The list includes eight game-changing innovations that could make it possible for consumers to pay at the store without waiting in line, double the charge of their electric cars, use a laptop that doesn’t overheat, or buy a car partly made of sustainable, non-petroleum products.
“Innovation has occurred at a faster rate over the last 15 years than it has over the course of centuries. It’s changing right now,” says Christopher Kaye, director of innovative technology at US Endoscopy and a member of SME’s Innovation Watch Committee, the panel of industry experts that selected the innovations.
“Our Committee’s goal was to scan the vast technology landscape for cutting-edge innovations and to investigate ways they can be utilized by manufacturers and ultimately by consumers,” he says.
Here are brief summaries of each innovation:
Pay at the Store without Waiting in Line
“RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags are one of today’s hottest technologies,” says Kaye.
Currently tags can average 15 cents each, but with printed RFID tags manufacturers have the potential to bring these costs down by 80 percent and track products for about one to three cents a tag.
Industry experts say that these new printable tags are not only cheaper, but also thin and flexible enough to fit on a pack of chewing gum, thereby opening the door to greater consumer usage. Mobile phones with built-in RFID scanners, for example, could make it possible to pay for items without waiting in line.
Double the Range of Electric Vehicles
While the demand for electric cars is growing, current lithium-ion batteries only provide a charge of up to 30 minutes. Nanoporous silicon electrodes, however, may enable these batteries to store ten times more charge.
LG Chem, 3M and Sanyo are already testing these electrodes, which when matched to the right cathodes with comparable storage capacity could help an electric car run for three to four hours.
Nanoporous silicon electrodes could also be used to extend the battery life of high-power, portable electronics.
“There has been some promising work with these materials demonstrating twice the life, but there is still more to be done,” says Kaye.
Electronics That Can Survive Harsh Environments
With their ability to withstand extreme temperatures, silicon carbide electronics can be used in such things as hybrid vehicles and wind turbines, which rely on high power performance.
“While current technology allows for operation in up to 125 degrees Celsius or even lower at 80 degrees, these materials have the potential to operate at up to 600 degrees Celsius,” explains Innovation Watch Committee member John Patten, PhD, who is also director and professor, Manufacturing Research Center, Western Michigan University.
“For consumers, this could mean that electronics like laptops which require internal cooling systems won’t overheat,” he says.
Recycle Your Copier Paper into Batteries
New nanotube inks, can turn plain copier paper into batteries. The process involves dipping the paper in nanotube ink and then drying it for it become highly conductive.
“These new “paper” batteries could open a whole new universe of design and manufacturing for portable electronics,” said Terry Wohlers, Innovation Watch Committee member and president of technology consulting firm Wohlers Associates.
Nano Fibers May Now Fit Your Budget
Often used to strengthen materials used in such products as bikes, golf clubs, tennis rackets and drug delivery systems, nano fibers were at one time expensive to make. But new manufacturing processes have made mass production easier, and therefore, more cost-effective than current technology.
Materials That Heal Their Own Scratches
“Smart materials like” self-healing polymers work just like they sound and can be used to treat metal structures exposed to harsh environments. For the oil and gas industry, these polymers could reduce costly repairs to oil rigs and pipelines vital to consumer delivery.
No Need to Wait for the Engine to “Warm Up”
“Smart materials” also include phase-changing polymers. PCMs are already used by BMW to store excess heat when a motor runs at operating temperature. This heat is then available at the next cold start to heat up the motor quickly and contribute to better gas mileage.
“These materials are also being used in construction materials to help keep homes in extreme climates more temperate,” says Chris Kaye.
Mother Nature Inspires Manufacturers to Use Bio-Based Products & Materials
Bio-based products & materials reduce the need for petroleum and are made from renewable/sustainable materials.
Ford Motor Company, for example, began using soy-foam seats in the 2008 Ford Mustang and has since placed these materials in
more than one million Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles leading to a total reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of more than five million pounds.
Other uses for these materials include adhesives, engine oil and carpet.
And of the list overall, Wohlers says, “These technologies are proof-positive that manufacturing is high-tech, not old-hat; not something just happening overseas. Much of manufacturing is innovation.”
The Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture will be a central focus of the BRIDGING THE GAPS: SME Annual Conference scheduled for June 6-8, 2010 at the Sheraton Music City Hotel in Nashville, Tenn. The Conference will bring together manufacturing professionals and leaders throughout North America and beyond who are interested in innovations and exchanging ideas in one place.
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