If you can think it you can print it! How 3D printing is revolutionizing the rail industry.

UnionPacific3D

Photo Source: 3D Printing Industry

“We can make design tweaks and have a new version ready within hours, plus the prototype never leaves UP. Additionally, it ensures a complete design before we move into expensive tooling or long lead times for molded parts.” – Royce Connerley, Union Pacific Senior System Engineer

It’s no exaggeration to say the 3D printing is a technology with boundless potential. With medical industries, housing, manufacturing, and hobbyists using the tech for printing in ways never before possible, it is no surprise that the railway industry too is turning to 3D printing for solutions.

For a bit of a background, 3D printing is the use of machinery to print components/materials. These materials can be plastic, metal through powder printing, and much more.

Union Pacific, for example, is using 3D printing for railroad machine vision technology. Machine vision loosely refers to the using of imagery for automatic inspection or analysis. Furthermore, Union Pacific is 3D printing remote controlled devices to track rail equipment.

In Europe, Deutsche Bahn has begun to use 3D printing in their actual train assembly. As Uwe Fresenborg, CEO of DB Fahrzeuginstandhaltung states: “For the maintenance of our vehicles we need immediately available spare parts. Our trains are expected to roll, 3D printing helps us in doing so. Printing is faster, more flexible and cheaper than conventional manufacturing processes, and the vehicles are available again in a very short time and are used for our customers.”

3D-Druck_02

Photo Source: 3D Printing Industry

Beyond creating parts for trains, Deutsche Bahn has employed 3D printing to increase the overall experience of customers, such as by 3D printing metal pieces with braille for disabled customers and individualized handicap signs for handrails. As the program develops we can anticipate seeing more 3D printing components throughout Europe and beyond.

It’s safe to say that 3D printing will revolutionize not only rail but all manner of transport industries with its benefits to customer quality of life, safety testing, part replacement, and machine vision. As more industries adopt the technology we can expect to see even greater breakthroughs still.

Sources:

RailJournal: DB steps up 3D printing of train components

3D Printing Industry: Union Pacific 3D printing for railroad machine vision technology

3D Printing Industry: Deutsche Bahn extends use of 3D printing to “revolutionize maintenance”

The “Robot Taxation” debate carries on

Robotics

As breakthroughs in the fields of automation and robotics become more common, so do debates into the realities of a changing workflow. The topic of taxation of robots — specifically the taxation of firms that utilize robots for automaton purposes — is one such example of these ongoing discussions, though one without a clear solution.

Last month, Bill Gates spoke to Quartz on the subject of robot taxation, stating “right now, if a human worker does $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think we’d tax the robot at a similar level. You cross the threshold of job-replacement of certain activities all sort of at once. So, you know, warehouse work, driving, room cleanup, there’s quite a few things that are meaningful job categories that, certainly in the next 20 years, being thoughtful about that extra supply is a net benefit. It’s important to have the policies to go with that.” This opinion, however, met its share of criticism; similarly a proposed measure in Europe to tax corporations that utilize robots was quickly shot down.

Robot taxation raises several hard to answer questions and difficulties. One such obstacle is the clarification of what constitutes a robot. Is a robot defined as a piece of software that automates a complex process? Is it a physical piece of automated technology? The nebulous nature of this definition creates an obstacle in the adoption of such a tax. Where is the line drawn?

A common argument made for taxation of robots is job loss — if a robot is doing the job a person could then that will result in a lost job. Though this is certainly true with any automated process, economists and other experts view the net-growth possibilities as a worthwhile investment. Economist James Bessen wrote in his response to Bill Gates’s interview “although automation will lead to further job losses in manufacturing, warehouse operations, and truck driving, the overall impact of automation across most industries will be to increase employment,” going on to compare the impact on productivity to the introduction of the bar-code scanner or ATM.

Further complicating the discussion of robot taxation is that many view it as a superficial solution to a complex problem. Robots and automated processes are not going away, after all. To this end many sides of the discussion would prefer a long-term solution to the changing workforce, such as the adoption of a universal income in order to adequately prepare for a future with growing number of automated processes.

The debate of robot taxation currently has no clear answer and will undoubtedly carry on in the near-future. One thing is clear: automated processes are not going anywhere, be they robotic manufacturing assembly or self-driving automobiles. What solutions and measures are adopted with them, however, remain to be seen.

Sources:

Quartz

Forbes

The Guardian

Fortune

 

Innovators We Admire: Dirk Ahlborn

Dirk-Ahlborn

Photo Source CrowdFundInsider.com

“New technologies and new ideas, can create a better passenger experience while solving these issues through new monetization strategies and business models, with the Hyperloop and all other forms of transportation.” – Dirk Ahlborn

Innovation can’t thrive in a vacuum; external factors, opposing views, tools, and resources must come together to create the breakthroughs that propel us forward. Few know that as well as Dirk Ahlborn, Founder and CEO of JumpStarter Inc. which operates JumpStartFund  and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT).

Ahlborn’s mission was to create a new platform for scientific funding and the bringing together of minds. “We already have a process to help create a physical startup. Why not do that online?” asks Ahlborn. “Why not create an online crowdsourced incubator? This way we allow tech-disconnected hubs to connect with the best technology hubs and co-found new companies. It’s all about building communities smarter and faster.” It’s this collaboration of communities and hubs that have lead the way for Hyperloop Transportation Technologies.

Watch as Ahlborn discusses his ideas about the world’s next breakthrough in transportation on the news program, Business Rockstars.

The term Hyperloop, a concept popularized by super innovator Elon Musk (most famous for Telsa), is a system of transportation that uses tubes and air compression to reach incredible speeds. Inspired by this idea, Dirk Ahlborn and Jumpstarter Inc. built HTT, a research crowd collaboration company working to develop a high-speed transportation system.

Hyperloop

Photo Source Hyperloop Transportation Technologies.

HTT aims to create a high speed intercity transport that travels close to 800 miles an hour as well slower, inter-suburban travel. The project would have a capacity of 15 million passengers a year. Putting this into further context, an airplane travels at most at 500mph and most trains at 200mph. Beyond its speed, the Hyperloop boasts many other proposed benefits, such as being self-sufficient through renewable energy, a greater emphasis for safety, lower construction costs, and affordable travel.

This may sound like a far-off fantasy but it’s closer than one may think.  In a partnership with Deustche Bahn, HTT will be working to create an “Innovation Train,” a conventional train powered through the technology of HTT for greater efficiency. One such piece of tech would be the creation and use of Augmented Reality windows, as seen below.

Dirk Ahlborn knows that innovation can’t thrive when it’s isoated, it’s only when great minds come together that breakthroughs occur. This philosophy is already bringing about changes to the transportation industry and will only continue from here. For these reasons and many more, we name Dirk Ahlborn our “Featured Innovator of the Month.”

If you’re looking to hear about more incredible innovators bringing the latest breakthroughs to the transportation industry, be sure to take part in AREMA’s 2016 Expo.

Note: Dirk Ahlborn does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is he affiliated with our company.

Sources:

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies

JumpStartFund

Tech.EU

TechnoBuffalo

Could a Robot Learn By Itself?

Ashutosh Saxena

Photo Source Cornell Engineering

“We now live in a world where robots are helping humans in their daily lives, and just like humans, robots need to learn new skills in order to do their jobs successfully. And we shouldn’t expect a robot to learn on its own from scratch, any more than we’d expect a human to do so—imagine a child growing up with no access to textbooks, libraries, or the Internet.” – Ashutosh Saxena

What if robots could learn to carry out tasks autonomously? In other words, when giving a robot a new task it could “figure out” on it’s own how to do it? This is exactly the question that Ashutosh Saxena is working to answer.

Professor Saxena is a roboticist at Cornell University working to develop a massive online search engine that robots could access and find the required knowledge to carry out tasks, the aptly named RoboBrain. When given a question, RoboBrain will search the internet for relevant knowledge databases and images, sidestepping the need to teach robots to do tasks through step by step instructions.

“In 2014, I started a project called RoboBrain at Cornell University along with PhD students Ashesh Jain and Ozan Sener. We now have collaborators at Stanford and Brown. What we’re working on is a way of sharing information that allows robots to gather whatever knowledge they need for a task,” writes Saxena. “If one robot learns, then the knowledge is propagated to all the robots. RoboBrain achieves this by gathering the knowledge from a variety of sources. The system stores multiple kinds of information, including symbols, natural language, visual or shape features, haptic properties, and motions.”

The implications of such a project, if successful, could be enormous. It would lead to an increase in efficiency and reduce downtime and spending spent in “training” robots how to carry out tasks. RoboBrain could also lead to robots with more capacity to carry out objectives than previously intended.

Saxena’s work has garnered him several awards and recognition, including Eight Innovators to Watch in 2015, Smithsonian Institution; World Technology Award, 2015; The 50-years of Shakey at AAAI-RSS Blue Sky Ideas award, 2015; RSS Early Career Award, 2014; NSF Career award, 2013; Microsoft Faculty Fellow, 2012; Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, 2011; Best Cognitive Robotics paper, IROS’14. Best student paper, RSS’13; CUAir at AUVSI’12: First prize, mission performance; Google Faculty Research Award, 2012.

These breakthroughs in robotic learning coupled with the unparalleled potential of a developed RoboBrain is what makes Ashush Saxena our pick for “Featured Innovator of the Month.”

Note: Ashush Saxena does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is he affiliated with our company.

Sources:

Stanford University

Rethink Robotics Youtube

MIT Technology Review

Smithsonian

Spotlight on Carolina Osorio, an Innovator We Admire

CarolinaOsorio

Photo Source InnovatorsUnder35.com

Willamette Valley Company was founded on the principal that innovation is truly at its best when it makes our lives better. Sometimes that takes on the form of advancements in the field of medicine or robotics, other times it means making our daily lives more efficient and allowing more time for what is important.

It is this reason that our “Featured Innovator of the Month” is Carolina Osorio, an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT, who wants to help solve the world’s growing traffic problem.

Traffic Jam

An all too familiar sight for anyone living in the city.

As anyone who has spent any time commuting in a city can attest, gridlocks and traffic jams can waste a large percentage of your day and turn a 20 minute drive into several hours. But did you know this problem could be solved with an algorithm and software? That’s exactly what Ms. Osorio is working to do, an endeavor that is built on her study into the traffic patterns of Lausanne, Switzerland.

She says the problem with most existing traffic light software is that it typically looks at the traffic system as a whole as opposed to a collection of individual drivers. “Most signal-timing software looks at current or historical traffic patterns. It doesn’t take into account how travel might change,”says Osorio. “Usually in practice, when you want to time traffic lights, traditionally it’s been done in a local way. You define one intersection, or maybe a set of intersections along an arterial, and you fine-tune or optimize the traffic lights there.”

This is where Osorio’s software promises to shine.  “What is less done, and is more difficult to do, is when you look at a broader scale, in this case the city of Lausanne, and you want to change signal times at intersections distributed across the entire city, with the objective of trying to improve conditions across the entire city.”

In their applied simulations of this new approach to traffic timing, Carolina Osorio and her team found a decrease in commuting time of 22% compared to standardly-used traffic software. Though Ms. Osorio’s system is not yet implemented in traffic software, one can easily see how it can positively influence cities in the future.

Carolina Osorio has received several honors and accolades for her work, including MIT Technology Review EmTech Colombia TR35 Award (2015), MIT CEE Maseeh Excellence in Teaching Award (2014), National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award (NSF CAREER) (2014), NEC Corporation Fund Award for Research in Computers and Communications MIT (2014-2015), and the National Science Foundation Award, (2013-2016). Furthermore she has been an invited Speaker on “The Road to Future Urban Mobility” at the 2016 National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE) EU-US Frontiers of Engineering (EU-US FOE) Symposium.

This dedication to finding solutions to the very real problems that hinder society’s efficiency and mobility is why we have named Carolina Osorio as our “Featured Innovator of the Month.” We can’t wait to see what she’ll accomplish in the future!

Note: Carolina Osorio does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is she affiliated with our company.

Sources:

MIT – Traffic Lights: There’s a Better Way

Smithsonian Mag – Better Traffic-Light Timing Will Get You There Faster

MIT Innovators Under 35 – Carolina Osorio

 

photo credit: World Class Traffic Jam: Jersey Turnpike Version via photopin (license)

 

Pi Day Gives Us an Excuse to Celebrate Mathematics This Month!

Pi Day

Celebrate “Pi Day” March 14th! 

As a company full scientists, engineers and other technological innovators, we value and celebrate mathematics! So you can probably guess that Pi Day, March 14th, is a big deal to us!

Yes, Pi- the mathematical constant.  You know, that “π” symbol thing used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159.

Since it’s humble beginnings at the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1988, Pi Day has exploded into a cultural phenomenon celebrated by students, mathematicians, engineers and everyone in between around the world! The day is often commentated with pie eating contests, essays, T-Shirts, poetry, internet memes, math challenges and more!

To understand the fascination of Pi, you must first understand it’s infinite nature. Scientists and mathematicians have calculated Pi to more than a trillion digits, but its exact nature remains a mystery that will never be solved. As an irrational and transcendental number, it will continue infinitely without repetition or pattern.

You may have memorized pi in your High School math class, only to never use it again- but it’s impact on science, technology, engineering and math is astronomical. Steven Strogatz summarizes it’s importance beautifully in this 2015 New York Times article. “The beauty of pi, in part, is that it puts infinity within reach,” he writes. “The digits of pi never end and never show a pattern. They go on forever, seemingly at random—except that they can’t possibly be random, because they embody the order inherent in a perfect circle. This tension between order and randomness is one of the most tantalizing aspects of pi”.

Pi is so much more than a number. Our modern world depends on it. “It lies at the heart of any technology that involves rotation or waves, and that is much of mechanical and electrical engineering,” writes Chris Budd. “In medical imaging using CAT or MRI scanners, the scanning devices move on a ring which has to be manufactured to a tolerance of one part in 1,000,000, requiring an even more precise value of pi”.

We could go on about our excitement over Pi Day, but we’ll leave you with this list of interesting reads on the subject. So, from all of us at WVCO, Happy Pi Day!

photo credit: LEGO happy pi day! via photopin (license)

The Benefits of Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT)

Puukuokka-Housing-Block

OOPEA’s Wooden Puukuokka Housing Block of Jyväskylä, Finland, Photo Source Archdaily

“CLT has opportunities for significant advantages over steel, concrete or masonry construction in terms of environmental credentials, speed, weight, and structure as finish” – Alex de Rijke, dRMM

We previously asked the question “Is the Construction Industry About to Enter a Timber Age?” As architects and designers make the switch to building with Cross-Laminated Timber (even going as far to refer to it as the “Concrete of the 21st Century”) it’s become clear that the Timber Age isn’t about to begin, it has already begun.

Designers are embracing this new material for projects throughout the world. Hawkins/Browns of London combined CLT and steel to produce “the Cube,” a 33-meter high apartment block in London they claim is “the tallest building to use structural cross-laminated timber in Europe.” Beyond that they’ve produced CLT recital halls and tree-houses as well as using Cross-Laminated Timber to modify office and educational space. Lever Architecture of Portland proposed and designed Framework, a prize-winning mixed-use building that, if constructed, will be among the largest wooden buildings in the United States. Further structures can be found in Chicago, Finland, and Canada to name a couple of ever-growing examples.

This mass-adoption of Cross-Laminated Timber comes as no surprise when you list out the benefits it provides.

What are the Benefits of Cross-Laminated Timber?

Put simply, Cross-Laminated Timber is a prefabricated panel made up of kiln-dried wooden boards stacked in alternating directions (where the cross of the name comes from), then stuck together with structural adhesives. These panels are prepared with CNC equipment, allowing for precise specification and application in construction.

Most, if not all of CLT’s benefits stem from this design and preparation.

Simple, Quick Construction

Cross-Laminated Timber panels are lightweight and arrive on site with a structural system ready to be assembled. The process is both simple and swift, allowing for immediate and accurate construction which in turn saves time and money. CNC-prepared panels also allow for greater creative control when designing and building structures.

Durable

In Japan, a seven-story CLT building’s durability in an earthquake scenario was tested through fourteen shake-tests and came out with minimal damage. Airtight construction of each panel and precision fitting through CNC preparation leads to seismic resilience, as does its unique strength-to-weight ratio.

Fire-Resistant

Though it may sound strange to tout fire-resistance as a benefit of a wooden building material, it’s one of Cross-Laminated Timber’s greatest strengths. The lamination of CLT has an inherent fire-resistance to it, and the construction of the panels and structures allows little room for fire to breath and expand.

Additionally, the solid thermal mass of CLT prevents the conduction of heat from one side of the panel to the other, allowing extremely high temperatures to remain isolated to a side as the other remains at room temperature.

Sustainable

The nature of wood makes it the only building material that can be regrown and feasible in the long-term. Precision cutting of CLT minimizes on-site waste and its manufacturing requires less energy than producing steel or concrete. Cross-Laminated Timber’s light carbon footprint is one of its greatest strengths.

Acoustic Insulation

Solid wood paneling provides superior acoustic insulation, dampening both airborne and impact noises. Its lightweight nature also leads to quiet construction, making it ideal for urban development.

Thermal Insulation

In the same way that Cross-Laminated Timber’s airtight design creates auditory insulation it also creates thermal insulation. Tightly packed panels can trap 90% of the heat that would ordinarily escape from a home. CLT’s previously-mentioned high thermal mass means that temperatures are kept stable and comfortable.

Pleasing Aesthetic

There’s a warm, soothing visual quality to building with wood that separates it from the lifeless concrete slabs that typically fill a city. Cross-Laminated Timber also grants designers with the freedom to experiment with more organic and creative structures than previously allowed by old-fashioned building techniques.

See some of the possibilities for yourself.

Affordable

When comparing the manufacturing costs of certain steels and concrete, as well as the money saved on shorter construction time, CLT comes out as at a competitive price.

Sources:
Smartlam.com
Valueaddedwood.ca
Deezen.com
Archdaily.com
Naturally:Wood Youtube

WVCO’s PRE-TEC Division Partners with Fanuc to Integrate ‘The Big Robot’

Large Robots

Standing with M2000iA

WVCO’s PRE-TEC Division team are some of the brightest minds in the industry. Since the mid 1990s, this team has successfully created more than 220 robotic systems and is currently FANUC’s largest custom robotic Integrator on the West Coast.

Much of the success of our robotics division has been made possible by partnering with leading edge companies like the FANUC America Corporation to develop automated manufacturing solutions using six axis robots and other precision equipment gor customers all over the world.

Recently, this team delved into a BIG project. We mean REALLY big.

Meet M2000iA, FANUC’s largest robot available in the North American market. This beast of a robot is offered with a 900Kg (2,094lbs) capacity or 1350Kg (2,976lbs) capacity- in other words, it can handle enormous objects like car & truck bodies, and very large castings. Our PRE-TEC team has proudly partnered once again with FANUC to integrate this huge robot for a customer here in the Northwest.

It takes a very innovative company like FANUC to supply us with the broad range of robots and servo drives we need to build the flexible automated solutions that integrate the multi-axis robot arms, with end-of-arm tooling, conveyance systems, and safety hardware.

With headquarters in Rochester Hills, Michigan, FANUC America Corporation produces software, controls, and vision products that aid in the development of robotic systems. Their technologies help manufacturers like us maximize efficiency, reliability and profitability.

To get an idea of their extensive capabilities, just watch this video where they demonstrate four FANUC Arc Mate 100iC robots welding an automotive trailer hitch:

For more information about the FANUC America Corporation, visit www.fanucamerica.com.

PRE-TEC designs and builds automated solutions for challenging manufacturing applications, and support all projects with training, spare parts, and preventive maintenance programs. Download our company overview for contact information and to learn more: Please visit www.wilvaco.com to learn more about WVCO’s other divisions.

Click here to download more info on M2000iA

Why We Need More Women in STEM Careers

Women In STEM

Source: “Mentors Help Create A Sustainable Pipeline For Women In STEM” – Forbes.com

“One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent…not being encouraged the way they need to.” – President Barack Obama

In last month’s blog spotlight on STEM Education Coalition, we shared some ideas about the effect STEM education will have on the future of our nation’s workforce and economy. WVCO is comprised of numerous science, technology, engineering, and mathematics innovators and we value the growth of STEM education and training in this country and around the world.

It is widely believed an increase of skilled workers are needed in the STEM fields for our economy to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Yet, for some reason, women and other minority groups are underrepresnted in these fields.

An Executive Summary by the Economics and Statistics Administration states that:

• Nearly half of the US workforce are women, yet they’ve held less than 25% of STEM jobs consistently over the last decade.

• Women with STEM jobs earned 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs.

• Women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in
Engineering.

• Women with a STEM degree are less likely than their male counterparts to work in a STEM
occupation; they are more likely to work in education or healthcare.

Source: Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation

“Supporting women STEM students and researchers is not only an essential part of America’s strategy to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world; it is also important to women themselves,” states the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “And STEM careers offer women the opportunity to engage in some of the most exciting realms of discovery and technological innovation”.

Science and Engineering fields are in need strong innovators regardless of gender, background and nationality. However, there is little doubt that attracting more women and girls — as well as other underrepresented groups into STEM programs will help to make our workforce even stronger and more prepared for the future.

STEM Education Coalition is Working Towards a Better Future

STEM Education

“Effective policies and practices that improve student performance in STEM subjects, increase diversity in these fields, and ensure a well-educated STEM workforce are critical to our nation’s future.” -STEM Education Coalition

You have probably noticed the conversation about STEM, the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, is growing in this country. As a company that innovates and is continually producing custom solutions, we understand the value of a strong education in the STEM fields.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says employment in occupations related to STEM is projected to grow to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022. That’s an increase of about 1 million jobs over 2012 employment levels. – Source: stemedcoalition.org

Many feel that a deeper emphasis on STEM education is necessary for our country to continue to remain an economic and technological leader of the global marketplace. To do that, we must inspire our students to excel the areas of science, mathematics, technology and engineering while maintaining a deep appreciation of the arts and humanities.

Renowned physicist Dr. James Gates echoed the need for a better STEM foundation in a recent speech to a group of high school students in Arkansas. “There are half a million jobs that can’t find Americans to hire because they don’t have the skills level,” he says according to this in this article.”These are the jobs you most want to have in the future.”

Organizations like The STEM Education Coalition, a 501c4 non-profit organization, are working to raise awareness with federal and state policymakers along with members of education community about the critical role that STEM education plays in the future of our global economy.  “The future of the economy is in STEM,” says James Brown, the executive director of the STEM Education Coalition in Washington, D.C. “That’s where the jobs of tomorrow will be.”

Some would argue that focusing only on a STEM education could possibly open the door to neglecting the arts and humanities, however this is not the goal of the STEM Education Coalition. “We always want to make the point that a policy focus on ‘STEM’ isn’t really just about four rigid subjects, it’s about ensuring that students have the skills they need to succeed in the modern world,” it states on their website. “Arts and humanities are certainly a part of that equation.”

To learn more about STEM Education Coalition and how to join, visit stemedcoalition.org.

photo credit: Teen scientist Alexa Dantzler in the lab via photopin (license)