Game-Changing Manufacturing Innovations
Mar 11, 2010
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The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), noting recent reports of a clear manufacturing rebound, released is annual “Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture” list.

SME says the innovations could help manufacturers save 80% of the cost of RFID tags, reduce the costs of producing nano fibers, or even change the way electronics are designed.

The SME Innovation Watch Committee compiled the list. Committee members serve as “innovation researchers” who seek and publish information about technology.

“Our Committee’s goal was to scan the vast technology landscape for cutting-edge innovations and to investigate ways they can be utilized,” said committee member Christopher Kaye, director of innovative technology, US Endoscopy.

The innovations include:

Printed RFID tags. While current RFID tags can average 15 cents each, new printed RFID tags give manufacturers the potential to cut these costs down 80% and track products for about one to three cents a tag.

“These new printable tags are thin and flexible enough to fit on a pack of chewing gum,” says committee member Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates, an independent consulting firm in rapid product development and additive manufacturing.

“This could open the door to greater consumer usage. Mobile phones with built-in RFID scanners, for example, could make it possible to pay for items without waiting in line,” he says.

Nanoporous Silicon Electrodes. Demand for electric cars is growing but current lithium-ion batteries only provide a 30-minute charge. Nanoporous silicon electrodes may enable batteries to store ten times more charge. Companies like LG Chem, 3M, and Sanyo are testing the technology now. The electrodes, when matched to the right cathodes with comparable storage capacity, could help a car run 3-4 hours.

Nanoporous silicon electrodes also show promise for portable devices.

Silicon Carbide (SiC). With the ability to withstand extreme temperatures, SiC electronics are being used now to power hybrid vehicles and wind turbines, which rely on high power performance. SiCs have the potential to operate at up to 600°C.

"This new temperature capability will allow for products and design that weren’t possible before," said Wohlers.

Nanotube Inks. New nanotube inks can turn recycled copier paper into a high-energy electrode, which can be used as economical energy storage devices. These high-energy electrodes are strong, flexible and highly conductive and might be used to power portable electronics.

Affordable Nano Fibers. Nano fibers are becoming less expensive to make. They're currently used to strengthen materials in applications such as bikes, golf clubs, tennis rackets, and drug delivery systems, nano fibers were at one time very expensive to make.

"New centrifugal force spinning machines (Forcespinning) have made mass production possible, and therefore, more cost-effective than current processes,” said Wohlers.

Self-Healing Polymers. “Smart materials” made with self-healing agents available for elastomers, thermosets, and powder coatings can be used to treat metal exposed to harsh environments. For the oil and gas industry, for example, these polymers could reduce costly repairs to oil rigs and pipelines.

Phase Changing Polymers. “Smart materials” also include phase-changing polymers. PCMs are already used by BMW to store excess heat when a motor runs at operating temperature. This heat is then available at the next cold start to heat up the motor quickly and contribute to better gas mileage.

“PCM’s are also being used in construction materials to help keep homes in extreme climates more temperate,” explained Rod Jones, Innovation Watch Committee member and chief learning officer at Mori Seiki Chicago Technical Center.

Bio-Based Products & Materials. Mother Nature is inspiring manufacturing with bio-based products and materials. In automotive manufacturing, examples include soy-foam seats, which have already gone into a million Ford Mustangs.

“Bio-based products are also being used in adhesives, engine oil and carpet,” says Jones.

Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture will be a central focus of the Bridging the Gaps: SME Annual Conference scheduled for June 6-8, 2010 at the Sheraton Music City Hotel in Nashville, TN.

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