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2012 Innovations

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This member-driven program showcases new and emerging technologies that are making a difference in manufacturing. This is not the usual list of emerging technologies — these are innovations you can use today or within a few months AND have already shown some successful implementation.

Biomimicry: Manufacturing Inspiration from Nature
Biomimicry looks to nature for inspiration. Taking the best ideas to inspire designs and processes, products can be made more efficient, stronger, lighter and more sustainable. Think of nature as the ultimate engineer. Biomimicry is the foundation for many developments including synthetic gecko tape, strong coatings and materials inspired by abalone, coloration with nanophotonic crystals inspired by peacock feathers and an artificial leaf that harnesses solar energy.

One of TIME magazine’s “50 Best Inventions of 2011” is another example of biomimicry. The hummingbird-inspired nano air vehicle (NAV) is a new class of vehicle capable of indoor and outdoor operation that could provide surveillance capabilities in many environments. The vehicle demonstrates precision hover flight, hover stability in wind gusts, continuous hover without external power source, transition from hover to fast forward flight and many other flight abilities of the hummingbird. 

Transistors Go 3-D for More Performance and Energy Efficiency
The 3-D Tri-Gate transistor represents a fundamental departure from the traditional "flat" two-dimensional gate. This innovation enables chips to operate at lower voltage with lower leakage, providing an unprecedented combination of improved performance and energy efficiency. The capabilities give chip designers the flexibility to make current devices smarter and wholly new ones possible.

Three-dimensional (3-D) Tri-Gate transistor uses three gates wrapped around the silicon channel in a 3-D structure. Current flow is controlled on three sides of the channel rather than just from the top. Because these fins are vertical in nature, transistors can be packed closer together. The new technology enables innovative microarchitectures, system-on-Chip (SoC) designs, and new products–from servers and PCs to smart phones and innovative consumer products.

These new transistors will first appear in Ivy Bridge-based ultrabooks first half of 2012, but will eventually be used across devices and servers. Designers will also be able to continue growing the height of the fins to get more performance and energy-efficiency gains in the future.

Economic Machining of Hardened Steels and Super Alloys with Hyper-Carbide Cutting Tools
Hyper-carbides are sintered, metal-matrix composites (90 percent to 95 percent WC) that differ from traditional “carbides” in the binder composition. By replacing the traditional binder metal (cobalt) with others such as Re, Mo, Ni and Cr, the composite achieves a much greater hot hardness and thermal resistance, thus giving the tool an ability to withstand the extreme temperatures and pressures of higher speed cutting. The resulting performance of the hyper-carbide tools is extraordinary, allowing machining to be performed at 10 or more times the usual material removal rates. Yet, hyper carbides are produced using the same basic methods as other carbide tools resulting in similar tool production costs.

The advance is due to the positive effects of refractory metals (Re, Mo) and others (Ni, Cr) used as binders. Once thought difficult and expensive, these composites are producible in a conventional vacuum furnace using a patented solid-phase vacuum sintering method based on a reduction of particle sizes (carbide and metal) to the nanoscale. Dozens of batches of pressed and sintered tool samples, with resulting hardness readings of more than 2,800 kg/mm2 HV, comparable to pure ceramics (e.g., SiC) rather than cemented carbides have been produced. Fracture toughness is between 7 and 10 MPa-m.5, giving a toughness to resist fracture more like carbides.

The high removal rates achieved by hyper-carbide tools indicate they are capable of cutting under conditions of superplastic deformation, a potentially major advancement in machining industry wide. Both tool steels and heat-resistant superalloys show evidence of superplastic regions of deformation, for which the hyper-carbide tools are perfectly poised to exploit.
Artificial Replaced with Synthetic, Grown Body Parts
Nanotechnology has played a critical role in the first synthetic trachea transplant. A patented nanocomposite of unreported composition was used to form a scaffold exactly the same size and shape as the patient’s own windpipe, which was then seeded with adult stem cells from the patient’s own bone marrow. The surgical team then removed the patient’s cancer-ravaged windpipe and replaced it with the synthetic replica. Because the stem cells are from the patient, there is no problem with immune rejection. This innovation is in addition to other methods that are being used to grow or print new body parts. While the list of parts that can be built is limited (bladders, heart valves, etc.), the work is progressing such that it is imaginable that new parts could be built eliminating the need for things like dialysis machines, artificial hearts and artificial joints.

Tighter Tolerances on Leading and Trailing Edges with Automated System
Using robots, an automated profiling system has attained precision levels, which were never reached before. It reduces the need for manual inspection, increases performance and efficiency with tolerances within 50 microns, reduces the abrasive material consumption up to 75 percent, and allows designers to define more complex shapes on the leading and trailing edges.

Particularly for parts that are forged or cast, the automated machine vision capabilities compare the geometry of each part with the theoretical 3-D model to create the optimal machining recipe. This adaptive automated process is yields high repeatability and the system has been benchmarked to eliminate the typical manual final inspection of the edges.

The system is currently being used in the production of jet engine parts and is well suited for gas turbines used in generators.
Green Steel Technology Using Recycled Rubber Tires
Traditionally in electric arc furnace (EAF) steelmaking, scrap is reprocessed using large amounts of nonrenewable fossil fuel (coke) as sources of carbon. Polymer injection technology mixes plastic and rubber waste into the scrap reprocessing phase, reducing the reliance on coke. The technology reduces carbon emissions, requires less electricity and reduces the amount of plastic and rubber that ends up in landfills.

With about 30 percent of the world’s crude steel production done through EAF globally, the potential impact is substantial. One Steel in collaboration with the University of New South Wales, implemented the technology. They have seen a 3 percent energy reduction, 3 percent productivity improvement and 10 percent reduction in carbon emissions in test plants. Expanding this to all plants, they estimate the reduction in carbon dioxide would be the equivalent of removing approximately 4,000 cars from the road. 

More Good Batches at Lower Cost Using the Model Predictive Control
For batch processing, a multivariate-based model allows for a more accurate analysis and provides process insights not available from other approaches. Using multiple variables has inherent challenges, including process holdups, access to lab data, feedstock variations and concurrent batches is being are being used. Using available online multivariate analytics, the model predictive approach can provide immediate and substantial benefits, including an increase in the consistency of quality products as well as greater throughput through better yields and decreased cycle time and outages.

During Lubrizol’s first trial at a plant in Rouen, France, 18 input variable, 38 process variables and four output variables were used. The company realized numerous and ongoing benefits including uncovering a fault in the process that went unnoticed through traditional monitoring systems, quickly solving problems and avoiding extended downtime.

Other manufacturers using or developing the predictive model approach include Abbott Laboratories, AMD / Global Foundries, Bay Oil Eco – Technologies, Chemstations, Chevron Corp., Eastman Chemical Co,, Emerson Process Management, ExxonMobil, Johnson Controls, Praxair, Shell Global Solutions, Texas Instruments and Weyerhaeuser.

Technology that “Sees” into the Future for Lower Energy Production Costs
Predictive header pressure controller adjusts boiler loads to maintain a predicted header pressure several minutes into the future. This strategy is analogous to driving a car, while looking down the road, instead of looking just over the hood. The predictive — rather than reactive — system prevents boilers from over responding to process upsets due to boiler response lags. Controlling more like an operator, the system anticipates a change in header pressure, makes an adjustment, waits, then tweaks. The result is outstanding header pressure control at substantially reduced fuel costs. Thermal stress is reduced because boilers no longer over respond to header pressure deviations. Also, multiple boilers can participate in maintaining header pressure, so one boiler does not have to shoulder the entire load swing.

It is not an understatement to conclude that every energy consumer will benefit because energy production costs will be lowered thereby driving the direct costs of energy downward. The environment will benefit due to more efficient consumption of fuels. Through use of the technology, a major pulp mill in Western Canada reduced fossil fuel costs by more than $500,000 per month and reduced electric power imports by $60,000 per month. These savings resulted in a 2.5 percent reduction in pulp production costs.
Innovation Watch List
• Fiber optics replacing metal wiring between computer components
Quantum locking
• New methods of color mixing for LED Production
• Semi-solid flow cells for electric cars
Artificial photosynthesis to turn sunlight into liquid fuel
Aerovoltaic wind technology with no moving parts