Friday, January 16, 2015

Grow Your Garden First: The Lesson From Xiaomi's Investment In Misfit

The world may not be coming up with the innovation compared to the US, but it is doing a better job of using it.







Xiaomi, the China-based electronics company that also happens to be the 3rd largest distributor of smartphones in the world, has become the latest international giant to reap the benefits of American ingenuity with a contribution to an overall $40 million investment in California tech firm Misfit Wearables.  The firm's very first product- Shine- is apparently a major hit with Mainland Chinese users and the country accounts for a third of Misfit's sales.  It's a figure growing so exponentially fast the company of 130 people is looking into major moves to keep up production.

While wearable technology like Misfit's Shine is not exactly high in demand throughout the United States, much of that is due to lack of awareness of what wearables actually do, rather than customer distaste.  Shine measures a variety of fitness and movement activities to track the users physical well-being (increasingly coming into the American consumer's mindset these days).  In addition, the coin-thick wristlet can track how effective sleeping patterns are as well.

It's not a product with video games, text apps, or entertainment technology, and so it's easy to see how such a practical-minded tool could be ho-hummed by investors in the US.  Hong-Kong-based Horizons Venture, however, saw the potential of this kind of product in the Asian market, and was the first to jump in with a $15 million infusion roundup back in 2012. Now, Xiaomi's plunge on top of that is a clear signal of wearables' momentum with Asian consumers.

Which begs an important question: how out of touch with the Asian customer landscape are US venture firms that none of them have put this type of large chunk into Misfit's operations.  While it's exciting to see a California company get this kind of opportunity to grow and invest into its surrounding business community, it's equally as disheartening to know the start-up's potential was overlooked right here at home. There's nothing wrong with international shareholders bridging the gap across the Pacific, but more American involvement in risky investment would translate to more direct benefits to the nation's job, manufacturing, and construction infrastructure. 

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company (www.rotorclip.com).

Monday, January 5, 2015

A New Target For Tech & Investment: Farming

With the world's population expected in reaching 10 billion by the year 2050, the need for a comprehensive reformation of how we feed people is clear and apparent.  In many studies, global agricultural production would have to increase by a minimum of 70 percent in order to keep up with human growth. And that figure does not take into account the environmental degradation of climate change and water shortages happening on record levels.

As a result, the farming industry has no choice but to improve in efficiency.  The good news is that venture capitalists seem to be collectively understanding this, and are taking action.

New investment in farming has skyrocketed this past year, upwards of $153 million.  While this capital has gone into all sorts of sectors, new technology is clearly drawing attention.  It's not only investors who see the application potential of tech such as drones and automation in agriculture; new forms of tools and robotics was a chief consensus for the next generation of farmers at the recent Young Farmers Conference of Stone Barns Center, NY.  Farmers' Edge Laboratories is one start-up that's gaining traction, specifically around applying drones to the world of farming.  While there are opportunities for drones to take part in actual farming methods, Farmers' Edge is focusing on their potential for gathering sophisticated data, a crucial asset for the farming community moving forward.

In fact, data and information is being valued more than ever by farmers around the world.  One web developer has created Farmhack, an open community site for farmers to trade valuable knowledge about new methods, products, and techniques.  Stone Farms' "Virtual Grange" is a similar type of online portal, and while this kind of sharing is nothing new in the ag world, its expansion online is showing how the internet's unique ability to merge knowledge spheres with focused funding can be the key to improving farming, quite literally improving the future for us all.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company (www.rotorclip.com).

Friday, December 19, 2014

Portable Solar Battery Charges Your iPad, iPhone, Maybe One Day Your Whole Life

Most experts in the field will say the issues holding the solar industry back aren't necessarily about the technology, but more about the lack of national infrastructure.  And while vehicles like hybrids and EV's are enjoying a slowly expanding market, without the kind of fuel availability enjoyed by the oil and gas industry, the solar alternative will always be relegated to just that: an alternative.

Laying down the groundwork for a nation-wide solar energy grid of charging infrastructure is going to take awhile, as well as legislative efforts and private investment risk-taking.  In the meantime, however, investors may want to look at products in the field that don't necessarily need a grid to create sustained solar energy.  One such product? The SunJack (From Gear Review):

"Both the 14-Watt solar panel and the 20-Watt solar panel have dual 5V/2A output USB charging ports. That’s more than enough power to charge two iPhones, two iPads, or one of each (if you have direct, bright sunlight that is). Luckily, SunJack happens to also include one high capacity 8,000mAh lithium-polymer battery with the 14-Watt panel."

Portable solar cells are nothing new, but portable solar cells that are versatile with enough capacity to power the notorious energy-eating Apple devices?  That's a step forward.

SunJack's kickstarter campaign was a resounding success, signaling how much interest is out there to escape the traditional restrictions of energy consumption.  Or maybe, people just don't like wall outlets; either way, if there's any product with the potential to quickly generate momentum in the consumer market, this could be it.  Mobility has always been valued by Americans, and SunJack fits right in with that narrative.

And just think what more refined versions in the future could do?  What if the SunJack 2.0 could power a whole laptop?  The next version, a travel heater?  Or a motorcycle?  The prospects of independence from the grid may not be at the forefront of the American consumer's mind, but the SunJack could change that quickly, and permanently.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company (www.rotorclip.com).




Friday, December 12, 2014

Maryland Invests In The Future of Manufacturing

By 2011, Baltimore's once vibrant manufacturing port was reduced to five percent of its peak level in 1950.  All hope of a vibrant factory community seemed lost.

Nowadays, that diagnosis seems a bit premature.

Perhaps more than any other state, Maryland has been the most pro-active when it comes to long-term manufacturing investment.  Two developments are at the forefront of this surge:


Firstly, the Land of Pleasant Living is going all in on additive manufacturing, or 3D Printing.  State initiatives like 3DMaryland along with the Howard County Economic Development Authority are cooperating to foster engagement and community building among 3D printing start-ups and potential investors.  One such success story the state can already point to is M3D, a Howard County-based plant that produces desktop-sized 3D printers for consumer use.  The printers, called "Micros", don't need to be assembled and are versatile in application; as founders Michael Armani and David Jones tell the Baltimore Sun:

M3D's signature product: The Micro
"Jones and Armani see potential customers everywhere: children, school teachers, hobbyists, home cooks, engineers, home maintenance do-it-yourselfers.

A video on their website shows a woman using a Micro at her kitchen counter to create cookie cutters, and children playing with Lego-like interlocking plastic blocks that can be made on the Micro.
 
'The list of applications is as long as the number of users,' said Armani, adding that he imagines children will be quick to embrace the Micro, which runs on game-like software designed to be easy to use.
'Think of it as your Lego factory,' said Armani, adding that the printer is ideal for making figurines, including toy solders. "Kids — they'll want to lock their door and print an entire army."

While the product side of Maryland manufacturing is grown, the future of its labor class has renewed interest from local business leaders.  Carver Vocational-Technical High School now offers a Computer Numerical Control Manufacturing class track designed to prepare students for the transition from a factory floor job to operating computer-based robotics, a skill more and more mandatory in any industry.  The program was designed by local manufacturing businesses like Maritime Applied Physics and Chesapeake Machine and reflects the Maryland industrial community's desire to directly invest in "farming" competent machinist labor of the future and retain them with high-wage, benefit-included employment.    

Carver Vocational students enrolled in its new CNC program visit Maritime Applied
The formula may not produce results immediately, but no one seems to be under any illusions it should.  If anything, Maryland's strategy should be pursued by more states; imagine what the US could look like in ten years if this was a true, national campaign. 

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company (www.rotorclip.com).

Friday, November 14, 2014

TruWave Wave Springs Make Everyone Pretty


Aesthetic work stations use dynamic pulse control technology to deliver a range of safe and professional applications for the growing aesthetic and anti-aging markets. Thermoelectric skin cooling, precise optical filtering, and unique energy pulsing offers high treatment efficacy while maximizing patient safety and comfort. The operator uses a handheld instrument, which is wire connected to the work station and locked with a bayonet quick connector. The quick connector allows the user to switch the handheld instrument within seconds. In that way, one work station can be used with different handheld instruments, offering different functions, which include the following:
·         Hair removal & hair reduction
·         Removal of benign pigmented epidermal & cutaneous lesions
·         Removal of vascular & pigmented lesions
·         Inflammatory acne removal

The bayonet quick connector allows for a quick and comfortable change of the handheld instrument (with different functions for the above described treatments) without specific tooling and training for the operator.

To ensure the connection and disconnection can be processed easily, the tolerances of the male and female component of the bayonet connector are manufactured with a loose fit. 
This loose fit, however, causes the connection to become relatively ‘shaky’, which decreases precise handling of the handheld. In addition to the ‘shaky’ connection problem, it makes the product look cheap in quality. 

To remove axial and radial play between the male and female component, a rubber O-ring was assembled. During the locking process, the rubber O-ring compresses, enabling the male and female component to become pre-loaded against each other. However, there is a major problem that emerges: after several changes of the handheld, it causes a decrease in load and permanent deformation of the O-ring.

Because of that, the rubber O-ring was replaced by a RotorClip TruWave single turn, flat wire, wave spring, which delivers an accurate force after every change of the handheld. The TruWave wave spring provides a force, which allows all operators to change the handhelds without too much expenditure of energy and without tooling. In comparison to the rubber O-ring, the TruWave wave spring does not lose its force because of deformation after a specific time.


Dipl.-Ing. Elmar Kampmann is Technical Sales Manager, Global Wave Spring Engineer, for Rotor Clip Company (www.rotorclip.com).





Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Local Motors and US Companies Demonstrate Additive Manufacturing With a 3D Printed Car

Local Motors CEO John B. Rogers, Jr. takes 3D car for a spin
This past month, the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago was the setting for a demonstration of 3D printing as a tool for manufacturing.  The product that was printed?

An actual car.

The manufacturing of the "Strati" as it is being dubbed by Local Motors, was done almost non-stop over the entire length of the 5-day event, with the help of other American companies playing different roles in this entirely new "microfactory" chain.  From IMTS's press site:

"The Strati was built in three phases during the six-day show. In phase one the car was 3D-printed on a Cincinnati Incorporated BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing Machine) over 44 hours using cutting edge technology called additive manufacturing. Phase two, known as subtractive manufacturing, included one day of milling on a machine provided by Thermwood. Once complete, the third and final phase was rapid assembly, in which a team led by Local Motors put the finishing touches on the world’s first 3D-printed car. Then, the key was turned and the vehicle set off on its maiden voyage, marking an important moment in history."

That maiden voyage was Local Motors CEO John B. Rogers Jr taking a long drive around Chicago's McCormick Place, proving the car's function.   Although 3D printing and additive manufacturing have shown applications in previous automobile projects such as the Kor Ecologic/Stratasys collaboration on the Urbee, the Strati goes one step further.  Where the Urbee was an additive manufactured chassis design over a regular vehicle system, all of the Strati's parts that are not mechanical are 3D printed.


There's obviously still competitive issues to work out.  Five days to make one automobile doesn't exactly scream "practical" to investors interested in mass production.  Still, there is obviously tons of room to refine this process.  Throw in more labor, experts, automation, and assembly strategies, and the Microfactory could soon be the norm in the auto industry.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

Friday, October 17, 2014

ReInventing The Refrigerator

The story goes that Ian Tansley was walking in the cold country of Wales over a decade ago and observed a frozen sheet of ice along the lake.  As he tells Rebecca Burn-Callander of the Telegraph, “I thought, 'If hot water rises, why is the top of the lake frozen and not the bottom?’ That’s what gave me the idea. It’s just so simple and works with the density of water.”

The idea in question was a refrigerating system that uses physics to beat the efficiency of standard commercial refrigerators, and it soon became the heart of Tansley's Welsh-based firm, Sure Chill.   Innovation in this area is worth examination, as climate change, overpopulation, and other 21st century issues are forcing infrastructures around the world to reassess what takes up their respective energy grids.  The average US household has a refrigerator taking up around 13 percent of overall consumption (only the air conditioner uses more energy) and spends 600kw annually.  While these figures are an improvement from older models before 2001 that could use a whopping 1400 kilowatts a year, there's still room for improvement.

So how can Sure Chill's version of refrigeration help?  For one, it doesn't need to be plugged into the grid all the time.  On the contrary, a Sure Chill refrigerator can stay at optimal cooling levels for up to 12 days.  How?  By using the simple rules of physics applying to water circulation.  Water is at its heaviest at precisely 4 degrees C.  Any other temperature and it begins to rise, but if maintained at 4 degrees, it sinks, bringing heat with it (hence the frozen top of a lake).  This temperature is achieved through the power system of a Sure Chill fridge, which creates a top layer of ice in a reservoir frame around the unit with water staying below at the magic 4 degrees number.  But the design relies on nature once its turned off; as the water rises with the temperature, it mixes with the water sinking from the melted ice.  This creates a perfect stasis that can remarkably last days without renewed power to establish cooling again: 



Sure Chill chairman Peter Saunders (left) and chief executive
Keith Bartlett with the new Sure Chill technology.
While the design is ingenious, its detractors point out some obvious problems that may arise in competing with the commercial refrigeration market.  For one, using water to circulate around the fridge instead of air (as standard fridges use) could make the Sure Chill vulnerable to outside heating factors, as water absorbs heat more so than air would.  However, Sure Chill fridges are finding an immediate application on the edges of global energy grids, most notably in the Philippines, where UNICEF has ordered 200 of Tansley's models for much-needed vaccination storage in the wake of the damage from Haiyan. Additionally, the Bill Gates Foundation recently made a huge investment in Sure Chill with a $1.4 million grant donated for the purposes of improving the design's cooling endurance to 30 days off the grid

 A hearty challenge, but if met, one that could revolutionize food, medical, and storage industries around the world.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.