Innovation is about developing - and seizing upon - new ideas and technologies that can improve your products and make your manufacturing operations more competitive and profitable.
The Society of Manufacturing Engineers' Innovation Watch Committee has identified eight innovations with the potential to do just that.
The emerging technologies on the SME's 2012 list of "Innovations that Could Change the Way You Manufacture" have proven valuable in manufacturing settings already, and the SME anticipates that widespread adoption is just around the corner.
Without further adieu, here they are:
- Biomimicry -- Biomimicry -- nature-inspired designs and process -- is behind breakthroughs such as synthetic gecko tape; strong coatings and materials inspired by abalone; coloration with nanophotonic crystals inspired by peacock feathers; and an artificial leaf that harnesses solar energy. Biomimicry also spawned the hummingbird-inspired nano air vehicle, which has demonstrated the ability to hover continuously without external power.
- 3-D Transistors -- The 3-D tri-gate transistor represents a fundamental departure from the traditional "flat" two-dimensional gate. Using three gates wrapped around the silicon channel in a 3-D structure, current flow is controlled on three sides of the channel rather than just from the top. Because the fins are vertical, transistors can be packed closer together. The new technology enables innovative microarchitectures, system-on-chip designs and new products such as Ivy Bridge-based ultrabooks.
- Economic machining of hardened steels and super alloys with hyper-carbide cutting tools -- Hyper-carbides are sintered, metal-matrix composites that differ from traditional "carbides" in the binder composition. By replacing the traditional binder metal (cobalt) with others such as Re, Mo, Ni and Cr, the composite achieves a much greater hot hardness and thermal resistance, thus giving the tool an ability to withstand the extreme temperatures and pressures of higher-speed cutting. The resulting performance allows machining at 10 or more times the usual material-removal rates. Even so, hyper-carbides are produced using the same basic methods as other carbide tools, resulting in similar tool-production costs.
- Synthetic, grown body parts -- Nanotechnology has played a critical role in the first synthetic trachea transplant. A patented nanocomposite was used to form a scaffold exactly the same size and shape as the patient's own windpipe, which then was seeded with adult stem cells from the patient's own bone marrow. This innovation is in addition to other methods that are being used to grow or print new body parts.
- Tighter tolerances on leading and trailing edges with automated system -- An automated profiling system has attained unprecedented precision levels, reducing the need for manual inspection, and increasing performance and efficiency with tolerances within 50 microns. This also reduces the abrasive material consumption up to 75% and allows designers to define more complex shapes on the leading and trailing edges. This adaptive automated process yields high repeatability, and the system has been benchmarked to eliminate the typical manual final inspection of the edges. The system is being used in the production of jet-engine parts and is well suited for gas turbines used in generators, according to the SME.
- Green steel technology using recycled rubber tires -- Traditionally, in electric-arc furnace steelmaking, scrap is reprocessed using large amounts of nonrenewable fossil fuel. Polymer-injection technology mixes plastic and rubber waste, reducing the reliance on coke. The technology reduces carbon emissions, requires less electricity and reduces the amount of plastic and rubber that ends up in landfills.
- More good batches at lower cost using the model predictive control -- For batch processing, a multivariate-based model allows for a more accurate analysis and provides process insights not available from other approaches. Using available online multivariate analytics, the model predictive approach can provide immediate and substantial benefits, including an increase in the consistency of product quality, greater throughput through better yields, and decreased cycle time and outages.
- Technology that "sees" into the future for lower energy-production costs -- A predictive header-pressure controller adjusts boiler loads to maintain header pressure several minutes into the future. Controlling more like an operator, the system anticipates a change in header pressure, makes an adjustment, waits, then tweaks. The result is substantially reduced fuel costs, which will benefit every energy consumer as well as the environment through efficient consumption of fuels. Through use of the technology, a major pulp mill in Western Canada reduced fossil-fuel costs by more than $500,000 per month and reduced electric-power imports by $60,000 per month, according to the SME.
"That is why SME is seeking out, acknowledging and sharing these innovations with the larger manufacturing community."
In the process of reviewing submissions for the top manufacturing innovations listed above, the SME's Innovation Watch Committee develops an "Innovation Watch List" of technologies that show great promise but are unproven in a manufacturing setting.
This year's list includes:
- Fiber optics replacing metal wiring between computer components
- Quantum locking
- New methods of color mixing for LED production
- Semi-solid flow cells for electric cars
- Artificial photosynthesis to turn sunlight into liquid fuel
- Aerovoltaic wind technology with no moving parts