The future of space travel?

space-x-dragon-c2Space travel is a costly expenditure to undertake, and can become a failed mission very easily.  Case in point would be the attempted launch of the Falcon 9 in June 2015, in which the failure of a strut in the upper stage caused the entire setup to go up in flames.  This was the seventh failed attempt by SpaceX to perform a cargo run for NASA, per the agency’s Commercial Resupply program.  Now, however, there is a very promising ray of hope with the new, upgrade Falcon 9, which launched without issue on April 8, carrying the Dragon vehicle.

The remarkable part of this launch, though, was the successful landing of the rocket booster on a robotic drone ship by the name of “Of Course I Still Love You” (This ship, along with it’s twin “Just Read the Instructions”, are named in honor of sci-fi author Ian M. Banks).  The Falcon 9 was able to land on a football-sized area of space with no damage to itself or the drone, marking a great advancement in the field of space travel and exploration.  Despite earlier failed attempts, this one success is very cost-friendly, as it means that the booster can be reused again, instead of paying for a new one to be built from scratch.  The celebrated touchdown is not the only point of remark on this mission though.  Aboard the vehicle Dragon, which is set to dock at the space station on April 10, is an innovative new cargo that could potentially become one of the steps in commercializing space, called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM).  While initially similar in appearance to a parachute, the BEAM can expand to more than five times its compressed volume and form a suitable habitat for space living.

bigelow-expanding-space-moduleThe plan is to attach the BEAM, located in the trunk of the Dragon, to the Tranquility Node on the station, and become the first expandable habitat to be occupied in space.  The astronauts will pass in and out of the habitat during its two-year tenure to test the functionality of the BEAM, and hopefully report back good results.  BEAM is the brainchild of Bigelow Aerospace, owned by entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, who bought the rights to NASA’s TransHab, a similar undertaking to BEAM in the 1990’s, which unfortunately never got farther than the planning stage. However, the most recent reincarnation has Bigelow in high hopes for the future of space occupation, hopes which includes having two station-size inflatables launch-ready by 2020, followed by plans for inflatable moon and perhaps Mars bases in the future.

Besides the BEAM, the Dragon also has an additional cost saving feature; the ability to return through Earth’s atmosphere without burning up, carrying important scientific samples from the One-Year Mission, among other things.

Needless to say, everyone involved is highly optimistic about the future, SpaceX in particular confirming they are aiming to increase the yearly launch total, with the end goal being launching every other week by the end of the year.  The next scheduled launch is near the end of April, with a following one in the beginning of May.

The BEAM is set to be inflated in May, about a month after docking, but will hopefully provide the results needed to take a step forward towards the future of space travel.  Until then, we can only wait for the expectantly successful conclusion of the experiment.

UPDATE:  The BEAM install and inflation took place on May 26 and hit a few snags.  Here is more about the latest on the BEAM from a Nasa Press Release

Machines For Processing Rolls Of Material Used In Manufacturing

rolls-of-packaging-materialLarge rolls of material are used in the manufacturing process of many of the products we use today. These large rolls need to be processed into smaller ones that can be used by manufacturers in many industries. When processing large rolls into smaller ones there are several pieces of equipment manufacturers turn to.

Slitter rewinders are roll converting machines used to process very large rolls of material into smaller ones. They can cut the ‘web’ into narrower widths and uniquely, they are able to rewind these smaller sections onto new cores of cardboard, plastic or metal. The new, smaller rolls go on to be used in the manufacturing process for a wide variety of consumer goods from simple plastic bags to books and magazines in the print industry and fashion goods such as shoes.

The Origins of the Slitter Rewinder

Google patents ( show the original patent submission for a slitter rewinder machine, made in 1906 by John R. Pulsifer of the Pulsifer Paper Company, located in Portland, Maine. This patent, granted in 1909 was for a machine that has been the stalwart of the paper converting industry for more than 100 years.

Development of New Types of Rewinder

duplex-slitter-rewinder-exampleTo meet the growing demands of the industry, new paper converting machines have been developed, these include:

  • Duplex Slitter/Rewinder – this machine has two slitting stations, enabling two different rolls to be processed at the same time
  • Drum Slitter Winder – these are less expensive than some other machines with a simple design structure requiring low maintenance. They are easy to operate and have a variety of applications
  • Turret Slitter/Rewinder – this machine allows different areas of the slitter to be manipulated and controlled without the need for stopping the machine and without danger to the operator
  • Shaftless Slitter Rewinder – this machine is easy to operate with an automatic loading and unloading system for processing rolls of all types of paper and non-woven fabrics
  • Shafted Slitter Rewinder – this machine has a shaft fitted with chucks to enable the inside of the roll core and the shaft to lock together. This prevents sideways movement during winding and allows for precision control of tension during cutting.
  • Narrow Web Slitter Rewinder – this machine is able to slit the web into very narrow ‘slices’ – down to around 25mm suitable for labels and so on. It is able to process a wide range of materials including films, papers, laminates and foils
  • Wide Web Slitter Rewinder – this machine is able to process ‘jumbo’ rolls with large steel cores that often have to be loaded by crane or hydraulic platform

These machines are fundamentally the same technology because they unroll the material, cut it into narrow widths then rewind the material into new, smaller rolls. The variations in designs reflect the need to cope with a wide variety of materials processed in the converting industry.These include paper, plastic, film, metal foils, non-woven materials, carbon fiber, tape – and more.

Modern Alternatives to Slitter Rewinders

Despite the passing of more than one hundred years since its invention, no machine has been invented that can supersede the slitter rewinder machine. However, the demands of modern business in terms of increased production and cost savings have led to some new developments in paper converting machines, the most exciting of which is probably a machine called a RollRazor.

According to this recent article (, this type of converting machine complements the capabilities of a slitter rewinder and provides a faster, more cost effective way of dealing with large rolls that need conversion into smaller sizes without being rewound onto a core of a different size. For this reason, it could never take the place of a slitter rewinder but as the manufacturer states, it excels in applications where slitter rewinder technology is slower, less efficient and more expensive, both in terms of production time and man hours, and as such, provide the perfect complement to a slitter rewinder in a modern, streamlined converting industry.

The Experts Weigh in on U.S. Manufacturing Outlook

manufacturing-robotReading through the WSJ online today, I ran across an interesting article  ( ) on the state of manufacturing in the U.S.

The Experts agree that the forecast for manufacturing in the U.S. is good – with reservations! They say that although there is a move to ‘reshoring’, with more than 20,000 jobs in manufacturing returning from Asia and Mexico in the past few years, we should not expect a return to the 20 million jobs in manufacturing there were in 1979.

However, we should expect to see growth due to a variety of factors that include:

  • Rising cost of overseas manufacturing (for example, in China) and worries about breaks in the supply chain (for example after the Tsunami in Japan).
  • Lower manufacturing costs for industries dependent on gas, thanks to cheaper gas prices resulting from the success of shale gas production.
  • Increased demand for exports of manufactured goods including automobiles and aircraft to Asia and the Middle East.
  • A rise in demand for ‘customized’ manufacturing, (for example, 3D printing), more suited to local business and industry within the U.S..
  • Advances in IT and new software driving the design of new products and technologies.

Mark Muro, who is policy director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution (where he is a senior fellow), describes the convergence between manufacturing and ‘high tech’ services as the AI Sector or ‘advanced industries’ sector. This convergence seems to signpost the way forward for the U.S. Manufacturing Industry if it is to regain its pre-eminence on the World stage.

3 Areas of Innovation in Solar Energy Technology

Solar power is set to transform the way businesses and households get at least part of their energy requirements over the next few years. If the target set by the US Department of Energy can be reached for a completely installed solar power system costing less than $1 per watt, the cost of solar power to the consumer in the US would be only 6 cents per kWh making it a cheaper alternative than electricity generated by the new natural gas power plants.

While most of us think of solar panels arrayed on rooftops, incorporated into shingles or as great solar ‘farms’ of panels at ground level, Scientists and Researchers are working on some incredible new technology that could revolutionize the way we think about Solar power.

Solar Innovations for Buildings

  • Solar FabricSolar Fabric has the efficiency of conventional Solar panels but has the lightness and ease of use of fabric. The applications for this product in covering the vertical faces of buildings are obvious and could allow a building such as London’s US Embassy, to generate in excess of 100 mega watts of electricity!
  • Companies are working to develop transparent, glass Solar panels; Glass can be coated with a transparent film that is easy and inexpensive to apply to enable replacement of ordinary windows with those that generate electricity.
  • Solar film, printed in rolls and incorporated into roofing shingles is an inexpensive way of adding solar power production to a new building without the costs of adding solar panels to the surface of a roofing structure.

Innovations in Solar Panel Technology

  • Double Sided Solar Panels. Currently, solar panels generate electricity from one side only. A Chinese manufacturer, Sunergy is working on a double-sided solar panel, able to absorb light from both sides and expected to generate up to 20% more electricity by comparison with single sided panels.
  • hairy-solarHairy Solar! Solar panels using carbon Nanotube fabric, look ‘hairy’ – but are actually coated with carbon nanowires that can absorb more of the sun’s energy than conventional silicon cells and make the panels more efficient.
  • Capturing Energy from Infrared. Capturing power from light outside the visible spectrum has been achieved by adding Vanadium and Titanium to the semiconductors of solar panels. This has tremendous implications for harvesting even more electricity from solar panels by harnessing power from the infrared spectrum too.

Commercial Solar Innovations

  • Energy For Free. With solar cells becoming more efficient, even smaller and less expensive, more and more of the electronic devices we use will become solar powered. The ‘Solar Focus’ cover for Amazon’s Kindle can collect enough power to run the device for three days from just one hour of sunlight. This ‘energy-for-free’ option that can be utilized anywhere is set to become the norm for laptops, mobile phones and more in the future!
  • artificial-photosynthesisArtificial Photosynthesis. Another exciting innovation is the development of a new way of storing energy by utilizing a process very similar to the photosynthesis used by green plants. Called an ‘Artificial Leaf’ but actually not looking like a leaf at all, it uses solar energy to create hydrogen and oxygen by splitting water. The gases can be stored in fuel cells allowing households to have an on-demand source of power even where no access to the electricity grid is possible.

The innovations mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg for what is to come in clean, green Solar power Technology. Renewable energy for both Businesses and Homeowners is going to be something we all make use of in the future.


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