DIGITAL AGE

July 28, 2012


 I subscribe to a great magazine called “The Engineer”.  It has been published in the UK for over 150 years –all in print form.  The first edition was published in 1856 for the sole purpose of keeping the engineering community in the Crown informed relative to developments in engineering fields and related technology.   The following statement was recently made by Jon Excell, editor-in-chief of the magazine:

“The pressures on print publications are well known.  Increasing distribution and production costs, and the impact of an ongoing economic crisis on advertising revenues, have conspired to create a challenging environment for all magazine publications.  At the same time, rise of the internet with its global reach, low publication costs, and unfulfilled communication potential presents some truly exciting opportunities.” 

The announcement continued to state that as of July 16, 2012, the last print version of the “Engineer” would be available.  From that date, only digital versions of the magazine would be published.  It is a matter of survival.   I think what we are seeing with the “Engineer” is the direction we are headed with publication in general.  I’m not saying books will disappear from shelves but we are seeing with devices such as the NOOK, Kindle, i-PAD and the new HP tablet the probable direction mass publications will take.  All you have to do is examine the monthly or annual costs of digital vs. print and you can see where the future lies.   Several newspapers and magazine publication in the United States have made this transition already.

 I have a great friend and neighbor who teaches at the McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee.    This is a private boys’ school; sixth grade through twelfth grade.  We were doing some “front-yard” talking this past week relative to the start of the 2012-2013 school year.   Eric (my neighbor) indicated that McCallie would be initiating a pilot program to evaluate e-readers instead of hard-bound text books.  The estimated savings was phenomenal.  I mean thousands of dollars when you consider damage, obsolesce, lost books, etc etc.  The students would be furnished e-readers for this purpose with the text and related subject matter downloaded for specific classes.    This will be a two year program in which student, parent and teacher reaction will be evaluated.  The consensus of opinion is a gradual, i.e. three year, movement to e-readers. 

Another fascinating “event” talking place at my youngest grandson’s school is the removal of all chalk blackboards.  These blackboards will be replaced with “digital blackboards” that will access the internet so that educational “streaming” can occur, including video taken and produced by the school itself.  The blackboards work on the very same principal we see when viewing the nightly news or local weather.  The ability of the teacher or student to “write on the board” will be available and provide excitement to the student in addition to  educational possibilities.   That naughty child slated to erase the board as punishment will vanish forever—at least at The Bright School.   Very exciting indeed.

As you can see, we are moving ever-so-quickly to embrace existing digital technology.  I think this is a marvelous direction and I champion the change although in a way, it’s really sad to see books and related publications disappear.  I can’t really imagine my Kindle laying on a coffee table with directions on how to download an e-book purchased from our recent visit to Canada or Italy.

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PIZZA PIZZA

July 17, 2012


Certainly one purpose for engineering effort is to make our lives more “livable”, less burdensome and in my opinion, more fun.  Reduction in everyday stress and overall workload have definitely been accomplished with marvelous inventions that reduce hours of labor to an-attended, automatic operations.  Case in point—the dishwasher, the clothes washer, central heating and air, the airplane, telephone,  “stair-master”  etc etc.   You get the point.  Now to get a little more serious, look at engineering contributions to the health care industry.  MRIs, Cat-Scans, ultrasound, respirators, infant incubators just to name a few and how about pizza?  Wait just a minute.  Did he say pizza?  Did he really say pizza?    OK, pizza and vending represent one “fun” aspect of engineering.   Serious but fun.   This blog concerns itself with pizza vending.  I will be taking data from a wonderful article written by Charles Murray. Charles is an editor for Design News Daily. 

Fresh pizza may be coming to a vending machine near you. The Let’s Pizza machine can do what no mechanized predecessor has done. It kneads and unrolls dough, stamps it flat, adds fresh ingredients, cooks, boxes, and delivers a pizza — all in less than three minutes. Its distributor, A1 Concepts of the Netherlands, plans to put the machines in airports, malls, theme parks, hospital waiting rooms, bus stations, train stations, laundry mats and yes, college dorms.   I recommend one on every floor if we are talking about dorms.  OK, it 1:00 A.M. in the morning.  You’re studying for a mechanics final, it’s raining outside and you really are hungry.  I mean really hungry.   The very last thing you want to do is get dressed, get in the car, try to find something open, and then get back having used an hour of your precious time.  How about the pizza vending machine right down the hall? 

“Everything about these pizzas is fresh,” Ronald Rammers, CEO of A1 Concepts, told us. “There’s a bag of flour, specially mixed, that comes straight from Italy. We combine it with fresh water, fresh sauce, and fresh toppings.”  A JPEG of the vending machine is as follows:

The Italian inventor Claudio Torghele spent six years perfecting the mechanized vendor, with the idea that it would do more than simply zap a frozen pizza with microwaves. His machine mechanically mixes the dough from bags of water and flour and then passes it through a series of shaping and pre-heating stations that create a flattened and partially baked pizza base. A conveying tray moves the preheated crust beneath metering devices that squirt on the tomato sauce. Other distribution components add cheese, sausage, ham, and fresh vegetables. The machine then moves its product to an infrared oven for about a minute before putting it in a cardboard container and sliding it through a slot in the front of the machine.

Torghele told us he conjured up the idea while visiting California and seeing the emphasis on fast food. His vision originally called for a pasta machine. “After we started building it, we decided that pizza would be a more global product, so we changed it.”

Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge was building a hygienic machine. “All of the parts come in contact with the elements,” Torghele said. “We had to find technical solutions to guarantee” that the food would be safe.   Hygiene and safety are absolutely necessary and critical to commercialization. 

The patented solutions include a dough mixer that prevents accumulation of material in its drum and in adjoining metering chambers. “He thought of everything,” Rammers said. “If the machine doesn’t sell a pizza for 24 hours, the timer tells it to mix the dough, and then the machine throws it away in a trash bin.”

Like most current day vending machines, the Let’s Pizza is Internet-enabled. Using a microcontroller and a multitude of specialized software algorithms, it can read information from its 40 onboard sensors and communicate with the outside world. “When it’s almost empty, the machine sends a signal to your phone or your laptop that it needs to be refilled,” Rammers said. Each machine holds enough ingredients for about 200 pizzas.

The machine has been available in Europe since 2009. A1 Concepts will set up its first US Let’s Pizza in Atlanta in late August. The company is working on a plan for machines to be assembled by an American partner.

Competing machines have used microwaves to heat up frozen pizzas, but Rammers said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Let’s Pizza’s success spawns imitators. “Other people are sure to try to build one after they see this. But right now, this is the only one of its kind.”

I think this is a real winner and one great example of “fun engineering”.  What do you think?  Let me hear from you.

GLOBAL CARBON FOOTPRINT

July 17, 2012


 If you have read any of my previous posting you know that I really am NOT a “tree-hugger” but I do have a great respect for our environment.  I really do!  With this being the case let’s take a very brief look.

NOTE:  The information presented by this document is derived from the following Sources:

  • Point Carbon, a Thomson Reuters Company, from seminar “Advanced Course in Carbon Markets”,   Los Angeles, September 20, 2011.
  • Union of Concerned Scientists,  2 Brattle Square, Cambridge, Ma., 
  • Science Daily, “Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Power Plants Rated Worldwide”, November  14, 2007

The data now supports the fact that our planet is undergoing fairly rapid global warming.  There are still some questions as to whether or not that warming is cyclic and based primarily upon activity from our sun or if mankind is the major contributor.  We would represent the cause relative to the effect.   Here is what we do know:

  • Greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4 ***) trap heat in the atmosphere.
  • Atmospheric CO2 content is rising each year.
  • Human activity is the main driver. (NOTE:  This is the opinion of Point Carbon and they do have data to back this up.  There are scientists world wide that feel this global warming is cyclic and human interaction is minimal relative to solar activity. )
GREENHOUSE GASES:  THE KYOTO SIX
     

NAME

ABBREVIATION

 GLOBAL WARMING                POTENTIAL
     

CABRON DIOXIDE

CO(2)

1

METHANE

CH(4)

21

    NITROUS OXIDE

N(2)O

310

HYDROFLUOROCARBONS

 HFC

140–11,700

PERFLUOROCARBONS

PFC

7,000

SULFUR HEXAFLUORIDE

SF6

23,900

     
 SOURCE:  POINT CARBON    
  • It is an established fact that two categories representing the greatest emissions for CO(2) are 1.) Power Plants and 2.) Transportation.  Power plants are by far the greatest source of CO(2) on a global basis. Let’s now take a look at CO(2) emissions on a global basis and then relative to our country  total, by state and then relative to each emitter.

A.)    From the Union of Concerned Scientists: 2012

       
 

Country

Total Emissions

Per Capita Emissions (Tons/Capita)

(Million Metric Tons of CO2)

1 China

6534

4.91

2 United States

5833

19.18

3 Russia

1729

12.29

4 India

1495

1.31

5 Japan

1214

9.54

6 Germany

829

10.06

7 Canada

574

17.27

8 United Kingdom

572

9.38

9 Korea, South

542

11.21

10 Iran

511

7.76

11 Saudi Arabia

466

16.56

12 Italy

455

7.82

13 South Africa

451

9.25

14 Mexico

445

4.04

15 Australia

437

20.82

16 Indonesia

434

1.83

17 Brazil

428

2.18

18 France

415

6.48

19 Spain

359

8.86

20 Ukraine

350

7.61

 

B.)     In looking at the top CO(2) emitters by company, we see the following:

       1 TAICHUNG Lung-Ching Township Taiwan (China) 41,300,000

       2 PORYONG Poryong-gun South Korea 37,800,000

       3 CASTLE PEAK Tuen Mun NT China 35,800,000

       4 REFTINSKAYA SDPP Reftinsky Russia 33,000,000

       5 TUOKETUO-1 Tuoketuo County China 32,400,000

       6 MAILIAO FP Mailiao Taiwan (China) 32,400,000

       7 VINDHYACHAL Sidhi Dist India 29,000,000

       8 HEKINAN Hekinan Japan 28,900,000

       9 KENDAL Witbank South Africa 28,600,000

       10 JANSCHWALDE Peitz Germany 27,400,000

       11 SURALAYA Serang – Merak Indonesia 27,200,000

       12 TANGJIN Tangjin-kun South Korea 26,900,000

       13 MAJUBA Volksrust South Africa 26,500,000

       14 TAEAN Taean South Korea 26,400,000

       15 BEILUNGANG Ningbo City China 26,000,000

       16 WAIGAOQIAO Shanghai Pudong China 26,000,000

       17 TAISHAN Tongluowan China 26,000,000

       18 BELCHATOW Belchatow 5 Poland 25,500,000

       19 MATIMBA Ellisras South Africa 25,500,000

       20 SCHERER Juliette United States 25,300,000

       21 HSINTA Yungan Township Taiwan (China) 25,300,000

       22 SAMCHONPO Kosung-gun South Korea 25,200,000

       23 DRAX Selby United Kingdom 23,700,000

       24 NIEDERAUSSEM Bergheim Germany 23,600,000

       25 JIANBI Zhenjiang City China 23,500,000

C.)    Now, in looking at our own country:

Annually, the 12 biggest CO2 polluting power plants in the United States are:

  1. The Scherer plant in Juliet, GA — 25.3 million tons
  2. The Miller plant in Quinton, AL — 20.6 million tons
  3. The Bowen plant in Cartersville, GA — 20.5 million tons
  4. The Gibson plant in Owensville, IN — 20.4 million tons
  5. The W.A. Parish plant in Thompsons, TX — 20 million tons
  6. The Navajo plant in Page, AZ — 19.9 million tons
  7. The Martin Lake plant in Tatum, TX — 19.8 million tons
  8. The Cumberland plant in Cumberland City, TN — 19.6 million tons
  9. The Gavin plant in Cheshire, OH — 18.7 million tons
  10. The Sherburne County plant in Becker, MN — 17.9 million tons
  11. The Bruce Mansfield plant in Shippingport, PA — 17.4 million tons
  12. The Rockport plant in Rockport, IN — 16.6 million tons

D.)   The same data by state:

       1 Texas 290,000,000

       2 Florida 157,000,000

       3 Indiana 137,000,000

       4 Pennsylvania 136,000,000

       5 Ohio 133,000,000

       6 Illinois 113,000,000

       7 Kentucky 98,300,000

       8 Georgia 91,500,000

       9 Michigan 91,400,000

       10 Alabama 90,700,000

       11 West Virginia 88,600,000

       12 Missouri 82,500,000

       13 California 79,200,000

       14 North Carolina 77,700,000

       15 New York 69,600,000

       16 Arizona 64,500,000

       17 Tennessee 63,300,000

       18 Louisiana 61,000,000

       19 Oklahoma 57,000,000

       20 Wisconsin 54,800,000

       21 South Carolina 52,500,000

       22 Virginia 49,700,000

       23 Colorado 47,200,000

       24 Wyoming 45,900,000

       25 Kansas 43,500,000

       26 Minnesota 43,500,000

       27 Utah 41,900,000

       28 Iowa 38,800,000

       29 North Dakota 37,600,000

       30 Arkansas 35,400,000

       31 Maryland 33,600,000

       32 New Mexico 32,800,000

       33 Mississippi 30,900,000

       34 Massachusetts 29,400,000

       35 Nebraska 24,400,000

       36 New Jersey 22,100,000

       37 Nevada 20,800,000

       38 Montana 20,300,000

       39 Washington 19,600,000

       40 Connecticut 13,400,000

       41 Oregon 12,600,000

       42 Hawaii 9,805,652

       43 New Hampshire 8,619,268

       44 Maine 7,817,319

       45 Delaware 7,313,223

       46 Alaska 5,951,978

       47 South Dakota 4,680,446

       48 Rhode Island 2,614,260

       49 Idaho 1,060,886

       50 Vermont 436,856

The state with the greatest CO2 emissions from electricity generation is Texas (290 million tons), followed by Florida (157 million tons), Indiana (137 million tons), Pennsylvania (136 million tons), Ohio (133 million tons), Illinois (113 million tons), Kentucky (98 million tons), Georgia (92 million tons), Michigan (91 million tons) and Alabama (91 million tons).   The District of Columbia has the lowest power-related emissions (113,000 tons), followed by Vermont (437,000 tons), Idaho (1 million tons), Rhode Island (2.6 million tons); South Dakota (4.7 million tons); and Alaska (6 million tons).  Some surprising contrasts that show how different approaches to power generation can make huge differences in emissions. For example: The CO2 output from power plants in California, with some 36 million people, is nearly the same as that of North Carolina, which has only one-quarter of California’s population. North Carolina gets about half its power from coal; California relies on a mix of natural gas, hydro, nuclear power, and renewable energy.

One very interesting fact:   Carbon emissions impose a huge cost on society by threatening the basic elements of life –access to water, food production, health and the environment. Economists have estimated these “social costs” at anywhere from $8 per ton to as high as $100 per ton of CO2.    “Even if you assume a fairly low charge of about $20 per ton of CO2, power producers that rely heavily on fossil fuels will have to shift rapidly toward renewable energy if they are to remain profitable,” Dr. Wheeler says.    Dr. Wheeler is a leading proponent of promoting alternate energy sources and venture capital funding of companies dedicated to R&D efforts to bring about reduction in greenhouse gases other effluents.

 

TELECOMMUTING

July 10, 2012


Even the word is fairly new!  A very few years ago there was no such “animal” as telecommuting and today it’s considered by progressives companies as “kosher”.   Companies such as AT&T, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Southwest Airlines, The Home Shopping Network, Amazon and even Home Depot allow selected employees to “mail it in”.  The interesting  thing; efficiency and productivity are not lessened and in most cases improve.   Let’s now look at several very interesting facts regarding this trend in conducting business.

  • One in five individuals around the globe telecommute on a regular, daily basis.
  • One in ten telecommute from their homes.
  • Fifty million (50 million) people in the United States could work in a remote fashion if allowed by their companies.
  • In 2009, 102,000 Federal employees telecommuted on a full-time basis.  (I am told that number is significantly greater now since more and more employees are Federal.)
  • It is estimated as much as $20,000 per employee could be saved by their companies if allowed to telecommute.

 OK, what are the individual and company benefits resulting from this activity.  These might be as follows:

  • Significant reduction in energy usage by company.
  •  Reduction in individual carbon footprint. (It has been estimated that 9,500 pounds of CO 2 per year per person could be avoided if the employee works from home.  Most of this is avoidance of cranking up the “tin lezzy”. )
  • Reduction in office expenses in the form of space, desk, chair, tables, lighting, telephone equipment, computer connections,  etc.
  • Reduction in the number of sick days taken due to illnesses from communicable diseases.
  • Fewer “in-office” distractions allowing for greater focus on work.  These might include: 1.) Monday morning congregation at the water cooler to discuss the game on Saturday, 2.) Birthday parties, 3.) Mary Kay meetings, etc etc.  You get the picture!

In the state where I live (Tennessee), the number of telecommuters has risen 18 percent relative to 2011.  489,000 adults across Tennessee work from home on a regular basis.  Most of these employees do NOT work for themselves in family-owned businesses but for large companies that allow the activity.  Also, many of these employees work for out-of-state concerns thus creating ideal situations for both worker and employer.   At Blue Cross of Tennessee, one in six individuals go to work by staying at home.   Working at home definitely does not always mean there is no personal communication with supervisors and peers.    These meetings are factored into each work week, some required at least on a monthly basis.

 It has been estimated that by 2016, 63 million employees in our country will telecommute.   Of course, this marvelous transition has only been made possible by internet connections and in most cases, the computer technology at home equals or surpasses that found at “work”.   We all know this trend will continue as well it should.    I would say, if you are an employer, take a look and consider the possibilities.  Discuss these possibilities with those you feel could best fullfill your expectations relative to working at home.  If you have the type of organization that lends itself to this activity, give your self-starters the option.  One, two possibly three days per week for a trial period.  Monitor how much they accomplish and discuss those accomplishments with them while being “painfully honest”.  In my opinion, this would be a great manner in which to bring about cost savings and benefits to your company.  Just a thought.

RARE EARTH MATERIALS

July 2, 2012


 Since the early 1990s, the Chinese have virtually cornered the market relative to acquisition of rare earth materials.   For the past two decades, they have dominated production and processing of rare earths, driving U.S. producers out of business and costs through the roof.   It is estimated that they have 97% of the existing market. 

OK, what are rare earth materials?  There are seventeen (17) receiving this classification.  These are as follows:

Lanthanum

Cerium

Praseodymium

Neodymium

Promethium

Samarium

Europium

Gadolinium

Terbium

Dysprosium

Holmium

Erbium

Thulium

Ytterbium

Lutetium

Scandium

Yttrium

These materials are extremely important to products such as: wind turbines, electric vehicles, photovoltaic thin films, and energy-efficient lighting.    In recent years, demand for almost all materials examined has grown more rapidly than the demand for commodity metals such as steel.  For example, the magnets used in many of today’s proliferating wind turbines and electric vehicles use rare earth praseodymium, neodymium, and dysprosium.   Rare earths are also widely used in telecommunications and defense industries as well as some consumer products.    One rare earth, dysprosium, cost about $250.00 per kilogram in 2004.  In the first seven months of 2011, the price shot up to $2500.00 per kilogram.  Even now, this material still costs about $1400.00 per Kg.    In 2009, the average price for lanthanum oxide was $13.00 per kilogram.  In June of 2013, it was $208.00 per kilogram.   You can see the impact “hoarding” has on the marketplace.  There also seems to be refusal by the Chinese to resale these materials on the open market—even at a fair price.  

On March 13, President Obama raised the profile of the rare earth dispute when he announced the United States would be joining the EU and Japan to bring complaints to the World Trade Organization (WTO).  “Being able to manufacturer advanced batteries and hybrid cars in America is too important for us to stand by and do nothing”, Mr. Obama says.   I don’t really know what affect the WTO will have on eventual resale of these materials but at least this has been brought to light by concerned individuals and possible solutions may surface.   One of the things that really “bugs” me is why the Chinese had such foresight and we did not?  In some respects, I think we are looking at the “finders-keepers—losers—weepers” scenario.  Do you ever wonder whose minding the store?  Who’s watching out for us?   You cannot tell me that no one saw this coming.   We really need a public sector that is continuously engaged and in a timely manner.

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