Companies Retool Operations to Assist in Coronavirus Fight

by Barry Render

From a Kentucky distillery to a French bluejeans maker, companies are retooling to produce medical equipment for overloaded hospitals and slow the spread of coronavirus, writes The Wall Street Journal (March 19, 2020). Christian Dior perfumes has started making hand sanitizer. A car-parts company is producing hygienic masks. Luxury hotels are becoming makeshift quarantine shelters. An earthmoving-equipment maker and other manufacturers are examining whether they can help make ventilators, the key life-support machines.

As the pandemic grips the West, global demand for a range of goods and services has faltered—from handbags and tourism to cars. That has freed capacity for industries to produce medical equipment in short supply. World leaders have framed the crisis as a wartime struggle, and hark back Continue reading

Ships Turn Into Floating Storage Units

A new glut of oil and gas is emerging, floating at sea, as the coronavirus epidemic cuts China’s appetite for fuel and hampers work at Chinese ports. Dozens of ships are acting as floating storage vats for oil and liquefied natural gas because the owners of the fuel are unable to find buyers or places to store their cargo on land, according to The Wall Street Journal (March 4, 2020). Some 79 vessels are now storing crude oil at sea.

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Delta Air Lines and the $6,000,000 Man

By Barry Render

Delta Air Lines is partnering with Sarcos Robotics to explore new employee technology fit for a superhero—a mobile and dexterous exoskeleton designed to boost employees’ physical capabilities and bolster their safety, reports New Equipment Digest (Jan. 15, 2020). Sarcos, the world’s leader in exoskeleton development, has developed a battery-powered, full-body exoskeleton designed to increase human performance and endurance while helping to prevent injury.

This robotic suit, designed for employees to wear, does the heavy lifting. By bearing the weight of the suit and the payload, the exoskeleton may enable an employee to lift up to 200 pounds repeatedly for 8 hours at a time without strain or fatigue. The Sancos model is designed for use in industries where lifting and manipulation of heavy materials or awkward objects are required and aren’t easily handled by standard lift equipment.

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Startup Races to Roll Out 3D Printed Steaks

December 2, 2019

The walls of Redefine Meat Ltd.’s lab in Rehovot, Israel, are plastered with posters of cuts of beef, including sirloins, T-bones, and rib-eyes. But the startup isn’t looking to sell the perfect cut of beef. Instead, it wants to create a plant-based facsimile. The company is building a 3D printer that it says will produce a meatless steak that’s so fatty, juicy, and perfectly meaty that even the most dedicated carnivore won’t know the difference. “All meat alternatives today are basically a meat-homogeneous mass,” says  Redefine Meat’s CEO. “If you 3D-print it, you can control what’s happening inside the mass to improve the texture and to improve the flavor.”

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The Rise of the Collaborative Warehouse Robot

May 3, 2019

Two Locus Robotics mobile robots at work with a staffer picking products at a warehouse

Locus Robotic Corp. robots resemble motorized stools with shelving and touchscreens. They operate in groups and use sensors to navigate through warehouses as workers pick items and move on. They are part of a new generation of automated tools known as collaborative robots because they work with human staffers. They come equipped with software that ties together inventory management data and warehouse management systems to help the robots quickly locate products in vast warehouses and figure out the fastest, most efficient path to the goods. Continue reading

Scheduling Your Fleet of Planes When 737s Cannot Fly

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Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX aircraft parked in Victorville, Calif

Airlines around the world sped Boeing’s 737 Max into service, eager to capitalize on its efficient engines, writes The New York Times (April 12, 2019). Some low-cost carriers built new routes around the Max, which could travel farther on less fuel than its predecessor. But with the Max grounded following two deadly crashes, the airlines that rely on its planes are scrambling to adjust, and the costs are mounting. Continue reading

Using Ultrasonic Sounds to Keep the Beer Flowing

January 28, 2019

Anheuser-Busch uses this sensor to pick up ultrasonic sounds coming off conveyor belt and motors.

The world’s largest beer maker is using low-cost sensors and machine learning to predict when motors at a Colorado brewery might malfunction, reports The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 24, 2019).  The Anheuser-Busch plant was the first among the company’s 350 beer facilities to test whether wireless sensors that can detect ultrasonic sounds—beyond the grasp of the human ear—can be analyzed to predict when machines need maintenance. “You can start hearing days in advance that something will go wrong, and you’ll know within hours when it’ll fail. It’s really, for us, very practical,” said the VP.

The installation at the brewery cost just $20,000. Since the system was deployed, it has predicted pending equipment failures and prevented unscheduled production-line halts, and more than $200,000 in product loss. (The Colorado plant employs 580 people and ships 225 truckloads of Budweiser, Bud Light and other beer brands each day). Continue reading