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Articles from 2020 In February


Coronavirus-fueled Fears of Supply-Chain Shortages Worry OEMs

It was bound to happen. After shipping our technology and much of our manufacturing capabilities off to China after it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, we’re experiencing the consequences. Supply chains are squeezed tight and may run out of inventory for many products that include penicillin and myriad other drugs (my bottle of Aleve says Made in China — yikes!), electronic components and entire product lines such as iPhones, automotive parts, clothing and so many other items that we get from China.

Closed for business sign

Maybe this is the lesson that manufacturers needed to learn. Perhaps it will lead them to begin manufacturing in the United States again, if for no other reason than to have at least a secondary supplier in case a virus breaks out or a container ship sinks, or any one of a number of problems that can occur when a company offshores manufacturing.

Unfortunately, many U.S. companies don’t even have the ability or equipment to manufacture the things they used to make here even if they wanted to. Equipment they used in the 1990s is now outdated and obsolete. Skilled workers have moved on to other manufacturing plants or retired altogether and are now fishing in Florida.  

Articles in business publications abound with news of supply-chain disruptions and shortages as a virus that emerged from somewhere in Wuhan, China, halts the world’s economic engine. For example, a “Heard on the Street” commentary in the Feb. 27 edition of the Wall Street Journal by Nathanial Taplin (“Supply Chains Are at Risk”), notes that much of China has been shut down because of the coronavirus, leaving factories at a standstill, the worst epidemic since SARS in 2003. But that was early on in China’s buildup to becoming the manufacturing plant of the world, and the impact wasn’t nearly as bad.

Taplin reported that while there’s been a “ripple effect” in industries such as automotive, so far the worst is being felt in other Asian countries such as South Korea and Japan, which are used to just-in-time deliveries because of the short shipping distance. Taplin believes that the automotive and electronics industries will take the biggest hits.

What about the plastics industry? Dwight Morgan, executive vice president of M. Holland Co. in Northbrook, IL, described the situation as “very challenging” and one that will take a while to work through the system. “We’re looking at it on three levels of concern,” Morgan explained. “First there’s shipping. We’re starting to see market delays because ships are not available and there are container shortages. We’ve had a week to 30-day delays on imports/exports and its starting to impact trade.”

Second, there are supply chain disruptions and shortages. “That’s the one I think that manufacturing is worried about the most,” Morgan told PlasticsToday. “You’ve got a certain cushion of inventory but that only lasts so long. We’ve not seen that in our markets, but automotive will be the most vulnerable the most quickly. The electronics firms will be hit hard, as well. We’re looking at that as something to come as inventories weaken. There’s some pain that manufacturing will experience as shortages deepen.”

There’s also the concern of another recession with global implications. “Most recessions are kicked off by a catalytic event — a black swan — and this has the potential to be that,” Morgan said. “We’re watching this very closely — looking at various scenarios mostly affecting shipping and looking at alternative routes and ports to make sure our bases are covered.”

Morgan added that it’s difficult to say just how much of an impact China’s “curtailed manufacturing” will have on processors in the United States. “So far it hasn’t had a dramatic impact on pricing,” said Morgan on the day of this interview. “Inevitably it will have an impact if other countries start suffering from China’s slowdown, like Italy. There’s obviously more anxiety.”

Speaking of Italy, RadiciGroup (Bergamo, Italy) just put out an announcement that all the production and sales companies of RadiciGroup are operating regularly and can ensure the continuity of business relationships with their customers and suppliers. “Despite the exceptional situation caused by the spreading of the coronavirus, our staff are working as a team harder than ever to guarantee and optimize . . . our business activities.”

RadiciGroup’s announcement noted that all the proper “precautions” prescribed by competent authorities are being taken to safeguard the health of the employees without interrupting work activities.

Concerning M. Holland’s business, Morgan added that the company has been “fortunate so far. We sourced some resin out of China a while back and have ample inventory, but in the next four to five weeks we’ll know whether we’ll have trouble with replenishments.”

Image: Eskystudio/Adobe Stock

Coronavirus-fueled Fears of Supply-Chain Shortages Worry OEMs

Coronavirus-fueled Fears of Supply-Chain Shortages Worry OEMs

It was bound to happen. After shipping our technology and much of our manufacturing capabilities off to China after it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, we’re experiencing the consequences. Supply chains are squeezed tight and may run out of inventory for many products that include penicillin and myriad other drugs (my bottle of Aleve says Made in China — yikes!), electronic components and entire product lines such as iPhones, automotive parts, clothing and so many other items that we get from China.

Closed for business sign

Maybe this is the lesson that manufacturers needed to learn. Perhaps it will lead them to begin manufacturing in the United States again, if for no other reason than to have at least a secondary supplier in case a virus breaks out or a container ship sinks, or any one of a number of problems that can occur when a company offshores manufacturing.

Unfortunately, many U.S. companies don’t even have the ability or equipment to manufacture the things they used to make here even if they wanted to. Equipment they used in the 1990s is now outdated and obsolete. Skilled workers have moved on to other manufacturing plants or retired altogether and are now fishing in Florida.  

Articles in business publications abound with news of supply-chain disruptions and shortages as a virus that emerged from somewhere in Wuhan, China, halts the world’s economic engine. For example, a “Heard on the Street” commentary in the Feb. 27 edition of the Wall Street Journal by Nathanial Taplin (“Supply Chains Are at Risk”), notes that much of China has been shut down because of the coronavirus, leaving factories at a standstill, the worst epidemic since SARS in 2003. But that was early on in China’s buildup to becoming the manufacturing plant of the world, and the impact wasn’t nearly as bad.

Taplin reported that while there’s been a “ripple effect” in industries such as automotive, so far the worst is being felt in other Asian countries such as South Korea and Japan, which are used to just-in-time deliveries because of the short shipping distance. Taplin believes that the automotive and electronics industries will take the biggest hits.

What about the plastics industry? Dwight Morgan, executive vice president of M. Holland Co. in Northbrook, IL, described the situation as “very challenging” and one that will take a while to work through the system. “We’re looking at it on three levels of concern,” Morgan explained. “First there’s shipping. We’re starting to see market delays because ships are not available and there are container shortages. We’ve had a week to 30-day delays on imports/exports and its starting to impact trade.”

Second, there are supply chain disruptions and shortages. “That’s the one I think that manufacturing is worried about the most,” Morgan told PlasticsToday. “You’ve got a certain cushion of inventory but that only lasts so long. We’ve not seen that in our markets, but automotive will be the most vulnerable the most quickly. The electronics firms will be hit hard, as well. We’re looking at that as something to come as inventories weaken. There’s some pain that manufacturing will experience as shortages deepen.”

There’s also the concern of another recession with global implications. “Most recessions are kicked off by a catalytic event — a black swan — and this has the potential to be that,” Morgan said. “We’re watching this very closely — looking at various scenarios mostly affecting shipping and looking at alternative routes and ports to make sure our bases are covered.”

Morgan added that it’s difficult to say just how much of an impact China’s “curtailed manufacturing” will have on processors in the United States. “So far it hasn’t had a dramatic impact on pricing,” said Morgan on the day of this interview. “Inevitably it will have an impact if other countries start suffering from China’s slowdown, like Italy. There’s obviously more anxiety.”

Speaking of Italy, RadiciGroup (Bergamo, Italy) just put out an announcement that all the production and sales companies of RadiciGroup are operating regularly and can ensure the continuity of business relationships with their customers and suppliers. “Despite the exceptional situation caused by the spreading of the coronavirus, our staff are working as a team harder than ever to guarantee and optimize . . . our business activities.”

RadiciGroup’s announcement noted that all the proper “precautions” prescribed by competent authorities are being taken to safeguard the health of the employees without interrupting work activities.

Concerning M. Holland’s business, Morgan added that the company has been “fortunate so far. We sourced some resin out of China a while back and have ample inventory, but in the next four to five weeks we’ll know whether we’ll have trouble with replenishments.”

Image: Eskystudio/Adobe Stock

FDA: Coronavirus Could Lead to Shortages of Critical Medical Products

The potential impact of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 on the medical product supply chain was addressed yesterday by FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn. Noting that “FDA has been closely monitoring” the situation, Hahn went on to say in his statement that the outbreak could lead to “potential disruptions to supply or shortages of critical medical products in the U.S.”

Coronavirus test tube

In addition to providing updates on the supply of human and animal drugs and biologics, Hahn’s statement noted that the agency is “aware of 63 manufacturers, which represent 72 facilities in China that produce essential medical devices.” Essential devices are defined by FDA as those that may be prone to a potential shortage if there is a supply disruption.

FDA has contacted all of the manufacturers, said Hahn, adding that several of the facilities in China are adversely affected by COVID-19, including by quarantined workers. However, no shortages for essential medical devices have been reported within the U.S. market, according to FDA.

While there have been reports of increased market demand and supply challenges for personal protective equipment—a category that includes surgical gowns, gloves, masks, and respirator protective devices—FDA said that it is currently unaware of specific widespread shortages of those medical devices. “We are aware of reports from [the Centers for Disease Control] and other U.S. partners of increased ordering of a range of human medical products through distributors, as some healthcare facilities in the U.S. are preparing for potential needs if the outbreak becomes severe,” added Hahn in his statement.

FDA cautions, however, that medical device manufacturers currently are not required by law to notify the agency if they become aware of a situation that could lead to a potential shortage, nor are they required to respond when FDA requests information about potential supply chain disruption.

This is something that Hahn would like to see changed. He has called on Congress to require medical device firms to notify the agency of an anticipated meaningful interruption in the supply of an essential device, a request that has been included in President Trump’s budget. Also included in the request is a requirement that all manufacturers of essential devices periodically provide FDA with information about their relevant manufacturing capacity and authorization to temporarily import devices in cases where it could mitigate a shortage.

In the meantime, FDA reiterates that it has taken proactive steps to establish and remain in contact with medical device manufacturers and others in the supply chain. It also encourages manufacturers and healthcare facilities to report any supply disruptions to the device shortages mailbox, deviceshortages@fda.hhs.gov.

Delays and faulty test kits

The outbreak of the pandemic has also exposed weaknesses on the ground. The Los Angeles Times reported today that it took four days to test a patient in northern California who was suspected by doctors at the UC Davis Medical Center of having contracted the coronavirus. Protocol apparently prevented the patient from being tested immediately.

“Until Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention restricted coronavirus testing to patients with clear symptoms of infection who had either traveled to China recently or been in contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus,” reported the Los Angeles Times. The patient in question fell through the cracks because he or she appears to be the first one to get the virus through community contact. “During [those four days], others in the area could have been exposed to the virus,” noted the Times. The CDC has now expanded the criteria for testing.

There have also been reported problems with the test kits distributed by the CDC. One of the ingredients led to inconclusive test results, according to some labs. And most health officials were required to send specimens to the CDC in Atlanta for testing, a process that can take up to 48 hours, according to the Times.

Business disruption

In addition to the human toll, the coronavirus has already disrupted businesses and the world economy, as reflected by the stock market’s precipitous decline this week.

Major international trade shows—Chinaplas in Shanghai and JEC World in Paris—have been postponed. On a smaller scale, injection mold machine maker Arburg has cancelled its annual International Technology Days event, which typically attracts 6,000 guests.

As Stephen Moore reported in PlasticsToday earlier this month, the outbreak has had a significant impact on the automotive sector in China. “Wuhan, in Hubei Province, is home to automakers including GM, PSA Group, Honda and Nissan, as well as local giant Dongfeng Motor,” noted Moore.

The impact on the plastics industry writ large could be substantial. On Feb. 11, Perc Pineda, Chief Economist of the Plastics Industry Association, wrote on the association’s blog: “While we cannot confirm today that the coronavirus has already impacted the U.S. plastics industry supply chain, it is reasonable to expect that if the coronavirus crisis in China continues and escalates, it will negatively impact the U.S. plastics industry. For business continuity reasons, U.S. plastics companies need to look at their current supply chain involving China and—as a precautionary measure—examine alternative supply sources."

Medical device manufacturers doing business in China are feeling the economic pinch. Boston Scientific expects to lower its first-quarter revenue by $10 million to 40 million, according to sister brand MD+DI. Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak said that he expects the virus also to have a negative impact on financial results, but stopped short of calling out any numbers, said MD+DI.

Image: Cendeced/Adobe Stock

FDA: Coronavirus Could Lead to Shortages of Critical Medical Products

FDA: Coronavirus Could Lead to Shortages of Critical Medical Products

The potential impact of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 on the medical product supply chain was addressed yesterday by FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn. Noting that “FDA has been closely monitoring” the situation, Hahn went on to say in his statement that the outbreak could lead to “potential disruptions to supply or shortages of critical medical products in the U.S.”

Coronavirus test tube

In addition to providing updates on the supply of human and animal drugs and biologics, Hahn’s statement noted that the agency is “aware of 63 manufacturers, which represent 72 facilities in China that produce essential medical devices.” Essential devices are defined by FDA as those that may be prone to a potential shortage if there is a supply disruption.

FDA has contacted all of the manufacturers, said Hahn, adding that several of the facilities in China are adversely affected by COVID-19, including by quarantined workers. However, no shortages for essential medical devices have been reported within the U.S. market, according to FDA.

While there have been reports of increased market demand and supply challenges for personal protective equipment—a category that includes surgical gowns, gloves, masks, and respirator protective devices—FDA said that it is currently unaware of specific widespread shortages of those medical devices. “We are aware of reports from [the Centers for Disease Control] and other U.S. partners of increased ordering of a range of human medical products through distributors, as some healthcare facilities in the U.S. are preparing for potential needs if the outbreak becomes severe,” added Hahn in his statement.

FDA cautions, however, that medical device manufacturers currently are not required by law to notify the agency if they become aware of a situation that could lead to a potential shortage, nor are they required to respond when FDA requests information about potential supply chain disruption.

This is something that Hahn would like to see changed. He has called on Congress to require medical device firms to notify the agency of an anticipated meaningful interruption in the supply of an essential device, a request that has been included in President Trump’s budget. Also included in the request is a requirement that all manufacturers of essential devices periodically provide FDA with information about their relevant manufacturing capacity and authorization to temporarily import devices in cases where it could mitigate a shortage.

In the meantime, FDA reiterates that it has taken proactive steps to establish and remain in contact with medical device manufacturers and others in the supply chain. It also encourages manufacturers and healthcare facilities to report any supply disruptions to the device shortages mailbox, deviceshortages@fda.hhs.gov.

Delays and faulty test kits

The outbreak of the pandemic has also exposed weaknesses on the ground. The Los Angeles Times reported today that it took four days to test a patient in northern California who was suspected by doctors at the UC Davis Medical Center of having contracted the coronavirus. Protocol apparently prevented the patient from being tested immediately.

“Until Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention restricted coronavirus testing to patients with clear symptoms of infection who had either traveled to China recently or been in contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus,” reported the Los Angeles Times. The patient in question fell through the cracks because he or she appears to be the first one to get the virus through community contact. “During [those four days], others in the area could have been exposed to the virus,” noted the Times. The CDC has now expanded the criteria for testing.

There have also been reported problems with the test kits distributed by the CDC. One of the ingredients led to inconclusive test results, according to some labs. And most health officials were required to send specimens to the CDC in Atlanta for testing, a process that can take up to 48 hours, according to the Times.

Business disruption

In addition to the human toll, the coronavirus has already disrupted businesses and the world economy, as reflected by the stock market’s precipitous decline this week.

Major international trade shows—Chinaplas in Shanghai and JEC World in Paris—have been postponed. On a smaller scale, injection mold machine maker Arburg has cancelled its annual International Technology Days event, which typically attracts 6,000 guests.

As Stephen Moore reported in PlasticsToday earlier this month, the outbreak has had a significant impact on the automotive sector in China. “Wuhan, in Hubei Province, is home to automakers including GM, PSA Group, Honda and Nissan, as well as local giant Dongfeng Motor,” noted Moore.

The impact on the plastics industry writ large could be substantial. On Feb. 11, Perc Pineda, Chief Economist of the Plastics Industry Association, wrote on the association’s blog: “While we cannot confirm today that the coronavirus has already impacted the U.S. plastics industry supply chain, it is reasonable to expect that if the coronavirus crisis in China continues and escalates, it will negatively impact the U.S. plastics industry. For business continuity reasons, U.S. plastics companies need to look at their current supply chain involving China and—as a precautionary measure—examine alternative supply sources."

Medical device manufacturers doing business in China are feeling the economic pinch. Boston Scientific expects to lower its first-quarter revenue by $10 million to 40 million, according to sister brand MD+DI. Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak said that he expects the virus also to have a negative impact on financial results, but stopped short of calling out any numbers, said MD+DI.

Image: Cendeced/Adobe Stock

Medtech in a Minute: Feeling the Coronavirus Pinch, J&J's Apple Study, and More

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay Medtech in a Minute: Feeling the Coronavirus Pinch, J&J's Apple Study, and More
We know your time is precious so we've drilled down the three most important medtech stories from the past week. But feel free to click the headline to read beyond the blurb.

Coronavirus Hurts Big Medtech's Bottom Line 

As the Chinese healthcare system focuses on containing the spread of the coronavirus, medical device companies doing business in China are seeing lower procedure volumes, which means lower-than-expected revenue in the first quarter. Boston Scientific, for example, expects the virus to lower first-quarter revenue by $10 million to $40 million.

J&J and Apple Have Big Hopes for Heartline Study

Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceutical unit and Apple opened enrollment for the Heartline Study, which aims to secure up to 150,000 participants. The study is designed to find out if the Heartline Study app on iPhone and heart health features on Apple Watch can improve health outcomes, including reducing the risk of stroke, with earlier detection of atrial fibrillation.

Senseonics 'Promises' to Go the Distance in CGM

Seenseonics will soon complete its PROMISE study, which is designed to evaluate the Eversence continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device in patients who had the device inserted subcutaneously for 180 days. Now, FDA is allowing the company to keep a subgroup of study patients using the device for a total of one year. This will help the compan gather feasibility data on the safety and accuracy of the 365-day Eversense sensor.

Verily Partnership Could Play a Big Role in iRhythm’s Future

Verily Partnership Could Play a Big Role in iRhythm’s Future

iRhythm Technology’s work with Verily could play an important role for the company this year. The San Francisco, CA-based firm discussed its work with Verily during its 4Q19 earnings call late last week.

The two companies first announced the collaboration in September of 2019. Under the agreement, iRhythm will develop offerings that could work with Verily’s Study Watch, which recently received FDA clearance.

According to a transcript of iRhythm’s 4Q19 earnings call from Seeking Alpha, the firm’s CEO Kevin King said, “Through our partnership with Verily, we're working to develop next-generation atrial fibrillation products that combine both companies’ technologies to improve the screening, diagnosis, and management of patients with asymptomatic atrial fibrillation. Verily Study Watch is an important potential piece of the solution and recently received 510(k) clearance as a Class II medical device. In 2020, our teams will continue to develop and integrate our collective technologies and the development of a complete end to end solution. We’ll provide further updates as we move forward with this development and achieve certain milestones.”

King also discussed the potential cost of the collaboration.

“For Verily development expenses, we anticipate total expenses of $15 million, including $10 million in milestone payments, $4 million in internal development costs plus $1 million for G&A,” King said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the call.

iRhythm sits at the intersection of cardiology and artificial intelligence. The firm went public in 2016 raising $107 million in an IPO and received a nod for a second device, the Zio AT. This second technology significantly expands the firm’s target market and adds a real-time component.

According to a transcript of iRhythm’s 4Q19 earnings call King said, “Our full-year 2019 revenue was $214.6 million, representing 46% growth over prior year and exceeding our initial guidance range of $201 million to $206 million, as well as the guidance of to $213 million to $214 million, issued most recently in late December.”

Medtronic Rumored to Be Looking at a Deal with LivaNova

Graphic by Amanda Pedersen Medtronic Rumored to Be Looking at a Deal with LivaNova
Mike Matson, a medtech analyst at Needham & Co., speculated on the potential Medtronic-LivaNova deal in a report issued Friday.

Reorg Research reported that Medtronic is in early-stage acquisition talks with LivaNova, news that has been well received by LivaNova shareholders. The firm said Medtronic would subsequently break up LivaNova, keeping its neuromodulation business and selling its cardiovascular business. The article does note, however, that Boston Scientific, Edwards Life Sciences, and Johnson & Johnson may also be interested in the London-based company.

Mike Matson, an analyst at Needham & Co., performed a sum-of-parts analysis that values LivaNova's cardiovascular and neuromodulation businesses separately. His analysis suggests that LivaNova's cardiovascular business is worth $1.4 billion and its neuromodulation business is worth $2.5 billion, putting the overall value at $3.9 billion.

"While we think that this deal could make sense since it would bolster [Medtronic's] neuromodulation business and since we believe that [LivaNova] is undervalued particularly considering its pipeline, we think it is far from a certainty," Matson said in a report issued Friday.

Medtronic offers spinal cord stimulation, deep brain stimulation, and sacral neuromodulation products but does not offer vagal nerve stimulation (VNS). LivaNova, on the other hand, is the market leader in VNS and the company's neuromodulation market share is 9%, according to Matson, which would make LivaNova's VNS offering complementary to Medtronic's neuromodulation business.

His analysis is based on the assumption that Medtronic would pay $4.4 billion ($85 a share) for LivaNova and divests the cardiovascular business for $1.4 billion. He estimated that the deal would then be less than 1% accretive to Medtronic's earnings per share in 2021.

"But the deal could prove more accretive over time if any of [LivaNova's] three major pipeline projects work out, since we believe that each of these could generate $500 million or more in sales," Matson said.

LivaNova has had many trials and tribulations in recent years.

Just last week the company entered into a research partnership with Verily Life Sciences, an Alphabet company, to evaluate the effectiveness of VNS therapy for difficult to treat depression. The collaboration comes a few short months after the company ended its transcatheter mitral valve replacement program because of continued declines in revenue from its valve business.

Arburg’s Customer Portal Aims to Make Life Easier for Injection Molders

Arburg’s Customer Portal Aims to Make Life Easier for Injection Molders

If you run Arburg injection molding machines in your shop, your working life may get a little easier thanks to the arburgXworld customer portal. A free service to Arburg machine users, arburgXworld offers a number of internet-enabled features that, the company claims, will save users a significant amount of time. The customer portal was introduced at K 2019 in October, but the announcement was drowned out by the onslaught of news pouring out of the event.

The arburgXworld apps, free of charge to Arburg customers, include the following features:

  • Machine Center provides centralized access to production data from the molder’s entire fleet of Arburg machines, and includes documentation on machines built since 2017.
  • Service Center facilitates communication with Arburg support and service personnel. Customers can open a service ticket, submit supporting information and photos, verify ticket status, and access documented service history. A calendar makes it easy to manage scheduled service and download appointments into the user’s personal calendar.
  • The Shop app enables access to spare parts catalogs, including pricing and availability information. Orders can be placed instantly 24/7.
  • Self Service allows users to analyze machine errors by entering a description of the problem or error code. Expert guidance is available for a fee.
ArburgXWorld on tablet
The arburgXworld customer portal features a number of free as well as fee-based apps. Image courtesy Arburg.

Other fee-based apps are also available through the portal, including calculation tools and knowledge databases that can save users time in production planning and quality assurance, said Arburg. The Machine Finder app, for example, helps molders determine the size and type of machine best suited for a specific project.

The arburgXworld portal is available internationally in 18 languages.

Coronavirus Costs and Consequences to Tech Trade Shows

The world is experiencing many effects from the epidemic spread of Coronavius, or Covid-19, in lost lives, lost income and lost opportunities. Lately, the toll of this infectious disease on the technical companies and businesses has also become more apparent, e.g., Apple's annoucement of a negative impact on this quarter's revenues.

One other very visible impact of the virus on the engineering community has been the cancelation, postponement or reduction of major, global trade shows. Not only do these events serve to bring the engineering and business communities together, but they are a major source of revenue for the organizations that sponsor the events.

Aside from the obvious use for such revenues – i.e., to pay conference costs and keep the events going for the foreseeable future – it is likely that the revenues help support important technical work, market research, scholarships and the like. Several of the major event organizers – like GSMA and SEMI – also serve as standard generating bodies, as well as promoting technical exchanges and sponsoring other activities for the technical community. Although not confirmed, one might wonder how the loss of show revenues will affect these related activities, not to mentioned missed opportunities and important communications between tech professionals.

The cancellation of the major shows also have a direct impact on companies, startups, engineers and related technical professionals that had made plans to attend the events. Consider just one area of impact, namely, the price of admission and travel costs. A ticket cost to attend a major conference is roughly around 900 euros for the entire event (including exhibits, technical sessions, etc, but not including tutorials). Multiply that by the average numbers of attendees (91K+ for Semicon China and 100K+ for MWC) and the results in roughly 95k x 900 = 85M euros for the two cancelled shows.

This number doesn’t include airfare, hotel and food cost per attendee. According to Fortune magazine, roughly 28,000 rooms had been reserved for the Feb. 24-28 MWC conference. It estimates that hoteliers too will take a big hit, with lost business totaling approximately 112.4 million euros ($121.5 million). Sadly, there looks to be little chance of refunds from the hotels or city.

Equally important, it doesn’t include the cost to exhibitors whom pay for booth space, marketing materials, wages for engineering and marketing personal and loss of sales/awareness from potential customers. Will the exhibitors lose all of the money they’ve invested in preparation for the show? Will there be lawsuits to recover some of the costs? How will the cancelled show’s be affected in the future? These are questions that will be answered in the coming weeks and months. For now, all that the technical community can do is wait and watch.

List of shows cancelled to date in 2020:

  • Mobile World Congress (MWC), February 24-27, Barcelona, Spain
  • Semicon China, March 18-20, Shanghai, China (Postponed)
  • Semicon Korea, February 5-7, Seoul, South Korea
  • Black Hat Asia, March 31 to April 3, Singapore
  • Cisco Live, March 3-6, Melbourne, Australia

The list of shows still going forth but encouraging attendees to take precautions like wearing masks, using hand sanitizers and not shaking hands, includes:

  • Embedded Conference
    • Several large companies have cancelled including Digi-Key, Arm, Rohm Semi, FTDI, Bridgetek, Toshiba
  • RSA Conference, taking place February 24-28 in San Francisco
    • IBM has withdrawn
  • Global Marketing Summit, scheduled March 9-12, San Francisco, CA
    • Facebook has cancelled
  • Game Developers Conference, scheduled March 16-20, San Francisco, CA.
    • Organizers indicated that all 10 of the China-based exhibitors at the show have canceled
  • Pax East, February 27-March 1, Boston, MA
    • Sony is skipping Pax East convention over coronavirus concerns

 

Image Source: Maria Nazipova on Unsplash

 

John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

Scientists Learn More About what Makes Batteries Fail

Rice University researchers have extended recent work that shows how defects can actually improve the performance of lithium-ion batteries, demonstrating how too much stress in cathodes used in these new battery designs can lead to cracks and device instability.

The work—led by Rice materials scientist Ming Tang, who worked with Rice graduate student Kaiqi Yang—further advances research on how to build batteries in the future that have optimal performance without degrading rapidly.

Batteries, failing batteries, Rice University, pressure of rapid charging and discharging, cathodes

At left, a 3D model by Rice University materials scientists shows a phase boundary as a delithiating lithium iron phosphate cathode undergoes rapid discharge. At right, a cross-section shows the “fingerlike” boundary between iron phosphate (blue) and lithium (red). Rice engineers found that too many intentional defects intended to make batteries better can in fact degrade their performance and endurance. (Image source: Rice University Mesoscale Materials Science Group)

New simulations conducted by Tang and Yang show that while their previous work can indeed make batteries charge more rapidly, this fast charge-and-discharge cycle can degrade their performance and endurance.

Specifically, their experiments found that under the pressure of rapid charging and discharging, cathodes that they created with intentional defects—which actually serve to improve performance—become unstable and become susceptible to fracture, researchers found. “The conventional picture is that lithium moves uniformly into the cathode, with a lithium-rich region that expands smoothly into the cathode’s center,” Tang, an assistant professor of materials science and nanoengineering, explained.

However, after examining X-ray images of the cathode researchers found the scenario happening in the battery is something quite different, he said. Researchers found “a fingerlike boundary between the lithium-rich and lithium-poor regions, almost like when you inject water into oil,” Tang said.

Less Is More

As Design News previously reported, the Rice team worked specifically with lithium iron phosphate-based cathodes, focusing on the phase transition the cathode makes from iron phosphate to lithium iron phosphate when charging. Researchers discovered that by adding defects, called antisites, to the crystal lattices of the cathodes could help them to charge faster.

In their recent work, he and Yang set out to find the root cause of reason why the lithium does not spread evenly in the cathode. What they discovered is that the problem seems to be that stress destabilizes the initially flat boundary and causes it to become wavy.

This change in boundary shape only makes the stress level worse, triggering crack formation, researchers said. Moreover, the reason for the increase in instability is the antisites—or spots iron atoms occupy spots in the crystal where lithium atoms should be—that they themselves created in the battery, Tang said.

“Antisites can be a good thing, as we showed in the last paper, because they accelerate the lithium intercalation kinetics,” he said. “But here we show a countereffect: Too many antisites in the particles encourage the moving interface to become unstable and therefore generate more stress.”

The team published a paper on their work in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

Researchers believe that a positive outcome from this latest work is that it demonstrates that while antisites can be used to improve battery performance, less is more if scientists don’t want the battery to degrade rapidly. In other words, researchers can add defects, but only enough to enhance performance, not so many that the battery becomes unstable. “You want to have a suitable level of defects, and it will require some trial and error to figure out how to reach the right amount through annealing the particles,” Tang said. “We think our new predictions might be useful to experimentalists.”

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.