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Industrial Equipment Noise

Tech Wake-Up: Monday, May 7, 2012 Edition

By Mark Devlin

May 7, 2012

3D Printing on the Cheap

It seems that some folks thought that the inexpensive, $1,749 MakerBot 3D printer cost just too much money. (I can’t help but think of this Rent is Too Damn High vid with a smirk and a chuckle. Great stuff, but not appropriate for IEN blog embedding. Yes, it’s Safe for Work.)

Well, MakerBot’s former COO, now with his own company, has announced an even less expensive 3D printing alternative: the Solidoodle…

Based on Fused Filament Fabrication (Thermmoplastic Extrusion) technology, the 2nd-gen unit has a 6 x 6 x 6 in. work area, has cracked the $500 barrier at $499, and ‘comes fully assembled with everything you need to get started—all you need to supply is a computer and power.’

Here’s more from the Solidoodle site…

The Solidoodle 2nd Generation 3D Printer is designed by aerospace engineers to be extremely strong and precise at the same time. The all-steel frame is so strong, in fact, that a 200lb man can literally stand on top of the machine while it's printing. The Solidoodle's moving parts are designed so that they will move smoothly and never bind.

There’s also a Pro model ($549) with heated, 1/8-in. aluminum build platform, upgraded power supply, filament spool holder for unattended printing, and interior lighting. An Expert model ($599) builds on the Pro with the addition of an outer printer cover and acrylic front door.

As is the case with most 3D printers, Solidoodle accepts STL files.

Typical layer height is .3 mm, though the unit will handle .1 mm; estimated horizontal plane resolution is .1 mm.

Several sites have mentioned that Solidoodle’s available now, and the maker’s site shows units in stock. Sweet.

Are you going to get in line?


iPavement: Connected World at Your Feet?

With the ‘goal of connecting with locals and passersby to push information ranging from local weather conditions and emergency alerts to maps and coupons for nearby businesses,’ according to this brief at CNet, iPavement builds Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology right into paving tiles. Running their own OS and apps, iPavement building blocks are expected to be announced by Via Inteligente at November at Dubai’s International Building and Construction Show. Madrid is currently testing the system.


I’m not going crazy with this one because, frankly, I don’t get iPavement’s benefits when the same things seem to be possible with just a Wi-Fi signal, location services, and existing apps.

Just trying to keep you informed…


Along Came a Spider—with Incredible Engineering Prowess

I’ve always held intense fascination for spiders—collectively, one of nature’s most adept and artful architects and engineers.

Humans have so far been unable to reproduce their most amazing feat of a substance: spider silk which, depending upon the source, is as strong as steel, stronger than steel, or even stronger than Kevlar. Compared to the weight of a spider silk thread, it’s definitely stronger than steel. Kevlar is three times harder to break than spider silk, but the latter is five time more elastic. Here’s a little more spider silk tech from this worthwhile source

The proteins have a molecular weight of 30,000 daltons (the units that the weights of atoms and molecules are measured in). However when the silk is released from the spiders spinnerets it instantly solidifies and changes into a much larger molecule with a weight of between 200,000 and 300,000 daltons. Quite how this happens is not yet understood.

There’s a new effort underway—at high scientific levels, namely the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory—to expand our understanding.

According to this really interesting article at Phys.Org, its strength comes from crystalline lattices making up 10% of the webbing, while ‘amorphous’ regions responsible for its elasticity comprise the remaining 90%...

Argonne X-ray scientist Chris Benmore developed an experiment to probe the nano-crystalline structure of dragline spider silk. According to Benmore, previous studies of spider silk focused on the crystalline regions because their structures were easier to image. “In this study, we focused on getting a good view of the amorphous areas, which is something you really need a machine like the APS for,” Benmore explained.

Goal of the research? To, of course, produce artificial spider silk. Now that’s something that’ll forever change design and engineering.

Spiders—with Lasers on their Heads

Okay, there are no spiders involved with this one, but there is a high-power, real-life laser.

Lasers have been around for a long time, and they’re part of several everyday devices that we all use. Even in industrial equipment, lasers have become precision soldiers in our battles for cleanly-cut parts from high-end machine tools. Even from the military, though, nothing so far has come close to that which has for decades been presented in science fiction. We’re moving forward, though.

A new laser bad boy from good ol’ Northrup Grumman—called the FIRESTRIKE (based on the previous generation Gamma system)—operated at 13.3 kilowatts ‘for a number shots over a total of 1.5 hours with stable performance and a beam quality that exceeded design goals, completing the initial phase of trials,’ according to this piece at Phys.Org.

"The Gamma demonstrator is built in a form factor that implements the size and weight reduction goals of the FIRESTRIKE design, which cuts the weight of the finished laser chain to 500 pounds and shrinks the volume to 23 inches by 40 inches by 12 inches, or about the size of two countertop microwave ovens," said Dan Wildt, vice president, directed energy systems, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.

So, what’s it capable of doing?


That’s the outer cover of a ‘representative cruise missile threat,’ considerable damage courtesy of Gamma laser.

I know, I know. We’re not talking Death Star, but we’re just a little bit closer.

Plus, just imagine what such a laser system in a relatively svelte (in an industrial context) 500-lb package (that’s about the size of two countertop microwave ovens) could do in a manufacturing environment.

Cool stuff.


Finally: An EV Charging Standard

This one’s too important to save for the next Energy Tech Roundup, so here goes…

Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Porsche and Volkswagen have agreed to support a harmonized single-port fast charging approach – called DC Fast Charging with a Combined Charging System – for use on electric vehicles in Europe and the United States.

We’re talking 20-minute EV charge while on the road (maybe by 2017), with other, day-to-day capabilities built into the same design…


The first cars employing the new setup won’t be in dealers ‘til next year, according to this brief at Engadget but, like the long and winding road from Gamma to Death Star, at least it’s a start. In the EV world where very little has so far been standardized, it’s a critical step. (Hubbell, Leviton, et al—crank up your stuff. This’ll be fun.)

Two additional thoughts come to mind. All of those manufacturers agreed on something? That’s seriously impressive. But, there’s not a single Japanese or Korean carmaker on the list? That’s troubling.

Now, can someone help me out with my single-hookup idea for water, power, and cable TV to RVs? I know, it’s generally to get hands together with water and electricity, but it’s got to be possible to do it safely, no? Existing hookups are a mess.

I have to go visit Kickstarter now…

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