Zaha Hadid

Building change and freedom

Amber Stokes
3 May 2013

2 min read

Dame Zaha Hadid is internationally recognized as an innovator in avant-garde architecture that interprets the complex life around it.

COMPASS: How did you come to consider architecture as a career?

ZAHA HADID: If you look back to the 1960s when I was growing up in Baghdad, it was a new republic undergoing a moment of nation- building. 

There was a lot of emphasis on architecture. There was a renewed pride in the structure of the city, and the ideas of change, liberation, and freedom of this era were critical to my development. When I was a child I came to Europe every summer with my parents, and my father made sure I went to every museum, mosque and cathedral in sight! I remember going to see the Great Mosque in Cordoba when I was seven years old. It left a tremendous impression on me. Before coming to London to study at the Architectural Association, I studied mathematics at the American University in Beirut. Geometry has a tremendous connection to architecture – even more so now with the advanced computer scripts we use in the office.

What is your source of inspiration for your designs?

ZH: Ultimately, architecture is all about well-being – the creation of pleasant and stimulating settings for all aspects of life. But I think it is also important to ensure that each project provides uplifting experiences that inspire, excite and enthuse.

People ask me, “Why are there no straight lines, why no 90 degrees in your architecture?” This is because life is not made in a grid. If you think of landscape, it’s not even and regular. People go to places of natural beauty and find them very inspirational. I think that one can do that in architecture – so we use the natural landscapes and rhythms of the surrounding urban environments to develop buildings that have a direct relationship with their context.

Zaha Hadid’s design for the Guangzhou Opera House (Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan)

What else influences your designs?

ZH: True avant-garde architecture does not follow fashion or economic cycles – it follows the inherent logic of cycles of innovation generated by social and technological developments. Contemporary society is not standing still, and buildings must evolve with new patterns of life to meet the needs of their users.

I think what is new in our generation is a greater level of social complexity. One of the great challenges for contemporary urbanism and architecture is to move toward architecture for the 21st century: an architecture of flexible specialization that addresses complex work and life processes and the much greater fluidity in careers and corporate organizations.

Where did your inspiration to teach come from, and how do you get the most from your pupils?

ZH: I will always remember the teachers who taught sciences in the nuns’ school I went to in Baghdad. They were all from the university, so the quality of the courses was incredible. The headmistress, who was a nun, was very interested in the education of women. So, in a way, she was a pioneer in that part of the world.

I remember discovering that teaching was also a learning experience for me. It’s not only about what I know, but what my students know as well. It’s reciprocal. You never know what can come out of students when they’re given the opportunity. They just need to be given confidence to do their best, with a degree of freedom.

Are you working on any interesting projects for the future?

ZH: We’re currently working on a multitude of projects worldwide, including national institutions such as the new Central Bank of Iraq headquarters and the new National Stadium of Japan in Tokyo. The rapid developments that computing has brought to architecture are incredible. There is a strong reciprocal relationship whereby our more avant-garde designs encourage the development of new digital technologies and construction techniques, and those new developments in turn inspire us to push the design envelope further.

Learn more about Zaha Hadid

Capturing the power

Ongoing developments indicate wind energy has a future

Rachel Callery

3 min read

Media reports have called into question the future of the wind energy industry. Alina Bakhareva, program manager for Renewable Energy, Europe, in the Energy and Environment Business Practice at Frost & Sullivan, sees past the naysayers and focuses on the wind energy industry’s successes.

COMPASS: Is the wind energy market growing?

ALINA BAKHAREVA: When you compare 38 gigawatts (GW) produced globally in new installations in 2009 to 45 GW in 2012, you can see the growth. Europe, specifically Germany and Spain, saw tremendous growth in 2005-2009. In developing countries, like China and India, there is an upsurge in installed capacity. With a clear goal for clean-tech development in its Five-Year Plan, China has boosted the global market and become Number One in new green installations in 2011 and 2012. The US has vast potential due to its physical size, but it’s a stop-and-go market. When there is a federal credit in place, the market is booming. But when Congress signs an extension at the last moment, it creates a lag.

Does the market still need government support?

AB: Government policy is the key to any new market uptake. In Germany, the breakthrough development was their renewable energy act, Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz (EEG). Since they established feed-in tariffs, introduced by the EEG, they have proven to be the best model to support the industry, entice the investors, and ensure confidence. In every country, there is a critical review of their chosen support mechanism. In the case of Germany and the UK, the government reviews how much support they have given to each type of renewable energy every 1-2 years. They compare the capital cost and operation cost to see how much money they need to budget to make wind energy competitive and attractive to the investors. I believe the balance is right by the mere fact that wind- energy capacity is still growing.

Since wind is intermittent, can it be stored?

AB: Energy storage is the hottest topic at the moment. China, which has by far the most advanced market in grid-code development, is piloting grid-scale energy storage based on lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries (LiBs). The continual solution is a container filled with LiBs (up to 32 megawatts) in a single unit. Whenever you have really high winds you can store that energy and then release it into the grid later, when the demand is big or when not enough energy is being produced by the power-generation companies.

Tell us about the offshore wind market?

AB: Offshore wind is still at a nascent stage where the costs are still high. But as more wind parks are deployed and the experiences are accumulated within the industry, then installation costs will come down. The offshore wind market has a lot to learn from the offshore oil and gas market. It’s a very established industry with good practices in terms of maintenance and operating safely. What needs to be established is how to transfer that knowledge to other marine industries in a more efficient way.

What are the challenges for manufacturers?

AB: At the moment, the competitive pressure is very high. Most of the big project developers won’t consider buying wind turbines from a manufacturer unless they have X amount of megawatts installed in a specific geography. They want to see it operate and deliver in different wind conditions, according to the technical specification sheet. Otherwise, there is little trust in the equipment. The second challenge is the current economic condition. In order to be cost-competitive with conventional power generation, the manufacturers need to make the equipmentlighter and more efficient so that a wind farm as a unit will be more effective in generating electricity.

What is in the future for wind energy?

AB: Many countries are working on how to make the national grid flexible enough to take on the varying amount of energy from a wind power plant and still deliver the same amountof flexibility, safety, and reliability for every user. In Denmark, it is a very easy situation; all they need to do is ask the Norwegians to alter their hydro-power plants, which can start up at any time. Hydro-pump storage is still the most economical solution at the moment because it’s proven and low maintenance.

However, in Turkey, the government has asked that every wind operator forecast its wind energy output 13 hours in advance so they know how much energy can be put on the grid. They are fined if it’s more or less than the forecasted amount. If they attach a storage solution to their wind farm, then they could control their output and match their prediction, but an energy storage solution adds cost. In China, the conditions and very high wind speeds in the North are conducive to wind power development, but the majority of the energy demand is in the South. The solution: China is building a high-voltage-current network grid linking the North to South.

Frost & Sullivan renewable energy expert Alina Bakhareva has research, consulting, and project management experience across a broad range of energy and power markets. Focusing on energy and environmental business,she has performed market assessments for new products and equipment, researched procurement strategies and best practices, and assessed opportunities along the value chain.

Powering up

Meeting the energy needs of the future

Lynn Manning

3 min read

The world’s population has passed 7 billion on its way to 10 billion around 2100, based on estimates from the United Nations. Coupled with increased industrialization in developing countries, this growth guarantees escalating demand for energy. But where will it come from, and in what form? Worldwide, every country is answering that question differently.

Is the energy glass half full or half empty? The answer often depends on who is looking at the glass:

 - The US is now awash in natural gas, but concerns about groundwater pollution and other side effects are on the rise.

 - Since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan nearly caused a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant, residents of Germany have turned against nuclear power.

 - In rapidly industrializing China, reliance on coal-fired energy from older power plants has threatened residents due to the health risks of smog.

From one country to the next, different yardsticks in evaluating the energy mix will dictate extremely different energy policies, depending on affordability, availability, reliability, and environmental concerns.

IT’S NATURAL

The US natural gas boom has created an outlook for the low-priced fuel so positive that some pundits say the country is poised to become “the Saudi Arabia of gas.” However, the industry still faces uncertainties, according to Public Utilities Fortnightly editor Michael Burr. “Concerns over groundwater contamination and the potential seismic effects of fracking could bring stringent regulations at federal, state, and local levels,” he said.

Gas is nevertheless recognized as the “cleanest” of the fossil fuels, able to meet air quality restrictions more easily than coal. “In this gas-price environment, I don’t know how anybody builds base-load capacity that isn’t gas-fired,” David Crane of NRG Energy, which operates one of the largest power-plant fleets in the US, said in Fortnightly’s 2012 CEO Forum. “I don’t know how you justify coal or nuclear.” 

“AS WE NEAR THE END OF THE 21ST CENTURY, OIL AND COAL WILL DIMINISH SLIGHTLY IN IMPORTANCE, AND NATURAL GAS, NUCLEAR AND RENEWABLE WILL GAIN SHARE.” 

DR. SCOTT TINKER
DIRECTOR OF THE BUREAU OF ECONOMIC GEOLOGY AND THE STATE GEOLOGIST OF TEXAS

POWER WITH NUCLEAR

But other countries clearly do believe investment in such sources can be justified, said Ken Barry of the Advanced Nuclear Technology Program at the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute. Barry noted, for example, that 66 nuclear power plants currently are under construction around the globe, led by China, Russia, and India. Another 487 plants are proposed or being planned.

“These countries have evaluated the advantages of nuclear power, as well as the associated challenges, and decided to move forward,” Barry said. “The industry has learned much from the past, and next-generation designs adhere to best practices.” However, nuclear does face political roadblocks in some countries, he noted, particularly over the storage of spent fuel.

WHAT ABOUT COAL?

Despite all the alternatives, coal remains the world’s leading fuel in terms of shares of electricity generation – more than 40% – according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). As IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol wrote in the current World Energy Insight report, coal “remains the backbone of electricity generation and has been the fuel underpinning the rapid industrialization of emerging economies, helping to lift hundreds of millions of people out of energy poverty.”

Rapidly emerging China has now changed from a net exporter to a net importer of coal (leading the US and India in consumption rates). But the burning of coal can exact a heavy environmental toll. “Clean coal,” plus carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, could eventually reconcile coal’s continued use with the need to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, Birol noted.

However, CCS remains exploratory. RWE npower, a UK energy retail business, recently marked a significant milestone by successfully capturing the first metric ton of CO2 at its Aberthaw Power Station in Wales. “This pilot plant will provide invaluable data on the viability of capturing carbon at an industrial scale, and help RWE to better understand how this technology could be used to reduce carbon emissions at coal-fired power stations,” said Kevin Nix, head of Hard Coal and Gas, UK, for RWE Generation.

AND THE ALTERNATIVES

Alternative energy sources like wind remain part of the mix, becoming more cost-effective as investment in new technologies continues. “There are a lot of things in the technology pipeline that will make wind turbines more profitable,” said Paul Dvorak, editor of Windpower Engineering. “Advances in materials and technology should make it both more energy efficient and cost effective going forward” (see related article "Capturing the Power").

553

A total of 553 new nuclear power plants are either under construction, proposed or planned worldwide.  ELECTRIC POWER RESEARCH INSTITUTE

Industry observers also are optimistic about combined-cycle gas-fired plants (CCTGs), which offer previously unheard-of efficiencies of up to 60% (a typical coal plant is only about 33% efficient). CCTGs also start up and shut down faster, making them ideal partners to fluctuating energy sources such as wind and solar.

WHAT’S THE RIGHT MIX?

Scale is the underlying driver for countries to continue to examine their energy options. For now, experts agree that fossil fuels will remain critical for decades to come.

“As we near the end of the 21st century, oil and coal will diminish slightly in importance, and natural gas, nuclear and renewable will gain share,” Dr. Scott Tinker, director of the Bureau of Economic Geology and the state geologist of Texas, wrote in the 2011 Global Energy Utilities & Mining Conference report. “But coal and oil will still be an important part of our energy economy. They are abundant, efficient and affordable, and thus difficult to replace.”

The century of the sea

Francis Vallat

2 min read

The oceans are playing a vital role in globalization of the world’s economy, making this century the most maritime-focused in history.

As early as the 15th century, Vasco de Gama’s sea routes threatened the established power of the Venetians by delivering Chinese products to Lisbon five times cheaper than they were available in Venice, confirming the importance of the maritime trade. Today, with 90% of the world’s merchandise transported by sea, totaling €1,500 billion in revenues, our planet’s economy heavily depends on maritime trade. The flow of shipments increased five-fold in the past 30 years, and will double again by 2020¹. The cost to ship 20 tons of merchandise from Asia to Europe today is cheaper than an economy- class airline ticket!

Besides these economic stakes, the sea is the earth’s future, especially in areas such as energy, food, pharmacology, and mineral resources available deep in the oceans. Today, only 10% of the ocean’s flora and fauna and 5% of underwater soils have been discovered. The oceans are one of the key assets of our planet, whose resources are threatened with exhaustion. With humans dumping 6 million tons of garbage in the Earth’s waters every year, and plastic waste that totals billions in the Mediterranean sea alone – of which 80% originates from individuals²– environmental protection is clearly an essential concern.

Globalization is also a wonderful opportunity. Consider France, for example. Accounting for approximately 310,000 jobs (not including port industries and coastal tourism) – that is more than the entire automotive industry – and more than €50 billion in production value, France has a role to play in global maritime trade. French expertise and quality excellence in 11 major maritime professions³ are great assets against offshoring.

Beyond France, all of Europe is concerned and can benefit from an evolution of the industry, for which it has a number of assets, with €484 billion of added value per year and 5.4 million jobs (7 million by 2020⁴. The “blue growth” concept, illustrated by the Limassol declaration⁵, is based on these numerous advantages: the importance of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)⁶, the dynamism of the maritime sector of the European Union in all areas, and a merchant marine that represents 40% of the world’s maritime industry, a sector that sustains incredible growth even in these times of economic crisis.

These facts emphasize that the sea plays a central role in the challenge that sustainable development represents, in every sense of the two words “sustainable” and “development.”

  • FRANCIS VALLAT is President of the French Maritime Cluster and President of the European Network of Maritime Clusters.

Waves of change

Competition for global resources demands a ‘new ocean’ industry

Lisa Roner

4 min read

As the world’s population grows, demand for food, water and natural resources like oil, gas and minerals does, too. The seas provide a largely untapped resource that is simply waiting to be harvested. The Marine & Offshore industry is bringing innovation, plus a renewed environmental focus, to that quest.

Global challenges abound. The world’s population is growing, industrialization is expanding and competition for limited energy and mineral resources is increasing. In many locations, fresh water and adequate food are in short supply, and everywhere the world hungers for a clean environment.

Despite difficult economic times during the recent global recession, the Marine & Offshore (M&O) industry – with its expertise in shipbuilding, fishing, global transport, marine mining, and offshore energy production – is uniquely positioned to help the world tap its most underutilized and promising resource: the 70% of the planet that lies under the sea. (The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that 95% of the seabed remains unexplored.)

THE BOUNTIFUL SEA

The shipping business transports 90% of the world’s food products and energy and “has raised the standard of living virtually everywhere by shuttling products and commodities from where they’re most efficiently produced to where they’re most profitably consumed,” said Lori Ann LaRocco in her new book, Dynasties of the Sea: The Shipowners and Financiers Who Expanded the Era of Free Trade.

But the sea has value well beyond shipping, value that can contribute to solving many of the world’s challenges while creating significant economic returns. “We all depend on the oceans, the planet’s last great wilderness, for our very existence,” said Thilo Bode, former international executive director of Greenpeace. Writer Clyde W. Burleson agrees. “The seas are our future,” Burleson wrote in his book Deep Challenge: Our Quest for Energy Beneath the Sea. “The mineral riches lying beneath the waves are incalculable.”

90%

The shipping business transports 90% of the world’s food products and energy.

Around the globe, marine and offshore interests are rising to the challenge to help realize the sea’s potential, with safer ships and offshore technologies that are cleaner, greener, and more efficient in delivering the world’s cargo, exploring the ocean floor, and harvesting the sea’s bounty. The M&O industry also is addressing the world’s need for new sources of energy, from safer offshore drilling technologies to innovative new processes of energy production.

GREENER AND CLEANER

To make shipping more sustainable, changes in safety and environmental regulations, including proposals to reduce sulfur and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from ships, will require modifications to existing vessels and usher in a new breed of vessel designed with the environment in mind. One impressive example is the Danish shipbuilder Maersk’s new “Triple-E” container vessel.

The line’s name comes from the three main purposes behind its creation — economy of scale, energy efficiency and environmental improvements. The ships will set a new industry benchmark for size and fuel efficiency; at 400 meters long, 59 meters wide and 73 meters high, the Triple-E is the largest vessel of any type on the water today. Its 18,000 TEU (20-foot equivalent unit) capacity is 16% greater (an increase of 2,500 containers) than today’s largest container vessel, the Emma Maersk.

Despite its size the Triple-E, which is being built by Korean shipyard Daewoo, is designed to be more efficient to operate as well. Maersk says the monstrous cargo vessel will produce 20% less CO2 per container moved compared to its Emma Maersk and 50% less than the industry average on the Asia-Europe trade lane. In addition, the ship will consume approximately 35% less fuel per container than the 13,100 TEU vessels set to be delivered in the next few years.

“We believe the Triple-E ships, with their record capacity and energy efficiency, will enable us to deliver on the commercial and environmental expectations of our customers and also give us a significant competitive advantage in the market,” said Eivind Kolding, CEO of Maersk Line.

FLOATING NEW IDEAS

Barrie Stevens, director of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) International Futures program, predicts the emerging ocean industry also will require increasingly specialized vessels and structures, from ultra- deep-water drilling ships, rigs and offshore supply vessels to ice-resistant ships and ocean-energy devices.

Ecoceane’s innovative oil-spill- response vessels are a great example. Traditional spill clean-up vessels recover 75% water and 25% hydrocarbons, which are separated later. But French-based Ecoceane’s system separates the water from the oil at the start, preventing emulsion. The Catamar vessel, for example, can recover more than 100 cubic meters of hydrocarbon per hour, ten times higher than traditional anti-pollution operations.

Another specialized technology is Shell’s Prelude floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) facility, planned for a location off the coast of Australia. With LNG trade expected to double by 2035, Shell says Prelude will allow it to access offshore gas fields that would otherwise be too costly or difficult to develop.

At 488 meters long and 74 meters wide, Prelude will be the world’s largest floating offshore facility. The mega-platform will chill natural gas produced at the field to –162°C, shrinking its volume by 600 times for shipment to customers worldwide. Oceangoing carriers will load the LNG, as well as other liquid by-products (condensate and Liquified Propane Gas), for delivery to market. The Prelude FLNG facility will produce at least 3.6 million tons per year of LNG.

“Making FLNG a reality is no simple feat,” said Matthias Bichsel, director of Projects & Technology for Shell. “Shell is uniquely positioned to make it a success, given our commercial capability; our LNG, offshore, deepwater and marine technology; and our proven ability to successfully deliver megaprojects.”

OFFSHORE INNOVATION

Innovation abounds throughout the industry, particularly in applications related to offshore energy production.

In the field of Marine Renewable Energy, Edinburgh-based Pelamis Wave Power, and Minesto, a Swedish company, are energy-innovation leaders.

Pelamis, for example, has developed a novel offshore wave-energy converter, also called Pelamis. The semi- submerged, articulated structure, which is composed of cylindrical sections linked by hinged joints, turns the motion created by waves into electricity by using hydraulic rams to drive the generators. The technology is being used by energy companies that include Scottish Power and Électricité de France (EDF).

Minesto, meanwhile, is designing underwater kites that harness tidal energy. Arne Quappen, development manager at Minesto, said the revolutionary technology makes it possible to install and operate energy plants in areas where no other known technology can operate cost effectively.

36,122 m²

Measuring 488 meters long and 74 meters wide, the Shell Prelude floating liquified natural gas (FLNG) facility will be the world’s largest, with an annual capacity of 3.6 million tons.

Companies involved in offshore production of traditional oil and gas resources also are innovating to better protect the environment. For example, UK-based Technip Umbilical Systems provides the underwater lifelines that connect oil and gas wells to ships, offshore platforms or onshore terminals. Typical umbilical design life is 25 years, but environmentally committed Technip designs to a higher standard. “For a 25-year design life, we design for 250 years in terms of fatigue,” said Ian Probyn, senior engineer, R&D, at Technip Umbilical Systems. “With offshore umbilicals, failure is not an option.”

A NEW AGE

Examples of similar dedication and creativity pervade the M&O industry. The challenges are many, but so are the opportunities. Economically and environmentally, in fields ranging from shipping to energy to deep-sea mining, the potential for the Marine & Offshore industry to help make the world a more sustainable and prosperous home for all of its people are as boundless as the oceans themselves.

Smart devices

Building the internet of things

Rebecca Lambert

2 min read

Loic Le Meur is the founder of LeWeb, reportedly Europe’s biggest Internet event. LeWeb’s 2012 theme was the “Internet of Things,” the idea that every object can be Web-enabled. Compass spoke to Le Meur about how the ability to connect everything may revolutionize life.

COMPASS: What do you find fascinating about technology?

LOIC LE MEUR: I have been fascinated by technology since I ‘stole’ my parents’ first Macintosh in 1985; I was a kid but wanted to learn programming. I always wanted to make technology the center of my life because it’s constantly evolving and changing. There is always a next thing.

What is your definition of the “Internet of Things”?

LLM: At first, the Internet could only be accessed on computers. Then, with the advent of smart mobile devices, we could take the Internet with us wherever we went. The Internet of Things is an evolution of this – it is about connecting the Internet to most objects around us. Soon, we will open our home and car doors remotely with our phones. It’s all starting to happen now, and it is changing the way we live.

"I THINK IT’S NOT A QUESTION OF WHETHER THE INTERNET OF THINGS WILL TRULY DEVELOP OR NOT; IT IS ALREADY HERE AND GROWING. IT IS HOW WE ADAPT TO IT THAT WILL UNLEASH ITS TRUE POWER."

LOIC LE MEUR
LEWEB FOUNDER

What benefits can the Internet of Things bring to our daily lives?

LLM: Health is a big one. At LeWeb, we showcased how sensors can measure our brain waves so we can analyze ourselves better. Today, we need blood and DNA samples to track our health, but soon enough we will have permanent little sensors that will track everything happening in our body. We can have a lot more fun with the Internet of Things, too. Imagine if I don’t burn enough calories in a day. My fitness device could ensure that the fridge won’t open so I can’t eat that extra snack!

What role do you think the concept plays in transportation and mobility?

LLM: Self-driving cars will definitely be safer than human drivers in regular cars. I would love to be able to drink a few more glasses of wine at dinner with my friends and have my car safely drive me home without worrying about the alcohol levels in my body.

How do you think the future will look if the Internet of Things truly develops?

LLM: I think it’s not a question of whether the Internet of Things will truly develop or not; it is already here and growing. It is how we adapt to it that will unleash its true power. It will be awesome.

  • Loic Le Meur, founder of LeWeb, was named one of “Europe’s Tech25” by The Wall Street Journal and one of the 25 most influential people on the Web by Business Week magazine.

Creative commuting

Easing urban congestion for a better city experience

Karen McCandless

6 min read

Inventive city transportation initiatives are ushering in a new era of travel that is efficient, affordable, clean and green. Experts predict these systems will transform travel in the years to come and shape the future of cities.

With 50% of the world’s population currently living in cities, according to the United Nations (UN), and a prediction from UNICEF that this will grow to 70% by 2050, urban congestion is a significant challenge that won’t solve itself. Indeed, growing mega-cities around the globe are placing significant strain upon their transportation systems. Traffic congestion is worsening and so is air pollution – reducing the quality of life for those cities’ residents.

“Cities with decent metro systems, such as London and Paris, are doing OK,” said Philip Gott, senior director of long-range planning at IHS Automotive, an independent automotive analyst firm. “There is congestion but there are, at least, alternatives to driving. However, in cities like Delhi and Los Angeles, the system is pretty broken, and owning a vehicle is the only way to get around.”

With the number of cars increasing – Gott estimates that, at the current rate of motorization, there will be 3 billion vehicles on the world’s roads by 2030 – governments are under pressure to create efficient, green transportation systems that can move thousands of people quickly, comfortably and affordably. As a result, cities around the world are exploring the latest innovations in urban travel to ease transportation issues.

CITY-WIDE AUTOMOBILE SHARING

In France, parking is a major problem and a significant contributor to urban congestion. Residents spend an average of 70 million hours each year as they look for a parking space, according to the French transport agency SARECO. To ease this problem in France’s biggest city, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoé introduced an electric one-way car-sharing system for the city and surrounding area in December 2011. The concept, known as Autolib, was conceived by the Bolloré Group, which runs the program in partnership with the city. The service is modeled on the successful French bicycle-sharing program Vélib (see below).

The Autolib service provides an emission-free, four-seat electric car on a 24x7 basis to drivers in the Paris area for short-distance trips. It aims to replace the number of private cars on the city’s roads while cutting pollution and noise.

“The service is simple and open to anyone who has a driving license,” said Vanessa Colombier, communications manager at Autolib. “It takes no more than six minutes to register for a day, a week, a month or a year in any of our subscription kiosks in Paris or the surrounding area.” Autolib currently offers more than 740 operating stations, spread throughout 47 partner cities, with three to eight parking slots each, plus charging points for the fleet and for private electric vehicles. “This makes it very convenient to find us and to pick up our cars,” Colombier said. “Moreover, all the fleet is electric, which means they are carbon- and noise-free.”

REAL-TIME ROAD INFORMATION

Another company that is trying to ease urban congestion is Streetline, whose patented smart parking platform, currently available in select US cities, detects a car’s presence in a parking space through a network of ultra-low- power wireless sensors. The sensors provide real-time status for on-street and off-street parking spaces. “For motorists, the ‘Parker by Streetline’ app guides drivers to available parking spaces in real time and shows parking locations, hours, rates and policy information,” said Debbie Tanguay, marketing specialist at Streetline. “Soon, Parker will be available on in-car navigation systems.”

70 million

In France alone, drivers spend an average of 70 million hours annually searching for a parking space, according to the French transport agency SARECO.

For cities, universities, transit agencies and other parking providers, Streetline provides a suite of real-time parking applications as well as historical analytics. “Our mission is to reduce the challenges associated with finding a parking space by helping drivers find parking spaces in real time, as well as helping them know in advance other parking information, and even to pay for parking with their phone (where available) and get walking directions back to their cars,” Tanguay said.

AUTOMAKERS STEP UP TO THE CHALLENGE

According to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, the total number of new car registrations in the European Union in 2012 fell 8.2%. With general car sales in decline, traditional automotive manufacturers are also launching solutions to meet the growing mobility challenge.

One initiative from French automotive manufacturer Renault is the Twizy Way car-sharing concept, which makes 50 of the company’s Twizy electric vehicles available to hire in the Paris area. “Users can book a Twizy car through a smartphone app, scan a QR code on the car to pick it up, and then return it to a station when they have finished their journey,” said Claire Martin, corporate social responsibility director. “Car sharing and car pooling decreases the number of cars in a city, frees up space and brings a feeling of freedom, as well as reducing pollution and improving air quality.”

Car-sharing systems, such as the Autolib system in Paris, allow users to drive off in an emissions- free electric car available from dozens of locations, then drop it off at a site near their destination. (Image © Pixel & Creation – fotolia.com)

Renault also launched MOBILIZ, the first social business initiative in mobility from a French carmaker. “We launched MOBILIZ to provide a low-cost solution to help the more than 8 million people living under the poverty line in France,” said Martin, who also serves as general manager of Renault MOBILIZ. “The initiative provides services such as low-cost car rental, carpooling, and community transport, which eases urban congestion by providing shared transport facilities.”

“THE ULTIMATE GOAL IS TO ATTRACT BUSINESSES AND CITIZENS TO A VIBRANT ECONOMY BY PROVIDING A BETTER QUALITY OF LIFE AND SUSTAINABILITY.”

PHILIP GOTT
SENIOR DIRECTOR OF LONG-RANGE PLANNING, IHS AUTOMOTIVE

Meanwhile, Toyota recently launched its i-ROAD emissions-free two-person mobility concept. In addition, the carmaker has developed a Harmonious Mobility Network. This combines a route-guidance system for automobiles and public transportation, with a car-sharing system using ultra- compact electric vehicles.

Ha:mo NAVI provides users with the optimum route to their destination, as well as encouraging people to commute along alternate routes or by alternate means. Toyota anticipates that this will help prevent traffic jams and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by promoting the use of public transportation, ecologically friendly driving, and off-peak automobile use. Ha:mo RIDE allows users to smoothly transfer from one form of public transportation to another or to share ultra-compact electric vehicles.

The General Motors Chevrolet EN-V mobility concept is another interesting approach. “It is like a Segueway with an engine and a roof,” said IHS Automotive analyst Gott. “It aims to alleviate traffic congestion while improving parking availability and air quality, and it works in all weather and road conditions.”

THE FUTURE OF TRANSPORTATION

These transportation solutions are just the start of the mobility transformation that is gaining momentum worldwide. “New mobility services are a way to avoid systematic ownership of cars – instead of one or two cars per family, we could end up seeing six families sharing one car, for example,” said Renault’s Martin. “But we also need to look at connecting transportation systems. For example, with one ticket you can rent a car, take the bus or go by bike. And the user needs to be connected as well, so that they can more effectively plan their journey.”

For example, BMW’s ConnectedDrive technology, initially available in Germany, provides a driver with extensive, rapid and up-to-date reports on traffic and weather conditions, allowing them to avoid heavy traffic, easing congestion. Meanwhile, the CAR 2 CAR Communication Consortium, a non-profit organization of European vehicle manufacturers, is working to develop an open European standard for cooperative intelligent transport systems, improving the efficiency and reducing the environmental impact of road traffic.

Looking further into the future, cities that currently lack alternatives to cars can embrace connected virtual mobility – traveling online rather than physically.

“Connectivity is a major enabler,” said IHS Automotive’s Gott. “If we are all better connected to each other through videoconferencing and similar technologies, then we can reduce the number of journeys we make. Carefully timed innovation and new business models are the way forward.”

While new car concepts, products and proposals will help to ease urban congestion, many cities are encouraging their citizens to get onto bicycles instead.

The largest public bike-sharing system in the world is located in the city of Hangzhou, China. As of January 2013, it had 66,500 bicycles operating from 2,700 stations and was one of 19 bike-sharing systems operating in China. It plans to expand to 175,000 bikes by 2020.

Meanwhile, in May 2013, NYC Bike Share is launching a new bike-sharing program in New York City. Citi Bike is a self-service system that aims to provide members with easy access to a network of thousands of bicycles. The service will consist of 600 stations and 10,000 bikes in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

And then there is Vélib – the public bicycle-sharing system in Paris, France. Since it was launched in July 2007, the system has expanded to encompass around 16,000 bicycles and 1,200 bicycle stations located across Paris and in some surrounding municipalities. French advertising corporation JCDecaux operates the system.

London also has a bike-sharing program operated by Barclays Bank. It is nicknamed ‘Boris Bikes’ after the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who initiated the service.

Brain drain

Retirements and downsizing threaten Aerospace & Defense knowledge base

Tony Velocci

4 min read

As funding for defense programs wanes, raising the likelihood of layoffs, and the Aerospace & Defense industry’s most experienced workers approach retirement, the risk of losing decades of “tribal knowledge” increases. Although experts say many companies are ignoring the threat, others are aggressively seeking solutions.

Retaining specialized know-how learned over many years on the job is a common challenge across industries. Statistics indicate, however, that the Aerospace & Defense (A&D) sector is more exposed to the business risks of lost knowledge than most.

By 2015, the number of aerospace software and systems engineers eligible for retirement will nearly double, while losses among R&D professionals, program managers and hourly manufacturing workers will increase by 50%, according Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine’s 2012 annual workforce study. In addition, the industry is contracting; in 2012, aerospace companies filled just half of their open positions.

“Aerospace is unique,” said Ronald D. Sugar, former chairman and CEO of Northrop Grumman Corporation and a board member at three multinational companies. “Not only is the design cycle of complex weapons systems long, the full lifecycle of the system sometimes approximates a human lifetime. This poses unique challenges for aerospace.

SHRINKING DEFENSE PROGRAMS

A&D programs take years to complete and involve multidisciplinary teams that push the state of the art. But fewer new projects are being launched with less frequency, especially for government customers. The result? A likely wave of layoffs will only add to the brain- drain precipitated by retirements. It all adds up the potential loss of substantial knowledge that can only be developed through years of specialized training, work experience and trial-and-error engineering.

Many aerospace companies have yet to institute systems for “banking” such expertise, surprising given the most recent Lloyd’s of London Risk Index. According to the global survey of more than 500 C-suite and board-level executives, talent and skills shortages are the Number 2 risk facing businesses today, exceeded only by the risk of losing customers.

Edward J. Hoffman, director of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership and the agency’s Chief Knowledge Officer, sees it every day. “We receive numerous requests from the private sector to assist with knowledge management, but most of the interest is from outside of aerospace,” he said.

Hoffman suggests that aerospace companies rarely consider risk- mitigation as pressing as controlling costs or dealing with export-control regulations. They also tend to have secretive cultures, securing much of their organizational knowledge behind firewalls. “The aerospace workforce has many strengths, but it tends to be highly individualistic and blind to mistakes of the past, which argues for more openness and sharing of lessons learned,” Hoffman said.

But while many aerospace companies lag in knowledge capture, others consider it a priority, employing multi-faceted programs to capture skills and measure effectiveness.

FOLLOW THE LEADERS

Rockwell Collins, a US$5 billion communications and aviation electronics company, employs a system that other companies have used as a benchmark. “Knowledge management is our burning platform issue every day,” said Lynda Braksiek, Rockwell’s manager of Knowledge and Critical Skills.

Launched in 2001, Rockwell’s enterprise-wide program involves three major elements. First, Rockwell formed communities of practice, where groups of professionals share best practices on a wide range of disciplines; of approximately 75 communities, 60% are engineering- oriented. Second is an enterprise knowledge base called “ePedia,” where experts record their best practices in a permanent log; the information is then linked to formal training programs. Finally, Rockwell offers a people-finder for locating subject-matter experts throughout the global company.

“KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT IS OUR BURNING PLATFORM ISSUE EVERY DAY.”

LYNDA BRAKSIEK
MANAGER OF KNOWLEDGE AND CRITICAL SKILLS, ROCKWELL COLLINS

Elsewhere, United Technologies Corporation (UTC) initiated its Achieving Competitive Excellence (ACE) system in the 1990s to identify process-improvement opportunities and ensure world-class quality. ACE has since expanded to include tools and processes for resource planning and knowledge-capture across the US$53 billion company.

“No program for capturing organizational knowledge can hope to succeed if is not convenient to use and designed for the long term,” said Michael McQuade, UTC’s senior vice president of Science and Technology. “That means knowledge has to be captured in a way that is both accessible and easy to update.”

Central to UTC’s effort are 250 technology fellows who “own” the company’s science in their respective fields. Fellows are responsible for facilitating knowledge retention and transfer across the enterprise.

LOCATING RETAINED KNOWLEDGE

Like Rockwell and UTC, Northrop Grumman (NG), a US$25 billion manufacturer of space and missile systems, defense electronics and unmanned air vehicles, actively seeks to enhance its knowledge programs.

“Our engineering population is very large, so with the rate at which Baby Boomers are retiring, we have a lot of knowledge to capture,” said Douglas Hoskins, who oversees the NG program as part of his role as director of Engineering Strategy.

NG’s system has a shortcoming, however. Its search capability won’t allow users to find information quickly or zero in on the information with the greatest value, a gap the company is working to close. “This will be an important enhancement,” Hoskins said.

But Sugar, NG’s former CEO, suggests that knowledge capture alone is too narrow a focus. “The better question is: How do you ensure a culture of steady innovation, as embodied in the ethos of companies like Apple?”

Sugar suggests that nothing succeeds in attracting top talent like the lure of exciting research and development projects. “While it is important for companies to capture recipe kinds of knowledge, the winning plan is also to create a procurement environment that funds a steady stream of challenging, smaller projects that will keep technologists creatively engaged,” Sugar said. “That is how you build long-term value, ensure a vibrant workforce and maintain a competitive enterprise.”

  • Tony Velocci, retired editor-in-chief of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine, has received various journalism awards, including the distinguished McGraw-Hill Corporate Achievement Award for Editorial Excellence.

Simulating success

Speeding design and manufacturing with virtual tests of advanced composites

Ginger Gardiner

7 min read

To bring new aircraft to the market faster and more affordably, manufacturers need to streamline the expensive and time-consuming process of certifying new composites materials. Computer-based virtual testing is beginning to take the place of some physical tests, but critics warn that slow progress threatens the aerospace industry’s viability.

Advanced composite materials make up most of the wing, fuselage and tail for the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, plus a high percentage of the primary structures in other major aircraft in development. One look at Boeing and Airbus ideas for future commercial aircraft — blended wing bodies, structures that mimic bones, shape- changing flight surfaces and energy- capturing interiors — and the expectations for composites are clear.

Advanced composite materials are being developed to enable such products, some of which are not feasible with today’s materials. Manufacturing and especially development costs are barriers to such expanded applications, however. One reason: The decades-old building- block approach to certifying composites for use in aircraft requires thousands of costly physical tests.

Replacing at least some of these physical tests with virtual simulations is emerging across the composites manufacturing spectrum as a promising method of documenting the effectiveness of new composite materials, advanced design tools and manufacturing processes faster and more cost-effectively. Few predict that computer-based simulation will eliminate physical testing altogether. But many see a future where simulation and computer-aided analysis play a significantly larger role in streamlining development cycles and reducing costs.

FLATTENING THE PYRAMID

One example of virtual testing’s promise comes from the first spacecraft fuel tank designed to disintegrate upon reentry. The carbon-fiber composites design is made by Cobham Life Support in Westminster, Maryland (USA), for the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Global Precipitation Measurement Satellite. Thanks in part to extensive use of computer-aided design and testing, Cobham’s development program met all of NASA’s targets: cost, schedule and a host of demanding technical requirements.

Cobham’s process reduced the number of destructive tests by 50%, saving roughly US$500,000 over the 38-month program. “Our testing and analysis worked hand-in-hand to improve efficiency,” explained Robert Grande, business manager for Cobham. “We fed real material properties from tests into the models and then used physical testing to validate the results as we iterated the design. Because our test results matched our analytical predictions, from subcomponents to pressure burst and fatigue testing on the full tank, we completed the full qualification by the time we finished the design.”

Another example comes from the Automobili Lamborghini Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory (ACSL) at the University of Washington in Seattle (USA), which blends aerospace and automotive composite development. Working with Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the ACSL improves certification of new composite materials and structures, often based on proven virtual testing principles pioneered for Lamborghini automobiles.

“SIMULATION TOOLS CAN GUIDE UNDERSTANDING OF UNCERTAINTY IN DESIGN AND ALSO HOW IT PROPAGATES.” 

DR. R. BYRON PIPES
JOHN BRAY DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF ENGINEERING, PURDUE UNIVERSITY

ACSL and Boeing collaborated on advanced analysis methods for predicting the crash performance of the all-composite monocoque of Lamborghini’s Aventador automobile. Aventador passed its crash-test certification on the first try; previous models required two or three tests. At $1 million per crash, savings were substantial, even without factoring in time and cost saved by not building additional test vehicles.

A COMPLETE PARADIGM SHIFT

While such programs go beyond industry standards in employing virtual testing, Dr. R. Byron Pipes, John Bray Distinguished Professor in the College of Engineering at Purdue University (USA), believes they don’t go far enough.

Current trends in virtual testing of new composites is only an incremental improvement, Pipes believes, not the complete paradigm shift needed to unshackle composite development. “We are still struggling with empirical-based manufacturing and (physical) testing-based certification,” he said. “It costs $100 million per material to qualify composites to fly on a new airframe. Once certified, materials changes are economically impossible.”

Pipes describes composite development today as dominated by experiments and only aided by analysis. “We have the computational power to change this paradigm and replace thousands of (physical) tests with robust multi-scale simulation of manufacturing and performance,” he said. “Only then will we enable innovations in materials composition and processing without repeated costly recertification.”

Lamborghini and Boeing collaborated with the Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory (ACSL) at the University of Washington (USA) to improve crash performance prediction of the Aventador’s all-composite monocoque, reducing the physical crash-tests required for certification to a single prototype. (Photo courtesy of Automobili Lamborghini ACRC and ACSL)

To continue pushing the envelope of virtual testing, Pipes advocates making advanced analysis and simulation tools more widely available so they can be used broadly to understand the origins and propagation of uncertainty in composite design and manufacturing. To achieve this, Pipes envisions an online Composite Manufacturing Hub that would enable cloud-based delivery of simulation tools through a community interface. “The idea originally came from crowdsourcing and the need to strengthen our simulation base by putting tools in the hands of those who can’t get them now,” Pipes explained.

Many advanced simulation tools are beyond the financial reach of small companies, which can only gain access through larger companies and universities. But that trend is beginning to change. “Parts of the composite simulation capability are being offered through programs that run on small computers and even mobile devices,” Pipes said. He advocates development of a cloud- based Composite Manufacturing Hub to spread costs, increase access and accelerate simulation tool development. “If you don’t simulate the manufacturing process you never capture all of the variability that will be in the composite,” Pipes said.

nanoHUB.org provides a model of what Pipes’ vision could achieve. Ten years old, it offers 260 simulation tools to more than 12,000 users and supports a collaborative community of 240,000 engaged in research utilities, classes and interactive groups. In the 12 months prior to July 2012, more than 570,000 simulations were run, 80 new simulation tools were developed, and the time between tool publication and first use in a classroom averaged less than six months.

REDUCING UNCERTAINTY

Today, manufacturers physically test every element before it is assembled and every part before it goes on an airplane, contributing to unsustainable development cycles and costs. “You will never totally escape the need for (physical) testing to validate models, but we must address the issue of certainty in simulation results, or rather, how to manage uncertainty,” Pipes said. “Simulation tools can guide understanding of uncertainty in design and also how it propagates.”

50%

Using virtual simulations, Cobham Life Support reduced destructive tests on a NASA fuel tank by 50%, saving US$500,000. 

To demonstrate the potential of the approach, Pipes cites the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Due to the US moratorium on nuclear device testing, NNSA, a division of the US Department of Energy, cannot conduct full-scale physical performance testing. “About 15 to 20 years ago, we defined a road map of what was needed to achieve simulation-based certification,” said Dr. Mark Anderson, technical advisor to the NNSA from Los Alamos National Laboratory, a US government- supported research agency. Key elements of this road map include transition to a validated predictive capability based on multi-scale, physics-based computer simulation and quantification of uncertainty in NNSA’ simulation tools.

Initially, NNSA could simulate the performance of nuclear devices based on re-calibrated pre-moratorium test data, but confidence in these projections decreased as they became more removed from physical tests. NNSA therefore sought to replace its predictive models with validated physics-based models.

The agency began by replacing large-scale device tests with large numbers of small-scale experiments designed to validate the physical phenomena predicted by the science- based computer models. These models were then linked from the nano-scale, atomic level up to the macroscopic, full device level, then validated again for accurate predictive capability. NNSA videos recount its achievement via parallel supercomputing in collaboration with industry and academic institutions. As one spokesperson on the videos states: “Now you started to hear computing being discussed as the third leg of science, in addition to theory and experiment.”

In addition to achieving the multiscale science required, NNSA began to quantify the uncertainty in its simulation tools and then to reduce it. Once the uncertainty associated with the science-based simulations was smaller than that of the empirical test-based projections, modeling could replace physical tests.

BALANCING PHYSICAL AND VIRTUAL

Anderson believes composites modeling can be advanced by adapting the NNSA approach. “For most industries, what would be the most appropriate is a balance between the historical testing-based approach and this simulation/uncertainty quantification based approach,” Anderson said. He notes that although significant theory has gone into composite industry models, many still use a simple mathematical description that fits empirical test data.

Uncertainty quantification (UQ) involves managing both parametric uncertainty and model-form uncertainty. “There is an investment to be made up front, both in time and money,” Anderson said. “But by building simulation capability, it is possible to reduce testing costs from $500,000 to $100,000, for example.” He notes that US-based automotive maker General Motors has used UQ in crash-test simulations and that NASA is incorporating it into the space agency’s simulation tools to aid with tests it cannot perform physically, such as reactions in a space environment or full-structure tests that are beyond the scope of its current budget.

$1 million

It costs US$1 million to crash-test a single Lamborghini Aventador. 

The result is the potential for “robust design” – high performance without the overdesign needed to compensate for uncertainty. Robust design factors uncertainty directly into the model, producing designs that are less sensitive to uncertainty, with less bet-hedging overdesign.

PROGRESS AT WHAT PACE?

Larry Ilcewicz, the FAA’s national composites resource, believes the direct operating cost benefits of composites to airframes and aircraft manufacturers will be lost unless new composite technology becomes as accessible to the engineering community as metals and as cost- competitive to develop, manufacture and certify for flight.

The chorus calling for a “new composite structural toolset for expediting aircraft design and development” spans the globe, from NASA’s 2009 declaration of “Certification by Analysis” as a future challenge for tomorrow’s aircraft to European-based simulation efforts, including the European Commission’s MAAXIMUS (More Affordable Aircraft through eXtended, Integrated and Mature nUmerical Sizing) program, which aims to leverage multi-scale predictive and damage modeling to reduce development time by 20%, cut development costs by 10%, and enable a 50% improvement in fuselage assembly rates.

“BY BUILDING SIMULATION CAPABILITY, IT IS POSSIBLE TO REDUCE TESTING COSTS FROM $500,000 TO $100,000, FOR EXAMPLE.” 

DR. MARK ANDERSON
TECHNICAL ADVISOR LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LABORATORY

These advanced approaches highlight the significant distance between the savings being realized via virtual testing and the field’s potential.

To affordably commercialize truly enabling composite technologies — single-axis, asymmetric laminates, for example, which boast 40% weight savings versus aluminum, or topology-optimized structures using discontinuous fibers that cut cost 50% versus prepreg — composite manufacturing must resolve differences in design philosophy, geography and competitive aspirations to accelerate its evolution toward science-based simulation, virtual testing and analysis-based certification.  

  • Ginger Gardiner is a 20-year veteran of the composites industry. She writes for several composites-focused magazines and is a co-author of the textbook “Essentials of Advanced Composite Fabrication & Repair.” 

GoldieBlox

Geared for girls

Rachel Callery

2 min read

Engineering—it’s a man’s world, but Stanford-trained engineer Debbie Sterling aims to change that with her newly launched GoldieBlox line of engineering toys for girls. Yes, they’re cute. Yes, they’re pretty. But it’s the storybook that goes with every building project that taps girls’ strong verbal skills, making GoldieBlox uniquely tuned to the way girls learn. 

Boys like blocks. Girls like books. From the time children are toddlers, this simple gender tendency dictates that 89% of the world’s engineers will be male. But can a world desperate for engineers afford to write off the creative problem-solving potential of half the population before they’re two?

Debbie Sterling, one of the rare girls who grew up to be a professional engineer, believes it can’t. And so she set out to discover the missing link that would guide girls toward an interest in engineering and building. The result is GoldieBlox, a new line of construction toys built on the storybook adventures of Goldie, an inventor heroine who sets out to solve practical engineering problems with the help of her friends. As they read the books, girls get to build what Goldie builds and then set their “machines” in motion to see how they work.

Debbie Sterling, GoldieBlox CEO and founder. (Photos courtesy of GoldieBlox)

“Growing up, I was always intimidated by the word, ‘engineering,’” Sterling said. “I thought it was just for boys. I’m creating GoldieBlox so that girls, from a young age, can learn that engineering is for them too. By incorporating a female role-model character, storylines girls can relate to, and a sense of humor, GoldieBlox will lessen the intimidation factor and get girls excited about building.”

By combining girls’ natural love of books with an interactive engineering toy that girls assemble as they read, GoldieBlox takes a novel approach in enticing girls to play with construction toys. “It all comes down to one simple thing: boys love building and girls love reading,” Sterling said. “GoldieBlox combines spatial plus verbal because girls want to know why they are building.”

Sterling noticed the engineering gender gap in her program at Stanford. The imbalance gnawed at her for years before she got the inspiration for GoldieBlox and set out to make it a reality. The delay turned out to be providential: By the time Sterling was ready to launch her toy, the Internet offered her an innovative way to finance her venture – with “crowd- funding.” After testing her prototype on more than 100 children, Sterling posted a video on Kickstarter, an online funding platform for creative projects, with a simple request: If viewers believed in what she was doing, Sterling asked them to order and pay in advance for her then non-existent product. In less than 30 days she raised US$250,000—almost double her goal. The first series of book-plus-toy flew off the virtual shelves, selling out before its February 2013 launch.

The prototype was not only well- received by children (ages 5-9), but also by the World Maker Faire, a showcase in New York for do-it-yourself products, where it won Editor’s Choice. As GoldieBlox expands into a series, new engineering principles will be introduced, with lessons around wheels and axles, pulleys, force, and friction. GoldieBlox also will be available as an e-book download for iPad and iPhone with narration and animation to enhance the building experience. Meanwhile, Sterling has been approached by major distributors interested in stocking the toys.

“With GoldieBlox, girls get to solve problems and develop spatial skills,” Sterling said. “I want her to explore every opportunity and believe she can be anything when she grows up, because every girl you know is more than just a princess.”

Exit strategy

As Boomers begin to retire, employers need a plan

Cathy Salibian

6 min read

The global population is aging at an unprecedented rate. Yet many companies are slow to confront implications of the coming wave of retirements. Success hinges on grooming future employees – while retaining the wisdom of older workers.

The utility industry is partnering with community colleges to ignite the workforce of tomorrow. Aerospace firms have launched a new type of mission: knowledge transfer. Human resources professionals worldwide are consulting best-practice models for how to recruit, retain and train a multigenerational workforce.

All of these efforts are driven by a single looming reality: The global population is aging at an unprecedented rate.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the portion of the global workforce age 55 and older will rise from 14% in 2012 to 22% by 2030. In the US alone, according to the accounting firm Ernst & Young, more of the 76 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are reaching retirement age every year, while in Europe, 2010 marked the first year more people retired than joined the workforce. By the end of the decade, retirements will outstrip workforce entries in Russia, Canada, South Korea and China.

2010

The first year that more people retired in Europe than joined the workforce.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) calls global aging “one of the most significant risks to global prosperity in the decades ahead.” Dangers include loss of institutional knowledge and skills as workers retire, plus the limited numbers of candidates available to replace them, especially in fields that have fallen out of favor with young people.

A STATE OF DENIAL

To transform the perils of global aging into prosperity, experts say, companies must act now to prepare future workers while leveraging the social capital of their older, more experienced employees.

“It’s essential to develop flexible hiring, worker retention and education strategies for a multigenerational workforce,” said Fernán Cepero, vice president of human resources for the YMCA of Greater Rochester, New York (USA), and former New York state director of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the world’s largest organization devoted to HR issues.

GLOBAL AGING IS “ONE OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT RISKS TO GLOBAL PROSPERITY IN THE DECADES AHEAD.”

WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

Yet many organizations have been slow to respond, perhaps lulled by the drop in early retirements that followed steep losses in investment portfolios during the recent global recession. In 2012, for example, SHRM and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) released the results of a joint poll of US organizations. While 72% of human resource professionals described the loss of talented older workers as a “problem” or “potential problem,” approximately 71% of organizations said they had taken no action-related workforce assessment.

UTILITY INDUSTRY ALLIES WITH ACADEMIA

One exception is the utility industry. With an estimated 40% to 50% of its workforce eligible to retire by 2020, according to a recent report in Harvard Business Review, energy companies have stepped up to the challenge. Some traditional utility jobs, such as meter reading, are being replaced by automation. But the need for line workers and plant managers is ongoing. Consider Hurricane Sandy, which struck the northeast US in late October 2012. Crews from across the US converged on the eastern seaboard to restore power to devastated communities. But will they be able to work as quickly in the future, when retirements might cut their numbers in half?

“The country depends on reliable electricity, and we need a highly skilled workforce on the ground,” said Mary Miller, chief administrative officer of Edison Electric Institute (EEI), an association of shareholder- owned electric companies. “It takes five years to attain the status of journeyman line worker.”

EEI and its nonprofit arm, the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD), pursue a number of highly successful collaborative training strategies. EEI partners with community colleges and the public workforce system—a network of federal, state, and local offices—to assess future job needs and align college curricula to match. Meanwhile, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded a project identifying pathways for low-income people to achieve high-paying utility jobs.

In addition, EEI launched an initiative called “Troops to Energy” to accelerate the training and employability of military veterans. With their military training and experience, many veterans already possess valuable skills that transfer readily to lucrative energy careers. “Line-worker salaries, with overtime, often reach six figures. Plant managers also earn good money,” Miller said. “These are well-paying jobs that are not going to be outsourced.”

BIGGER TYPE FOR BETTER PRODUCTIVITY

In Germany, where the population is actually projected to shrink 20% by 2060, keeping older workers productive and happy is an increasingly important focus.

Daimler AG, for example, most famous for its Mercedes Benz automobiles, implemented an “Aging Workforce” initiative in 2008 that tackles the issue on two fronts: keeping older workers productive longer and transferring their knowledge to a new generation of employees. Innovations have included expanding the training available to existing workers, offering permanent employment contracts to all skilled production workers, and offering permanent positions to qualified production trainees.

At BMW, meanwhile, where one- quarter of the workforce is older than 50 – a statistic that is projected to rise to 45% by 2020 – the company experimented with ways to help its older workers maintain their productivity. BMW spent US$50,000 to make 70 small changes in an assembly line, such as increasing the size of the typeface on its computer screens and allowing workers to sit while performing certain tasks, then staffed it with older workers. Within a year, productivity matched those of assembly lines staffed by younger workers, and absenteeism dropped from 7% to 2%. The experiment was so successful that in 2011, BMW built a new factory outfitted specifically for older workers and staffed it entirely with employees 50 or older.

AEROSPACE AIMS FOR KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER

Another rapidly graying global industry is aerospace where, according to Harvard Business Review, up to 60% of workers will reach retirement eligibility by 2020. Concern about this trend led Lockheed Martin to conduct a series of studies identifying best practices for capturing the knowledge of departing employees. The effort yielded benefits beyond the retirement issue alone; it also illuminated ways to continually revitalize the corporation.

60%

Up to 60% of aerospace industry workers will reach retirement age by 2020. HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW

“We wanted to transfer knowledge and make sure it’s pervasive, so it grows and plays a dynamic role in the company,” said Patricia Scaramuzzo, Lockheed Martin’s knowledge continuity program manager.

Lockheed Martin’s knowledge- transfer studies debunked common myths. In a recent presentation to the National Defense Industry Association, Scaramuzzo identified some beliefs revealed as false. For example, one myth is that capturing knowledge is enough. Lockheed Martin found that, in reality, capture is essential, but the knowledge must be applied before the expert leaves, to flesh out and assimilate vital details. Another myth: It’s easier to transfer knowledge one-on-one. The reality? Groups work better, because people benefit from one another’s questions. Third myth: Inexperienced people will slow the group down. Reality: Inexperienced people contribute to team diversity and ensure important basic questions are addressed.

“We’ve been sharing our findings because we believe successful knowledge transfer is key not just to the company’s success, but to the country’s,” Scaramuzzo said.

KNOWLEDGEWARE CAPTURES EXPERTISE

Parker Aerospace, a unit of Parker Hannifin Corp. that makes aircraft components, employs a variety of knowledge-transfer strategies, including expert-guided curriculum development, direct access to senior staff and a formal mentoring program. Knowledgeware software, meanwhile, gives the company a tool to gather, share and reapply knowledge. Even sophisticated knowledge can be captured in templates easily reused by junior employees.

“We have experts who might be the only ones who know how to do X,” said Bob Deragisch, Parker Aerospace manager of enterprise systems. “But if they’re 50 or 55 years old, they’re beginning to realize they need to teach it; their job is to leave something behind that adds value. In some cases they think, ‘I’ve been doing this for 25 years, there’s no way a computer can replicate it,’ but we prove that it can be done. Often a repeated process can be automated to free up humans to be more creative.”

John A. Challenger, CEO of the executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., agrees that the technology can make an important contribution to capturing knowledge before an employee walks out the door. “Knowledgeware preserves corporate history and can be a valuable support tool for mentoring,” Challenger said. “You can get it down in writing, how people work on different tasks. You can organize and display the information to be accessible. That doesn’t replace personal communication, but can enhance it.”

CHANGING WORKPLACE PROVIDES FLEXIBLE OPTIONS

Challenger noted that the changing nature of work brings creative flexibility. Gone is lifetime, nine-to- five office employment with mandatory retirement at age 65. Today jobs can be project-based, part-time or mobile—all of which help attract and retain older workers.

“AGE IS IRRELEVANT. PEOPLE SHOULD BE JUDGED BY THEIR PRODUCTIVITY AND CONTRIBUTION.”

JOHN A. CHALLENGER
CEO, CHALLENGER, GRAY & CHRISTMAS

“Companies used to hire young workers and expect them to stay their whole careers,” Challenger said. “That era is over. Age is irrelevant. People should be judged by their productivity and contribution. Older workers are valuable because they bring years of experience in multiple areas, and they know how to work in teams. Forward- thinking executives and human resource professionals are always thinking about how to create a culture where age and experience are honored.”

Deciphering the code

Genomics makes progress, but raises privacy concerns

Lisa Roner

3 min read

The cost of determining an individual’s genetic code with DNA sequencing has fallen sharply. As a result, testing individual patients for diseases caused by single-gene mutations has become common place, but genetic “cures” for complex and chronic diseases remain out of reach. To bridge the gap, projects around the globe are sequencing large groups of individuals in search of patterns – and raising significant ethical questions in the process.

More than a decade ago, when genetic scientists completed sequencing the first human genome as part of the Human Genome Project, optimism for its value to medical science was unbounded. Researchers heralded an era of pinpoint diagnostics, medicines tailored to an individual’s distinct gene map and breakthrough cures for everything from rare genetic disorders to common chronic conditions.

Decoding the human genome took ten years and an investment of US$3 billion. Today, the cost of mapping an individual’s genetic code has dropped to about US$1,000 and can be accomplished in a few days. Still, decoding the meaning of 6 billion base pairs for more than 20,000 genes in an individual’s DNA is far from imminent.

“If we’ve learned anything since the completion of the Human Genome Project, it is that the relationship between genes and human traits is far more complex than we ever imagined,” said Timothy Caulfield, Canadian Research Chair in Health Law & Policy at the University of Alberta, writing in a December 2012 editorial for Globe and Mail, a nationwide Canadian newspaper.

TANGLED WEB

To usher in an era of personalized medicine, genetic scientists will need a database of millions of individuals’ genomes to help them understand the variation in genome sequence data and its role in specific diseases. Building this database will require participation from individuals willing to share both their genomic data and their comprehensive medical information. Only then, scientists agree, can they decipher the relationships between individuals’ genetics and the influence of environmental factors on their health.

Efforts like the Canadian Personal Genome project, a massive research initiative to sequence as many Canadians as possible, are pushing the science in the right direction, experts say. But these efforts will take time and raise significant ethical issues around how such inherently personal data should be used and protected.

The risks of disclosure are numerous. From hiring and health insurance to obtaining loans or even adopting a child, public disclosure of an individual’s genetic map could put them at risk of being stigmatized based on their predisposition to disease. And while the risks are great, the benefit to any one person’s health of participating in such large-scale sequencing projects will be small, especially in the short term.

1,000

Just a few years ago, only about 100 genetic tests were available; today, more than 1,000 are empowering physicians to better diagnose, counsel and treat patients.

“Genomic medicine holds tremendous promise,” Cheryl Shuman, director of genetic counseling for the Hospital for Sick Children in Canada, wrote on a Globe and Mail forum. “But we have a long way to go in understanding and contextualizing all findings – and experience to date indicates that not all findings reflect an underlying disorder.”

STATE OF THE ART

Perhaps the greatest benefit thus far comes from using sequenced genomes for diagnosing disease, predicting disease risk, and pinpointing which drugs to use and at what dose (pharmacogenomics), said Ghia Euskirchen, director of the DNA sequencing program in the Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine (USA).

Just a few years ago, only about 100 genetic tests were available; today, more than 1,000 are empowering physicians to better diagnose, counsel and treat patients for certain well- characterized disease states. Pharmacogenomic applications are already used to determine optimal drug treatments for breast, lung, colorectal and skin cancer, as well as treatments for childhood leukemia. Experts estimate that at least one-third of the 900 cancer drugs currently in clinical trials will come to market with a DNA or molecular test attached.

But only a small number of genetic variants have been studied extensively enough to substantiate a connection to disease, Euskirchen said. Often, common chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and depression involve multiple genes and a complex host of environmental factors. For example, more than 60 gene variants have been associated with diabetes, but only 70%-80% of the disease’s occurrence can be attributed to genetic factors versus environmental influences, according to Dr. Ronald Ma, professor in the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

Such complexity means the personal health value of genomic information in the short term, particularly for common diseases, remains questionable. “We don’t understand about 99.9% of what the genome is telling us,” Dr. Lynda Chin, who heads the department of genomic medicine at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, recently told The Wall Street Journal. “The predictive value is less until we do.”

Clearly, a lot of complex puzzle- solving remains to be done. “Partnerships are forming between pharmaceutical and DNA testing companies like 23andMe and Illumina to begin to combine individual genomic maps into the ‘master blueprint’ that will allow science to answer these questions,” Euskirchen said. “But the road to personalized medicine – unfortunately – is still a long and winding one.”

Super substances

New materials offer breakthrough potential

Mona Clerico

4 min read

Materials science is poised to dazzle the world with revolutionary new substances. From photovoltaic cells made from spinach protein to featherweight metallic foam, innovative new biomaterials, enhanced-functionality compounds, and superlight construction materials promise to significantly change what goes into tomorrow’s products.

Silicon. Composites. Titanium. Touch-sensitive glass. These and a host of other innovative materials have made possible today’s most imaginative products, from composite-hulled airplanes to cell phones that function like computers.

What will tomorrow’s breakthrough materials bring? Global experts are urging investors to watch three main trends in 2013: biomaterials, materials with new functionality, and materials for lightweight vehicles.

THE SECOND LIFE OF MUSHROOMS

Biologically made materials have dominated materials research for about a decade. For example, the multinational technology company 3M, known for adhesives, recently invested in a start-up that is producing alternatives for petrochemical foams using mycelium, or “mushroom roots,” as a self-assembling glue. The start-up is called Ecovative Design.

GLOBAL EXPERTS ARE URGING INVESTORS TO WATCH THREE MAIN TRENDS IN MATERIALS IN 2013: BIOMATERIALS, MATERIALS WITH NEW FUNCTIONALITY, AND MATERIALS FOR LIGHTWEIGHT VEHICLES.

“Ecovative’s business idea will enhance 3M’s footprint in sustainable polymer technologies,” said Stefan Gabriel, president of 3M New Ventures. “It is the kind of disruptive breakthrough technology that can be a game changer in various industries, including automotive, construction and architecture.”

Ecovative makes packaging called EcoCradle from mushroom spores. EcoCradles are used by a number of Fortune 500 clients, including Steelcase and Dell, as a cost-effective and environmentally friendly replacement for plastic packaging. “EcoCradle is grown from agricultural byproducts using substantially less energy than existing processes,” Ecovative Director Jerry Weinstein said. “It offers the performance of traditional foams and is home-compostable.”

PRODUCING POWER POPEYE’S WAY

Another biology-based material, in development at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee (USA), uses proteins from spinach to create voltaic cells, an innovation that would make spinach-gulping cartoon character Popeye the Sailor proud.

“ECO-FRIENDLY HANDLING OF MATERIALS AND NEW MATERIAL CONCEPTS ARE IN THE FOCUS OF THE DEVELOPERS.”

DR. SASCHA PETERS
CEO OF HAUTE INNOVATION

Plants transform sunlight into energy through a process known as photosynthesis. Although the hybrid solar cell based on the spinach protein is not as effective as conventional photovoltaic elements in producing energy – yet –the Vanderbilt researchers expect their voltaic cell to become commercially viable within three years.

Meanwhile, the Institute for Materials Science at the University of Stuttgart, Germany, produces high-performance ceramics that mimic the materials synthesis of sea shells and algae. This bio-mineralization process yields ceramic components for use in high- functional-density devices, including electronics and medical applications.

“Using bio-mineralization to produce high-performance ceramics adds new qualities to the material and is much eco-friendlier than conventionally produced materials,” explained Joachim Bill, a professor at the Institute for Materials Science in Stuttgart who has studied ceramics for decades.

RECYCLING MANAGEMENT

Eco-responsibility is a major driver for many bio-materials research projects. Dr. Sascha Peters, CEO of Haute Innovation, a consulting firm for materials research, predicts that biopolymers – synthetic materials made from renewables that degrade biologically – will soon dominate materials research. “Driven by the finite nature of fossil fuel supply,” Peters said, “the consciousness for eco-friendly handling of materials and new material concepts are in the focus of the developers.”

Fire-resistant Concrete Canvas shelters are inflated to the desired shape, then sprayed with water to make them permanent. (Image courtesy of Concrete Canvas Ltd.) 

But not everyone agrees that “bio” equals “earth-friendly.” Karsten Bleymehl, director, Library and Materials Research at Material Connection, an international consulting company that specializes in materials research, sees danger in this equation.

“The complete cycle of materials has to be regarded, not just production,” Bleymehl said. He sees more potential in packaging made from waste. 

SMART SURFACES FOR A NEW LOOK

Equally important, Bleymehl said, is the second big trend in new materials: adding functionality to well-known materials to expand their possible applications.

One material with high potential for added functionality is concrete. Although valued for qualities that include pressure resistance and durability, concrete is also known for its inflexibility – until now. Today, flexible rolls of concrete are available from the US textile company Milliken, which purchased the original supplier, Concrete Canvas Ltd., when it was a start-up. The new product is a flexible fabric impregnated with cement. When exposed to moisture, the fabric hardens to form a thin, durable layer of concrete impervious to both water and fire.

“All you have to do is add water,” explained William Crawford, who co-invented the material with Peter Brewin when they were engineering students at the Royal College of Art in London. Lined with a plastic inner- layer that can be inflated with an electric fan to create the structure’s shape until the concrete hardens, the new material is used primarily for concrete buildings in the military sector. The shelter provides protection against shrapnel, blasts and small- arms fire.

The positive characteristics of concrete also inspired a new material genre named BlingCrete – concrete with retroreflecting surfaces, produced by glass microspheres embedded in the substrate material. The glass microspheres reflect incoming rays of light directly back at the light’s source, creating a three- dimensional illusion on two- dimensional surfaces.

Potential applications of BlingCrete include safety-related marking of danger spots in construction. It also can be used in the design of integrated guidance systems and novel surface components, including facades, floors and ceilings. The manufacturer, Hering International of Burbach near Siegen, Germany, recently received the DesignPlus Award from the German Design Council for its innovative material. The jury said it was particularly impressed with the concrete’s modulation ability.

MATERIALS RACE FOR LIGHTWEIGHT CARS

The third important trend, also driven by environmental consciousness, is the push for lightweight materials for automobile fabrication. While fiber-reinforced composites have been used in the bodies of sports and premium cars for many years, researchers are working to develop a wider range of light materials.

One promising new material is aluminum foam, which is extremely light, dampens sound, and absorbs kinetic energy in crashes. Joachim Baumeister of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials (IFAM) in Bremen, Germany, invented it.

To produce the foam, a mixture of powdered aluminum and a foaming agent – usually titanium hydride – is first compacted and then expanded by heating the compact to its melting temperature. One of its first applications is in baggage nets for the Audi Q7, where the aluminum foam decelerates the forward movement of baggage during crashes.

Slope protection using Concrete Canvas. (Images courtesy of Concrete Canvas Ltd.) 

In addition to car components, aluminum foam has potential to be used in many other manufactured objects. For example, mobile elevating work platforms and railway vehicles also benefit from the foam’s damping power.

“In applications where high rigidity and energy absorption are important, the use of the material usually makes sense,” Baumeister said. “A further characteristic of metal foam is its low thermal conductivity, so they are also great for insulation purposes.”

With processes like these that transform the properties of known elements and find new applications for organic substances, the science of materials is pushing the envelope of what is possible, opening the door to a world of product innovations. 

Materials compliance

Deadlines loom, but preparation takes years

Lisa Roner

6 min read

A barrage of materials-compliance regulations is springing up worldwide, challenging manufacturers to be proactive in protecting revenues, avoiding fines, and maintaining product quality. Some, however, have transformed their approach to the regulations from a burdensome compliance “chore” into a competitive advantage.

When Agilent Technologies (USA) learned that it needed to remove lead solder from its electronic test products to meet new European Union (EU) environmental regulations, it took more than five years to comply. Redesigning 2,100 products took 24 months; testing the new designs for performance and durability took another 18 months.

“If we hadn’t gotten out in front of the issue very early, the European market could have banned our products,” said Frank Elsesser, Agilent’s director of Environmental Compliance, Product Regulations and Safety. “We had a third of our annual revenues on the line, about a billion US dollars. And the regulations are expanding.”

Virtually every manufacturer on the globe faces Elsesser’s challenge, but few are as aggressive as Agilent in meeting it. “Our products last for decades, so we realized that meeting the regulations early could give us a strong competitive advantage,” Elsesser said. “And it has.”

A COMPLEX MAZE

Following the EU’s lead, regulations that limit the presence of hazardous materials in products and manufacturing processes are being adopted by government after government, affecting almost every industry. While most manufacturers respect the legislation’s intent, they face a complex maze of evolving and sometimes contradictory regulations that affect the production, distribution, use and disposal of their products.

Given the complexity, environmental compliance cannot be a one-time project, said Meglena Mihova, partner at the European public affairs consultancy EPPA (formerly known as European Public Policy Advisers). With the increasing barrage of regulations, most notably the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical Substances (REACH) and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directives issued by the EU, Mihova urges manufacturers to be proactive.

GETTING AHEAD OF THE CURVE

Companies shouldn’t sit back and wait for the next regulation, Mihova said, but should get involved as directives are written and expanded. “The politicians involved in creating environmental regulations like RoHS and REACH often fail to understand the complexity of the supply chain,” Mihova said.

“For companies to be compliant, they have to reach out to different continents and, in many cases, completely redesign a very complex product. Sometimes it takes years to find suitable substitutes and retest for the required quality and reliability of a product that may be in use for 20 or 30 years.” Mihova points to US-based Agilent as a strong example of proactive action.

Although the monitoring-and-control- equipment giant was not in the immediate scope of RoHS when the regulations were first enacted, Agilent immediately examined its supply chain and began to redesign its products with compliance in mind. Its manufacturing experts also became active participants in the legislative process.

60 months

Meeting RoHS regulations took Agilent 60 months, including 24 months to redesign 2,100 products and 18 months to test the new designs. 

“Agilent got involved in consultations, helped explain the challenges for the sector and why they needed more time to comply,” Mihova said. “They even worked for revisions in the directive. This honest and proactive approach was very positive.”

AT RISK: $1 BILLION

To comply with the RoHS directive, Agilent needed to find a substitute for the lead solder it uses in circuit boards and work with its suppliers to ensure that they, too, made the change. “Taking the lead out of solder is a fundamental shift in technology,” Elsesser said. “It’s very important to our customers that it’s done in a well-tested and methodical way. We wanted to get a jump on it well before we faced the regulatory deadlines.”

Lead, a heavy metal, was just one of many regulated substances Agilent needed to track. For each substance, Agilent’s designers and engineers needed to determine which supplier components to include in their designs and whether the sum of those choices would meet the regulatory limits in any given country. Agilent also needed to manage its shipments to ensure that only compliant products were sent to regulated countries.

“We knew if we didn’t produce RoHS-compliant products in a certain number of years we might lose market access, which is a significant amount of revenue for our company,” Elsesser said. “The EU represents probably 30% of our revenue right now, but as environmental regulations become stricter around the globe, I can see that growing to 90% or even 100%.”

The challenges are daunting, but Agilent is turning them into opportunities. “We wanted to be at the forefront of developing products that were and are sustainable,” Elsesser said. “In some cases we’re seeing new contracts based on our ability to demonstrate whether our products meet certain environmental regulations around the globe. Our customers are not only requesting information about RoHS compliance; in some cases they’re demanding it, because our products are integrated into their solutions.”

With little to no regulatory consistency from country to country and new regulations emerging almost daily, manual tracking methods carried too much risk. Therefore, Agilent implemented a sophisticated materials compliance application to track emerging regulations and re-calculate the total volume of each hazardous substance in each product as components change. By designing its products to the highest standard from each regulation, Agilent ensures that every product it manufactures meets or exceeds all standards worldwide.

“SOMETIMES IT TAKES YEARS TO FIND SUITABLE SUBSTITUTES AND RETEST FOR THE REQUIRED QUALITY AND RELIABILITY OF A PRODUCT.”

MEGLENA MIHOVA
PARTNER, EPPA

“One of the things we found early on was that building a foundation on a solid environmental data management system would get us there and help us evolve with the rapidly changing regulations over time.”

Elsesser advises other companies not to underestimate the strategic value of a solid environmental data management system for materials compliance. “This isn’t a typical IT application; it helps you understand the value of your investments in environmental compliance. You can use this as a strategic advantage.” 

FINDING OPPORTUNITY IN THE CHALLENGE

AB Sciex, a US-based maker of mass spectrometers and other scientific equipment, is another company transforming materials compliance from a regulatory chore into a market opportunity.

Most of AB Sciex’s products won’t be subject to regulatory restrictions until 2016. But George Valaitis, AB Sciex’s RoHS program manager, said AB Sciex wanted to put an efficient materials compliance program in place to ensure the company’s market access worldwide.

“The major issue I see with companies that wait too long is they have to pull all the people out of research and development, or engineering, and push them into environmental compliance for six months,” Valaitis said. “During that time they’re not developing new products and the business suffers.”

The challenge is huge and growing. Although RoHS targeted just six substances, Valaitis points out that additional directives like REACH, which covers 138 substances today, are expanding at the rate of 20 to 50 substances each year.

“THE COMPLIANCE PROGRAM IMPLEMENTATION THAT WE HAVE IS PROVIDING US WITH AN OPPORTUNITY TO TIDY UP EXISTING DESIGNS, REALLY ENHANCE OUR PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT PROCESSES, AND ATTAIN ENVIRONMENTAL COMPLIANCE AT THE SAME TIME.”

GEORGE VALAITIS
AB SCIEX’S ROHS PROGRAM MANAGER

“It’s a gradual, step-wise process that the EU has put into place,” Valaitis said. “We’ve gone forward with our program to really drive environmental compliance and restrict the use of those substances today in our products. Then we will be ready for when the laws do come into effect.”

By examining its own processes and developing better information exchanges with its suppliers, Valaitis believes that AB Sciex is gaining an unexpected bonus: efficiencies in its development cycle. “The compliance program implementation that we have is providing us with an opportunity to tidy up existing designs, really enhance our product development processes, and attain environmental compliance at the same time,” he said.

For example, Valaitis said that when AB Sciex redesigns its circuit boards, the company often gains a cost advantage of 10% to 20% by leveraging design enhancements and cleanups for a more robust overall design. “As the deadlines approach, there are going to be more questions about what’s in our products and what’s not, and we’ll be in a very good position to let our customers know.” 

20%

AB Sciex is achieving cost improvements as much as 20% by enhancing its designs while meeting materials compliance regulations.

PARTICIPATION CRUCIAL TO SUCCESS

The key to successfully navigating the complex sea of legislation is to get involved in its creation early and often, Mihova advised. “Don’t be afraid to come to the public policy table to address restrictions on a new substance before they are put in place,” she said. “Explain where you absolutely need the substance and then team with the authorities to work out a regulatory scenario that will minimize the negative impact on your business.”

Especially for complex products, it is critical to have visibility into and control over the supply chain, she said. “You must know who is producing what and which suppliers are providing compliant components so that you can react quickly and with minimal risk in the increasingly intensive regulatory environment. You must anticipate; you must be proactive. You simply can’t be silent.”

Stay up to date

Receive monthly updates on content you won’t want to miss

Subscribe

Register here to receive a monthly update on our newest content.