Monday, December 7, 2015

Power Out of Thin Air

Get ready to never lag around a power cord ever again.

While the design of how to do it has technically been around for quite sometime now (since Tesla), two-year start-up, Energous, has claimed to crack the code of wireless power charging. If their model sustains itself in real-world applications, phones, laptops, and any other devices will be power-charged via wireless routers from now on.

The solution was counter-intuitive but simple: make charging less powerful, but steadier. A typical 5 watt outlet will charge your battery faster but at the price of limited mobility. A 2 watt charge coming from Energous' wireless routers, however, will "trickle-charge" a battery from up to 15 feet away without a charging pad or the need to plug in to a traditional outlet.
New technology offers wireless charging of devices.

The Energous wireless router (named "WattUp") is capabale of charging a number of battery powered devices including cell phones, tablets, wearables, cameras, wireless keyboards and mice, headsets, sensors, LED lights, remote controls and toys. Each device must contain a WattUp receiver that converts the signal from the router into battery power. Up to 12 devices can be managed by the system simultaneously.

The devices can be charged even if they are in motion, like when someone walks around a room while talking on a cell phone. According to the company, the WattUp technology gives the user "the ability to make low battery anxiety a thing of the past."

So if you've ever been exasperated by a dropped call or a lost document due to a drained battery, take heart. You can rely on this new technology to save the day (and your data) as easily as breathing the air around you. 

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mealworms and Styrofoam: How Nature Once Again Proves It Can Save Us

Researchers from both Stanford and China Beihang University have successfully proven that beetle larvae- commonly referred to as "mealworms" are an efficient way to break down polyethylene plastic: by eating it.  The discovery  does one important thing right away: it negates the classification of polyethylene plastics as "non-biodegradable", opening a huge door to research in how to eliminate the estimated 33 million tons of plastic waste the US produces annually (and that's only the US).

Using beetle larvae from various sources, the researchers fed them a daily diet of Styrofoam. According to their published results in Environmental Science and Technology:
"The Styrofoam was efficiently degraded in the larval gut within a retention time of less than 24 h. Fed with Styrofoam as the sole diet, the larvae lived as well as those fed with a normal diet (bran) over a period of one month."
Mealworms chow down on Styrofoam. The creatures break down the material
much faster than it normally takes for Styrofoam to break down on its own

The findings go on to report about half (47.7%) the byproduct of the mealworms' digestion was carbon dioxide and the rest biomass and non-toxic fecal matter. The average biodegradation was found to take 16 days; an astoundingly fast measurement compared to the eons Styrofoam takes to break down on its own.

While carbon dioxide as a byproduct will produce its own challenge of how to responsibly introduce it back into the ecosystem (it's not out of the realm of possibility to imagine a mealworm farm integrated into a controlled forest, is it?), the hope is with further research, labs can isolate the bioenzyme that enables mealworms to do this and utilize it on a grander scale to break down plastic waste en masse.

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

Friday, November 13, 2015

Permeable Pavement The Key To New Water Infrastructure

Recently, we wrote about one of the ways California is addressing its drought-afflicted water systems: a multi-millions dollar city-wide push for capturing urban runoff by Los Angeles's Department of Water & Power. The effort will demand many innovations that need to be implemented to existing infrastructure as quickly as possible.

One new company has provided an excellent option for that innovation; UK-based Tarmac has introduced its new Topmix Permeable pavement. The material is capable of absorbing an astounding 880 million gallons of water in a single minute. That's fast enough to keep up with most rainfall averages but the real value is not merely in preventing flood accumulation on city streets; it is in the many ways the pavement can supplement current water storage systems that already exist:

While storing rainwater is not a new feature, the average American city still relies an astounding amount on water melted from the snowpack of nearby mountains (the Cascades of New York, the Sierras of California, for example). But with shifting weather patterns all over the nation, the traditional methods of water capture yield less and less amounts, and it has become clear 21st century urban designs must take these changing nature patterns into effect in order to survive.

Topmix Permeable not only serves as an excellent alternative to traditional snowmelt systems (if heavily invested in), but is also pliable enough to be applied to a variety of existing models. TechInsider breaks it down:
"The system can accommodate three designs: full infiltration, partial infiltration, and full attenuation.

Full infiltration refers to a system where all water goes through Topmix to flow into the soil underneath. It's particularly useful in wet areas that don't need to collect the rainwater.
Partial infiltration involves a semi-permeable barrier beneath Topmix that acts as a drainage system into nearby sewers or waterways — useful when the layer beneath Topmix can't pass the water through on its own.
Full attenuation uses a capture system to store all the water that flows through Topmix. This option is most useful in areas with unclean water and high recycling rates, since the captured water can be reused later."
The variety of applications means Topmix has the chance to replace existing pavement areas immediately. And judging by the drastic changes in weather around the nation- specifically in the Southwest- immediate and widespread changes are definitely in demand. Its only shortcoming is that it risks cracking if the absorbed water expands in cold weather. That may rule out a few urban markets, but not nearly as many as those that stand to benefit the greatest.

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


Friday, October 30, 2015

Wheelchair Design Uses Segway Tech to Be Hands Free

New Zealander Kevin Halsall watched his good friend relegated to a wheelchair after a skiing accident left him paralyzed. The transition was especially unbearable for someone who had been athletically active outdoors, but Halsall saw a way to ensure being handicapped did not mean his friend would also have to watch his body physically deteriorate.

Four years and three prototypes later, Halsall is drawing cross-continental praise for his patented wheelchair, the Ogo. The Ogo can be customized, is lightweight, battery-powered, and has a cutting-edge fiberglass hull. But its best feature utilizes technology that's been around for years that in retrospect it is a wonder no one had thought to implement it: the Segway gyroscope.

As the video above shows, the Ogo's seat responds to the direction of weight leaning on it. A driver can lean forward, backwards, or side to side, and the chair's Segway-implemented system will move accordingly. No controls are needed and as a side benefit, the driver's core muscles stay active in steering, an issue that directly addresses the unfortunate attrition from a seated life.

Although this product may not help all wheelchair-users (there are still many paraplegics without the use of lower back and rump muscles needed to steer), the Ogo still counts as a step forward in helping many of them not only explore the average terrain, but the exceptional as well. Halsall's design has steadily gained in funding, winning $10,000 and an investment mentoring from Kiwi kick starter firm Equitise as well as first place in New Zealand's 2015 Innovate Competition. Furthermore, while the Ogo runs at a top speed of 12mph, its lithium ion batteries stand to lose weight with future versions (as we've covered), meaning the Ogo could have even more room to improve the lives of those confined to a chair but unwilling to let that deter a healthy and active life.

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

Friday, October 23, 2015

Additive Manufacturing Goes "Green" with Coffee Grinds, Mud, Clay

With sustainability becoming increasingly more and more of a priority for individuals and nations alike, it seems only natural that the inevitable future of manufacturing- namely additive- be held to a higher environmental standard than its oil and gas predecessors.

This is not lost on the pioneers of 3d Printing technology, as more and more start ups are using the new industry as a method to develop more sustainable and eco-friendly chains of production. The following are only a few of the many experimental and small-scale excursions into the concept of environmentally conscious 3d Printing that are waiting for large-scale investment to demonstrate their true worth:
Coffee-based filament used to 3D print products.
3Dom USA Eco-Friendly Products

A merging endeavor of Fargo 3D and European-based 3Dom, 3Dom USA recently revealed an unlikely source for its spool products: coffee grinds. With the help of bio-composite company, c2renew, 3Dom USA's firmament is sturdy, natural, and degrades in dumps at a much faster rate than plastic-based spooling. Seeing as how most printers in the market currently are designed to only use plastics for use anyway, 3Dom USA's printers have to come with whatever coffee-based materials they use. But the cost-efficiency more than makes up for any initial buy and the variety of hard products for retail, utility, and even construction, are enough to warrant consideration.

WASP's BigDelta Mud House Printer

World's Advanced Saving Project has a variety of innovative projects, none more impressive than BigDelta. Following ancient Mediterranean techniques that use only clay, water, and plant materials, WASP created a massive 40-foot 3D printer that constructs mud houses.

A massive 3D printer used to produce mud and clay houses.
 Though phased out when the Industrial Revolution went global, mud houses are still extremely cheap and durable from the outside elements. Surges in global population among third-world countries all but guarantee their value as a logical choice in mass housing in many parts of the world.

Model clay houses built by WASP using its 40 foot, 3D printer.

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

Friday, October 16, 2015

Carbon Nanofiber Manufacturing- Environmental Savior?

With increasing evidence that the planet is indeed warming from a buildup of carbon in the atmosphere, more and more industrial minds are looking for ways humanity can adjust its mass productivity with the coming environmental issues of the 21st century.

New process extracts carbon nanofibers out of thin air
Researchers from George Washington University have kept this in mind and decided to go directly to the source: carbon itself. Carbon nanofiber has already earned a reputation as a new material ripe with potential. While it used to be difficult to mass produce, new advances in process have made it cheaper and more efficient in comparison to similarly used materials such as steel and aluminum. The airline, bullet-proof armor, and medical tech worlds have all invested heavily in carbon nanofiber, and further developments could enable the material to even replace traditional building infrastructure.

And so with the real possibility of carbon nanofibers becoming universally used on a global level, Stuart Licht and his team at GWU developed a process of manufacturing that pulls CO2 directly from the atmosphere and by running it through an electric current in molten hot lithium carbonates, reforms it into a nano-substance. Right now all recorded results have been on the prototypical level. According to Licht, however, if the process were duplicated on a large scale, the math of diminishing the carbon in the atmosphere that currently traps heat from the sun at rates unprecedented in human recorded history works out to a very favorable outcome:

"We calculate that with a physical area less than 10 percent the size of the Sahara Desert, our process could remove enough CO2 to decrease atmospheric levels to those of the pre-industrial revolution within 10 years," Licht says in a statement through the American Chemical Society

Less than 10 percent of the Sahara is still a very big area. And there are still other variables to consider, such as the shelf life of the CO2 nanofibers themselves, and whether product decay would only delay the inevitable.

That said, this discovery marries the best of both the industrial and environmental worlds. Carbon nanofibers are not only an excellent choice of product for its application (durability, lightweight, tensile strength), but it is cost-effective and in higher demand every quarter. If its manufacturing process can also clean the air of the very particles exacerbating climate change as well, there may be literally no downside in its expansion as a universal raw material.

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

Friday, October 9, 2015

3D Printing's Value Is In What It Takes Away

3D printed engine made by Amaero & Monash University
As additive manufacturing continues to gather blinding momentum in various industries all over the world, it is important to recognize what it can really contribute as a new technology. Most innovations are met with gobs of capital investment assuming a return is in volume of production. In fact already, enthusiasts are hailing the future of additive manufacturing as "a 3D printer in every household, on every desktop".

3D printing, while having lots of potential in smaller use, should still certainly be considered the central hub for the manufacturing operation of the future.  The technology is ideal for economizing overall manufacturing and minimizing the use of resources, a suddenly necessary priority for a global society with human population levels never seen before on the planet. Rather than the usual model of mass production, this technology should be strategically utilized for making products not just ample, but efficient in production.

Many big companies already understand this, an example being a recent challenge by French aerospace firm Safran for an airplane engine entirely constructed from additive manufacturing. The result was the first jet engine ever completely manufactured from 3D printing. The effort, a collaboration of Australian-based Amaero Manufacturing and Monash University, was not only hailed for enabling the creation of difficult, customized engine parts, but also for cutting into standard manufacturing lead times as well.  As Simon Marriott, CEO of Amaero said in a statement to Reuters,  "This will allow aerospace companies to compress their development cycles because we are making these prototype engines three or four times faster than normal".

Amaero's project turned out to be two prototypes made- one that took a year, and a subsequent one that took only three months. Clearly, the level of improvement in has much more room to grow. In fact, only a few months later, GE Aviation's Additive Manufacturing division made their own attempt at the same goal and produced its own completely 3D printed jet engine that reached 33,000 RPM:

Lightweight, a foot long, and produced in ever-decreasing lead times; GE's latest example proves that mass distribution is indeed possible through paring down the process of manufacturing. If 3D printing machinery can continue to be more and more cost-effective, and match performance of tradiationally manufactured products, the entire industrial process itself should be reconsidered. It's not the what, but the how, that will be 3D printing's thumbprint on the world.  

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

Friday, October 2, 2015

Drones For Everyone: Uneccessary Or Inevitable?

Start-Up CyPhy's latest model, the LVL 1

New Jersey over the past few years has suddenly become a state home to an increasing amount of drone enthusiasts. Hobby groups like the Oaklyn Rotor-E Drone Club have proven there is a sizable amount of the public, of all income and demographics, that not only enjoy drone technology for individual purposes, but social interaction as well.

With that in mind, it's only a matter of time before someone puts serious investment behind an effort to integrate drones into our day-to-day lives. That said, how, exactly, should they fit into those lives? The established feature of drone-tech-the camera- has been used recently in a variety of monitor-oriented methods. One such example is the implementation of a drone by Turner Corporation to oversee the Kings arena construction site in Sacramento, California. While there is real value in getting real-time data return on the productivity of a construction team, this application of constant surveillance can have the adverse effect of overworked laborers aware of always being watched (not to mention annoying them as well; nobody likes an "all-seeing eye" camera above them at work.)

On the individual level, however, drone technology, while harder to practically apply, makes a lot more sense. Imagine the drone not as a primary point of focus every time you use it, but an accessory in the background, providing functional information when needed and serving as an extension of your smartphone. Gizmodo, in a recent podcast, featured a project by the R&D lab Superflux, called the Drone Aviary. The purpose of the project was to explore literally every practical purpose having a drone nonchalantly hovering in a person's own "bubblespace". The results were quite interesting: monitoring health, pets at home, traffic while running or bicycling, even a house or apartment while you sleep. Those were just a fraction of the myriad of possibilities Superflux's design team came up with, and when put into the context of app technology, it is quite possible one drone can be programmed through a smartphone to perform each function on command.

Some would say that while a nice idea, the hardware of a drone is not at a point where navigating the pitfalls of real-world use, like accidents, mistakes of use, or outright vandalism, is possible. Maybe so, but more and more, start-ups are building drones customized exactly for these kinds of variables. Take the CyPhy LVL 1 for example; a lightweight, hard plastic drone with its camera built inside to take into account environmental hazards. Not only can it be "added on" with supplemental tech to do different things, but its geometric design enables it to fly in close quarters, around tight corners, and always with its camera level; in other words, ideal for densely populated urban landscapes.

Yes, this is a long way down the road, and most likely coming after drones are used in a sparse way that takes into account just how much of a nightmare mass use could be for air traffic and congestion (as the recent disaster of a wildfire on the route 5 interstate in California illustrated. Drones can seriously impede needed air services we depend on.) However, as they get cheaper to make and various in use, it is only a matter of time before the public will be clamoring for a drone of their own. The industry is closer to meeting that demand than it may seem.

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

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Era of Drought-Coping-Manufacturing Is Here

In the western US, it's time to face the very real possibility this half-decade-long drought is not going away anytime soon. Snow-capped mountains in Southern California are a thing of the past, and water conservation has moved very sharply into the collective consciousness of the public mind.

Consequently, the time has come for technological advancements dealing with water sustainability to move out of the R&D labs and into real world application. Already, there are several interesting ideas making their way either through resident or public use. They include:

DIY Fog Catchers

Global Design Company Ideo has multiple irons in the fire when it comes to originality. However, Will Carey, one of its directors in San Francisco, has taken an old idea- harvesting moisture from the air- and re-imagined it. Researching the design of the desert-based Stenocata beetle shell, Carey came up with a water-harvesting fog catcher easy to make and maintain for any Bay Area resident. After successfully building a micro fog catcher good enough to provide him water for coffee every morning, Carey then built bigger "panel" models, and mounted them on the roof of his apartment complex. How much water do these larger catchers provide the tenants? Enough for the toilets and short showers.

Fog Catcher extracts moisture from the air.

"Shade Balls"

Recently, Los Angeles dumped over 96 million small, plastic shade balls into its reservoirs as part of a $35 million water improvement plan. At $.36 a piece, the balls are a cost-effective way of preventing two natural events from sunlight that have a surprisingly costly effect on the city's water. One is evaporation; the other, unhealthy chemical reactions when ultraviolet light hits the added chlorine used to keep the drinking source clean. In addition, the balls prevent algae bacterial buildup. City officials estimate the shade balls will save over 300 million gallons of water every year.

Urban Runoff Capture

But the more important innovation coming out of LA could be LADWP's recent announcement of a city-wide plan to capture rainfall from running off into the ocean, sanitizing it, and redistributing it into the city's drinking supply. Surprisingly, Los Angeles and most other cities still rely heavily on snow pack that melts during the Spring. While the process is a natural system in how the local Sierra Mountains fertilize lush surrounding valleys, it takes a long time and travels long distances before replenishing LA's drinking supply. What's worse, this past year recorded the lowest snowfall for the Sierras yet: just five percent of its normal levels. Clearly the city cannot rely on them anymore for the millions of residents that surge in population each year.

Permeable pavement reduces runoff and filters water back into the aquifer.
The good news is rainfall levels, while uneven, are still adequate enough to be a potential water source. This is going to require a major overhaul of Los Angeles' infrastructure. After cutting their water use by 27 percent this past year, Californians get the gravity of the situation, and there is enough public support for ambitious development. LADWP is aiming high: $200 million worth of "case-by-case" conversions. The methods include strategically-placed gardens for bioretention, "green streets" with permeable pavement, and underground basins.

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

Friday, September 18, 2015

Elon Musk Reclaims The Hyperloop

When Elon Musk published his 57-page alpha white papers on the concept of a Hyperloop back in 2013, he made a clear intention that they were for some other ambitious group of innovators to take and run with, as he had a bit on his plate already.

Little did he, or really anyone, suspect someone would take up his challenge so quickly, but that is precisely what Dirk Ahlnborn and others did when they created Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. Through successful marketing and crowdfunding efforts, the start-up has made incredible strides in introducing Musk's core concept to real-world applications.

Just recently, Hyperloop Technologies announced a partnership with Oerlikon Leybold Vacuum and global engineering firm Aecom. In exchange for stock options, both companies will facilitate their employees' expertise in how to make Musk's initial vision of a pneumatic tubing network firing passengers across the country a reality. The location of a future prototype has already been chosen the silicon valley-engineered "Quay Valley" that will be situated in between Los Angeles and San Francisco. With more investment, Hyperloop Technologies hopes to have a 5 mile test track built there. The speed at which the concept is developing into actual application illustrates how contagious a good idea can be, and how it can even trump traditional monetary benefit for those who understand its importance. From Wired :

"The startup also announced today that it has 400 'team members' working on the project. They aren’t employees, but women and men with regular gigs at places like NASA, Boeing, and SpaceX, who spend their spare time on Hyperloop in exchange for stock options"

While the interest in the idea owes itself to Musk's white paper publishing, it's worth mentioning his real intention for introducing the idea was to criticize California's high speed rail project- or rather its price tag. Because of this ulterior motive, it has always been tricky to gauge how serious Musk's commitment to the idea really was. That certainly changed in June, however, when the billionaire's company SpaceX announced a competition to design the ideal pod to house passengers for a future Hyperloop project. While the competition only covers one aspect of the incredibly complex endeavor, it proves Musk believes enough in the merits of his idea that he is willing for SpaceX to devote time and money. 

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

Friday, August 28, 2015

Airless Tires Breathe New Life into Conventional Wheels

More and more, recent innovations in the automotive industry demonstrate the importance of further refining existing products instead of constantly trying to come up with brand new ones.

Case in point: Korean-based company Hankook unveiled a successful test run of its prototype, the iFlex: an airless tire. While a non-pneumatic tire is certainly a new development, the concept is not a new one. Militaries around the world use airless tires in heavy transport vehicles. The details around Hankook's particular design show an awareness of the process of manufacturing being just as crucial as the end result itself.

The iFlex comes in three sections: an outer layer, inner layer, and central frame fitted around the hub. The outer layer is, of course, the section built to interact with the ground the most. The inner layer is a mesh network of spokes (made from organic, rice husk material), designed to absorb the impact passed through from the outer layer.  The central frame links the two together, but is also available in multiple colors; a clever built-in nod to the average car-buyer's desire for personal customization. Probably the most interesting change Hankook made is finding a way to manufacture this model in four steps, when the standard tire model takes at least eight. Reusable materials, not needing pneumatic maintenance, and a shorter process greatly contribute to the promise of the iFLex reaching the holy grail of mass production.

Although the company is a little quiet on this latest test run, the results they disclosed sound promising. The car driving with iFLex tires reached a peak of 80mph without any issues in durability, stability, hardness, slalom (ability to zigzag), and speed. You can view Hankook's promotional video for the iFlex below:

(Note: Bridgestone Americas is also working on an airless tire design).

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

Monday, August 10, 2015

Virtual Arcade In Utah Set To Change Immersive Gaming Forever

Utah may not be the first place that comes to mind when envisioning the latest development in virtual technology.

That may change within the year, however, if all goes as well as planned for the new company Void. The Void, or The Vision of Infinite Dimensions, boasts it has come closest than any company before in providing virtual gear that, when worn by a player, completely immerses their senses into a "holodeck" simulation game happening all around their environment. A look at this promo video proves they may not at all be exaggerating:

There are other virtual projects out there utilizing full immersion like this. Cyberith's Virtualizer and Oculus Rift harness had a recently successful Kickstarter campaign.

None of them seem to be committing as much as The Void to space expansion. The use of maze halls and props is a perfect way to lure families used to attending immersion parks similar to what bigger theme brands like Universal Studios employ.

This way, virtualism, although clearly being packaged for gamers, may also hold the promise of cross-demographic interest to Mom and Dad as well.

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

Friday, July 24, 2015

Bladeless Wind Turbines: Progress Or Quixotic?

The collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940 provides a textbook example for physics students about the dangers of overestimating the force of oscillation and aeroelastic flutter.However, not everyone has taken it as a lesson in what to avoid, but rather how to capture the dangerous phenomena and put it to good use.

Vortex Bladeless, a start-up company based in Spain, has introduced a new type of wind turbine built around the idea of oscillation including a distinct feature: no blades. The bladeless turbine, invented by Daniel Yanez, generates energy not from a basic "windmill" design, but by oscillating to and fro as wind swirls around its cylindrical top. This is essentially using the principles of vorticity to harness the power of the wind, ironic in that prevention of vorticity has been the lesson most engineers have taken from the fate of the first Tacoma Bridge.

"This is a very good way to transmit energy from a fluid to a structure,” Yanez explains. Not to mention save money. The design has no excess gears or bearings needed to hold things in place, and does not come in fractured pieces that do not fit a standard storage transportation unit (unlike blades, which demand more customization for delivery the bigger each model gets). The cylinder poles in Yanez's design would also take up less space, cost half the amount of standard wind turbines to manufacture, make less noise, and crucial for the environmental lobby, be of minimal risk to birds' flight paths.

Of course there are downsides; being more lightweight taking up less area of wind to harness means less conversion energy. Wind turbines usually have a rate of 90 percent kinetic energy conversion, while Yanez believes his model will amount to somewhere around 70 percent (it also bears reminding Yanez and his partners have only built one miniature prototype right now). Also, there are those who question the idea of an oscillating pole being silent, especially at the size it will have to be in order to produce anything worth investment. “The oscillating frequencies that shake the cylinder will make noise,” says Sheila Widnall, an aeronautics and astronautics professor at MIT. “It will sound like a freight train coming through your wind farm.”

Vortex has already received about $1 million in venture capital to work with; it hopes to receive $5 million more to help build a larger version of its current prototypes. While Yanez and his compatriots agree there is a long way to go, if they have hit upon a model of wind turbine that can be improved and developed for more efficiency of space and integration into densely populated areas, they may have just invented the next generation of wind infrastructure.

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

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Battery May Have Just Changed...and Changed All Industry With It

Ask industry experts what's really holding alternative energy back, and even Elon Musk would admit: it's the stalling out of the battery.

The lithium ion battery, although a reliable source of energy storage, has simply hit a ceiling of efficiency with how much energy output it can give versus how expensive it is to manufacture. No one has been able to make any headway in finding a way to boost the energy output while minimizing cost-efficiency.

Until now. 24M, a battery start-up that has been in stealth mode for almost five years, has now emerged publicly to present a brilliant package of innovations that will most likely change the battery industry and the entire energy sector.

While they did not change the overall chemistry properties of the lithium-ion battery, they may have done something even better: discover a process of manufacturing that builds a lithium-ion battery faster and cheaper, with more energy capacity. Dr. Yet-Ming Chiang, co-founder, chief scientist, and a lifelong MIT mind, gave an incredible interview to Quartz about the journey he took in going all the way back to the drawing board with the battery. At one point, the start-up company had thrown all its bets onto the prospects of creating a new model flow battery (a design where unlike traditional solid cells, the cathode and anode would be delivered and maintained through two storage units of liquid.) But while the flow battery model had come with cheaper materials, one the size of a nuclear reactor would be needed in order to have a prayer of competing with gas fuel.

Chiang, to his credit, recognized when to re-prioritize. He went back to the traditional lithium-ion cell models and realized something that had been overlooked; the original manufacturers of lithium batteries was Sony, and they had done so on the same machines used to create magnetic strips for the dying cassette tape. From Chiang's interview in Quartz:

The result was the first lithium-ion cell, which Sony commercialized in 1991...But Sony also had to quickly figure out how to manufacture this new kind of battery on a commercial scale. Providence stepped in: As it happened, increasingly popular compact discs were beginning to erode the market for cassette tapes, of which Sony was also a major manufacturer. The tapes were made on long manufacturing lines that coated a film with a magnetic slurry, dried it, cut it into long strips, and rolled it up. Looking around the company, Sony’s lithium-ion managers now noticed much of this equipment, and its technicians, standing idle. 
It turned out that the very same equipment could also be used for making lithium-ion batteries. These too could be made by coating a slurry on to a film, then drying and cutting it. In this case the result isn’t magnetic tape, but battery electrodes.
This equipment, and those technicians, became the backbone of the world’s first lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant, and the model for how they have been made ever since. Today, factories operating on identical principles are turning out every commercial lithium-ion battery on the planet.
The machines were big, and their process was slow and expensive. They were a large part of the reason batteries couldn’t compete with gasoline. It was time to correct that mistake and figure out a new way to make the battery. “We got sidetracked by a historical accident and a reluctance to switch to something that works (better),” Chiang said.

Chiang and 24M were able to remove 80 percent inactive materials, simplify the layers inside each inidividual cell (from 24 to 5) and cut the time it takes to create one cell from 22 hours to a couple minutes. The average capital needed for an entry-level battery plant is $100 million. Chaing belives these innovations in process alone can knock the price down to $10 million; a very reasonable amount for smaller start-up companies to compete with larger battery giants.

More importantly, these efficiency changes, if they really can be duplicated on a mass level, now make batteries a direct competitor with the oil and gas sector. Heavy expensive batteries have been a literal and figurative anchor holding down the 21st century ideas of electric cars, and off-the-grid housing. With the help of Chiang and 24M, the anchor has just gotten a lot smaller.

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

Monday, June 29, 2015

Chicago Manufacturing Hub Opens

Back in October, we posted about the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act, a bipartisan bill that allotted $300 million in public funds to combine with private money in creating 15 manufacturing "hubs" around the country. These hubs would be responsible for research and development that could serve in retraining workers and updating the manufacturing sector with needed technology and advancements.

This previous month, the first of those hubs finally made its grand opening. The Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovative Institute (DMII) of Chicago held its opening ceremony on May 11th, with Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and Governor Bruce Rauner on hand to cut the ribbon. DMDII is a 94,000 square foot space, brought to life from the ashes of Republic Windows, a factory that closed in 2008 and took 200 local jobs with it.

With the help of $70 million from the RAMI Act and $200 million in private investment, as well as resources provided by the University of Illinios, DMDII hopes to become a place where the research-heavy world of 21st century digital tech meets the infrastructure of US manufacturing. Multiple projects are slated to use DMDII as a way of finding new ways to integrate new advances in tech, like smart data or personalized software, into existing machinery and roles for employees. Here, UI's vocational program-UI Labs-can also test new methods, gadgets, and products that may move from the student mind to the factory floor much faster than before. Make no mistake, however; DMDII is not serving as an extension of a university, so much as a makerspace for multiple organizations that span different industries. The hope is that by sharing space and resources, people and firms alike can enjoy more industrial cross-pollination. Out of collaboration, successful ideas can be practically implemented faster and on a larger scale. A documented 20 projects have already been submitted and 5 have been approved for funding, with the expectation that they will not only result in success, but success that can be mimicked in other cities and environments.

DMDII will also share its hub space with City Works, a UILabs initiative that will deal specifcally with urban infrastructure renewal. City Works hopes to research and test many smart data pilots in the model of those proven successful in cities like Singapore.

The potential Chicago's "manufacturing hub" holds is promising, and put in the context of 14 other hubs not even finished yet, the 21st century is closer than ever.

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

Friday, June 12, 2015


(Excerpt from the upcoming book on Robert Slass, Founder of Rotor Clip Company, a successful US manufacturer of retaining rings)

“…Companies should be in business for the long term to compete successfully and provide jobs. To do this, constant improvement is necessary.” Turning Deming’s Points into Action, by Robert Slass, Industry Week, June 20, 1988.

The 1980’s saw the rise of Japan as an economic powerhouse and an innovator of products and services. They perfected methods of production and succeeded in manufacturing quality goods at very competitive prices. This gave Japanese companies a strong advantage in selling everything from automobiles to consumer electronics. Many industries that enjoyed sole domination of their respective markets for many years were suddenly scrambling to stay in business.

Bob watched these events with great concern. He was particularly troubled by companies that had been in business for a lifetime suddenly selling out or dissolving into bankruptcies. If Rotor Clip was to avoid a similar fate, it had to readjust to the changing manufacturing picture.

Of all the quality ideas circulating in the automotive industry at the time, Bob was most drawn to W. Edwards Deming. His view of continuous improvement and Statistical Process Control fit with Bob’s own philosophy that quality should be the number one priority in his manufacturing operation. 

Deming developed his techniques in the US in the 1920’s. But his breakthrough came when he was invited to speak to the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) to help in the reconstruction of that country after World War II. From June through August 1950, he trained hundreds of engineers, managers, and scholars in statistical process control (SPC) and concepts of quality. Deming was so well received by the Japanese that the “Japanese Economic Miracle” that soon followed owed its success in large part to Deming. To show their gratitude the Japanese industrialists instituted the “Deming Prize” for excellence in manufacturing, an honor that is still revered in Japan to this day.

But Deming’s concepts were slow to catch on in the US. After the war, our factories were more concerned with filling orders than struggling to learn the quality techniques espoused by Deming. We were still sorting parts “after the fact,” not developing “in-process” checking techniques like SPC to detect and correct errors before bad parts could be made. This complacency was short lived as Japanese companies (inspired by Deming) introduced products like automobiles that were perceived by American consumers to be of higher quality than their domestic counterparts.

By the 1980’s, American manufacturing responded to the threat. Bob led the retaining ring industry in this effort by re-vamping his Quality Assurance department and adopting some of the principles outlined in Deming’s 14 points:

1     Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service.

Bob continuously improved his die designs to produce parts in high volume and reduce costs. He instilled awareness in all Rotor Clip employees that quality was everyone’s concern.

Eliminate the need for massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place.

100% inspection was replaced by automated measurement of critical characteristics like thickness and free diameter. Operators monitored production processes with mini computers to detect negative trends and stop production before bad parts could be made.

Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.

Training became an ongoing effort at Rotor Clip especially cross training to ensure knowledge and best practices were shared by all.

Improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.

Wire material needed to coil retaining rings was brought in-house to be annealed and shaped so as to control quality and improve production. Bob also utilized technology purchasing a CNC and an EDI machine in the 1980’s along with three laser machines in the 1990’s to increase productivity while improving quality and decreasing costs.


Bob’s efforts paid off as Rotor Clip became one of the first suppliers to receive a GM SPEAR 2 (SPEAR was an acronym for Supplier Performance and Evaluation Reporting) in 1985. Earning a “Spear 2” rating meant that your company was “self-certified”; i.e., parts were considered of high quality, bypassed inspection and went directly to the GM production line.

Other quality accolades soon followed including the Chrysler QE (Quality Excellence) award in the same year, the “Ford Q1” designation in 1986, and the GM “Mark of Excellence” in 1989.

Bob Slass had firmly established Rotor Clip’s reputation as a quality source for retaining rings that continues today with our current quality designations: ISO/TS 16949: 2009, the worldwide automotive quality standard, and  ISO/AS9100C, the aerospace quality standard.

Joe Cappello is Director of Global Marketing for Rotor Clip Company. If you would like to continue to receive excerpts from his upcoming book on Rotor Clip and American manufacturing, click here  and e-mail him your request. He'll add you to his mailing list for updates.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Rise of The MakerSpace

One interesting and almost counter-intuitive development out of the internet tech world has been a renewed interest in "maker-culture" from younger generations. Maker-culture, which has risen the past decade out of the context of online tech communities sharing key 21st century skills such as code, has come full-circle and manifested itself in real-world outreach communities in the form of shared workrooms called "Makerspaces".

Makerspaces are studio areas that provide tools and tech for different people to create unrelated projects. Usually those projects range from engineering to software, combining elements of lab, shop, chat room, and garage. The collaborative, hybrid nature of makerspaces lend themselves as ideal for programs that supplement education, as well as exposing prospective students to the world of manufacturing and its benefits as a career choice.

The concept has clearly generated interest throughout smaller communities in America. One such community in Nebraska has entered a unique public-private partnership around makerspaces in an effort to make the idea available to enthusiasts of all ages.

Together with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln-affiliated Nebraska Innovation Campus , the Cooper Foundation has provided a $200,000 grant to help facilitate the Nebraska Innovation Studio, a 16,000 foot makerspace studio designed to provide hands-on experience in all fields of manufacturing not merely for UNL students, but other vocational students in the Lincoln area as well:

"Maker spaces are a growing trend, but Nebraska Innovation Studio will be unique. No other maker space features an in-house business accelerator and the close proximity of tenant companies and research labs on Nebraska Innovation Campus.

Once complete, everyone who enters the studio will be greeted by a gallery that celebrates the creative items being made within the space. It will be named the Cooper Foundation Makers Gallery in recognition of the foundation's support for the program."

This unprecedented scale of makerspace size and resources may yield an incredibly successful avenue for the skills training sorely lacking in the US manufacturing world, as has been frequently documented these days. If more hubs like this are developed where collaboration and cross-pollination saturate young minds to develop engineering skills both traditional as well as unorthodox, we might be in better shape for the coming century than we think.

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

Monday, June 1, 2015

Honda North America Invests In Manufacturing Education In Ohio

The glaring skills gap that plagues America's next generation of labor has garnered much attention as of late. So much so that companies are finally taking the largely unprecedented step of directly investing in labor communities that line up with their interests.

Add Honda to the list of such companies. The auto giant has announced it will devote $1 million to an Ohio-based workforce initiative, called EPIC, aimed at generating interest in manufacturing among youth and students.

Honda North America, based in central Ohio, has mentioned the initiative will include 12 scholarships, worth $2500 each to students earning associate-degrees in manufacturing, as well as software programs designed to teach logic-solving problems to middle and high schools.

Younger students will also have events where they learn the design process of typical manufacturing plants via "mobile labs" that Honda will build to travel from location to location. In addition, Honda will supplement and help to expand an existing work-study program at Columbus State Community College.

With 33 years in the region, Honda North America has the credibility and history to work with local public officials towards a partnership such as this. While it may not look like much when compared to your typical corporate seed money, considering the existing infrastructure Ohio has from its rich auto industry and the overall consensus among public and private communities, it looks likely Honda will see a major return of long-term labor talent well worth more than a million bucks.

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tesla's First Acquisition Is In A State That Bars Tesla

This week, Tesla announced its first acquisition, that of Michigan-based tool company, Riviera Tool LLC. Based in Cascade Township, Riviera Tool specializes in machinery for metal stamping. Its welcome into the new Tesla umbrella indicates the electric car giant is prioritizing time-sensitive efforts to meet its promise of 55,000 2015 sales for the much-anticipated Model X.

Ironically, Tesla has been barred by legislation to sell in Michigan, as well as other states such as New Jersey. That may have informed Tesla CEO Elon Musk's decision to acquire Riviera Tools, as a role of funding and possibly expanding a regional manufacturing company in the state that could woo legislators in loosening restrictions. Of course Tesla has a long way to go if it's going
to assure Michigan its innovative model and 21st century technology process won't undermine the traditional auto infrastructure that have propped up the state's employment figures for almost a century.

Yet many in the industry feel it's only a matter of time before Tesla becomes the template for other car companies to follow if they have a chance of adapting to the conditions of a post-globalized manufacturing landscape. Aside from the now seemingly inevitable transition from gas to electric, Apple's recent effort to peel engineering talent from Tesla as part of its top secret automated vehicle project- known as Titan- signals even more innovations explored on a mass level that could turn the industry even more unrecognizable to its current iteration.

In the coming months, Tesla may take more actions like this to generate production power. Look to see where the next acquisition is based, as it could mean a cultural and industry shift for that region ripe for the benefits of a new era in the auto world.

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

1950’s: The Decade of Innovation, Inspiration and Elvis Presley

(Excerpt from the upcoming book on Robert Slass, Founder of Rotor Clip Company, a successful US manufacturer of retaining rings)

It was the 1950’s, the decade of optimism, and Bob Slass was swept up in the fervor, no doubt responding to the innovation of American companies taking place all around him.

In 1950 Xerox produced the first copy machine and RCA demonstrated the first single electron color television tube.

In 1952 General Motors earned $558 million and in 1953 Boeing expanded production of the B-52 bomber.

In 1953 Bob took a job with a company with a long history in the U.S. called Waldes Kohinoor. Waldes had been a European company who pioneered the use of snap fasteners for dresses in the early 1900’s. Prior to this product, buttons, and hooks and eyes, were considered the only satisfactory apparel closures at the time. The company was established by Jindrich Waldes, a talented businessman and entrepreneur.Together with his partner, Hydec Puk, he established Waldes & Company in Prague (Czech Republic) to make the new snap fasteners.

The group established factories in Paris, Dresden, Barcelona and the U.S. The American company was established in Long Island City, New York, in 1919 with 25 employees and incorporated as Waldes Koh-I-Noor, which came from a trademark Jindrich had adopted in 1902 from the famous diamond of the same name. The Company’s corporate name was changed to Waldes Kohinoor, Inc., minus the hyphens in 1958.
Robert Slass at his first engineering job  at
Waldes Truarc (circa 1953)

How Waldes made the transition from producing garment fasteners to retaining rings began with a field exercise carried out by the US military during World War II. According to the industry story passed down by word of mouth, the military captured a German tank on the battlefield. They dismantled it and noticed that many components were held together by retaining rings. Retaining rings were a German innovation with the first patent filed by Hugo Heiermann in 1930, but the devices were never fully embraced by US manufacturers.

Fascinated by the technology and eager to apply it to their own equipment, the military persuaded the company to take on the project and in the 1940’s it successfully produced the tooling needed to manufacture a line of retaining rings under the Waldes Truarc brand.

As industry took off in the US in the 1950’s, so did the use of retaining rings when Bob landed his first job at Waldes. Initially, his job was to check the accuracy of engineering drawings from which the tooling was made to produce the retaining rings. As he progressed, he began to design the actual tooling needed to stamp out the specialized shapes and sizes of the many retaining rings the company produced. In this capacity, he joined a distinguished stable of mechanical engineers and together they became experts in the new product line and were instrumental in setting standards and adding new designs to the standard line. He learned everything he could from these experts.

“I made dies according to the 1950’s advances available,” Bob later recalled. This critical knowledge provided the inspiration for Rotor Clip as Bob later improved on these early designs and made his mark on retaining ring technology that would set new industry standards.

The Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants left New York in 1957 for greener and more open pastures in California,

Elvis Presley left young girls swaying in the aisles with songs like “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

It was also the year Bob Slass opened Rotor Clip, an enterprise he created with his own hands in the true spirit of American capitalism.

Joe Cappello is Director of Global Marketing for Rotor Clip Company. If you would like to continue to receive excerpts from his upcoming book on Rotor Clip and American manufacturing, click here and e-mail him your request. He'll add you to his mailing list for updates.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Manufacturing Careers: From Modified Paint Cans to Electrical design

(Excerpt from the upcoming book on Robert Slass, Founder of Rotor Clip Company, a successful US manufacturer of retaining rings)

In September 1957 Bob Slass opened a small company on Allen Boulevard in Farmingdale, New York, with the intent of making retaining rings. He called his company “RotorClip.”

The company consisted of one, 2,000 square foot building, but that didn’t discourage the young entrepreneur. He knew that he was not only starting a business, but establishing a career whose skills and talents he would call upon to make Rotor Clip the successful company it would someday become.

As manufacturing lost its dominant place in our society, it was easy to find fault with it. Factory jobs were dirty, boring and uninspiring. The work was back breaking and you didn’t use your mind. Many people (especially young people) concluded that a factory wasn’t the place to pursue a challenging career.

PLC's played a key role in one of Rotor Clip's most important
innovations: Rings on Wire.

But innovation and ingenuity were always a part of factory work as Bob demonstrated during the early days of Rotor Clip. For example, he used his knowledge of tools and engineering to refurbish machines and make them productive with very little investment.

Instead of purchasing new plating equipment, he modified empty paint cans and placed them on a cam mechanism he designed and built to mechanically plate rings for corrosion protection.

Bob experimented with stamping “rings within rings” as a way to reduce scrap and get the most efficient yield from a strip of steel. These experiments led to Bob’s design of several generations of progressive dies, concepts that would revolutionize retaining ring production and eventually become his signature work.

Today, manufacturers like Rotor Clip have seen these roles evolve into more complex, technology-based careers like those involving Electrical Design/PLC.

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC)  play a key role 
in many systems and machines like this security control system.

PLC’s or Programmable Logic Controllers are digital computers used for automation of industrial electromechanical processes. They range from assembly lines, to amusement rides, to light fixtures. PLC’s are used in severe environmental conditions, (for example dust, moisture, heat, or cold), as opposed to a normal computer that wouldn’t work in these conditions. (

PLC systems are inside many things in Rotor Clip’s plant, from security systems to machines used to package retaining rings (See “rings on wire” picture). Machine automation is the future and Rotor Clip relies on Electrical Design Engineers to utilize PLC systems to design and troubleshoot new equipment. 

When they speak of the “skills gap” in manufacturing, they are eluding to the lack of qualifications needed for many of today’s factory jobs. This is due to the failure of young people to see factory work as technology driven requiring more than the ability to turn a machine on and off. But there has been a positive trend recently as educational institutions and corporations partner to provide the skills factories need (like Electrical designers) to improve and thrive in today’s competitive global world.

Whether you’re modifying paint cans as Bob did in the early days of Rotor Clip or programming a machine to automatically shut down in the event of a problem, innovation is the key. There can be no better place to apply that innovation and discover a successful and rewarding career in the process than in today’s modern factory.

Joe Cappello is Director of Global Marketing for Rotor Clip Company. If you would like to continue to receive excerpts from his upcoming book on Rotor Clip and American manufacturing, click here and e-mail him your request. He'll add you to his mailing list for updates.
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