Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s picture

By: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

‘Engineering is about building things to help others.”

Before diving into a longer explanation, that’s how Singanallur “Venkat” Venkatakrishnan, an electrical and computer engineer at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), described engineering to students at Northwest Middle School.

Venkat was among 20 ORNL engineers who visited 15 middle schools across East Tennessee for Engineers Week, an international outreach effort created to cultivate a diverse engineering workforce by “increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers.” ORNL’s inaugural Engineers Week activities introduced more than 800 students to the possibilities of engineering—and to the national lab in their backyard.

Singanallur “Venkat” Venkatakrishnan shows students at Northwest Middle School how to make a “hoop glider” as part of ORNL’s Engineers Week activities. Credit: Abby Bower/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy.

Rebecca Spang’s picture

By: Rebecca Spang

Arnold Schwarzenegger tweeted a video of himself on March 15, 2020, saying: “No more restaurants.” Seated in his palatial kitchen with two miniature horses, Whiskey and Lulu, beside him, the former California governor pronounced: “We don’t go out; we don’t go to restaurants. We don’t do anything like that anymore.”

The immediate prompt for the video was, of course, the coronavirus pandemic, spread most easily by human-to-human contact. As a public health measure, mayors of New York, Seattle, Denver, and many other cities and states have ordered restaurants to switch to delivery and pickup service only.

NIST’s picture

By: NIST

Unlike diamonds, solar panels are not forever. Ultraviolet rays, gusts of wind, and heavy rain wear away at them over their lifetime. 

Manufacturers typically guarantee that panels will endure the elements for at least 25 years before experiencing significant drop-offs in power generation, but recent reports highlight a trend of panels failing decades before expected. For some models, there has been a spike in the number of cracked backsheets—layers of plastic that electrically insulate and physically shield the backsides of solar panels.

The premature cracking has largely been attributed to the widespread use of certain plastics, such as polyamide, but the reason for their rapid degradation has been unclear. By closely examining cracked polyamide-based backsheets, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and colleagues have uncovered how interactions between these plastics, environmental factors, and solar panel architecture may be speeding up the degradation process. These findings could aid researchers in the development of improved durability tests and longer-lived solar panels. 

Multiple Authors
By: Donald J. Wheeler, Al Pfadt, Kathryn J. Whyte

Based on the professional literature available, there are some inconvenient truths about Covid-19 that are not always considered in the chorus of confusion that exists today. Here we summarize what is known, what has already happened, and what is to be expected based on the analysis of the data and the epidemiological models.

Background

An analysis of the first 425 laboratory-identified cases of a novel coronavirus infected pneumonia (Covid-19) is presented by Qun Li, et.al.1. The first cases were identified at Wuhan hospitals as a "pneumonia of unknown etiology" when the patients met the following criteria: fever in excess of 100.4°F, radiographic evidence of pneumonia, low or normal white-cell count or low lymphocyte count, and no symptomatic improvement after antimicrobial treatment for 3 to 5 days according to standard clinical guidelines. On Jan. 7, 2020, the outbreak was confirmed as a new coronavirus infection2.

Lee Seok Hwai’s picture

By: Lee Seok Hwai

Hong Kong scientists teaching a panicked populace to make their own surgical masks with paper towels and metallic wire must surely rank as one of the most Kafkaesque moments of the new coronavirus disease outbreak. But the worst is yet to be if global medical supply chains, already stretched in parts to breaking point, are not shored up to cope with the pandemic.

A desperate shortage of surgical masks, the most visible symbol of the epidemic since China began fighting it at the start of the year, underscores the scale of the problem. The country made five billion masks last year and supplied about half of the global market. But with its people churning through tens of millions of masks every day, China is cranking up domestic production even as it imports medical gear from the West.

Peter Dizikes’s picture

By: Peter Dizikes

Suppose you would like to know mortality rates for women during childbirth, by country, around the world. Where would you look? One option is the WomanStats Project, the website of an academic research effort investigating the links between the security and activities of nation-states, and the security of the women who live in them.

The WomanStats Project, founded in 2001, meets a need by patching together data from around the world. Many countries are indifferent to collecting statistics about women’s lives. But even where countries try harder to gather data, there are clear challenges to arriving at useful numbers—whether it comes to women’s physical security, property rights, and government participation, among many other issues.  

For instance: In some countries, violations of women’s rights may be reported more regularly than in other places. That means a more responsive legal system may create the appearance of greater problems, when it provides relatively more support for women. The WomanStats Project notes many such complications.

Ken Maynard’s picture

By: Ken Maynard

When educational and public sectors consider applying a proven method like lean Six Sigma, the perception persists that this “manufacturing program” will not work in a nonmanufacturing environment. Along with that limiting assumption, there is an underlying expectation within the service industry that it requires a substantially customized approach.

This makes perfect sense. It’s logical. If I’m not making the proverbial “widget”—if I’m processing transactions, delivering services, or providing a learning environment—then how do I use lean Six Sigma? It’s got a proven track record of success in manufacturing, but this success can morph into a hindrance when considering spreading the gains in nonmanufacturing.

If a different approach is necessary to successful lean Six Sigma implementation in the public sector, then how do we adapt the approach without compromising the fundamentals that lead to success?

Jesse Allred’s picture

By: Jesse Allred

Imagine a manufacturing facility prioritizing cleanliness and organization—aisles are kept clear, equipment is well maintained, the plant floor is regularly cleaned, operators can easily locate tools, and materials are always stored in the right place. All employees contribute to managing work spaces, creating a culture of efficiency and quality.

Sophia Finn’s picture

By: Sophia Finn

Effective and efficient supplier management is possible, but not when we’re still using old tools and expecting different outcomes.

Emailing suppliers to communicate product specs, corrective action requests, or audit reports may be “the way it’s always been done,” but that doesn’t mean it isn’t inefficient and risky. The email black hole is a real thing, and busy quality professionals cannot be expected to remember every supplier correspondence and response. Excel spreadsheets are a favorite for many of us, but how can you ensure data accuracy and accessibility when spreadsheets are stored on someone’s computer or on a shared drive?

When you think about it, using yesterday’s tools to manage suppliers infuses uncertainty, inefficiency, and a lack of traceability and transparency at every step. “The way it’s always been done” introduces a level of risk entirely unnecessary, given the availability of modern, cloud-based supplier quality management solutions.

Jennifer Grant’s picture

By: Jennifer Grant

With Covid-19 continuing to impact many businesses, lead time as well as sourcing new suppliers is increasingly difficult. If you currently outsource manufacturing overseas, it is likely you have encountered some turbulence to your supply chain.

Rapid prototypes and large-quantity production of special precision parts and components are key to many business’s operations. Along with this, an agile business strategy that enables the sourcing of verified suppliers, as well as maintaining production-line efficiency, are critical. With travel to Asia currently stalled, and many factories presently closed or operating at low capacity, this strategy is not easily executed for many companies worldwide. Although engineers have a wide array of companies to choose from to get their machining parts manufactured, the turnaround time can be weeks from order to delivery.

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