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 (

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 (

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 (

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.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Goodyear Makes a Move In Green-based Industry; Plans To Recycle Rice Husks For Tire Production

Who would think that one of the staple side dishes of a regular American meal could also be a source of  the world's pollution?  But the next time you're shopping for rice in your local grocery, you should consider this: in Asia alone, rice production produces over 770 million tons of rice husks a year that up until recently were dumped in rivers and landfills or burned into the atmosphere.  That number doesn't even take into account markets in North America or the Middle East, also major hubs of rice as a mass commodity.

The waste of rice husks is doubly tragic, considering research is showing more and more by-products of rice production can serve a multitude of uses and has much more value than western industry has given it.  In India, a company funnels the gas from burning husks into turbines that create electricity that runs 30 percent cheaper than diesel-based turbines.  In Taiwan, researchers successfully showed how rice husk "biochar" can integrate with soil to grow heartier green vegetables than char based from wood.   Despite these small victories of  cyclical use, any true sustainable manufacturing that can yield impressive profits and positively contribute to the environment has to be on a much larger scale, and would involve convincing a giant market force to take a risk on a new approach to cost-efficiency.

Enter Goodyear, which certainly qualifies as one of those giant forces. It seems the company has caught green-lit plans to use silica in ash leftover from burnt husks as an environmentally friendly form of traction-control and fuel efficiency for its tires.  While it's not clear yet whether Goodyear can buy ash from power plant contractors that minimize the air pollution from burning husks, it's a much-needed improvement from the tons of silica filling up landfills.  The move also helps Goodyear fulfill its 2008 mandate to have zero waste to landfill from its facilities.

It may be a small step, but it's being made by a giant of American tire manufacturing.  And if tangible savings are measured, this move could serve as a template for all companies to pursue cyclical, sustainable industry.

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

Friday, October 3, 2014

Manufacturing Hub Bill Clears Senate

Senators Tom Reed (R) of New York and Joseph Kennedy III (D) of Massachusetts have gone against the recent narrative of a do-nothing Congress by securing passage of the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act  (RAMI).  The bill passed the House with overwhelming approval, and only awaits a vote by the Senate to begin changing the manufacturing landscape across the country.

The RAMI Act secures earmarks of $300 million spread over ten years to foster and support community centers, or "hubs", where local private companies can access public funding to work together, not just on creating new manufacturing products, but training a new generation of labor to create those products as well.

Although one part of the greater puzzle in making the United States more competitive with foreign manufacturing advantages such as cheaper labor and less legal restrictions, the bill goes a long way in helping to fill a crucial gap in the US.  The disconnect between national factory chains and local city/state communities that thrive with their own unique contributions to those chains is a clear hindrance.  Previous collaborative pilot programs where government entities such as NASA provide criteria and benchmarks for private groups to develop new products and methods have proven very successful in the past few years (3D Printing owes its success to this).

Senators Reed and Kennedy should be commended for recognizing these public/private efforts and taking a step to provide a much more stable network within which they can continue.  You can go here to learn more about the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act, as well as the Regional Innovation Program it's based on.

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

Friday, September 26, 2014

Can Mining Change In The 21st Century?

As traditional energy sources are being reevaluated more and more under the context of overall costs versus benefits, ideas that had previously never been able to get out of R&D labs are now being closely analyzed.  Innovation has clearly been regarded as key for businesses moving forward into the century, but with environmental issues becoming more and more relevant to the discussion, there's an even greater incentive not only to discover, but to refine new ways of doing old things.

On this point, there's no better place to start than mining.  Traditional methods of mineral extraction are simply not going to be sustainable on long-term scales, and risk permanent damage to natural landscapes.  But with so much of the US depending on fossil fuel infrastructures, cleaning up mining methods may be a far more efficient choice than eliminating them.  Damien Palin's 2012 TED talk on this subject highlights the potential for combining bacterial manipulation and reverse osmosis desalination to harvest minerals out of sea brine.  While he freely admitted how expensive the process is, there is definitely room to refine it:

Looking at on-the-ground developments, the US Department of Energy just awarded $1.5 million to a start-up company founded by University of Alabama researchers that is developing a clean way of harvesting uranium from the oceans.  The company, 525 Solutions, plans to build bio-degradable nets made of chitin; a material derived from shrimp shells.  The tiny chitin fibers are excellent at amassing uranium on the microscopic level.  While the nets are being developed for nuclear plant clean-ups, UA Chemistry Chair Dr. Robin Rogers points out the logical next step will be the floors of the sea.  From Fish Information & Services:

 "The oceans are estimated to contain more than a thousand times the amount of uranium found in total in any known land deposit,” Rogers said. “Fortunately, the concentration of uranium in the ocean is very, very low, but the volume of the oceans is, of course, very, very high. Assuming we could recover only half of this resource, this much uranium could support 6,500 years of nuclear capacity.”      

Clean, sustainable methods like 525 Solutions' are the major solution for transforming industries like mining to stay safe, relevant, and enduring.

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

Friday, September 19, 2014

South Korean Shipbuilders Make Cyber-Suits a Reality

With each passing day, there's more news from the world of cybernetics that continue to defy our imaginations. Ever since Arnold (aka "Ahhnold") stepped out of an explosion stripped down to his T-100 bones, the cinematic portrayal of human anatomy in robotic frames have been rooted in our minds.  And while movies like Edge of Tomorrow usually frame the growing trend of merging man and machine in the context of war and military might, the actual application of this tech could have alternative purposes.

South Korean-based Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Exploration, one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the world, in an effort to find new ways to maximize efficiency, has developed their own exo-skeleton that assists existing workers with heavy multi-purpose lifting.  The prototype can fit a laborer from roughly 5 to 6 feet tall, and help with heavy components weighing up 66 lbs.  While it's far from ideal in the day-to-day tasks- workers have already complained it slows them down and doesn't account for enough weight- the suit's basic concept has proved a resounding success.  Its combination of hydraulics and servomotors actually work to complement the laborer's own strength without hindering natural limb movement. From Daily Tech:

"The exoskeleton is made of a complex mix of carbon fiber, aluminum alloys, and steel alloys.  It weighs 28 kg (61.7 lb.) and is capable of 3 hours of operation via lithium-ion batteries that accompany the control circuitry in the backpack of the suit.  The suit is capable of walking at a "normal" human pace while carrying the 30 kg objects." 

While not the first prototype of its kind (MIT recently unveiled an "Octopus arm" apparatus), Daewoo's in-house exo-suit is the first to be used in an industry setting.  Already, US contractors such as Raytheon are taking notes for their own in-process projects.  There's also a lot more to see before the design is considered a real paradigm shift; it's one thing for an exoskeleton to work, it's another for its application to translate into measurable efficiency.  Still, Daewoo has taken a major step in robotics in the workplace, and the US industrial world should pay close attention to just how heavy this lifting will be.

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

Monday, September 15, 2014

Exit Coal/Enter Wind

The accelerating decline of coal has been in the cards for some time, now.  With long-term projections showing the costs in pollution and emissions far outweighing the benefits, the energy sector has clearly shifted to natural gas as its leading resource.

However, the US's distinct advantages in wind resources shouldn't be underestimated.  What wind has been lacking to compete with more traditional resources is infrastructure.  As efficient as an energy source can be, it's useless if it can't be efficiently integrated into the existing grid around it.  While incentives have been set in motion such as the EPA's demand that power plant emissions be cut by 30 percent in the next 15 years, the kind of large-scale system needed to show how powerful an impact wind can have on assuaging the nation's energy grids has been lacking; until now.

Wind Farm off the town of White Deer, TX
The Texas Panhandle, with winds so fast, locals consider them a hindrance more than a help, is now fully connected to the traditional energy landscape of the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Austin residencies with power lines capable of transmitting up to 18,000 Megawatts of power.  The project is daring on many levels, none more so perhaps than the fact that the infrastructure lines weren't exactly being made to meet existing demand.  The project is one giant $7 billion gamble that wind developers will take advantage of the gaping potential of servicing Texas' major cities under Texas' low taxes and regulations.  So far it seems to be working, as two wind farms have already entered operation this summer, producing power equivalent to a traditional coal plant.

While Texas is a unique situation, other regions of the country are following suit.  Detroit's largest supplier, DTE, recently forcasted $8 billion of their own investments will be spent retooling and renewing Michigan's energy grid.  While natural gas will always be on the table, Michigan's local winds are similar in proportional abundance to Texas.  In addition, when taken with DTE's recent plans to close six of the state's coal plants, it's safe to assume utilities are preparing for a major push into wind power.

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

California's Biggest Obstacle To Clean Manufacturing--Its Environmental Laws?

Tesla's steady surge into the fabric of American manufacturing is poised for a milestone in its plan to build a giant lithium battery plant-a "gigafactory" that they claim would guarantee homegrown creation of at least 6500 new jobs.  Naturally numbers like that will have states bidding like crazy for the project, and Musk's group has narrowed their choices for the site down to five states: Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California.

While taxes are always going to be a factor, that doesn't seem to be the primary hurdle Tesla is looking at for which state is suitable for the project.  Musk seems to have time on his mind:

"Timing for the gigafactory is very important,” Tesla spokesman Simon Sproule said Monday. “So all five states in the running for the gigafactory need to demonstrate, among other factors, that they can help us deliver the factory on time.” (Los Angeles Times, August 12, 2014)

Lithium ion batteries similar to the one above will be
manufactured at Tesla's proposed factory.
This may have very well been a direct message to California, which among the states, has the greatest California Environmental Quality Act- signed into law by Ronald Reagan- that state and municipal boards review any project sites for environmental impact before construction is allowed to begin.  While CEQA's intention was to preserve California's unique and fragile environment, its critics point out it may be hindering environmental efforts more than helping.  Because it vastly empowers local government, many neighborhoods have used it to turn down projects that could help the state ween itself off fossil fuels, such as wind farms and solar fields.  CEQA has become a tool of NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) sentiments, instead of green business expansion.

The Governor's administration is considering waiving the requirements of the regulation hurdles to clear.

However, there's an understandable concern in relaxing regulations around what is essentially, despite Tesla's green reputation, a battery plant.  While it's true there is precedent for CEQA being waived for large-scale projects (it was suspended when the NFL had proposed a football stadium in Los Angeles), lithium batteries and the risks their manufacturing could have in damaging the local environment with excess hazardous material is precisely the kind of project it was designed to regulate in the first place.  

With Tesla's determination to meet the deadline of 2017, the rush to cut through bureaucracy has created in California an all too common conflict between public and private incentive. Yet seeing how it will play out in the alternative fuel market may test everyone's assumptions of clean vs. dirty and what will really help this industry grow into the 21st century.

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

Friday, August 1, 2014

Finding What Works

The Big M Conference in Detroit drew multiple manufacturing companies, big and small, this past month, and served as a prime venue to exchange new ideas on how to continue refining the industry to adjust to a 21st century world that is rapidly changing.

Two major companies, GE and sealing giant Freudenberg-NOK,  delivered messages targeted for the Conference that directly addresses those changes.  Comparing their platforms can be very useful in finding patterns of what the community as a whole is trending towards as an overall philosophy.Starting with GE, which recently published an article in GEreports boiling their approach down to "four pillars": Virtual Manufacturing, Intelligent Machines, Flexible Factories, and  Reconfiguerable Supply Chains.  All four provide the ground for "brilliant factories"; plants more organic in operation and valuing smart data as a needed element, not just a supplemental advantage:

"To build what we call a Brilliant Factory—or a 21st century digital model—each of the four pillars will need a strong IT infrastructure that ties the manufacturing supply chain together and creates data highways for information to be transmitted wherever it needs to go. It also will require a common software platform that can integrate all of the data systems of a company’s manufacturing operations. These are both pieces GE is building to provide that IT support network"

Compare this to Fredenberg-NOK CEO Dr. Theodore G. Duclos's talk at the Big M, emphasizing  the company's Six Guiding Principles to steer it towards an evolution from the days of "lean manufacturing" to a more sophisticated, data-driven model of sustainability:

"Ultimately the six Principles – value for customer, responsibility, innovation, leadership, people and a long-term orientation – will provide the framework needed for Freudenberg-NOK to embrace the industrial evolution taking place in manufacturing, and the company will continue to meet and exceed customer demands and prosper", Duclos said.

"Whether we realize it or not, our journey to lean processes has been leading us to sustainability all along," Duclos concluded. "The principles of lean systems will inevitably lead us to create manufacturing processes that can close the carbon cycle that has been unsustainably open for many years."

Both long-term outlooks tend to hit on a few notions:

-Flexibility is key to sustainability.  Both companies value the notion of being able to customize, whether it be for clients or for employees.  GE essentially goes so far as to acknowledge this level of flexibility will most likely change the assembly line model for good ("The assembly line represented a huge leap in productivity for factories, but try to make data-driven system-optimal real-time adjustments and changes to the production process and you will find it difficult to do.")

-Automation over traditional labor.  Yep, the robots are here.  With the kind of affordability goals GE desires (20 percent increase in manufacturing and supply productivity), and its pillar devoted to factory-floor machines that operate within a real-time data network, the emphasis of automated labor over human is pretty much in black-and-white.

Freudenberg-NOK is very intriguing in its desire to see production cycles parallel those of the biological world, but again, this is also reflective of a general aversion to relying on human hands on the 21st century factory floor. While this may sound like bad news in the short run for employment numbers, one can hope local governments wise up to where the labor demand will obviously show itself: design, development, and thought-based skills to keep global-sized digital networks not just surviving, but thriving.

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

Friday, July 25, 2014

The New Switcharoo--Burst of Growth Continues for US Manufacturers

The Commerce Department's Report states that US manufacturing is growing at its most consistent pace. Major job growth in heartland states like Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan are coupled with a fledgling apparel and food manufacturing boom in Brooklyn, of all places.  This news and a contribution of 12.5 percent to GDP through 2013 adds to the widespread feeling that American manufacturing has not only recovered from the effects of the Great Recession, but has evolved into a dependent industry that differs from its pre-Recession identity since 1998 is of course very good news.  The numbers are healthy, no matter which way you look at it; 646,000 jobs created since 2010, with over 200,000 more needed to be filled.

In examining why, it's always crucial to look toward China's parallel trends, and it reveals just how joined at the hip (a hip the size of the Pacific Ocean) the two countries are.  Though most recent reports are showing an expansion in manufacturing on the continent, it's telling to see the average worker's wage rose exponentially by 187 percent in the past decade.  The trade-off of creating a middle class consumer society- higher wages- has finally rubbed out the labor advantage Chinese manufacturers enjoyed, to the point that the country is seeing its own outsourcing trend in nearby regions of  Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam.  The shrinking wage discrepancy as well as the effect of automation and sustainability cycles adopted by American manufacturers all make that long supply chain across the Pacific not so cost-efficient anymore.  Not to be forgotten is the contradictory paths the nations' energy scenarios have taken.  China's electricity has risen in costs by 66 percent the past year, while US shale-gas innovation has kept costs contained well below that rate.

It all adds up to one massive role-swap.  US goods become cheaper to buy in China, especially as the yuan rises in value (30 percent since 2004) as the American manufacturing system becomes more efficient and cheaper to remain competitive.  The next decade may see China's middle class mimicking 20th century America's, buying goods produced by a steadily rising American manufacturing industry.  If this seems disheartening to the American worrying that a China with more capital to spend must mean a US with slave labor wages on the supply end, keep in mind China's true expansionist efforts are reflected in the over $14 billion it invested last year in the US.  There are still an abundance of Chinese manufacturers targeting American consumers and setting up factories and production centers all over the US.  The "who leads" argument may sound entertaining on CSNBC or Fox Business, but reality shows a growing interdependence in trade between both nations, which can translate very soon to substantial global growth.

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

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Paralyzed Man Moves His Hand With the Help of Bionics

Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center/Ohio State University Wexner Med
Read more: Bionic Breakthrough
Ian Burkhart last felt his hand move in 2010, before he accidentally dived into a sandbar and was paralyzed from the elbows down.  Severed spinal cords are one of the great mysteries of the medical world; without an electric current flowing through the body, the nervous system is useless, and the spinal cord is so specialized and unique, the body can't regenerate cells that can reactivate it.

However Battelle, a non-profit technology research organization, has come closer than anyone to bypassing this problem.  Nick Annetta, an electrical engineer for the group has worked with Ian to reach a breakthrough in medical as well as manufacturing science: creating a bionic apparatus that sends brain signals to a paralyzed limb, successfully moving it.  From the Washington Post:

"...doctors opened Burkhart’s skull. They crowned his head with a small metal cylinder, attached to bone by screws, and ran a wire between it and the chip they stuck like Velcro to his brain.

....The doctors knew the chip was in the right place to pick up the brain signals. The engineers knew their algorithm was translating his thoughts to movements. They believed the film strips strapped around his forearm, which they called a sleeve, would stimulate his muscles to make those movements a physical reality."

Three times a week, Burkhart would practice online with Battelle experts, concentrating on digital "drills" that were essential visualization exercises.  When it became time to try the tech out, Burkhart was able to visualize his hand opening and closing and with the help of the chip in his brain and the sleeve around his forearm, was able to turn his thoughts into motion.
Technology to send electrical impulses to limbs immobilized by spinal cord injuries is rapidly expanding
This is an astounding breakthrough for so many industries.  The medical world may have found a device that can help victims of spinal cord damage become self-autonomous, decreasing the need for expensive round-the-clock care.  The world of neuroscience has inched even closer to harnessing the miraculous possibilities of the brain, and the digital software world has blurred the lines further between computerized and biological thought.  Firms and investors most certainly should take the results of Mr. Annetta and Mr Burkhart's seriously enough to look at how fast the tech can be refined enough for efficiency and cost-effectiveness.  Although the medical aspects are clearly expensive (brain surgery is not getting fit for a dental retainer), the basic concept for the software is quite simple to reproduce, and the training aspects for the patient can only get better as more is learned.  The doctors involved in the experiment speculate as to the future of bionics, bringing up ideas such as portable smart phone apps that would decode and recode the brain signals, instead of a stationary computer system, or wireless chips that would obviously be less cumbersome in practice.

These are all developments that may be down the road, but take this into account: soon after the initial experiment, Burkhart demonstrated the ability to grab a spoon and release it, without any prompt or drills required.  His brain, and the computer, learned faster than anyone anticipated.

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

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Researcher Finds Cheaper Way To Make Nanostructures: Diamonds

All innovations generally center around three principles: making things simpler, making them better in quality, and making the process easy to repeat.

In the ongoing world of nanotechnology, innovation is highly valued.  Moreover, because it's an industry that relies on materials that have to be artificially created on a microscopic scale, there is ample room for innovation in cost-efficient techniques.  Enter Hongyou Fan, a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories, who has received accolades from industry experts for his recently published paper in Nature Communications.  In it, he details a distinct method for creating nanostructures that shun the accepted but complex use of chemicals and embraces basic physics. As elaborates:

"The pressure, delivered by two diamond plates tightened by four screws to any controlled setting, shepherds silver nanospheres into any desired volume. Propinquity creates conditions that produce nanorods, nanowires and nanosheets at chosen thicknesses and lengths rather than the one-size-fits-all output of a chemical process, with no environmentally harmful residues." 

If those principles are to be followed, Fan's research has hit all three checkmarks.  Instead of complex chemicals, which not only require time and skill to use, but maintenance and storing as well, Fan has simplified the process to using old fashioned embossing techniques.  Yes, it's never cheap when one of the components are diamonds, but that beats hazardous, chemical by-products any day.  Using this method also provides the opportunity to customize the type of structure, an automatic upgrade in quality over chemical methods.  Finally, though the novelty means it's unrefined, the long-term cost-efficiency of safer ingredients and a template that can be easily made in a generic factory setting is sure to draw interest.

The next step in products will be semi-conducters, and Fan's team is working to develop them as well.  If his work catches on, it could translate into a less expensive way for more investors to jump into a technology only beginning to show its true potential.

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

Friday, May 23, 2014

2nd Gen Solar Powered Plane Prepares For Round-The-World Trip

The Solar Impulse on a night flight
The world recently got its first look at the second airplane to fly completely solar powered.  Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, partners and co-creators, rolled out Solar Impulse 2 in Switzerland as they prepare it for what is only to be their latest undertaking.  The two entrepreneurs- Piccard, a doctor and renowned explorer, and Borschberg, an MIT-graduated engineer and pilot, have now spent more than a decade proving to the world that solar power can indeed be integrated into aviation (although they make it a point to state they're not pushing an agenda of exclusively using solar-powered aviation).  Their public endeavors have taken them from test flights to night flights to crossing the Mediterranean on their prototype Solar Impulse in 2012, to a five-stop tour across the United States in 2013.  Now, Piccard and Borschberg, along with their 90-person-strong company is gearing up for the next and most harrowing flight yet: a round-the-world trip through the northern hemisphere.

The plane has a wing span exceeding that of a Boeing 757
Before anyone makes the mistake of assuming major airliners are ordering any Solar Impulses of their own to duck out of fuel costs, it's important to know the details of how far away from commercial flight this is.  Four motors powering a cockpit with just enough room for one pilot can reach a top speed of maybe 87 mph.  At 236 feet across, the plane's width exceeds a standard Boeing 757, with noticeably giant wings, and it needs every one of its more than 17,000 cells to operate.  "It's a pioneering project, not an industrial one,"  Piccard explains. "Protection of the environment is far too often boring and expensive...We want to show the opposite...Let’s be innovative and free ourselves from the old habits and beliefs that prevent us from inventing a better future.”

Four solar-powered motors provide the power
Clearly, Piccard is not alone in understanding the impact of demonstrating how far alternative energy can take us.  The project's major funding comes from corporate giants from different industries like Omega, Solvar, ABB, and Schindler.  A flight that crosses the Atlantic Ocean can burn 3.5 tons of carbon emissions; considering the thousands and thousands of flights that happen around the world in a single 24-hour span, it's only a matter of time that this reaches untenable.  This kind of technology can't directly supplant using fossil fuels, but think about how easy it can be to integrate it into the average commercial flight.  A hybrid airliner could have solar-powered flight during auto-pilot, or even just collect solar energy while in the air and carriers can sell it to utility companies on the ground for revenue.

The possibilities are there, and it will take innovators like Piccard and Borschberg to find them.

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

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Looking for inspiration on your next marketing program? Take a closer look at what you’re selling.

This may sound obvious, but marketers sometimes lose sight of this, particularly if they are promoting a technical service or product. In my experience getting close to what you sell---how it is engineered, processed and packaged—provides the foundation for the marketing story you want to tell. Whether it’s an update on your existing product line or the launch of a new service, this firsthand review of what you offer your customers can provide the critical spark needed to ignite an interesting and convincing marketing campaign.

Material for “job in progress” and “next job” staged
to keep presses running
For me, this inspiration comes from touring Rotor Clip’s factory in Somerset, New Jersey. We make retaining rings, wave springs and self-compensating hose clamps, for a variety of industries. All of the processes needed to produce these rings from engineering and tool making to packaging and shipping occur in our 238,000 square foot facility.

On this particular day I take my stroll with Rotor Clip Co-President, Craig Slass. I’ve been with the company for 30 years and I am still amazed at the new things I inevitably find on one of these tours.

Our first stop is the wire forming area where Craig enthusiastically shows me our new generation of presses. These have been designed to coil and stamp retaining rings much faster than conventional methods. This fits in well with our marketing message of being able to supply global demand for our product in volume and at the high level of quality our customers demand.

Rotor Clip eliminates tangling of its internal type of retaining rings thanks to this improvement, automatically stacking parts on wire at no extra cost to the customer

Finding ways to keep product moving in a logical flow reduce
 processing time and overall waste.
Our lean philosophy has taught us to find ways to streamline processes and reduce the time it takes for each. I see evidence of this everywhere I go. Areas have gotten creative in the way they handle product. Instead of the traditional batch and queue—making parts then piling them up in front of the next operation---pull systems bring only those quantities needed to meet customer demand for a given time.

I walk through our stamping press room and see outlined staging areas for material and tools needed for the next scheduled job. Having these items in a queue at the machine makes the transition to the next job seamless and efficient. I can see that the entire layout of the plant has been updated since my last walk a few
months ago to enhance process flow and eliminate waste.

Overall, I was impressed to see our plant making progress to produce reliable, quality products delivered on time to our customers. I’m psyched and ready to pump out some fresh new marketing ideas.

Like writing this blog entry.

Good luck with your next marketing campaign.

Joe Cappello is Director of Global Marketing for Rotor Clip Company.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ford's Next Eco-Boost Engine Leads To New Jobs in Ohio-Based Plant

Ford EcoBoost engine: Saves energy, creates jobs
It's probably safe to say the sustainability mantra has permanently affected the auto industry, and now there's evidence of it supporting the growing trend of domestic job creation.

Ford Motors' new EcoBoost engine was a big reason why its F-150 pickup trucks are the company's best-selling vehicle. The lightweight, six-cylinder truck engine models save energy and drag without sacrificing any power with a turbocharged gasoline direct-injection system. Now, for its 2015 line, Ford is introducing the 2.7 Liter V6 EcoBoost engine for its F-150's; the lightest version of its EcoBoost models yet.  The move clearly indicates Ford wants to go further investing in its EcoBoost engine line.

But it's also worth noting the they've chosen to include the location of the engine's construction as part of that investment.  The Lima Power Plant, based in northwestern Ohio, already has about 700 workers building the 3.5 and 3.7 liter EcoBoost engines for the 2014 F-150's.  Ford plans to add an expansion to the whole operation for 2015's new models, a move that amounts to $500 million and 300 additional jobs for the plant.

Building on a good thing is to be expected.  Keeping that good thing in the US, despite constant grumblings over labor wages from general corporate community is a good example of Ford's forward-thinking.  Sustainable, gas-conserving, environmentally-friendly vehicles are fast becoming characteristics sought after by an increasingly informed consumer public.  A pick-up truck that costs less to fill up is always going to be a good buy, regardless of someone's opinions on how much the environment should factor into their day-to-day living.  On the flip side, Ford may have hit onto an important new consumer demographic: the environmentally-conscious, but rural-based driver who has no need of a smart car.  There are plenty of newly-developing cities such as Portland, Austin, Santa Fe, etc, that have communities wanting to embrace sustainability, but living on terrain that no Prius or Leaf could survive on for long.  Ford's Eco-Boost F-150's are a perfect answer.    

Perhaps the best part of this announcement is that Ford's effort to create a more eco-friendly bridge to heartland living will directly benefit the American job landscape.  The expansion to the Lima plant will give it a permanence and with the prolific numbers of the F-150, there's no sign it will run out of orders anytime soon.

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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Robots Poised to Replace Manual Labor

In an interview recently with The Verge, President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Robert Atkinson had this quote in response to how the US should handle the dilemma of automation investment at the expense of jobs:

"That's not really what our choice is...I think our choice is continued erosion of our manufacturing capabilities and the jobs that go with it, or a more revolutionary transformation."

Therein lies the sticking point.  Despite the positive trend in manufacturing jobs and operations moving back stateside, most experts agree the elements that make up traditional manufacturing- namely a labor-based supply chain- are slowly becoming an unworkable model.  Technology is the chief reason for this, as automatic labor has now become 50 percent cheaper than human labor (McKinsey Report, Sept. 2012).  And as The Wall Street Journal recently  covered, Google's partnership with Foxconn in developing new robotics is going to take advantage of this disparagement on an unprecedented scale.

 With a focus on electronic assembly, Google aims to build an all-robotic labor force.  Google also specified it intends to use automation in competing directly with Amazon's manual labor (Don't let the recent PR hype around drones fool you: Amazon's manual labor is still the driving force behind the company).  This is truly heading into unchartered waters, but if we're to look back on the past hundred years of technological advancement, it's pretty good odds that those waters are inevitable: robots will be a major part of factory labor, on every level, in almost every sector.

This really comes down to that "revolutionary transformation" Atkinson spoke about.  The issue is no one knows what that transformation is going to be.  What does an employment landscape without traditional manual labor look like?  How can you keep an economy going without it?  There's a real risk that if the US isn't prepared with ways of transitioning low-wage workers to new jobs of the future, the country will be stuck with a massive and permanent unemployment class- or worse, the entire economy collapses.
Robots are rapidly replacing traditional manual labor.

However, with the right kind of thinking (re:outside the box), it is also entirely possible we discover whole new jobs and industries as this new century continues.  Last year, Scott Winship made a valid point in an article regarding the long-term perspective of technology replacing labor.  He argues that of course, there is a correlation between insecure low-wage jobs and workers not given the opportunity to accrue employment skills.  While it would seem technology would only box in those low-wage workers and take even more opportunity away, he notes: "In all five decades from 1950 to 2000, the share of workers in high-wage jobs rose faster than the share in low-wage jobs, but the pattern was reversed from 2000 to 2007."

We've had technological improvements, specifically in computers and automation, since the early 20th century.  Yet, not only was employment unharmed overall, it had improved in wages up until the beginning of this century.  That's because up until then, traditional labor was being buoyed by technology; it's only the last decade that it's been surpassed by it.  So technology itself is not the culprit: it's the lack of investment by everyone, public and private, in manual labor that can complement said technology.  How to address this?

There's no smoking gun yet, but an updated education effort on the national level, a greater emphasis on thought-based jobs, and a willingness to rethink what should and shouldn't be a "job" in the 21st century, could all be a good start.

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