of the most well known is called the A3 document, named for the size of the paper its information is written on. An A3 holds a distillation of project goals and customer wants. During development, it can serve as a crib sheet for engineers as they set priorities and make trade-offs. “A3s enforce the plan-do-check- act methods of quality,” explains Kennedy. “The A3 becomes the basis for Toyota”™s entire review process.”

On my management improvement blog I discuss the Toyota Production System often, you can follow those posts if you are interested.

Related: Toyota Engineering Development ProcessToyota Winglet, Personal Transportation12 stocks for 10 yearsToyota Robots

How Marbles Are Made

More posts on how things work: Why do We Sleep?Why is it Colder at Higher Elevations?What Are Flowers For?

Toyota Operates High School in India

Toyota Eyes India Market, Builds School to Get Edge

Built on a rugged hillside in southern India that is populated by wildcats [see below] and monkeys, Toyota’s sprawling technical training school, which opened last year, gives about 180 junior-high-school graduates an education in everything from dismantling transmissions to Japanese group exercises.

Toyota wants to turn students like Satish Lakshman, the son of a poor farmer, into a skilled employee who can boost the auto maker’s fortunes in this key emerging market. “We are learning discipline, confidence and continuous improvement,” says Mr. Lakshman, an energetic 18-year-old.

At the foundation of its growth plan is the Toyota Technical Training Institute. India’s auto market is growing at such a fast pace that skilled workers are in short supply. Toyota says the school will enable the company to develop the productive, skilled employees it needs.

Toyota has taken a similar approach in China, where it has helped the government run a technical training center since 1990. In India, rival auto makers are following Toyota’s lead. In September, Honda announced plans to open a technical college. Other car makers have formed partnerships with India’s technical institutes to improve training.

The school teaches students practical skills such as welding, auto assembly and maintenance. It also gives the young recruits a smattering of classes in such subjects as math, English and Japanese as well as lessons in the company’s cherished principles of consensus building, continuous improvement and eliminating waste.

Toyota is willing to invest in the long term. A much better sign than a company that is willing to pay their executives salaries that top the wealth of kings. Toyota also believes in education: Idle Workers Busy at Toyota.

Related: Toyota Building Second Plant in IndiaEngineering Education in IndiaManufacturing Takes off in IndiaHigh School Students in USA, China and IndiaLargest Manufacturing Countries

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