Monday, August 29, 2011

What Mainstream Media Could Learn From A Doctor Visit

have developed a heart that circulates blood
without the typical heart biorhythm.
Like most Americans, I don’t work too hard for my news.  I flip through the channel cycle on my flatscreen like three times and consider that a satisfactory exploration of the daily information spectrum.  Four times and I’m an expert.  Five?  I could be God’s gift to Columbia’s School of Journalism. 
Of course, the downside to this method of getting my news is that it’s chock full of personality sources; people who throw broad statements about important issues in this country without- y’know- “knowing what they’re talking about”?  There are those who insist the US’s biggest problem is that it “doesn’t make anything anymore”, and then enough people on the air and in periodicals take their lead and before you know it, perception has become reality: we don’t make anything anymore.
Outside of the hundreds of companies who may want to refute that, America’s medical manufacturing community has the biggest case against this “news”.  According to the Federal Reserve, industrial production of medical equipment and supplies has doubled since 1990 in a steady incline that makes a graph-plotter’s job mighty easy.   Not only is the sector churning out products that are used in medical communities around the world, but it’s developing technology and devices that receive little media attention yet are rivaling iPhones and video games in innovation, ingenuity and invention.  And are, or most likely will be made right here.  Some highlights:
-An artificial heart developed by Doctors Billy Hunt and Bud Frasier, both of the Texas Heart Institute, that has no beat.  The device consists of two centrifugal tubes with a rotor in each one, steadily pumping blood at a more fluid rate than previous artificial hearts but without trying to mimic the heart’s biorhythm.   The heart is currently working its way through experimental volunteers and has shown no signs of failure.
-A new bioglass material developed by Missouri State University and licensed by the Mo-Sci Corporation of Rolla, Missouri that is used to treat unhealed wounds.  The material’s use of boron instead of silicate glasses as used in previous products has been proven to cause wounds left unhealed for three years to repair themselves in a matter of months (Phelps County Regional Medical Center). 
-A prototype-invented by a team of researchers at the University of Maryland- of a “brain cap” that produces motion with thoughts, making it a very real possibility that soon paraplegics or amputees will be able to move prosthetic limbs by simply thinking.
I confess I’ve been one of those 24 hour cable news cycle-fueled zombies who bought into this trending group-think about US manufacturing not making anything of value anymore.  It’s easy to fall into that mindset when so many foreign-made products are immediate and right in front of us, with shiny buttons and logos to constantly draw our attention (do I really have to name examples here?  I do?  Okay, you phone, your car, your clothes) while, as Professor Mark J. Perry says in his economic blog, Carpe Diem:
You probably won't see or notice a ‘Made in the USA’ label on a heart pump or a lot of other high-tech medical equipment manufactured in America like MRI machines, CT Scans or X-ray equipment, but they are all part of America's thriving and growing high-tech manufacturing sector.” (Prof. Perry, June 13, 2011)
Here’s hoping more of us try to look through the cracks between cable news pundits and Chicken Little headlines to see the realities of manufacturing sectors like these.  The heartbeat of mass media is certainly in full effect these days, but the real news is underneath.
And apparently, has no beat at all.

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

Friday, August 19, 2011

Delphi’s EV Wireless Charging Tech Ripe for Practical Innovations

Delphi's wireless charging system features no cord, and
is ease to use

Previously, I wrote about the need for US manufacturing to concentrate on products and technology that were broader in implementation and had innovation needs that weren’t so specialized so that more people from across the economic spectrum could be recruited.  Delphi recently debuted what I believe to be a spot-on example of this in its wireless EV recharging system.  In a nutshell:
A wireless charging system eliminates the need for a charging cord. Drivers can simply park their electric vehicle over a wireless energy source situated on the garage floor or embedded in a paved parking spot. Other wireless charging systems under development make use of traditional inductive charging, the same technology used in electric toothbrushes, which is based on principles first proposed in the mid-nineteenth century. These systems only work over a limited distance range, require precise accurate parking alignment and can be very large and heavy, making them impractical for widespread use on electric vehicles.
"The Delphi Wireless Charging System offers more practical and flexible installation than traditional inductive systems because it uses highly resonant magnetic coupling, a    modern technology that safely and efficiently transfers power over significantly larger distances and can adapt to natural misalignment often associated with vehicle positioning during parking," – Randy Sumner, director of global hybrid development, Delphi Packard Electrical/Electronic Architecture.

The implications of this are pretty exciting…and kind of making the little hairs on my arms and neck…..okay and back, I have a hairy back….stop laughing.
I mean, not only has Delphi completely jumped over the dilemma of having no national electric charging infrastructure- an issue frequent travelers using the Chevy Volt find themselves dealing with-not only did they do it using a more sophisticated version of the inductive charging we use for camera batteries and toothbrushes(!), not only is this a potential game-changer in making electric vehicles FYYYnally more economically viable without government assistance in the form of tax incentives- but this is something that can still be IMPROVED upon.
Forgetting the potential prosperity in manufacturing the systems and then installing them in every American garage or driveway (or the possibility of construction and utility job growth if urban areas want to install them on roads), there’s lots of room to make the initial designs even better.  The chart may look nice, but there’s clearly going to be on-the-ground issues of driver accuracy, as well as wear-and-tear for the actual magnet plates.  Not just on the surface but also the one under the car.  I mean, how many times do you hear that THUNK-A-THUNK sound as some unknown object/animal rolls under your car while you’re doing 65 on the highway (because you never go over 65 mph. And you slow down at the yellow light instead of speed up)?  What is that going to do to the magnetic plate under there that has to have a perfect surface for optimal energy absorption?
These are just a few possible monkey wrenches I can think of off the top of my head; just imagine what qualified workers can discover as the logistics of this technology begin to unfold.  
As we see more leaps being made in energy and resource shifting for manufacturing- and trust me, we will- the nation’s slow-but-necessary makeover of its infrastructure and energy grid are going to reveal opportunities like this for both the recently unemployed and the next generation of employment to get on board in the transition.  That’s enough to get anybody’s hairy back in a tizzy.
PLEASE stop laughing….

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

Monday, August 15, 2011

O is for “O-Rings, “Opportunity”..umm “Octopus”

“… when it comes to US manufacturing, I see this as a golden opportunity.”

Photomicrograph of green algae. The airline industry is testing fuel made from this substance to save energy costs and reduce emissions.

When the first American commercial flight using algae biofuel took off a couple years ago, the results were very promising. The fuel had the same energy output and a lower freezing point.

Of course the flight wasn’t completely relying on the jatropha-derived bio-fuel; more like a 50-50 mix with petroleum…….in one engine…..for two hours…..yaaay….but still….

Bio-engineering algae so that it produces the same energy output as petroleum-based fuel without being so expensive is a stop-gap issue, and is being addressed right now. If there was more funding, it would have been solved before Lost had ended. Airline companies stand to benefit the most from this resource, as its light weight alone could make substantial cuts in its travel budgets.

So why don’t they cough up the cash?

According to Jennifer Holmgren, a chemist for UOP of Honeywell, algae fuel is apparently missing a key ingredient:

“… jet fuel from petroleum contains so-called aromatics—hydrocarbon rings—that interact with the seals in current engines, helping swell them shut. "We don't make aromatics through the vegetable oil route," she says. "If we wanted to fly on 100 percent [biofuels], there are issues around O-rings and things like that."- Jennifer Holmgren to David Biello, Scientific American, Dec. 30, 2008.

So the engine sealing design isn’t structurally compatible with the- and I believe I’m using the terminology here- “little green plant stuff what makes the energy go boom”, right?

Now, there are tons of other issues surrounding bio-fuels in general right now. Shell recently ditched their division because it proved too costly to mass-produce. However, when it comes to manufacturing, I see this as a golden opportunity. O-rings are already being improved through the use of nanotechnology. With a mondo investment in R & D, there’s no reason why the standard airline engine can’t be modified so that it’s less dependent on fuel to assist in sealing.

If that happens, not only would airline companies have a cheap source of fuel to power their jets, the manufacturing industry would have a new engine to build and refit planes with immediately (with the amount of money airlines could save on this fuel, they wouldn’t want to waste time). Presto. New stuff to make, new jobs needed to make them!
Sure those are tons of steps to take. But the ethanol industry in Brazil has been taking those steps for almost the whole decade now. They had to spend capital and make a public/private coordination to convert their engines to handle E85, and they’re booming right now. A similar effort could be done here with algae biofuel instead.

Contrary to what people like to say these days, I don’t think we should be looking for “the next big thing” to jumpstart our country’s economic identity. I see more added improvements and innovations to things that already exist and are, in some cases, pretty little.

Like an O-ring.

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