Monday, December 10, 2012


It's no secret the wind industry is taking an economic beating right now.
A new business  model and the looming specter of federal tax credits possibly expiring this year has slowed manufacturing in the sector and all but halted job growth.

While it's hard to sugar-coat the predicament US Wind finds itself in these days, it's important to remember the mantra of controlling what you can instead of wasting worry on what you can't.  This seems to be the underlying philosophy behind Windera Power System Inc's  newest turbine system model.

What can Windera and other companies control?  That would be the overall costs, not just of the product, but of maintenance and repair.  Out of the "fleet" of American wind turbines currently operational (50GW worth as of August), about a quarter of them are down at anytime, usually due to malfunctions.  Usually, repairs themselves can be expensive because the majority of the turbine's mechanical body is the gearbox in the nacelle (the piece of the turbine bearing the blades).


With this in mind, Windera Systems has introduced a completely different design; a hydraulic drive train that uses blade rotation to feed hydraulic pressure, then converts said pressure into electricity. This overrides the need for a conventional gearbox, and according to Windera, produces less wear-and-tear on the overall turbine, resulting in longer usage.  While the nacelle still contains a hydraulic pump, the hydraulic motor is on ground level in a shipping container, along with the electrical generator (and in some cases a natural gas compressor.  Yes, these models are designed to phase into natural gas infrastructure).  This is a very crucial detail: any usual mechanical repairs now don't require the cost and use of a crane to get personnel to the nacelle.  All it requires is a key to unlock the container.


Now is this going to solve all of the "windustry's" (I'm going to keep writing that till someone picks it up) problems in convincing the public- and more importantly, investors- that they're a real and profitable enterprise?  Probably not.  However, when I get pushback on defending wind as economically viable- and mind you, I get quite a lot of it- I try to point out to everyone the overlooked fact that since Nicephore Niepce built one in 1807, there have been at least   thirty-seven different manifestations of the internal combustion engine (thirty-eight if you put any faith in Stanley Meyer's conspiratorial water-powered engine).  Lots of those versions used tons of energy, had pitifully minimal output, and cost a fortune to ever be seriously considered for the market.  Yet each one was essential to get us to the conventional models in today's automobiles.  You can be sure wind turbines are just beginning to see these kinds of changes for the future.

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NYU Researchers Make A Tractor Beam: Sci-Fi Geeks Cheer, Almost Tell Hot Girl Sitting Next To Them In Library, Think Better Of It

I try not to waste this blog on stuff that wouldn't be considered "significant" relative to US manufacturing in its current state. After all, we all only have so much time to devote to interesting news in between the grind. If you're reading this, you decided to take a risk with that sparse time of yours. I know this and I try to respond in kind with stories having to do with the here and now, which tends to be pretty important to know.  

But every so often, I come across some weird story that may not be directly considered newsworthy now, but darned if I'm not rooting for it to be in the future. I'm referring to the recent bit of news coming out of New York University that should electrify all our inner geeks back to life.  From NewScientist:          
            "In 2011, researchers in China calculated that a type of laser called a Bessel beam, which puts out light in concentric rings, could be designed to make a particle inside the beam emit photons on the side facing away from the beam source. These photons should allow the particle to recoil towards the source. But nobody has so far managed to put the idea into practice.
            David Ruffner and David Grier of New York University instead projected two Bessel beams side by side and used a lens to angle them so that they overlapped, creating a pattern of alternating bright and dark regions along the length of the beam. Fine-tuning the beam causes photons in the bright regions, initially flowing past a chosen particle in the beam, to scatter backwards. When these photons hit the particle, they knock it to the next bright region. The particle is thus constantly pushed close to the beam's source."
                                                            -Jacob Aron, , 10/23/12
Or perhaps more appropriately put by Ian Chant of Geekosystem:
            "You guys, hold the phone. Drop whatever it is you're doing now.      Is it  dropped? Yes? Good.  We have tractor beams now!"
                                              -Ian Chant,, 10/22/12

Yep, though on a very, very small scale, researchers at NYU were able to create a straight-out-of-sci-fi tractor beam.
   For those of you feeling too entitled to care about anything sci-fi because you were too busy scoring both in dating and on your Varsity fill-in-the-blank team back when you were a teenager, a tractor beam is a concentrated beam of light with enough energy to generate a force that pulls one object toward another.  While many works of fiction have imagined the concept being used in the future for large-scale scenarios like space-docking or construction, in reality, a tractor beam is seen as an ideal tool for industries and applications on a microscopic level. 

So how does it work? The key to all of this is the marvelous world of Bessel beams. Yes, the very ones you learned about in 5th grade science class (before you parrot that to your co-workers, please know that I'm kidding). Bessel beams basically send light in concentric circles, so they have the unique ability to reform after they pass an obstruction (of a relatively small size). they're used in optics a lot to view what an object obstructs by reassembling photons behind it. What Ruffner and Grier apparently did was add a second beam and alternated how each beam was phased together. The object caught in between was moved by the photons in the interacting beams with each alteration. You can attempt to read more on Grier's research page but be warned: there's math.  
Ow, my head...and sense of self-worth.

Granted, the beam itself is almost microscopic, as well as the tiny bits of silica used as test subjects, and it may literally be a "parsec"- or for you kindred spirits out there, one-twelfth of the Millenium Falcon's "Kessel Run" - before something like this can even get close to being demonstrated as a real-world prototype.
Still, this is pretty mind-blowing, and definitely unprecedented. It's not really a natural occurrence in the physical world to see light actually pulling matter. If research reveals new ways to mobilize objects with more mass, think of all the small-scale operations that could benefit from using light beams to move parts and targets instead of mechanics; computer chip data processing, brain surgery, and bio-cell research to name a few off the top of my head. Moreso, who's to say we can't develop large-scale tractor beam technology?  What if we build giant "Bessel Beam Projectors" a thousand times more concentrated- is it impossible to rule out pulling objects in space with only guided photons? Judging by NASA's recent exploration in the field, they're curious to know, themselves.
Time, lots and lots of it, will tell. (Oh, also money, money will probably be part of the conversation too). This idea has potential, though. In fact, many ideas derived from science fiction have proven their value beyond the imagination before, from hovercraft to quantum theory. A little investment and a lot of patience may make the tractor beam the next viable candidate.


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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Colorado Entrepreneur Designs Football Helmets With Airbags; Ndamukong Suh Asks If He Can Still Stomp On People, Is Told "No"

The next manufacturing opportunity in the world of sports may also solve one of its most dangerous and pervasive problems.

The latest issue in the NFL over new research revealing the horrendous effects of concussions has led to a sometimes heated national discussion (check out The Concussion Blog for a good rundown if you need to catch up) over whether and how the game will change by taking the more aggressive plays out.  Will football become less fun to watch?   Softer?  A decidedly un-masculine musical number?  According to a few die-hards, in a few more years the Super Bowl is going to look something like this :
"First guy to execute a step-touch-chasse-cross-body-lead combination gets this block!"
 But where some see a decline of the tough version of America's #1 sport, others are partaking in the other American tradition of using new information to make a new product.

The potential opportunity in question would be Colorado-based Concussion Mitigation Technologies' new design for a football helmet with airbags.  Yes, the same invention that stops your head from going through your steering wheel can-with precision and the assistance of a data-driven safety system-hold it in place if someone like David Stewart or Richie Incognito decide they want to try to take it off on the gridiron. From the pages of Design News:

The company's helmet will incorporate multiple strain gages, a small cartridge of carbon dioxide (CO2),   scores of tiny airbags, a lithium battery, and a printed circuit board with a microprocessor, memory, and analog-to-digital converters.  On field, the helmet will use the strain gages to measure the impact of a hit.  Then it will send the data to the microprocessor, compare it to software models in memory, and pressurize the airbags with CO2 when necessary.  

                                                            -Charles J. Murray, Senior Technical Editor, "Helmet Airbags Target Concussion Issues";
Trend Watch: A Supplement to Design News, Oct. 2012

A common misperception is that the risk of long-term brain trauma comes from lack of structurally sound helmets.  Quite the opposite; most helmets are too good at their jobs, holding the skull in place to where it acts as an inflexible wall against the momentum of the brain.  This has been cited by all studies as the true culprit of the kind of damage that has led to an unbelievably tragic pattern of ex-NFL player suicides which include Ray Easterling, Andre Waters, and most notably Junior Seau.
Software in the helmet signals airbags to deploy milliseconds
before the brain collides into the skull. 
(Too bad it doesn't spell-check. Thats "1st" and 4th" Firing, guys...)
 Troy Fodemski, founder of the organization and the concept, believes that tiny airbags planted throughout the helmet may not completely protect the brain from impact, but with the sensors tracking by microseconds where the brain's trajectory heads, airbag deployment can slow down the motion and bring the organ back to a neutral position in the head more quickly.  "The human brain wasn't made to withstand 80 G's in 15 milliseconds", Fodenski told Murray. Virgina Tech, which has had an ongoing partnership between its football and biomedical engineering programs to measure the severity of head injuries in the sport, has registered forces up to 100 G's.

Averaging out to a price range near $1000, this is clearly not ready for the market just yet.  But with a game on the rise in popularity and the nightmare possibility of NFL-vets lining up for individual lawsuits against the league, the demand is not going away.  Clearly, to ensure the safety of all players of the game both young and old, something is going to have to be done.  Fodemski's helmet could and should be a step in the right direction.
Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Loan Program + NASA Talent = Major Improvements For Cleveland Businesses

In an under-the-radar story move that I cannot for the life of me comprehend why media outlets have allowed to be under-the-radar, the Magnet Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network  teamed up with NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland back in January to implement a program that will provide local and Cuyahoga County businesses with a total of 400 hours of technical consulting from NASA engineers and scientists.  The program is one example of NASA's recent trend to integrate its institution more with day-to-day small business and manufacturing communities.

Here's how it works: the city of Cleveland and its county are providing the capital in a $450,000 loan pool that Magnet combines and delegates to vetted candidates.  NASA's Glenn in turn provides the talent with each engineering or science expert giving 40 hours each in working with a selected business on a project or product that they can help in technical advice.

I don't know about you but these are the kind of brainstorm, real-world solutions that make my foot tap in a quick staccato as I write this (or it's the Jimmy Cobb drum solo pounding through my Pandora app.  I choose the former).  In a political climate where all you see on TV and the innernets is people arguing over whether the private or public sector does a better job for US growth and innovation, it's important to keep in mind stories of both sectors coming together to assist small businesses directly and immediately- like what Magnet, NASA, and Cleveland/Cuyahoga- are out there and happening as we speak.

So out of 21 proposals, 9 companies will be qualified for the program, among those:

Gotta Groove Records:  Believe it or not, they still make vinyl records out there.  In fact, Gotta Groove has seen an increase in sales recently, with its President saying there's clearly a renewed interest in music off of vinyl these days.  Consequently, Gotta Groove's vinyl printing process- pretty much the same process used since the 70's- stands to improve greatly.  And that's just what NASA's Glenn personnel can do, as well as find new ways to increase productivity and modernize the business's software.

Boundary Systems:  This company that creates parts for manufacturing companies to mass produce wants to know ways it can cool its printing molds faster. 
NASA CTO Peck and Glenn Research Center Director Lugo
tour Cleveland's Magnet Headquarters...
Zuga Medical: A Cleveland based dental business, Zuga is specifically looking for recommended materials to use for its dental implants.

BioInVision:  This company specializes in camera imaging for microscopic biology.  There's lots of room to improve the cameras used in standard cell labs. 

Vadxx Energy:  Perhaps the boldest undertaking, Vadxx is a company seeking ways to convert plastic back into oil with fuel potential.  Vadxx thinks NASA can assist them in refining the process of shredding the plastics.

In the larger scope of things, this may seem like a day at the beach for your run of the mill NASA engineer.  That's kind of the point.  These experts are probably saving these businesses an untold amount of time and money on long reports that take even more time to implement.  I also find it refreshing to see public assistance to a business community which turns over allocation of loans to a group in Magnet that's closer to the actual community in understanding where they should properly go, instead of just throwing money at a large and bureaucratic kickstart.   


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

Monday, October 1, 2012

And Then There Were Three: Pros & Cons of NASA's Space-Taxi Contenders

NASA's recent success at landing an SUV-sized Rover on Mars  masks a larger issue at hand:  the national, federally-funded agency has to rely on the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos to fly its astronauts to the International Space Station, at a rate of  $63 million per head (that's taxpayer money, if need be reminded). 

Consequently everyone is paying attention to NASA's current Commercial Crew Development program (CCDev) now transitioning to the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability program (CCiCAP) which they hope will find the right private company that would be able to take over full transportation duties.  The race to supply NASA's "space taxis" has now come down to three companies:  the standard-bearing Boeing Co., the upstart SpaceX, and the solid-but-under-the-radar Sierra Nevada Corporation.

NASA will award a total of $1.1 billion to all three firms in a bid for three working prototypes that will compete for the prize of being the next generation's shuttle fleet.  Boeing Co. will receive the most- $460 million.  SpaceX, founded by Tesla CEO and PayPal co-creator Elon Musk, $440 million, and Sierra Nevada $212.5 million.   The arrangement benefits everyone involved:  even the two companies who lose out on the choice will still have working spacecraft they can develop for commercial purposes.

And for anyone worried about the price-tag of the awarded funding, consider that the companies themselves have to pay for development and testing costs.  NASA and the US taxpayer are essentially putting a relatively moderate investment down on the ingenuity of the private sector doing what it does best: competing against itself.  And when you factor in how much money it costs to do business with Roscosmos per astronaut they fly on Soyuz (The same one from 1975.  Say what you will about the Russians, they're certainly economical), this is a necessary investment to make.

So which firm stands the best chance of being the commercial vehicle NASA chooses for full-time service?  Let's look at the contenders:

The Boeing Company - Houston, TX

PROS Doesn't hurt that Boeing is one of the oldest, largest, most recognized, and reliable private partners of the United States government.  Boeing is a proven company more than capable of delivering a design to NASA that could be ready by 2016.  Their CST-100 capsule is kind of a steroid version of the Apollo command module.  It can fit seven people and is designed to remain in orbit for up to seven months.  Its drawing from tried and true space tech like Apollo and other ISS programs contributes to it being a secure design that will most likely hold up in application, which for launching humans into space, kind of has to be the top priority.

CONS The seven-manned CST-100 is good for just ten missions.  It also needs to be launched with a NASA-provided rocket, like Atlas V, making it easy to incorporate into existing technology, but not exactly an independent spacecraft that can foot the entire bill.   Boeing also plans to charge NASA per seat as well, although it hasn't disclosed the price (They've assured it won't be as high as the Russians). Still, NASA and tax-payers have to pay for the rocket power to break orbit, and the seats to hold the astronauts, for ten missions maximum.  Meh.

SpaceX - Hawthorne, CA 

PROS - SpaceX's Dragon design has one major, major advantage over its competition: it's already BEEN in space!   The Dragon, famously named by Elon Musk, not only beat gravity on its virgin launch in May 2012 but made a successful dock at the ISS for a week as well.  Dragon performed perfectly as it was launched on SpaceX's Falcon9 rocket, and was also the first commercial vehicle ever to receive a "reentry license" from the FAA (yes those really exist).  It's a feat all the more impressive when you think about just how relatively new the company is-founded in 2002- compared to its rivals.

CONS - SpaceX's work with the Dragon and passenger-adjusted DragonRider has been pretty impressive, with a track record that's hard to criticize.  Of course, the Dragon's first flight carried cargo, not people, which may prove a bit more challenging.  The one truly negative thought I have is the same I get with Boeing; why are we still using capsule technology?  Yes, it has been proven to work.  So has the steam engine, the buggy whip, and the Gutenberg Press.  I thought the shuttle design of the 80's was a significant improvement on saving energy and fuel in spaceflight, yet everyone has seemed to ignore it in the next generation of designs.  Well not everyone....

Sierra Nevada Corporation - Louisville, Colorado

PROS - Aesthetically speaking, Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser is my absolute favorite design.  This baby is just beautiful.  Clearly based on NASA's shuttle technology, the Dream Chaser also fits on an Atlas V rocket, where after launch it can fly on its own, can glide back into re-entry, easing the heat stress on the vehicle, and can land on any ordinary airport runway, if need be.  It's also designed for ethanol-based fuel, which is way less explosively volatile, making it safer than its predecessors.  The heat shield is basically one giant tile, as opposed to a bunch of smaller tiles, of which the dislodging of just one caused the Columbia disaster.  And while Sierra Nevada only received $212.5 million from NASA under the CCiCAP program, that only speaks to how cost-effective the Dream Chaser is.  It's a composite design, making it lightweight, cheap, and therefore, able to be multiplied into a fleet (a goal of both NASA and Sierra Nevada) 

CONS - Aside from the fact NASA once again has to provide the rocket, Dream Chaser's innovation also makes it the model with the least amount of proven technology.  There a bunch of question marks that could add up to costly mistakes, financially and maybe worse.  How will the composite hide hold up in space?  Does the giant heat tile make the structure a little more rigid than it should be?  What are the unforeseen effects of ethanol fuel in space?  We may not know until it actually takes flight.

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

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bill and Melinda Gates Sponsor Their Own "Bowl Game"

They say there's no such thing as a bad publicity shot.

Well, darned if they didn't try to disprove that at the "Reinventing the Toilet"   fair held in Seattle as part of a challenge issued by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in trying to find a toilet design for the 2.6 billion people in the world deprived of proper sanitation systems.  The cause is wonderfully noble, and there's real intrigue in finding a model that can be mass produced and sold on a low-price/high-volume level to those parts of the global village that are rubbing up against the modern world more frequently than at any point in human history.  These include the modernizing landscapes of India, China, Myanmar, South Sudan, Indonesia, and Cambodia (where villages that float on water are only now separating their water and septic needs ); places where public health and safety are becoming more and more a priority to keep newfound economic success going.  The Gates issued $400,000 grants to eight universities with a strict set of standards for the contest:  all designs had to be hygienic, sustainable, carbon-neutral, generate energy, and cost 5 cents per person using it in operations.  The contest gave many university and company-sponsored teams a chance to show off their innovation. 

Of course, some of the PR out of this may not want to be shown, period:

 That's American Standard Brands Engineering VP James McHale smiling his brightest as he dumps simulated (we were told) waste into a container with his company's design for an inexpensive seal that can be attached to most latrine designs in South Asia.  It's a great example of a widespread problem: not preparing adequately with your publicity office. 

(Also, it shows how to address the more widespread problem of poorly constructed latrines and outhouses)

Other designs presented were fascinating not just in their own individual properties, but how different they are from each other.  CalTech researchers designed a toilet powered by solar panels that not only creates hydrogen and electricity in the process but also breaks down the human waste and water into hydrogen gas as a backup power source as well.  Delft University of the Netherlands designed technology that emits microwave radiation, turning the waste into electricity. 
Even stranger was a design from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (right) that uses a gravity-driven biological membrane to re-capture water used in the flushing process.  Additional submissions included a toilet from North Carolina's RTI International that uses a  biomass conversion process  to disinfect waste and turn it into energy, and another "solar toilet" from the University of Colorado at Boulder which converts solid waste into a disinfected form of biological charcoal to be used as a fuel source.
Bill Gates posted on his foundation's site after the contest, making a very convincing case for the need to rethink the toilet, not just for developing societies, but our own as well:

            "When you think about it, the flush toilet is actually a pretty outdated sanitation solution. It was certainly an important breakthrough when it was created in 1775 by a Scottish mathematician and watchmaker named Alexander Cummings. Over the decades, it led to a sanitary        revolution that helped keep deadly diseases like cholera at bay, saving hundreds of millions of lives.

But the fact that four of every 10 people still dont have access to flush toilets proves thateven todayit is a solution too expensive for much of the world. And in an era where water is becoming increasingly precious, flush toilets that require 10 times more water than our daily drinking water requirement are no longer a smart or sustainable solution."   

                                    - Bill Gates, from his Impatient Optimists blog, Aug. 14, 2012.

Installing and maintaining technology like this may be a challenge for any profit-driven endeavor.  However, with urban landscapes popping (that's "p-o-p-p-i-n-g" I wrote, there) up more and more all over the world, this is going to be an issue that will demand modern, energy-conscious solutions.  The opportunity for remaking the waste management infrastructure to fit the 21st century is there, it just takes someone willing to devote the capital needed to tackle the problem on a global scale.  Or for those of you who only think in puns: the ideas are clearly flushed out, they just need to be pushed into the future by a manufacturer willing to wipe the slate clean.

(No, to answer your thought as you read this, bloggers have no shame.)

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

3 Manufacturing Opportunities To Meet The Rise Of The Bicycle

The complaint rings all over the country now from anyone driving on the roads:  "where did all these bicyclists come from and why won't they leave?"  After a brief decline in 2008, bicycle sales are back with a vengeance, in no small part because of the financial advantage one has in navigating the increasingly more robust urban landscapes of US cities. 

 Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, New York, and many other cities have begun altering their infrastructure in an effort to accommodate the growing number of bikes on the streets.  As much as automobile owners may hate it, any city worker will tell you it's a welcome alternative in dealing with overpopulation on the roads.

But this newfound surge in bicycle enthusiasm also means manufacturers have an opportunity to improve designs to make the bike more exceptional and affordable for more buyers.  As Paul Humphreys touches on in a recent article of Product Design & Development, a middle-class earner who wants to buy a bicycle will probably have the disposable income to purchase what he wants, but not splurge.  This means he or she will be looking for something cost-efficient, while at the same time safe and long-lasting; and certainly not something that's going to need multiple parts replaced as the years go by. 

While the industry has been around since the 19th century, there is still, amazingly, room to improve the quality of the bicycle so that its performance and complexity do not outgrow the budget its owners must assumedly have.  The following are three areas of innovations that can clearly be improved upon for this burgeoning market:

#1. Make them easier to store:

            Graham Hill, founder of teamed up a couple years ago with Schindelhauer Bikes  to design a very simple, yet effective model for a "Thinbike" that, when its pedals and handlebars are folded, pretty much disappears behind your open door.  It's a tiny and indirect characteristic of riding but one that is crucial to be solved for the urban owner.  Space utilization drives the purchasing power of any resident in a major US city and storing your bike indoors without having to move around furniture or sacrifice a few belongings will heavily influence which future designs survive and which do not.  In keeping with this, the Cycloc , a very advanced domestic wall hanger for a bike is another design

#2.  Improve night riding.

            If there's one thing that freaks me out when I drive at night, it's coming across a bicyclist on the road ahead of me, not really as far to the right as they could be, with one, measly, dimly lit red light taped behind the seat.  And if that's enough to make me grip my wheel tighter as I pass, I can only imagine how the bicyclist feels.  A step in the right direction is a concept bike wheeled out by Seattle-based Teague .  The Pulse , as it's called, has LED lighting embedded in the handles and pedals, which function as signal lights (if you pause here, you can hear auto drivers everywhere collectively throw their hands up and shout "Finally!") to let travelers behind you know when you turn.  In addition, a chemically altered paint on the body of the bike glows in the dark, improving the overall visibility of the rider.  Aside from this design, Boston-based Mitchell Silva created a similar concept, using the handlebars exclusively as signal lighting sources, but making them extremely intense.  This field is clearly a hotbed of experimentation and an ideal model can still be hammered out for real-world use.

 #3. Onboard entertainment.

            No, I don't want a bunch of bicyclists riding around watching blu-ray DVD's, but, as we've learned countless times with auto drivers, if you deprive the vehicle of any entertainment or communication accessories, people are just going to add their own, rather crudely, and sometimes dangerously.  If I had a dime for every bicycle rider I passed with earbuds jamming their auditory canals (you know the ones you need to hear cars passing behind you?) I'd have enough to buy a pair of wire cutters so I could make sure they stayed home.  That being said, there's no getting around music as a perfect riding partner, and iHome has found a way around the closed off option of earbuds.  Their Bike To Beach Speaker can be fitted onto any bike, and has iHome's patented sound technology that provides a rich sound covering a wide enough area for the rider to hear their favorite song in optimal quality.  However, this is not tech that comes with the bike, yet, and it's perfectly reasonable and feasible that bicycles of the next decade could feature systems like this to further entice buyers.

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

Saturday, August 18, 2012

InkJet "Human Eye" Design: Biomedical Possibilities?

Nozzles used in biological tissue printers could one day be modeled after
a design that ensures clog-free nozzles
We all have that moment after when we turn from the computer and stare at our printers, waiting for the countless things that could go wrong in the process of printing out a document.  Inkjet nozzles can especially be a culprit, as their
tendency to clog costs businesses and residents alike thousands of dollars a year in wasted ink, not to mention trips to the barber to fix spots of torn hair.

Jae Wan Kwon, associate professor at the College of Engineering at University of Missouri, has invented an inkjet nozzle with an ingenious method of staying unclogged while keeping solvent; mimicking the human eye. 

          The eye and an ink jet nozzle have a common problem: they must not be allowed to dry while, simultaneously, they must open. We used biomimicry, the imitation of nature, to solve human problems.

                                                                                -redOrbit (

 A small drop of silicone covers the "eye" of the nozzle.  When the nozzle needs to work, instead of trying to create eyelids to blink away the thin silicone coating, Kwon used electric fields to move the droplet in and out of place.  It works on such a small scale yet is incredibly efficient.

The real potential for a design like this, however, could be the realm of medical technology, where the US's already innovative market could adopt a model like this for biomedical labs.  Kwon's already figured this out and inferred to redOrbit  that's the direction he'd like to take the device:

“For example, biological tissue printers, which may someday be capable of fabricating replacement organs, squirt out living cells to form biological      structures....Those cells are so expensive that researchers often find it cheaper to replace the nozzles rather than waste the cells. Clog-free nozzles would eliminate the costly replacements.”

                                                                             -redOrbit (

It's fascinating how little changes in design for something as taken for granted as an inkjet could maybe lead to a major contribution to biotech, but that's the kind of semantic thinking that should be rewarded in the evolving landscape of American manufacturing. 

To see video of Kwon's design in action (you have to look closely to see the details at work) go here.

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