Innovation is the new buzzword and, some would say, the tech media darling for fixing the economy. It's a hot topic found on many major news sites, in newspapers and on television news. President Obama recently touted the term "innovation economy" as a path to the nation's financial recovery. To keep the manufacturing and the larger community well informed about what's radical and revolutionary in innovation, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) announces its annual Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture.
"The fundamental difference between this list and others is that these innovations are available now. There's no waiting needed," says Cindy Skelton-Becker, chair of SME's Manufacturing Enterprise Council (MEC), which selected this year's innovations.
- High-Speed Sintering
- Synthetic Gecko Tape
- Micro-Laser-Assisted Machining
- Wireless Power Transfer
- Personal Fabrication
Complementing this year's list is also the 2009 Tech Watch List featuring self-healing polymers and liquid lens imaging. Self-healing polymers have the capability of repairing themselves after damage, while liquid lens imaging captures 250 pictures per second and could revolutionize how cell phones and automobiles are made.
"We chose all of these technologies based on usability across manufacturing industries, positive impact on manufacturing and their overall availability of use right now," says Skelton-Becker, who is senior manager, finish aftermarket group, for the Nordson Corp.
"High-speed sintering made the Innovations list because it promises to dramatically speed up the additive manufacturing process to the point where it's even more compelling to consider for production applications," she adds.
Buckypaper, or a thin sheet made from tiny nanotubes, is already showing promise as a material in building aerospace vehicles and body armor.
Synthetic gecko tape borrows from the animal kingdom to create an adhesive which can support higher shear stress (36 N/cm2), eliminating the need for high-heat soldering. Synthetic gecko tape will soon be used to create new and lighter materials.
Beyond materials like gecko tape or buckypaper, processes like micro-laser-assisted machining will also revolutionize manufacturing because materials that were previously impossible to machine can now be done with absolute precision.
While high-speed sintering or micro-laser-assisted machining will change how they get things done on the shop floor, the last two innovations — wireless power transfer and personal fabrication — will present revolutionary changes for not only manufacturers but also for the everyday consumer.
"For manufacturers, wireless power transfer will completely change the way large machines and complex products like cars and planes are designed and built. And for the consumer, it will make it possible for small electronics and other products to draw power from one central, wireless source. Imagine never having to plug in to recharge your cell phone, iPod or laptop again," says Skelton-Becker.
Also in the near future, personal fabrication will make prototyping and manufacturing easier, from the shop floor to the consumer. "It differs from traditional forms of additive manufacturing because it's affordable for use anywhere, whether it's a company, school, or individual," explains Terry Wohlers, FSME, a member of the MEC, a foremost expert on additive manufacturing technology and president of Wohlers Associates Inc.
"The idea of personal fabrication will allow almost anyone to make almost anything anywhere," adds Wohlers. "It will forever change the way we view manufacturing."
Each of these six innovations will be showcased at the upcoming 2009 SME Annual Conference set for June 6-9, 2009, at the Hyatt Regency Philadelphia. The SME Annual Conference will bring together members, renowned industry leaders, innovators and manufacturing professionals to share ideas and best practices and explore advancements. Highlights from the event also include a keynote address from innovation expert, Doug Hall of Eureka! Ranch, industry-centered trends and development workshops as well as the SME International Honor Awards Gala & Reception.
For the most comprehensive information about the 2009 Annual Conference or to register, please visit www.sme.org/conference.