Four Things Inventors Commonly Overlook
Apr28

Four Things Inventors Commonly Overlook

It is an unfortunate fact that both history and creative mistakes repeat themselves. History often highlights the ingenuity and skill of inventors, but conveniently ignores the creative, sometimes glaring, mistakes they make. Listed below are the four biggest mistakes inventors and modern product developers make – and how to avoid them. Lack of Vision Thomas Edison is immortalized for his amazing inventions, among the most famous being the phonograph. So how is it that the French inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville created the same technology 20 years before Edison – and why do we not know his name? Martinville invented the first device capable of recording sound waves in the early 1850’s. However, his invention could only record sound waves without playing them back. Martinville’s limited vision of the product’s capabilities caused the failure of his impressive invention. Lesson learned:  Product developers need to refrain from restricting creativity and brainstorming. Some of the most widely used inventions today, Velcro and Teflon to name just two, began as something completely different from what is now considered to be their primary use. Practical Functionality When Edison originally wrote about his phonograph, he had very different plans for it. Edison proposed about a dozen functions for the phonograph. These included dictation, letter writing and even talking clocks. However, these were insignificant compared to the phonograph’s “killer app” – listening to music. Edison tried to establish the functions of his invention without fully realizing the explosive potential of his machine. Lesson learned:  Inventors need to realize that their idea may evolve in a different direction than originally planned. Ignorance is not Bliss In the early 20th Century, American inventor Lee de Forest sold his half-baked and half researched “audion” invention to Bell Labs. This device created a monotone pulse of electromagnetic energy that manipulated gas flames. He believed his invention was perfect for transmitting Morse code. However, researchers at Bell labs found that the increase in the gas flame was caused by a sonic wave emitted from the spark, not the electromagnetic radiation. This invention eventually became the first vacuum tube, the foundation of the electronics revolution. Lesson learned:  Thoroughly verified and vigorous research and development is critical for any product development success. Demand Creates Supply Frederic Tudor was a 19th-century entrepreneur who wanted to ship frozen blocks of ice to tropical areas at a high markup. However, almost everyone in the tropical areas he visited had no idea what ice was or why it was beneficial. His first business trip was a failure, but he did eventually build up a successful ice shipping network. Lesson learned:  Innovative products cannot be forced on...

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WIN-911 Alarm Notification Software Adds Layer of Protection to SCADA Systems
Mar25

WIN-911 Alarm Notification Software Adds Layer of Protection to SCADA Systems

In the past, monitoring the safety systems of any facility was a challenge. Personnel in charge had to be highly trained to know exactly what every light and sound meant. In many cases, they also had to be present at the control panel at all times to respond to an emergency in a timely manner. But, what if an alarm system could simply call the right people for help, telling them exactly what was wrong? WIN-911 Software does precisely that, improving performance of safety and maintenance personnel in facilities around the globe in the process. The software utilizes parameters already set in place by existing system control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. The program essentially acts as an efficient middleman, quickly translating messages from the warning system into messages that are easily accessed and understood. Founded in Houston in 1974 in response to growing demand in the field of process control automation, WIN-911 is the recognized industry leader in alarm notification software. Used in more than 10,000 facilities spread across 65 countries around the globe, company representatives say that adding their software to any monitoring system can reduce personnel costs, raw material waste, energy costs, and machine maintenance costs. From manufacturing and automated production to preservation efforts that protect local ecosystems, WIN-911 can be integrated into virtually any number of preventative systems. For nearly all alarm systems, the task of informing a response team of the exact nature and location of a problem takes quite a bit of precious time. What sets WIN-911 apart is its intelligent decision matrix that is able to prioritize and relay accurate information about every alarm. Graded responses are provided based on the issue, and early warnings provide an opportunity to solve an issue before it becomes an expensive – or dangerous – problem. The biggest advantage WIN-911 software has is it’s ability to interface with mobile devices and contact available personnel wherever they may be. The pager and lexicon system, which sends workers an alert on a pager that they must then translate using a lexicon, has now been made obsolete by the Mobile-911 system. WIN-911 will send prioritized voice messages to assigned personnel describing the nature and location of any generated alarm, eliminating guess work and improving response times. WIN-911 is revolutionizing alarm notification alerts in every industry imaginable. Patrolmen, caregivers and maintenance workers no longer need to spend countless hours staring at a computer screen waiting for the next potential emergency. They can receive alerts from anywhere and respond immediately. The roster of those using the company’s alarm notification software includes Charter Communications, Cliffs Natural Resources, Bank of America, and Archer...

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The Oncoming Revolution of Smart Manufacturing
Oct27

The Oncoming Revolution of Smart Manufacturing

The smart manufacturing revolution has several wombs: the garage of Steve Wozniak, the three-bedroom house of Jeff Bezos, the lab of Martin Cooper. From these birthplaces of innovation came mobile communication, real-time networking, lightning-quick algorithms and dozens of other bits of IT magic. Heretofore, many of these innovations have been used merely to browse Facebook and post cat pictures, but the giants of capitalism have other plans. Their plan is revolution, and the revolution is called smart manufacturing. What is it?  (Hint: That’s the wrong question.) Smart manufacturing is many things: IT-driven assembly cells, automated preventive quality control systems, rapid prototyping, etc. Yet the real question is not how it works, but what it does, and the answer is demand-driven production. Imagine a world where mainstream products are made to order. Sophisticated algorithms will automatically schedule production based on available raw materials and energy demands. The manufacturing process flows like water, the upstream supplier shipping materials from the nearest warehouse, the manufacturing facility swiftly building the part using automated assembly cells, the distributor picking up the order the next day, etc. There is no waste. There is no one micromanaging the process. Proponents of smart manufacturing describe it a dozen ways: a mesh of real-time technology, flexible manufacturing, a web of automated coordination. But the buzzword means something far simpler: fewer cogs, fewer people, more computers. Smart manufacturing leverages the power of IT – real-time analytics, precision tracking and data aggregation – against inefficiency. It puts lean manufacturing techniques to shame. This utopian engineering future has not arrived quite yet. Overhauling enterprise-wide IT systems costs umpteen millions, and not all companies can foot the bill for smart units in assembly, production, procurement, quality, and the other pillars of manufacturing. But make no mistake – the revolution is here. As of now, it requires a répondez s’il vous plait – and a big...

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Will 3D Printing Bring Manufacturing Back to Cities?
Oct22

Will 3D Printing Bring Manufacturing Back to Cities?

Instead of waiting for political policy makers to lure clean manufacturing jobs back into domestic markets, some entrepreneurs have turned to the latest 3-D printing technology to take matters into their own hands. For example, Peter Weijmarshausen, Founder and CEO of Shapeways, has big plans for his 3-D printing start up. Targeting the “3-D printing as a service” niche, Shapeways opened the doors to its New York and Dutch locations in 2007 to creative designers of all types.  While most 3-D printing companies emphasize consumer and business equipment sales, Shapeways has designs to retool the manufacturing industry. When manufacturers transferred their jobs into foreign markets, they also seemed to outsource some of the engineering innovation as well. Gone was the interaction between designers and local manufacturers that often resulted in improvements throughout the prototyping phase. The vision for Shapeways is to bring back that close relationship between designers and manufacturers by establishing its factories in urban centers throughout the world. While Weijmarshausen does not give details about the capacity of its two outlets, he does say that the factories currently produce 1,500 items per day. He is confident that the Shapeway business model is flexible and scalable enough to take on mass production in the future. Weijmarshausen makes the case that 3-D printing factories like Shapeways inspire faster innovation among engineers and designers. These innovations have traditionally driven growth within free market economies. He also points out the benefits to the environment when items are produced domestically and do not require huge energy outlays for shipping and transport. While the concept of Shapeways factories are new, they already have a close competitor in the “3-D printing as a service” niche; the global shipping giant UPS. While some businesses will not extend their services to 3-D printing because of the current high cost of equipment, UPS has taken up the challenge in one of its stores in San Diego, CA. However, they are far from developing the service to include large scale manufacturing. In this way, Shapeways has a unique mission to bring manufacturing to designers’ own back yards. Since they already will have experience working in the 3-D printing niche, it makes sense that they will be able to realize the most benefits when the equipment prices decrease over...

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Prototyped…. to Death?
Jul14

Prototyped…. to Death?

In early 2013, Arkami revealed a really cool concept for password management. A USB/Bluetooth device that would store encrypted keywords and be accessible by either plugging it into a computer or connecting to a smart phone using an app. They showed it at CES and ran a Kickstarter campaign, which raised almost half a million dollars. They added another three million in funding from investors. The myIDkey had a promising future. Broken Promises Investors were promised the product would be ready in September. That didn’t happen. Instead of delivering the device as promised, components were upgraded, software revised and features were added and/or changed. Many of the changes were to help deliver the promised features on schedule, but they seemed to have the opposite effect, with more delays and very few myIDkey’s delivered to Kickstarter backers. Broken Features Arkami didn’t’ sit still while postponing release. New features – like using the fingerprint reader as a scrollbar – were added while investors waited for a shipping product. A few of the devices were shipped, and the reaction was not good. The few who received their myIDkey complained that devices were broken out of the box, or broke after very little use. According to complaints, buttons stopped working and the fingerprint scanner was hard to calibrate. On June 17, 2014, the company closed down due to lack of funds. Release or Wait Should Arkami have released the myIDkey on time with fewer features? Would getting the product into people’ hands sooner and adding features later have been wiser? Would producing the product as originally pitched have provided some breathing room and time for developing advanced features? The CEO claims there will be a big announcement soon, but wouldn’t it have been better to have used the $150,000 originally sought to produce the product and keep all the extra funds for R&D and reserves? The saga of myIDkey raises many questions, but so far provides very few...

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Prototype Construction
Aug23

Prototype Construction

There are several options for translating a virtual or non-functional prototype into a functional product prototype.  The prototyping method a company chooses for their product will depend on the audience, purpose and budget.  Best results are achieved by a complementary partnership between the product’s parent company and a team of outside experts.  The knowledge of an expert team will supplement your company’s goals with the skill and experience needed to complete the project in a timely and affordable manor. Ideally a series of virtually engineered designs, on CAD or other software, will precede the functional prototyping process.  In cases where an previous prototype exists and there are no digital data for the design it is possible to scan the item and repair the design.  In this scenario it is important to consult an expert to see what the best solution is. This is a comprehensive list of functional prototype creation methods: Selective Laser Sintering These prototypes are made of strong, durable polyamide material that allows for a broad range of functional testing. Typical Uses: Snap fits; working hinges; lighting elements, ventilation systems, high thermal loads (with glass filling); and many others Vacuum Casting These prototypes are ideally used for functional plastic prototypes, in quantities less than 20. With a vast selection of materials to choose from, including various polyurethanes, allow these prototypes to be used for functional testing in various conditions. Tooling in Aluminum Molds Aluminum tooling is great for rapid and cost effective production of quality components.  Other mold tools can take a minimum of 3 months to deliver; subsequently traditional injection molding can be extremely expensive and time consuming.  With the speed and reasonable costs of aluminum molds designers can experiment and produce more products inventive.  By using aluminum mold tools it is easy to create a fully functional prototype in the materials for manufacture without excessive cost.  Due to current Aluminum grades and strength, this type of mold can produce between 100,000 and 1,000,000. RIM (Reaction Injection Molding) This method produces premium quality plastic parts with a short lead-time.  RIM is ideal for large components in quantities of 10 to 2000.  The process uses low pressure injection technology.  RIM molding is used often in the car industry because of its quality and...

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