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.


WHERE WE ARE:

The manufacturing industry remains an essential component of the U.S. economy.  In 2016, manufacturing accounted for almost twelve percent (11.7%) of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and contributed slightly over two trillion dollars ($2.18 trillion) to our economy. Every dollar spent in manufacturing adds close to two dollars ($1.81) to the economy because it contributes to development in auxiliary sectors such as logistics, retail, and business services.  I personally think this is a striking number when you compare that contribution to other sectors of our economy.  Interestingly enough, according to recent research, manufacturing could constitute as much as thirty-three percent (33%) of the U.S. GDP if both its entire value chain and production for other sectors are included.  Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that employment in manufacturing has been trending up since January of 2017. After double-digit gains in the first quarter of 2017, six thousand (6,000) new jobs were added in April.  Currently, the manufacturing industry employs 12,396,000 people, which equals more than nine percent (9%) of the U.S. workforce.   Nonetheless, many experts are concerned that these employment gains are soon to be halted by the ever-rising adoption of automation. Yet automation is inevitable—and like in the previous industrial revolutions, automation is likely to result in job creation in the long term.  If we look back at the Industrial Revolution.

INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION:

The Industrial Revolution began in the late 18th century when a series of new inventions such as the spinning jenny and steam engine transformed manufacturing in Britain. The changes in British manufacturing spread across Europe and America, replacing traditional rural lifestyles as people migrated to cities in search of work. Men, women and children worked in the new factories operating machines that spun and wove cloth, or made pottery, paper and glass.

Women under 20 made comprised the majority of all factory workers, according to an article on the Industrial Revolution by the Economic History Association. Many power loom workers, and most water frame and spinning jenny workers, were women. However, few women were mule spinners, and male workers sometimes violently resisted attempts to hire women for this position, although some women did work as assistant mule spinners. Many children also worked in the factories and mines, operating the same dangerous equipment as adult workers.  As you might suspect, this was a great departure from times prior to the revolution.

WHERE WE ARE GOING:

In an attempt to create more jobs, the new administration is reassessing free trade agreements, leveraging tariffs on imports, and promising tax incentives to manufacturers to keep their production plants in the U.S. Yet while these measures are certainly making the U.S. more attractive for manufacturers, they’re unlikely to directly increase the number of jobs in the sector. What it will do, however, is free up more capital for manufacturers to invest in automation. This will have the following benefits:

  • Automation will reduce production costs and make U.S. companies more competitive in the global market. High domestic operating costs—in large part due to comparatively high wages—compromise the U.S. manufacturing industry’s position as the world leader. Our main competitor is China, where low-cost production plants currently produce almost eighteen percent (17.6%) of the world’s goods—just zero-point percent (0.6%) less than the U.S. Automation allows manufacturers to reduce labor costs and streamline processes. Lower manufacturing costs results in lower product prices, which in turn will increase demand.

Low-cost production plants in China currently produce 17.6% of the world’s goods—just 0.6% less

than the U.S.

  • Automation increases productivity and improves quality. Smart manufacturing processes that make use of technologies such as robotics, big data, analytics, sensors, and the IoT are faster, safer, more accurate, and more consistent than traditional assembly lines. Robotics provide 24/7 labor, while automated systems perform real-time monitoring of the production process. Irregularities, such as equipment failures or quality glitches, can be immediately addressed. Connected plants use sensors to keep track of inventory and equipment performance, and automatically send orders to suppliers when necessary. All of this combined minimizes downtime, while maximizing output and product quality.
  • Manufacturers will re-invest in innovation and R&D. Cutting-edge technologies. such as robotics, additive manufacturing, and augmented reality (AR) are likely to be widely adopted within a few years. For example, Apple® CEO Tim Cook recently announced the tech giant’s $1 billion investment fund aimed at assisting U.S. companies practicing advanced manufacturing. To remain competitive, manufacturers will have to re-invest a portion of their profits in R&D. An important aspect of innovation will involve determining how to integrate increasingly sophisticated technologies with human functions to create highly effective solutions that support manufacturers’ outcomes.

Technologies such as robotics, additive manufacturing, and augmented reality are likely to be widely adopted soon. To remain competitive, manufacturers will have to re-invest a portion of their profits in R&D.

HOW AUTOMATION WILL AFFECT THE WORKFORCE:

Now, let’s look at the five ways in which automation will affect the workforce.

  • Certain jobs will be eliminated.  By 2025, 3.5 million jobs will be created in manufacturing—yet due to the skills gap, two (2) million will remain unfilled. Certain repetitive jobs, primarily on the assembly line will be eliminated.  This trend is with us right now.  Retraining of employees is imperative.
  • Current jobs will be modified.  In sixty percent (60%) of all occupations, thirty percent (30%) of the tasks can be automated.  For the first time, we hear the word “co-bot”.  Co-bot is robotic assisted manufacturing where an employee works side-by-side with a robotic system.  It’s happening right now.
  • New jobs will be created. There are several ways automation will create new jobs. First, lower operating costs will make U.S. products more affordable, which will result in rising demand. This in turn will increase production volume and create more jobs. Second, while automation can streamline and optimize processes, there are still tasks that haven’t been or can’t be fully automated. Supervision, maintenance, and troubleshooting will all require a human component for the foreseeable future. Third, as more manufacturers adopt new technologies, there’s a growing need to fill new roles such as data scientists and IoT engineers. Fourth, as technology evolves due to practical application, new roles that integrate human skills with technology will be created and quickly become commonplace.
  • There will be a skills gap between eliminated jobs and modified or new roles. Manufacturers should partner with educational institutions that offer vocational training in STEM fields. By offering students on-the-job training, they can foster a skilled and loyal workforce.  Manufacturers need to step up and offer additional job training.  Employees need to step up and accept the training that is being offered.  Survival is dependent upon both.
  • The manufacturing workforce will keep evolving. Manufacturers must invest in talent acquisition and development—both to build expertise in-house and to facilitate continuous innovation.  Ten years ago, would you have heard the words, RFID, Biometrics, Stereolithography, Additive manufacturing?  I don’t think so.  The workforce MUST keep evolving because technology will only improve and become a more-present force on the manufacturing floor.

As always, I welcome your comments.


The publication EfficientGov indicates the following: “The opioid crisis is creating a workforce epidemic leading to labor shortage and workplace safety and performance challenges.”

Opioid-related deaths have reached an all-time high in the United States. More than 47,000 people died in 2014, and the numbers are rising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month released prescribing guidelines to help primary care physicians safely treat chronic pain while reducing opioid dependency and abuse. Given that the guidelines are not binding, how will the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services make sure they make a difference? What can payers and providers do to encourage a countrywide culture shift?

The opioid epidemic is also having widespread effects on many industries relative to labor shortages, workplace safety and worker performance.  Managers and owners are trying to figure out methods to deal with drug-addicted workers and job applicants.  HR managers cite the opioid crisis as one of their biggest challenges. Applicants are unwilling or unable to pass drug tests, employees are increasingly showing signs of addiction on the job and there are workers with opioid prescriptions having significant performance problems.

Let’s take a very quick look at only three employers and what they say about the crisis.

  • Clyde McClellan used to require a drug test before people could work at his Ohio pottery company, which produces 2,500 hand-cast coffee mugs a day for Starbucks and others. Now, he skips the tests and finds it more efficient to flat-out ask applicants: “What are you on?”
  • At Homer Laughlin China, a company that makes a colorful line of dishware known as Fiesta and employs 850 at a sprawling complex in Newell, W.V., up to half of applicants either fail or refuse to take mandatory pre-employment drug screens, said company president Liz McIlvain. “The drugs are so cheap and they’re so easily accessible,” McIlvain, a fourth-generation owner of the company, said. “We have a horrible problem here.”
  • “That is really the battlefield for us right now,” said Markus Dietrich,global manager of employee assistance and work-life services at chemical giant DuPont, which employs 46,000 worldwide.

As you might suspect, the epidemic is having a devastating effect on companies — large and small — and their ability to stay competitive. Managers and owners across the country are at a loss in how to deal with addicted workers and potential workers, calling the issue one of the biggest problems they face. Applicants are increasingly unwilling or unable to pass drug tests; then there are those who pass only to show signs of addiction once employed. Even more confounding: how to respond to employees who have a legitimate prescription for opioids but whose performance slips.  There are those individuals who have a need for pain-killers and to deny them would be difficult, but how do you deal with this if you are a manager and fear issues and potential law suites when there is over use?

The issue is amplifying labor shortages in industries like trucking, which has had difficulty for the last six (6) years finding qualified workers and drivers.  It is also pushing employers to broaden their job searches, recruiting people from greater distances when roles can’t be filled with local workers. At stake is not only safety and productivity within companies — but the need for humans altogether, with some manufacturers claiming opioids force them to automate work faster.

One corporate manager said: “You’re going to see manufacturing jobs slowly going away for, if nothing else, that reason alone.   “It’s getting worse, not better.”

Economists have noticed also. In Congressional testimony earlier this month, Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen related opioid use to a decline in the labor participation rate. The past three Fed surveys on the economy, known as the Beige Book, explicitly mentioned employers’ struggles in finding applicants to pass drug tests as a barrier to hiring. The surveys, snapshots of economic conditions in the Fed’s twelve (12) districts, don’t mention the type of drugs used.   A Congressional hearing in June of this year focused on opioids and their economic consequences, Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine estimated that forty (40) percent of applicants in the state either failed or refused a drug test. This prevents people from operating machinery, driving a truck or getting a job managing a McDonald’s, he said.

OK, what should a manufacturer do to lessen or hopefully eliminate the problem?  There have been put forth several suggestions, as follows:

Policy Option 1: Medical Education– Opioid education is crucial at all levels, from medical school and residency, through continuing education; and must involve primary care, specialists, mental health providers, pharmacies, emergency departments, clinics and patients. The push to increase opioid education must come from medical schools, academic medical centers, accrediting organizations and possibly state legislatures.

Policy Option 2: Continuing Medical Education– Emphasize the importance of continuing medical education (CME) for practicing physicians. CME can be strengthened by incorporating the new CDC guidelines, and physicians should learn when and how to safely prescribe these drugs and how to handle patients with drug-seeking behavior.

Policy Option 3: Public Education– Emphasize the need to address patient demand, not just physician supply, for opioids. It compared the necessary education to the campaign to reduce demand for antibiotics. The public needs to learn about the harms as well as the benefits of these powerful painkillers, and patients must understand that their pain can be treated with less-dangerous medications, or nonpharmacological interventions like physical therapy or acupuncture. Such education could be spearheaded by various physician associations and advocacy groups, with support from government agencies and officials at HHS and elsewhere.

Policy Option 4: Removing Perverse Incentives and Payment Barriers– Prescribing decisions are influenced by patient satisfaction surveys and insurance reimbursement practices, participants said. Patient satisfaction surveys are perceived — not necessarily accurately — as making it harder for physicians to say “no” to patients who are seeking opioids. Long-standing insurance practices, such as allowing only one pain prescription to be filled a month, are also encouraging doctors to prescribe more pills than a patient is likely to need — adding to the risk of overuse, as well as chance of theft, sale or other diversion of leftover drugs.

Policy Option 5: Solutions through Technology– Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP) and Electronic Health Records (EHR) could be important tools in preventing opioid addiction, but several barriers stand in the way. The PDMP data are incomplete; for instance, a physician in Washington, D.C., can’t see whether a patient is also obtaining drugs in Maryland or Virginia. The records are not user friendly; and they need to be integrated into EHRs so doctors can access them both — without additional costs piled on by the vendors. It could be helpful if certain guidelines, like defaults for dosing and prescribing, were baked into the electronic records.

Policy Option 6: Access to addiction treatment and reducing stigma—There is a need to change how the country thinks about — and talks about — addiction and mental illness. Substance abuse treatment suffers when people with addiction are treated as criminals or deviants. Instead, substance abuse disorder should be treated as an illness, participants recommended. High deductibles in health plans, including Obamacare exchange plans, create another barrier to substance abuse treatment.

CONCLUSIONS:  I don’t really know how we got here but we are a country with a very very “deep bench”.  We know how to do things, so let’s put all of our resources together to solve this very troublesome problem.


At one time in the world there were only two distinctive branches of engineering, civil and military.

The word engineer was initially used in the context of warfare, dating back to 1325 when engine’er (literally, one who operates an engine) referred to “a constructor of military engines”.  In this context, “engine” referred to a military machine, i. e., a mechanical contraption used in war (for example, a catapult).

As the design of civilian structures such as bridges and buildings developed as a technical discipline, the term civil engineering entered the lexicon as a way to distinguish between those specializing in the construction of such non-military projects and those involved in the older discipline. As the prevalence of civil engineering outstripped engineering in a military context and the number of disciplines expanded, the original military meaning of the word “engineering” is now largely obsolete. In its place, the term “military engineering” has come to be used.

OK, so that’s how we got here.  If you follow my posts you know I primarily concentrate on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professions.  Engineering is somewhat uppermost since I am a mechanical engineer.

There are many branches of the engineering profession.  Distinct areas of endeavor that attract individuals and capture their professional lives.  Several of these are as follows:

  • Electrical Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Engineering Physics
  • Nuclear Engineering
  • Petroleum Engineering
  • Materials Engineering

Of course, there are others but the one I wish to concentrate on with this post is the growing branch of engineering—Biomedical Engineering. Biomedical engineering, or bioengineering, is the application of engineering principles to the fields of biology and health care. Bioengineers work with doctors, therapists and researchers to develop systems, equipment and devices in order to solve clinical problems.  As such, the possibilities of a bioengineer’s charge are as follows:

Biomedical engineering has evolved over the years in response to advancements in science and technology.  This is NOT a new classification for engineering involvement.  Engineers have been at this for a while.  Throughout history, humans have made increasingly more effective devices to diagnose and treat diseases and to alleviate, rehabilitate or compensate for disabilities or injuries. One example is the evolution of hearing aids to mitigate hearing loss through sound amplification. The ear trumpet, a large horn-shaped device that was held up to the ear, was the only “viable form” of hearing assistance until the mid-20th century, according to the Hearing Aid Museum. Electrical devices had been developed before then, but were slow to catch on, the museum said on its website.

The works of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison on sound transmission and amplification in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were applied to make the first tabletop hearing aids. These were followed by the first portable (or “luggable”) devices using vacuum-tube amplifiers powered by large batteries. However, the first wearable hearing aids had to await the development of the transistor by William Shockley and his team at Bell Laboratories. Subsequent development of micro-integrated circuits and advance battery technology has led to miniature hearing aids that fit entirely within the ear canal.

Let’s take a very quick look at several devices designed by biomedical engineering personnel.

MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING:

POSITION EMISSION TOMOGRAPHY OR (PET) SCAN:

NOTE: PET scans represent a different technology relative to MRIs. The scan uses a special dye that has radioactive tracers. These tracers are injected into a vein in your arm. Your organs and tissues then absorb the tracer.

BLOOD CHEMISTRY MONOTORING EQUIPMENT:

ELECTROCARDIOGRAM MONITORING DEVICE (EKG):

INSULIN PUMP:

COLONOSCOPY:

THE PROFESSION:

Biomedical engineers design and develop medical systems, equipment and devices. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this requires in-depth knowledge of the operational principles of the equipment (electronic, mechanical, biological, etc.) as well as knowledge about the application for which it is to be used. For instance, in order to design an artificial heart, an engineer must have extensive knowledge of electrical engineeringmechanical engineering and fluid dynamics as well as an in-depth understanding of cardiology and physiology. Designing a lab-on-a-chip requires knowledge of electronics, nanotechnology, materials science and biochemistry. In order to design prosthetic replacement limbs, expertise in mechanical engineering and material properties as well as biomechanics and physiology is essential.

The critical skills needed by a biomedical engineer include a well-rounded understanding of several areas of engineering as well as the specific area of application. This could include studying physiology, organic chemistry, biomechanics or computer science. Continuing education and training are also necessary to keep up with technological advances and potential new applications.

SCHOOLS OFFERING BIO-ENGINEERING:

If we take a look at the top schools offering Biomedical engineering, we see the following:

  • MIT
  • Stanford
  • University of California-San Diego
  • Rice University
  • University of California-Berkley
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
  • Georgia Tech
  • Johns Hopkins
  • Duke University

As you can see, these are among the most prestigious schools in the United States.  They have had established engineering programs for decades.  Bio-engineering does not represent a new discipline for them.  There are several others and I would definitely recommend you go online to take a look if you are interested in seeing a complete list of colleges and universities offering a four (4) or five (5) year degree.

SALARY LEVELS:

The median annual wage for biomedical engineers was $86,950 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest ten (10) percent earned less than $52,680, and the highest ten (10) percent earned more than $139,350.  As you might expect, salary levels vary depending upon several factors:

  • Years of experience
  • Location within the United States
  • Size of company
  • Research facility and corporate structure
  • Bonus or profit sharing arrangement of company

EXPECTATIONS FOR EMPLOYMENT:

In their list of top jobs for 2015, CNNMoney classified Biomedical Engineering as the 37th best job in the US, and of the jobs in the top 37, Biomedical Engineering 10-year job growth was the third highest (27%) behind Information Assurance Analyst (37%) and Product Analyst (32%). CNN previously reported Biomedical Engineer as the top job in the US in 2012 with a predicted 10-year growth rate of nearly 62% ‘Biomedical Engineer’ was listed as a high-paying low-stress job according to Time magazine.  There is absolutely no doubt that medical technology will advance as time go on so biomedical engineers will continue to be in demand.

As always, I welcome your comments.

PAYCHECK 2016

August 28, 2016


The following post is taken from information furnished by Mr. Rob Spiegel of Design News Daily.

We all are interested in how we stack up pay-wise relative to our peers.  Most companies have policies prohibiting discussions about individual pay because every paycheck is somewhat different due to deductible amounts.   The number of dependents, health care options, saving options all play a role in representations of the bottom line—take-home pay.  That’s the reason it is very important to have a representative baseline for average working salaries for professional disciplines.  That is what this post is about.  Just how much should an engineering graduate expect upon graduation in the year 2016?  Let’s take a very quick look.

The average salaries for engineering grads entering the job market range from $62,000 to $64,000 — except for one notable standout. According to the 2016 Salary Survey from The National Association of Colleges and Employers, petroleum engineering majors are expected to enter their field making around $98,000/year. Clearly, petroleum engineering majors are projected to earn the top salaries among engineering graduates this year.

Petroleum Engineers

Actually, I can understand this high salary for Petroleum engineers.  Petroleum is a non-renewable resource with diminishing availability.  Apparently, the “easy” deposits have been discovered—the tough ones, not so much.  The locations for undiscovered petroleum deposits represent some of the most difficult conditions on Earth.  They deserve the pay they get.

Chemical Engineering

Dupont at one time had the slogan, “Better living through chemistry.”  That fact remains true to this day.  Chemical engineers provide value-added products from medical to material.  From the drugs we take to the materials we use, chemistry plays a vital role in kicking the can down the road.

Electrical Engineering

When I was a graduate, back in the dark ages, electrical engineers garnered the highest paying salaries.   Transistors, relays, optical devices were new and gaining acceptance in diverse markets.  Electrical engineers were on the cutting edge of this revolution.  I still remember changing tubes in radios and even TV sets when their useful life was over.  Transistor technology was absolutely earth-shattering and EEs were riding the crest of that technology wave.

Computer Engineering

Computer and software engineering are here to stay because computers have changed our lives in a remarkably dramatic fashion.  We will NEVER go back to performing even the least tedious task with pencil and paper.  We often talk about disruptive technology—game changers.  Computer science is just that

Mechanical Engineering

I am a mechanical engineer and have enjoyed the benefits of ME technology since graduation fifty years ago.  Now, we see a great combination of mechanical and electrical with the advent of mechatronics.  This is a very specialized field providing the best of both worlds.

Software Engineering

Materials Engineering

Material engineering is a fascinating field for a rising freshman and should be considered as a future path.  Composite materials and additive manufacturing have broadened this field in a remarkable fashion.  If I had to do it over again, I would certainly consider materials engineering.

Systems Engineering

Systems engineering involves putting it all together.  A critical task considering “big data”, the cloud, internet exchanges, broadband developments, etc.  Someone has to make sense of it all and that’s the job of the systems engineer.

Hope you enjoyed this one. I look forward to your comments.

NANOMATERIALS

May 13, 2016


In recent months there has been considerable information regarding nanomaterials and how those materials are providing significant breakthroughs in R&D.  Let’s first define a nanomaterial.

DEFINITION:

“Nanomaterials describe, in principle, materials of which a single unit is sized (in at least one dimension) between 1 and 1000 nanometres (10−9 meter) but is usually 1—100 nm (the usual definition of nanoscale).”

Obviously microscopic in nature but extremely effective when applied properly to a process.  Further descriptions are as follows:

Nanomaterials must include the average particle size, allowing for aggregation or clumping of the individual particles and a description of the particle number size distribution (range from the smallest to the largest particle present in the preparation).

Detailed assessments may include the following:

  1. Physical properties:
  • Size, shape, specific surface area, and ratio of width and height
  • Whether they stick together
  • Number size distribution
  • How smooth or bumpy their surface is
  • Structure, including crystal structure and any crystal defects
  • How well they dissolve
  1. Chemical properties:
  • Molecular structure
  • Composition, including purity, and known impurities or additives
  • Whether it is held in a solid, liquid or gas
  • Surface chemistry
  • Attraction to water molecules or oils and fats

A number of techniques for tracking nanoparticles exist with an ever-increasing number under development. Realistic ways of preparing nanomaterials for test of their possible effects on biological systems are also being developed.

There are nanoparticles such as volcanic ash, soot from forest fires naturally occurring or the incidental byproducts of combustion processes (e.g., welding, diesel engines).  These are usually physically and chemically heterogeneous and often termed ultrafine particles. Engineered nanoparticles are intentionally produced and designed with very specific properties relative to shape, size, surface properties and chemistry. These properties are reflected in aerosols, colloids, or powders. Often, the behavior of nanomaterials may depend more on surface area than particle composition itself. Relative-surface area is one of the principal factors that enhance its reactivity, strength and electrical properties.

Engineered nanoparticles may be bought from commercial vendors or generated via experimental procedures by researchers in the laboratory (e.g., CNTs can be produced by laser ablation, HiPCO  or high-pressure carbon monoxide, arc discharge, and chemical vapor deposition (CVD)). Examples of engineered nanomaterials include: carbon buckeyballs or fullerenes; carbon nanotubes; metal or metal oxide nanoparticles (e.g., gold, titanium dioxide); quantum dots, among many others.

Nanotube

The digital photograph above shows a nanotube, which is a member of the fullerene structural family. (NOTE:  A fullerene is a molecule of carbon in the form of a hollow sphereellipsoidtube, and many other shapes. Spherical fullerenes are also called Buckminsterfullerenes or buckeyballs, which resemble balls used in soccer.  Cylindrical fullerenes are called carbon nanotubes or buckeytubes.  Fullerenes are similar in structure to graphite, which is composed of stacked graphene sheets of linked hexagonal rings. ) Their name is derived from their long, hollow structure with walls formed by one-atom-thick sheets of carbon, called graphene. These sheets are rolled at specific and discrete angles where the combination of the rolling angle and radius defines the nanotube properties; for example, whether the individual nanotube shell is a metal or semiconductor.  Nanotubes are categorized as single-walled nanotubes (SWNTs) or multi-walled nanotubes (MWNTs). Individual nanotubes naturally align themselves into “ropes” held together by van der Waals forces, more specifically, pi-stacking.

The JPEG below shows a nanoplate material.

NANOPLATE

Nanoplate uses nanometer materials and combines them in engineered and industrial coating processes to incorporate new and improved features in the finished product.

USES OF NANO TECHNOLOGY:

Let’s look at today’s uses for nano technology and you can get a good picture as to where the field is going.

  • Stain-repellent Eddie Bauer Nano-CareTM khakis, with surface fibers of 10 to 100 nanometers, uses a process that coats each fiber of fabric with “nano-whiskers.” Developed by Nano-Tex, a Burlington Industries subsidiary. Dockers also makes khakis, a dress shirt and even a tie treated with what they call “Stain Defender”, another example of the same nanoscale cloth treatment.
    Impact: Dry cleaners, detergent and stain-removal makers, carpet and furniture makers, window covering maker.
  • BASF’s annual sales of aqueous polymer dispersion products amount to around $1.65 billion. All of them contain polymer particles ranging from ten to several hundred nanometers in size. Polymer dispersions are found in exterior paints, coatings and adhesives, or are used in the finishing of paper, textiles and leather. Nanotechnology also has applications in the food sector. Many vitamins and their precursors, such as carotinoids, are insoluble in water. However, when skillfully produced and formulated as nanoparticles, these substances can easily be mixed with cold water, and their bioavailability in the human body also increases. Many lemonades and fruit juices contain these specially formulated additives, which often also provide an attractive color. In the cosmetics sector, BASF has for several years been among the leading suppliers of UV absorbers based on nanoparticulate zinc oxide. Incorporated in sun creams, the small particles filter the high-energy radiation out of sunlight. Because of their tiny size, they remain invisible to the naked eye and so the cream is transparent on the skin.
  • Sunscreens are utilizing nanoparticles that are extremely effective at absorbing light, especially in the ultra-violet (UV) range. Due to the particle size, they spread more easily, cover better, and save money since you use less. And they are transparent, unlike traditional screens which are white. These sunscreens are so successful that by 2001 they had captured 60% of the Australian sunscreen market.  Impact: Makers of sunscreen have to convert to using nanoparticles. And other product manufacturers, like packaging makers, will find ways to incorporate them into packages to reduce UV exposure and subsequent spoilage. The $480B packaging and $300B plastics industries will be directly affected.
  • Using aluminum nanoparticles, Argonide has created rocket propellants that burn at double the rate. They also produce copper nanoparticles that are incorporated into automotive lubricant to reduce engine wear.
  • AngstroMedica has produced a nanoparticulate-based synthetic bone. “Human bone is made of a calcium and phosphate composite called Hydroxyapatite. By manipulating calcium and phosphate at the molecular level, we have created a patented material that is identical in structure and composition to natural bone. This novel synthetic bone can be used in areas where the natural bone is damaged or removed, such as in the treatment of fractures and soft tissue injuries.
  • Nanodyne makes a tungsten-carbide-cobalt composite powder (grain size less than 15nm) that is used to make a sintered alloy as hard as diamond, which is in turn used to make cutting tools, drill bits, armor plate, and jet engine parts.
    Impact: Every industry that makes parts or components whose properties must include hardness and durability.
  • Wilson Double Core tennis balls have a nanocomposite coating that keeps it bouncing twice as long as an old-style ball. Made by InMat LLC, this nanocomposite is a mix of butyl rubber, intermingled with nanoclay particles, giving the ball substantially longer shelf life. Impact: Tires are the next logical extension of this technology: it would make them lighter (better milleage) and last longer (better cost performance).
  • Applied Nanotech recently demonstrated a 14″ monochrome display based on electron emission from carbon nanotubes.  Impact: Once the process is perfected, costs will go down, and the high-end market will start being filled. Shortly thereafter, and hand-in-hand with the predictable drop in price of CNTs, production economies-of-scale will enable the costs to drop further still, at which time we will see nanotube-based screens in use everywhere CRTs and view screens are used today.
  • China’s largest coal company (Shenhua Group) has licensed technology from Hydrocarbon Technologies that will enable it to liquefy coal and turn it into gas. The process uses a gel-based nanoscale catalyst, which improves the efficiency and reduces the cost.  Impact: “If the technology lives up to its promise and can economically transform coal into diesel fuel and gasoline, coal-rich countries such as the U.S., China and Germany could depend far less on imported oil. At the same time, acid-rain pollution would be reduced because the liquefaction strips coal of harmful sulfur.”

CONCLUSION:

I’m sure the audience I attract will get the significance of nanotechnology and the existing uses in today’s commercial markets.  This is a growing technology and one in which significant R&D effort is being applied.  I think the words are “STAND BY” there is more to come in the immediate future.

 


Some of the information for this post was taken with the January/February 2016 issue of R & D Magazine.  This is a marvelous publication and I recommend it to you as a source of viable information relative to research and development.

I certainly hope everyone realizes the remarkable benefits derived from R & D funding.  The vision comes first, then the hard work of research to prove or disprove viability of the proposed project.   Some R & D efforts yield results definitely before their time.  We see this again and again in industry and commerce.  Great ideas but due to lack of funding for commercial development or possibly an idea is just before its time.

Let’s take a look at what might be in store for funding during the 2016 year and then a projection as to what might occur through 2018.  We will do so for the United States and for other countries.

Research and development (R&D) is defined as the process of creating new products, processes and technologies that can be used and marketed for mankind’s benefit in the future. The R&D processes and their costs vary from industry to industry, from country to country and from year to year.  The 2016 Global R&D Funding Forecast this year is sponsored by the Industrial Research Institute (IRI), Washington, D.C.  This study reveals that global R&D investments will increase by 3.5% in 2016 to a total of $1.948 trillion dollars.  This equates to purchasing power parity (PPP) values for more than 110 countries having significant R&D investments greater than $100 million. If we take a look at spending for 2014, 2015 and proposed spending for 2016, we see the following:

R & D Funding

Let me explain the two categories North America and the U.S.  The North American “bucket” includes Canada, the United States and Mexico.  This is somewhat nebulous from the chart that’s the breakdown.

For 2015 and 2016, R&D investments in the U.S. continue trends started five years previous. These include: 1.) restrictions on total federal government spending for R&D, 2.) the resultant decline in federal government support of academic R&D investments (and their struggles to compensate), and 3.) the slow increase in industrial R&D spending (and its share of the total R&D “pie”). Despite these ‘drags’ on R&D support, the U.S. continues to be the largest single country in R&D investments with slightly more than a quarter of all global R&D spending.  These R&D programs are supported by industrial, sixty-six percent (66%), federal government twenty-five percent (25%) and academic/non-profit seven percent (7%) investments. There are substantial changes being seen in the character of the U.S.’s industrial R&D makeup. Life science R&D, for more than ten years, has been the largest sector in the industrial technology arena.  This is very surprising to me but demonstrates the great need, at least in the United States.  For 2016, many of the large players in this sector—Novartis, Pfizer, Merck, Sanofi, Astra Zeneca, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb and more (not all are U.S.-based, but most have large U.S. installations).  All are expected to reduce their large multi-billion dollar annual R&D investments in 2016. A reduction of products in the R&D pipeline, increased regulatory pressures and consumer resistance to high-priced drugs are some of the reasons that pharmaceutical companies are likely to see reduced revenues and a reduced ability to continue funding mega-scale R&D programs.

Much of the R&D growth in a country is driven by that country’s economic growth, which is measured by the gross domestic product (GDP). GDP growth, as documented by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is forecast for a 6.3% increase for China in 2016, a 2.8% increase for the U.S. and significantly smaller increases for European countries—China’s GDP growth is still significantly larger than all other potential competitors for the immediate future. India has larger GDP growth expectations—7.3%for 2015 and 7.5% for 2016, but its GDP is less than that of China or the U.S., as are its R&D investments(less than 1% of its GDP).   India’s recent strong GDP growth and commitment to R&D currently rank it as the sixth country on the list for overall R & D expenditures.

You can see from the graphic below the relative differences in funding from each segment of our globe.  North America, by far, exceeds other areas, but please notice China.  R & D efforts from China are definitely on the rise and much of the R & D funding involves military weapons and expansion of their desire to dominate the Pacific Rim.  I am also impressed by funding undertaken by Japan and South Korea.  The Pacific Rim is on board and making great progress in the number of international patents awarded to academia and industrial concerns.

American Dominance

If we “drill down” and look at countries specifically, we see the following graphics.  Please note:  GERD = Gross Expenditures on Research and Development and PPP = Purchasing Power Parity (used to normalize R&D investments)

US--Belgium

Mexico--Total

I know this is a bit of an eye chart but does give a very detailed accounting of who has spent the most from 2014 to 2015 and what is projected for 2016.  Please note also the “Global R & D Expenditure” is almost two trillion US dollars.

Looking at the digitals below, we see trends in spending that reflect economies across the world.  Money is very tight. Banks are only looking at low-risk projects that have guaranteed payback.  There is a very limited venture mind-set relative to lending institutions.  Researchers over the world are looking for “angles” to fund their ventures and those angles are few and far between.   It also pays to be well-connected and communicate with your favorite lobbyist.

What Changed

Can you depend upon the US government to fund your project?  I have been waiting on an SBA loan for over one year.  I’m still being encouraged but to date have no real assurance the loan will become available.  Nothing is a “slam-dunk” even though the probably of project success in my case is well over fifty percent (50%).  Still, no bananas.

Will Govt Funding

You will note the Fed seemingly has no problem in funding the various federal branches shown below. I have no problem with this, although the waste and fraudulent practices are really troublesome to me.  Those have been adequately documented by other non-Federal enterprises.

Top U.S. Federal R & D

The chart below gives us a glimpse of what prognosticators feel are the most viable technologies through 2018.  I can agree with all of these categories.  I would say that if you have a son or daughter interested in a profession within the STEM fields, he or she might look into the ones given below.  Every category below needs trained professionals.  These fields of study will not welcome high school graduates and in most cases the most important work will be accomplished by individuals with Masters or Doctoral degrees.  This is where we are with technology.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Important Technologies by 2018

 

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