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2013 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.

Robotic Insects Inspire Mass Production Technique
Monolithic fabrication of three-dimensional structures allows robotic insects to be mass produced by the sheet in a fashion similar to pop-up books and origami. Printed circuit MEMS (PC-MEMS) combines advanced materials and geometries of conventional manufacturing with one-piece construction microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) below the submillimeter scale. Developed to solve manufacturing challenges in insect-scale robotics (weighing under 100 mg), PC-MEMS enables efficient manufacturing of a wide variety of similarly scaled machines at the mesoscale. This approach provides an alternative to conventional manual assembly, occurring today with skilled artisans, tweezers and microscopes. While insect-scale unmanned aerial vehicles are a direct application, PC-MEMS could be used to create a wide variety of machines and mechanisms. With great advantage at the millimeter to centimeter length scale, the technique applies to a wide variety of advanced materials including exotic metals, carbon and glass composites, plastics and ceramics.

Superhydrophobic Coatings Could Save Your Mobile Phone and More
Inspired by lotus leafs and namib beetle, superhydrophobic coatings, super hydrophobic coatings use surface roughness and chemistry to amplify water repellency. Capable of being applied to any surface and complex geometries, the coating can also have nearly perfect optical clarity. Like the lotus leaf, the coating also has a self-cleaning effect. Applications include reducing metal corrosion even under highly corrosive conditions, avoiding biofouling of medical devices, preservation of monuments and buildings made of stone, reduction of energy needed to pump fluids in pipe networks, moisture or ice-resistant barrier for avionics and protective coatings for paint, furniture and art. Companies like Lotus Leaf Coatings manufacture both superhydrophobic and hydrophilic coatings based on the work done at Sandia National Labs, while other like NeverWet and Nokia are working on their own versions. 

Welding Process Increases Use of Lightweight Materials for Increased Fuel Efficiency
Multiring domed electrode for aluminum resistance spot can be used for welding of aluminum sheet, extrusion, casting or combinations, while also achieving high weld quality and eliminating surface expulsion. The rings of the electrode induce high levels of local strain on the outer surfaces of the aluminum to be welded, breaking down the hard, insulating, aluminum-oxide layer enabling intimate contact between the electrode and aluminum. Based on standard resistance spot welding equipment and electrodes, a common weld gun can be used for welding either steel or aluminum eliminating the need for material dedicated equipment. For the transportation industry, the cost benefit is approximately $0.05/joint compared to self-piercing riveting. This savings helps to offset the higher price of aluminum as well as strategic support of the new global CO2 emission targets taking effect in 2020 and 2025. Automotive applications include aluminum closures as well as aluminum body structures whether composed of stampings, extrusions or castings. The process can also be used for welding applications in the truck, bus, heavy truck, rail and aerospace industries.    

Stronger, Lighter, and Cheaper with Carbon Nanotubes
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are approximately 50,000 times thinner than a human hair with unique properties including high electrical and thermal conductivity and outstanding mechanical properties. With a strength-to-weight ratio 117 times greater than steel, CNTs are the strongest and stiffest materials yet discovered. There are more than 100 CNT manufacturers and more than 1,000 organizations engaged in research and development. With recent CNT price drops (from more than $1,000 a gram to as little as $50), applications are expanding rapidly. Commercialized products include: step assists for GM, bumpers for Toyota, Wilson golf clubs and tennis racquets, Easton bicycle frames and Samsung displays. Applications in development could improve energy use from more efficient solar cells and batteries to actual power generation. Others application in development include: targeted drug delivery systems, artificial muscles for robots and prosthetic limbs, bone scaffolds, oil-spill cleanup processes, desalination filters, sensors that can detect chemical vapors or bacteria in drinking water, printable electronics and flexible, transparent electronics.
 Nanotubes1 Nanotubes2
Photos courtesy: Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Everyday Spectrometer: True Color Detection with Rainbow Polymer
A one-step, low-cost holographic lithography method to fabricate a polymer with extraordinary properties can significantly reduce the cost and size of the current state-of-the-art multispectral analyzer from about $250 to $10/piece. Used as a filter for light, this material could form the basis of handheld multispectral imaging devices that identify the "true color" of objects examined. Accurate color detection, measuring spectral discrepancies in the nanometer range, has applications in anti-counterfeiting, remote sensing for military and defense applications, environmental, agricultural and climate monitoring, as well as microscopic bioimaging. The graded photonic bandgap (PBG) structure could be easily coated on cell phone cameras to analyze the real color of food, medicines, paints or cosmetics.

Innovation Watch List
  • Aerovoltaic Nonturbine Wind Energy — Wind technology with no moving parts.
  • Manufacturing Method for Cheaper Solar — High-rate, low-cost vapor deposition process to grow thin crystalline silicon directly on an inexpensive metal foil.
  • Air-Fuel Synthesis — Carbon-neutral synthetic petrol from air-sourced CO2.
  • 3-D Printing of Silicon Nanostructures — Manufacture photonic and silicon micro-sensor products in low volumes at an affordable cost.
  • Robotic Self-Modeling —Self-aware robots could correct themselves and maintain high accuracy.
  • Ultrafast Camera that Sees Around Corners — Allows imaging in areas that are inaccessible and inside hazardous environments.
  • Nanoscale Light Conduits — Use light to turn a mechanical switch on and off.
  • Quantum Memory Storage — Using gaseous atomic vapor to store information.
  • Silicon Surface Patterns — Tiny inverted surface pyramids uses less material and increases efficiency.
  • Metamaterials — Materials that bend light could be used for solar cells, adhesive effects and more.