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2013 Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture

Posted by Carrie Pittman

Lauralynn McDanielBy Lauralyn McDaniel, Industry Manager--Medical Manager, Innovation Watch, MicroManufacturing, Medical Manufacturing Innovations SME

Advancement in the way things are made is critical to the success of manufacturing. SME’s Innovation Watch Committee showcases new and emerging technologies that are making a difference in manufacturing through the annual list of Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture. These are innovations that can be used today or within a few months and have already shown some successful implementation.

While much of the tech world discusses the latest phone or computer, the SME Innovation Watch Committee discusses what makes that new gadget possible. They don’t stop at what we can do today, but look to what is possible. The benefits of a Star Trek transporter compared to the Dr. Who Tardis have been actual discussions with this group. Looking through the 2013 Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture and the Innovation Watch (more than a year away) lists, you might get a sense of how these discussions begin.

Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture

Robotic Insects Inspire Mass Production Technique 2013 change the way you manfacture

When discussing this with a group of micromanufacturing professionals, the general response was “Wow!” Inspired by the fabrication of three-dimensional robotic insects, a method called Printed Circuit MEMS (PC-MEMS) has been created to mass-produce by the sheet in a fashion similar to pop-up books and origami micro scale devices. PC-MEMS combines advanced materials and geometries of conventional manufacturing with one-piece construction microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) below the sub-millimeter scale.

This approach provides an alternative to conventional manual assembly, occurring today with skilled artisans, tweezers, and microscopes.  While insect-scale unmanned aerial vehicles are a direct application, PC-MEMS could be applied to a wide variety of advanced materials including exotic metals, carbon and glass composites, plastics, and ceramics.


Superhydrophobic Coatings Could Save Your Mobile Phone and More 2013 change the way you manfacture superhydrophic coatings

After dropping an early smart phone in water a few years ago, I’ve wanted this.  Inspired by lotus leaves and namib beetles, super hydrophobic coatings use surface roughness and chemistry to amplify water repellency. Capable of being applied to any surface and complex geometries, the coating can also have nearly perfect optical clarity. Like the lotus leaf, the coating also has a self-cleaning effect.

Applications include reducing metal corrosion, avoiding biofouling of medical devices, preservation of monuments and buildings, reduction of energy needed to pump fluids in pipe networks, moisture or ice-resistant barrier for avionics, and protective coatings for paint, furniture and art. Companies like Lotus Leaf Coatings manufacture both superhydrophobic and hydrophilic coatings based on the work done at Sandia National Labs, while other like NeverWet and Nokia are working on their own versions.


Welding Process Increases Use of Lightweight Materials for Increased Fuel Efficiency 

GM welding process manufacturing innovationOvercoming the challenge of welding aluminum can only increase its use in transportation to increase fuel efficiency. Multi-ring domed electrode for aluminum resistance spot welding is one way to do that.  Developed by General Motors, it can be used for welding of aluminum sheet, extrusion, casting or combinations, and achieves high weld quality. Using standard resistance spot welding equipment and electrodes, a common weld gun can be used for welding either steel or aluminum.

For the transportation industry, the cost benefit is approximately $0.05/joint compared to self-piercing riveting.  This savings helps to off-set the higher price of aluminum as well as providing strategic support of the global CO2 emission targets taking effect in 2020 & 2025. 


Stronger, Lighter, and Cheaper with Carbon Nanotubes
Carbon nanotubes manufacturing innovation
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are powerful, tiny things. They are approximately 50,000 times thinner than a human hair with unique properties including high electrical and thermal conductivity. With a strength-to-weight ratio 117 times greater than steel, CNTs are the strongest and stiffest materials yet discovered.  They have been in use for a few years, but made the 2013 list due to a price drop (from more than $1,000 a gram to as little as $50), creating a rapid growth of applications.

There are more than 100 CNT manufacturers and more than 1,000 organizations engaged in research and development. Commercialized products include step assists for GM, bumpers for Toyota, Wilson golf clubs and tennis racquets, Easton bicycle frames, and Samsung displays. Applications in development could improve energy use from more efficient solar cells and batteries to actual power generation. Others applications in development include targeted drug delivery systems, artificial muscles for robots and prosthetic limbs, bone scaffolds, oil spill cleanup processes, desalination filters, sensors that can detect chemical vapors or bacteria in drinking water, printable electronics, and flexible, transparent electronics. 


Everyday Spectrometer: True Color Detection with Rainbow Polymer

My amateur artist mother and I would debate the “true” color of something. Having this innovation would have ended those discussions quickly. everyday spectrometer manufacturing innovationUsed as a filter for light, this rainbow polymer could form the basis of handheld multispectral imaging devices that identify the "true color" of objects examined. Enabled by a one-step, low-cost holographic lithography method, rainbow polymer can significantly reduce the cost and size of the current state of the art multispectral analyzer from about $250 to $10/piece.

Accurate color detection, measuring spectral discrepancies in the nanometer range, has applications in anti-counterfeiting, remote sensing for military and defense applications, environmental, agricultural and climate monitoring, as well as microscopic bioimaging. The graded photonic bandgap (PBG) structure could be easily coated on cell phone cameras to analyze the real color of food, medicines, paints or cosmetics and end disagreements on what color it is.


Innovation Watch List

What’s next? Here are the innovations in development that could have significant impact on how or what is manufactured.
Aerovoltaic non-turbine wind energy--wind technology with no moving parts
Manufacturing method for cheaper solar--high-rate, low-cost vapor deposition process to grow thin crystalline silicon directly on an inexpensive metal foil
Air fuel synthesis--Carbon-neutral synthetic petrol from air-sourced CO2
3D Printing of Silicon Nanostructures--manufacture photonic and silicon micro-sensor products in low volumes at an affordable cost
Robotic Self-Modeling--Self-aware robots could correct themselves and maintain high accuracy
Ultrafast camera that sees around corners--allows imaging in areas that are inaccessible and inside hazardous environments
Nanoscale light conduits—Use light to turn a mechanical switch on and off
Quantum memory storage-–Using gaseous atomic vapor to store information
Silicon surface patterns--Tiny inverted surface pyramids use less material and increases efficiency
Metamaterials—materials that bend light could be used for solar cells, adhesive effects and more

SME Innovation Watch Committee:

• Boris Fritz, Engineer Senior Technical Specialist, Northrop Grumman Corporation Air Combat Systems
• Rod Jones, Chief Learning Officer, Mori Seiki Chicago Technical Center
• Christopher Kaye, Director of Technology Innovation, US Endoscopy
• Stephen Murree, Manager - Process & Product Innovation, Henninges Automotive
• Reuben Oder, C+D Community of Experts Leader, Procter & Gamble
• Jeff Samayoa, Senior R&D Engineer, General Mills
• Graham Tromans, Principal, GP Tromans Associates

These innovators showcased their innovations in Baltimore at SME’s Annual Conference on June 2-4, 2013.

Topics: Manufacturing, Innovation

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