We all wish for our children and grandchildren the very best education available to them whether it’s public or private.  Local school districts many times struggle with maintaining older schools and providing the upgrades necessary to make and keep schools safe and functional.  There have been tremendous changes to needs demanded by this digital age as well as security so necessary.  Let’s take a look at what The Consulting-Specifying Engineer Magazine tells us they have discovered relative to NEW school trends and designs that fulfill needs of modern-day students.

  • Technology is touching all aspects of modern school systems and is a key component of content display and communication within the classroom. Teachers and students are no longer static within the classroom.  They are very mobile and flexible which creates the necessity for robust, flexible, and in most cases wireless infrastructure that responds to and does not distract from learning.
  • Multiple-purpose use facilities with large central areas which can serve as cafeteria, theater and even gymnasium are key to this trend. Individual classrooms are quickly becoming a thing of the past. The mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment must be flexible for the many-purposed uses as well as being able to quickly transition from one to the next.
  • SECURITY is an absolute must when considering a new school building. Site access must be limited with movement throughout the building being secure with in-service cameras and a card access.  This must be accomplished without the school looking like a prison.
  • Color tuning, a new word for me, is accomplished by painting and lighting and creates an atmosphere for maximum learning. These efforts facilitate a more natural atmosphere and are more in line with circadian rhythms.  Warmer color temperature paints can increase relaxation and reduce stressful learning.
  • IAQ-Indoor Air Quality. According to the EPA:
    • Fifty percent (50%) of the schools in the U.S. today have issues linked to deficient or failing IAQ.
    • Deficient IAQ increases asthma risk by fifty percent (50%)
    • Test scores can drop by twenty-one percent (21%) with insufficient IAQ.
    • Schools with deficient IAQ have lower average student attendance rates
    • Cleaner indoor air promotes better health for students and teachers.
    • Implementing IAQ management can boost test scores by over fifteen percent (15%)
    • Greater ventilation can reduce absenteeism by ten (10) absences per one thousand students.
  • School administrators and school boards demand facilities that are equipped with sufficient lighting and sufficient fire protection. Heating and air conditioning as well as the electrical systems necessary to drive these pieces of hardware must be energy efficient.  Emergency generators are becoming a basic requirement to facilitate card readers and emergency door access.
  • Voice evacuation fire alarm and performance sound and telecommunication systems must be provided and must be kept active by emergency generators if power failures occur.
  • More and more high schools offer advanced placement generating college credits required for admission to universities and colleges. State-of-the art equipment facilitates this possibility. We are talking about laboratories, compressed air systems, medical and dental equipment, IT facilities, natural gas distribution systems, environment systems supporting biodiesel, solar and wind turbines, and other specialized equipment.  Many schools offer education at night as well as in the daytime.
  • All codes, local, state, federal and international MUST be adhered to with no exceptions.
  • Construction costs account for twenty to forty percent (20-40%) of the total life-cycle costs so maintenance and replacement must be considered when designing facilities.
  • Control systems providing for energy savings during off-peak hours must be designed into school building facilities.
  • LED lighting is becoming a must with dimmable controls, occupancy/vacancy sensors and daylight harvesting is certainly desirable.
  • For schools in the mid-west and other areas of our country, tornado shelters must be considered and certainly could save lives when available.

These are just a few of the requirements architects and design engineers face when quoting a package to school boards and regional school systems.  Much more sophisticated that ever before with requirements never thought of before.  Times are changing—and for the better.

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OUR SHRINKING WORLD

March 16, 2019


We sometimes do not realize how miniaturization has affected our every-day lives.  Electromechanical products have become smaller and smaller with one great example being the cell phone we carry and use every day.  Before we look at several examples, let’s get a definition of miniaturization.

Miniaturization is the trend to manufacture ever smaller mechanical, optical and electronic products and devices. Examples include miniaturization of mobile phones, computers and vehicle engine downsizing. In electronics, Moore’s Law predicted that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit for minimum component cost doubles every eighteen (18) months. This enables processors to be built in smaller sizes. We can tell that miniaturization refers to the evolution of primarily electronic devices as they become smaller, faster and more efficient. Miniaturization also includes mechanical components although it sometimes is very difficult to reduce the size of a functioning part.

The revolution of electronic miniaturization began during World War II and is continuing to change the world till now. Miniaturization of computer technology has been the source of a seemingly endless battle between technology giants over the world. The market has become so competitive that the companies developing microprocessors are constantly working towards erecting a smaller microchip than that of their competitor, and as a result, computers become obsolete almost as soon as they are commercialized.  The concept that underlies technological miniaturization is “the smaller the better”; smaller is faster, smaller is cheaper, smaller is more profitable. It is not just companies that profit from miniaturization advances, but entire nations reap rewards through the capitalization of new developments. Devices such as personal computers, cellular telephones, portable radios, and camcorders have created massive markets through miniaturization, and brought billions of dollars to the countries where they were designed and built. In the 21st century, almost every electronic device has a computer chip inside. The goal of miniaturization is to make these devices smaller and more powerful, and thus made available everywhere. It has been said, however, that the time for continued miniaturization is limited – the smaller the computer chip gets, the more difficult it becomes to shrink the components that fit on the chip.  I personally do not think this is the case but I am a mechanical engineer and not an electronic or electrical engineer.  I use the products but I do not develop the products.

The world of miniaturization would not be possible at all if it were not for semiconductor technology.  Devices made of semiconductors, notably silicon, are essential components of most electronic circuits.  A process of lithography is used to create circuitry layered over a silicon substrate. A transistor is a semiconductor device with three connections capable of amplification in addition to rectification. Miniaturization entails increasing the number of transistors that can hold on a single chip, while shrinking the size of the chip. As the surface area of a chip decreases, the task of designing newer and faster circuit designs becomes more difficult, as there is less room left for the components that make the computer run faster and store more data.

There is no better example of miniaturization than cell phone development.  The digital picture you see below will give some indication as to the development of the cell phone and how the physical size has decreased over the years.  The cell phone to the far left is where it all started.  To the right, where we are today.  If you look at the modern-day cell phone you see a remarkable difference in size AND ability to communicate.  This is all possible due to shrinking computer chips.

One of the most striking changes due to miniaturization is the application of digital equipment into a modern-day aircraft cockpit.  The JPEG below is a mockup of an actual Convair 880.  With analog gauges, an engineering panel and an exterior shell, this cockpit reads 1960/1970 style design and fabrication.  In fact, this is the actual cockpit mock up that was used in the classic comedy film “Airplane”.

Now, let us take a look at a digital cockpit.  Notice any differences?  Cleaner and fewer.  The GUI or graphical user interface can take the place of numerous dials and gauges that clutter and possibly confuse a pilot’s vision.

I think you have the picture so I would challenge you to take a look this upcoming week to discover those electromechanical items, we take for granted, to discover how they have been reduced in size.  You just may be surprised.

 

TELECOMMUTING

March 13, 2019


Our two oldest granddaughters have new jobs.  Both, believe it or not, telecommute.  That’s right, they do NOT drive to work.  They work from home—every day of the week and sometimes on Saturday.  Both ladies work for companies not remotely close to their homes in Atlanta.  The headquarters for these companies are hundreds of miles away and in other states.

Even the word is fairly new!  A few years ago, there was no such “animal” as telecommuting and today it’s considered by progressive 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 look at several very interesting facts regarding this trend in conducting business.  This information comes from a website called “Flexjobs.com”.

  1. Three point three (3.3) million full-time professionals, excluding volunteers and the self-employed, consider their home as their primary workplace.
  2. Telecommuting saves between six hundred ($600) and one thousand ($1,000)  on annual dry-cleaning expenses, more than eight hundred ($800) on coffee and lunch expenses, enjoy a tax break of about seven hundred and fifty ($750), save five hundred and ninety ($590) on their professional wardrobe, save one thousand one hundred and twenty ($1,120) on gas, and avoid over three hundred ( $300 ) dollars in car maintenance costs.
  3. Telecommuters save two hundred and sixty (260) hours by not commuting on a daily basis.
  4. Work from home programs help businesses save about two thousand ($2,000) per year help businesses save two thousand ($2,000) per person per year and reduce turnover by fifty (50%) percent.
  5. Typical telecommuter are college graduates of about forty-nine (49) years old and work with a company with fewer than one hundred (100) employees.
  6. Seventy-three percent (73%) of remote workers are satisfied with the company they work for and feel that their managers are concerned about their well-being and morale.
  7. For every one real work-from-home job, there are sixty job scams.
  8. Most telecommuters (53 percent) work more than forty (40) hours per week.
  9. Telecommuters work harder to create a friendly, cooperative, and positive work environment for themselves and their teams.
  10. Work-from-home professionals (82 percent) were able to lower their stress levels by working remotely. Eighty (80) percent have improved morale, seventy (70) percent increase productivity, and sixty-nine (69) percent miss fewer days from work.
  11. Half of the U.S. workforce have jobs that are compatible with remote work.
  12. Remote workers enjoy more sleep, eat healthier, and get more physical exercise
  13. Telecommuters are fifty (50) percent less likely to quit their jobs.
  14. When looking at in-office workers and telecommuters, forty-five (45) percent of telecommuters love their job, while twenty-four (24) percent of in-office workers love their jobs.
  15. Four in ten (10) freelancers have completed projects completely from home.

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, and 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 eighteen (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.

Four point three (4.3) million employees (3.2% of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time.  Regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 140% since 2005, nearly 10x faster than the rest of the workforce or the self-employed.  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 welcome your comments and love to know your “telecommuting” stories.  Please send responses to: bobjengr@comcast.net.


With the federal government pulling out of manned space flight, it gave private companies ample opportunity to fill in the gaps.  Of course, these companies MUST have adequate funding, trained personnel and proper facilities to launch their version(s) of equipment, support and otherwise that will take man and equipment to the outer reaches of space.  The list of companies was quite surprising to me.  Let’s take a look.

These are just the launch vehicles.  There is also a huge list of manufacturers making man-rovers and orbiters, research craft and tech demonstrators, propulsion manufacturers, satellite launchers, space manufacturing, space mining, space stations, space settlements, spacecraft component manufacturers and developers, and spaceliner companies.   I will not publish that list but these companies are available for discovery by putting in the heading for each category.  To think we are not involved in space is obviously a misnomer.

 

BENDABLE BATTERIES

February 1, 2019


I always marvel at the pace of technology and how that technology fills a definite need for products only dreamt of previously.   We all have heard that “necessity is the mother of invention” well, I believe that to a tee.  We need it, we can’t find it, no one makes it, let’s invent it.  This is the way adults solve problems.  Every week technology improves our lives giving us labor-saving devices that “tomorrow” will become commonplace.  All electro-mechanical devices run on amperage provided by voltage impressed.   Many of these devices use battery power for portability.   Lithium-ion batteries seem to be the batteries of choice right now due to their ability to hold a charge and their ability to fast-charge.

Pioneer work with the lithium battery began in 1912 under G.N. Lewis but it was not until the early 1970s when the first non-rechargeable lithium batteries became commercially available. lithium is the lightest of all metals, has the greatest electrochemical potential and provides the largest energy density for weight.

The energy density of lithium-ion is typically twice that of the standard nickel-cadmium. This is a huge advantage recognized by engineers and scientists the world over.  There is potential for higher energy densities. The load characteristics are reasonably good and behave similarly to nickel-cadmium in terms of discharge. The high cell voltage of 3.6 volts allows battery pack designs with only one cell. Most of today’s mobile phones run on a single cell. A nickel-based pack would require three 1.2-volt cells connected in series.

Lithium-ion is a low maintenance battery, an advantage that most other chemistries cannot claim. There is no memory and no scheduled cycling is required to prolong the battery’s life. In addition, the self-discharge is less than half compared to nickel-cadmium, making lithium-ion well suited for modern fuel gauge applications. lithium-ion cells cause little harm when disposed.

If we look at advantages and disadvantages, we see the following:

Advantages

  • High energy density – potential for yet higher capacities.
  • Does not need prolonged priming when new. One regular charge is all that’s needed.
  • Relatively low self-discharge – self-discharge is less than half that of nickel-based batteries.
  • Low Maintenance – no periodic discharge is needed; there is no memory.
  • Specialty cells can provide very high current to applications such as power tools.

Limitations

  • Requires protection circuit to maintain voltage and current within safe limits.
  • Subject to aging, even if not in use – storage in a cool place at 40% charge reduces the aging effect.
  • Transportation restrictions – shipment of larger quantities may be subject to regulatory control. This restriction does not apply to personal carry-on batteries.
  • Expensive to manufacture – about 40 percent higher in cost than nickel-cadmium.
  • Not fully mature – metals and chemicals are changing on a continuing basis.

One amazing property of Li-Ion batteries is their ability to be formed.  Let’s take a look.

Researchers have just published documentation relative to a new technology that will definitely fill a need.

ULSAN NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY:

Researchers at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in Korea have developed an imprintable and bendable lithium-ion battery they claim is the world’s first, and could hasten the introduction of flexible smart phones that leverage flexible display technology, such as Samsung’s Youm flexible OLED.

Samsung first demonstrated this display technology at CES 2013 as the next step in the evolution of mobile-device displays. The battery could also potentially be used in other flexible devices that debuted at the show, such as a wristwatch and a tablet.

Ulsan researchers had help on the technology from Professor John A. Rogers of the University of Illinois, researchers Young-Gi Lee and Gwangman Kim of Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, and researcher Eunhae Gil of Kangwon National University. Rogers was also part of the team that developed a breakthrough in transient electronics, or electronics that dissolve inside the body.

The Korea JoongAng Daily newspaper first reported the story, citing the South Korea Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, which co-funded the research with the National Research Foundation of Korea.

The key to the flexible battery technology lies in nanomaterials that can be applied to any surface to create fluid-like polymer electrolytes that are solid, not liquid, according to Ulsan researchers. This is in contrast to typical device lithium-ion batteries, which use liquefied electrolytes that are put in square-shaped cases. Researchers say this also makes the flexible battery more stable and less prone to overheating.

“Conventional lithium-ion batteries that use liquefied electrolytes had problems with safety as the film that separates the electrolytes may melt under heat, in which case the positive and negative may come in contact, causing an explosion,” Lee told the Korean newspaper. “Because the new battery uses flexible but solid materials, and not liquids, it can be expected to show a much higher level of stability than conventional rechargeable batteries.”

This potential explosiveness of the materials in lithium-ion batteries — which in the past received attention because of exploding mobile devices — has been in the news again recently in the case of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has had several instances of liquid leaking lithium-ion batteries. The problems have grounded Boeing’s next-generation jumbo jet until they are investigated and resolved.

This is a very short posting but one I felt would be of great interest to my readers.  New technology; i.e. cutting-edge stuff, etc. is fun to write about and possibly useful to learn.  Hope you enjoy this one.

Please send me your comments:  bobjengr@comcast.net.


My posts are not necessarily aimed to provide public service announcements but I just could not pass this one up.  Take a look.

On November first of 2018, Honeywell released a study founding that forty-four percent (44%) of the USB drives scanned by their software at fifty (50) customer locations contained at least one unsecured file.  In twenty-six percent (26%) of those cases, the detected fire was capable of causing what company officials called “a serious disruption by causing individuals to lose visibility or control of their operations”.  Honeywell began talking up its SMX (Secure Media Exchange) technology at its North American user group meeting in 2016, when removable media like flash drives were already a top pathway for attackers to gain access to a network. SMX, launched officially in 2018  is designed to manage USB security by giving users a place to plug in and check devices for approved use. The SMX Intelligence Gateway is used to analyze files in conjunction with the Advanced Threat Intelligence Exchange ( Exchange (ATIX), Honeywell’s threat intelligence cloud. Not only has SMX made USB use safer, but Honeywell has gained access to a significant amount of information about the methodology of attacks being attempted through these devices.

“The data showed much more serious threats than we expected,” said Eric Knapp, director of strategic innovation for Honeywell Industrial Cyber Security. “And taken together, the results indicate that a number of these threats were targeted and intentional.” Though Honeywell has long suspected the very real USB threats for industrial operators, the data confirmed a surprising scope and severity of threats, Knapp said, adding. “Many of which can lead to serious and dangerous situations at sites that handle industrial processes.”

The threats targeted a range of industrial sites, including refineries, chemical plants and pulp and paper facilities around the world. About one in six of the threats specifically targeted industrial control systems (ICSs) or Internet of Things (IoT) devices. (DEFINITION OF IoT: The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the use of intelligently connected devices and systems to leverage data gathered by embedded sensors and actuators in machines and other physical objects. In other words, the IoT (Internet of Things) can be called to any of the physical objects connected with network.)

Among the threats detected, fifteen percent (15%) were high-profile, well-known issues such as Triton, Mirai and WannaCry, as well as variants of Stuxnet. Though these threats have been known to be in the wild, what the Honeywell Industry Cyber Security team considered worrisome was the fact that these threats were trying to get into industrial control facilities through removable storage devices in a relatively high density.

“That high-potency threats were at all prevalent on USB drives bound for industrial control facility use is the first concern. As ICS security experts are well aware, it only takes one instance of malware bypassing security defenses to rapidly execute a successful, widespread attack,” Honeywell’s report noted. “Second, the findings also confirm that such threats do exist in the wild, as the high-potency malware was detected among day-to-day routine traffic, not pure research labs or test environments. Finally, as historical trends have shown, newly emerging threat techniques such as Triton, which target safety instrumented systems, can provoke copycat attackers. Although more difficult and sophisticated to accomplish, such newer threat approaches can indicate the beginnings of a new wave of derivative or copycat attacks.”

In comparative tests, up to eleven percent (11%) of the threats discovered were not reliably detected by more traditional anti-malware technology. Although the type and behavior of the malware detected varied considerably, trojans—which can be spread very effectively through USB devices—accounted for fifty-five percent (55%) of the malicious files. Other malware types discovered included bots (eleven percent), hack-tools (six percent) and potentially unwanted applications (five percent).

“Customers already know these threats exist, but many believe they aren’t the targets of these high-profile attacks,” Knapp said. “This data shows otherwise and underscores the need for advanced systems to detect these threats.”

CONCLUSION:  Some companies and organizations have outlawed USB drives entirely for obvious reasons.  Also, there is some indication that companies, generally off-shore, have purposely embedded malware within USB drives to access information on a random level.  It becomes imperative that we take great care in choosing vendors providing USB drives and other external means of capturing data.  You can never be too safe.

DECISION PARALYSIS

January 5, 2019


The idea for this post came from “Plant Engineering Magazine”, December 2018.

OK, now what do I do?  Have you ever heard yourself muttering those words?  Well, I’ve been there—done that—got the “Tee shirt”.  We all have at one time been placed or have placed ourselves in the decision-making process with a certain degree of paralysis.  If you have P and L responsibilities, own a house, contemplate the purchase of any item that will impact your checkbook or finances, you’ve been there. Let’s take a look at eight (8) factors that may cause decision paralysis.

  1. RAPID CHANGE: The manner in which we conduct our daily lives has changed dramatically over the past few years. Digitalization is sweeping across the domestic and commercial world changing the way we do just about everything. The way we shop, bank, and travel can be accomplished on-line with delivery systems reacting accordingly.  Everyone, including the
    “ baby-boomers” need to get on-board with the changes.
  2. COMPLEX PROCESSES: Old-school processes are inadequate for managing today’s very complex issues. Our three sons and all of our grandchildren have probably never purchased a stamp.  Everything is accomplished on line including paying the bills.  There will come a time when every acquisition will start online.  One of the most fascinating web sites if U-tube.com.  I have never been faced with a “fix-it” problem that is not described on U-tube. It is a valuable resource.  Get ready for digitization now—its coming.
  3. DEMANDING CUSTOMERS: Today’s consumers have high expectations for attentive service, high value, and timely communication. It is no longer enough to be content with trusting the process will deliver value for the customer.  My greatest complaint with COMCAST is customer service.  The product itself is adequate but their customer service is one of the most pitiful on the planet.
  4. PHYSICAL THREATS: I do NOT mean burglars and home invasion.  Aging infrastructure systems, including our power grid, air traffic control, bridges, railways, pose significant threats to reliable communication, transportation and safety in general.  In-house and in-store equipment may not be sophisticated enough to handle growing demands brought on by our “digital world”.  Upgrades to physical equipment and programs driving that equipment become more frequent as we try to make decisions and choices.
  5. TOO MANY CHOICES: While choices are really nice, too many options can present a real burden for the decision maker.  We should and must prioritize the growing list of choices and choose the most viable options.  This includes possible vendors and companies offering choices.
  6. CYBER THREATS: We MUST incorporate systems to protect digital infrastructure.   If you read the literature, you find we are losing that battle. It’s almost to the point that every household needs an IT guy.
  7. DATA OVERLOAD: “Big data” is swamping us with information at an ever-growing rate due to an endless list of features and functionality relative to digital devices. As you well know, CDs and DVDs can now be purchased with terabyte capabilities.  Necessity is the mother of invention and this need will only grow.
  8. TIGHT BUDGETS AND FINANCES: In most cases, making the proper and correct decision will require some cost. Once again, this can cause delays in trying to choose the best options with the maximum payback in time, money and effort.

There may be others factors depending upon the situation or the decision you must make on a personal basis.    Let us now consider steps that just might ease the pain of decision-making.

  • EARLY DETECTION OF A PROBLEM: There probably are early warning signs that a problem is coming necessitating a solution. It is a great help if you can stay attuned to warnings that present themselves.  It gives you time to consider a possible solution.
  • SCHEDULE AND CONSIDER YOUR “FIX” EARLY: If at all possible, solve the problem before it becomes a panic situation. Have a solution or solutions ready to incorporate by becoming pro-active.
  • MONITOR THE FIX: Make sure you are solving the problem and not a manifestation of the problem.  We call this “root-cause-analysis”.
  • TRACK YOUR COSTS: Know what it costs to resolve the problem.
  • MAINTAIN RECORDS AND CREATE A PAPER TRAIL: Some times the only way you know where you are is to look back to see where you have been!
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