3D Printing to Make all kinds of Things

July 8th, 2012

Standard printing creates shapes that have width and length on a flat surface while three dimensional printing (3D printing) adds height to create solid objects. 3D printing has the potential to replace traditional manufacturing for making many things. The technique is already being used for prototyping.

Traditional manufacturing cuts, drills and uses other processes to remove material from a piece of wood or metal to make something. Three dimensional printing, on the other hand, adds materials to build up the thing you want. It is a digital technology that takes the data contained in a digital file such as a CAD file and produces solid objects of almost any shape.

3D printing has been defined as “process of joining materials to make objects from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer…”

A materials printer:

  • Takes  data from a design produced with a modeling software such as CAD
  • Transforms it into virtual cross-sectional layers of required thinness
  • Builds successive physical layers using liquid, powder or sheet materials corresponding to the virtual layer
  • The layers are joined together or fused automatically
  • Creating things in almost any kind of shape practically identical to the virtual design it started with

Several different technologies have been developed to build up the layers such as molten polymer deposition, granular materials binding and photopolymerization.

3D printing is still more expensive for quantity manufacturing compared to current technologies such as injection moulding for plastic products. However, it is less expensive and speedier for making parts and concept models, requiring only a desktop sized 3D printer and is currently used for rapid prototyping.

The technology has been used in several industries, including jewelry, architecture, automotive, aerospace, dental, medical, GIS and others. Bio-technologists are exploring the possibility of building organs and body parts with layers of living cells deposited onto a gel medium or sugar matrix.

Thingiverse, Shapeways and Kraftwurx are examples of suppliers who offer 3D printing related services, including the opportunity to upload your designs and have it created for selling all over the world.


Growing Carbon Nanotubes in the Laboratory

June 26th, 2012

Carbon nanotube is an allotrope of carbon. Allotrope means that it is the same chemical element but has a different crystalline structure at the atomic level. Structural differences at the level of atoms can give rise to entirely new properties, as seen in the case of carbon and diamond (which is but an allotrope of carbon).

Carbon nanotubes have a cylindrical structure and have been constructed with a diameter as small as a nanometer, i.e. one billionth (thousand-millionth) of a meter. Tubes have been constructed that have 132 million times of this diameter as the tube’s length.

Carbon nanotubes have some unusual properties, including extreme thermal conductivity and superior strength, and have been used as additives to other structural materials. The tubes are rolled with one-atom thick carbon sheets (graphene). The rolling angles and radius determine the nanotube properties, including whether the shell is a metal or semiconductor.

The microscopic nanotubes can penetrate cell membranes and prove toxic if they reach internal organs. A study has found that they can cause cell death. Commercial applications have thus to look at the issue of health and safety while using the material.

Presently, commercial applications have been limited to using nanotubes in bulk (with resultant loss of the superior structural strength of individual nanotubes) in sports gear and components of wind turbines and other products. As technology develops it is hoped that the structural properties of the nanotube can be fully tapped to produce composites and possibly bulletproof clothing. The electrical properties of the material might enable production of transistors that are switched using a single electron, cables and wires of superior conductivity, long-life batteries, solar cells and other products.

The Oberlin, OH based Nanotech Innovations LLC  is offering a single-step process and instrumentation to grow carbon nanotubes for educational, research and product development purposes. According to the company, the process delivers high purity nanotubes taking up small bench space and eliminating the need for catalyst predeposition on the CNT growth surface. The company says that the process is highly affordable.

WebCams: From a near-Billion Dollar industry to a multi-Billion Dollar one?

December 26th, 2010

WebCams are devices that help Internet users to hold a video communication across the Web. The quality of the communication tended to suffer from low bandwidth, which was more common until recently.

With increasing availability and popularity of broadband, the situation is changing. Availability of free video communication applications provided by Google and Skype has further been adding to the popularity of video communication .

It is this context that the WebCam industry is expected to grow fast. Logitech is the major player in the market now while others include Creative Technologies, Microsoft, Philips, Cisco and D-Link. Then there are a large number of Chinese manufacturers of OEM equipment that come included with notebook computers.

WebCams are also important in security applications as they provide the ability to monitor establishments remotely. You can, for example, monitor an unauthorized intruders into your establishment while sitting across the globe, for example.

The increasing importance of security everywhere, from homes to shops to commercial and scientific establishments, will increase the potential market for the WebCam industry even further.

The report titled Worldwide WebCam Market Shares Strategies, and Forecasts, 2009-2015 looks at the markets, forecasts and strategies for the WebCam industry that is estimated to amount to $3.2 billion by 2015.

Competing in Telecommunications Market with Network Quality

December 19th, 2010

Few things have caught the fancy of the general public as cell phones have. The ability to communicate on the go, and be available for communication wherever you are, has indeed affected a lot of things. It has even improved the ability to earn income with resultant changes in  people’s lifestyles.

The popularity has naturally attracted sellers of everything connected with cell phones, including technology developers. As competition increases, sellers try to differentiate themselves through improved quality of their networks. Advancing technology raises user’s expectations and these expectations are often not met.

Terms like 2G and 3G can be seen as referring to network technologies that attempt to meet user expectations increasingly better. GSM is considered a 2G technology, GPRS a 2.5G one, and 3G uses Broadband Wireless network technologies. Each technology improved the speed of data download, i.e. you could get more things to your mobile device within acceptable times.

Phones were devices that enabled you to talk with someone who is beyond a few minutes of walking distance. Now they are devices that enable you to browse the Internet and download music files, and also do these without having to wait for ever.

Advancing technologies also improved the range of communications. Telephones can now reach even the remotest corners at acceptable costs.

We are presently in the 3G era which has speeds of up to 2 megabytes per second (2Mbps). 4G is visualized as technologies that can reach 100 Mbps.

And 5G is expected to lead to a truly wireless world, connecting the whole world into a borderless community. Using the potentials of nanotechnolgy, cloud computing and network protocols, a new Next Generation Network promises great things.

The 5G NanoCore is a technology and market report that delves into 5G technology of telecommunications.

Connected World: A Cisco Study

December 10th, 2010

In today’s business, workers are more mobile and distributed than ever. This mobility and geographical distribution of workforce presents new challenges, particularly in the areas of data management and security. A Cisco study examines how IT professionals are managing this challenge.

Some major findings of the study include:

* Workers are finding that they need not be in an office to be productive. Workers also prefer the mobility and flexibility of working out of the office to an extent that they are willing to accept such a job even if it pays a little less compared to a job that does not offer such flexibility.
* IT policies have, however, not kept pace with the worker preferences as above, and also with new devices, social media and video and other new modes of communication.
* Better collaboration among teams in the data center, virtualization and cloud computing technologies have an important role to play in the emerging environment.

These trends also creates new problems for security and data governance because employees want to access and work with data from anywhere with different devices.

See the news report on Marketwire for details of the trends.

A Model for Future Retail?

December 5th, 2010

While an increasing number of people go online for shopping we still go to brick-and-mortar stores to buy most of our requirements. A recent news item about an Amazon fulfillment center made this writer wonder about the possibilities. Can online stores like Amazon that focuses on selling and fulfillment centers widely distributed near production centers be the future of retail?

Of course that kind of arrangement will not allow shoppers to see, touch and feel actual physical merchandise. With advancing technology, however, the fulfillment centers should be able to provide the next best option, video viewing of the merchandise with the prospective customer being able to view it in as full detail as possible. And the customer can do it anonymously, 24/7, and examine merchandise stocked at different fulfillment centers before selecting one.

Such an arrangement can push sourcing to near production centers, create jobs for “lifting, sorting and packing”, and shipping merchandise at the fulfillment centers, and provide the convenience of shopping from home to shoppers. So long as there are effective arrangements for quality assurance of the products involved it should be possible to cover practically every kind of merchandise by such an arrangement.

Ethical Issues Raised by Emerging Technologies

December 4th, 2010

Emerging technologies like nanotechnology and biotechnology raises health and ethical issues. Government regulations cannot hope to keep pace as the new technologies raise issues that nobody has a clear idea about. This situation creates a dilemma as countries want technological progress but are apprehensive about the unknown safety and ethical issues.

Nanotechnology is a revolutionary technology that has applications in many areas, including healthcare, consumer products, industrial products and energy. The technology involves working at nanoscale; a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter; and nanotechnology deals with materials of 100 nanometers or less. At nanoscale, normally harmless materials can become toxic, and nanomaterials can permeate the skin barrier and enter internal organs with unknown consequences.

An ethical issue arises when multinational corporations, unable to work in their home countries owing to rigorous regulations, shift operations to developing countries where regulations are non-existent or lax. In addition to MNCs, even local companies might engage in dangerous research and manufacturing activities in such an environment.

Modern biology raises issues that cause even greater concerns. For example, issues such as patenting life, DNA banks and genetically engineered animals and crops are issues that have raised serious controversies. Considerable discussions are taking place about these issues all over the world.

An article on Green Nanotechnology and a booklet on Ethics and Biotechnology go into these issues.

Nutrition and Cognitive Science

December 3rd, 2010

Nutrition and Cognitive Science

Just like every other bodily function, the cognitive function can also benefit from appropriate nutrition. The question is what is the appropriate nutrition to enhance cognitive functions? That is one area of research focus at the Nestle Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The facility at Lausanne is reportedly the world’s biggest private facility for nutrition related fundamental research. According to the company, “Research areas include safety of products, processes and ingredients, sensory and nutritional quality, physiology and metabolism, food structure, food consumer interactions, nutrient uptake and the evolution of nutritional needs with age.”

Nestle has recently invited applications for the position of Research Scientist in Cognitive Science to join their Cognitive Sciences group, which “is committed to find nutritional solutions to improve cognitive function and mental health throughout life, from early childhood to old age.”

The research scientist will have to build and guide research lines in the area of cognitive enhancement through such functions as designing studies and preparing study protocols, interpreting and reporting findings, contribute to idea generations and write proposals, write internal scientific evaluations, publish scientific papers and work with external collaborators.

The company was looking for PhDs in cognitive neuroscience, experimental psychology, psychopharmacology etc.

Religion and Cognitive Science

December 2nd, 2010

Psychology involved observing the way we think and feel, with the observer looking into his or her own thinking and feeling processes. This was not a particularly scientific approach and behaviourists rejected it and focused on outward behaviour and the observable triggers of such behaviour. This was also not a scientific approach as it ignored behaviour triggers that could not be observed explicitly.

During the same period, our understanding of the physical causes of behaviour in the form of electrical signals passing along the neural circuits in our brain was also increasing. Stimulating specific areas of the brain caused specific feelings and behaviour. And damage to brain circuits affected these in specific ways. Neuroscience became part of “mind research.”

Evolution also plays a part in the way we think and feel. We do not think and feel like our animal ancestors (or even human ancestors, which might be more an effect of culture).

Cognitive science seeks to combine all these different approaches to studying the way we think, feel, understand, and respond, for example. And it has started looking at the religious experience also. It is seeking to answer, for example, what happens inside our brains when we pray or feel connected to GOD. Religion has many aspects including influencing moral behaviour (by making people believe that their behaviour is being observed even when nobody is around).

Read dcoda’s blog on cognitive studies.

Electric Car Charging Stations Network

December 1st, 2010

Electric cars are not going to be popular unless they can be charged with a minimum of ease at charging stations. That means setting up a network of charging stations just like existing network of fuel pumps. So far, nobody seems to have taken a lead in creating such a network, including governments.

It is in this context that the eVgo initiative NRG Energy becomes significant. Under the initiative, the company is building the first privately funded, comprehensive electric vehicle ecosystem. There will be two types of charging stations:
* Freedom stations that will have Level 2 and DC chargers available 24/7 and
* Convenience stations hosted by retailers with Level 2 chargers available during their working hours

The company’s goal statement says: “Our goal is to provide complete range confidence across the metropolitan areas where eVgo operates. That means placing charging stations at the city center and at locations extending outward along major thoroughfares and at strategic destination points. In Houston, for example, charging stations are near the city center, at 25 miles out in all directions, and at points in between.”

Single family homes can have home charging docks. The company is now inviting the public to suggest retail and multifamily community locations for the eVgo stations, and planning to invest $10 million in expanding the network to cover the whole of Houston. Ironically, $10 million is not likely to be adequate for setting up more than two conventional fuel stations.