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2011 Innovations

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Meet Customer Demand without  Carrying Huge Inventories

Build to demand (BTD) is an alternative to the Toyota production system (TPS) for manufacturers and/or suppliers that experience highly variable or lumpy demand and want to increase customer service rates, while reducing inventories and production costs. Whereas TPS is an inventory replenishment strategy, BTD is a capacity-driven production strategy. With the BTD process:

  • Demand patterns are analyzed over time using stochastic analysis and modeling methods
  • Customer demand drives production scheduling at both the suppliers and the OEM
  • Customer orders are filled from production, not inventory

Limited or no capital investment is required to implement BTD in most companies. John Deere Horicon Works originally developed BTD in the early 2000s with assistance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Self-Assembling Possible with Programmable Magnets
Magnets printed with multiple poles are opening the door to many applications. The ability to manipulate magnetic fields redefines one of the fundamental forces of nature. Using heat to erase a magnetic field, the material can be reprogrammed to have multiple north and south poles of differing strengths. The applications appear limitless: from precision switches and a new generation of fasteners to robots that can scale walls without touching them. This innovation promises to change the way magnets are employed in manufacturing operations across all major industrial sectors, including automotive, aerospace and defense, biomedical, consumer products, electronics, energy, green tech, transportation, metallurgy and chemical process industries. Specific applications include snowboard bindings, spinal implants and magnets on the joints of furniture or toys to click together only when correctly aligned. These magnets are available from Correlated Magnetics.

Strongest Known Material is Lightweight and Electrically Conductive
Graphene, a sheet of carbon just one atom thick, has spectacular strength, flexibility, transparency and electrical conductivity. Graphene is most easily visualized as an atomic-scale chicken wire made of carbon atoms and their bonds. Fifty times stronger than steel, application areas are seemingly endless and include:
  • Extremely sensitive sensors
  • Superfast electronic switches for consumer electronics
  • Aircraft braking systems
  • Thermal management
  • Electromagnetic interference (EMI)
  • Radio-frequency interference (RFI)
  • Next-generation Li-ion battery
  • Fuel-cell bipolar plate
  • Touch screens

Companies using graphene include IBM and Bell Helicopter, and are available from companies like Angstron Materials.

Microstructured Molding Tools
Microstructured molding tools provide new surface capabilities for products, with no need to change the manufacturing process. Created as square or custom inserts for injection or compression molds, the innovation adds several capabilities to any molded product: superhydrophobic, reduced friction, reduced fluid drag, increased heat transfer, ice mitigation, grayscale, self-cleaning, no visible fingerprints and breathable grip with more capabilities being developed. Other methods can either create many microstructures at once on a few select materials like silicon or microstructures one at a time on a range of materials. Both methods are costly and impractical for industrial tooling needs. This approach for fabricating microstructured-steel molding tools reduces microstructure manufacturing cost by 83 percent to 98 percent. Applications can be found in several industries including automotive, aerospace, home appliances, personal products, biomedical devices and health care. Essentially, this innovation will affect anyone using a product that could benefit from enhanced surface capabilities. Developed by Hoowaki, microstructured tooling has been available since the spring of 2010.
Programming Light with Quantum Dots

Quantum dots are tiny particles, or nanoparticles, of a semiconductor material, traditionally chalcogenides of metals like cadmium or zinc, which range from 2 to 10 nanometers in diameter. Displaying unique optical and electrical properties, the ability to precisely control the size of a quantum dot enables a manufacturer to determine the color of light emitted. They can be "tuned" during production to emit any color of light desired. Current applications include:

  • Electroluminescent displays: Next-generation displays provide brighter images, lower power consumption, improved color purity and longer screen life with more cost-effective manufacturing with less material waste.
  • Solid-state lighting using second-generation quantum dots can deliver high-quality white light at a fraction of the energy than either incandescent or compact fluorescent lamps, resulting in lighting products that can literally "last a lifetime.

Companies manufacturing quantum dot-enabled products include QD Vision and Weinberg Medical Physics.

Visit a Colleague's Office While Never Leaving Home
A remote-presence robot allows a telecommuting worker to remotely attend meetings, drop into the offices of colleagues, and otherwise collaborate with people in another office. Many robots have cameras in their eyes to capture video, speakers and microphones to relay sound back and forth, and an LCD in the forehead to display a still image or video of the remote colleague. A laser pointer gives it the equivalent of a virtual finger. Controlled through a Web-based application, the user can see what it sees and direct it around by using the computer's arrow keys. Companies like Procter & Gamble are using these remote-presence robots to increase the efficiencies of teams working across the world.
Super Velcro Using Shape Memory Polymer
General Motors researchers have made an extremely strong adhesive that comes apart when heated. Ten times stickier than Velcro and reusable gecko-inspired glues, two pieces of the polymer stick together when heated, stay stuck when cooled down and come apart when heated again. Liquid adhesives used typically in manufacturing require lengthy oven curing that consumes a lot of energy; these adhesive bonds are permanent. The permanent bonds do not permit easy product repair or recycling. Currently available reversible attachment methods such as Velcro or foam tapes, on the other hand, do not provide high adhesion strength. These can be used for nonstructural bonding for ease of repair, including various interior and exterior automotive trims and potentially for any application requiring a strong but alterable bond, such as furniture, toys and buildings.
Innovation Watch List
  • Microreactor-assisted nanomaterials deposition
  • Dip-pen nanolithography
  • Green cement
  • Large-format ceramic batteries
  • Laser heating in a diamond anvil cell
  • Metamaterials
  • Self-assembling vehicles
  • Synthetic cells