Honda to begin bonding aluminum to steel in door panels

After initially struggling with figuring out how to bond aluminum and steel without encountering corrosion issues, Honda has announced that it will be incorporating aluminum into door panels in its models.

In an effort to lower the overall weight of its vehicles to increase fuel efficiency, Honda revealed that it is using a revolutionary new "3-D lock seam" weld that allows them to bond steel and aluminum in the door panels by folding the seam back over and hemming it twice. The automobile manufacturer has been making an effort to use aluminum, which is significantly lighter than steel, in as many instances as it can in new models. According to Honda, the inclusion of aluminum in the production of door panels will lower the weight of the component by 17 percent. The first car to feature this new element will be the North American version of the Acura RLX.

Honda's struggles with the process are no different from any manufacturer that attempts to incorporate methods for joining dissimilar metals into its production process, with common problems including corrosion and attempting to deal with how two different metals handle temperature changes. The latter issue is why thermal management technologies are so important in any production process, so as to deal with the different expansion and retraction rates in the metals, a process that can wreak havoc on any bonding method.

Companies such as S-Bond will be instrumental in the effort to incorporate lighter metals such as aluminum into vehicles without sacrificing the strength and stability that steel provides in a car's frame, but not just in doors. So while Honda appears to have succeeded in figuring out how to bond aluminum in this one particular instance, a bevy of challenges remain for companies attempting to find uses and methods of joining dissimilar metals.

USC researchers announce new battery design with triple the lifespan

By using a breakthrough design for lithium batteries that eliminates one of the main factors for deterioration, particularly in the current generations of lithium-silicon cells, researchers at the University of Southern California have developed a new battery model that boasts vastly improved longevity as well as shortened charging times, as a report published in Nano Research shows.

The revolutionary batteries will be available for use in small electronic devices, cars and everything in between. They will reportedly have triple the life of a conventional graphite-based battery and can be charged in just 10 minutes, according to a release from the University.

The research group, led by USC Viterbi School of Engineering professor Chongwu Zhou, was comprised of a team of graduate students who worked to come up with a solution to a problem faced by nearly all silicon-based batteries on the market today. Currently, the anodes of batteries consist of microscopic-thin sheets of metal – silicon in the case of many newer batters – and create a current by passing lithium ions through the sheets.

However, when the ions pass through the sheets, they force the metal to expand and shrink and, over time, break down. According to the Nano Research report, the USC team scrapped the idea of using sheets all together, instead using a silicon and titanium-based nanotube array structure "that is much more conducive to letting the ions pass through it than the solid sheets.

"It's an exciting research. It opens the door for the design of the next generation lithium-ion batteries," said Zhou, who was instrumental in the design of the arrays, which are less than 100 nanometers wide.

The newly developed array for the battery, which involves both silicon and titanium-based substances, is an example of how bonding dissimilar metals is a vital aspect of developing new energy technologies. Companies such as S-Bond that specialize in the creation of these components will be critical in driving future advances in the industry.

NASA engineers working on lunar excavation robot

Engineers at NASA are developing what they call a blue collar robot that could be the next big step toward a lunar resource processing plant.

The Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot, or RASSOR (pronounced like “razor”), is being designed to excavate soil from the Moon’s surface and then deposit it into a device that would extract water, ice and various chemicals to produce everything from rocket fuel to breathable air for astronauts.

If successful, this would greatly reduce payload weights because many resources could be cultivated on the Moon’s surface rather than transported from Earth. Consequently, the fuel requirements and costs for space missions would see significant reductions.

Paramount to the project’s success is NASA’s ability to build a robot that is “light and small enough to fly on a rocket, but heavy enough to operate in gravity lower than that of Earth.” This is where innovative methods of joining dissimilar metals come into play.

“The lighter you make your robot, the more difficult it is to do this excavating,” said A.J. Nick, an engineer on the RASSOR team.

Positioned at each end of the robot’s body are digging bucket drums whose weight offset one another. In order for them to be able to move as needed and hold 40 pounds of lunar soil at a time, metal joining methods that result in a lightweight body without sacrificing strength and durability are essential.

NASA has already run tests on an initial prototype and is currently at work on a RASSOR 2, which an agency press release says will undergo testing sometime in early 2014.

Antarctic research station built to withstand harsh conditions, slide across ice

With the constant hammering snow and shifting ice, Antarctic scientific research stations are always being battered and beaten. But, with a little ingenuity and innovative metal joining methods, British researchers hope their new construct will succeed where others have failed.

Paul Seagrove, a spokesman for the British Antarctic Survey, told R&D Magazine that five stations, all located on what is described as a “floating sheet of ice about 10 miles from the edge of the South Atlantic,” have faced these extreme weather conditions over the years. Most of them were crushed under the weight of the unrelenting snow, while the last one had to be abandoned for fear that the ice sheet was about to split and the station would be lost in the frigid waters.

However, Halley VI, the designation of the latest facility to be built on the Brunt Ice Shelf, is a bit different than its predecessors. According to the news source, it “looks like something out of a ‘Star Wars’ movie.”

The station consists of a series of four-legged modules, each connected via enclosed walkways. The entire structure sits atop “ski-clad stilts” measuring roughly 13 feet tall. These serve to keep the station elevated above the level of the ice, and the whole facility can then be towed to a different location after disconnecting the modules if shifting ice or other factors threaten safety.

As the article explained, Halley VI took four years to complete because engineers only had a very limited window within which to work – the 9-week-long Antarctic summer. In such situations, cutting-edge joining methods for metal are critical for a project’s success. Workers have little room for error and must deal with severe time constraints. They rely on technologies that are efficient and can stand the test of time in harsh environments.

Without innovative ways of joining dissimilar metals, building a structure of this size that can be moved amidst savage snow and shifting ice would be impossible.

Aluminum soldering techniques help build anti-piracy robot

Thanks in part to highly effective aluminum soldering techniques, a state-of-the-art robot could help save the lives of Naval officers boarding vessels that are suspected of smuggling, embargo violations or piracy, according to Popular Mechanics.

The Stingray weighs about three pounds and can be used by U.S. Navy Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) teams to avoid potentially deadly booby traps or assaults by a ship’s crew. It is made of a carbon-fiber and aluminum chassis and can be tossed down the “ladder of death” into the depths of a vessel before sailors themselves make the descent.

Made to be extremely durable and waterproof, the Stingray can be tossed from one compartment to the next without being damaged, so its video camera can alert the VBSS team of any obstacles or hostiles in the area. It is even equipped with a strobing light that can be used to simulate the visual disorientation one would feel with a flashbang grenade.Then, the team would have a tactical advantage over any adversaries planning to engage them in combat.

“It functions similarly to flashbang grenades, without the audio portion, but is reusable,” Hoa Nguyen, one of the Stingray’s developers from the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, told the news source. “It is meant to temporarily blind the hostile personnel in a confined, dark space.”

By understanding advanced techniques of how to bond aluminum to other materials, researchers were able to build a robotic system that will help save American military lives and make international waters safer from pirates, smugglers and their ilk.

As we continue to innovate new ways of joining dissimilar metals and various other substances, the potential for saving lives will grow exponentially.

Manufacturing industry awaits fiscal cliff resolution

Manufacturing in the New York region, including the northern New Jersey and southern Connecticut areas, declined for a fifth straight month in December, according to a recent Bloomberg article. While there exists a healthy optimism about the future of manufacturing in that region over the next six months due to increased consumer spending, the future seems to hinge on the resolution of the fiscal cliff controversy in Washington, D.C.

"The biggest challenge for manufacturing is lack of confidence due to uncertainty in fiscal policy," Tom Simons, an economist at Jefferies Group Inc. in New York, told the news source. "That is slowing down activity. There are reasons for manufacturing to come back but it's going to be a couple of months before we start to see the acceleration."

More than $600 billion in tax increases and budget cuts are set to go into effect in 2013 if lawmakers cannot reach a resolution. The outcome of the ongoing negotiations between Democrats and Republicans on the Hill will directly impact manufacturing, not just in the Tri-State area, but throughout the U.S. and international markets as well.

While a resolution to the fiscal cliff debate that avoids such tax increases and budget cuts would clearly be favorable to the industry, manufacturers must be prepared for the future regardless of what happens in Washington. Innovative technologies that improve process efficiency, lead to higher-quality products and lower manufacturing costs are essential for these markets to flourish.

Take consumer electronics for example. Aluminum has become a popular material used to create lightweight and portable devices. As such, advanced techniques for soldering aluminum have become highly sought-after. And with sapphire-protected camera lenses on smartphones catching on, manufacturers will benefit greatly from cutting-edge sapphire bonding processes.

One way or another, manufacturers will have to find creative ways to build products no matter what economic situation the country finds itself in.

Drones used to prevent illegal poaching

The African continent is littered with the carcasses of elephants, rhinoceros and other species that poachers are slaughtering to the point of near-extinction. An August 2011 article in Vanity Fair estimated that the elephant population in Africa during the 1970s and 1980s was cut from 1.3 million to roughly 600,000. This time is commonly referred to as the "great elephanticide."

In recent years, it has been estimated that there are 36,500 elephants poached on the continent for their ivory tusks every year. As the article explains, the rapid growth of the middle class in China has placed a premium on ivory and and animal skins, and poachers are all too willing to accommodate the increasing demand.

Johnny Rodrigues, a conservationist in Zimbabwe, told the news source about a watering hole from which all manner of creature drink.

"Elephant, giraffe, zebras, sable, kudu, warthog, baboons, buffalo, even hyenas and jackals – all your different species came, and each took its turn to take a drink," he said. "It was like Noah's Ark. And after all had a drink they came back a second time, each in its turn. And you say to yourself, Why can't humans learn from that? We'd kill each other to get to the water."

Now, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is taking a technology commonly associated with targeted killings and trying to prevent villainous criminals from poaching these majestic animals into extinction.

With a recent infusion of $5 million from Google's Global Giving Awards, the WWF is using unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known today as drones, to monitor and report illegal poaching activities across both Africa and Asia. The idea, according to a recent article in The Atlantic, is to detect and deter this criminal activity. With too few resources and such wide expanses of land, drones can cover ground that conservation and animal rights groups simply cannot.

But, unlike the drones used in military applications, these ones are unarmed. Thanks to state-of-the-art metal joining methods, the unmanned vehicles are lightweight, maneuverable, durable, and possibly a last line of defense for these endangered animals.

Space debris threatens satellites orbiting Earth

We often think of space as a vast expanse of mostly unexplored celestial bodies millions of miles away. It's hard to imagine that one could use the word "cluttered" to describe it. But, that's exactly what it is – at least when it comes to Earth's immediate orbit.

The first satellite launched into space was Russia's Sputnik in 1957. Since then, thousands of others have followed suit, though not all survived intact. According to a video feature for NASA Tech Briefs, there are currently about 700 known active satellites orbiting our planet.

Those vessels are constantly under the threat of impact by the remnants of satellites that are no longer functioning but never fell out of orbit and crashed back to Earth's surface.

As the video's narrator points out, an American satellite was struck by such an object in 2009, destroying the $55 million piece of equipment and creating thousands of new pieces of debris for others to contend with.

"Something has to be done about this problem," said Swiss Space Center Director Volker Gass. "Collisions between satellites and debris are bound to happen, and as one collision multiplies the [amount] of debris and can create up to 2,000 additional [pieces], there is going to be an avalanche effect and more and more satellites are going to be kicked out or destroyed in orbit."

As the threat of impact increases, insurance premiums climb. The average cost to insure an active satellite today is around $20 billion, the news source reports.

In response to this problem, scientists at the Swiss Space Center are developing a new series of satellites that can enter space, use a mechanical arm or other mechanism to retrieve debris and then return safely to Earth, thereby reducing the risk to current and future satellites. The project is called ClearSpace One.

This will likely be the first of many similar projects around the world and, for them to succeed, researchers will rely on innovative methods of joining dissimilar metals to build these devices in order to reduce manufacturing costs and improve stability.

Scientists may be able to “cloak” ocean waves

In the beloved "Star Trek" universe created by the late Gene Roddenberry, several alien races had spaceships with cloaking devices. These would allow them to remain invisible to the enemy until such time as they saw fit to engage in battle.

When cloaked, the ship is still there, you just can't see it anymore. This is the idea behind a new paper presented at the 65th Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics. However, it is being applied to ocean waves in an effort to protect coastal regions from the damaging effects of hurricanes – an issue of particular importance to those on the East Coast still recovering from Hurricane Sandy.

While the science behind this theory is pretty complex, here is the general idea. Ocean waters are separated into layers with cold, heavy waters at the bottom near the sea floor and lighter, warmer ones toward the surface. Waves occur in both layers. By "corrugating," or creating the right structures on the ocean floor, scientists believe they can transform surface waves into internal waves and vice versa.

If they can accomplish this, destructive surface waves that assault coastal areas during powerful storms could be "cloaked," or transformed into internal waves. They would still be there, but now they would be below the water's surface and not doing catastrophic damage to marinas, docks, residential homes and other structures.

Reza Alam, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley and author of the paper, spoke to Phys.org prior to his presentation.

"Cloaking in seas by modifying the floor may play a role in protecting near-shore or offshore structures and in creating shelter for fishermen during storms," Alam said. "In reverse, it can cause the disappearance and reappearance of surface waves in areas where sandbars or any other appreciable bottom variations exist."

Perhaps one day soon innovative methods of hermetic sealing and joining dissimilar metals will be responsible for the equipment used to achieve this goal.

Mars rover Curiosity sends back valuable atmospheric data

A little more than three months ago, the Mars rover Curiosity landed on the surface of the Red Planet. Since then, the data collected and transmitted back to Earth has the world's leading scientists very intrigued.

The goal of the mission is to collect and analyze samples from the planet that will offer insight into its history, how conditions have changed over time, whether or not it could have supported life at any point and what astronauts might encounter on a future manned-mission to Mars.

Two technology systems on Curiosity are currently helping us get a better understanding of each of these areas. The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) instrument uses a series of sensors to collect data about changes in air pressure, wind direction and speed, temperatures and ultraviolet light reaching the surface, according to a NASA press release.

At the same time, Curiosity's Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) is monitoring high-energy radiation that could pose health risks to astronauts. This data could reveal whether or not microbes could survive on Mars, NASA says.

Innovative joining methods for metals have enabled the rover to be outfitted with these and other systems currently strolling the planet's surface. They are also equipped with cutting-edge sensors that are collecting this valuable information for the best and brightest minds of our world to analyze.

Thanks to the work being done today, dreams of space exploration and the adventures science can offer are alive and well in today's youth. As our technologies continue to evolve, the distance between us and Mars will shrink – not in terms of actual miles, but in our minds and what we are capable of achieving.