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  • April 12, 2011 1:09 PM | Deleted user
    Five forms of new technology that can change the world: From the computer that beats humans on "Jeopardy!" to cellphone apps for African pick-and-hoe farmers, to satellites that spy on human rights abusers.

    San Francisco - Watson was an idiosyncratic "Jeopardy!" player. He wagered odd amounts of money – $2,127 – and sometimes his guesses were odder still, like when he named Toronto as an American city. Or when he named Dorothy Parker as the title of a famous writing manual (whereas Ms. Parker was, in fact, the person who wrote a review of the book in Esquire in 1959).

    And yet Watson, an IBM computer, won his nationally televised game of "Jeopardy!" in February. He steadily overpowered his opponents, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter – two of the game's all-time human champions.

    In an age when computers have multiplied the productivity of workers, it is tempting for millions of people with monotonous office jobs to wonder whether Watson could outright replace them. It won't happen yet.

    Future Focus on Innovation: What's new, cool, and changing the world

    Between the lines of Watson's story and the half century of history that made him possible is a parable of innovation and economics with much to say about which technologies will have a broad impact on society. The most glamorous advances often didn't have that impact (supersonic air travel, for example), whereas pedestrian inventions like the Haber-Bosch process to produce nitrogen fertilizer fundamentally altered the economics of basic human need – and changed the face of the planet.

    In this installment of the Future Focus series, the Monitor examines five technologies changing the world now, or well positioned to do so in the future: from low-tech gadgets remaking livelihoods in remote villages of Niger to electronics that roll out of printing presses to spacecraft hurtling around Earth at 5 miles per second. For the most part, these technologies promise one thing: to stretch the dollar – or yen, or euro – into accomplishing new things. It is this litmus test that will determine how pervasively Watson touches the lives of ordinary people.


    Few people realize it, but behind Watson's cool veneer of digital competence were 2,880 computer processors filling 10 racks. They devoured an estimated 100,000 watts of electricity – 80 times what an average American home used in 2008. Watson's employer would pay $100,000 a year to power him – plus $30,000 in cooling to prevent him burning the building down.

    This problem illustrates a little-appreciated fact, explains Rahul Sarpeshkar, an electrical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge: "Fundamentally, energy and information are deeply linked. You cannot process information without expending energy."

    The knack for corralling electrons into an orderly dance of information has improved dramatically since transistors first appeared around 1950. The number of transistors on a chip doubled every two years – a trend called Moore's law. Those shrinking transistors cost less to manufacture and consumed less energy – making them cheaper to use. Today's transistors are smaller than a red blood cell, by a factor of 150, and consume less energy – by a factor of 50 billion per calculation – than the vacuum tubes in World War II-era computers.

    Shrinking energy dissipation made it possible to use electronics in ever-expanding ways: hearing aids that wouldn't cook Grandma's ear; radios that could run for weeks on batteries; and the 1971 BusiCom desktop calculator that let computers compete cost-effectively with paper and pencil.

    "All of this consumer electronics has only become possible because we've made these spectacular strides in energy efficiency," says Stephen Furber, a chip designer at the University of Manchester in England. Professor Furber's own contribution, the ARM processor chip that he helped design at Acorn Computers in the 1980s, reduced power consumption by a factor of 10, allowing millions of people to carry cellphones that don't incinerate their pocket lint or require hourly charging. In this day of on-the-run tweets, status updates, and cellphone photos, it could be argued that these phones and their low-power chips are responsible for making Facebook and Twitter the forces that they are today in pop culture, politics, and Arab revolutions.


    But an impasse is near. Transistors are now crowded so tightly onto chips that their heat threatens to cook the computer: They emanate up to 300 watts of heat per square inch – five times more than an electric burner on high.

    "For a long time we've been very fortunate," says John Maltabes, a visiting scholar at Hewlett-Packard with 30 years of experience in chip manufacturing. "What's happening now is economics are catching up."

    Moore's law is slowing down, and it affects every computer, from the smallest to the largest. Scientists have relied, for example, on supercomputers to study particle physics and the brain – not to mention ensuring the safety of aging nuclear weapons. But grander scientific questions bring bigger price tags. Tianhe-1A, the world's fastest supercomputer at China's National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin, wolfs 4 million watts of electricity. The next-generation machine planned by the US Department of Energy will guzzle 25 million watts (the original blueprint was to consume 130 million watts, or $130 million of electricity per year, before downsizing to make its utility bills affordable).

    "Computers are pretty much energy-limited now," concludes Furber.

    The almost-intelligent software that allows Watson to win at "Jeopardy!" remains an impressive feat, and it will be used where the cost can be justified – like sifting through reams of financial information to suggest stock purchases at investment banks; searching stacks of legal documents to find the pearl of evidence that will win a court case; or tweaking the coming and going of planes, trains, and buses so that travelers don't miss connections. But before something as smart as Watson comes to ordinary peoples' laptops and smart phones, engineers must build more-efficient computers that circumvent current energy limits. Whichever technology succeeds will push the world to a different place.


    The central insight from the past 45 years is that Moore's law was never a law of science, but a law of economics. It was the economic benefit of squeezing ever more transistors onto a chip that drove Moore's law forward. Likewise, the technologies that have changed the world often weren't the ones that allowed new and exciting things – but rather those that reduced the costs of doing things already possible – whether those costs are counted in dollars, time, or other finite resources.

    Supersonic air travel – once a source of French national pride, which promised to bring the far corners of the globe closer together – failed to pass this test. Even before the last Concorde retired in 2003, supersonic travel had been defeated by the basic economics of air drag. "Just going from Mach 0.85 to Mach 1.1 doubles your fuel consumption," says Erik Conway, a technology historian at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

    In addition to killing fuel economy, air drag threatened to rip the plane apart – necessitating an expensive reinforced airframe. Air friction also heated the Concorde's exterior to 200 degrees F. – and was expected to heat the exterior of the US supersonic airliner under development to 1,000 degrees F. – complicating maintenance between flights. Concorde's thick fuselage fitted just 100 passengers; a round trip from New York to Paris could cost $8,000. Even as conventional, subsonic jets became three times more efficient, supersonic travel was never more than marginally profitable.

    Human spaceflight suffered a similar fate: Homo sapiens reached the moon in 1969, but 42 years later, that remains a high-water mark rather than the start of a growth curve. Changing political priorities undermined space travel, but so did engineers' inability to reduce the fixed amount of food, water, and oxygen that humans need to survive.

    "The mass required to support a human in space is still very large," says David Whalen, a technology historian at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. That mass, transported by decades-old rocket technology, still costs $2,000 to $10,000 per pound to push into orbit. Business executives ultimately found better, if less-celebrated, ways to use that expensive payload space. "You can put a million times more computer into orbit now" compared with 1969, points out Mr. Whalen. That, with improving solar cells and batteries, fueled a boom in unmanned satellites that has shrunk the world in ways that Concorde never could have.

    But the advance with the biggest impact over the past 100 years may be the least glamorous. In a recent online debate, Vaclav Smil, a technology historian at the University of Manitoba in Canada, named the Haber-Bosch process, a chemical reaction almost unheard-of by the public, as the greatest advance of the 20th century. It combines hydrogen and nitrogen to make ammonium. It's used to produce 100 million tons of fertilizer per year – needed for feeding a third of Earth's 7 billion humans.

    It was the finitude of farmland and fresh water that made Haber-Bosch matter. It can be argued that it is scarcities in general that set the stage for many world-changing technologies.

    "Technologies that shift the fundamental resource base for the commodities of the 21st century are going to be important," agrees Erik Straser, general partner at the technology venture capital firm Mohr Davidow in Menlo Park, Calif. This almost certainly includes technologies that will alleviate bottlenecks in energy – especially oil and gas. It probably extends to ones that ease other emerging shortages, such as lithium and rare earth metals (important in batteries and electric motors).

    Identifying all of the technologies destined to change the world would fill the pages of many dissertations. Many of those predictions would still be wrong. But, in the days that follow, the Monitor explores five that have a fighting chance. 

    Reprinted from The Christian Science Monitor, April 12, 2011. Full article may be viewed at
  • May 07, 2010 1:08 PM | Deleted user
    Internet domain owners are no longer be shackled to Latin characters only. ICANN has entered the first domains rendered in Arabic characters into its master directory, and many more non-Latin domain names will follow. "ICANN is being true to its mission to "regulate while encouraging openness," said Claire Simmers, professor of management and international business at Saint Joseph's University.

    While globalization of the world's economy may be a done deal, global business still largely happens in English -- or at least in languages that use the same characters as the English language, such as Spanish and French. This week, however, the organization that controls the naming of Internet domains took a historic step and entered the first "internationalized domain names" (IDNs) into the Internet's master directory.

    Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are the first three countries to use Arabic characters in the last portion of their Internet domain names. That's the portion of the name to the right of the dot, or, in Arabic, which is read right to left, to the left of the dot.

    It's a "seismic shift" for the global Internet, said Rod Beckstrom, president and CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The ongoing transition to languages that use alphabets other than Latin-based ones will make the Internet "more accessible to millions around the globe," he said. 

    Making the Switch
    Before now, Internet users have had to switch to Latin characters when entering the last portion of a domain name. That can be tricky for those in countries where English is not widely or perhaps not at all familiar, Tina Dam, senior director of ICANN's IDN program, told the E-Commerce Times.

    While the three countries using Arabic characters are first through the newly established process, eight more are in the chute, said Dam. Russia has established a country domain that is ready to deploy. China has completed part of the application process. The country now is at the level of the procedure where it has made application for "delegation into the root zone," she explained.

    For those watching the increasing internationalization of e-commerce , the implications are substantial. However, commercial companies are not the ICANN's primary concern in making the switch.

    "We see the big benefit for local communications," Dam explained. If you have a website and only have Arabic content, it doesn't make sense that the address is not Arabic." 

    Whither the Dot-Com?
    Rather than serving the commercial community, ICANN's primary role is to provide support to the "Internet community" of specific countries and territories, according to the organization.

    Thus, part of the process for applying for non-Latin high-level domains is that "applicants have to demonstrate that their government is supportive," explained Dam.

    While all applicants for non-Latin country domains have been government-affiliated, in the current case of Arabic country domains, at least one applicant was a nonprofit agency, she added. These tend to be Internet service providers, rather than commercial entities.

    However, companies based in the U.S. may certainly want to apply for domains in the non-Latin naming standard, Dam acknowledged.

    "If you have a target market both within the U.S. and also in a territory where Latin characters are not used, this could be useful," she said.

    As the languages proliferate, businesses may indeed choose to purchase domains in each of the non-Latin languages available, she noted.

    However, one has to consider the content of a company's website, and its target market, to understand if that move might be useful, said Dam. Those companies who wish to market exclusively in non-Latin languages might want a non-Latin domain name. Those which have pages and pages of Web content written in English or other Latin-character-based languages probably already have visibility with a .com domain extension. 

    Striking the Right Balance
    The balance between the public good being promoted by localized content and the wider applications -- commercial, political, and otherwise -- of Internet content is a difficult one to strike, but important in terms of eliminating barriers of time and geographic space, Claire Simmers, chair and professor of management and international business at Saint Joseph's University, told the E-Commerce Times.

    "It is similar, I suppose, to the Catholic Church allowing the Mass celebration to be in the native language rather than Latin," Simmers said. "There were some who argued that this adjustment to localism was not a positive step but was fostering localism at the expense of centralism. The possibility is more silos rather than openness."

    However, the upside possibilities include the fact that increased Internet usage is a positive social good, she stressed.

    "A Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) search elicits many websites, and not just those in a specific language," noted Simmers. Thus, ICANN is being true to its mission to "regulate while encouraging openness." 

    Reprinted from E-Commerce Times, May 7, 2010 issue. To view original article, go to 
  • December 16, 2008 12:07 PM | Deleted user
    QuesTek will Design and Demonstrate a Variety of New Materials that Reduce Cost or Provide Operational or Processing Benefits

    EVANSTON, IL, Dec. 16, 2008 - QuesTek Innovations LLC was recently awarded three Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) projects to develop new metal alloys for the U.S. Army and Air Force. The awards expand QuesTek's on-going record of innovation for governmental and commercial entities. The three recent project awards are:

    1. "Design and Development of a New Titanium Alloy with Improved Near-Net-Shape Formability" awarded by the U.S. Army. QuesTek will apply its Materials by Design® technology to the design and development of a new castable titanium alloy. Microstructural concepts for the alloy design will focus on improved castability (near-net-shape formability), improved mechanical strength (including fatigue strength), and lower cost relative to the existing aerospace-grade Ti-6Al-4V alloy. QuesTek intends to complete the design and demonstrate the alloy at prototype casting scale. Titanium alloys with improved castability could see widespread adoption across a myriad of Department of Defense platforms, where the exceptional strength-to-weight and corrosion resistance properties of titanium could be combined with the reduced cost potential of near-net-shape processing.

    2. "Design of New Soft Magnetic Alloys with Improved Strength, Magnetization, and Temperature Performance" awarded by the U.S. Air Force. QuesTek will apply its Materials by Design technology to the design and development of a new high performance soft magnetic material. QuesTek will identify the critical performance criteria for a new high performance soft magnetic material, including saturation magnetization, mechanical strength, alloy cost, magnetic hysteresis losses, temperature performance, and electrical resistivity. A series of prototype alloys that explore different aspects of QuesTek's modeling- and microstructural concept-spaces will be designed, produced, and tested for mechanical and magnetic performance. The need for high performance soft magnetic alloys with improved strength, magnetization, and temperature capabilities is prevalent in numerous electrical motor and actuator applications, in aerospace and otherwise. This project also received $49,979.00 of additional matching funding by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

    3. "Main Rotor Weight Reduction and Performance Enhancement via the Use of Carburized, High-Strength, Secondary Hardening Steel" awarded by the U.S. Army. Main rotor shafts, specifically those used on the CH-47, are among the largest, heaviest, and highly loaded single components on rotorcraft. QuesTek's Materials by Design technology has been used to design Ferrium® C61, which has a high-strength/high-toughness core to allow for weight reduction or increased power density. This alloy may represent a substantial weight-savings opportunity for the main rotor shaft on the CH-47 without requiring significant changes in the production process of the component. Successful demonstration of C61 in aerospace applications will allow for advancement of a new family of carburizing high-strength steels.

    Charlie Kuehmann, President and CEO of QuesTek, commented: "We appreciate these awards from the Department of Defense to develop next-generation materials that directly address governmental needs, yet also have broad commercial and societal benefits. These new projects build on our past successes such as Ferrium S53®, our ultra-high-strength, corrosion-resistant steel for aircraft landing gear and other applications. The development of Ferrium S53 began from a program within the Department of Defense which addressed environmental issues. Ferrium S53 is now available for both commercial and governmental use from multiple U.S.-based alloy producers under our licenses."

    QuesTek Innovations LLC ( is a global leader in computational materials design. QuesTek uses its proprietary Materials by Design® expertise to quickly develop new materials that reduce capital, processing, operating or maintenance costs, or improve environmental protection or competitive supply. QuesTek has been highlighted in many leading business and technical publications, and has more than 25 patents awarded or pending worldwide. For more information, contact Rich Kooy at 1-847-425-8213 or

    Information provided by ITCC member Rich Kooy, P.E., Director of Sales and Marketing, QuesTek Innovations LLC.
  • November 11, 2008 12:02 PM | Deleted user
    Invisibility cloaks and self-healing cars - such fanciful ideas may someday be a part of everyday life, as high-tech developments and processes transform materials.

    A great deal of research has been directed toward the creation of new materials that can meet changing consumer needs. In the past, efforts for advancing the field of material technology have yielded revolutionary results, and today further progress has shown some remarkable leaps in material capabilities. From the augmentation of steel to the branching possibilities of nanotechnology, high-tech material development is poised to change the landscape of the manufacturing industry. 

    Late last year, Materials Today magazine listed its top 10 selections for advancements in the field. Three of those are included here along with several additions of our own choosing.

    Super Steel
    Certain irregularities can affect the internal magnetic properties of steel and lower its resistance to heat. Recent work conducted by the ITER fusion research project has found ways to reduce these flaws, producing new steel materials rated up to 70 percent stronger than their traditional counterparts.

    According to Daily Tech, the "super steel" is being considered as a shielding material for reactors, as its higher resistance levels may be suitable for withstanding extreme amounts of heat and radiation.

    Other proprietary forms of enhanced steel, such as those developed by MMFX Technologies, are said to be nearly twice as strong as conventional alternatives and possess roughly five times the level of corrosion resistance. These types of steel have already been used in several reinforced construction projects and, according to Structure magazine, have the potential to reduce material usage by a considerable amount.

    Ultra-Strong Paper
    While strengthened steel may be impressive, perhaps more surprising is the recent advent of tough, durable paper that can rival metal in its tensile properties. Known as "buckypaper," this new material is composed of exceptionally thin carbon molecules. When stacked and compressed, the paper composite can potentially exhibit hundreds of times the strength of steel while remaining a tenth of the weight.

    "If this thing goes into production, this very well could be a very, very game-changing or revolutionary technology to the aerospace business," a technologist for Lockheed Martin recently told the Associated Press (via

    Long-term applications for buckypaper include airplanes and cars, while short-term possibilities exist for building fuel cells, batteries, computers and television screens. As yet, larger projects are impractical because the paper is costly to produce even in small quantities and at a fraction of its theoretical strength. 

    Products that incorporate nanomaterials in one form or another include computer processors and hard drives, mobile phones, home appliances, automotive components, medical instruments and even cosmetics. The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies provides a more comprehensive list.

    Aside from its potential in construction and electronics, new applications for nanotechnology have opened avenues for the melding of biology and high-tech manufacturing. Microscopic carbon nanotubes, similar to the ones found in buckypaper, have been used to target cancer cells within the human body, reports New Scientist.

    Potential military applications might be the most "sci-fi" of nanotechnology developments. Some defense contractors are investing in nanomaterial research to develop vehicles that could theoretically "heal" themselves after being damaged. 

    "What we're looking for are smart materials that once you get a hole in one of those things, then it kind of regenerates itself," a director of advanced technology at Lockheed Martin recently told Defense News. "The same is true for putting materials and components into outer space. We really need self-healing types of applications."

    Soft Lithography
    Soft lithography is a material processing technique that allows microstructures to be produced for data systems and microelectronics without relying on the more elaborate and expensive photolithography method. By transferring molecules onto a substrate using a contact stamp, soft lithography provides a cheap and accurate alternative for printing solid materials, even on nanoscale projects.

    "Soft lithography offers an attractive route to microscale structures and systems needed for applications in biotechnology, and most of them exceed the traditional scope defined by classic photolithography," a researcher at the University of Washington told Materials Today.

    Biologists have also employed this method to take snapshots of white cell groups in order to study specific immune system functions, as well as other organic materials under microarrays, reports Science Daily.

    In the world of optics and electromagnetism, metamaterials seem to defy some of the long-held suppositions about how waves function. Constructed from artificial particles smaller than light wavelengths, metamaterials exhibit a negative refractive index that causes light to bend around an object. This could, in theory, render an object invisible.

    "You'd have to wrap whatever you wanted to cloak in the material," a researcher at UC Berkeley recently told the Toronto Star. "By sending light around the object that is cloaked, you don't see it."

    Unlike existing stealth technology, which reduces an aircraft's radar profile, metamaterial cloaking would cause waves to bypass their target entirely, making a vehicle invisible even to the human eye. Naturally, the potential military applications for this technology are vast, and the U.S. Army Research Office is providing funding for several projects on the subject.

    According to an Army spokesman quoted in the Toronto Star, the Pentagon hopes to develop a special coating that can be applied to tanks, planes, buildings and even people in order to make them invisible.

    While any major applications for such technology are still projected for years down the road, it wouldn't be far-fetched to expect metamaterials and cloaking technology to appear in our lifetime undefined though we may not see them coming.



    The Top Ten Advances in Materials Science
    by Jonathan Wood
    Materials Today, Dec. 19, 2007 

    The ITER Project

    U.S. Beats Britain to Fusion Super Steel
    by Jason Mick
    Daily Tech, Oct. 28, 2008 

    Reducing Steel, Increasing Profits
    by Sheila Bacon
    Structure Magazine, January, 2006 

    Revolutionary Paper is Stronger than Steel
    The Associated Press (via, Oct. 20, 2008

    High-Performance Materials Institute
    Florida State University

    The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies
    August, 2008

    Nanotube "Longboats" Slaughter Cancer Cells
    New Scientist, Sept. 6, 2008 

    Scientists Develop Magnetic Nanoparticle Contrast Agents for Blood Cells
    Phillips Research, Oct. 2, 2008 

    Lockheed Martin Looks to Nanotechnology
    by Antonie Boessenkool
    Defense News, Sept. 12, 2008 

    Protein-Printing Technique Gives Snapshots of Immune System Defense
    Science Daily, Nov. 3, 2008 

    Electromagnetic Metamaterials
    The Research Group of David R. Smith
    Duke University, June 10, 2006 

    Science of Invisibility's Giant Leap Forward
    by Lynda Hurst
    Toronto Star, Oct. 25, 2008 

    Reprinted from Industrial Market Trends, November 11, 2008 issue. To view article, go to 
  • September 26, 2008 1:01 PM | Deleted user
    Within a two-month period, this Chicago-area contract shop reorganized the shopfloor, implemented new procedures and eliminated employee toolboxes. Here are the benefits the shop has seen.

    The day has the same number of hours that it ever did, but Bryco Machine now does more with that time. Since this contract machine shop in Tinley Park, Illinois, committed to lean manufacturing, setups that used to take 8 hours now take 2 hours.

    The shop also has the same amount of space that it did before, but Bryco now does more with that space. A new layout, organized around a leaner workflow, freed up enough space for the shop to add four new machines. 

    This shop focuses on high-value turning work for CNC Swiss-type lathes and other turn-mill machines. Company President Bryon Bettinardi says each of these machines delivers an average of $300,000 in sales. That means that with four new machines, lean manufacturing has already let the shop generate $1.2 million in additional sales out of its existing space and location. 
    Even better, there is still space left over for even more machines, he says. The shop is more ready for additional growth than it has been in a long time.

    The Move

    Mr. Bettinardi says floorspace was the issue that drove this shop to commit to lean. The shop had grown the way almost any job shop growsundefinedby adding machines and workstations as needed, and sticking them wherever space allows. Over the years, this led to a muddled layout that wasted space and wasted employees’ time in ways that never even became fully apparent to the shop until the lean process was in place. 

    Bryco’s management was certainly aware of lean manufacturing, and always considered it a good idea, particularly as the shop began to win more of the sorts of repeat jobs that could benefit most from leaner processes. However, when the shop had more new machines on order than it could fit within the crowded facility, lean stopped being merely a good idea and became an urgent idea. Working with consultants from the Chicago Manufacturing Center, the shop quickly developed and implemented a leaner process, focusing the most immediate attention on a more efficient layout. 

    The move to this new layout happened at the end of 2007. Similar machines were moved together, related workstations were moved together, and material stocks were moved closer to the machines they fed. 

    Altogether, the move took about 3 weeks and cost $150,000. 

    “A bargain,” Mr. Bettinardi says.

    Quality And Deburring

    The savings from having a more logical layout went beyond what the company could have predicted, because it never realized the extent to which the old layout wasted effort and time.

    An example relates to quality. In the past, the deburring area was at the opposite end of the shop from the quality area. Today, the two areas are together. Deburring employees and quality employees now can see one another through a window in a shared wall.

    Does this matter? It might seem as though the move would not make all that much difference because the walk across the shop is not all that long. However, whom an employee talks to depends on where that employee is stationed. 

    At Bryco, as in other shops, deburring personnel play an important role. They make the final decisions about when a part is “done” and ready for inspection or shipping. In the past, a deburring employee who had a question over a matter like whether a part’s finish was acceptable might not have risked the walk across the shop just to verify a seemingly obvious question. But now, questions such as this can easily be answered as often and as quickly as they come up. Since the move to lean that brought these two areas together, the amount of rework in deburring has strikingly decreased.

    The Toolbox Transition

    By January, the commitment to lean manufacturing was fully implemented. It involved more than just the move. It also involved changes in the way shop personnel thought about various steps in their daily work. In fact, perhaps the most dramatic change did not involve equipment relocation at all. As part of the commitment to achieving a less wasteful process, the shop concluded that individual toolboxes had to go.

    That realization came from the shop floor as much as it came from the office. Shopfloor personnel were part of the team that analyzed the shop’s processes and implemented leaner ones. It was clear that a portion of the shop’s long setup times resulted from employees sifting through their own personal toolboxes in search of the tools they needed. Having a separate toolbox for every employee also multiplied the shop’s inventory costs because of all of the “invisible” inventory hidden in every individual box. Therefore, 30 toolboxes have been replaced by eight standardized setup carts. 

    The eight carts belong to the shop instead of to any employee. Two versions of the carts correspond to the Swiss-type side of the shop and the turn-mill side of the shop. Employees carefully designed these carts, equipping them with standardized sets of all of the tools they determined to be essential, and using foam pockets in the drawers to establish a standard place for every tool. These standardized cart designs were one of the most important engineering achievements on the shop’s journey to lean.

    Not everyone was immediately convinced. The toolbox isundefinedof courseundefineda personal part of a machinist’s life. Family photos get affixed to a toolbox. Not only that, the machinist who knows where to find everything in his own toolbox can be justifiably concerned whether the move to a smaller number of generic carts really will allow him to get what he needs just as confidently as he can obtain it today.

    Dennis Gilhooley Jr. is Bryco’s vice president. He says he handled machinists’ concerns in this way: Anyone who wanted to keep his toolbox was free to do so. The condition was that the toolbox reside in his office. Mr. Gilhooley wanted to know if a machinist had to go to his toolbox for some tool that could not otherwise be obtained, so that this tool could be added to the standard carts. 

    Within a few weeks, he says, his office was free of any toolboxes. Eight was enoughundefinedthese setup carts did make tooling accessible enough that operators had the tools they needed.
    Still, every process improvement also reveals the way that improvement should have been done. In retrospect, Bryco discovered that the setup carts should have been color-coded. In the future, they probably will be. Time is still sometimes lost on the confusion about which tool goes to which cart, and coloring each tool to match a specific, individual cart would easily solve this problem.

    Family Business

    Not all of the shop’s setup time delays came from the toolboxes, however. Even more of the setup delay had to do with extreme setup changeovers. This was particularly true on the turn-mill machines. 

    On the shop’s Swiss-type machines (from Marubeni Citizen-Cincom), the impact of setup is not so great. These machines run larger batches, and tooling needs are generally similar from job to job. 

    However, the turn-mill machines (from Eurotech) can accommodate a much larger variety of workpieces. Here, switching from one part number to another can involve time-consuming changes to both the cutters and the workholding.

    That is why Bryco’s leaner process now assigns part families to these particular machines. Within the same part family, the shop can switch from one part number to another without changing so much of the work zone.

    Bryco identified 13 distinct part families among its recurring turn-mill parts. Mr. Gilhooley says the most efficient solution would have been to give each part family its own machineundefinedif only the shop had 13 of these machines. Instead, the shop has eight, and at least one of these has to be kept free for short-run, unexpected jobs. Therefore, most of the machines were assigned multiple part families. Machine number six, for example, is now dedicated to part families “6A” and “6B”undefinedtwo unrelated and dissimilar groups of parts.

    Therefore, the reduction in setup time is not altogether complete. It can still be necessary to completely changeover a machine for a different part family, by means of a setup that looks much more like the 8-hour setups of before (though not quite that long now) rather than the 2-hour setups the shop has now achieved.

    However, those long setups are no longer commonplace, and that is key. Most setups now involve only minor adjustments to shift from one part to a related part, and the shop can schedule jobs so that work remains “in the family” in this way for as long as possible. Long setups may not have been eliminated, but the more organized process dramatically reduces how many long setups the shop has to bear.

    Dedicating parts to machines brings another benefit, tooundefinedit makes the process easy to improve, so that further gains from lean continue to be realized. When sources of variation have been eliminated, the variables that do remain become much easier to optimize.

    An example relates to the cost of cutting tools. On one part family in particular, cutting tool price increases began to affect the economics of the part, and the shop did not want to have to pass along the increase. The shop therefore began to experiment with how to control the tooling cost. Having a single, fixed machine running a single, fixed process provided an excellent test bed for experimentationundefinedsomething the shop rarely had before. The shop was free to play with the relatively few variables that still remained, adjusting the speed, feed rate, depth of cut, tool entry and clamping. None of these changes significantly improved the cost of the part. However, changing the brand of coolant finally did it. 

    This was a surprise. The shop thought it had long since found and decided on a high-quality coolant. However, for this particular job, changing the coolant brand increased tool life by more than 80 percent.

    “It was the last thing we tried,” Mr. Gilhooley says. Without lean manufacturing, they never would have tried it.

    That is, without lean, they would never have gotten to the point where they had eliminated everything but the coolant. There would always have been too much else going on, too much “noise” in the process, too many ongoing variations. Lean manufacturing is, in a sense, controlled manufacturing. Lean eliminates waste by removing the sources of variation from areas of the process where unpredictability results in inventory cost, lost time or other sources of expense. Lean is about systematic control. And Bryco discovered that once a large part of its process has been bought under control, bringing that same control to other parts of the process became that much easier to do.

    Reprinted from Modern Machine Shop article "Bryco Before and After" by Peter Zelinski, Senior Editor, September 26, 2008 issue. To view article, go to 

    See a narrated video tour at

    Bryco focuses on high-value turning work for CNC Swiss-type lathes and other turn-mill machines.
  • March 22, 2008 1:01 PM | Deleted user
    HSINCHU, Taiwan undefined Mike Liang earns the equivalent of $37,500 a year, owns a four-bedroom apartment and can afford to send his two daughters to English tutorial schools.

    Like other employees at the Hsinchu Science Park, Mr. Liang, a marketing manager for a semiconductor company, is the envy of many on this island, where average annual salaries stagnate at around $17,000 and high property prices keep many married couples living with their parents.

    But what is on Mr. Liang’s mind and that of many others in Taiwan’s high-technology industry is how it can maintain success amid growing competition from neighbors, including China and South Korea, and global price declines in products like laptop computers. The slower growth rate in sales of some high-tech goods and the economic downturn in the United States are also worries.

    Many industry workers and analysts say the greatest economic challenge for Taiwan and its 23 million people is overcoming its reliance on manufacturing for other brands and focusing on innovation and building its own brands.

    “We have to transform ourselves,” Mr. Liang said during a lunch break. “Otherwise, our costs will keep going up and companies will move to China and Vietnam.”

    High-tech products accounted for 70 percent of the island’s 2007 exports. Taiwan is the world’s largest supplier of notebook PCs, and liquid-crystal-display panels for flat-screen televisions, according to the government.

    Two of the world’s biggest contract microchip makers are based in Taiwan undefined Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and the United Microelectronics Corporation undefined and their foundries, the world’s two biggest, are based in the science park, one of three on the island.

    The Hsinchu Science Park was opened in December 1980, Southern Taiwan Science Park in 1996 and the Central Taiwan Science Park in 2003. The Hsinchu Science Park is home to 440 companies and is where most of Taiwan’s top high-tech manufacturers are based.

    But profit margins for many of the companies in the park have been narrowing. Some have moved production to China, while others are considering relocation to Vietnam for lower costs on labor and production.

    “Back in 1999 and 2000, these companies enjoyed quite healthy profit margins,” said Ming-Kai Cheng, regional head of technology research for CLSA, a leading Asia research, brokerage and investment group. “Now the number of companies in profit stage has dropped.”

    Revenue growth at Taiwan semiconductor companies, for example, has fallen to single digits from double digits. A main reason is what Mr. Cheng calls the “me, too” mentality, or too many Taiwan companies doing the same thing.

    “A lot of companies think if you’re going to make something profitable, I’m going to make the same thing slightly less profitable,” Mr. Cheng said.

    About 50 percent of the companies in the Hsinchu Science Park carry out semiconductor manufacturing, design or related work, with revenue from the sector comprising 71 percent of the park’s total revenue.

    Taiwan companies are also largely focused on making products for global brands like Dell, Apple and Intel, instead of coming up with their own brands, and they focus on hardware manufacturing, where only a small percentage of the price the consumer pays for a product is earned.

    As little as 5 percent of the consumer price for a product like a laptop can be earned by the Taiwan companies that assemble them, while a higher percentage undefined about 20 percent undefined is earned by contract manufacturers, also known as original equipment manufacturers, or O.E.M.’s undefined which make chips or other parts for the brand holders, according to industry estimates.

    With their own brands, the companies could earn as much as 30 percent of the consumer value of a product, analysts estimate.

    Transformations are nothing new for an island that has evolved from an agriculture- and textile-dominated society after World War II to a factory for light industrial and labor intensive products like sneakers in the 1960s and 1970s to an electronics production base in the 1990s and now to a high-tech center.

    Huang Der-Ray, director general of the Hsinchu Science Park Administration, said companies in the park had increased spending on research and development from 4 percent of total revenue in previous years to 7 percent in the last three years.

    Companies have also begun to focus on innovation and building their own brands. Mediatek, a chip design company that initially focused on optical storage drivers’ chips, has ventured into other areas, including designing chips for wireless communications and high-definition digital televisions. The company is one of the most profitable in the science park and is considered a pioneer in its designs.

    Several companies have focused on research into new technologies, including solar energy, Mr. Huang said. One, Gintech Energy, has been successful in designing solar panels, which it sells to power companies around the world.

    More companies are also moving toward design instead of just manufacturing. A decade ago, only about 20 or 30 companies in the Hsinchu Science Park were chip design companies, with most being contract manufacturers. Now, there are 80 companies whose focus is design, Mr. Huang said.

    Analysts said a challenge that Taiwan companies faced in developing a global brand was overcoming the label-consciousness of consumers, who prefer internationally recognized brands rather than domestically designed products. Other than Acer and ASUS, which are Taiwan laptop brands, few of the island’s high-tech products are known around the world, unlike the situation in South Korea.

    Workers like Mr. Liang, while worried, say they think that Taiwan can again find a way to engineer am economic miracle.

    “I’m optimistic,” he said, while adding that “to compete, Taiwan has to invest a lot of money.

    “Some of it has to come from the government. That’s the only way to compete with the big companies overseas.”
    Reprinted from The New York Times, March 22, 2008 issue. To view article, go to  
  • March 19, 2008 1:00 PM | Deleted user
    While biomaterials are nothing new, a new wave of developments is progressing rapidly and very well could change the face of engineering and manufacturing as we know it.

    The convergence of biotechnology, nanotechnology and IT is fueling scientists' and engineers’ research budgets and imaginations.

    “In countries with blossoming economies, such as China, South Korea, India and Singapore, governments have identified biotechnology [...] as a way to expand beyond basic manufacturing,” explained a recent editorial at The San Diego Union-Tribune. “They are spending billions to underwrite companies, build high-tech parks and help startup businesses cut through red tape.”

    The Bureau of Economic Analysis and National Science Foundation (BEA-NSF) Research and Development (R&D) Satellite Account, which provides detailed statistics designed to facilitate research into the effects of R&D on the United States economy, determined that biotech-related R&D sources of business contributed to 27 percent of real GDP growth from 1996 to 2004.

    The investment in, and use of biotechnology undefined including biomaterials undefined are not new, of course. Engineers in the 20th century customized and enhanced properties, creating higher quality, lighter, stronger and more adaptable materials for thousands of applications, including aircraft, medical devices and computers.

    But developments in the material science are pushing engineering and manufacturing in new directions. The new wave of industrial biotechnology has already penetrated a slew of industries undefined including chemicals, automobiles, plastics, consumer goods, textiles, paper and pharmaceuticals undefined and altering all stages of production, from inputs to processed goods.

    What exactly are biomaterials? Basically (very basically), a biomaterial is any material undefined natural or man-made undefined that comprises whole or part of a living structure or biomedical device that performs, augments or replaces a natural function.

    Biomaterials have primarily focused on medical applications, such as heart valves. Or a biomaterial may be “bioactive,” used for a more interactive purpose such as hydroxy-apatite coated hip implants. A biomaterial may also be an autograft, allograft or xenograft used as a transplant material. As with artificial organs, replacement joints and imaging technologies, the mass production of biomaterials can be credited with improving the quality of life of millions.

    So even if the development of biomaterials remains at status quo, the world would be a better place with than without, as the material is so frequently used to help people live longer, healthier lives.

    But organizations, such as Canada’s National Research Council’s Industrial Materials Institute (NRC-IMI), aren’t ready to rest on their biomaterial laurels just yet.

    For instance, not long ago the R&D center developed a manufacturing process to develop metallic foams. The unique, open-cell structure of the metallic foams “makes them attractive for the fabrication of biomedical implants as they are characterized by structures and properties matching those of bones.” As the NRC-IMI puts it:

    Their unique structure, corrosion resistance, biocompatibility and mechanical properties make these materials attractive for tissue attachment. The targeted applications are porous implants and attachments systems for orthopaedic and dental applications.

    Here’s what makes the recipe so special:

    ... corrosion potentials of [the organization’s proprietary, titanium (Ti) foams] are superior to those of solid Ti in a SBF solution at 37°C. The presence of a thin oxide layer on the surface of pores, formed during the fabrication process, is responsible for this passive behavior of the materials.

    While NRC-IMI and others like it are exploring the advancement of what are known to be traditional uses of biomaterials, a recent special report from BusinessWeek, entitled A Cell Phone Made of...Tapioca? sheds light on more practical, everyday uses for biomaterials to build next-gen consumer electronics.

    For example:

    Viruses, silkworms, salmon sperm, and potatoes are among the multitude of living organisms that scientists at companies and universities are trying to harness to make better parts for computers, MP3 players, cell phones, and other devices.

    Biotechnology is now being used not only for making devices, but also to create better, sleeker designs for a myriad of products.

    Case in point: a battery being developed by an MIT researcher built with viruses that are nontoxic to humans. The viruses help molecules of gold and other chemicals bind together, catalyzing energy-producing reactions more efficiently than today’s batteries. The result: A virus-based battery could be 75 percent smaller.

    Here are some other examples of exciting biomaterials developments:

    • IBM researchers are using bacterial DNA to create superdense memory chips that would allow cell phones to store a terabyte of data, or about 1,000 digital copies of Encyclopedia Britannica.

    • Andrew Steckl, director of NanoLab at the University of Cincinnati, has used the genetic material from salmon sperm to make light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that last three to five times longer.

    Companies such as Nokia, Motorola, Fujitsu, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard and dozens of startups are pursuing this path. Three biotech companies ranked among the top 15 in Forbes’ special report America's 25 Fastest-Growing Tech Companies in January 2008.

    While it stands to reason that many of these innovative ideas will never see the light of day, there are many that will, which can only mean it will change the face of engineering and manufacturing as we know it.

    This, in turn, will create new and exciting job opportunities.

    A 2004 BLS study revealed biomedical engineers will see employment growth that far surpasses all occupations through 2014. Biotech offers a variety of job opportunities in many fields undefined from working in labs and going to chemical plants and agricultural fields, to those in energy, environmental management and health care. Biotech industrial jobs on the horizon include process development associates, who improve manufacturing processes and product yield, and reduce costs in fermentation and purification, and research new ways to enhance production.

    Biomaterials can be “the silicon of the future,” according to Rajesh Naik, biotechnology research lead at Air Force Research Laboratory, who is developing a thin coating made with silkworm silk.

    David R. Butcher contributed to this post.


    A Cell Phone Made of...Tapioca?
    by Olga Kharif
    BusinessWeek, March 17, 2008 

    Finding Greener Pastures at Home, Asian Scientists Leaving America
    by Terri Somers
    The San Diego Union-Tribune, Dec. 16, 2007 

    Research and Development Satellite Account
    U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Sept. 28, 2007 

    Innovation in Biomaterials: Titanium Foams for Tissue Attachment

    America's 25 Fastest-Growing Tech Companies
    by John J. Ray and Paul M. Murdock
    Forbes, Jan. 24, 2008 

    Reprinted from Industrial Market Trends, March 19, 2008 issue. To view article, go to 
  • March 06, 2008 11:35 AM | Deleted user
    Replacing less efficient tools with more efficient tools has proven a boon to American manufacturers for more than a century. Yet when it comes to replacing slow telecommunications with faster data-transfer infrastructure, the U.S. still lags.

    Japan recently launched the “Kizuna,” an experimental communications satellite that enables urban and remote areas in the Asia-Pacific region to access super-high-speed internet service. The $342 million satellite, also known as Wideband InterNetworking engineering test and Demonstration Satellite (WINDS), is not yet intended for commercial use, but if all goes well, it will enable data transmissions of “up to 1.2 gigabytes per second” at a low cost across Japan and 19 other locales in Southeast Asia.

    Currently, little is known regarding when it will exit testing and actually be put to good use.

    When comparing United States broadband with Japan’s, Americans don’t get much infrastructure support. As of October 2006, the Japanese could already obtain broadband connections with 8.5 times the speed but at one-twelfth the cost,” according to the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

    Greater broadband represents one more way that businesses can help their employees do more in less time. How much does this matter?

    Well, U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin recognizes that broadband technology is a key driver of economic growth. The ability to share massive amounts of information at ever-greater speeds increases productivity, promotes commerce and drives innovation. For example, workers need telecommunication tools that permit fast large-file transfers.

    For manufacturers who must constantly focus on improving older products and creating new ones, design teams can only work efficiently through collaboration and teamwork. Files with 3-D designs reach 10 to 20 megabytes, requiring long upload and download times.

    “We have fallen to 16th among major industrialized nations in terms of broadband adoption even though we were the home of the computer and Internet,” the CWA pointed out. The best American engineers can get is 15 megabits per second for downloads and 1.5 megabits per second for uploading. In contrast, Japanese engineers have access to Internet speeds up to 1.2 gigabits per second.

    While the benefits of high-speed broadband are clear for collaborating design engineers, it can also speed supply chain management communication. Managers who occasionally must transfer huge amounts of data to inform their partners of specification changes, production rates, customer buying trends and more would benefit from faster transfers.

    Moreover, broadband allows streaming audio-visual material and real-time two-way conversations between trainers and trainees, notes the CWA. This is proven technology for in-use applications, as the CWA/Nett Academy already provides online training and certification (such as the only online Cisco certification and training program in combination with hands-on activities directed by trained proctors).

    In 2004, President Bush pledged that all Americans should have affordable access to high-speed Internet service by 2007. A recent government report, entitled Networked Nation: Broadband in America, provides an upbeat assessment of the administration’s efforts to spur growth and competition in the high-speed Internet market. The report, prepared by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, concludes that “a reasonable assessment of the available data indicates” that the objective of affordable access to broadband for all has been realized “to a very great degree,” as The Associated Press points out.

    Critics, however, say the report’s conclusion is too rosy.

    Part of the problem stems from defining broadband. “The FCC defined it as 200 kilobits per second,” notes AP.

    “The notion that a 200-kpbs connection is broadband is itself ludicrous,” Derek Turner, research director for Free Press, a nonprofit public-interest group that studies media and technology issues, told AP. The CWA suggests that government set “high speed” at 2 mbps downstream and 1 mbps upstream.

    Probably the greatest detriment to greater investments in more broadband is that Americans don’t viscerally understand the math. When you multiply all the extra minutes required for upload and download times all the engineers, scientists, managers, trainers and shop-floor workers, the product gets significant.

    To raise data-transfer speed, the CWA suggests a private-public partnership to promote deployment and demand in communities. The union also calls for stimulating investment through tax incentives, universal-service-fund reform, grants to emergency responders for high-speed broadband and leveraging public monies.


    Super-speed Internet Satellite Blasts Off in Japan
    CNN/Associated Press, Feb. 23, 3008 

    Japan Launches Kizuna Satellite, Hopes It Will Deliver High-Speed Internet
    by Darren Murph
    Engadget, Feb. 23, 2008 

    Speed Matters: Affordable High Speed Internet for All
    Communication Workers of America, October 2006 

    Strategic Goals: Broadband
    Federal Communications Commission

    Networked Nation: Broadband in America
    National Telecommunications and Information Administration (U.S. Commerce Dept.), January 2008 

    U.S. Close to Bush’s Goal of Affordable Access to High-Speed Internet Service, Report Says
    by John Dunbar
    The Associated Press (via, Jan. 30, 2008 

    High Speed Internet Access Overview
    Web Exordium LLC 

    Internet Tax
    National Association of Manufacturers 

    Reprinted from Industrial Market Trends, March 6, 2008 issue. To view article, go to 
  • March 03, 2008 11:34 AM | Deleted user
    HANOVER, Germany - Amid the sharp displays and booths offering up the latest gadgets and gizmos at the annual CeBIT trade and technology fair, the key undercurrent is the greening of the industry.

    The agenda for the international industry gathering March 4-9 has given a nod to concerns about climate debate worldwide. Many of the 5,845 exhibitors from 77 countries are touting developments such as servers that use less electricity, and data centers that don't emit any carbon dioxide.

    Bernd Bischoff, chief executive of the German-Japanese Fujitsu Siemens, said his company is repositioning itself as the "first IT manufacturing who is going to switch completely to energy-efficient products at affordable prices." He said the company aims to find "the balance" between the needs of its customers, primarily data-hungry businesses, without putting the environment at risk.

    While a technology trade fair is more likely to draw references to the latest cell phones, slim laptops or giant flat-screen televisions, focusing on green concerns at the event helps to set the tone for the industry worldwide, said Achim Berg, the general manager of Microsoft Germany.

    "This is by far the biggest trade fair in the world," he said.

    Sebastian Krause, vice president of IBM's Software Group in Germany said because of CeBIT's reach, the ideas presented there are absorbed and taken back to countries elsewhere.

    "This is the place where the agenda of the IT sector is defined," he said.

    In order to bring the spotlight more on the concept of Green IT, the fair is working with the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a group founded in 2007 with the participation of Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., Intel Corp., IBM Corp. and others.

    Its objectives are to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases caused by the use of computers by 54 million tons annually. Cisco Systems Inc. manager Jan Roschek estimates that the IT sector is responsible for about 2 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions.

    Striving for more efficient energy use, the IT industry is also examining how it can cut costs, too. If the far-reaching objectives were realized, some $5.5 billion in electricity costs could be saved, the CSCI has said.

    CeBIT itself is also underlining the need for more green, showcasing its own exhibition space with a demonstration office to see how greener solutions can be used day to day in the workplace.

    "It is also a matter of pointing out to every single person how he or she can make his or her own contribution to climate protection and cost cutting", CeBIT director Sven-Michael Prueser said.

    Using the hardware of chip maker Intel, Sun Microsystems Inc. is erecting a data center on grounds of the fair. The electricity needed to power it will be gathered by solar cells.

    "Sure, Green IT is hype, but it's also an issue that will keep us busy for a long time," said Thomas Tauer, director of IBM Germany's site and facilities service.
    Reprinted from the Chicago Tribune, March 3, 2008 issue. To view article, go to,0,5759457.story 
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