Welcome, please login:
  |  [Join]  |     |   [Contact Us]

Browsing the "Ceramic Tech Today" Category


Billion-dollar global development lab seeks scientific solutions to end extreme poverty by 2030

Published on April 16th, 2014 | Edited By: Jessica McMathis


 The newly formed US Global Development Lab is set to offer up scientific solutions to the world’s poverty problems—and end extreme poverty by 2030. Credit: USAid Asia on Flickr (Creative Commons License).


The US Agency for International Development (USAID), created in 1961 to carry out foreign policy “while improving lives in the developing world,” recently announced a US-sponsored global development lab that wants to help end extreme poverty by 2030.


According to a USAID release, the US Global Development Lab will “foster science-and technology-based solutions” to the world’s poverty problems as the lab and its 32 partner organizations—DuPont, Microsoft, Intel, MIT, and Nike among them—tackle tough issues like water, health, food security and nutrition, energy, education, and climate change.


(Though unrelated, the announcement comes on the heels of this recent post about Google’s vice president of energy, Arun Majumdar, who told an Oak Ridge National Laboratory audience that advances in science and engineering were vital in meeting global energy challenges.)


“To solve our most intractable development challenges, USAID has established a new way of working, bringing on board the best and brightest staff and new partners, all working in concert to help end extreme poverty,” says Administrator Rajiv Shah. “The Lab will engage a global community of inventors, academics, researchers, entrepreneurs, investors, and corporate leaders in science and technology to invent, test, and scale the most promising and cost effective solutions to end extreme poverty.”


The Guardian reports that nearly $1 billion will be invested in the efforts each year. The agency also will add to its roster of scientists and technology talent, tapping into the expertise of 65 fellows from the Association for the Advancement of Science.


Here’s a sampling of soundbytes from the Lab’s inaugural partners—who bring “cutting-edge technologies, deep expertise, advanced research and development capabilities, far-reaching networks of customers, suppliers and community organizations” and already invest some $30 billion in independent research and innovation partnerships—direct from the USAID release:


Jim Borel, Executive Vice President, DuPont 
“Science and innovation bring an intrinsic value to efforts to solve the world’s biggest challenges such as food insecurity and poverty. We at DuPont are excited to join the USAID Global Development Lab as a part of our commitment to collaborating to deploy global science and local solutions to these challenges.”


Anthony Salcito, Vice President, Worldwide Education, Microsoft Corp. 
“Microsoft has a vested interest in ensuring today’s students are prepared for tomorrow’s workforce: they are our future employees, customers, and partners. Education is a pivotal step on the path to eradicating extreme poverty. It is a privilege to partner with USAID as we work together toward a world in which every student has the opportunity to realize their full potential.”


Chris Coons, U.S Senator (D-DE)“We live in a remarkable age of invention, innovation and discovery, where the pace of technological advancement is breathtaking. Through the Global Development Lab, the folks of USAID can help harness the power of technology and innovation to ensure that our dollars go farther, and that our impact in development is bigger, broader and bolder. We can work collaboratively with technology leaders, the private sector, and with innovators all over the world in a way that can tackle and solve the great challenges of development.”


Bish Sanyal, CITE Director and Principal Investigator, Ford International Professor of Urban Development and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 
”The newly established Global Development Lab will serve as a catalyst facilitating a synergistic relationship between technological innovations, rigorous evaluations and commercializations of products which will enhance the quality of lives of people around the world. Well utilized funds can indeed serve as a glue in holding up a new architecture of developmental efforts! MIT is proud to participate in this bold new effort.”


Sir Andrew Witty, CEO, GlaxoSmithKline 
“I am delighted that GSK is supporting the US Global Development Lab as an inaugural Cornerstone Partner. This kind of innovative partnership holds great promise for helping to improve health around the world. We will explore ways to collaborate with USAID to use science, technology, innovation and partnerships for solving global development challenges in a way that could potentially benefit millions of people.”


Though its cornerstone partners are prepared for the agency’s shift in focus, according to Nature, many worry that the lab may not be.


“Some observers are worried that the pendulum at USAID may be swinging too quickly in the direction of research. Casey Dunning, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington DC, says that the wider development community may not have the scientific expertise to hold USAID to account for its spending. And Amanda Glassman, director of global health policy at the Center for Global Development, says that USAID has limited experience in identifying promising technologies.”


Do you think the lab is taking on too much, or not enough? Tell us why or why not in the comments.




Feature image credit: US Embassy Pakistan on Flickr (Creative Commons License).



K-Coke? How Coca Cola’s ‘Green’ initiatives might impact the glass bottling industry

Published on April 16th, 2014 | Edited By: Jessica McMathis


The manufacture of glass containers is an important part of the global economy, so how might Coca Cola sold in plastic pods and other environmental footprint-reducing initiatives affect the glass bottling industry?

Credit: Aaron Paxson on Flickr (Creative Commons License).


Whether it’s classic, diet, or caffeine-free, one thing’s for certain: Coca-Cola is getting the quintessential 21st century makeover.


Coca-Cola Co.—the world’s largest and perhaps best-known beverage brand (No. 3 and the only non-tech company on Forbes’ list of World’s Most Valuable Brands for 2013)—recently signed a $1.25-billion, 10-year deal with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc., which produces Keurig’s single-serve coffeemakers and a host of the system’s K-Cups. As a result, Coca-Cola will exclusively partner with the coffee company in selling its iconic fizzy drinks (and its other cold flat beverages) in plastic pods for Green Mountain’s still-in-development KeurigCold system.


The move signals not only a strategy shift for Coke, but possible shifts for the beverage and glass bottling industries as well.


Though Coca-Cola Co. lays claim to the world’s largest beverage distribution system (1.8 billion servings a day in more than 200 countries through more than 250 bottling partners), soda sales have slumped in recent years, in large part to growing concerns with sugary soft drinks and their artificially sweetened counterparts. And despite the company’s vision to double revenues by 2020 (PDF), in February Coca-Cola posted a 1-percent sales volume decline in the US and slower growth in emerging markets overseas. Green Mountain, on the other hand, posted a 12-percent increase.


“Our 2020 Vision calls for decisive and timely action to continuously improve and evolve our global system to best serve our customers and consumers around the world,” Coca-Cola chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent says in a press release. “This agreement demonstrates our creative approach to partnerships and ability to identify and stay at the forefront of consumer trends driving the industry.”


One of those trends is the continued search for environmentally friendly bottling options for beverages that once were exclusively packaged in glass, plastic, and aluminum.


According to the company’s 2012-2013 GRI report (PDF), only 12 percent of the Coke packaged globally was in glass (10 percent refillable glass, 2 percent “one-way” glass). More than half—55 percent—was sold in polyethylene terephthalate plastic, which is “lighter in weight, shatter-resistant, resealable, and easily recyclable.” The “ultra-glass Contour Bottle” introduced in 2000 was designed for “improved impact resistance, reduced weight, and cost”—and to be 40 percent stronger and 20 percent lighter—and saved close to 52,000 tons of glass in 2006. Coca-Cola’s new PlantBottle, made of up to 30 percent renewable plant-based material, seeks to make its packaging even more sustainable.


Plastics and other biodegradable packaging might generate headlines, but glass still remains an important economic driver both in the US and overseas. According to the Glass Packaging Institute, glass container companies are part of a $5.5-billion industry that employs 18,000 skilled workers in 49 plants throughout 22 states. The European Union is the world’s largest glass producer, says the European Container Glass Federation, manufacturing more than 20 million tons of it each year.


In addition to the size and impact of the industry, health concerns also seem to favor packaging soda—and many other edibles—in glass instead of plastic. Concerns about the chemicals in plastic, particularly the much-publicized bisphenol A (BPA), leaching out of the container and into the consumable have prompted many consumers to favor more inert packaging, like glass.


Coke and its bottling partners recognize glass’s continued relevance across the globe—and they haven’t yet given up efforts to lightweight the iconic contoured bottle, thereby reducing its environmental impact.


Just after the Green Mountain announcement, Ardagh UK revealed that its own lightweighting project had resulted in the manufacture of a 330 mL Coca-Cola bottle below the 200 g level for the first time. According to an Ardagh release, the company’s 190 g version “has been able to retain all the bottle’s trademark dimensions, and maintain quality and strength while improving environmental performance.”


“Our task is keep the brand shape, whilst determining the stress points and the optimum weight of a glass bottle,” Ardagh Design Manager for Glass Europe Carsten Berkau says in the release. “State of the art technology ensures that when we are challenged, we can respond with even greater precision.”


The manufacturer is also working with Coca-Cola on other sustainability projects aimed at reducing energy and CO2 emissions.


Whether “K-Coke” becomes a household staple or heads the direction of New Coke, or whether anyone ever achieves a less-than-190 g bottle, we’re certain that industry will respond with a clear-cut plan to maintain glass’s place in the global economy. 



Feature image credit: Mike Mozart on Flickr (Creative Commons License).


News from the glass and refractory ceramics world

Published on April 15th, 2014 | Edited By: P. Carlo Ratto


  • The NSG Group will start its ultra-thin glass float line in Vietnam in June, with production slated to begin during the second half of this fiscal year. The new line is situated within the site of NSG’s wholly-owned subsidiary, NSG Vietnam Special Glass. 
  • Unifrax plans to spend about $116 million to acquire a 29-percent ownership stake in a Chinese company, Shandong Luyang Share Co. Ltd. The transaction is expected to close later this year. Once completed, the Tonawanda, New York-based company will be the largest shareholder in Luyang. 
  • Owens-Illinois, Inc. hosted an event to highlight and celebrate the company’s €30m investment in its Alloa facility. The investment will enable the plant to better serve the Scotch whisky industry and other drinks businesses. 
  • Sigma Italy has acquired an investment in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, and has become Sigma Group. Production at the new factory is oriented towards the Eastern Europe, Russia, CIS, Middle East, Asian and African markets.
  • Magnesit Anonim Sirketi, a Turkish subsidiary of RHI AG, has acquired a raw material plant and mining rights in Erzurum, Turkey for $30 million (USD). The deal includes a debtor warrant of up to $16 million, which depends on the raw material quantities and qualities. 
  • According to mining firm Grand Coast Operation, Senegal has become a producer of zircon and ilmenite with the start of mining of the world’s third largest zircon deposits in the western town of Diogo.

ACerS activities

European, US glass communities come together for historic first meeting in Aachen

Published on April 15th, 2014 | Edited By: Jessica McMathis


Attendees take part in the poster session at GOMD 2012. Division members and the German Society of Glass Technology are set to meet jointly for the first time. Credit: ACerS.



There are many important “firsts” in life—first day of school, first kiss, first “big-boy/big-girl” job, and first gray hair (which may come sooner rather than later, depending on that first job).


For the German Society of Glass Technology (DGG) and ACerS Glass & Optical Materials Division (ACerS-GOMD), one important first is little more than a month away.


The two groups will come together during the 1st Joint Meeting of DGG-ACerS GOMD, May 25–30 in Aachen, Germany.


The merged annual meeting—a first—will also play host to the 10th International Conference on Advances in Fusion and Processing of Glass (AFPG), the 2nd International Glass Fiber Conference, a special symposium on nuclear waste forms, and seminar on glass trends. Organizers expect more than 400 oral and poster contributions exploring everything from the fundamentals of the glassy state to amorphous materials and energy applications of glass, making the conference “a unique opportunity for glass scientists and technologists alike.” 


(The idea for the joint conference, born out of the PACRIM 2011 meeting, is intended to strengthen the ties between the European and US glass communities. ACerS-GOMD-DGG will meet together in 2015 in the US.)


With a highly-anticipated slate of keynote lectures and invited speakers, and a host of awards to be presented, the conference at Eurogress Aachen is one you can’t miss. Among the awards to be presented:


Micoulaut Kiczenski Award_Stockey_Hayden SREphoto[3] Award_Kreidl_Lezzi

             Micolaut                        Kiczenski                                  Hayden                             Elliott                           Lezzi


Darshana and Arun Varshneyna Frontiers of Glass Science Lecture

Matthieu Micoulaut, professor of physics, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, France, Reversibility in glasses.


Darshana and Arun Varshneyna Frontiers of Glass Technology Lecture

TJ Kiczenski, research associate in the Glass Research Group, Corning Incorporated, Advancing the understanding and utilization of glass relaxation in commercial applications.


Stookey Lecture of Discovery  

Joseph S. Hayden, research fellow, SCHOTT North America Inc., Overcoming technical challenges and moving into the future with laser glass.


George W. Morey Award

Stephen R. Elliott, professor of chemical physics, Cambridge University, UK, Chalcogenide phase-change materials: past and future.


Norbert J. Kreidl Award

Peter J. Lezzi, PhD student, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Strength increase of silica glass fibers by surface stress relaxation: A new mechanical strengthening method.



For more details on the lecture awards and their recipients, click here or check out the May issue of the Bulletin, set to land in inboxes by April 24. The full conference program is available here (pdf).


Summer in Aachen is a busy time for tourists, so you’ll want to make your travel plans soon, but no later than the April 25 deadline. Online registration is available at dgg-gomd.org. To book your accommodations in the beautiful city of Aachen, click here and use conference code “DGG-GOMD.”


(Students: Our friends at RWTH Aachen University have found lower-cost accommodations nearby the conference location, but there is limited space, so be sure to book early.)


So whether it’s your first trip to Aachen or your 21st, be sure to join us for the 1st Joint Meeting of DGG–ACerS GOMD May 25–30!


Wir sehen Sie dort!



Feature Image Credit: FuFu Wolf on Flickr (Creative Commons License).

ACerS activities

Manufacturing is alive & kicking! Despite challenges, industry is finding creative ways to succeed, say execs at CLS

Published on April 15th, 2014 | Edited By: Eileen De Guire

 0415ctt CLS talk

Frank O’Brien-Bernini (right) fields a question from DAvid Johnson (left) at the 4th Ceramic Leadership Summit in Baltimore last week. O’Brien-Bernini talked about Owens Corning’s success adopting sustainable manufacturing practices. (Credit: ACerS)

Top leaders from ceramic and glass companies at last week’s 4th Ceramic Leadership Summit offered a variety of strategies they are adopting to keep their companies strong, responsible, global leaders and manufacturers of ceramic and glass products. They are investing in innovation and workforce development—and coming up with creative ideas ways to strategically execute these investments.


CLS, held April 7–9 in Baltimore, Md., welcomed 125 executives, senior managers, university faculty, and young professionals. Charlie Spahr, ACerS executive director says, “The quality of the CLS rests on two main pillars: The thought-provoking presentations of our excellent speakers, and the high level of engagement and interaction of the audience. These combined to create an event worthy of everyone’s time.”


At a pre-CLS breakfast, 50 or so executives discussed whether or not manufacturing was undergoing a renaissance. A show of hands indicated about two-thirds ‘yay,’ about one-third ‘nay’.  Further discussion revealed several underlying threads—job growth vs. technology growth, dearth of skilled technician and skilled trades labor, innovation partnerships with universities and other companies, and intellectual property protection.


(Note: The following speakers’ names are linked to PDF downloads of their presentation slides. Images from the event can be viewed on ACerS’ Google+ page.)


These themes wove throughout the entire CLS program. Opening speaker James Meil, vice president and chief economist of Eaton Corp., evaluated manufacturing competitive advantage in the United States. Leading the audience through a careful, data-driven analysis, he showed that US manufacturing faces some stiff hurdles from abroad, such as lower labor costs, access to low cost natural resources, and lower regulatory, safety, tax, environmental, and similar hurdles.


However, the US economy brings several strong characteristics to the manufacturing arena. Meil talked about “high intellectual value,” referring to solid management practices, and leadership in research and development, technology, and university prestige. Although expensive, US labor is skilled and productive compared to the global workforce. Also, any natural resources, such as natural gas, water, coal, some minerals, etc., are accessible and inexpensive. Finally, the US infrastructure, legal system, and even its markets lead the world.


Overall, Meil says, the US share of global manufacturing is steady, but he warns that the US edge will narrow over time. China leads the world in manufacturing output, followed by the US. However, the productivity of the US labor force is highest in the world, which is a competitive advantage (but not necessarily a job-creator).


Where does the future look bright for US manufacturing? Industries that are high value added, innovative, and “clean and green.” Industries without these aspects, such as textiles, furniture, and commodity manufacturing, are likely to continue to be more competitive abroad.


Later in the afternoon session, Al Lubrano, speaking as chair of the National Association of Manufacturer’s Small to Medium Manufacturers, echoed some of these themes. He says the US leads the manufacturing world in worker productivity, but is hampered by corporate tax policy, healthcare costs, regulations, and US trade policy (more on that later).


Following Meil, IBM vice president and CTO Katharine Frase talked about global technology trends and the exponential growth of large amounts of data. She highlighted some data-related “mega-trends,” including the global milestone reached in 2013 of the number of mobile devices exceeding the world’s population. Mobile phones are everywhere, including undeveloped regions. In a later talk, Michael Silver, president and CEO of American Elements, tied the mobile device megatrend to materials science, noting that anyone using a cell phone is using advanced engineered materials.


The avalanche of data is as much curse as blessing—one-third of executives say they make decisions based on data they do not trust, half say they lack the information they need, but 60% say paradoxically that they have too much data. However, good use of data, Frase says, provides insight to drive key business imperatives such as creating new business models, attracting and retaining customers, and managing risk. Companies that use big data well strive to “be more right, more often,” and she spotlighted a few examples of companies that realized tangible improvements in efficiency, cost, productivity, and savings. (Meil, moderator David Johnson, and Frase are pictured in the featured image above.)


Don’t kill ideas, find killer ideas

Innovation is the activity that establishes competitive advantage in the marketplace. And, innovation necessarily consumes data, reacts to data, and generates data—otherwise it’s just “gut instinct.” “Innovation” is hardly a “new” or even “innovative” idea. What is new is how companies are thinking about it and strategically leveraging their assets to maximize competitive advantage. A unifying theme of the “flavors” of innovation is that they are all pragmatic approaches.


For example, Andy Zynga’s company, NineSigma, is an “open innovation” broker that matches companies needing to solve problems with researchers and companies that have solutions. Zynga says that “thinking outside the box” means getting out of the box or collaborating with someone in a different box. He cited two “boxes” that can be traps. “Cognitive bias” is the paradoxical blindness that accompanies growing knowledge—the better you get at something, the harder it is to see new solutions. The other is “functional fixation,” where thinking gets trapped into limiting uses of things only to their original functions, rather than seeing larger possibilities.


Open innovation can be an effective way to get outside ideas at any step along the innovation pathway. Intellectual property is protected through careful structuring of the project scope and by focusing on the fundamental scientific problem involved. Also, Zynga noted that open innovation makes a lot of sense when the stumbling block is necessary for the product, but not essential to the core product. An example would be specialized packaging for a beverage manufacturer.


Corning Inc.’s Martin Curran talked about “agile” innovation, which is a fast-tracked version of the traditional five-step stage–gate innovation approach. Here the idea is to set your top talent loose with enough resources to find a breakthrough. However, Curran says management (the folks holding the wallet), needs to be shrewd and ask upfront whether a real opportunity exists—can the company win this race, and is the cost worth it?


Curran distilled agile innovation down to four steps:

  • Crystallizing the customer—know who the customer is and get their skin in the game; know who holds the power and influence.
  • Deep technical insight—focus on one or two technical problems that matter most to customers, and then get customers and decision makers involved in refining the product.
  • The right team and ruthless execution—not everyone belongs on the team, even if they think they do. Be ruthless about choosing experienced, dedicated talent for the specific skills they bring to the project.
  • Good business model—flexibility allows for outsourcing functions like manufacturing, marketing, etc.

The approach has a merciless aspect to it, too, and agile teams that cannot communicate their project’s value proposition to management, and ultimately customers, will find their programs axed. Curran says, “going fast does not excuse you from doing the right work well.”


Ceramatec’s Anthony Nickens talked about the familiar concept of disruptive technology and how his company thinks of innovation as an ecosystem by invoking six “P” principles: people, pesos (i.e., money), passion, persistence, patience, and partnerships. Nickens asserts that the culture of the organization necessarily provides a foundation for underlying the six Ps, and he places responsibility for setting it squarely on the CEO’s shoulders. He says these ingredients held together with the right culture help avoid poison darts from idea killers like “we tried this before,” “this will never work,” and “let’s do a full economic analysis first.”


Perhaps the most succinct insight into the unsettling prospect of disruptive technology came from John Balistreri, a professor of ceramic art at Bowling Green State University, who was the dinner speaker. Besides being a clay artist, he has experimented with additive manufacturing, a bit anathema in the pottery world. He dismissed fear of disruptive technology, saying, “if it’s not right for you, it won’t be right for your competitors, either.”


Innovation works—Success stories

Two success stories showed how innovation drives the competitive edge Meil talked about.


Frank O’Brien-Bernini, chief sustainability officer at Owens Corning, described the company’s work to develop and adopt sustainable practices into its operations.  Looking at some macro-trends in consumption, emissions, and demographics, the company decided to proactively go after sustainability as a strategic opportunity. He compared our era to the ancient Mayan culture that failed to adjust and disappeared. “We wonder, didn’t they see what was coming? Well, why don’t we see what’s coming?” he asks.


OC set some goals for itself for the 2002–2012 span relating to energy use, emissions, particulate matter, waste to landfill, and water use. When the math was done, they had exceeded every metric they had set for themselves. Even more, when the government issued new regulations that would affect its businesses, OC found it had already met or exceeded the new requirements. No angst over meeting government regulations!


Sustainability strategy requires subtle thinking about a number of issues, such as energy and resource consumption, transportation and shipping, recyclability, and life cycle assessment. O’Brien-Bernini says, “An important yet imprecise metric is way better than a precise, meaningless one. That is, focus on what matters most.”


The second day of CLS opened with a plenary talk by Steve Rengers, R&D manager of additive manufacturing at GE Aviation. He recounted how engineers first started using AM for rapid prototyping of parts to test designs. It was not long before they realized that they could design a completely different type of part if they used AM to build the part. “It’s really neat to start thinking differently, and that is what additive enables,” he says.


GE will install AM-fabricated fuel nozzles in the new LEAP engine beginning in 2016. The nozzle will be five times more durable because brazing is eliminated and 25% lighter than traditional fuel nozzles. Meanwhile, challenges that remain with AM include monitoring production process, managing the massive amounts of data entailed, fighting against counterfeiters, and advancing new design concepts.


Protecting the competitive edge—IP, policy, and reality check

Gaining a competitive edge through innovation is a high-risk, high-payoff hedge. So once it is gained, it behooves companies to protect it. Patent attorney Steve Ritchey explained changes in patent law brought by the 2011 America Invents Act and that inventors need to “act fast or get left behind.” Companies need to be aware of how things like disclosure of an idea in a speech or conversation could negatively impact a patent application later. Ritchey also says that the courts are just starting to interpret the new law, so the patent landscape will be shifting for some time.


One inescapable reality of manufacturing is the issue of raw materials. Michael Silver, CEO of American Elements, says, “Raw materials are not subject to new technology.” They are located in the areas of the globe where they coalesced as the Earth was cooling—an incontrovertible reality—and the laws of physics did not distribute mineral deposits uniformly around the globe. For example, 92% of all niobium ore is in Brazil. Not only that, just one family owns the entire Brazilian niobium interest!


Silver called for US foreign policy to evolve toward a policy of economic aid to developing countries that supports their need to develop a sustainable infrastructure, while also promoting US access to critical raw materials. He credits the Chinese government with being very smart in the management of their resources, technology development, and economic partnerships, especially in developing countries.


Al Lubrano (the chair of the National Association of Manufacturer’s Small to Medium Manufacturers) also called for policy changes to support manufacturers, especially the small-to-medium Subchapter S corporations. He says the cost of doing business is 20% higher in the US than in the countries of our nine largest trading partners and called for the government to initiate tax reform, fair trade agreements, and sensible regulations. “We are not looking for handouts, but we aren’t looking for encumbrances, either,” he says.


Converting ‘blueprints’ to products

Innovation is a meaningful strategy only if it leads to production, and two of the afternoon tracks addressed the “nuts and bolts” business issues manufacturers need to consider, such as whether to locate plants in the US or overseas, government resources, and public-private partnerships.


Daniel Tipsord, director of engineering at Trans Tech Inc., and Bud Cass, managing member at Bud Cass Consulting LLC, explored the plusses and minuses of locating operations outside the US for a small or mid-sized US-based company based on their firsthand experiences. Tipsord discussed practical questions to answer in making the decision to locate a plant in any country: Where are my customers; where are my suppliers; and where are my competitors? For a smaller company, if there is not a customer-driven reason for locating in a certain country, it may not be a very smart move. Moving operations abroad to be closer to a large company you supply, for example, could leave you stranded if the larger company decides to move.


Tipsord recommends caution when it comes to protecting intellectual property and to recognize that countries and cultures have varying viewpoints on this issue. He advocates keeping “high IP” activities in the US, EU, Japan, and similar countries. “Low IP” activities can be located in any country where it makes sense based on the location of customers, that is, what can be done by anyone should be done at the lowest cost and for the greatest benefit to your customers.


Cass reiterated that proximity and access to customers, rather than cheaper labor, is the compelling reason to locate a plant in another country, warning “if your target customers aren’t nearby don’t do it.” Other less important reasons to locate abroad include access to raw materials, lower labor costs, and escaping domestic regulatory environments. 


Cass also warned about IP protection and said that many costs, besides labor, are actually higher, saying, “You’re not in Kansas anymore, so be careful.”  Cass concluded that locating a factory outside the US is a high-risk activity and, like any high-risk activity, it can produce high returns if done correctly.  It is a decision that requires a comprehensive business plan and your eyes wide open. 


Petra Mitchell, president and CEO of Catalyst Connection, described how Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEP) can help small manufacturers grow.  Established by the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, MEPs exist in each state to help American manufacturers compete in a global economy, for example, by assisting with commercializing innovative research. 


Mitchell explored the interrelationship of four trends affecting manufacturing in the US:  low-cost energy and shale gas, innovation management, additive manufacturing, and social media. She reported that in Pennsylvania, where she is located, the emergence of shale gas has not only lowered energy costs, but spurred a boom in the local economy.  Companies are using additive manufacturing to get to market quicker with new product designs. Finally, she says companies are adapting social media tools, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, for improved marketing, customer service, collaboration with suppliers, and workforce development.


Also on the domestic side of the equation, Richard Norment informed the audience about the value of public–private partnerships. Norment is executive director (retired) of the National Council for Public–Private Partnerships. PPPs, he says, are contractural agreements between public agencies and the private sector that allow both parties to share the risks as well as the rewards. The concept is not new—the model was used in 1653 to build bridge and water systems—and can be a valuable option for getting projects done. However, a successful PPP requires careful planning, communication, leadership, and often, education to overcome “institutional inertia” on the public sector side.


Workforce development

Awareness of the importance of human resources to innovation and manufacturing was never far from any of the discussions. It popped up as a theme very quickly at the Executive Forum breakfast with concerns about replacing a skilled workforce that has an eye on the door marked “retirement.”


Interestingly, the need for trained talent spanned the entire gamut of job functions in manufacturing companies, with the need to train skilled trades and technicians and plant engineers getting more attention than the oft-heard cry for more PhDs.


Eric Urruti showed how Schott North America is adapting its German parent company’s apprenticeship program to develop the highly specialized skill set needed to run glass melting operations. Earlier, Meil (the economist), cautioned the group to be careful about the causes for the shortage of skilled labor now that the economy is recovering, saying, “Do we do enough to protect job security during a downturn?” Urruti noted that production at Schott’s German factories ramped up quickly, in part, because they were able to keep the skilled labor on staff during the lean years by reducing the workweek by 20% with financial support from the German government.


Speaking from their perspective of a small Subchapter S corporation, Lora Cooper Rothen, CEO of Du-Co Ceramics, emphasized the importance of a well-defined business plan to guide acquisition and development of the right workforce through accurate job descriptions, company handbooks, documentation, metrics, etc. She says fit with the company culture and communication are key to finding, developing, and retaining talent.


Demonstrating that innovation applies everywhere, Wayne Butscher introduced a model for training technicians, the so-called “middle skills.” A parasitologist, he now directs BioSTART, a nonprofit that trains unemployed or underemployed people who are not college educated for highly skilled bioscience industry lab jobs.


At the college level, Pennsylvania State University professor Allen Kimel says students are choosing majors according to the kinds of problems they want to solve. Materials science departments, therefore, are adapting their curricula to show students how MSE applies to energy, sustainability, and other global grand challenges.


Richard Brow, also a professor (Missouri University of Science and Technology), looked at trends in higher education that affect the ceramics and glass industry. Where there once were about 20 accredited ceramic engineering programs in the US, there now are only two—Alfred University and Missouri S&T. A similar pattern is affecting metallurgical engineering programs as these “traditional” departments transform into materials science and engineering departments, of which there are now about 60 in the US. Brow asks, “How will these programs serve the needs of the ceramics community?”


Brow provides some interesting context. The number of BS MSE degrees awarded has been trending steadily upward over the last decade, although the field remains small compared to other engineering disciplines. Interestingly, though, it attracts larger numbers of women than most other engineering disciplines, especially the “big” fields like mechanical, chemical, and electrical engineering. Another “hidden” trend in the MSE field is that a higher number of students pursue advanced degrees compared to other engineering fields. As a result, MSE curricula tend to emphasize graduate school knowledge over industrial skills. 


Brow challenged the audience, “What type of engineer will you need? Does interest in or experience with ceramic materials matter?” In discussions after many of the CLS presentations, business leaders said internships and coop experiences were valuable for recruiting undergraduates to careers in manufacturing. Brow outlined some other ways industry can build relationships with universities and their workforce pipeline, such as supporting senior thesis projects, offering plant tours, serving on industrial–academia advisory boards, and getting involved.


The American Ceramic Society has a role, too, through established programs such as the President’s Council of Student Advisors. Brow provided some background for the Society’s new initiative, the Ceramic and Glass Industry Foundation, and its mission “to ensure that industry is able to attract and train the highest quality talent available to work with engineered systems and products that utilize ceramic and glass materials.” Internships and on-campus experiences will be key aspects of the CGIF, along with lifelong learning and K–12 outreach programs.


Joel Moskowitz introduced the Ceramic and Glass Industry Foundation to attendees at the conference dinner. Moskowitz, himself a manufacturer who founded Ceradyne, is the founding chair of the CGIF and an enthusiastic advocate for getting undergraduates into industry as early as possible.


One encouraging sign was the number of young professionals at CLS. Besides having the opportunity to hear from executives how they leverage strategic investments of talent and money, there was special programming for them through the Society’s Future Leaders Program. In these “before hours” forums and networking events, professionals who are still in the first decade of their careers met with industry executives and learned about career pathways and what it takes to succeed in manufacturing businesses.


Looking ahead

Manufacturing is alive and kicking! Sure, it faces some challenges, but industry is finding creative ways to meet them head-on, work with them, redirect them, or embrace them. Lubrano put it nicely, “We’re manufacturers—we’re fighters!”


Investing in innovation is a key strategy and can take a variety of forms, but must be carefully managed. With an eye on near-term as well as long-term horizons, executives are keen to develop labor pipelines at all levels of the education and job function spectrum.


The next Ceramic Leadership Summit will be in April 2016 and will continue the momentum of this meeting. Meanwhile, the manufacturing community will have the opportunity to promote their businesses at the Ceramics Expo, a comprehensive manufacturing trade show for the ceramic and glass industry, of which ACerS is a founding partner. The inaugural Ceramics Expo will be April 28–30, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio.


Most of the slides from the CLS presentations are available on The American Ceramic Society website.







Self-assembly of zirconium phosphate nanoparticle films using an art supply spray gun

Published on April 15th, 2014 | Edited By: April Gocha, PhD

0415ctt zirconium phosphate schematic lo resSchematic of plasma spraying of zirconium phosphate nanoplatelets with oligomers to form self-assembling smetic epoxy thin films. Credit: H.-J. Sue; Texas A&M. 


Liquid crystals are like brunch—standing on the line between breakfast and lunch, sometimes leaning more towards breakfast, sometimes more towards lunch. Substitute crystalline solids and liquids for breakfast and lunch, and you get the picture.


These interesting states of matter have some really useful applications. Many of us spend hours every day staring at liquid crystal displays (LCDs) on our computer screens, calculators, phones, and lots of other electronics devices. Liquid crystalline phase solutions can even be spun into fibers, creating highly aligned fibers with high strength but low weight (plus other great functional properties)—like Kevlar.


Because of these properties, thin films of liquid crystalline materials are useful for a host of applications. But current techniques used to create these materials require highly technical processes and equipment (read, dollar signs), such as photolithography.

0415ctt zirconium phosphate press release

Spraying allows zirconium phosphate nanoplatelets to self-assemble into highly ordered thin films. Credit: Texas A&M.


A new paper published in Nature Materials details the fast synthesis of highly-ordered 2D nanoparticle thin films without the complex, expensive, and laborious processes typically required to achieve such nanostructures.


The authors explain, in a Texas A&M University press release, “we have developed a simple approach of applying a surface coating of thin, flat nanoplatelets using a common spray gun, such as can be purchased off-the-shelf from an art supply store, to create a surface coating in which nanoplatelets spontaneously self-assemble into ‘nano-walls.’ “


The scientists made those films out of a suspension of zirconium phosphate nanoplatelets coated with polyoxyalkyleneamine oligomers. When sprayed onto thin polyimide films and allowed to dry, the nanoplatelets self-assemble into a highly-ordered smetic zirconium phosphate/epoxy layer.


The authors offer up a simple analogy: “To understand this process, imagine a bricklayer who dumps a barrow of bricks and the bricks spontaneously build up into a wall on their own. A similar process of ‘self-assembly’ occurs for the nanoplatelets to create nano-walls that increase the barrier efficiency of the film by more than twenty times.”

0415ctt zirconium phosphate lo res

The finished product—a flexible thin film with a highly-ordered zirconium phosphate/epoxy coating. Credit: H.-J. Sue; Texas A&M.


The authors extrapolate that similar methods could be used for a host of other “layered functional materials,” including transition metal oxides, dichalcogenides, and current hot topic graphene.


The anticipated application of the new technology is for barrier films for gas separation in industrial processes. The films show “excellent gas barrier properties at both low- and high humidity levels,” according to the paper’s abstract. In addition, the authors conclude in the paper’s discussion that “this technology promises to be of interest to fields as diverse as electronics, catalysts, environmental and composite materials.”


The paper is “Large-scale self-assembled zirconium phosphate smectic layers via a simple spray-coating process” (DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4589).

Materials melange

Other materials stories that may be of interest

Published on April 14th, 2014 | Edited By: April Gocha, PhD


Tiny particles could help verify goods

A team of MIT researchers has invented a new type of tiny, smartphone-readable particle that they believe could be deployed to help authenticate currency, electronic parts, and luxury goods, among other products. The particles, which are invisible to the naked eye, contain colored stripes of nanocrystals that glow brightly when lit up with near-infrared light. The new particles are about 200 microns long and include several stripes of different colored nanocrystals, known as “rare earth upconverting nanocrystals.” These crystals are doped with elements such as ytterbium, gadolinium, erbium, and thulium, which emit visible colors when exposed to near-infrared light. By altering the ratios of these elements, the researchers can tune the crystals to emit any color in the visible spectrum.


Novel technique opens door to better solar cells, superconductors and hard drives

A team of scientists at the National University of Singapore has successfully developed a technique to study the interface between materials, shedding light on the new properties that arise when two materials are put together. With a better understanding of how materials interface, scientists can tweak the properties of different materials more easily, and this opens doors to the development of better solar cells, novel superconductors and smaller hard drives. Some of the most exciting condensed matter physics problems are found at the interfaces of dissimilar materials. “If you put two materials together, you can create completely new properties,” explains lead scientist Andrivo Rusydi. “The problem is that we do not fully understand what is happening at the interface yet.” To resolve this long-standing mystery in the physics of condensed matter, the NUS scientists investigated the interface between strontium titanate and lanthanum aluminate, two insulators that become conductors at their interface. 


Israeli tech turns jellyfish into paper towels

(The Times of Israel) Cine’al Ltd., an Israeli nanotechnology start-up, is developing technology to turn jellyfish into “super-absorbers,” making the much-disdained sea creature suitable for use in diapers, tampons, medical sponges, even paper towels. Hydromash, the dry, flexible, strong material Cine’al is developing, is made from jellyfish and is allegedly several times more absorbent than the “quicker picker-upper” paper towels from the popular TV commercials. Highly absorbent products are made of synthetic materials such as super-absorbing polymers (SAP). The challenge was to find a bio-degradable material that was at least as absorbent. TAU researchers found the solution in jellyfish, composed of 90 percent water, living constantly in water and with bodies that can absorb and hold high volume of liquids without disintegrating or dissolving.


Storedot’s next generation smartphone battery fully charges your mobile in 30 seconds

StoreDot Ltd unveiled a ground-breaking battery capable of charging your smartphone and other devices in just 30 seconds. Incredibly, this means smartphone users will be able to charge their phones in less time than StoreDot needs to explain how this cutting-edge technology works. The company produces “nanodots” derived from bio-organic material that, due to their size, have both increased electrode capacitance and electrolyte performance, resulting in batteries that can be fully charged in minutes rather than hours. Those multifunctional nanodots are chemically synthesized bio-organic peptide molecules that change the rules of mobile device capabilities. 


Scientists gain new insight into mysterious electronic phenomenon

For more than a quarter of a century, high-temperature superconductors—materials that can transmit electric current without any resistance—have perplexed scientists who seek to understand the physical phenomena responsible for their unique properties. Thanks to a new study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, researchers have identified and solved at least one paradox in the behavior of high-temperature superconductors. The riddle involves a phenomenon called the “pseudogap,” a region of energy levels in which relatively few electrons are allowed to exist. When comparing theoretical calculations of the pseudogap effect with the observed behavior of the material, researchers made a surprising and perplexing discovery. Based on well-established mathematical models, they had anticipated that the pseudogap would cause the superconductivity of the material to vanish, but for some reason the material demonstrated higher superconductivity than predicted.


DOE fuels US competitiveness in fuel cell market with $3-million investment

Published on April 13th, 2014 | Edited By: Jessica McMathis

0409ctt-Fuel-Cell2-lo-res The US is providing Connecticut-based FuelCell Energy with $3 million to fund a project that will help fuel America’s competitiveness in the global fuel cell market. Credit: HowStuffWorks, YouTube.


In an ongoing effort to give US businesses more cost-efficient and cleaner energy options, last week the Department of Energy (DOE) awarded a cool $3 million to fuel up the country’s competitiveness in the fuel cell market.


According to a DOE news releaseFuelCell Energy, based in Danbury, Connecticut, will use the monies to fund a project that will “enhance the performance, increase the lifespan, and decrease the cost of stationary fuel cells being used for distributed generation and combined heat and power applications.”


“With support from the Energy Department, the private sector and the department’s national laboratories have significantly reduced costs and improved performance in fuel cell and hydrogen technologies,” says the release.  ”Building on this progress, the project awarded today will focus on developing an innovative carbonate fuel cell electrolyte matrix, which promises enhanced cell output and the doubling of service life, which will reduce the costs and enhance the market for efficient, clean fuel cell power. In addition, the project will look for more opportunities to reduce costs through greater production by incorporating manufacturing process improvements.”


The fuel cell industry is a billion-dollar industry with market share to be gained.


Countries in the Asian Pacific ship more than three-quarters of fuel cell systems worldwide, but the US is quickly gaining ground with a series of strategic investments.


In 2012, industry revenues exceeded $1 billion worldwide, and close to 80 percent of investment in the industry was made in US companies. America is among the top four dominant producers of stationary fuel cells, which account for half of all fuel cell shipments worldwide.


Since 2008, the Energy Department’s efforts have reduced the high-volume manufacturing costs for fuel cells by more than 30 percent, increased shipments from 1,000 units to 5,000 units annually, and upped domestic manufacturing by more than 60 percent. Late last year, as part of the Obama administration’s “all-of-the-above energy strategy,” the Department announced some $7 million for fuel cell projects.


According to the Department’s 2013 Pathways to Commercial Success: Technologies and Products Supported by the Fuel Cell Technologies Office report (pdf), their R&D efforts have “helped manufacture about 40 new commercial technologies in the United States, support 65 new technologies that are expected to reach commercial-scale within the next three to five years and issue more than 450 U.S. patents.”  




Feature image credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on Flickr (Creative Commons License).



Creativity and innovation—married, dating, or just friends?

Published on April 12th, 2014 | Edited By: April Gocha, PhD



New research suggests that businesses and academia don’t do a good job integrating innovation and creativity. Credit: Rice U.


Creativity and innovation are definitely buzzwords when it comes to defining success.


If you’ve been following CTT, you know that innovation is one component of the recipe for success in manufacturing. But new research from Rice University, University of Edinburgh, and Brunel University suggests that there is a serious gap between creativity and innovation when it comes to implementation in business and academia.


Although the authors note that two companies serve as models for institutionalized success in this arena—3M and Google—most have some work to do.


The research, which is slated for publication in the annual review issue of the Journal of Mangement, is a review of research on workplace creativity and innovation from 2002 to 2013.


Author and business professor Jing Zhou says in a Rice University press release, “There are many of us who study employee creativity and many of us who study innovation and idea implementation, but we don’t talk to each other; we’re siloed. The review’s goal is to integrate both.”


Likewise, those ideas are understood but infrequently married in the workplace. According to the release, “The authors said creativity and innovation are complex, multilevel phenomena that pan out over time and require skillful leadership to maximize the benefits of new ways of working.”


Many companies fail to implement these strategies because they focus on current goals and avoid risks, which are a necessary component of innovation.


The solution? “We need to better train managers to see an idea and run with it,” Zhou says. “If you wait for the idea to be ready to be implemented, it might be too late. Managers need to capture promising ideas and then translate them into products, processes and improved customer service.”


Perhaps some of the US’s new innovation hubs can help leaders in manufacturing foster creativity into practical innovations. How do you cultivate creativity in the workplace? 



Feature image credit: opensource.com on Flickr.

Materials & Innovations

Weekend warriors: DIY piezo speed belt with LED display makes runners safer, shinier

Published on April 11th, 2014 | Edited By: Jessica McMathis


 Popular Science provides DIY-ers with a light-up speed belt with built-in piezo vibration sensor that monitors your pace and makes you visible during runs in the dark. Credit: Bonnie Ann Cain-Wood on Flickr (Creative Commons License).


Whether you’re a casual jogger, dedicated marathoner, or serious couch potato, your early-morning or late-night run (or lack thereof) could be made that much safer (and cooler!) with this DIY light-up speed belt, courtesy of the folks at Popular Science.


The “shining speed belt” boasts a built-in piezo vibration sensor that won’t just detect your pace but display it on an LED screen bright enough to make you noticed by motorists and mammals alike. Depending on how fast or slow you run (me=molasses), that could be a good or bad thing—but either way, you’ll earn each mile knowing you’re out of harm’s way.


Ready to turn heads with your workout gear? Then jog on over here for a list of materials or to download the directions.



Feature image credit: ultraBobban on Flickr (Creative Commons License).

Back to Top ↑