OK, I know you are aware of the acronym—STEM, but let’s refresh.

  • S—Science
  • T—Technology
  • E—Engineering
  • M–Mathematics

Now that that’s over with.  The development of the microchip and integrated circuitry gave rise to our digital age.  It seems that the integrated circuit was destined to be invented. Two separate inventors, unaware of each other’s activities, invented almost identical integrated circuits or ICs at nearly the same time.

Jack Kilby, an engineer with a background in ceramic-based silk screen circuit boards and transistor-based hearing aids, started working for Texas Instruments in 1958. Mr. Kilby holds patents on over sixty inventions and is well known as the inventor of the portable calculator (1967). In 1970 he was awarded the National Medal of Science.  A year earlier, research engineer Robert Noyce co-founded the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation.  Mr. Noyce, with sixteen patents to his name, also founded Intel, the company responsible for the invention of the microprocessor, in 1968.  From 1958 to 1959, both electrical engineers were working on an answer to the same dilemma: how to make more from less.

In 1961 the first commercially available integrated circuits came from the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation. All computers at that time were made using chips instead of the individual transistors and their accompanying parts. Texas Instruments first used the chips in Air Force computers and the Minuteman Missile in 1962. They later used chips to produce the first electronic portable calculators. The original IC had only one transistor, three resistors and one capacitor and was the size of an adult’s pinkie finger.  Today, an IC smaller than a penny can hold 125 million transistors.

For both men the invention of the integrated circuit stands historically as one of the most important innovations of mankind.  Almost all modern products use chip technology.  The invention of the chip ushered in the digital age and the age of STEM.

Over the past ten years, jobs in the STEM professions have grown three times faster than non-STEM jobs and are projected to grow seventeen percent (17%) through 2018 as compared to nine point eight percent (9.8%) for all other occupations.   This should indicate that there is room for everyone, not just men, not just white men, but women, African-American, Asians, Hispanics, etc and it will take all interested parties to fill the upcoming need for trained professionals. With this being the case, colleges and universalities across the United States have been working to attract more women into STEM professions.

The Girl Scouts of America published a study entitled “Generation STEM” involving a questionnaire asking what girls say about the STEM professions.  They found that teenage girls love STEM, with seventy-four percent (74%) of high school girls across the country being very interested in STEM-related professions.   This definitely runs counter to several negative stereotypes that persist about young ladies and their interest in scientific or mathematic pursuits.  Let’s now look at several facts.  The digital photograph below has several surprising conclusion.

STEM FACTS

Now, I would be remiss if I did not indicate several difficult aspects of women joining the scientific and engineering community.  There are challenges, as follows:

Challenge 1: Shortage of mentors for women in STEM fields.

Women tend to have a harder time finding female mentors in STEM occupations. A more experienced employee can show you the ropes and promote your accomplishments. This is important for anyone in any career. It is especially important for women in STEM, because they are often less likely than their male coworkers to promote themselves. As you can see above, many women fully qualified in their fields of study leave their professions due to pressures from other than ability.

Solution 1: If you can’t find a mentor in your organization, join a professional association.

Many associations like the Association for Women in Science, the Society of Women Engineers, and the Association for Women in Mathematics. All have networking and mentoring opportunities (both online and in person).

Challenge 2: Lack of acceptance from coworkers and supervisors.

If you work in a STEM field, you might work mainly or exclusively with men. You may find it difficult to be accepted as part of the group. There’s legal help if you face sexual harassment or discrimination in hiring and pay. It’s not always easy to know what to do about subtle or unintentional exclusion.  This really surprised me when I read it.  In the engineering teams I have been associated with, all lady members were treated with respect and as absolute equals.  Apparently, this is not always the case.

Solution 2: Work for a company with female-friendly policies and programs.

Many companies understand that it’s profitable to keep their talented female employees happy. They make special efforts to recruit women. They move them into leadership positions and offer flexible work or mentoring programs. Take time to research potential employers. Find out if they understand and want to reduce the challenges for women working in male-dominated occupations.

Challenge 3: Coping with gender differences in the workplace.

Let’s face it: men and women have different interaction styles. This plays itself out at work. If you’re a woman working mostly with men, your daily reality will be different than if you were in a female-dominated workplace.

Solution 3: Educate yourself.

Read up on gender differences in communication. Learn what to expect by talking to women in STEM fields who can share insights. Don’t wait to be asked before offering an opinion. Learn how to handle mistakes, blame, and guilt in a male-dominated workplace. Learn the art of saying no to unreasonable requests.

One problem that affects both men and women is preparedness relative to their high school years.  Our country is just not producing students for the rigors of the STEM professions.  They are simply not prepared to move into fields of study that will ultimately see them graduate with a four year degree and move into technology.   The chart below indicates some of the disturbing problems we have as a nation.

STEM Attraction Gap

  • Computer scientists are in high demand, but only a fraction of U.S. high schools offer advanced training on the subject—and that fraction is shrinking.
  • Of the more than 42,000 public and private high schools in the United States, only 2,100 high schools offered the Advanced Placement test in computer science last year, down 25 percent over the past five years, according to a recent report by Microsoft.
  • In schools where computer science is offered, it often does not count toward graduation. Only nine states—GeorgiaMissouriNew YorkNorth CarolinaOklahomaOregonRhode IslandTexas, and Virginia—allow computer science courses to satisfy core math or science requirements, according to the report.  (This is ridiculous!)
  • With an estimated 120,000 new jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree in computer science expected in the next year alone, and nearly 3.7 million jobs in STEM fields  currently sitting unfilled, computer science is the future.  This is, for the most part, due to students being unprepared right out of high school.  Before students can gain access to these courses, schools need teachers qualified to teach them. And districts with dwindling budgets and restrictive pay structures are competing with the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Facebook for talent.  One of the fundamental things we need to do is rethink the way that we recruit, retain, and compensate teachers to be able to deal with this changing labor market.
  • Over the past ten years, the percentage of ACT-tested students who said they were interested in majoring in engineering has dropped steadily from 7.6 percent to 4.9 percent.
  • Over the past five years, the percentage of ACT-tested students who said they were interested in majoring in computer and information science has dropped steadily from 4.5 percent to 2.9 percent.
  • Fewer than half (41 percent) of ACT-tested 2005 high school graduates achieved or exceeded the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in Math.
  • Only a quarter (26 percent) of ACT-tested 2005 high school graduates achieved or exceeded the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in Science.
  • In the graduating class of 2005, just slightly more than half (56%) of ACT-tested students reported taking the recommended core curriculum for college-bound students: four years of English and three years each of math (algebra and higher), science, and social studies.

What can be done?

  • Align rigorous, relevant academic standards—across the entire K–16 system—that prepare all students for further education and work.
  •  Establish a common understanding among secondary and postsecondary educators and business leaders of what students need to know to be ready for college and workplace success in scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematical fields.
  •  Evaluate and improve the alignment of K–12 curriculum frameworks in English/language arts, mathematics, and science to ensure that the important college and work readiness skills in STEM fields are being introduced, reaffirmed, and mastered at the appropriate times.
  • Raise expectations that all students need strong skills in mathematics, science, and technology and that all students can meet rigorous college and workplace readiness standards.
  • Require all high school students to take at least three years of rigorous, specific college-preparatory course sequences in math and science.
  •  Recruit, train, mentor, motivate, reward, and retain highly qualified mathematics, science, and technology professionals to teach in middle school and beyond.
  • Ensure that every student has the opportunity to learn college readiness skills and has access to key courses in the STEM fields.
  •  Evaluate and improve the quality and intensity of all STEM core and advanced courses in high schools to ensure both greater focus on in-depth content and greater secondary-to-postsecondary curriculum alignment.
  • Sponsor model demonstration programs that develop and evaluate a variety of rigorous science, mathematics, and technology courses and end-of-course assessments for all students.
  •  Provide opportunities for dual enrollment, distance learning, and other enrichment activities that will expand opportunities for students to pursue advanced coursework in STEM areas.
  • Establish and support model programs that identify students with STEM academic potential and interests and expose them to STEM opportunities.
  • Include parents, teachers, and counselors in outreach programs that help them learn about STEM professions so they can encourage students to go into those fields.
  •  Initiate new and expand existing scholarship programs to attract more students into STEM fields.
  • Assess foundational science and math skills in elementary school to identify students who are falling behind while there is still time to intervene and strengthen their skills.
  • Identify and improve middle and high school student readiness for college and work using longitudinal student progress assessments that include science and mathematics components.
  •  Establish and support model programs that utilize end-of-course assessments for STEM courses to ensure rigor and effectiveness.
  •  Incorporate college and workforce readiness measures into federal and statewide school improvement systems.

If a rising tide floats all boats, improvements in high school science and mathematics will attract more ladies into the STEM professions.  Everyone benefits.

As always, I welcome your comments.


In 1985 I was self employed, as I am now, as a consulting engineer.  That year, being my “rookie” year, was one in which I had a great deal to learn.  One painful learning experience involved theft of intellectual property—MY PROPERTY.  I suppose in hindsight it was good it happened early in my company’s history but the memories of that event remain very much etched in my psyche.

The company involved, we will call them Company “A”, manufactured microwave (MW) ovens; many hundreds of MWs each day.  Company “A” had very personnel-intensive assembly lines with many “hands-on” operations.   They recognized that automation could save them hundreds if not thousands of dollars on a daily basis.  My company developed robotic systems to automate manufacturing processes.  It seemed like a good fit.

I had called on them several times prior to receiving a telephone call one afternoon asking if I could come for another visit to discuss a project preparatory to quoting.  I scheduled an appointment two hours later in the same day. (Cash flow is a huge issue for any company and particularly a new, fledgling company.)

The project involved rotation a partially-assembled MW door so additional components could be installed prior to final assembly.  As with any company, they ask me to provide several options with accompanying cost projections for each.  There were three viable possibilities with varying complexity that satisfied their demands for production times and degrees of employee involvement.  After three weeks of design work and drafting, I presented each option to the purchasing manager of Company “A”.  I was assured the appropriate individuals would review my work and the options and make a decision quickly so I could order parts and start fabrication of the robotic superstructure.  A week went by, then two weeks, then a month, then six weeks until finally I get a phone call.  This is just about how it went.

PURCHASING AGENT:  Hey, can you come down to take a look at another project and possible provide a quote?

CIELO TECH:  How about the quote I furnished five weeks ago?  Are you going ahead with that one?

PURCHASING AGENT: We are still deciding on which option we want to use.  This one is still in the works but we do feel you can do the work and we are very satisfied with your second option.

CIELO TECH:  OK, good. I will be down tomorrow afternoon.  (I don’t remember the time but that’s of no real consequence at this point.)

I made the visit the next day.  We again, went to their assembly line to get a better picture of the job they wished me to look at and eventually quote.   It was a fairly simple hold-down fixture requiring installation of rivets attaching four mating brackets.  Not that complex but a good project and if you can automate the process you are better off for it.  I was given all of the parts necessary to design my fixture but while walking back to his office, he was paged to answer an emergency phone call.  One that could not wait.  During those days, there were no cell phones so he answered the call from a desk phone located at the head of an adjacent assembly line.  The phone call lasted for several minutes and during that period of time I was approached by an employee asking if I could come take a look at the system I had just installed.  JUST INSTALLED!  It apparently needed a slight adjustment—tweaking.  A great deal of confusion swelled up and as I got closer to the adjacent assembly line I realize that MY robotic system was running and running wide open.  MY SYSTEM.  The purchasing agent caught up with us.

PURCHASING AGENT:  You are not supposed to be here.

CIELO TECH:  I can understand why.  This is my system.  Who built it and why was my design used?

The employee was truly baffled and embarrassed and slowly moved back to his work cell after receiving looks that could kill from the purchasing agent.  My questions were not answered but one comment was given.

PURCHASING AGENT:  You can sue us if you wish but you won’t win.  We can keep this thing in court long enough to bankrupt you.  You know that.

I did know that. He was correct.  To prosecute the theft would have tied me up for years and taken a tremendous amount of time and creative capital.  I simply did not have the time to recoup my investment.   I left, never to return.  About a year later, Company “A” moved their production to China.   I had provided too much detailed information and my designs were very easy to fabricate. Lesson learned.  I’m sure he was a hero to his management and boasted on how much money he saved the company.  The fact that his actions were very much immoral had no real concern to him and his management cared not one whit.

QUESTION:  Just how big is intellectual property theft and counterfeiting in our country today?  As Senator Bernie Sanders would say:  “It’s YHUGGGGGGE”.  Let’s take a look.

THE THREAT:

According to ABC News, counterfeiting has become a one-trillion-dollar industry globally, and has deprived governments of much needed tax revenue. The United States alone loses 250 billion dollars a year to various types of intellectual property theft, resulting in the loss of 750,000 jobs nationally. In the music industry, the people who suffer the most from pirating are neither the musicians nor the companies. Instead, low- or mid-level employees, like song writers and sound designers, are left without a job because of sales that are lost to illegal downloads.  According to the Crime Prevention Council:

“Not only is the United States the wealthiest country on Earth, but it is also the world’s greatest producer of intellectual property. American artists, entrepreneurs, inventors, and researchers have created a nation with a rich cultural fabric. Every day, Americans can avail themselves of consumer goods, entertainment, business systems, health care and safety systems and products, and a national defense structure that are the envy of the world. It is frequently said that the American imagination knows no bounds, and that is probably true. In fact, the U.S. Patent Office recently issued its eight millionth patent (Cyber Attacks and Intellectual Property Theft, Defense Tech, August 22, 2011). The U.S. Copyright Office has issued more than 33.6 million copyrights to date (U.S. Copyright Office).  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Intellectual Property Center has calculated the worth of intellectual property in the United States as being between $5 trillion and $5.5 trillion (Counterfeiting and Piracy: How Pervasive Is It?, Electrical Contractor magazine, 2008, retrieved November 12, 2011).

More than 250,000 more people could be employed in the U.S. automotive industry if it weren’t for the trade in counterfeit parts (Counterfeit Goods and Their Potential Financing of International Terrorism). According to the Council of State Governments (Intellectual Property Theft: An Economic Antagonist, September 7, 2011), the U.S. economy loses $58 billion each year to copyright infringement alone—crimes that affect creative works. That includes $16 billion in the loss of revenue to copyright owners and $3 billion in lost tax revenue. Furthermore, the problem is transnational: The U.S. Department of Commerce puts the value of fake products—such as CDs, DVDs, software, electronic equipment, pharmaceuticals, and auto products—at five to seven percent of world trade.

This one really scares me. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates 15 percent of the pharmaceuticals that enter the United States each year are fakes, with that number having increased 90 percent since 2005 (Counterfeit Drugs: Real Money, Real Risk, Wellescent.com). Some are manufactured domestically, but more than 75 percent of these drugs come from India (Counterfeit Drugs: Real Money, Real Risk, Wellescent.com). Frequently, online pharmacies that distribute fake drugs purport to be located in Canada, but a recent study conducted at the University of Texas found that of 11,000 online sites that claimed to located there, only 214 were actually Canadian (Counterfeit Drugs: Real Money, Real RiskWellescent.com). According to an article published on the Secure Pharma Chain Blog on March 22, 2008 (Counterfeit Pharmaceutical StatisticsSecure Pharma Chain Blog), 60 percent of all counterfeit drugs have no active ingredients, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that “even a small percentage of counterfeit drugs in the drug supply can pose significant risks to thousands of Americans” (FDA: Drugs: FDA Initiative To Combat Counterfeit Drugs, retrieved November 11, 2011).  Moreover, counterfeit drugs are commonly made and distributed by criminal gangs (Bad Medicine in the MarketAEI Outlook Series, Institute for Policy Research, American Enterprise Institute, retrieved November 11, 2011).

OFFENDERS:

Who are the biggest offenders?  Offenders in foreign countries are the principal source of the threat to United States IP. Production of infringing goods is conducted primarily outside the United States and these items may cross numerous borders prior to delivery to consumers in the United States. The one notable exception is the production of pirated works in the United States for domestic production. The magnitude and type of threat to United States interests varies from country to country. Offenders in China pose the greatest threat to United States interests in terms of the variety of products infringed, the types of threats posed (economic, health and safety, and national security), and the volume of infringing goods produced there. The majority of infringing goods seized by CBP and ICE originated in China. Offenders in China are also the primary foreign threat for theft of trade secrets from United States rights holders. China‘s push for domestic innovation in science and technology appears to be fueling greater appropriation of other country‘s IP. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (China Commission) has cautioned that China‘s approach to faster development of sophisticated technology has included the ―aggressive use of industrial espionage   As the globalization and growth of multinational corporations and organizations blurs the distinction between government and commerce, it is difficult to distinguish between foreign-based corporate spying and state-sponsored espionage. Although most observers consider China‘s laws generally adequate for protection of IPR, they believe China‘s enforcement efforts are inadequate. Despite some evidence of improvement in this regard, the threat continues unabated. Offenders in India are notable primarily because of their increasing role in producing counterfeit pharmaceuticals sent to consumers in the United States. Offenders in the tri-border area of South America are a noteworthy threat because of the possible use of content piracy profits to fund terrorist groups, notably Hizballah. The most significant threat to United States interests from offenders in Russia is extensive content piracy, but this is principally an economic threat as the pirated content is consumed domestically in Russia. Distribution and sales of infringing goods are the principal violations in the United States. Except for pirated content, there is limited domestic production of infringing goods. Physical pirated content is commonly produced in the United States because it is more cost effective to create this content domestically than import it from overseas. Printing of sports apparel and paraphernalia for last minute sports events, such as the World Series or Super Bowl, also is common in the United States because there is not enough time to import these goods from other countries.

CONCLUSIONS:

What can be done to halt theft?  Rigorous prosecution of “local” property theft can be accomplished if the theft results from companies originating in the United States.  That must be done.  Off-shore theft from companies around the globe and counterfeiting is much more difficult but could be handled if we were so inclined to do so.  It’s purely political.

As always, I welcome your comments.

R & D SPINOFFS

March 12, 2016


Last week I posted an article on WordPress entitled “Global Funding”.  The post was a prognostication relative to total global funding in 2016 through 2020 for research and development in all disciplines.  I certainly hope there are no arguments as to benefits of R & D.  R & D is the backbone of technology.  The manner in which science pushes the technological envelope is research and development.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has provided a great number of spinoffs that greatly affect everyday lives remove drudgery from activities that otherwise would consume a great deal of time and just plain sweat.  The magazine “NASA Tech Briefs”, March 2016, presented forty such spinoffs demonstrating the great benefits of NASA programs over the years.  I’m not going to resent all forty but let’s take a look at a few to get a flavor of how NASA R & D has influenced consumers the world over.  Here we go.

  • DIGITAL IMAGE SENSORS—The CMOS active pixel sensor in most digital image-capturing devices was invented when NASA needed to miniaturize cameras for interplanety missions.  It is also widely used in medical imaging and dental X-ray devices.
  • Aeronautical Winglets—Key aerodynamic advances made by NASA researchers led to the up-turned tips of wings known as “winglets.”  Winglets are used by nearly all modern aircraft and have saved literally billions of dollars in fuel costs.
  • Precision GPS—Beginning in the early 1990s, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) developed software capable of correcting for GPS errors.  NASA monitors the integrity of global GPS data in real time for the U.S. Air Force, which administers the positioning service world-wide.
  • Memory Foam—Memory foam was invented by NASA-funded researchers looking for ways to keep test pilots cushioned during flights.  Today, memory foam makes for more comfortable beds, couches, and chairs, as well as better shoes, movie theater seats, and even football helmets.
  • Truck Aerodynamics—Nearly all trucks on the road have been shaped by NASA.  Agency research in aerodynamic design led to the curves and contours that help modern big rigs cut through the air with less drag. Perhaps, as much as 6,800 gallons of diesel per year per truck has been saved.
  • Invisible Braces for Teeth—A company working with NASA invented the translucent ceramic that became the critical component for the first “invisible” dental braces, which went on to become one of the best-selling orthodontic products of all time.
  • Tensile Fabric for Architecture—A material originally developed for spacesuits can be seen all over the world in stadiums, arenas, airports, pavilions, malls, and museums. BirdAir Inc. developed the fabric from fiberglass and Teflon composite that once protected Apollo astronauhts as they roamed the lunar surface.  Today, that same fabric shades and protects people in public places.
  • Supercritical Wing—NASA engineers at Langley Research Center improved wing designs resulting in remarkable performance of an aircraft approaching the speed of sound.
  • Phase-change Materials—Research on next-generation spacesuits included the development of phase-change materials, which can absorb, hold, and release heat to keep people comfortable.  This technology is now found in blankets, bed sheets, dress shirts, T-shirts, undergarments, and other products.
  • Cardiac Pump—Hundreds of people in need of a heart transplant have been kept alive thanks to a cardiac pump designed with the help of NASA expertise in simulating fluid-flow through rocket engines.  This technology served as a “bridge” to the transplant methodology.
  • Flexible Aeorgel—Aeorgel is a porous material in which the liquid component of the gel has been carefully dried out and replaced by gas, leaving a solid almost entirely of air.  It long held the record as the world’s lightest solid, and is one of the most effective insulator in existence.
  • Digital Fly-By-Wire—For the first seventy (70) years of human flight, pilots used controls that connected directly to aircraft components through cables and pushrods. A partnership between NASA and Draper Laboratory in the 1970 resulted in the first plane flown digitally, where a computer collected all of the input from the pilot’s controls and used that information to command aerodynamic surfaces.
  • Cochlear Implants—One of the pioneers in early cochlear implant technology was Adam Kissiah, an engineer at Kennedy Space Center.  Mr. Kissiah was hearing-impaired and used NASA technology to greatly improve hearing devices by developing implants that worked by electric impulses rather than sound amplification.
  • Radiant Barrier—To keep people and spacecraft safe from harmful radiation, NASA developed a method for depositing a thin metal coating on a material to make it highly reflective. On Earth, it has become known as radiant barrier technology.
  • Gigapan Photography—Since 2004, new generations of Mars rovers have been stunning the world with high-resolution imagery.  Though equipped with only one megapixel cameras, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers have a robotic platform and software that allows them to combine dozens of shots into a single photograph.
  • Anti-icing Technology—NASA has spent many years solving problems related to ice accumulation in flight surfaces.  These breakthroughs have been applied to commercial aircraft flight.
  • Emergency Blanket—So-called space blankets, also known as emergency blankets, were first developed by NASA in 1964.  The highly reflective insulators are often included in emergency kits, and are used by long-distance runners and fire-team personnel.
  • Firefighter Protection—NASA helped develop a line of polymer textiles for use in spacesuits and vehicles.  Dubbed, PBI, the heat and flame-resistant fiber is now used in numerous firefighting, military, motor sports, and other applications.

These are just a few of the many NASA spinoffs that have solved down-to-earth problems for people over the world.  Let’s continue funding NASA to ensure future wonderful and usable technology.

EXOSKELETONS

March 7, 2016


I have a dear friend and neighbor whose oldest son suffers with chronic back problems.  Several years ago he was involved in an automobile accident that left him with significant issues relative to mobility.  He has undergone three surgeries over the past few years, all of which have not improved his condition.   He is in constant pain.  On his best day, he can walk to his wheelchair. Chris is forty-six years old.

When I first read of medical exoskeletons I became very interested in the technology simply thinking that one day my friend may be able to walk comfortably with aid from these devices.  The progress made over the past few years is striking with technology improvements constantly in the news.

There is a huge need for applications designated for our “wounded warriors”.  According to the Paralysis Resource Center, relative to military involvement:

  • 54% of those who reported being paralyzed were males, while 46% were females.
  • 61% of those who reported being paralyzed due to a spinal cord injury were males, while 39% were females.
  • Males were nearly twice as likely (1.77) to incur a spinal cord injury as females.

“According to a study initiated by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, there are nearly 1 in 50 people living with paralysis — approximately 6 million people. That’s the same number of people as the combined populations of Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. And that number is nearly 33% higher than previous estimates showed.”

It means that we all know someone — a brother, sister, friend, neighbor, or colleague — living with paralysis.

A team of researchers in the Control Systems Laboratory, Department of Advanced Science and Technology, Toyota Technological Institute, Nagoya, Japan, have recently unveiled a new exoskeleton designed as a multipurpose assistive device that can be used for both power augmentation and passive and active robotic rehabilitation tasks.

While the overall mechatronic hardware was built several years ago, the control algorithm and software that is being used was built recently finalized.  If you are unfamiliar with the term mechatronic, I would like to offer a definition at this time as follows:

Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary field of engineering that includes a combination of systems engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, telecommunications engineering, control engineering and computer engineering.

Mechatronic Image

You can see from the logotype above, mechatronics involves several engineering and computer disciplines, all working together to provide operational ability to any electro-mechanical device.  Now, back to our story.

According to Barkan Ugurlu, PhD, who is co-leading the research activities at the Toyota facility, there are three design objectives:  1.) The exoskeleton is multipurpose, 2.) wearable and lightweight, and 3.) inexpensive to manufacture. To address wearability and weight, the researchers used laser molded resin in the upper body with an overall system that can be worn by an individual.  The system has adjustable link lengths to accommodate varying wearer heights. To contain costs, they kept the exoskeleton design simple. The system is actuated via electrical motors, with the control algorithm is built on top of a sensorless architecture. The researchers also used off-the-shelf joint-level compensation and control techniques that are already in the manufacture of robots and robotic devices.  Several designs may be seen as follows:

Exo Hardware

Exo Hardware (2)

While clinical experiments have not been performed, the system performance has been tested with able-bodied individuals, as well as with individuals who are obese and who are underweight. The system performance is not easily influenced by human-wearer parameters, Ugurlu said.

Soldier and Exo

You can see from the JPEG above an application used by an Army Captain to aid mobility.  These applications are happening each day with significant improvements each year.  The need is definitely there as you can see from the following fact:

In considering mobility, companies designing and providing the hardware have also considered lack of mobility for upper-body motion.  The digital below will indicate what is now available.  Please note, lighter, stronger and improvement relative to range of motion is the desired goal.

Exo and Upper Body

The exoskeleton development for the most part is still in the first prototype stage.  Researchers indicate they intend to introduce improved models as their work evolves, such as a model that can help patients with paraplegia walk. “I am specialized in humanoid locomotion and we are going to introduce some of the key techniques from this field to exoskeleton-based paraplegic walking support,” Ugurlu said. “This study is still an ongoing process….”

Upper and lower exoskeleton devices show how engineering and medicine combine efforts to improve the quality of life for individuals otherwise wheelchair-bound.  This is only one example of how technology is addressing human needs.

INDUSTRY 4.0

March 1, 2016


Industry 4.0” is the brainchild of the German government, and describes the next phase in manufacturing — a so-called fourth industrial revolution. The four phases consist of the following:

  • Industry  1: Water/steam power.
  • Industry  2: Electric power.
  • Industry  3: Computing power.
  • Cyber        4:  Connecting physical systems.

We are in the third “revolutionary” period right now but transitioning to the fourth revolutionary period.  This will be the industrial internet of things or IIoT. Connected automation and analysis enable smart factories to function more efficiently, with significant reductions in scrap and off-quality products and with considerably less cost and overhead than is being experienced at the present time.

A smart factory using IIoT can accomplish the following:

  • Produce up to twenty-five (25) variations in one product allowing for complete satisfaction of the consumer population.
  • Ten percent (10%) increase in productivity
  • Thirty percent (30%) decrease in inventory
  • A significant return on company investment (ROI)
  • The ability to make production change-overs quickly and with fewer on-line mistakes

The graphic below will indicate the four phases of production and show the upcoming Industry 4.0 systems.  The three boxes in the fourth phase represent computer inputs wirelessly transmitting and receiving data from two robotic systems.

FOUR STAGES OF INDUSTRY

Industry 4.0 is the rapid transformation of industry, where the virtual world of information technology, IT, the physical world of machines, and the Internet become one physical entity. It centers on the integration of all areas of industry enabled by IT.  Technologies improve flexibility and speed, enabling more individualized products, efficient and scalable production, and a high variance in production control.  Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and the improved machine intelligence lead to more automated processes, self-monitoring, and results in real time control.

Characteristic for industrial production in an Industry 4.0 environment are the strong customization of products under the conditions of highly flexibilized (mass-) production. The required automation technology is improved by the introduction of methods of self-optimization, self-configuration, Self-diagnosis, cognition and intelligent support of workers in their increasingly complex work.  The largest project in Industry 4.0 at the present time (July 2013) is the BMBF leading-edge cluster “Intelligent Technical Systems OstWestfalenLippe (it’s OWL)”. Another major project is the BMBF project RES-COM, as well as the Cluster of Excellence “Integrative Production Technology for High-Wage Countries”.   In 2015, the European Commission started the international Horizon 2020 research project CREMA   (Providing Cloud-based Rapid Elastic Manufacturing based on the XaaS and Cloud model) as a major initiative to foster the Industry 4.0 topic.

IIoT devices should work to bring about Industry 4.0 manufacturing in five ways as follows:

  • Decentralized Intelligence—Where as much intelligence and control capability as possible is placed in the machine, or individual drive axis, rather than handling all activity from one central processing unit or CPU.  Holding process data at the machine level, and deciding what to do with it, reflects the belief that a machine can be equipped to do something with the data and improve the processes on its own. NOTE:  This is completely independent from the “cloud”.
  • Rapid Connectivity—Systems that facilitate instant vertical or horizontal connectivity to allow data to flow freely across the enterprise structure need continual investment and improvement.
  • Open Standards and Systems—Open standards allow for more flexible integration of software-based solutions—with the possibility to migrate new technologies into existing automation structures.
  • Real-time Context Integration—In Industry 4.0 factories, it will be possible to draw on real-time machine and plant performance data to change how automation systems and production systems are managed.
  • Autonomous Behavior—Real-world initiatives can make production more connected and demand-driven.  Technology helps the production line to become autonomous.  The goal is to have workstations and modules that can adapt to individual customer or product needs.

One HUGE concern:  Industry 4.0 must have engineers, production specialists and technicians to bring this to pass in the fourth generation of the Industrial Revolution.  Over the next decade, America faces one of its most critical tipping points. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that by 2012, there was be a shortfall of nearly three (3) million skilled workers in America.  By 2020, that number will be ten (10) million in manufacturing-related industries alone, with millions more in nearly every sector of the American economy. The average age of American skilled workers is 55 years old. These essential workers will retire soon, and there’s not enough young people coming through the skilled training pipeline to fill the gap. This gap is already costing billions from the American gross domestic product. The multiple implications for the wholesale insurance industry due to the “skilled shortage” will be profound. Expanded liability issues and new potential claims in a worker-shortage environment may arise against the backdrop of strained capital reserves and a soft premiums marketplace.  WHAT DOES THE “SKILLED WORKER SHORTAGE” MEAN?   The skilled worker shortage has practical and potentially devastating consequences for our economy. At the height of the recession, thirty-two percent (32 %) of U.S. manufacturers reported that they had jobs going unfilled because they could not find workers who have the right skills. This shortage has far-reaching consequences. For example, our country’s infrastructure requires major upgrades and repairs. Municipal water and sewer systems are failing, with leakage reaching as high as 20 percent. Many bridges and overpasses are unsafe, leading to potential injuries and deaths as well as long-term traffic and business delays. The shortfall of 500,000 nationwide welders is causing huge delays or cancellations for repair projects that are already funded. Heavy construction equipment, such as cranes, must be built in America to meet the demand. Finding the skilled workers to build cranes is a major hurdle. Once built, a crane requires skilled operators, as well as skilled repair and maintenance workers to keep the cranes operating. This scenario is typical of virtually every industrial enterprise in the nation. From aviation to energy, the skilled worker gaps are enormous. This also has dangerous implications for our national security. In order to maintain the world’s most sophisticated military, we must produce systems, parts and hardware in America. Without domestic manufacturing operations, some critical component work has actually been moved to other countries as a stop-gap measure. The hard costs are painful, too. A 2011 survey by The Nielson Company among executives from 103 large U.S. manufacturing firms found that on average, the shortage of skilled workers will cost each company $63 million over the next five years, some as much as $100 million. These costs include training and recruiting, followed by problems caused by lower quality and resulting decreases in customer satisfaction. Manufacturers and builders cannot afford to utilize under-skilled workers without increasing many types of severe liability risks. Negative media images of skilled workers – what I call “essential workers” – pervade our culture and are contributing to the problem by discouraging young people from pursuing careers in the skilled trades. Educators, employers and community leaders are slowly becoming engaged in efforts to counter this dangerous trend that often portrays “blue collar workers” in TV shows and movies as thugs, drunks and murderers. Advertisers can be alert to these cultural stereotypes and use advertising dollars to support TV shows and movies that show respect for skilled workers. It is in America’s interest to mobilize the public to restore the dignity of essential skilled workers. Another contributing factor to the coming shortage is that most of high school vocational arts programs so popular in the ’50s and ’60s have been closed in the >> change our business model. That will be devastating for America. Although general unemployment remains high, many employers are desperate now for skilled workers to fill essential jobs and this problem will grow as veteran workers retire. We can already see how the skilled worker shortage is causing us to lose the production edge that has fueled America’s economy.  EDUCATORS AND MANUFACTURERS MUST ADDRESS THE SKILLED-WORKER SHORTAGE.  It is critical to our economy and national security.

OK, now back to the fourth industrial revolution.

The fourth industrial revolution will affect many areas in our daily lives and certainly will be felt on the facility floor. A number of key impact areas emerge:

  1. Services and Business Models.  The ability to produce rapidly and with minimal defects will definitely affect the business model and make company products much more marketable.
  2. Reliability and continuous productivity
  3. IT security.  IT security is a must.  Systems must be put in place to guard security because a great number of commands received and sent will be from wireless devices.
  4. Machine safety.  Machine safety is always critical.  Safety must be taught to employees and those managing employees.
  5. Product lifecycles.  Product life cycles will shorten due to flexibility of production capabilities.
  6. Industry value chain
  7. Workers (See above.)
  8. Socio-economic.  The workforce will need additional training and this will drive labor rates upward.  In my opinion, this is a good thing provided individuals will take on the challenge.
  9. Industry Demonstration: To help industry understand the impact of Industry 4.0, Cincinnati Mayor, John Cranley, signed a proclamation to state “Cincinnati to be Industry 4.0 Demonstration City”.
  10. A recent article suggests that Industry 4.0 may have beneficial effects for a developing country like India.

As you can see, we are living in fascinating times.  Industry 4.0 is coming and those relegated to a spectator position will lose market share and will cease to be competitive.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

COMMON E-MAIL MISTAKES

February 21, 2016


From McKinsey Global Institute and International Data Corporation, the following e-mail usage may be seen:

  • 28% of our workweek is spent reading and answering e-mail.
  • 650 hours per year is involved with reading and writing e-mail.
  • 13 hours per week, on average, is spent with e-mail

There is absolutely no doubt that e-mail communication has changed the manner in which business and personal correspondence is conducted.  In preparation for this post, I counted the e-mail sent and read over a two day period of time.  The results were mind-boggling– two hundred and four (204). I was, and remain, blown away.  I actually had no idea as to the number.  Now, I run an engineering consulting business and write posts such as this in my “spare time” but still, give me a break, two hundred and four.

One of my favorite web sites is Mindtools.com.  That media outlet provides a great service with several articles or “news you can use” each week.  One that really attracted me was the improper use of e-mail.  Those errors frequently made that produce problems for the reader and the sender.  Let’s take a look at the most egregious, at least in their opinion.

  • Using Improper Tone— Although these are not in order of severity, this one must be one of the most damaging. Who is your audience?  Who are you directing your e-mail to?  I would suspect the tone of your e-mail would be considerably different if it’s your boss as opposed to a peer or friend in the “cube farm”.  Senior management may not have time for the trivia you would use in communicating with a family member or a friend and you certainly would not use inflammatory rhetoric when addressing and informing someone up the line.
  • Hitting the “Reply All” Button—Consider the relevance of the e-mail. Generally, it is necessary to respond to the sender and not everyone on the senders list.  In doing so, you can drastically reduce the number of e-mail received each day.  You really do NOT have to tell the entire world. Now, if you are on a broadcast group and everyone needs to be included, you are perfectly correct in replying to all.
  • Writing Too Much—I plead guilty to this one and really have to watch myself. How much detail do you really need to impart?  Will a few words suffice?  Can a simple one-liner get the communication process taken care of?  Be concise but not wordy.
  • Forgetting Something so Resending Becomes Necessary—We have all done this; forgotten to attach an important document only to have the recipient of the e-mail indicate, with another e-mail, that you forgot to include the attachment. Been there, done that, got the “T” shirt.  I have also been guilty of sending an incorrect document. One I did not mean to send.  This makes it necessary to properly apply a file name that perfectly identifies the document.
  • Providing a Link That Does NOT Work—This is really frustrating if you are the recipient. You try, and try and try but nothing happens. You e-mail the sender back asking for help or another way to access the material.  Very time-consuming and counterproductive.  By the time you get the proper link, you just might be to put-out to give it a try.
  • E-Mailing the Wrong PersonThis one could be a career-ending event. BE CAREFUL.  Make absolutely sure the intended person gets his or her name in the correct block.  This also includes the copy block and the silent copy block.  This is BIG.
  • Too Emotional—When sending e-mail, do NOT wear your emotions on your sleeve—NEVER do this. A phone call or a visit is the way to go here.  Remember, e-mail is ever-lasting.  Long after the “rapture” your e-mail will exist.  Again, be careful.
  • Not Using “Delay Send” – I do not use delay send very much but scheduling the timing for an e-mail sent can be a very good practice when you are faced with a very hectic day. I definitely need, on a personal basis, to consider this one more often.
  • Using Vague Subject Lines—This can also be very frustrating if you are the reader. Be concise. Be distinct. Be exact. Do NOT make the recipient read the entire e-mail before he or she knows, or is required to guess,the subject.  This, in my opinion is certainly rude and time-consuming.
  • Not Reviewing Prior to Sending
    • Spell Check
    • Critique Your Grammar
    • Critique Your Punctuation
    • Do NOT Use Slang
    • Do NOT Use Abbreviations
    • No Bad Language
    • It’s an E-Mail NOT a Tweet
  • Sending Unnecessary E-Mails—If a visit or a phone call will do use them. An e-mail is NEVER a substitute for face-to-face communication. People like that.  It’s much friendlier and allows for questions to be asked and answered.
  • Avoid Sending When You Are Angered, Stressed or Too Tired—Just don’t do this. The importance of the communication will be lost if the message is send during periods of personal difficulty. (NOTE: Of course, this is baring medical or family issues.)  Never send an e-mail at night if it can wait until the next day.  No one likes to hear the “bing—bing” of an e-mail received at two in the morning.  Just don’t do this.
  • Many Companies Have an E-Mail Template—Use it.

 

I think these are excellent recommendations and ones I personally have violated over the past few years.  I will try harder and certainly hope you will do likewise if necessary.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE BOYS GONE?

February 20, 2016


The latest issue of Material Handling and Logistics has a fascinating article written by Adrienne Selko.  Ms. Selko is a senior editor for that very fine publication.  In her comment: “ I’m very concerned that the number of young me seeking higher education is dropping”.  She is correct.  The unemployment rate for Americans with bachelor’s degrees or higher is 3.2 percent, compared to a national average of 6.1 percent. So why, then, did college enrollment last year fall by nearly half a million?

Between 2012 and 2013, the Census Bureau reported 463,000 fewer people were enrolled in college. In fact, this is the second year enrollment has fallen by that much, bringing the two-year total to 930,000 fewer college students, bigger than any drop before the recession. The Census Bureau has been collecting this data through the Current Population Survey since 1966.  The facts are plain, if not very puzzling: Not only do women enter college at higher rates than men, but they’re less likely to drop out once they get there. Female grads now account for about 60% of U.S. bachelor’s degree holders. This is an absolute disgrace with significant consequences. The ratio should be at least 50/50.  We are doing something wrong with public education.

According to the White House Council of Economic Advisors, if males graduated college in the same proportions as women, there would be about fourteen percent (14%) more college graduates each year.  As it stands now, though, we could be facing a shortfall of two million workers over the next decade.  This is a very significant shortfall and one that will weigh heavily on commerce and the ability to hire qualified workers.

One probable cause—schools are NOT teaching the way boys like to learn.   Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens of the Gurian Institute and piloting a two-year program in the Missouri School System aimed at greater retention of high school students and a great number going to and remaining in college.  Their program will include the follow:

  • Project-based education in which the teacher facilitates hands-on kinesthetic learning.  Learning will be project-driven as opposed to strict memory.  This type of learning seemingly has a focus and a desired goal in mind.  Successfully complete the project.
  • Teachers move around their classrooms as they teach.  The idea being, physical movement increases engagement from the boys. Years ago, and I do mean years ago, I had a typing teacher, Mrs. Spitzer.  She moved around constantly.  She was quite as a mouse and would  hang over our shoulders watching every key stroke we made.  It was really annoying but she found and corrected issues and problems that made the outcome very productive.
  • Students are allowed to move around as needed in the classrooms.  They are taught how to practice self-discipline in their movement.   If what you need is over there, why  not go over there?  Students should be allowed to move.
  • Teachers provide competitive learning opportunities, even while holding to cooperative learning frame-works.  Competitive learning includes classroom debates, content-related games and goal-oriented activities.  Students, particularly boys, are competitors.  They like challenges.

I have one thought not considered by Ms. Selko.  Ever watch television?  Ever notice how the “guy” is ALWAYS portrayed as the “dummy”.  The loser.  The fall guy. Ever notice?  If you tell a youngster he is stupid and repeat that pronouncement day after day, he will consider himself stupid and stop trying to excel.  It’s merely human nature.  Even worse, he will do stupid things.  “Dumb and Dumber”, “Caddyshack”, “The Jerk”, “Stepbrothers”, “Anchorman series”, ”Zoolander”, “Jackass”.  Notice a trend?  All guys.  OK, these are funny movies but we seem now to worship “dumbness” and forget that sometime the laughs translate to activities in real life—including dropping out of school.    We have to get over this.

One HUGE and disturbing static is the suicide rate for this country.

  • Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2013 CDC WISQARS)
  • Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18. (2013 CDC WISQARS)
  • More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.
  • Each day in our nation there is an average of over 5,400 attempts by young people grades 7-12.
  • Four out of Five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.

Kids who drop out of high school are more prone to try suicide.  That IS A FACT. Look it up.

I certainly hope Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens are on to something and their program in Missouri is a tremendous success.  Our public school system is desperately in need of changes.  The challenges that will present themselves over the next twenty years are huge.  We need the brightest adults to meet those challenges.

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