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Editor’s Choice

Surveying: ‘The future is here’ – KHL Group – Laser-View | Laser-View

By Construction and Engineering, Editor's Choice, Industrial automation, Sensors, Structural monitoring

The days when surveying meant a group of people holding up poles and measuring angles and distances, marking out a site with yet more poles, are long gone, and the techniques used today are becoming more and more sophisticated all the time. BIM (building information modelling) is a term that was coined only a few short years ago, but is now the key to unlock the data needed on a big project.

Source: Surveying: ‘The future is here’ – KHL Group – Laser-View | Laser-View

Surveying: ‘The future is here’ – KHL Group

By Automation, Editor's Choice, Engineering and construction, Sensors, Structural monitoring, technology

Abdce contex capture copy

The days when surveying meant a group of people holding up poles and measuring angles and distances, marking out a site with yet more poles, are long gone, and the techniques used today are becoming more and more sophisticated all the time.

BIM (building information modelling) is a term that was coined only a few short years ago, but is now the key to unlock the data needed on a big project. And the basic information that allows BIM to hold that powerful position, can be sourced easily from so many different places – even the sky, with drones increasingly playing a part.

However, all these new technologies and the possibilities they offer have to be harnessed.

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, EU Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, wrote in the introduction to the Handbook for the Introduction of Building Information Modelling by the European Public Sector, “Similar to other sectors, construction is now seeing its own digital revolution, having previously benefited from only modest productivity improvements.

“Building Information Modelling is being adopted rapidly by different parts of the value chain as a strategic tool to deliver cost savings, productivity and operations efficiencies, improved infrastructure quality and better environmental performance.”

She said, “The future is here, and the moment has now come to build a common European approach for this sector. Both public procurement – which is accountable for a major share of construction expenditure – and policy makers can play a pivotal role to encourage the wider use of BIM in support of innovation and sustainable growth, while actively including our SMEs – and generating better value for money for the European taxpayer.

In the handbook’s executive summary, it says, “The prize is large: if the wider adoption of BIM across Europe delivered 10% savings to the construction sector then an additional €130 billion would be generated for the €1.3 trillion market.

“Even this impact could be small when compared with the potential social and environmental benefits that could be delivered to the climate change and resource efficiency agenda.”

Roads and bridges

One of the leading companies in this area is US-based Bentley Systems. Santanu Das, senior vice president, design modelling, said that one of the biggest advances in information modelling was its use not only in buildings, but also in transportation and heavy civil engineering projects like roads and bridges.

He said there was increased use in brownfield projects.

“Brownfield projects require some sort of starting data,” he said. In the past, 2D drawings were the starting point, then a 3D model.

“One advancement that came out years ago was point clouds – LiDAR,” said Das. “The issue with LiDAR was two big things – it was quite bulky and expensive, you can only do it once every four or five years. The data that are generated would be in the terabytes sometimes and there was nothing really available to process it properly.”

He said a third problem was classification.

“If you took a point cloud, you had no idea what the hell those points meant. A human can figure out, that’s a wall, that’s a column, but in order to do what we call classification, automatically, was impossible.”

He continued, “So what Bentley’s been working on in the past couple years on its BIM platform is reality modelling, and that’s now all a part of our Connect Edition platform.”

Santanu das gc1 1677

Connect Edition converges Bentley’s platform technology to support a hybrid environment across desktop modelling applications, cloud services, on-premise servers, and mobile apps.

“Every single Connect Edition product we have – from Building Designer to OpenPlant to OpenRoads – uses this fundamental datatype that we create from our ContextCapture piece in there.

“That’s one huge advantage that we have for people who want to start off on brownfield projects.”

Bentley can now process this information in the cloud. Das said that with LiDAR and any type of photogrammetry, the number of pictures captured could be astronomical.

“What we doing out with our new ContextCapture in the cloud is that we have the ability to process hundreds of thousands of these pictures in a very, very quick manner, because we’re using the power of multiple servers.

“Then we stream that information as needed to the BIM platform via our ProjectWise.”

With ProjectWise, what Bentley calls i-models can be combined together with other documents into a single package, so that models and associated content can be accessed on an iPad using Bentley mobile apps.

“Reality modelling classification is huge,” said Das. “The other thing that we are finding in information modelling today and the advancement in BIM is the collaboration aspect.”

While people can work together, share data together, Das said there was a problem of a lack of basic terminology of communication.

“So what we have done is to work really hard to come up with a common terminology for all asset class types. So if we’re talking about a beam in a building, or a beam in a plant scenario, it understands what a beam is.”

Some years ago, Bentley introduced i-models, which Das described as “a sort of pdf for the AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) industry”.

He said, “We’ve taken that to the next level. We’re going to be introducing this thing called the i-model hub, which allows for data to flow from discipline to discipline, and different hierarchies.”

He said there were different levels of detail.

“The hub can filter out the information depending on what your role is, and what your discipline is. It also manages change – which is huge – it’s communicating and constantly keeping that model up to date.”

This communication can be with the products of other companies, too.

“We believe in third party interoperability,” said Das.

The daily visualisation of a jobsite can help minimise construction delays, prevent clashes between the work onsite and the design, eliminate the need for rework, facilitate stakeholder communication and align schedules.

The Pix4D Crane Camera claims to combine hardware and software to help with this. A camera is mounted on a tower crane jib, from where it captures site images. These are transmitted wirelessly to the Pix4D cloud, and processed automatically to be converted into 2D maps and 3D models.

The company behind it said it was designed to monitor any type of construction, and had already been endorsed by some large companies worldwide.

Early adopter

A metro line project in western France was among the early adopters. Dodin Campenon Bernard, part of the Vinci group, was awarded a 14km project that included a tunnel and underground stations.

The station to be monitored was in the heart of the city centre and made drone flights, which was one option, impossible.

At 32m of digging depth and with massive brace frames to support the excavation, the building site was said to be a challenge. However, through the data collected with the crane camera, Dodin Campenon Bernard was able to follow the evolution of the site day by day.

Romain Nicolas, deputy technical director at Dodin Campenon Bernard, said, “Projects are complicated – unforeseen circumstances can happen and delay the project. This kind of projects take a few years to achieve, and meanwhile, can highly perturb the neighbourhood.”

He said it was crucial to communicate progress on the construction site, and share visual updates from the site to local residents and all stakeholders.

In Zurich, Switzerland, it was a railway bridge that was the focus for Pix4D. The capacity of the Zurich rail network and surrounding region was felt to have reached its limit, and Porr Suisse, part of one of the largest Austrian construction groups, was given the job of expanding the railway infrastructure. This included the construction of a 200m bridge and a new track.

Swiss company BSF Swissphoto was in charge of surveying the infrastructure. It used the crane camera to document the current situation of the site, capturing data daily.

The weekly work progress reports produced were said to have improved communication and collaboration between the companies and subcontractors involved.

Pix4 d hospital denmark

A large new hospital complex being built in Denmark covers more than 150,000m2, and had 13 cranes erected.

Pix4D said that with BIM and digital construction technologies, this project was a perfect example of a connected site. The contractors have been continually testing new technologies, and selected the crane camera to be a part of the project.

The results were said to have quickly revealed to be a huge time saver for the project team. Although the project team was based on the work site, the camera was situated on the other side of the site, meaning a long walk to check the building status, which could take a few hours. With a permanent monitoring solution like the crane camera, data has been automatically available when needed, enabling the project team to get information quickly, and make faster decisions when it came to confirming or realigning the schedule.

Pix4D said that combining crane camera use with drones could ensure the most complete aerial site overview, from the earliest earthwork stages of a project.


Drones go under several aliases – UAS (unmanned aircraft system) and UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), for example.

Trimble is collaborating with Propeller Aero to distribute its UAS analytics platform. Propeller, based in Australia and the US, said it was a leader in the advanced collection, visualisation and analysis of data from drones.

Trimble said Propeller’s simple automated ground control targets, cloud-based visualisation and rapid analysis platform would also be integrated with Trimble Connected Site solutions to bring “an end-to-end cloud-based UAS solution to civil engineering and construction contractors”.

It said that pairing Propeller’s web-based interface with Trimble Connected Site solutions would allow users to unlock the full value of UAS information.

Texo dsi

Users can get access to simple tools to measure surface geometry, track trends and changes across time, and perform visual inspections. Trimble said that both technical and non-technical professionals were now able to gather insights remotely and collaborate. It added this would drive improvements in safety and efficiency as well as reducing environmental impact across a construction worksite.

Scott Crozier, director of marketing for Trimble Civil Engineering & Construction, said, “Propeller combines ease of use with powerful analysis tools that allow users to view 2D and 3D deliverables and extract valuable information.

“Like Trimble, Propeller understands the value of quality and accurate data for integration with civil engineering and construction workflows.”

Rory San Miguel, CEO of Propeller Aero, said, “We pride ourselves in taking the most trusted, technical data and tools, and wrapping that up in an easy-to-use online platform that is relevant to the entire organisation, not just technical users.

“Integrating our platform into Trimble’s Connected Site solutions will bring a new class of information to construction sites and organisations globally.”

Also working with UAVs, Texo Drone Survey & Inspection (DSI) said that with UAVs, a big part of keeping on top of potential challenges involved talking to clients ahead of them encountering particular issues, and developing bespoke platforms that mee their needs precisely, by engineering solutions from the bottom up.

It said it had been investing in technology that allowed for heavier payloads and enabling its fleet of UAVs to operate under more difficult weather conditions.

The UAVs currently in operation can deal with wind speeds of up to 15m/s, with the flexibility to carry a variety of custom payloads. Texo DSI has permits for operations up to 20kg, which it said was a game changer for the construction sector.

The company said that a standard LiDAR survey, accuracy of data is generally to around 40mm. However, it claimed that through investment and development of its LiDAR UAV fleet and associated survey software, it was achieving accuracy of 1 to 3mm with its survey grade UAV integrated LiDAR system. This system is delivered via a custom-built UAV platform that measures over 1 million points per second.

Topcon Positioning Group has added advanced connectivity options to its DS-200i direct aiming imaging station.

The DS-200i, now with wi-fi access, provides real-time, touchscreen video and photo imaging to capture measured positions.

Ray Kerwin, director of global surveying products, said, “The ultra-wide 5 MP on-board camera provides photo documentation in the field and can now transmit live video using either LongLink or high-speed WLAN as an access point, which allows the FC-5000 or Windows 10 tablets easily to connect.

“The addition of Wi-Fi connectivity offers convenience to the powerful video capabilities of the DS-200i. The system allows for non-prism measurements to be aimed and measured to remote objects – saving time without having to return to the tripod.”

He added, “The live video allows a remote user to know exactly what is being measured.”

Additional standard features include Hybrid Positioning functionality, Xpointing technology for quick and reliable prism acquisition, TSshield telematics security and maintenance technology, and a rating of IP65 for water-resistant construction.

GNSS suported

Leica Geosystems has just released Leica Spider v7.0 software suite, which is now said to support all GNSS (global navigation satellite systems) – GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo and QZSS, as well as the GPS-L5 signal for improved network RTK (real time kinematic) correction services.

The all-in-one solution is said to offer users working on surveying and mapping, among other tasks, improved positioning accuracy and correction service. Leica said that professionals could now increase productivity while they operated reliably in environments with obstructions, like urban canyons, or at high latitudes, thanks to the higher number of usable satellites from multiple GNSS constellations.

Leica said that for the first time, all important GNSS network information was available in one “convenient and easy-to-access web user interface”. The Leica Spider Business Centre web portal is said to combine all the elements to operate the infrastructure efficiently, including user and access management, and network and rover status monitoring.

Leica spider v7.0

Markus Roland, product manager for GNSS Networks and Reference Stations, said, “Our goal with this new version is to incorporate the latest developments into our solution to continue our history of pioneering in GNSS.

“We strive to deliver reliable productivity improvements for our customers. With the new Spider v7.0, customer benefits are tangible and quality is ensured.”

Another new surveying technology which is increasingly apparent on jobsites is augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR).

In the UK, Scotland’s University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing (AMRC) in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, have been working with Glasgow-based design visualisation company Soluis Group and modular building designer and manufacturer Carbon Dynamic.

Together, they claim to have successfully built a demonstrator for the use of AR and VR in the construction industry.

The technology was first trialled on a 2.2m plasterboard wall which, when viewed with a Microsoft HoloLens, showed a 3D rendering of the plumbing and wiring behind the façade.

The system can also be used to examine different wall parts to ensure there are no gaps in insulation before being sent to a construction site.

David Grant, partnership development leader at the AFRC, said, “This new technology has a role to play before, during and after construction of both domestic and commercial properties.”

Strathclyde afrc

Strathclyde afrc 3

He said that before work starts, those involved in a construction project would be able accurately to visualise and walk through a building before the foundations were even dug. He said this would help in identifying any potential issues before they occur.

And a Danish BIM-software company is claiming that for the first time, construction workers will be able to see a mix of reality and digital drawings from their smartphone

Dalux has launched what it says is the world’s first AR technology that works on mobile devices, and shows a mix of construction drawings and reality – based on what is being looked at and the location.

Jakob Andreas Bærentzen, associate professor at the Danish Technical University Compute, said he was impressed that an AR product was mature enough to aid in the construction industry already.

He said, “Dalux’s AR-technology already seems to be useful in practice. This is several years earlier than I expected we would see such solutions.

“It makes the accomplishment even more impressive that the software can handle large amounts of data and is mature for practical use on mobile devices – that are not designed for such tasks in the construction industry as the HoloLens is.”

Dalux co-founder Bent Dalgaard said, “Now, at most large construction projects, a digital BIM model is often created. We can access these drawings through mobile devices, based on the construction worker’s location, and show it as AR.

“The fact that the technology can be used on mobile devices makes the adoption in the construction industry much faster, since everybody has a smartphone or tablet these days, and HoloLens is much more expensive, meaning that not all workers have access to the AR drawings.”

Real-time collaboration

Another company, HoloBuilder, which provides 360° reality capturing of construction sites, is releasing a product featuring new capabilities for real-time collaboration and offline handover for project close-out.

HoloBuilder offers a scalable SaaS (software as a service – licensed on subscription) solution. It is said to be a collection of all features that HoloBuilder offers as a collaborative enterprise package – 360° reality capturing with the JobWalk mobile app, TimeTravel for progress documentation, the measurement tool to measure within 360° images, and annotations.

The company said that users could now collaborate with the whole team and enjoy enterprise level service and security. HoloBuilder lets entire construction project teams contribute to the documentation process.

During project close-out, the project can be downloaded and saved as a view-only deliverable for the owner to keep throughout the lifetime of the building.

Apple wanted spherical wheels for its autonomous car | Laser-View

By Editor's Choice

Apple wanted spherical wheels for its autonomous car

Apple may be scaling back its self-driving car plans, but the company had some seriously off-beat ideas for what the autonomous vehicle of the future might look like. Reports earlier in the year suggested Apple had realized the scale of the challenge it was facing, were it to try to develop its own vehicle from scratch, with leaks earlier in the week indicating a “more modest” plan was now underway. That will include a self-driving shuttle for Apple employees, but there’s another far more interesting tidbit.

Source: Apple wanted spherical wheels for its autonomous car | Laser-View

Apple wanted spherical wheels for its autonomous car

By Automotive Industry, Editor's Choice, Engineering and construction, laser distance sensor

Apple may be scaling back its self-driving car plans, but the company had some seriously off-beat ideas for what the autonomous vehicle of the future might look like. Reports earlier in the year suggested Apple had realized the scale of the challenge it was facing, were it to try to develop its own vehicle from scratch, with leaks earlier in the week indicating a “more modest” plan was now underway. That will include a self-driving shuttle for Apple employees, but there’s another far more interesting tidbit.

According to the NY Times, Apple wasn’t limiting its out-of-the-box thinking just to replacing the driver. “Project Titan”, as the endeavor was known internally, saw Apple engineers looking at cleaner, more pleasing ways to tackle a number of automotive parts that might normally go unaddressed. That apparently included motorized car doors that operated silently, a flush-fitting LIDAR sensor for more discreet laser range-finding for autonomous systems, and an augmented reality dashboard.

One feature being explored, though, could’ve been a real game-changer. One part of the Titan team was supposedly looking at spherical wheels, which would be able to rotate in every direction rather than just forward and back. Such a design would be preferable “because spherical wheels could allow the car better lateral movement,” the newspaper reports.

That never panned out, though, potentially because the technical issues around such wheels would simply be too great – not to mention arguably unwise to tackle given Apple’s inexperience in the auto industry. We’ve already seen what happens when a relative newcomer like Tesla tries to do too much in one new vehicle, after all. The “Falcon Wing” doors on the Model X were ambitious and plagued with issues at the SUV’s launch, with Elon Musk later conceding that the company tried to do too much at once.

Apple isn’t the first to think about spherical tires, of course. They’ve been featured in a number of science fiction movies, most memorably I, Robot back in 2004, which featured Audi’s RSQ concept. Then, the self-driving coupe was able to use its bulbous wheels to drive sideways, including up walls.

Last year, meanwhile, Goodyear showed off a spherical tire idea of its own. Dubbed Eagle-360, the tires would each use magnetic levitation within the wheel-arch, and also include a bevy of sensors that could feed back information about road surface conditions to make the self-driving AI a better driver.

Goodyear was blunt about the wheels just being the stuff of concept for the moment, but the idea of having a massive trackball or four under your car seems unlikely to go away entirely. Being able to move laterally would certainly make parking in narrow spaces easier, not to mention allow autonomous parking garages more flexibility to shuffle vehicles around.

Startups Are Laser-Focused on Helping Self-Driving Cars See – TIME

By Automotive Industry, Editor's Choice, News, Robotics, Sensors

Austin Russell hops in a motorized cart and goes whizzing through a cavernous building on the edge of San Francisco Bay that is normally used to disembark cruise-ship passengers. As the lanky 22-year-old CEO tools around, he passes a mannequin, a tire and a co-worker on a bicycle–all elements of a demonstration to show how well his company’s sensor can monitor the environment. On a nearby screen, those shapes appear in rainbow colors that signify exactly how far away they are. All of it is the result of laser beams shooting out of a black box and bouncing off more than a million points around the room every second. “It’s easy to make an autonomous vehicle that works 99% of the time,” Russell says later. “But the challenge is in that last 1% of all the different edge cases that can be presented to a driver.”

Edge cases could mean anything from a sudden sleet storm to late-night carousers overflowing into the street. In order for self-driving cars to become a reality, vehicles must “see not just some of the objects some of the time, but all objects all the time,” says Russell, head of a firm called Luminar. Like an increasing number of entrepreneurs and investors, he believes that technology known as lidar–a shortened name for light detection and ranging–is a key part of the answer. More than $400 million has been invested in the field in the past few years. “Everyone’s circling and looking for opportunities within autonomy,” says CB Insights analyst Kerry Wu.

New cars that people buy today might have a dozen sensors on them already. But each type has drawbacks. Cameras, for instance, are helpful for backing up, but they’re hampered by snow and darkness. Radar sensors, which keep cars at a safe cruising distance, aren’t flummoxed by weather–yet they’re better at detecting metal than soft stuff, like humans.

Up until now, lidar had been too costly for widespread usage. In early prototypes of Google’s self-driving cars, the model that spun around in a bucket on top of the vehicle cost more than the vehicle itself. Self-driving researchers have forked out more than $80,000 for top-of-the-line laser-pulsing sensors because the detailed, three-dimensional picture they can provide, day or night, is hard to beat.

Startups are racing to bring down the price while maintaining a robust picture, often by rethinking the architecture piece by piece. Lidar can tell “what you’re doing with each finger, in the dark, when you’re a hundred yards away,” says Louay Eldada, co-founder of Quanergy, a startup based in Silicon Valley that was valued at more than $1.5 billion last year. His company plans to start shipping an “auto-grade” sensor that costs less than $1,000 in 2018, he says, assuming it checks the boxes in a battery of tests. Oryx Vision, an Israeli startup that is building a test unit for cars, hopes to eventually sell lidar sensors to vehicle manufacturers for about $100.

Robot cars might never get tired or have a fit of road rage, but still “there is no technology that can match the amazing ability of the human eye [and] brain” to comprehend a car’s surroundings, Oryx’s vice president of marketing, Yaron Toren, writes in an email, adding, “the closest we can get is with lidar.” Russell argues that trade-offs in quality must come with such drops in price but won’t say how much customers are paying for the 10,000 units Luminar is on track to start shipping by year’s end.

Tesla’s Elon Musk has argued that advanced radar could do the same job as lidar, and other startups are working on super-powered cameras to help cars see more clearly. Experts say it’s all for the better, because autonomous vehicles will almost certainly have a mix of sensors, just like people do. “I wouldn’t want to trust only one sense,” says Andy Petersen, a hardware expert at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. “There are ways you can fool any one of these sensors, but it would be hard to fool them all.”

Robots running the meatworks: Southern hemisphere’s largest fully automated cold storage plant opens in Gympie | Laser-View

By Automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS), Bulk storage, Editor's Choice

It started with a small butcher shop in Gympie’s Mary Street in the 1950s. Now Nolan Meats has just opened the largest fully automated meat chilling and distribution centre in the southern hemisphere.

Pat and Marie Nolan founded Nolan Meats in 1958. Their sons Tony, Michael and Terry operate the family-owned, vertically integrated business, which employs 405 people across four sites, including three feed lots to ensure consistent supply.

Source: Robots running the meatworks: Southern hemisphere’s largest fully automated cold storage plant opens in Gympie | Laser-View

Robots running the meatworks: Southern hemisphere’s largest fully automated cold storage plant opens in Gympie

By Automation, Editor's Choice

It started with a small butcher shop in Gympie’s Mary Street in the 1950s. Now Nolan Meats has just opened the largest fully automated meat chilling and distribution centre in the southern hemisphere.

Pat and Marie Nolan founded Nolan Meats in 1958. Their sons Tony, Michael and Terry operate the family-owned, vertically integrated business, which employs 405 people across four sites, including three feed lots to ensure consistent supply.

With this latest venture, Nolan Meats director Terry Nolan expected it would take several more months to fully commission the high-tech, multi-million dollar cold storage plant in Gympie.

“This has been five years in the planning,” Mr Nolan said.

“We thought we needed to look at our cold chain security. We’d previously leased premises in Brisbane and we wanted to build a very modern cold store distribution facility.”

The technology was selected to ensure full traceability and increase efficiencies in high volume handling of chilled and frozen beef.

“So instead of doing 500 cattle a day we might get to 1,000 cattle per day.

“Meat processing plants are quite complex. Because carcases are of different sizes, shapes and thicknesses it’s very hard to automate much of that.

“But once you have all your cuts off the carcass and you put them into a standard-sized box it becomes very easy to automate it.

“A part of freezing beef is to freeze it as efficiently as you can to keep the product as fresh as you can and in an 18-hour cycle we can have all that meat hard frozen to -25°C.

“It presents better when it gets to international customers.

Around 70 per cent of Nolan Meats product is sold domestically, with the remainder exported to Japan, Korea, USA, Indonesia, Malaysia and Egypt.

The upgrade is also expected to deliver efficiencies in processing the chilled beef that is popular in Australia.

“We all know that beef as a protein can be costly for producers,” Mr Nolan said.

The distribution centre has a capacity of 86,000 cartons and is around 100 metres long, with shuttles servicing 23 levels.

Once a carton is ordered through the computer it is automatically collected and delivered via conveyor belt to be packed on pallets.

Each carton is identified by barcode, allowing beef to be sorted by cut, MSA eating quality, and market destination.

“The beauty of this system is that the salesman can sit in their office, enter an order and in theory nobody touches the carton,” Mr Nolan said.

“Once it leaves the boning room, it’ll go into a cold store through the automated storage and retrieval system.

“A mixed order can go in and come out in perfect order to deliver to about 300 butchers between the Tweed River and Rockhampton.”

“Those butchers are the lifeblood of our business and some butchers might buy one carton, some might buy six cartons so we could have eight to 10 butchers in one pallet and it’s all come in perfect order and no human hand has touched it until it gets to the butcher shop.”

Despite the move towards mechanisation, Terry Nolan said the company hoped to expand its workforce in the future.

“A part of that is that we need to extend our boning room as well.

“That site could have 700–800 people.”

Korean wholesalers and distributors were invited to the opening and taken to the Muster Cup race day to experience Australia.

“Korea is a very important to us,” Mr Nolan said.

“A few years ago when Russia was accused of shooting down a Malaysian airlines flight, trade embargoes were brought against Russia.

“We were sending nightly flights to Moscow with high quality beef. That market was closed on a political stance, so it’s important to us to have every market in the world open because sometimes they’re very favourable and sometimes they’re very difficult.

“At the moment Korea, while it’s an important market to us, it is quite difficult with the influx of US beef and we’re finding that Australian beef is being slightly displaced in the Korean market because of cheap US beef.

“We’re making our focus around the Asia-Pacific, so Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the USA.”

“Nolan Meats is Gympie’s largest private employer. That the family has made such a significant investment shows confidence in the region and there’s certainly an opportunity for further job creation,” Councillor Curran said.

“Today is only possible because of our enthusiastic and driven team of Nolan people who have been integral to this development and enabled this dream to become a reality,” Michael Nolan said.

Dependent on funding arrangements, Nolan Meats is also interested in becoming involved in research and development of DEXA technology, using CT scanning to help determine the eating quality of live cattle and beef carcases as well as advancing boning automation.

“If we can get an accurate skeletal diagram of the carcass and then adopt that into an automated chain where we can have a robot programmed to cut a particular joint, that’s where the real benefits would come,” Terry Nolan said.

It just goes to show how much has changed since that first butcher shop opened in 1958.

New approach makes lightest automotive metal more economic, useful

By Automotive Industry, Construction and Engineering, Editor's Choice, Fabrication and metalworking, Metals Production, News, Steel production

Magnesium—the lightest structural metal—has a lot going for it in the quest to make ever lighter cars and trucks that go farther on a tank of fuel or battery charge.

Magnesium is 75 percent lighter than steel, 33 percent lighter than aluminum and is the fourth most common element on earth behind iron, silicon and oxygen. But despite its light weight and natural abundance, auto makers have been stymied in their attempts to incorporate alloys into structural car parts. To provide the necessary strength has required the addition of costly, tongue-twisting rare elements such as dysprosium, praseodymium and ytterbium—until now.

A new process developed at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, should make it more feasible for the auto industry to incorporate magnesium alloys into structural components. The method has the potential to reduce cost by eliminating the need for rare-earth elements, while simultaneously improving the material’s structural properties. It’s a new twist on extrusion, in which the metal is forced through a tool to create a certain shape, kind of like dough pushed through a pasta maker results in different shapes.

Initial research, described recently in Materials Science and Engineering A, and Magnesium Technology, found the PNNL-developed process greatly improves the energy absorption of magnesium by creating novel microstructures which are not possible with traditional extrusion methods. It also improves a property called ductility—which is how far the metal can be stretched before it breaks. These enhancements make magnesium easier to work with and more likely to be used in structural car parts. Currently, magnesium components account for only about 1 percent, or 33 pounds, of a typical car’s weight according to a DOE report.

“Today, many vehicle manufacturers do not use magnesium in structural locations because of the two Ps; price and properties,” said principal investigator and mechanical engineer Scott Whalen. “Right now, manufacturers opt for low-cost aluminum in components such as bumper beams and crush tips. Using our process, we have enhanced the mechanical properties of magnesium to the point where it can now be considered instead of aluminum for these applications—without the added cost of rare-earth elements.”

A new spin on things

Researchers theorized that spinning the during the extrusion process would create just enough heat to soften the material so it could be easily pressed through a die to create tubes, rods and channels. Heat generated from mechanical friction deforming the metal, provides all of the heat necessary for the process, eliminating the need for power hungry resistance heaters used in traditional extrusion presses.

The shape of things to come

The PNNL team designed and commissioned an industrial version of their idea and received a one-of-a-kind, custom built Shear Assisted Processing and Extrusion machine—coining the acronym for ShAPE™.

With it, they’ve successfully extruded very thin-walled round tubing, up to two inches in diameter, from magnesium-aluminum-zinc alloys AZ91 and ZK60A, improving their mechanical properties in the process. For example, room temperature ductility above 25 percent has been independently measured, which is a large improvement compared to typical extrusions.

“In the ShAPE™ process, we get highly refined microstructures within the metal and, in some cases, are even able to form nanostructured features,” said Whalen. “The higher the rotations per minute, the smaller the grains become which makes the tubing stronger and more ductile or pliable. Additionally, we can control the orientation of the crystalline structures in the metal to improve the energy absorption of magnesium so it’s equal to that of aluminum.”

[embedded content]

Spinning a magnesium alloy as it is pressed through a die to create tubes rods and channels is more energy efficient and actually improves the alloy’s mechanical properties, making them more useful in structural components for vehicles. Credit: PNNL

The push to save energy

The billets or chunks of bulk magnesium alloys flow through the die in a very soft state, thanks to the simultaneous linear and rotational forces of the ShAPE™ machine. This means only one tenth of the force is needed to push the material through a die compared to conventional extrusion.

This significant reduction in force would enable substantially smaller production machinery, thus lowering capital expenditures and operations costs for industry adopting this patent pending process. The force is so low, that the amount of electricity used to make a one-foot length of two-inch diameter tubing is about the same as it takes to run a residential kitchen oven for just 60 seconds.

Energy is saved since the heat generated at the billet/die interface is the only process heat required to soften the magnesium. “We don’t need giant heaters surrounding the billets of magnesium like industrial extrusion machines, said Whalen. “We are heating—with friction only—right at the place that matters.”

Magna-Cosma, a global auto industry parts supplier, is teaming with PNNL on this DOE funded research project to advance low cost magnesium parts and, as larger tubes are developed, will be testing them at one of their production facilities near Detroit.

PNNL’s ShAPE™ technology is available for licensing and could help to make a dent in the ‘s magnesium target, and slim down cars which currently weigh an average of 3,360 pounds.

3D printing is now entrenched at Ford

By Automotive Industry, Editor's Choice, laser distance sensor, Metals Production

DEARBORN, Mich. –If you were to put the brakes on 3D printing technology at Ford today, the company’s vehicle development would literally come to a screeching halt.

Additive manufacturing at the automaker has evolved from being a niche technology a few engineers toyed with 20 years ago to its integration in the R&D process 10 years ago to the “entrenched” development process it is now.

“We touch a significant portion of the vehicle with 3D printing now,” said Harold Sears, technical expert of rapid manufacturing technologies with Ford’s manufacturing division. “We’re prototyping virtually everything [using 3D printing] from road to roof.”

How much of a digital transformation has 3D printing brought to Ford? A little more than a decade ago, Ford 3D-printed perhaps 4,000 prototype parts for its vehicles. Today, the automaker’s five 3D prototyping centers churns out more than 100,000 parts annually. In the future, additive manufacturing (3D printing) will likely be used to construct a least a portion of production parts on vehicles, Sears said.

More companies embrace 3D printing

A 2016 survey of 100 top manufacturers by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) revealed that 71% are using 3D printing, some for rapid prototyping and others for production or custom parts.

Over the next three to five years, 52% of manufacturers surveyed expect 3D printing to be used for high-volume production compared to two years ago, when only 38% thought the same. Sixty-seven percent of the companies surveyed believe 3D printing will be used for low-volume, specialized products within five years.

Global spending on printers hit $11 billion in 2015 and is forecast to reach about $27 billion by 2019, according to IDC.

The global 3D printed metals market alone is expected to be valued at $12 billion in 2028, according to a new report from IDTechEx.

Direct metal laser sintering remains the dominant printer technology by total installed base, with an 84% market share at the end of last year; the remainder of the market is fragmented across the other three major alternatives: Electron Beam Melting (EBM), Directed Energy Deposition (DED) and Binder Jetting.

Ford has increased its use of metal materials for 3D printing with the hope of making both more usable prototypes and “niche applications that may go beyond prototypes,” Sears said.

Additive manufacturing has become an integral part of manufacturing among industries such as aerospace and automotive because it streamlines development, increases the quality of parts and cuts time and costs exponentially.

Saving time with prototypes

“If we’re looking at prototyping a part, 3D printing can save us in the development time it takes by orders of magnitude – maybe one-tenth of the time as compared to making a tool to then make a prototype part,” said Ellen Lee, Ford’s additive manufacturing research technical leader.

A prototype part that would have taken weeks to make using traditional methods can now be made in days with 3D printing. “If it would have taken months to make it, it’s probably made in weeks today,” Sears said.

One of the ways Ford engineers have applied 3D printing to help accelerate and improve parts development is by producing multiple copies of a prototype at the same time, each with a unique feature.

In the past, using CNC lathing machines, engineers had make one part at a time – and for many companies, those prototype parts had to be sent to a third party to be made.

“Traditionally, you would have designed a part, made a tool; made the part; tested the part. Depending on the results, you’d modify the tool again, make another part; test another part,” Sears said. “Many engineers come to us today with five, six, seven different iterations of a part at the same time and say, ‘Here, make all these parts.’ So, we make all of them at the same time.”

With multiple prototype parts available at the same time, Ford can also perform parallel testing, which saves it from waiting weeks between evaluating each part singly.

Different techniques, different results

While Sears would not disclose how many 3D printers Ford has at each of its five sites, but they include every type of additive manufacturing technology – from fused deposition modeling and liquid polymer-based stereolithography to direct laser metal sintering and binder jet or sand-mold printing.

Many engineers also get desktop 3D printers to build initial prototypes.

Binder jet 3D printing is especially useful for the automaker, where layer after layer of sand is epoxied together to create a form into which molten materials are poured to form the part.

Using binder-jet 3D printers the size of a small shipping container, up to 300 sand-based molds can be created in a single job; the molds can then be used to create metal prototype parts; a process that used to take up to 10 weeks now takes only about 40 hours.

There is virtually no 3D printing technology available that Ford will not test at its Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn.

In 2017, several companies launched new printer technologies with the promise of overcoming some of the existing barriers to adoption, such as lower printer prices, faster build speeds and cheaper materials, according to IDTechEx’s new report.

Some of the prototype parts created at Ford, such as engine air intake manifolds and oil pans, are made with special nylon. Those nylon parts are often used to replace conventional parts on test vehicles, which are then driven tens of thousands of miles. Test results are used to modify the production parts.

Materials science is also a key portion of Ford’s 3D printing effort. The company is constantly seeking materials that will enable stronger, lighter weight vehicle components.

Some of the composites used in 3D printing have specific strengths close to that of steel, according to Lee, who is responsible for the development and implementation of novel materials, processes and applications of 3D printing at the automaker.

For example, the Ford Research and Innovation Center is experimenting with combining carbon fiber filament with Nylon 6 on a 3D printer from start-up Mark Forged.

As materials are evaluated and vetted, they go to Ford’s manufacturing division where engineers determine how to include them in the manufacturing process, Lee said.

“We’re really concentrating on how we can get them [materials] for end-use products… so, production-level starting at low volume but then hopefully progressing to medium and high volumes as well,” Lee continued. “We want something that’s strong enough and durable enough to last the lifetime of the vehicle.”

3D printing also lends itself to being able to product complex geometric structures that can vastly reduce the weight of parts while still providing either strength or other attributes, such as flexibility or impact resistance.

Ford is experimenting with a stereolithography 3D printer from the company Carbon to create high-resolution parts prototypes made with honeycomb or lattice structures for lighter weight.

“When we’re talking about on the manufacturing floor, we have a lot of great examples where we can be much more efficient with ergonomic designs and lightweight structures where those structures can be less than half the weight of conventionally made parts,” Lee said.

Piloting Stratasys’ Infinite Build 3d Demonstrator

One machine Ford is piloting looks more like the disembodied arm of a Transformer robot than a 3D printer. The Stratasys Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator is the size of a small car and can be used for producing large tools and production parts with greater speed than traditional fused deposition modeling technology. The size of the parts produced by the Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator is only limited by size of the manufacturing floor because it prints horizontally instead of vertically.

Ford has used the 3D Demonstrator to construct prototype single-component instrument panels and center vehicle consoles. But the machine could be used to construct prototype vehicle body panels as well.

While Sears and Lee agree 3D printing won’t be used to produce a million production parts for the assembly line anytime soon, they do believe the technology will see uptake in the development and production process across new industries.

Advice on using 3D printing

One word of advice Sears has for companies still considering the adoption of 3D printing: avoid trying to plug the technology into existing processes.

“Have they really re-thought and redesigned the parts to take advantage of the strengths of additive manufacturing or are they just trying to produce the same part they were using with injection molding; if they are, it’s probably not going to see the benefits they would see if it was completely re-thought,” Sears said.

“It’s really looking at whether you have the ability to re-design your products – to make your products more efficient,” Sears continued. “Is there the ability to take a 20-part assembly and redesign it into one part or two parts?”

Companies that have yet to purchase a 3D printer should also take advantage of service providers, such as Shapeways and Sculpteo, who can take CAD designs and print the prototypes using in-house expertise and a cadre of machines that smaller firms may not be able to afford.

Some 3D printer makers, such as Stratasys, also offer cloud-based printing services, including production parts manufacturing.

While 3D printing may not be used for mass manufacturing at Ford, its place in helping to produce production parts continues to grow.

“There are so many exciting things happening,” Lee said. “…The existing processes we use are really only able to support our low volume applications if we’re talking production parts. Today, there are some technologies that are just emerging that have a lot of potential. What we want to do here in research is to get access early on to help steer those companies to develop those technologies for automotive industry needs.”