Friday, April 1, 2022

A Changing World

Most recently, the happenings that are occurring in this world have left me stunned. Thirty-five years ago, I started MagnaTech P/M Labs because materials research was on the rise and there was need for innovation, especially in powder metallurgy. Driving forces then were automobiles and aerospace. They still are, but in a much advanced stage. However, with the horrors occurring in Ukraine, modern electronic devices have neutralized the value of traditional tanks, and drones have helped to neutralize the effect from aircraft superiority. All are recent electronic developments. In conjunction with the war in Ukraine, to keep supporting countries and interrupted communications in Russia and Ukraine, we now have a potential major problem in how to combat individuals that have computer savvy sufficient to shut down the grid and interrupt business that is conducted daily. All stem from computer technology.

This leads me back to the days when horses were the traditional form of transportation and Edison and others had made sufficient strides to create a mechanical and electrical world. When I was a lad in the 1930s, it still was not uncommon, in a small town, to observe horses still tied to hitching posts. However, Henry Ford put an end to this by developing a concept to mechanize the manufacturing of automotive vehicles, then referred to as “horseless carriages” Other concepts came into being through the invention of the electric motor. At that time only common materials, such as iron copper, tin, zinc, and aluminum that had unique properties were included in what was referred to as the periodic table Today the periodic table is full and even new elements are being discovered. .

That leads us to the question of whether this mechanical/electrical world is becoming obsolete, to be replaced by an electronic world. Back in the 1950’s I remember debates that were questioning whether computers would replace man in a future world where robots and electronic devices would assume most of the functions of man. Today we are approaching a time where computers will drive our cars and aircraft, and be safer than a person behind the wheel of the car. Robots have taken the place of humans in the assembly lines to weld and do other repetitive jobs that traditionally were done with manpower. Drones, as we see in the Ukraine, are now being successfully used to destroy enemy aircraft, and many companies are considering using them to make deliveries directly to your house.

How does all this affect a company that basically exists because of its ability to innovate, to improve the properties of materials and improve processing to manufacture these materials. A new concept named advanced manufacturing is commanding major consideration in the materials world. It used to be that an individual or company had an idea or concept. If considered worthy of development, at least a month of research in libraries and use of other communication tools was initiated to determine whether the concept or idea had ever been developed by anyone else, and was there need to advance the capabilities to do the job that required the development of the new idea. In addition, a cost study was made to determine whether people would buy the new product. Once the literature search was complete, a proposal was made to convince the people who could use the product or development that it would be worthy to invest a small amount of money into the project to prove the concept in the laboratory. If successful, more funds were devoted to transfer the development to the pilot production stage to find out whether the product could be made into a commercial product. Then the major funds were allocated to produce the product commercially. However all of this took too much time, taking on an average of two to five years to realize a profit. Now this tried and true technique takes much too long.

Therefore enters the computer once again. The computer has vast stored knowledge that can make the research of determining whether the concept has been considered in the past much faster. Also, most ideas or innovations derive from some basic principles Starting from here variables that affect these basic principles can be quickly changed to determine whether the innovator is traveling in the right direction or whether they are on a crash course. Then after the computer has maximized the variables that affect the concept, a few critical experiments are made to determine whether the computer has done its job. Supposedly this is quicker and cost much less than the old concept However, the computer accepts its data from what has been published, and this can be true, false or biased. The computer doesn’t think. Then the computer needs to start with basic concepts and the variables that change its properties. Most of the people are computer oriented and have little knowledge of materials engineering. Therefore, these people may not even be considering the correct variables to make the product a success. Today advanced manufacturing and modeling are the buzz-words of the industry. The concept says that you can make things as delicate as dental and medical products, using these concepts and there are inroads being made in these fields. In addition, there is no limit to the size of the product that can be made. Therefore things, such as buildings and sky scrapers, are being considered as future applications All of this new technology is going to require different thinking regarding manpower and the concepts emerging for the work being made today. Are we ready to leave the mechanical/ electrical world that we are comfortable with today for this new emerging electronic driven world? With developments such as being seen in the Ukraine and in the use of cyber technology and their capabilities for evil or good, are we ready to make them our new world?



Thursday, January 13, 2022

2022 Research Activity As MagnaTech Sees It


Last year there was a tremendous push to develop a generic term, “Advanced Manufacturing”. Much has been accomplished in this area and more will be in this coming year. Whereas in the past research started with a literature search followed by using design of experiments to get an idea to the laboratory, This now has all been replaced by what is known as modeling. In essence, it is the same thing, except now the computer does all the grunt work.  My opinion is that computers and software program writers have little experience with metals. Therefore, I prefer to do most of my modeling using the old fashioned approach, knowing that speed is not the problem.  However, most of the materials development research is now accomplished through software designed for modeling.

Transportation remains the buzzword in most development programs. In respect to the automobile of the future, standard materials are still required, although research is still promoted to use much lighter aluminum, magnesium, composites and even plastic materials. Again, modeling is the tool generally used to develop most new alloys for automotive and off-road applications. A real push is to make the automobile electric to alleviate the pollution problem. Motor design and battery propulsion is the current big push. However, there are some interesting concepts regarding propulsion designs that do not use batteries. Electromagnetics is one interesting concept being explored.

Just starting to generate steam, however, are applications that improve or permit space applications to be improved. Again, propulsion is one area demanding attention. Most of us pay attention to the huge rockets that are launched at Cape Canaveral. However, most missiles that are launched into space are much smaller and they are not launched from earth, but from missiles launched from earth. NASA is now starting to direct their attention to development of different propulsion systems, such as electric propulsion. These concepts are not new.  The Russians developed a system in 2011. These space craft use electromagnetic fields to accelerate to high speeds, generating thrusts that modify the velocity in orbit. In fact, since 2019 there have been over 500 space craft used throughout the Solar System, using electric propulsion for station keeping. Future systems, under development, are being designed to permit exploration of the outer planets of the Solar System. If a system were developed for earth launch, payloads could be increased to 70% of initial mass to destination, whereas chemical propelled rockets deliver only  a few percent. This is a start to a future for development of additional future electric propulsion systems .

In addition to space, increased concentration is being directed toward aircraft that will fly faster in upper space, delivering increased pay loads at reduced cost in significantly less time MagnaTech would like to find a niche in this new emerging technology to improve soft magnetic materials for these emerging applications.