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AMT Tech Trends: Givin' it Some Gas

Episode 49: Benjamin and Stephen deflagrate into a heated discussion over the recent gas pipeline breach. Ben eases into an article about robots with a gentle touch. Steve gets wowed by 3D printed wood. Benjamin explains Rolls-Royce...
Apr 30, 2021

Episode 49: Benjamin and Stephen deflagrate into a heated discussion over the recent gas pipeline breach. Ben eases into an article about robots with a gentle touch. Steve gets wowed by 3D printed wood. Benjamin explains Rolls-Royce using additive technology in their turbofan engines. Stephen closes with some light material science.


Benjamin Moses:          Hello, everyone. Welcome to the AMT Tech Trends Podcast, where we discuss the latest manufacturing technology, research and news. I am Benjamin Moses, the Director of Technology, and I'm here with-

Stephen LaMarca:         Stephen LaMarca, AMT's Technology Analyst.

Benjamin Moses:          Steve, it was awesome to record another episode with you. How have you been?

Stephen LaMarca:         I've been well. I've been better, but I'm a little under the weather today.

Benjamin Moses:          Oh, that's fine.

Stephen LaMarca:         I can't say the weekend, but it's Wednesday, I feel like the week just started. So maybe I have been under the weather for a while.

Benjamin Moses:          Sure.

Stephen LaMarca:         But things are looking better.

Benjamin Moses:          Speaking of under the weather, there's been some recent issues. I want to talk about the Colonial Pipeline breach. It's a mediocre segue but it'll get us by.

Stephen LaMarca:         Yeah. No, I'm excited because, okay. I'm going to come out with it. We agreed that before we would start recording, you'd come to the podcast with some actual facts and I would have come with opinion and experience. And as far as I know, they're, well, so I've got some friends down south now, and I personally haven't experienced much with the gas shortage or at least, so people think it's a gas shortage because they're stocking up on gas like it was toilet paper a year ago.

                                    And so, I did pull into the gas station yesterday not thinking anything of it. I've heard about the pipeline breach and pulled into this Shell station. Actually, I didn't wait in line. There was a wait, there's six pumps at my station that I like to go to and I was two cars behind but, anyway, there was a wait. It just isn't the first time I've had to wait for gas before, though. But hearing from some of my friends down south, they're actually have seen people had to wait in line out in the road, they weren't even able to pull in to the gas station.

                                    I've never had experienced that before but a lot of them told me that the people in front of them were filling up jerrycans with gasoline and even it got as bad as, or as ridiculous as people were filling up beer coolers with gasoline, which isn't even made to hold fluid, certainly highly flammable fluid. So, I mean, as if this pandemic hasn't like caused enough death and destruction across the world, now we've got back in the US. People are about to blow themselves up because they're not properly handling gasoline.

                                    And then, another one of my friends who was laughing at the people freaking out over gasoline, he's like, "Dude, do they realize that gasoline doesn't hold for very long? You got like six months before it's shot." And this is true. I know this with experience because for almost the entire pandemic, I hadn't been on the motorcycle. And that thing was, the bikes were very difficult to start when we got back to it but fill me in with what actually happened.

Benjamin Moses:          Yeah, absolutely. This company, they provide a distribution for fuels and a bunch of other products all along the Eastern seaboard and they had a breach. So, their IT system was attacked by ransomware. They're not exactly sure what the threat vector was but it was in the system and locked the entire IT system. The article I was reading actually does a very good job of separating the issue. So, they have information technologies and an operational technology. We talked to Lockheed Martin a couple of weeks ago about the issues that they have on securing their manufacturing floor, and that was an interesting takeaway that cooling the pipelines, basically, utility, their infrastructure, but they're very similar to a manufacturing facility where they have equipment that's controlled locally or you could say remotely too, but equipment that's controlled and data that's being stored so similar to our office environment.

                                    So, you have the IT infrastructure where we're shuffling papers around and sending emails back and forth, and then we have the AMT Testbed that is machining stuff who've got a robotic arm where those two elements are somewhat tied together if they're on a switch, but they are segregated.

                                    So, they have different computers running it. The big takeaway here is that, their IT structure, their information system was locked down, but their operational technologies, it'll still able to actually continue functioning. The reason that they shut it down is, they were concern about spreading a spread of the ransomware that was on their data servers.

Stephen LaMarca:         Right, I get that.

Benjamin Moses:          So, they did a temporary shutdown of their production system. When you mentioned that there's a gas shortage or people will perceive a gas shortage, no, there's just a temporary shutdown of the distribution of the gas until they can get their system restored, part of their IT disaster recovery which everyone has some, a plan for it. Now I'm sure these guys have a plan for it. They just need the time to execute it, so ...

Stephen LaMarca:         It's about control, Ben.

Benjamin Moses:          It's about control, exactly. So, I thought it was very fascinating that we've been working with Lockheed on exploring what the issues are in the manufacturing floor and being able to communicate from your IT infrastructure to your OT. And that's a growing theme that the systems that we have placed for the office environment may not the best for high communication flow on the shop floor.

                                    If you're pulling data off a machine tool you'd probably want a slightly different infrastructure for that. So, it's fascinating both on the issue of the breach issue that they had and able to contain it to one system and all the goobers around us are like-

Stephen LaMarca:         And the goobers have no idea what's going on. "Let's just buy all the gas." Dude, the nice guy's phone must be blowing up right now.

Benjamin Moses:          Yeah. And the nicest, probably having some very interesting conversations about this. So, Steve, let's kick it off with some articles, man. I got a good one on a soft hand wrote robots. So at first, when I read this, I was thinking soft robotics, pneumatic systems, very flexible systems. So, the article gets into high dexterity end of arm tooling. So that was the interesting nuance about this, where the company is actually called software bot, software robots, soft robotics, sorry. And the cool takeaway is that they're able to manipulate food beverages, very delicate equipment without damaging the equipment. So, damaging the article. So, they have a gripper that they use the pickup cereal bars without damaging them, which is some sort of ours are fairly delicate, which I find interesting. And their pick rate is up to 60 pieces per minute, which was fairly good. Once a second and that's moving along pretty well.

Stephen LaMarca:         Yeah. And that's really cool because like, 60 pieces per minute, you said? And it was cool because a human can do, might be able to do faster than that if they're fully trained. Maybe right before lunch, but I bet you that drops after lunch. And it's probably different on a Friday. It's nice that with this kind of robot, you can get really nice consistency and a never ending energy out of it, seemingly.

Benjamin Moses:          And the second use case is, everyone can agree that they're good, but I wouldn't say it's directly applicable in manufacturing. So, they're picking up marshmallow bunnies and they've got up to 300 picks per minute. If you look at a scale and you know what the application is, dexterity and delicate parts that robots are able to get into as a new market. I think, this shows kind of a new use case, new horizon where people are concerned. Am I going to crush this part? It's a very valid concern. I used to work on parts where you had to measure in the unrestrained condition because they're so flexible. You actually had to just lay it on the table and kind of measure it as is. If you use contact measurement equipment, you had to be careful about the force you're actually applying on the part where it could elastically deform it, but throw off your measurement. So, I find this as very reassuring for companies that are doing some delicate parts, very small parts, things that be broken easily.

Stephen LaMarca:         Yeah. It's to get the gentle touch out of a row of a human out of a robot is a daunting task. And it's cool that we're actually getting some headway towards it.

Benjamin Moses:          Absolutely. You've got some article on, was it 3D-printed wood? Is that-

Stephen LaMarca:         Yeah. This cool startup called Forust appropriately named forest, but spelled differently, F-O-R-U-S-T. This company 3D-prints wood parts, and it's more than just squirting out a machine squirting out a [celery 00:09:37] of wood glue and sawdust. They are reusing, recycling sawdust because, you typically think of a lot of woodworking as subtractive manufacturing. But, these guys are printing wood parts, recycling sawdust. And, you're getting your complex geometries that you can get with additive manufacturing, but they do it in such a way that as they're printing the parts, you can actually get the surface finish and the wood grain structure of a piece of wood like a natural piece of wood as if it was cut that way. So, it's something really special. It's cool to look forward.

                                    I keep an eye out for Forust in the news. And I just, one of the first things that I thought of was, Okay, there's so many other materials right now that we can do additive with like ... I remember a couple of years ago when a university was 3D-printing parts out of glass, which was really cool and it seems natural, but you've got the popular plastic and plastics are evolving and of course, metal additive is going to take over, eventually. But, having a bespoke made fancy geometry parts, 3D-printed out of wood, I really want to design my own bespoke fit to my hand shift knob for my car out of some fine walnut with an internal lattice structure and just send it to them. But, oh. And that reminds me, I should mention before we move on to the next article that they're starting out as manufacturing as a service. So, you ship them designs and they'll send you back a wooden part, which is really cool, but they do plan on actually selling printers as a product.

Benjamin Moses:          I really like that because the next article, it talks about kind of going to more green processes and being ... I've always been concerned about recovery of waste products. So, sawdust is very interesting to me that we cut so much in the world, in general. We cut so much wood. Even in my garage, I was doing a little project with my home theater system, trying to Jerry rig the projector screen where I was cutting wood. And I was like, "How does everybody want me to do with this site?" I can't do anything with this, but being able to recover and do something with that, either the energy or waste product is very fascinating. And I think, there's a lot of opportunities in general, for example, cars.

                                    We use turbochargers to-

Stephen LaMarca:         Recycle exhaust gas.

Benjamin Moses:          ... recycle exhaust gas. It's exactly why we're using recovery systems in hybrid engines to charge a battery. So, our ability to recapture this, theoretically, lost energy and put it back into, even at a low efficiency as a starting point is really a great feature state. I hope to see more industries take part in. I really understood to see if that gets more adoption. And, if I look around the house, there's so much, I have so much wood furniture, my bedpost. That'd be fascinating to see the bedpost for my bed to see if that could be 3D-printed or very unique design where ... that could be a [crosstalk 00:13:11].

Stephen LaMarca:         Absolutely. It's not making stuff out of wood pulp is new, cause it's not. I mean, particle board and mdf, I think, as what people call it, it has been around forever, but it's never been done in complex geometry shapes, which is really going to be cool. I don't want to be that negative guy. And I'm sure that they have an answer for it. And I'm sure there's an answer for it in the article, but I don't want to be that kind of pessimist. But I am curious as to what are fire hazards like with sawdust, because I'm sure, that's one of the common concerns to anybody who's ever owned a wood shop is, sawdust can actually be quite dangerous.

Benjamin Moses:          Yeah, absolutely. And I was watching some YouTube, which I've been doing in the past year and a half by now, every day, all day. And this guy has a woodworking shop and he has heaters in his garage. Sawdust could be very flammable in that environment. And you raise an interesting concern with 3D printing in general, the raw materials feel very dangerous at some point, especially, not even especially, but powdered metals. You have inhalation issues. You've got potentially explosive issues with some of the materials. If you're melt, if you're using plastics, you have outgassing issues as you're melting the plastic. You need to create that clean environment. So, I think in general, 3D printing has a lot of work to do to educate the consumer or in this case, if it just gets you more or the market of the health risks that they need to keep an eye out for.

Stephen LaMarca:         And while that does seem a disadvantage, I'm sure when it comes to 3D printing would using sawdust, I'm sure a lot of the concerns with 3D printing sawdust have actually already had a good start taken towards them in solving them. Because, I mean, it's one thing to think of sawdust as being flammable and causing a fire hazard. But, the other thing is, what happens if it starts raining? You're in the middle of printing something. It's raining, you got the windows open and the humidity changes. Do you now need to worry about your part warping? I'm not trying to sound negative for this company. I want 3D-printed wood parts. This is awesome. And again, I'm sure they've thought of these things and I'd be curious to hear what the answer is.

                                    But it's just, there's a lot to consider with additive seems magic in a lot of cases, but there are a lot of problems with it. As you know, we've found out, studying this stuff for however many years it's been now, but they're solving and I can't wait to see what it's going to look like. For example, the next SFF, solid free form foundation or whatever it is. A [symposium 00:16:13], I don't know.

Benjamin Moses:          Yeah. It's free form symposium over in Texas.

Stephen LaMarca:         Yeah, that's it. SFS.

Benjamin Moses:          Yeah. So, I don't know if I brought a [inaudible 00:16:21] this scenario before, but you'd be surprised how important the environmental conditions are for manufacturing, in general. So, we'd talk about a lot of use cases and using machine tools, but if you get into welding or joining processes. My old job, we did welding and joining of a super alloys, high temperature super alloys. And it was class A welds or a class A welds where either had to do for us a [inaudible 00:16:48] inspection, or you had to do x-ray sub-surface inspection. So, fairly difficult and fairly critical parts. And we're getting a wave of rejections. One point, we add a lot of prosody, a lot of defects, a lot of issues, welding, these parts that we're catching inspection.

                                    And, we realized that over a couple of days, that there was a frequency when this was occurring and it was occurring when someone was leaving the back door open to the welding area. It wasn't in someone's booth. Their booth is fairly far away, but when they would leave that back door open, would introduce all this high velocity air into the environment where it was throwing debris and causing issues with the backing gas and the torches and things like that. So, it was fairly interesting and normally would have, I don't think no one would've thought that you'd have welding issues from having a door open, but, the criticality of your environment is so important.

Stephen LaMarca:         Absolutely. And especially so in additive, pretty much every time I've been to Space Gum, somebody is talking about the beauties and the benefits of additive manufacturing in space. Well, in space, fire hazards are the biggest and greatest hazards you can have can have. So, I doubt you'll ever see wood 3D printing in space.

Benjamin Moses:          Unless they're printing outside the ship to space printing. The next article I've got is, GKN produces Rolls-Royce engine compressor case using 3D printing technology. Now [crosstalk 00:18:31], I'm going to throw a little shade on 3dprintingindustry.com because the title is a little misleading compared to what they did, but let's back up a little bit. So, Rolls-Royce has been pushing, it's called ultra fan engine. And what they're trying to do is meet clean sky initiatives in Europe. So, they're trying to reduce CO2 emissions-

Stephen LaMarca:         And noise, right? You mentioned noise.

Benjamin Moses:          Yep. And a significant amount. I think, they're trying to get to 25% better efficiencies, overall. And we're talking about turbo fans in this case. So, a 140-inch diameter fan blades, very large, bigger than, from here to the basketball hoop, fan blades. So, these are large jumble jet fans. And then, the takeaway from the articles that, I think, these high efficiencies that they're shooting for require a fairly unique, fairly progressive manufacturing techniques to achieve these unique shapes. So, in this case, they have an [intermediate 00:19:33] compressor case. So, on the front end, you've got your compressor. Then you have combustion in the middle and then I'm sorry, combustion and then turbine section on the back end. So, the compressor, you could have up to 30 stages, the low stage, intermediate stage and a high stage. And in a high stage, you're approaching 600 PSI of pressure at that point, very high temperatures.

                                    But in the intermediate case, they have a cast intermediate case that was manufactured traditional means. And then they have some of the attachments that were bolted onto that, or help secure it to the rest of the casing that were additively made. And, their goal is to shoot for 25% more fuel efficient from this engine. So, that was very fascinating look of ... Aerospace seems fairly progressive of adapting additive as a technology and seeing the progression into engine components where it's fairly critical components and the value that their harnessing. So, every 1%, 2% that they can save on fuel efficiency, that's significant dollar back in their pocket. So, go flying the England might be fairly economical in the future because it's fairly expensive for some odd reason or even Germany, for some odd reason, recently. I think that's a great look at what they call sustainable air travel in the years to come. So-

Stephen LaMarca:         It's really cool, but what's up?

Benjamin Moses:          Let's talk about, so we got to start flying. Let's talk about, you got an article on the world's lightest objects.

Stephen LaMarca:         Yeah. I figured we close with this article. I had a lot of fun with it. It's a listicle. It's been a while since we've got a good listicle, either on here or in the tech report. So, it was to my pleasure when I saw this one come across my screen. But this article is from a 24/7 Wall St. and it's titled, The 20 Lightest Objects in the World. And you can file this article, this listicle under light reading for material science.

Benjamin Moses:          Awesome.

Stephen LaMarca:         And at first you think, okay. Once you get into the list, once you start at number 20, which I believe, is the lightest car ever made, which surprisingly, and to my surprise, is not a race car. It's an actual production car, but well, say calling it a production car might be a stretch, but it starts with a car and they start with kind of everyday objects. And it's just like, this is the lightest make and model of this type of object out there.

                                    And it's mostly, a lot of these companies or people who were just going after Guinness World Book records or world record, and they certainly got it because some of them were really impressive, like the world's latest bicycle and world's smallest and lightest cell phone, or some of the examples at the beginning of the list. And right around the middle of the list, you get into the real meat that we would care about when it comes to actual manufacturing materials. There's, I think, two mentions, two or three mentions of graphene, and two or three mentions of aerogel. And, honestly, aerogel is such an exotic material, even more so than I'd say graphene for that matter. I didn't realize there was more than one type of aerogel, but the graphene was cool because, apparently, there is a naturally-occurring form and it might be pretty loose, but there's a naturally occurring form of graphene in the lightest wood in the world.

                                    And, we constantly think of the lightest wood as being balsa wood, which technically is the lightest wood that has any sort of structural value. But there is a lighter wood that is very close to being graphene, which is kind of wild. But, naturally, number one, the lightest object in the world is a photon, which really pleased my physics background because it's a light. It doesn't have any mass, whatsoever. It has energy, but has no mass. And then, the top five were all subatomic particles of the standard model, which was really cool. And one of them was the lightest quark of subatomic particles. The lights quark is the up quark. And just as a quick sidebar and kind of like fun fact that I really had a lot of fun telling people is that, all those subatomic particles, especially quarks, they come in pairs because they need an equal and opposite version of itself.

                                And so, the up quark's opposite is the down quark. And there's another type of quark called the top and its opposite is the bottom. And when they were discovering all these quarks, one of them that they discovered was moving and acting irradically and they observed it and they had no idea what they were doing and so, naturally, they called it the strange. And when they found it's opposite, they figured the opposite of strange is charming. So they called the opposite of that, the charming quark. But thank you for letting me nerd out on some physics real quick, but this article is really fun and it gets into some really cool materials.

Benjamin Moses:          And, I do enjoy those articles. It does stress my memory of old college days, trying to recall all the different physics class that I've taken. So, that was great. And I really like the naming convention. I mean, I assume physicists are intelligent, but, originality may not be up there up their alley. But, I mean, that's fun. I appreciate that. And, it's funny because we were talking about the lightest objects and the car that I just ... I've been chasing after a light car for a long time. So, the first car that I bought was a Volkswagen Golf. And, once I realized I'm fairly handy modifying car, I just started stripping everything out of that car. It was a four door. I took out the back seats. I changed the racing seats in the front, trying to make it as light as possible. It's a Volkswagen Golf. There's so much you can do. So I think, the stock weight was maybe 3,500, 3,300 pounds. I was as able to strip out maybe 250 pounds out of that, which-

Stephen LaMarca:         [crosstalk 00:26:23] under three K.

Benjamin Moses:          Definitely.

Stephen LaMarca:         That's awesome.

Benjamin Moses:          And I didn't notice a few improvements in the drag strip. Then I moved up to the BMW, which is inherently going to be heavier. And now, I've got the world's heaviest car.

Stephen LaMarca:         At least it feels like it.

Benjamin Moses:          It pushes around so much. Oh man, I feel bad because I've strayed away so much from when I first got into cars, but it's such a fun car for the convenience of having four full doors and being able to set a seat for people, for normal adults.

Stephen LaMarca:         Someday, I will be right there with you.

Benjamin Moses:          So, thanks, Steve. This is a great episode. I appreciate the topics. Where can people find more info about us?

Stephen LaMarca:         They can find more about us at amtonline.org/resources.

Benjamin Moses:          Awesome. Bye everybody.

Stephen LaMarca:         Bye.

Benjamin Moses
Director, Technology
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