Ryobi recalls batteries due to overheating issues

Previously on this blog, we've reported on companies struggling with thermal management technologies, particularly when battery complications lead to overheating in certain devices. Boeing's failure to address such concerns on its 787 Dreamliner was one of the most publicized cases of this in recent memory.

After running into similar concerns, tool manufacturer One World Technologies, which owns Ryobi, has been forced to recall a number of its devices when reports of overheating in its rechargeable lithium 18 V 4Ah battery packs first emerged.

According to a report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the South Carolina-based company received four reports of charging batteries reaching unsafe temperatures, causing the component to "burst" in some instances. The defective batteries can create burn and fire hazards in such instances, although no injuries have been reported.

These incidents show why it is vital for companies to invest into thermal management technologies and to put adequate resources into testing such devices before they're made available to consumers. While Boeing and Ryobi are currently scrambling to deal with the ramifications of their recalls and to get their products back onto the market, the true damage may come down the road.

In addition to forcing customers to return a purchased product, or in Boeing's case, abandon the use of a certain model of airplane, companies that recall products are dealt a heavy blow to their reputations. When a company recalls a product, they force consumers to question how safe their products are to use. That reluctance may be the difference for a customer to make the switch to another product.

Because of this, it should come to no surprise that many successful companies are putting more resources into thermal management technologies and developing safe methods of bonding battery terminals, so as to avoid the over heating concerns that have plagued Boeing and Ryobi.

Automotive regulators must prepare for new technologies

In a market where new alternative energy technologies are constantly in development and companies are in a perpetual state of competition for the newest innovation, automobile manufacturers have released a bevy of new technologies in recent years, some of which fall under vague classifications for government regulators. Such is the case right now for many car producers with the latest developments in LED-headlight technologies.

According to a story on ExtremeTech.com, it may take some time for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to approve the latest headlight designs from foreign manufacturers, such as the new designs from Audi. The headlights, which are based on more complex LED matrices instead of one simple halogen headlight, offer more precise lighting for the driver as well as less glare for cars heading in the opposite direction. While these advancements are a positive for drivers, the headlights also possess more complicated outputs to attach to the car, making it difficult for producers in the U.S. to incorporate them into North American models. The main challenge on that front comes not from the development of the outputs, but the process through which the NHTSA must approve such new elements for vehicles.

"When government is uncertain about a new product or technology, it often chooses to move cautiously," Bill Howard wrote in the story for ExtremeTechnology. "That's good if it's a prescription acne drug that might cause cancer. With car lighting, the benefits (fewer accidents) probably outweigh the drawbacks."

It's an unfortunate circumstance for manufacturers, especially when such technologies can do so much good for transportation in America. Regardless, it's up to companies like S-Bond to continue to develop new advancements for automobiles, especially in terms of alternative energy technologies, in the hopes that continued improvements will force government regulators to catch up to what's available on the market.

Keeping smart phones cool in a heated competition

As the smart phone market becomes increasingly crowded and competitive, manufacturers are constantly jockeying for the edge in their phone's specs that will push their newest model to the forefront of the market. The biggest showdown in the industry today has emerged between the increasingly popular Samsung Galaxy line and Apple's iPhone. The rivalry between the two companies, though, has focused heavily on screen size rather than the device's features in recent months, with Apple struggling to keep up with its competitors.

Later this month, Samsung is expected to release the Galaxy S4, which will reportedly feature a 4.99-inch screen. Meanwhile, Apple has made attempts to avoid falling behind its competitors with a 4.8-inch screen on its own phone. However, manufacturers have struggled to incorporate the larger screen into iPhone.

Cases such as these are evidence that, even though a company has a design for the newest, groundbreaking phone in mind, the actual production of the device is not so simple. Manufacturers must always consider realities of creating safe and functional hardware, such as dealing with thermal management technologies, while still retaining optimal processing power and features. 

This puts an extraordinary amount of pressure on companies, which are expected to make frequent upgrades to their existing products, with lofty standards placed on the features of each new phone. However, with each new development, there must be corresponding modifications to the device that allow it to handle the increased power. For example, the development of larger screens and more powerful processors is just as important as creating heat sinks that can withstand the increased stress placed upon the device.

While cell phone manufacturers are tasked with the implementation of new features in their new phones, it falls to companies such as S-Bond to develop thermal management solutions that allow such powerful devices to function in such a small package.

Once again, DARPA encourages private sector to innovate thermal management technologies

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the research and development arm of the Pentagon. It is responsible not only for some truly mind-blowing technological breakthroughs with both military and civilian applications, but also for facilitating private industry innovation and collaboration. In keeping with that tradition, DARPA has announced a formal solicitation for advanced thermal management technologies as part of a new initiative called ICECool.

The goal is to demonstrate innovative and efficient cooling techniques for “high-performance embedded computing (HPEC) and RF monolithic microwave integrated circuit (MMIC) power amplifiers with connective or evaporative microfluidic cooling built directly into the electronic devices and packaging.”

“Essentially, DARPA scientists want to make cooling just as important as any other aspect of chip design, and use embedded thermal management [technologies] to enhance the performance of military electronics,” according to an article in Military & Aerospace Electronics. “Integrating chips with convective or evaporative microfluidic cooling, DARPA officials say, has the potential to speed the evolution of advanced chip integration.”

As the news source points out, one significant hurdle manufacturers have faced in terms of thermal management of electronics is the size and weight of cooling subsystems. Advanced cooling techniques, including but not limited to ones that incorporate thermal management systems directly into chip architecture, are vital for the success of military and private industry initiatives.

With leading minds in both the government and private sector constantly searching for that next big breakthrough, the resulting innovations have the potential to revolutionize the way we build all manner of equipment and how it is put to use in a wide range of applications.

Thermal management technologies and the economics of advanced manufacturing

In a recent article for Ideas Laboratory, Willy Shih, a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, discussed the economic factors affecting innovation in today’s advanced manufacturing landscape.

Since the end of World War II, industries have been moving toward the “electrification of factories,” abandoning the steam- and water-powered mechanical systems of yesterday. As this paradigm shift took place, thermal management technologies became critical in facilitating this change and improving process efficiency.

Oftentimes, when we think of thermal management of electronics, we have in mind heat sinks that keep our laptop computers from overheating, or systems that allow each generation of smartphone to be more powerful than the last without dying in the midst of critical tasks. However, the consumer products we take for granted every day would never reach store shelves if it weren’t for the technologies that power the manufacturing facilities themselves.

“The recognition of the amount of energy that can be saved by replacing belt drives and hydraulic systems with electric drives equipped with power semiconductor controls is spawning many innovative new approaches,” Shih wrote. “One engineer at a factory I visited recently told me that higher vehicle fuel economy standards forced them to break out of their established way of doing things. New approaches were their only hope for hitting the target. This is driving major innovation in the automotive sector.”

Simply put, were it not for technologies developed specifically for dealing with thermally conductive materials, manufacturing facilities everywhere would be decades behind where they are today. Think of these breakthroughs as calculators, and their predecessors as the equivalent of solving every equation in your head. Which one is more efficient and allows you to focus your energy on new innovations?

GPU Technology Conference focuses on design and engineering innovation

In a little more than one month, leading minds from a wide range of industries will come together for the annual NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference. The goal of the three-day event running from March 18 to March 21 in San Jose, California, is to discuss how GPU computing technologies can fuel innovation in design and manufacturing processes.

Everything from mobile computing to cloud solutions and the growing power of supercomputers will be on the table. Specific focuses will include improving efficiency throughout each leg of the product development life cycle and using photo-realistic renderings to minimize the need for building numerous physical prototypes.

However, there are several other innovative technologies without which such a conference would not exist. State-of-the-art thermal management of electronics techniques and active solder solutions are essential before any of the previously mentioned systems can be put to use. They allow products in all of these industries to be built and maintained in the first place.

Computers powerful enough to handle the high-quality, real-time visual simulations manufacturers would need to reduce their reliance on physical prototypes will generate significant amounts of heat – as will mobile devices tasked with increasingly complex functions. Thermal management technologies are the building blocks on which the innovations of countless industries stand.

Last week, Italy’s “Eurora” supercomputer set a record for data center energy efficiency, according to an NVIDIA GPU release.

“Advanced computer simulations that enable scientists to discover new phenomena and test hypotheses require massive amounts of performance, which can consume a lot of power,” said Sanzio Bassini, director of HPC Department at the Cineca facility in Bologna, Italy.

With more power typically comes more heat. For that reason, thermal management will always be critical in any sector reliant on electronics.

New satellite initiative hinges on thermal management technologies

Cutting-edge thermal management technologies are being sought by the research and development arm of the Pentagon in an effort to salvage usable components from decommissioned satellites currently orbiting the Earth.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is spearheading the program known as Phoenix.

“The goal of the Phoenix program is to develop and demonstrate technologies to cooperatively harvest and reuse valuable components from retired, nonworking satellites in [geosynchronous orbit] and demonstrate the ability to create new space systems at greatly reduced cost,” the agency said in a press statement. “Phoenix seeks to demonstrate around-the-clock, globally persistent communication capability for warfighters more economically, by robotically removing and re-using GEO-based space apertures and antennas from decommissioned satellites in the graveyard or disposal orbit.”

According to DARPA’s official outline of the Phoenix program, there are a number of areas in which they are looking for innovative technologies that can help the project succeed. This includes a wide range of extremely powerful micro-electronic components and memory storage systems. These must be able to withstand the various forms of radiation commonly found in space.

Between the radiation and the heat generated by the components themselves, DARPA is placing significant emphasis on the need for thermal management of electronics technologies that are up to the challenge. Then – equipped with a series of sensors, diagnostic and robotic tools – very small satellites, dubbed “satlets,” can assess parts of decommissioned satellites and recover them for use in other active ones.

If successful, we could see myriad benefits, from improved connectivity for military personnel in the field to drastically reduced costs associated with global satellite communications.

Qualcomm head talks future of wireless and mobile technologies

Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs recently sat down with Bloomberg Businessweek’s Charlie Rose to discuss the past, present and future of mobile computing. According to Jacobs, 5 billion smartphones will be sold worldwide between now and 2016 – and none of that would be possible without innovative thermal management technologies.

Jacobs reminisced about the early days of mobile computing and how Steve Jobs, the late co-founder, CEO and visionary that built the Apple empire, served as its catalyst. Now, the future potential of such personal electronic devices is staggering.

“Then I look out even farther into the future and I say, boy, this wireless technology is going to be an enabling technology for a lot of other industries,” he told the news source. “And one of the areas that we’re really focused on is [healthcare]. The idea is that the phone is going to sit at the center of a web of sensors that you’ll have on your body. You may actually even have them inside your body.”

Jacobs went on to offer some hints at a new technology being worked on that would actually place sensors inside a human being’s blood stream and provide early warnings of possible health complications like heart attacks.

Whatever the future holds, Jacobs is right about at least one thing. Wireless technology is indeed an enabling technology. The paradigm-shifting innovations that have been made in the development of semiconductors and the soldering solutions that allow them to be pack a powerful punch into such small devices affects virtually every industry today.

Cutting-edge thermal management of electronics allows them to deliver unparalleled computing power in the palm of one’s hand. As leading minds in the industrial sciences continue to make breakthroughs, wireless and mobile technology will not only continue to enable advancements in existing markets, but likely lead to the creation of entirely new industries.

Battery thermal management problems plague Boeing Dreamliners, force emergency landing in Japan

In recent weeks, the newest Boeing 787 passenger jets have encountered several problems that have prompted aviation officials across the globe to ground them until these issues can be resolved. Paramount among the concerns seems to be thermal management technologies used in the lithium ion batteries onboard the aircraft.

One such jet was forced to make an emergency landing in Japan Thursday due to a swollen and overheated battery beneath the cockpit, according to the Associated Press. Crew members detected a burning smell, which was later traced to an electrical room where there were visible burn marks and electrolyte fluids that had leaked from the battery.

GS Yuasa Corp., which manufacturers the batteries for Boeing, told the AP that it has not been officially determined if the problem lies with the battery, the power source or the electrical system. In the meantime, nearly all of the 50 Boeing 787s, dubbed Dreamliners, have been taken out of commission around the world. Authorities in the United States, Japan and several European nations have mandated that the jets be grounded until their investigations are completed.

We often talk about thermal management of electronics when it comes to smartphones and computers. In those devices, overheating is an inconvenience. But, in a passenger jet, hundreds of lives may literally hang in the balance if the most efficient technologies are not employed.

Francesco Ciucci, a mechanical engineering professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, expressed his surprise to the news source that such “thermal mismanagement” could happen on board a Boeing jet in this day and age – especially considering the advancements that have been made in recent years.

S-Bond Technologies has developed active solder technology to bond many advanced thermal management materials that have application for cooling batteries, electronics and LEDs, which are all being used more and more in aircraft like the Boeing Dreamliner.

With thermal management technologies, fuel-efficient “urban” SUV possible

The recent Consumer Electrics Show (CES), a highly attended trade show for the electronics industry held this year in Las Vegas, introduced a number of new devices and gadgets that could revolutionize the way consumers interact with media. These electronics are being designed in smaller sizes for increased mobility, a reality that requires the application of sophisticated thermal management technologies to prevent device overheating.

However, small electronics are not the only innovative devices that rely on thermal management for improved efficiency. Another trade show – the ongoing North American International Auto Show, held in Detroit – was the site of the unveiling of an automobile concept that applies thermal management in a way that mitigates excessive fuel consumption.

According to a report from FleetOwner, automobile manufacturer Honda revealed its new Urban SUV Concept at the auto show this week. The vehicle is shorter than most standard SUVs, and Honda designed it that way specifically to serve potential motorists in urban environments.

SUVs are notoriously difficult to navigate in the city, but Honda hopes its new concept – expected to be launched in Japan by the end of this year and in the U.S. in 2014 – will catch on as an option for city dwellers. The manufacturer reengineered its fuel tank layout to ensure it did not need to sacrifice interior seating to accommodate the vehicle's smaller size, and the report notes Honda has deployed a number of technologies – including thermal management – to ensure maximum fuel efficiency.

That could appeal to the better instincts of urban commuters, many of whom might be initially hesitant to drive an SUV in an environment in which many opt to take public transportation to save on gas. Though thermal management technologies helped make this achievement possible, it remains to be seen if Honda can carve a niche in this discerning market.