“We want the next revolution in manufacturing to be made in America!” President Barack Obama proclaimed last week at a visit to Applied Materials in Austin, Tex.
He used the visit to announce a competition to establish the next three “manufacturing innovation institutes” as part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. The new institutes will be similar to the pilot additive manufacturing institute in Youngstown, Ohio, comprising a collaboration between regional partners from industry, universities and community colleges, and government agencies.
“We are looking for companies and universities who are willing to partner and work together to help turn their regions into centers for high-tech jobs,” Obama said.
Applied Materials manufactures equipment and provides services and software for the advanced semiconductor, flat panel display, and solar photovoltaic manufacturing industries.
According to a White House press release, nearly half-a-million new manufacturing jobs have been added to the U.S. economy in the last three years. In his speech at Applied Materials, Obama called out several large companies that are bringing their manufacturing—and jobs—back to the United States, such as Caterpillar, Ford, and Apple. “There are some good trendlines there, but we’ve got to do everything we can to strengthen that trend,” he said.
The President’s FY2014 budget includes a request for $1 billion to create up to 15 new institutes. However, these next three are being set up through the White House, independent of congressional approval through appropriation.
Two of the institutes will be coordinated by the Department of Defense and one by the Department of Energy. These areas were selected for their commercial potential, applicability to agency missions, and coherence with existing programs such as the Materials Genome Initiative. Full details about the hubs and the government’s other manufacturing activities are available at the Advanced Manufacturing Portal.
They new hubs are (from the White House press release):
Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation (DoD)
Advanced design and manufacturing tools that are digitally integrated and networked with supply chains can lead to ‘factories of the future’ forming an agile U.S. industrial base with significant speed to market advantages. A national institute focusing on the development of novel model-based design methodologies, virtual manufacturing tools, and sensor and robotics based manufacturing networks will accelerate the innovation in digital manufacturing increasing U.S. competitiveness.
Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing (DoD)
Advanced lightweight metals possess mechanical and electrical properties comparable to traditional materials while enabling much lighter components and products. A national institute will make the U.S. more competitive by scaling-up research to accelerate market expansion for products such as wind turbines, medical devices, engines, armored combat vehicles, and airframes, and lead to significant reductions in manufacturing and energy costs.
Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing (DoE)
Wide-bandgap semiconductor-based power electronic devices represent the next major platform beyond the silicon-based devices that have driven major technological advances in our economy over the last several decades. Wide-bandgap technology will enable significantly more compact and efficient power electronic devices for electric vehicles, renewable power interconnection, industrial-scale variable-speed drive motors and a smarter, more flexible grid; in addition to high-performance defense applications (e.g. reducing the size of a sub-station to a suit case).
The president also used the speech to talk about some of his administration’s high school initiatives on workforce development, especially for the high-tech and manufacturing sectors.
Sapphire versus Gorilla Glass in smartphones? Corning says no contest but GT Advanced Technologies disagrees
There have been many gains in the production and application of sapphire over the last decade, but one new application being pursued—cover and touch screens for smartphones and similar devices—has certainly surprised me and is generating some controversy over its commercial feasibility.
Most of the discussion about sapphire can be traced to GT Advanced Technologies (GT), a Nashua, N.H., company. Back in March, GT had a booth at the Mobile World Congress 2013 show in Barcelona, Spain, where it had a demonstration of an iPhone 5 where the Gorilla Glass 2 (GG2) front cover had been replaced with sapphire (see video above).
I mention the GG2 only because the state-of-the-art glass is Gorilla Glass 3, which has three times the damage resistance of GG2, a huge improvement in an already great product. GG3 is just now debuting on the new Samsung Galaxy S4, and I suspect GG3 will show up in the next generation of iPhones, but Apple notoriously will never admit it.
Now, there is no getting around that sapphire is a wonderfully tough material, as demonstrated by its use in military transparent armor, critical optics (including many of the tiny camera lenses in smartphones) and high-end watch faces. And, I am sure that a sapphire smartphone would highly resist scratching, but … my personal opinion is that the scratching concerns, whether from car keys or sand or whatever, are highly overrated.
My first iPhone 3 fell out of my shirt while I was cycling down California’s Mt. Tam at about 40 mph. As I looked back, I saw the phone skidding and tumbling about 50 feet through the gravel on the shoulder of the road. When I retrieved it, it was face down. I expected the worse, but there was nary a scratch. Nowadays, I stuff my phone in the same pocket with my keys all the time, and I have tossed it into a lot of beach bags with sand.
There still isn’t a scratch on my phone, and I have yet to see one that does, although I am sure it happens sometimes. But I have seen no evidence that scratches are a major shortcoming of Gorilla Glass. (Smearing and difficulty seeing in direct sunlight seem to be bigger problems). I should point out that I am differentiating between scratches and cracks. I have seen several smartphones with the latter, and while scratches can lead to cracks—more on this below—cracks frequently come from impact damage when a phone is dropped on an exposed edge.
Regardless of my anecdotal experiences, sapphire has some definite knocks against it. The material may be very hard, but unlike glass, I know of no way to introduce compressive stress to sapphire. No alkali ions can be introduced to sapphire to “pack” the surface they way that a chemical treatment, for example, does to glass. These ions give glass its retained strength after damage and are what keeps damage, even smaller than visible scratches, from turning into a full-fledged crack.
Perhaps more importantly from a business standpoint, it would seem that the process of making sapphire is cost prohibitive compared to Gorilla or other glasses that can be made in a rapid continuous process. I’ve written before about some of the most advanced processes, but making sapphire still requires pulling single boules of crystal, inspecting the boules, sectioning the boule into “good” and bad sections (the diamond wire saws create more waste). After that, one must polish each sheet, a process that can introduce flaws. Critics also say that sapphire will have to be considerably thicker and heavier than GG2 or GG3 and may have glare problems. The video below, although apparently meant to be laudatory, illustrates most of these drawbacks, and the processes stands in sharp contrast to Corning’s continuous and highly automated method for making GG.
Corning is hardly unbiased, but it recently publicly expressed its doubts about sapphire. Although sapphire supporters probably see a victory in the fact that Corning has responded at all, a new press release describes sapphire as “not a major threat.” A company VP, Jeffrey Evenson, says, “What would people say if someone invented a cover that was about half the weight, used 99 percent less energy to make, provided brighter displays, and cost less than a tenth of sapphire? I think they’d say that sapphire was in real trouble. It so happens that we at Corning already invented that cover—and it’s called Gorilla Glass.”
GT, however, seems serious about promoting the idea of using sapphire in consumer touch screens. This week, the company is doing additional demonstrations and presentations at the 2013 Society for Information Display’s Display Week event in Vancouver, B.C.
In news release about appearing at the SID meeting, GT counters doubters, saying, “The presentations will highlight results of recent sapphire material testing and provide an update on the progress being made in the development of an optimized fabrication value chain for delivering low-cost and high volume sapphire screen material. GT is developing and investing in a number of innovative technologies that, when commercialized, will help to lower the cost of sapphire cover screens to levels that are competitive with reinforced glass material.”
GT also has been buying up some manufactures of advanced sapphire-making equipment. For example, last week it announced that it had purchased the Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Thermal Technologies. Tom Gutierrez, GT’s president and CEO says, “The acquisition of the Thermal Technology business adds a number of innovative and important products and technologies to our rapidly diversifying portfolio that will, we believe, allow us to accelerate our entrance into new markets.” Likewise, GT has been announcing some sales agreements with purchasers of crystal-making equipment.
All of this begs the question, Is GT’s business plan to make and sell sapphire touch screens or generate interest in sapphire among touch screen makers in order sell them sapphire-making equipment? I suspect it is the latter. I tried to get clarification on this and many other questions from GT but as of this writing, I have not heard back from the company.
Meanwhile, I am definitely in the cynic category. It’s not just about the inherent weaknesses of sapphire in this type of application. To be successful, you have to have both superior technology and the capability to deliver the product in large volumes at competitive prices. There is uncertainty about the former, and GT cannot do the latter. It is worth remembering that Steve Jobs’ biggest concern about Gorilla Glass wasn’t the technology—it was whether Corning could deliver it in the amounts that Apple thought it could sell, and even then, Corning had to basically drop everything to get the orders filled.
Topological insulators (TIs) are an exciting new type of material that on their surface carry electric current, but within their bulk, act as insulators. Since the discovery of TIs about a decade ago, their unique characteristics (which point to potential applications in quantum computing) have been explored theoretically, and in the last five years, experimentally. But where in theory, the bulk of TIs carry no current, in the laboratory, impurities and disorder in real materials mean that the bulk is, in fact, conductive. This has proven an obstacle to experimentation with TIs: findings from prior experiments designed to test the surface conductivity of TIs unavoidably included contributions from the surplus of electrons in the bulk. Now an interdisciplinary research team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in collaboration with researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Condensed Matter Physics and Materials Science Department, has measured superconductive surface states in TIs where the bulk charge carriers were successfully depleted. To deplete the electrons in the bulk, the team used three strategies: the TI material was doped with antimony, then it was doped at the surface with a chemical with strong electron affinity, and finally an electrostatic gate was used to apply voltage that lowered the energy of the entire system.
The University of Dayton Research Institute will benefit from the first round of applied research and development project awards the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute announced in a few weeks ago. Rapid Prototype + Manufacturing LLC of Avon Lake, Ohio, was awarded $1 million for “Maturation of Fused Deposition Modeling Component Manufacturing,” and will contract with UD’s Research Institute for $575,000 for technology support and education. Other partners in the program, designed to resolve issues that have inhibited the transition to manufacturing of Fused Deposition Modeling, a popular thermoplastic-based additive process, include Stratasys of Eden Prairie, Minn., as well as aerospace companies Boeing, GE Aviation, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. “This program allows us to pool resources and leverage highly developed composites industry design practices to mature FDM manufacturing for aerospace and defense applications,” says Brian Rice, head of the Research Institute’s Multi-Scale Composites and Polymers Division. “UDRI’s role will be to analyze material properties and define how to design and certify parts manufactured for aerospace applications.” In July 2012, UDRI received $3 million from the Ohio Third Frontier to work with Stratasys, RP+M and additional partners to develop aircraft-engine components through additive manufacturing —also known as 3D printing—for several aerospace manufacturers.
Eliminating the defects at the interface separating two crystals, or grains, has been shown by nanotechnology experts to be a powerful strategy for making materials stronger, more easily molded, and less electrically resistant-or a host of other qualities sought by designers and manufacturers. Since 2004, when a seminal paper came out in Science, materials scientists have been excited about one special of arrangement of atoms in metals and other materials called a “coherent twin boundary” or CTB. Based on theory and experiment, these coherent twin boundaries are often described as “perfect,” appearing like a perfectly flat, one-atom-thick plane in computer models and electron microscope images. But new research now shows that coherent twin boundaries are not so perfect after all. A team of scientists at the University of Vermont’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and elsewhere report that coherent twin boundaries found in copper “are inherently defective.” With a high-resolution electron microscope, using a more powerful technique than has ever been used to examine these boundaries, they found tiny kink-like steps and curvatures in what had previously been observed as perfect. Even more surprising, these kinks and other defects appear to be the cause of the coherent twin boundary’s strength and other desirable qualities. “Everything we have learned on these materials in the past 10 years will have to be revisited with this new information,” says UVM engineer Frederic Sansoz.
The DOE’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office has issued a request for information seeking feedback from interested stakeholders regarding the use of rotating disk electrode (RDE) experiments and best practices for experimental conditions for characterization of the activity and durability of proton exchange membrane fuel cell oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) electrocatalysts. A review of recent literature shows that the determination of the ORR activity has numerous intricacies that have not been systemically cataloged, resulting in values for the activity of Pt/C that vary significantly. Next steps will be to establish standard procedures and measurement parameters for the RDE technique so that novel catalysts can be benchmarked for ORR activity versus an accepted Pt/C baseline for polymer electrolyte fuel cell applications. DOE is specifically interested in information on best practices/protocols to enable consistency in procedures and less variability in results from different laboratories.
In a process comparable to squeezing an elephant through a pinhole, researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology have designed a way to engineer atoms capable of funneling light through ultra-small channels. Their research is the latest in a series of recent findings related to how light and matter interact at the atomic scale, and it is the first to demonstrate that the material—a specially designed “meta-atom” of gold and silicon oxide—can transmit light through a wide bandwidth and at a speed approaching infinity. The meta-atoms’ broadband capability could lead to advances in optical devices, which currently rely on a single frequency to transmit light, the researchers say. ”These meta-atoms can be integrated as building blocks for unconventional optical components with exotic electromagnetic properties over a wide frequency range,” write Jie Gao and Xiaodong Yang, assistant professors of mechanical engineering at Missouri S&T, and Lei Sun, a visiting scholar at the university. The researchers created mathematical models of the meta-atom, a material 100 nanometers wide and 25 nanometers tall that combined gold and silicon oxide in stairstep fashion. In their simulations, the researchers stacked 10 of the meta-atoms, then shot light through them at various frequencies. They found that when light encountered the material in a range between 540 terahertz and 590 terahertz, it “stretched” into a nearly straight line and achieved an “effective permittivity” known as epsilon-near-zero. Effective permittivity refers to the ratio of light’s speed through air to its speed as it passes through a material. As light passes through the engineered meta-atoms described by Gao and Yang, however, its effective permittivity reaches a near-zero ratio. In other words, through the medium of these specially designed materials, light actually travels faster than the speed of light. It travels “infinitely fast” through this medium, Yang says.
Acting Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman announced that DOE is awarding 88 grants to small businesses in 28 states to develop clean energy technologies with a strong potential for commercialization and job creation. These awards, totaling over $16 million in investments, will help small businesses with promising ideas that could improve manufacturing processes, boost the efficiency of buildings, reduce reliance on foreign oil, and generate electricity from renewable sources. Companies competing for these grants were encouraged to propose outside-the-box innovations to meet ambitious cost and performance targets. The small businesses receiving the awards are located in 28 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. Companies competing for these grants were encouraged to propose outside-the-box innovations to meet ambitious cost and performance targets. The selections are for Phase I and Fast Track (combined Phase I and II) work. That means that the new projects will go toward exploring the feasibility of innovative concepts that could be developed into prototype technologies. Seventy-nine awards will go to SBIR projects, and another nine will go to STTR projects.
• Austrian fireproof materials maker RHI is considering building a new plant in the United States, the company said, to join the growing number of European industrial firms attracted by cheap energy prices across the Atlantic. RHI said it would make a decision in the fourth quarter and could invest about €50 million to build or take over a plant.
• Vesuvius said it expects its 2013 revenue to fall following restructuring and disposals. Trading has been broadly flat this year and production of steel and foundry has been affected by difficult market conditions; production fell 5.0 percent in Europe and North America in the first four months of the year, offsetting a 6.4 percent growth in Asia.
• Pretoria Portland Cement Company of South Africa plans to build a 1 million metric tons per year plant costing $200 million in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The South African cement producer aims to make at least 40 percent of its sales outside of South Africa by 2016.
• Australia’s CSR Ltd. has warned its Viridian glass division will be a continued drag on earnings in the year ahead, even after a reorganization and a $196 million provision booked in the latest financial year.
• PPG Fiber Glass has sold its 50 percent interest in the PPG-Devold glass fiber joint venture to Hexagon Devold. The 50-50 joint venture was created in 2007 to manufacture glass fiber reinforcement fabrics for use in turbine blades for wind energy.
Owens Corning and Constellation today announced the development of a 2.6-megawatt solar generation project that will supply clean energy to the company’s thermal and acoustical insulation plant in Delmar, N.Y. Scheduled for completion in late 2013, the solar project is designed to supply more than 6 percent of the plant’s annual electricity needs and will support Owens Corning’s 2020 Environmental Footprint Goals for energy use and greenhouse gas emissions reduction. “The Delmar Plant is committed to environmental sustainability and advancing both our plant and Owens Corning toward our 2020 sustainability goals,” says John Becker, Delmar plant leader for Owens Corning. “In addition, this project is part of our continuing efforts to implement innovative programs that improve and protect New York State’s environment, and have a positive impact on the state’s economy.” Constellation will finance, build, own and maintain the system. Electricity generated by the system will be purchased by Owens Corning under a 20-year power purchase agreement with Constellation.
A recently added market report by Transparency Market Research on “Energy Efficient Materials Market—Global Industry Size, Share, Trends, Analysis And Forecasts 2012-2018″ is now available. Energy efficient materials are largely used for thermal insulation of buildings as a result of which, demand for these materials is on the rise. Thermal insulation is the most efficient and effective way to improve the energy utilization and efficiency in the building. This method will preserve the indoor heat during winter while keeping the building cool from inside in summers thus improving comfort and saving energy. Some important factors which are necessary for energy saving potential include thermal insulation, efficient lighting system, insulation of windows etc. The most common energy efficient material is fiber glass which is largely used in constructing energy efficient windows. Energy efficient materials industry has a huge market potential in developed countries of America and Europe however, this technology is expected to catch momentum in developing markets of Asia Pacific in near future owing to the increasing adoption of the concept of energy efficient homes. Energy efficient materials market is also driven by increasing consumer demand for operating various appliances and increasing standard of living. In America about 38 percent of total energy consumption is used for heating and cooling purpose in buildings while China accounts for 47.2 percent of total energy consumption.
U.S. Silica exceeded all of its 2012 Sustainability Targets including those for workplace safety, community investment and environmental protection. The company released its third annual Sustainability Report, Connected, which provides a summary of the company’s goals and accomplishments over the past year. Under the guidance of the company’s Sustainability Council, the 2017 Bold Goals and Annual Targets are focused on three distinct areas: People, Planet and Prosperity. Building off of the company’s last two reports, Connected reflects U.S. Silica’s commitment to employees, neighbors, shareholders and the natural environment. It also underscores U.S. Silica’s leadership in sustainability efforts, ranging from tree plantings and wildlife preservation initiatives to financial and in-kind support for local charities and outreach groups.
(Reuters News) From whitewares to solar panels, ceramic products imported from China are about to become much more expensive for European consumers after the European Commission agreed to impose punitive duties on Chinese ceramic imports to counter what it says is dumping at artificially low prices. Imported Chinese whitewares are now subject to tariffs of between 13.1 and 36.1 percent, according to the EU’s official journal. The European Commission says ceramic tableware and kitchenware imports from China totaled €728 million in 2011. After an investigation of alleged dumping by Chinese producers of €21 billion of solar panels and components, the commission also imposed punitive tariffs of 47 percent on Chinese solar goods and said it is also ready to launch an investigation into Chinese imports of mobile telecom equipment.
Growth in industrial markets, more regulations and a shortage of skilled metallurgists all mean the same to NSL Analytical Services Inc.: more business. The independent commercial testing company recently invested more than $1.6 million to buy and renovate a new metallurgical laboratory in Warrensville Heights, Ohio, thus expanding that component of its business. At 11,500 square feet, the new building offers more than double the space of its old metallurgical lab, with more than $560,000 of that investment going to new microscopes, testing machines and other equipment. NSL Analytical, made up of a chemical testing lab and a metallurgical lab, has embarked on an aggressive growth plan in recent years, doubling its revenues and adding 17 employees since 2007, says company president Larry Somrack. He declined to share the company’s annual revenues, but cited the hiring increase as a sign of success. NSL is setting itself up to double its revenue again during the next three years, and Somrack says he plans to hire another 19 employees in the next three to five years. NSL currently has 66 employees. Somrack thinks opportunities exist to support that growth. A rise in regulations in recent years has led to a greater need for outside testing. Also, chief metallurgist Kevin Holland says in an email that he’s seen growth in the oil and gas industry and in manufacturing since the end of the recession.
After spending years supporting charitable work in Africa, John Coors, chief executive of CoorsTek, the US ceramics manufacturing giant, reached the conclusion that philanthropy was not the answer to fostering economic development. A defining moment came in rural western Kenya about two years ago, when he and a team of doctors and dentists had to turn away lines of people seeking medical help at an orphanage they supported because they could not meet the demand. High quality global journalism requires investment. The experience was the catalyst for Mr Coors to come up with an alternative view, shifting from a charitable approach to capitalism. The result is an initiative that aims to attract investment from influential, wealthy families into a private equity-type fund that has an initial target of raising $300m to invest in sub-Saharan Africa. The One Thousand & One Voices (1K1V) project was launched at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town with the concept that money would be put to better use if it was invested in growing African businesses and boosting job creation.
3M reports first-quarter earnings of $1.61 per share, an increase of 1.3 percent versus the first quarter of 2012. Sales rose 2.0 percent year-on-year to $7.6 billion, an all-time first-quarter record. Organic local-currency sales grew 2.1 percent and acquisitions added 1.7 percent to sales. Currency impacts reduced sales by 1.8 percent year-on-year. Operating income was $1.6 billion and operating income margins for the quarter were 21.6 percent. First-quarter net income was $1.1 billion and free cash flow was $670 million. “We achieved record first-quarter sales and solid operating margins in the face of a low-growth economic environment and the strong U.S. dollar,” said Inge G. Thulin, 3M chair, president and chief executive officer. “At the same time, we further strengthened the company through increased investments in innovation, commercialization and manufacturing.” The company paid $440 million in cash dividends to shareholders and repurchased $805 million of its own shares during the quarter.