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Articles from 2020 In April


Pulse Survey Reveals Business Impact of COVID-19 Measures on Mold Makers

Pulse Survey Reveals Business Impact of COVID-19 Measures on Mold Makers

The American Mold Builders Association (AMBA) has launched periodic Pulse Surveys to give business leaders insight into the state of the mold building industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The short, one-minute survey asks participants eight questions over a two-day period. More than 130 mold builders participated in the first collection period.

Just over 60% of respondents reported that they are in full operation, followed by another 23% who indicated that their operations fall between 50 and 75%, a trend that reflects well overall for the mold building industry. Ten percent of respondents indicated that 25 to 50% of their facility’s operations are up and running, while only 5% of respondents are at 25% or less. Two percent are completely shut down.

Nearly 18% reported that none of their medical industry customers were shut down, followed by another 48% who indicated that fewer than half of their customers are shut down. Despite those positive numbers, some mold manufacturers’ customers are suffering in the current climate. Nearly 14% report that half of their customers are shut down; nearly 10% report that 80 to 100% of their customers are shut down.

The majority of mold manufacturers are maintaining staffing levels, with nearly three-quarters of this survey’s respondents reporting they are 90 to 100% staffed. Another 13% are about 75% staffed. Less than 2% indicated that they are fully shut down, while just under 8% reported that they are less than 50% staffed.

Looking to the future, more than two-thirds of survey respondents intend to maintain staff levels. Over a quarter are looking to add staff, while approximately 7% reported some staff reductions.

Of the 130 respondents to this survey, more than 40% have applied for and received payroll protection funds, followed by nearly 20% who have applied, are approved, and are waiting for funds to arrive.

Broken down by markets served, 11% of mold makers serving the aerospace industry have received funds; 44% are approved and waiting for funds. Fifty-one percent of those serving the automotive industry have received funds; 19% are approved and waiting for funds. Of the mold manufacturers serving the consumer goods industry, 33% have received funds and 44% are approved and waiting for funds. Twenty-four percent of those serving the medical industry have received funds; 16% are approved and waiting for funds.

As for supply chain disruptions, just under 61% report experiencing minimal issues and/or only minor disruptions in their supply chain. More than one-quarter report no issues at all, and less than 1% are experiencing major issues and/or large and serious disruptions.

Revenue forecasting in this survey found that 60% of respondents are forecasting approximately 75% of their 2020 forecast, but these percentages vary sharply when broken down by primary markets served, said the AMBA report.

Forty-five percent of mold makers serving the aerospace market anticipate 95% or above anticipated forecast for 2020, followed by 44% who anticipate 75% of their 2020 forecast. None reported anticipating below 75% of their 2020 forecast.

Among mold makers serving the automotive industry, only 20% anticipate 95% or more of their 2020 revenue forecast, followed by 73% who anticipate three-quarters of their 2020 forecast. Approximately 6% reported anticipating 50% of their 2020 forecast; none reported anticipating below 50%.

In consumer goods, only 22% anticipate 95% or above of their 2020 forecast, followed by 78% who anticipate 75%. None reported anticipating below 75% of their 2020 forecast.

Of mold makers serving the medical market, more than 62% of respondents anticipated 95% or above of the 2020 forecast. Despite the bright outlook for those primarily serving the medical market, just over 37% anticipate only three-quarters of their 2020 forecast.

Supplier Stories for the Week of April 26

<p><a href="http://www.celestica.com">Celestica Inc. </a>has announced a collaboration with Medtronic to produce subassemblies for Medtronic Puritan Bennett 980 (PB980) ventilators, which are designed for critically ill patients in high acuity settings, including those with severe respiratory illness such as COVID-19. </p><p>“We are committed to supporting Medtronic with critical manufacturing and supply chain support for high grade ventilators that are in urgent demand for COVID-19 patient care,” shared Kevin Walsh, Vice President, HealthTech, Celestica, in a news release. “This agreement takes our decade-long collaboration to the next level and is a reflection of the trust that Medtronic has placed in Celestica to help them meet unprecedented global demand in these challenging times.”</p><p>Celestica offers support to medical device manufacturers for every stage of product development, including design, manufacturing, hardware platform, and supply chain solutions. Celestica reported that its collaboration with Medtronic is just one example of how the company is enabling its customers to increase production of critical medical devices and equipment to help improve the outcome for COVID-19 patients. Celestica provided the following examples:</p><ul><li>Increasing production of a portable ultrasound device used by doctors to quickly perform lung scans of patients exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.</li><li>Scaling to meet increasing demand for automated blood analyzer devices used in the testing process for COVID-19.</li><li>Adding additional capacity to support the immediate production for a range of products including respiratory monitors and diagnostic systems that will be delivered to hospitals and temporary medical facilities.</li></ul><p> </p><p>[Image courtesy of CELESTICA INC.]</p>

New Acquisition Could Give Abiomed Access to Help COVID-19 Patients

New Acquisition Could Give Abiomed Access to Help COVID-19 Patients

Abiomed, maker of the Impella heart pump, could have the chance to reach some COVID-19 patients with its latest acquisition.

The Danvers, MA-based company said it acquired Breethe, a developer of an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation system for an undisclosed sum.

Breethe has applied for a 510K clearance of the ECMO system. The Baltimore, MD-based company’s technology has the potential to serve the needs of patients whose lungs can longer provide sufficient oxygenation, including patients suffering from cardiogenic shock, cardiac arrest or respiratory failure such as due to ARDS, H1N1, SARS, or COVID-19.

“Many physicians over the years have asked Abiomed to bring this technology into our portfolio because of our ability to support patients; teach best practices; and collect critical data for research,” Michael Minogue, chairman, president, and CEO of Abiomed said during a conference call Thursday morning. “This ECMO technology will allow us to treat cardiogenic shock patients requiring oxygenation, who are already being supported by Impella … and treat a new patient population with respiratory failure.”

The acquisition comes around the same time Abiomed posted 1Q20 results that beat Wall Street expectations. However, the company withdrew guidance for the fiscal year, citing declines in heart procedures because of COVID-19.

The firm also announced plans to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. In a release the firm said these actions taken include a hold on hiring, eliminating non-critical consultants, contractors, and temporary workers, reducing discretionary spending and implementing alternate work schedules for the Aachen and Danvers production teams.

The CEO and COO have reduced their salaries by 100%, VPs and directors have reduced their salaries by 50% and 20% respectively for the first quarter.

Abiomed’s board have also reduced their cash retainers by 50% for Q1. Non-director employees at Massachusetts and German headquarters will be taking a minimum of one-week furlough or unused vacation. The commercial field team will work on monthly operating plans to allow for flexibility and the potential to increase sequentially each week.

Medtech in a Minute: Another Deal Bites the Dust, Telemedicine Changes the Game, and More

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay Medtech in a Minute: Another Deal Bites the Dust, Telemedicine Changes the Game, and More

Another Deal Bites the Dust

Citing a negative market impact from COVID-19, Alphatec backed out of its agreement to acquire EOS Imaging. While the deal is no longer feasible as contemplated, Alphatec said it is open to a strategic collaboration, if EOS is willing. Earlier this month, Organovo killed a proposed merger with Tarveda Therapeutics, but not because of the pandemic. That decision was prompted by indecisive scientific data on Organovo's part.

Telemedicine Is Changing the Diabetes Game

Telemedicine is emerging as the hero technology during COVID-19. In the diabetes space, the technology is enabling new patient access to continuous glucose monitoring devices during a time when physician office visits have drastically declined. For companies like Dexcom, this shift is expected to offset some of the impact the company initially saw in new patient opportunities after social distancing measures took effect.

Are Patients Dying Because of Deferred TAVR Procedures?

Edwards Lifesciences CEO Mike Mussallem mentioned during the company's first-quarter earnings call that some patients have died because their transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure was postponed due to COVID-19. The company does, however, expect TAVR procedure volumes to be back to normal by the fourth quarter.

Auto Industry Swings from Trade-Deal Optimism to Pandemic Pessimism

pendulum with happy faces and one sad face

Just when you think it’s safe to go back in the water, another shark rears its head. That pretty much sums up the automotive industry’s reactions to global events over the past six months. According to the Q1 2020 Automotive Supplier Barometer from the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA), which takes the pulse of the industry every quarter, supplier sentiment was much improved from Q4 2019 thanks to passage of the USMCA and steps taken toward a trade deal with China.

However, the picture isn’t all that bright. The Q1 2020 index marked the seventh straight quarter of net pessimism. Even though supplier sentiment was 12 points higher than a year ago, larger, more globally exposed firms continued to show strong levels of pessimism, said the OESA’s summary of the latest survey. Firms with revenue below $151 million “shifted” into optimistic territory. “Regardless of revenue size,” said the OESA, “results improved from the prior quarter.”

“Automotive suppliers have been navigating acute trade policy uncertainty for the past two years,” said Mike Jackson, Executive Director, Strategy and Research, OESA. “Passage of the USMCA and a first-phase trade deal with China has fueled a sharp jump in supplier optimism. This illustrates just how foundational these policies are in providing certainty and clarity across sophisticated and highly integrated regional and global supply chains.”

With the threat of trade and tariffs largely resolved, poor sales became the top concern of automotive suppliers. Production break-even levels rose to 15 million units. The median all-in capacity utilization rate remained unchanged from the same period a year ago at 80%. Suppliers running over 90% utilization are investing in new capital equipment, outsourcing, and flexible manufacturing schedules/overtime.

A caveat is warranted at this point: “Sampling for the survey was conducted from the end of January until mid-February, when the impact of the coronavirus was still unknown.” Despite the substantial boost to supplier sentiment, the barometer reading remains marginally negative as uncertainty persists, said the OESA.

Molders and mold makers have to be worried about their supply base

As shutdowns swept through the automotive supply chain and plants were idled and workers laid off, some OEMs were “delaying payments to vendors and asking lenders to adjust terms,” said an article in the April 2, 2020, edition of the Wall Street Journal (“Auto-Parts Suppliers Teeter as Car Production Halts”). Work stoppages at OEMs send a chain reaction through the supplier base, and once it has hit full stop it’s not easy to get started again. It’s especially difficult in small, privately held companies. That puts these companies at risk of going under — never to reopen again, said the WSJ article, especially if “car-plant work stoppages drag on into the early summer.”

Advanced Purchasing Dynamics (APD), a Plymouth, MI–based consultancy specializing in purchasing strategies for OEMs and suppliers, recently assembled a crisis management team to study issues impacting the industry. It developed a “restart and run playbook” to help purchasing departments manage through this crisis while achieving important purchasing strategies and company objectives.

Mike Wynn, Vice President and practice leader at APD, works with suppliers, including plastics processors and mold makers. “From our perspective, everyone is part of the tiered supply chain,” said Wynn. “Molders and mold makers have to be worried about their supply base as well as the OEMs. Currently, most are trying to get an understanding of what an opening might look like. OEMs are making requests as to the readiness of suppliers, but suppliers are questioning the projected start dates and volumes. Despite OEM hopes for a quick return to full volumes, suppliers feel they need to proceed with caution.”

The Wall Street Journal reported in the April 28 edition that U.S. vehicle makers are “targeting May 18 to resume some production at their U.S. factories” that were closed in March because of the coronavirus, but that looks a bit dubious. The companies are working with the UAW to draw up “safety protocols for reducing exposure risks for workers.” A Ford spokesman told the WSJ that the company “hasn’t decided when it will restart North American factories,” adding that it is “continuing to assess public health conditions, government guidelines, and supplier readiness” to determine the right time for opening.

OEM program launch delays will delay mold makers, with some economists predicting it will be as bad as 2008 and 2009. “Molders and mold makers have to look upstream and what they can count on in terms of demand from the OEMs as well as downstream at their suppliers. There’s a need to do due diligence there,” said the article.

Wynn pointed out that many molders do more than just mold plastic parts. Many supply a combination of parts and assemblies. Additionally, because many molders have been buying resins on a program-by-program or program-specific basis, they typically don’t have one place to go when buying the resins. This can create a situation where they might have too much of a specific resin in inventory, or the program starts back up and they don’t have enough in the supply chain.

“They have to understand what they’re buying and who they’re buying from — both resins and components,” said Wynn. “Molders have to look up the supply chain and try to anticipate what their OEM customers need. They also must look down their supply base and determine access to the materials needed,” he said.

The complexity with restarting at the OEM level will be problematic, noted Wynn. “Every state has a different timing for restart. When you’re talking about a global industry, the timing gets even worse.”

Future-proof the supply chain

APD developed seven recommended actions to help restart the supply chain:

  1. Understand customer and internal manufacturing start-up plans that include customer demand requirements, customer timing plans for new products and the phase out of old products, and customer manufacturing location changes.
  2. Complete scenario planning and stress test plans and develop action plans for each level of risk that resolves urgent issues such as taking a closer look at “at-risk suppliers” whose conditions may have deteriorated during the shutdown. OEMs will be closely evaluating their suppliers to determine risk-management strategies. 
  3. Attack management issues and engage at-risk suppliers to resolve issues.
  4. Execute production ramp-up. Clear, consistent communication of customer and operations startup plan is critical. Use the knowledge gained from customer expectations (step 1) to develop demand schedules that are realistic and not over-inflated. This is not the time to consume your company’s cash in unneeded inventory.
  5. Mitigate urgent issues — downtime, staggered availability, and other unforeseen problems.
  6. Important company objectives: Leading organizations create separate supply-chain crisis-management teams to deal with the management issues to enable the core purchasing team to continue to deliver the strategic plan. Revisit cost reductions and inputs; revision of contract payment terms; renegotiate lump-sum costs/settlements to amortized payment plans; explore near-shoring/reducing the supply chain.
  7. Future-proof the supply chain. While the industry has never experienced an event like the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic shutdown, there have been other events, including hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, and so forth, that have previously exposed the extreme financial risks of extended supply chains. 

Shortening supply chains will reduce exposure but could lead to competition; it will take time and is not a 100% solution, noted APD. “We do hear people talking about near-shoring and reshoring — it’s a topic people bring up that they might look at as part of their strategy,” Wynn said. “There are still cost advantages in offshore suppliers and we’ve been doing it so long the question becomes, ‘How do we quit?’”

APD suggests that companies should understand the cost competitiveness of regions and ensure near and far-shore sourcing decisions are made “not on a piece price but on risk-adjusted total cost of ownership and relationship.” Establish which commodities would benefit from near-shore sourcing (such as in Mexico) and commence resourcing activities.

A proposal announced by U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley on April 3, which may help manufacturing get back on its feet, is a Phase 4 Relief Plan: Rehire Workers and Bring Supply Chains Back. It calls for a major initiative to rehire workers and keep them on the payroll through the crisis, and new measures to bring critical supply chains back to the United States from overseas and encourage domestic production.

“This pandemic exposed a Grand Canyon–size fault in our supply chain,” Hawley said. “We don’t make critical products in America anymore. It’s a threat to our health, our national security, and our economy. Americans have long known about this problem. Washington is just waking up to it, and Wall Street was hoping it wouldn’t get caught. It’s time to fix it. We need to invest in America and protect our people. The goal is simple: If we need it, we should make it.”

Image: Thanawong/Adobe Stock

Auto Industry Swings from Trade-Deal Optimism to Pandemic Pessimism

Auto Industry Swings from Trade-Deal Optimism to Pandemic Pessimism

pendulum with happy faces and one sad face

Just when you think it’s safe to go back in the water, another shark rears its head. That pretty much sums up the automotive industry’s reactions to global events over the past six months. According to the Q1 2020 Automotive Supplier Barometer from the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA), which takes the pulse of the industry every quarter, supplier sentiment was much improved from Q4 2019 thanks to passage of the USMCA and steps taken toward a trade deal with China.

However, the picture isn’t all that bright. The Q1 2020 index marked the seventh straight quarter of net pessimism. Even though supplier sentiment was 12 points higher than a year ago, larger, more globally exposed firms continued to show strong levels of pessimism, said the OESA’s summary of the latest survey. Firms with revenue below $151 million “shifted” into optimistic territory. “Regardless of revenue size,” said the OESA, “results improved from the prior quarter.”

“Automotive suppliers have been navigating acute trade policy uncertainty for the past two years,” said Mike Jackson, Executive Director, Strategy and Research, OESA. “Passage of the USMCA and a first-phase trade deal with China has fueled a sharp jump in supplier optimism. This illustrates just how foundational these policies are in providing certainty and clarity across sophisticated and highly integrated regional and global supply chains.”

With the threat of trade and tariffs largely resolved, poor sales became the top concern of automotive suppliers. Production break-even levels rose to 15 million units. The median all-in capacity utilization rate remained unchanged from the same period a year ago at 80%. Suppliers running over 90% utilization are investing in new capital equipment, outsourcing, and flexible manufacturing schedules/overtime.

A caveat is warranted at this point: “Sampling for the survey was conducted from the end of January until mid-February, when the impact of the coronavirus was still unknown.” Despite the substantial boost to supplier sentiment, the barometer reading remains marginally negative as uncertainty persists, said the OESA.

Molders and mold makers have to be worried about their supply base

As shutdowns swept through the automotive supply chain and plants were idled and workers laid off, some OEMs were “delaying payments to vendors and asking lenders to adjust terms,” said an article in the April 2, 2020, edition of the Wall Street Journal (“Auto-Parts Suppliers Teeter as Car Production Halts”). Work stoppages at OEMs send a chain reaction through the supplier base, and once it has hit full stop it’s not easy to get started again. It’s especially difficult in small, privately held companies. That puts these companies at risk of going under — never to reopen again, said the WSJ article, especially if “car-plant work stoppages drag on into the early summer.”

Advanced Purchasing Dynamics (APD), a Plymouth, MI–based consultancy specializing in purchasing strategies for OEMs and suppliers, recently assembled a crisis management team to study issues impacting the industry. It developed a “restart and run playbook” to help purchasing departments manage through this crisis while achieving important purchasing strategies and company objectives.

Mike Wynn, Vice President and practice leader at APD, works with suppliers, including plastics processors and mold makers. “From our perspective, everyone is part of the tiered supply chain,” said Wynn. “Molders and mold makers have to be worried about their supply base as well as the OEMs. Currently, most are trying to get an understanding of what an opening might look like. OEMs are making requests as to the readiness of suppliers, but suppliers are questioning the projected start dates and volumes. Despite OEM hopes for a quick return to full volumes, suppliers feel they need to proceed with caution.”

The Wall Street Journal reported in the April 28 edition that U.S. vehicle makers are “targeting May 18 to resume some production at their U.S. factories” that were closed in March because of the coronavirus, but that looks a bit dubious. The companies are working with the UAW to draw up “safety protocols for reducing exposure risks for workers.” A Ford spokesman told the WSJ that the company “hasn’t decided when it will restart North American factories,” adding that it is “continuing to assess public health conditions, government guidelines, and supplier readiness” to determine the right time for opening.

OEM program launch delays will delay mold makers, with some economists predicting it will be as bad as 2008 and 2009. “Molders and mold makers have to look upstream and what they can count on in terms of demand from the OEMs as well as downstream at their suppliers. There’s a need to do due diligence there,” said the article.

Wynn pointed out that many molders do more than just mold plastic parts. Many supply a combination of parts and assemblies. Additionally, because many molders have been buying resins on a program-by-program or program-specific basis, they typically don’t have one place to go when buying the resins. This can create a situation where they might have too much of a specific resin in inventory, or the program starts back up and they don’t have enough in the supply chain.

“They have to understand what they’re buying and who they’re buying from — both resins and components,” said Wynn. “Molders have to look up the supply chain and try to anticipate what their OEM customers need. They also must look down their supply base and determine access to the materials needed,” he said.

The complexity with restarting at the OEM level will be problematic, noted Wynn. “Every state has a different timing for restart. When you’re talking about a global industry, the timing gets even worse.”

Future-proof the supply chain

APD developed seven recommended actions to help restart the supply chain:

  1. Understand customer and internal manufacturing start-up plans that include customer demand requirements, customer timing plans for new products and the phase out of old products, and customer manufacturing location changes.
  2. Complete scenario planning and stress test plans and develop action plans for each level of risk that resolves urgent issues such as taking a closer look at “at-risk suppliers” whose conditions may have deteriorated during the shutdown. OEMs will be closely evaluating their suppliers to determine risk-management strategies. 
  3. Attack management issues and engage at-risk suppliers to resolve issues.
  4. Execute production ramp-up. Clear, consistent communication of customer and operations startup plan is critical. Use the knowledge gained from customer expectations (step 1) to develop demand schedules that are realistic and not over-inflated. This is not the time to consume your company’s cash in unneeded inventory.
  5. Mitigate urgent issues — downtime, staggered availability, and other unforeseen problems.
  6. Important company objectives: Leading organizations create separate supply-chain crisis-management teams to deal with the management issues to enable the core purchasing team to continue to deliver the strategic plan. Revisit cost reductions and inputs; revision of contract payment terms; renegotiate lump-sum costs/settlements to amortized payment plans; explore near-shoring/reducing the supply chain.
  7. Future-proof the supply chain. While the industry has never experienced an event like the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic shutdown, there have been other events, including hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, and so forth, that have previously exposed the extreme financial risks of extended supply chains. 

Shortening supply chains will reduce exposure but could lead to competition; it will take time and is not a 100% solution, noted APD. “We do hear people talking about near-shoring and reshoring — it’s a topic people bring up that they might look at as part of their strategy,” Wynn said. “There are still cost advantages in offshore suppliers and we’ve been doing it so long the question becomes, ‘How do we quit?’”

APD suggests that companies should understand the cost competitiveness of regions and ensure near and far-shore sourcing decisions are made “not on a piece price but on risk-adjusted total cost of ownership and relationship.” Establish which commodities would benefit from near-shore sourcing (such as in Mexico) and commence resourcing activities.

A proposal announced by U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley on April 3, which may help manufacturing get back on its feet, is a Phase 4 Relief Plan: Rehire Workers and Bring Supply Chains Back. It calls for a major initiative to rehire workers and keep them on the payroll through the crisis, and new measures to bring critical supply chains back to the United States from overseas and encourage domestic production.

“This pandemic exposed a Grand Canyon–size fault in our supply chain,” Hawley said. “We don’t make critical products in America anymore. It’s a threat to our health, our national security, and our economy. Americans have long known about this problem. Washington is just waking up to it, and Wall Street was hoping it wouldn’t get caught. It’s time to fix it. We need to invest in America and protect our people. The goal is simple: If we need it, we should make it.”

Image: Thanawong/Adobe Stock

Mitsubishi Chemical America Makes Bid to Acquire Gelest

Global merger stock art

Mitsubishi Chemical America Inc. (MCA), a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. (MCC), announced today that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire all of the issued and outstanding shares of Gelest Intermediate Holdings Inc., the parent company of Gelest Inc. and a portfolio company of New Mountain Capital LLC. Completion of the transaction is expected in 2020, pending customary regulatory review and approval.

Gelest supplies silicones, organo-silanes, metal-organics, and specialty monomers for advanced technology end markets including the medical device, life science, microelectronics, and personal care sectors. The company helps customers succeed by assisting them to develop and supply the chemistry to solve their most challenging materials science problems and enable their new product technology, said the press release announcing the acquisition.

"We are excited to acquire Gelest, as its business fits well within MCC's long-term strategy," said Steve Yurich, President of MCA. "Since becoming familiar with Gelest, we have recognized the tremendous capabilities in research and development and production that help create its outstanding position with key customers. Furthermore, MCC's operating resources and customer network will enhance the ability to bring Gelest's technologies to market and accelerate the development of new customer solutions to drive advances in digital social infrastructure, vision care, and other life-science applications. We look forward to working alongside the team at Gelest to drive the continued growth of the company,” said Yurich.

MCC is Japan’s largest chemicals company, offering an array of products and technologies to support performance products and industrial markets. It is committed to sustainability and is guided by “kaiteki,” which the company describes as “a condition that contributes to sustainable development that is optimal for people, society, and our planet Earth.”

Image: Metamorworks/Adobe Stock

The Engineering Superhero Who Inspired Generations: Speed Racer

  • A: Auto-Jacks. These are built in jacks for lifting the car during pit stops, just like the air jacks we see in today’s endurance racing sports cars such as those at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A key difference is that Speed can deploy the Mach 5’s jacks while driving, to launch the car over obstacles.
  • B: Belt tires. These are deployable tracks that let the Mach 5 gain traction on any surface. Significantly, the Mach 5 sends power to all four wheels, just like modern supercars such as the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ.
  • C: Cutter Blade. Button “C” deploys giant spinning blades from the front of the car. As a kid, I thought Speed was negligently slow in applying this solution to more of the bad guys’ cars. A lot of problems could have been nipped in the bud with some timely Cutter Blade action.
  • D: Defensor/Deflector. This is a clear bubble that encloses the Mach 5’s open cockpit to provide occupant protection bullets, water and that evil-doer go-to, sleeping gas.
  • E: Evening Eye. This is a night vision system like today infrared systems seen on numerous high-end cars. Rather than a head-up display projected on the inside of the windshield, as modern cars use, the Mach 5’s evening eye works with special goggles attached to his helmet, like military pilots use.
  • F: Frogger Mode. This lets the Mach 5 operate under water. The car carries its own oxygen supply that is sufficient for 30 minutes submerged. The car’s periscope relays the image from the surface to a video display in the cockpit, much like today’s back-up cameras and around-view parking camera systems do.
  • G: Gizmo. This is the name applied to the Mach 5’s deployable drone, which is operated remotely by controls built into the car’s dashboard. The drone, which is disguised to look like a bird, is employed primarily to carry images, voice messages and other information to other people.

Speed Racer and the Mach 5 have so powerfully captured viewers’ imaginations that the original 1960s show has spawned sequels, such as the critically panned 2008 live action film and a 2009 Nickelodeon animated series, Speed Racer: The Next Generation. (Another Star Trek parallel.)

Part of the reason for the show's enduring appeal is that the zoomy Mach 5 still looks contemporary after half a century, mused Speed Racer English voice actor, the late Peter Fernandez in a 2001 interview. “The Mach five looks so modern, it will be a long time before our cars look like the Mach five,” he observed. 

If growing up watching Speed win races and defeat bad guys using his driving talent and his father’s engineering skill doesn’t motivate you to grow up to be a racer or an engineer, I don’t know what will!

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

The New Isaac Sim Makes Smarter Robots Using Smarter Simulation

Isaac Sim 2020.1 introduces a series of tools and features aimed at creating more sophisticated simulations for training robots. (Image source: Nvidia)

Nvidia has said the latest release of its Isaac Sim platform will enable more sophisticated training of robots and collaborative robots (cobots). Isaac Sim, which also includes an SDK, is a simulation program that allows for robots to be trained in virtual environments under simulated conditions. Rather than time consuming – and expensive – real-world training, engineers can train the algorithms that run their machines virtually, then port them into a physical robot to have it perform its task. Nvidia has touted Isaac, first announced in 2017, for its robustness – allowing developers to run hundreds, even thousands, of tests in a time frame that would be impossible in the physical world.

At the GTC Digital conference, Nvidia offered more information about the features expected in the latest version – Isaac Sim 2020.1, due to be released in may.

The platform has enhanced its focus on synthetic data generation – allowing engineers to create virtual scenarios that can mimic real world conditions. Pulling in real-world datasets for machine learning can be helpful, but can be limited when it comes to edge cases, situations the robot will need to respond to, but are less likely to be encountered. Reliable performance in edge cases becomes especially important in safety critical and cobot applications. If a robot encounters a situation it hasn’t been trained for or doesn’t expect, the results can be hazardous for humans.

Isaac Sim 2020.1 will feature a new Domain Randomization Toolbox that will allow for various aspects of a simulation, including lighting, colors, materials, and textures, to be randomized across an unlimited number of simulations without developers having to make manual changes to the simulation themselves.

It can also randomize environmental assets. In a simple example, a warehouse robot can be run through simulations where not only the lighting and other environmental conditions of the warehouse are varied, but also the placement of shelves, equipment, and other objects. When brought over into a physical robot, this will result in a much more capable and adaptable machine.

Nvidia has also introduced ray tracing into Isaac for the first time. Ray tracing is an intensive way of rendering computer graphics in a way that mimics how light moves and interacts with objects – rather than trying to imitate light by adjusting pixel values. The result is a much more photorealistic rendering than you would get with traditional methods. If you’ve awed at the look of some of the SFX in recent big-budget films like Avengers: Endgame you’ve seen ray tracing in action.

By supporting ray tracing, Isaac now allows robots to be trained in simulations with much more visual accuracy to the real world. LiDAR and RGB depth cameras, which Isaac Sim 2020.1 will be able to simulate, are both affected by materials. Photorealistic renderings of environmental materials will give engineers using Isaac a better understand of how the sensors on their robots are responding to their operating environment.

Finally, Isaac Sim 2020.1 will be offering support for more robots. Carter, the virtual use case robot that appeared in earlier versions of Isaac has been replaced by a new manipulator robot dubbed, Leonardo. Those using cobots like the UR10 from Universal Robots will find a lot more fidelity between Leonardo and their own physical system. The system will also offer more robust support of ROS, allowing engineers to more easily load software stacks developed in ROS into Isaac.

A preview version of Isaac Sim 2020.1 is currently available for download. The full release is expected in May.

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

Crystal Radios, AM Transmitters Good Prep for Amateur License

One of the challenging aspects of the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis is the time spent at home in quarantine. For those with a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) bend, this might be the perfect time to build a fairly inexpensive crystal radio. Complementing that build is the construction of a simple AM broadcast station to allow you and your family to both listen and transmit to the radio.

Together, these projects serve as a great start to understanding amateur ham radio, which is enjoying renewed interest due to COVID-19. For example, HamRadioPrep.com claims to have experienced a huge surge in new students in the last few weeks of March 2020, stating that the number of persons signing up for the amateur radio license courses, “has soared more than 706% since news of the coronavirus outbreak dominated headlines. At the same time, the FCC shows a 7.1% uptick in new amateur licensees in the first week of March in 2020 vs the same week in 2019.”

Image Source: Arne Nordmann (norro) - CC BY-SA 3.0,

Crystal radios have been around since the early 1900’s. A crystal radio or crystal set is a simple AM radio receiver based upon a detector that was originally made from a piece of crystalline mineral such as galena. This component is now called a diode.

A crystal radio needs no external power as it runs on the power of the received radio signal to produce sound. A long wire antenna gathers enough of the radio signals from nearby transmitters to power the diode, which helps to demodulate the signals, and plays them as sound through an earphone or small headset.

Perhaps the most challenging part of making the radio is physically winding the coil, which usually consists of 100 turns or more of small-gauge magnet wire wrapped around a non-conductive tube like an empty roll of toilet paper. The coil is an essential part of the radio’s tuning circuit. In the earliest circuits, there was no tuning capacitor. Rather, the inherent capacitance of the antenna formed the turned circuit with the coil.

Image Source: By JA.Davidson, CC BY-SA 3.0

The critical element of a crystal radio is the crystal detector that demodulates or separates the radio signal to extract the modulated audio signal. The detector's audio frequency output is converted to sound by the earphone. Early radio sets used a "cat whisker detector" consisting of a small piece of crystalline mineral such as galena with a fine wire touching its surface. Modern sets use modern semiconductor diode.

For the crystal radio to pick up a signal of sufficient strength, you must be close to an AM transmitting station – no more than 10 to 20 miles away. The antenna should be a long piece (20 feet or more) of wire that is not coiled up.

One way to make sure you are close enough to an AM station is to build one. It’s only a bit more involved than making a crystal radio and several sites provide clear project descriptions such as Instructables, MakeRF and others found from a quick search on the Internet.

Building a crystal radio and an AM station transmitter will put to well on your way to understanding the basic of amateur radio systems. With a bit more effort, you’ll be able to pass the entry-level ham radio test and achieve a FCC license. Then, you’ll be set to participate in the ARRL Field Day event, always held in the fourth week of June.

As explained on the official ham radio ARRL website, Field Day is ham radio's open house. “Every June, more than 40,000 hams throughout North America set up temporary transmitting stations in public places to demonstrate ham radio's science, skill and service to our communities and our nation. It combines public service, emergency preparedness, community outreach, and technical skills all in a single event. Field Day has been an annual event since 1933 and remains the most popular event in ham radio.”

Youtube – A (Crystal Radio) Coil Winding Jig

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.