Browsing: Manufacturing

I grew up in a small farming community in southern Georgia. My main exposure to new technology was through the annual farm equipment exposition, science fiction books and television. One of my favorite shows was The Six Million Dollar Man. Do you remember the famous opening lines? “Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive.” “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better… stronger… faster.” (If you’re like me, you just heard that classic bionic sound in your mind.) Although it’s not really bionics, the research community and private sector are focusing on the related area of…

Whether they’re behind the scenes assembling products or helping you parallel park your car, robots are already playing a big role in our day-to-day lives. And robots will only become a more pervasive part of our lives in the coming decades. But they aren’t good at everything … yet. For instance, robots in manufacturing don’t “think on the fly” very well. In a word, their movements can be a little mechanical. Robots do well in highly structured environments where the location of objects are known and where all they have to do is perform the same task over and over and over again. Not surprisingly, you’re more likely to see robots do things like manufacture cars than you are to…

Welding is said to be more art than science. In part, this is a nod to the vital, skilled work that welders perform. It’s also recognition of the fact that the physics of the process is really, really difficult to understand. I joined a NIST project on laser welding about two years ago. Before this, I had studied materials for solar panels and had done some work in laser processing, but I had little interest in laser welding. What eventually drew me in, and what motivates me now, is just how complex laser welding is and the opportunity to contribute to the understanding of a process that is so intertwined with everyday life, yet so mysterious. Act I: Creating a…

The creation of a new material has long been either an accident or a matter of trial and error. Steel, for instance, was developed over hundreds of years by people who didn’t know why what they were doing worked (or didn’t work). Generations of blacksmiths observed that iron forged in charcoal was stronger than iron that wasn’t, and iron that was forged in a very high-temperature, charcoal-fired furnace and rapidly cooled was even stronger, and so on. While we’re still learning things about steel, we now have all kinds of recipes that we can use to make steels with different properties depending on the application, but those recipes took a lot of time, sweat and toil to develop. Wouldn’t it…

I research additive manufacturing, which some people call solid freeform fabrication, but most people know as 3-D printing. Additive manufacturing covers a wide range of processes that we can use to build parts and whole structures by strategically adding material only where we need it. Building parts by adding material a bit at a time allows us to build geometries and features that we never could using traditional processes such as cutting, forging, or casting. For instance, with 3-D printing we can make complex, ultralightweight parts by building their internal structures using the least material possible. We can build these parts complete with winding internal passages for fluids to flow. And we can make them out of different materials depending…

1 2