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Articles from 2018 In July

Plastic bans boost market value of biodegradable polymers

Plastic bans boost market value of biodegradable polymers

BioplasticLed by Western Europe, increasing regulations and bans against plastic bags and other single-use plastic items such as drinking straws are driving growing demand for biodegradable plastics, according to new analysis from IHS Markit (Englewood, CO). The current market value of biodegradable plastics exceeds $1.1 billion, and it could reach $1.7 billion by 2023, said the report.

Biodegradable or compostable polymers are bio-based or fossil-fuel-based polymers that undergo microbial decomposition to carbon dioxide and water in industrial or municipal compost facilities. A few of these polymers decompose in backyard compost bins, soil, freshwater and saltwater, said IHS Markit. 

The food packaging, disposable tableware (cups, plates and cutlery) and bags sector is the largest end-use segment, as well as the major growth driver for biodegradable polymer consumption. This segment will benefit from local restrictions on plastic shopping bags and will achieve double-digit growth, said IHS Markit.

Compost bags are the second most important end use for biodegradable polymers. This market segment will experience strong growth thanks to the gradual expansion of composting infrastructure and growing interest in diverting organic waste such as leaves, grass clippings and food waste from landfill, according to the analysis. 

Global demand for bioplastics currently is 360,000 metric tons; total consumption of biodegradable polymers is expected to increase to almost 550,000 metric tons by 2023, representing an average annual growth rate of 9% for the five-year period. That is equivalent to a volume increase of more than 50% from 2018 to 2023, said the report.

Western Europe, with the world’s strictest regulations for single-use plastics, commands 55% of the global market value in 2018 for these specialty biodegradable polymers, followed by Asia and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) at 25%, North America at 19% and the rest of the world combined for less than 1%.

“Biodegradable plastics, which are largely starch-based compounds or polylactic acid (PLA)–based materials, have become more cost-competitive with petroleum-based plastics and the demand is growing significantly, particularly in Western Europe, where environmental regulations are the strictest,” said Marifaith Hackett, Director, Specialty Chemicals Research, at IHS Markit and the report’s lead author. “However, the demand for these biodegradable polymers is still a drop in the bucket when you compare it to demand for traditional plastics such as polyethylene (PE).”

According to IHS Markit, global demand for PE, the world’s most used plastic, has nearly doubled during the last 20 years. Global PE demand is expected to exceed 100 million metric tons this year. However, significant new market pressures, including a rise in consumer expectations around sustainability, along with tightening environmental regulations in mature markets such as Europe and key growth markets such as China, could threaten future growth. 

“The properties and processability of biodegradable polymers have improved, allowing the use of these materials in a broader range of applications, but legislation is the single-most important demand driver for these plastics,” Hackett said. “Restrictions on the use of non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags in Italy and France have led to a significant increase in the consumption of biodegradable polymers in those countries, and we expect European countries will continue to lead in legislative restrictions.”

Biodegradable polymer use has grown more slowly or stagnated in places that lack mandates, noted Hackett. “Growing consumer awareness and activism regarding environmental issues could certainly increase the market for biodegradable plastics,” she said. “To truly capture the benefits of these biodegradable polymers, however, you need to have the collection and composting infrastructure to support their use. Very few major cities or municipalities currently have the necessary infrastructure in place.”

Hackett noted the problems associated with actually biodegrading or composting plastics that claim to be biodegradable. First, these biodegradable polymers are compostable only in special industrial composting facilities, which operate at higher temperatures than home compost piles. An even smaller fraction of “biodegradable polymers is compostable in backyard compost bins; an even smaller subset is compostable in the soil or in marine environments,” said Hackett.

Despite the positive potential of biodegradable polymers, they are still mostly taking a backseat to other sustainability approaches, such as reducing plastics consumption and recycling. “For various reasons, which may include consumer confusion regarding bio-based plastics versus biodegradable polymers, there is not as much demand for these more sustainable plastics as you might expect, despite heightened public awareness of the plastics waste issue,” said Hackett. “In addition, suitable disposal options for products made from biodegradable polymers are often lacking. The cost of establishing the infrastructure necessary to support their collection and composting remains a barrier to demand growth.”

Mandatory composting programs can contribute to demand growth for biodegradable polymers, the IHS Markit report said. However, the shortage of composting facilities that are capable of processing biodegradable polymers limits the positive impact of mandatory composting programs on biodegradable polymer demand.     

“More legislation is likely coming in Europe or at the EU level, and if that occurs we could see major changes in this industry and pushback from producers of traditional plastic products,” Hackett said. “The last time we at IHS Markit assessed the global demand for biodegradable polymers, we noted the U.S. was the largest driver of demand growth for this segment, but due to legislation, Europe is by far the leading demand center. Europe is the place to watch, as Europeans are particularly motivated to reduce marine litter.”

The issue of plastics and sustainability will be a key topic of discussion at the upcoming sixth annual Global Plastics Summit (GPS) 2018, Oct. 30 and Nov. 1, in Chicago. Experts from IHS Markit and the Plastics Industry Association will discuss the latest market outlooks from key industry sectors. 

New high–performance bio-copolyester for food and aerosol packaging

New high–performance bio-copolyester for food and aerosol packaging

Velox GmbH (Hamburg, Germany), one of Europe’s leading providers of raw material specialties for the plastics, composites, additives and paint & coatings industries, and its long-term partner SK Chemicals Co. Ltd. (Seongnam-Si, South Korea) are presenting the next innovation for plastic packaging applications such as aerosol containers as well as cosmetic and hot-fill bottles. Velox Ecozen HFECOZEN HF is a newly developed bio-copolyester range that is suitable for aluminum, glass and PET replacement wherever heat and pressure resistance combined with transparency is required.

First customers have already started sampling the grades.

“ECOZEN HF has similar processing requirements to PET and can be used in the same injection-stretch blow molding (ISBM) process,” explains François Minec, Velox general manager. “However, the new grades by SK Chemicals perform perfectly in areas where PET can sometimes fail, such as in high temperature and high pressure applications. For example, PET is sometimes used to produce aerosol bottles. These bottles can often fail due to high residual stress and the low temperature resistance of PET, especially in the summer months when possible leakage is the result. ECOZEN HF offers an ideal alternative here.”

PLASTEC Minneapolis 2018 held October 31-November 1 is part of the Midwest’s largest advanced design and manufacturing event that also includes MinnPack brings you the latest in materials and additives, injection molding, rapid prototyping, coatings, automation, packaging and more. For details, visit PLASTEC Minneapolis.

Besides remarkable resistance to pressure, stress-cracking and high temperatures, ECOZEN HF possesses excellent transparency and easy processing. As a glass replacement such as for food packaging, it not only helps to reduce weight and transportation costs, but can also be used to produce hot-fill containers without the need for an expensive PET heat-setting process or the need for crystallizing the bottle or jar neck.

Similarly, as an aluminum substitute in the cosmetics packaging industry, ECOZEN HF combines high pressure-resistance with design flexibility and transparency. In addition, Ecozen HF is totally miscible with PET in the recycling stream.

Velox provides the new range in nearly all European countries.

Medtronic Fires up SynchroMed II System for New Collaboration

TheDigitalArtist/Pixabay Medtronic Fires up SynchroMed II System for New Collaboration

Medtronic is partnering with United Therapeutics to launch a therapy that could help treat patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). The Dublin-based company said it has received FDA approval for the Implantable System for Remodulin (ISR).

In the collaboration, Medtronic’s SynchroMed II drug delivery system and cardiac catheter technologies were used to deliver the PAH medication Remodulin (treprostinil) Injection developed by United Therapeutics.

PAH is a severely debilitating and progressive disease that causes high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries, ultimately resulting in right-heart failure and premature death. It predominantly affects women, who are typically diagnosed in their late 30s to early 50s.

"External infusion pumps have been used to deliver prostacyclins for PAH, but managing the therapy places a significant burden on patients, interferes with their daily activities, and runs a high risk of infections," said David Steinhaus, M.D., general manager of the Heart Failure business, part of the Cardiac and Vascular Group at Medtronic said in a release. "This fully implantable drug delivery system was designed to address these serious patient care concerns."

The system is composed of the company's SynchroMed II implantable drug infusion pump and a newly developed intravascular catheter to deliver Remodulin intravenously to patients who have previously been receiving Remodulin intravenously via an external infusion pump. Medtronic and United Therapeutics pursued parallel regulatory filings for the device and drug, respectively.

FDA approval was based on the DelIVery for PAH trial, a prospective, single-arm, non-randomized, open-label study conducted at 10 sites in the U.S. It enrolled 64 patients (60 successfully implanted) and showed the implantable intravascular delivery system effectively delivered treprostinil, with a low rate of catheter-related complications, and a high rate of patient satisfaction. The move comes on the heels of FDA approving a new clinician programmer for Medtronic’s Synchromed II, as well as a series of recent design changes aimed at improving the pump s a pain management device.

How Alexa Is Changing Healthcare

“Alexa, what’s the weather?It’s a familiar refrain as consumers across the country embrace Amazon’s voice-activated artificial intelligence (AI) to do everything from play their favorite song to order pizza.Now, healthcare joins in the act with voice-activated, Amazon-powered apps that work on the round speaker, Echo, that take a range of requests from diagnosing pediatric symptoms to locating electronic health records (EHRs). Here are just some of the ways, Alexa—and its Apple counterpart, Siri—can help patients and providers.

Paper straws are becoming ubiquitous from the mainland to the islands

Paper straws are becoming ubiquitous from the mainland to the islands

Paper strawPaper straws have caught on in a big way. My first experience with paper straws came last week while vacationing in Maui with a friend and her 18-year-old granddaughter. Choosing a Lahaina Lemonade drink rather than my usual wine, the libation came to me with a red-and-white paper straw. I took a photo—as any good journalist would do—because, even on vacation, I felt a blog coming on. 

My friend’s granddaughter made the first comment after taking a few sips of her non-alcoholic drink: “You can kind of taste the paper,” she said. 

After a few sips, I knew what she meant. Yes, you can kind of taste the paper, even when drinking pink lemonade laced with vodka. 

Articles I read back home in Phoenix noted how many restaurants in the area have replaced plastic straws with paper ones. Many of the restaurant owners commenting in the various articles said that they gave up plastic because the paper straws are “compostable.” 

Well, that’s an admirable goal except for one thing: The composting facility in Phoenix does not accept paper, only food and “green” yard waste (grass and bush trimmings). Touting the fact that your restaurant has tossed plastic straws in favor of paper straws makes you sound green, but if there’s no place that accepts paper straws or plates and cups, you’re not being green. You’re merely adding to the landfill. Using plastic plates and cups means they can be recycled.

At another restaurant, I noticed the straw in my Bloody Mary had a very thick wall section, probably so that the straw would hold up for the amount of time required to sip the drink. Not having any measuring instrument on me, I’d have to guess that the wall section of the straw was approximately 1 mm thick. 

Only one restaurant we visited had plastic straws. I won’t mention the name for fear of alerting the straw police. 

Santa Barbara, a beautiful city on the ocean in the People’s Republic of California, just banned plastic straws. Anyone caught giving them out could face a “fine not exceeding one thousand dollars” or “imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.”  

Marie McGory, a producer for National Geographic, tried taking a “plastic-free” vacation trip to Belize recently, and wrote of her efforts in “How to Take Your Next Trip without Single-Use Plastic.” She took a “reusable” grocery bag (I’m assuming it was a nonwoven or cloth bag and not a plastic bag, which is also reusable if she’d stop to think about that). She also confessed that she ended up using two plastic straws even though she took a glass straw with her. A glass straw? What about breakage? What about the possibility of dropping it and the glass shards cutting someone’s foot? Tsk, tsk!

I have a better idea: Always pack some reusable plastic grocery bags in your luggage, along with plastic straws so you are always prepared. Paper bags and straws do not hold up well, and are not compostable except in rare cases where a commercial composter might take paper. However, if someone is stupid enough to throw these paper items into the ocean they will degrade . . . in about 90 days.         

There is a “reusable” plastic straw on the market—the Tfees straw injection molded from Eastman’s Tritan co-polyester material, which gives the Tfees straw superior clarity for thorough cleaning. It is BPA-free and made in the USA. The Tfees straws are dishwasher safe, ensuring they will keep their sleek look and clarity after repeated washes. The reusable straws are not prone to breakage or splintering and will not absorb any taste or smell. 

Tammi Fee, a degreed nutritionist and exercise specialist, developed and patented the Tfees straws. She believes that health is important and that her straws are a sustainable answer to single-use plastic straws. However, what she has encountered in her marketing efforts is the idea that all plastic straws are bad. “I have this hurdle of educating people in sustainable plastics,” Fee told PlasticsToday in a recent telephone interview. In trying to market her product to various restaurants and bars, she is being told that they are going “plastic free,” which means they can’t use her reusable plastic straw, even though it’s an ideal alternative to a paper straw. 

Fee said she is also now competing against stainless-steel straws, which “are starting to get traction.” In addition to conducting heat, Fee is adamant against using a stainless-steel straw in a child’s drink that could impale the roof of his or her mouth. “Additionally, you can’t tell if the stainless-steel straw is clean, and like a stainless-steel water bottle, it must be washed out after every use to prevent mold from developing,” she said. “Tfees straws can be washed in restaurants’ dishwashers or put through steam autoclaves. And because they are clear, you can easily see that they are clean and sanitary for reuse. Unlike paper straws, they will not change the taste of your beverage,” said Fee.

Recently, Fee was invited to join an organization for C-level and above business managers/owners, including Richard Branson. The approval committee liked her product and what she was trying to do. However, when Fee offered to provide free reusable straws at a major event for the organization that anticipated 350 people, she was told, “We’d love to have you join us, but we don’t want your plastic straws because this is a ‘plastic-free’ event.”

So, I asked a few restaurant owners how and where they compost their “compostable” paper straws. Only one got back to me. "We do not separate the straws,” he wrote. “I use compostable straws as an alternative to plastic straws, not because I can compost them in the municipal system. I compost all of our kitchen food waste for my personal garden. We recycle glass, some plastic and cardboard. Everything else, including the compostable straws, go to the landfill where they will compost with the other trash. I feel anything is better than plastic straws."

While restaurateurs like the appearance of being “green” and “sustainable,” they aren’t really going to sort out all the paper straws used in their restaurant and try to find a composting facility that will take paper somewhere in the state of Arizona. 

It’s just more promotional hype to tout that “we now provide compostable paper straws” without actually composting them. But then the truth is in the semantics: Yes, paper straws are compostable, technically. But they are not composted.  That’s a major difference!

Is plastics recycling a waste of time or a wasted opportunity?

Is plastics recycling a waste of time or a wasted opportunity?

According to a recently published study, “Plastics Recycling in Europe – A waste of your time or a wasted opportunity?” by industry consultants Applied Marketing Information Ltd. (AMI Consulting; Bristol, UK), the plastics recycling industry will have to develop and grow considerably to meet 2030 EU plastics packaging recycling targets. 

The study expects that the current output capacity of the recycling industry in Europe will need to more than double by 2030 to meet targets. The challenge in growing capacity is that the plastics recycling industry is a complex, dynamic segment with a varied supply stream and value chain. With the price of recyclate intrinsically linked to the price of virgin resin, demand and the financial viability of the process is often subject to fluctuations in raw material prices.

Applied Marketing Information Ltd.

Consequently, demand for recyclate is increasingly driven by brand owners’ desire to be seen as “environmentally friendly” and “green” rather than financial incentives. This is primarily due to sustainability becoming increasingly more important to consumers, and plastic receiving considerable negative press, bringing it to the forefront of many debates and discussions. 

But just how much are brand owners willing to sacrifice in profits for their green image? And how much of this image depends on false information and promotional hype? Wouldn’t a better strategy involve educating consumers about the energy and resource consumption involved in recycling plastic? For example, explain how much hot water and chemicals (yes, chemicals) are used to clean plastic recyclate of labels and adhesives to make the material suitable for recycling into new bottles and containers. That’s in addition to the energy it takes to haul recycled products and materials to MRFs, run conveyors so that people can sort the trash from the good materials, bale it and then ship it via truck to a reprocessing facility. 

One method of eliminating the hot chemical wash to rid bottles and containers of labels is the in-mold labeling process, in which the labels are the same type of plastic as the bottle or container, resulting in greater recycling rates without the use of resources. 

Allan Griff, a consulting engineer for the extrusion industry and PlasticsToday columnist, recently wrote on The Chain, a Society of Plastics Engineers online community/industry exchange, that he sees “too much attention being paid to the concept of recycling (and degradation) rather than the numbers. And the numbers should include energy, not just money, as our opponents like to say that they’re doing this—poisoning us—because of the money! I suspect the work has been done, but isn’t popular because it shows that single use is sometimes better for the environment in quantifiable terms like energy.”

The AMI report notes that “capturing the value of plastics through reuse and recycling not only helps retain a product, which currently primarily derives from the Earth’s finite natural resources, but also helps prevent the leaking of plastic waste into the ecosystem and create a circular economy. Because of this, the plastics recycling industry is gaining growing attention.”

I doubt that plastic just “leaks” into the ecosystem. I would argue that most plastic waste is intentionally thrown into the ecosystem (both land and water) by uncaring human beings who pay little to no mind when it comes to recycling, reusing, landfilling or any other form of keeping trash out of the ecosystem.

AMI says that although polyethylene is currently the most recycled polymer in Europe, PET has the highest capture rate of plastic waste. This is due to the main source of PET waste coming from the post-consumer collection of drink bottles, which in many countries are widely collected and where longstanding and robust collection systems are in place. Where container-deposit legislation is implemented, PET drink bottle collection rates reportedly reach as high as 96%, as they encourage participation in the recycling system by giving financial incentives to the consumer.

It might also be the fact that it is easy and convenient to toss bottles into recycle bins because everyone knows that they are recyclable—no looking for arrows and numbers that mean little to the average, uneducated consumer. 

Developments in mechanical recycling technology are changing the shape of the plastics recycling industry and increasing the ability to recover more plastics in a closed loop, helping to retain maximum value, said AMI’s report. However, due to quality or inconsistent supply, large volumes of recyclate are still going to lower value applications.

I’m assuming that this means going to landfills, which I’ve been told happens to a lot of plastics because of contamination. 

The big question on The Chain was, “Is recycling worth the money?” The answer from respondents was “no.” One respondent suggested “changing plastic hydrocarbons into other useful components such as clean-burning gas, purified minerals and high quality #2 fuel oil.” That’s something being done by several companies that I’ve written about recently. 

Another respondent worries about the concept of the “perpetual motion machine. Just how much energy do we put into the recycling and get out again?” The respondent noted that the city in which he lives “requires me to wash (with expensive drinking water) the waste before putting it into the blue bin. . . . There is a large expense of money and energy to get some energy, or ‘material’ back. . . . I hardly ever see a calculation of this cost, which worries me.”

Waste-to-energy (WTE) was also a suggestion on The Chain, and I don’t consider that a “lower value” application. Another respondent suggested putting the WTE plants next to landfills, “which are already EPA regulated sites.” Any energy we can derive from plastic is extremely valuable. 

AMI notes that new opportunities are available for those who wish to take advantage of this changing and developing industry. But perhaps there are other opportunities outside of the “closed-loop” system that would make more sense. That will take educating consumers about these methods to gain greater acceptance of the value of plastics in other forms of “reuse” than purely recycling bottles into bottles.

SCHOTT Acquires Primoceler to Advance Next-Gen Implantable Devices

SCHOTT Acquires Primoceler to Advance Next-Gen Implantable Devices
Image courtesy of SCHOTT

Implantable devices are advancing at some pretty impressive rates, as devices are quickly becoming more intelligent and versatile. These days implantable devices are designed to not only serve a medical need, but also capture and transmit data in real time. Despite the benefits that some of these features provide, the very nature of this kind of technology can create a challenge when it comes to encapsulating these sensitive components in a device that can survive the harsh conditions of the human body.

That’s where SCHOTT comes in — an international technology group that specializes in hermetic packaging that is specially designed to protect sensitive electronics in medical implants, micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) devices, and other electronic devices. The company announced earlier this month the acquisition of Primoceler Oy, a move that will allow SCHOTT to utilize Primoceler’s pioneering micro bonding method that uses laser technology to manufacture vacuum-tight, ultra-miniature electronic and optical devices without any heat or added materials.

“With the acquisition of Primoceler, SCHOTT strategically enhances its longstanding core competence in the field of hermetic packaging,” said Jochen Herzberg, senior program medical manager for SCHOTT. “Primoceler has developed a technology that enables the direct laser bonding of glass-to-glass or glass-to-silicon. This innovative process allows for the manufacture of highly reliable ‘glass-only’ wafer- or chip-size packages. It has great potential for applications that demand ever smaller, yet extremely reliable packaging concepts, such as medical implants, aerospace or automotive electronics, optical devices, and MEMS devices for the Internet of things.”

Primoceler’s laser bonding technology also has the unique advantage of an extremely small and controlled heat affected zone, allowing it to be used to safely encapsulate any electronic components with extreme heat sensitivities. This opens a world of possibilities for packaging sensitive components into transparent materials like glass, a material that is particularly useful for medical implants given its excellent biocompatibility.

“The major reason to use this technology for implants is because of the fact that any additional material increases the risk of the implant not meeting biocompatibility requirements,” said Ville Hevonkorpi, CEO of Primoceler Oy. “Medical device manufacturers, especially for implants, want to limit the number of used materials for this reason. At the end of development, the complete device needs to be tested for biocompatibility. The material combination used is required to pass tests for cytotoxicity, hemocompatibility, etc., and glass already has a successful track record in implants.”

In addition to the unique laser bonding technology, the process also allows for the creation of specific conditions inside the hermetically encapsulated cavity, including the integration of certain gases, or even a complete vacuum.

The two companies believe that the new biocompatible full-glass micro packages will offer a variety of new possibilities for the next generation of medical implants, such as retinal implants, neuro stimulators, cardiac devices, and blood pressure sensors. With a myriad of exciting new possibilities on the horizon, the two companies are excited about what the future has in store for their new partnership.

“SCHOTT’s position as a leader in the glass industry and hermetic packaging market will expand the reach of Primoceler’s pioneering laser bonding technology across the globe,” Herzberg said. “The two companies will have the combined expertise to take on new electronic packaging challenges from customers, and even tackle completely new applications.”

The acquisition is expected to be completed by the end of this year, after which the company will continue to conduct its business operations from Finland under the new name, SCHOTT Primoceler Oy.

2019 Golden Mousetrap Awards Get a Refresh

The Golden Mousetrap Awards—now in their 18th year—return to the Anaheim Convention Center, in conjunction with Pacific Design & Manufacturing, on February 5, 2019. But these are not the Golden Mousetrap Awards you have come to expect over the years. This year, there are big changes afoot.Golden Mousetrap Awards

First, the 2019 submissions will be judged by a larger panel of industry experts: your peers, who are excited to dig in and identify the cutting-edge products that are shaking up the industry.

Beyond expanding our judging panel, this year's judges will be choosing three winners, when applicable, in each category/subcategory—naming them gold, silver, and bronze.

And speaking of categories/subcategories, those will look a bit different, as well. We have added Automotive Electronics and Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality Systems & Components to the lineup. We also have broadened the Additive Manufacturing/3D Printing subcategory to allow for a wider array of entries. Click here for a full list.


Finally, be sure to stick around until the end of the ceremony. That’s when we will announce the winner of our Reader’s Choice Award, as well as the award for Best in Show!

To be eligible for the Golden Mousetrap Awards, all entered products must be commercially available in the US between Sept. 1, 2017 and Oct. 1, 2018. The deadline to enter is November 9, 2018. Finalists will be announced on and in a dedicated press release the week of January 7, 2019. All winners will be announced during the live February 5, 2019 ceremony, which follows the first day of the Pacific Design & Manufacturing show!

Click here for everything you need to know about the Golden Mousetrap Awards, or email Content Producer Jennifer Campbell.

Good luck!

Edge TPU from Google Brings AI to Embedded, Mobile Devices

When combined with the new Cloud IoT Edge, Google's Edge TPU allows engineers to build and train machine learning models in the cloud and have them run actions and predictions at the edge in mobile devices and embedded systems. (Image source: Google)

Google's Tensor Processing Units (TPUs) are the tech giant's own proprietary entry into the ongoing battle of processors specialized for machine learning and artificial intelligence applications. Up to this point, engineers wanting to leverage the power TPUs had to either hope for a day when Google allows them to be purchased outright (don't hold your breath) or turn to Google's cost-prohibitive, cloud-based TPU services.

Now, Google has unveiled a new chip, the Edge TPU—a purpose-built chip designed for running machine learning applications on the edge in embedded systems. Coupled with a new software stack, Cloud IoT Edge, enterprises can now train machine learning models using Google's cloud-based TPUs and deploy and run them directly on an edge-based processor.

Naturally, Google would prefer that engineers deploy models trained on Cloud IoT Edge on the Edge TPU. But models can also be executed on GPU and CPU accelerators. The Edge TPU runs machine learning models created on Google's open source TensorFlow Lite framework for mobile and embedded devices. Cloud IoT Edge itself is optimized to run in mobile and embedded systems via operating systems like Linux and Android Things.

In a blog for Google, Injong Rhee, VP of IoT at Google Cloud, said that in designing the Edge TPU, Google was “hyperfocused on optimizing for 'performance per watt' and 'performance per dollar' within a small footprint.”

Rhee continued, “Edge TPUs are designed to complement our Cloud TPU offering, so you can accelerate [machine learning] training in the cloud, then have lightning-fast [machine learning] inference at the edge. Your sensors become more than data collectors—they make local, real-time, intelligent decisions.”

Google is targeting its Edge TPUs and Cloud IoT Edge squarely at engineers developing enterprise applications, citing the advantages of processing speed for operations and predictions that come without the need for cloud connectivity as well as enhanced security. “Cloud IoT Edge can process and analyze images, videos, gestures, acoustics, and motion locally on edge devices instead of needing to send raw data to the cloud and then wait for a response,” Rhee wrote.

The Edge TPU is smaller than a penny. (Image source: Google)

No official specs for the Edge TPUs have been released, so it's not clear yet how they stack up against other options, such as GPU-based accelerators or even in comparison to Google's own cloud-based TPUs. The Google I/O developer conference this past June saw the announcement of the latest version of the Cloud TPU (version 3), which is capable of 420-teraflop processing speeds, according to Google.

It's not likely that the Edge IoT offers the same level of processing as the latest Cloud TPU, as Google has said it needs to use liquid cooling in its data centers to achieve its high level of performance with the Cloud TPU. However, third party benchmark tests performed by German machine learning company, RiseML, have found the second version of the Cloud TPU to perform on par with Nvidia's powerful V100 GPUs.

Google is currently offering a development board that includes an Edge TPU, an NXP brand CPU, and a secure element provided by Microchip. It is also working with several partners—including NXP, ARM, Nexcom, Nokia, and ADLINK Technology—to develop devices that utilize the Edge TPU and Cloud IoT Edge.

One such partner is French connected car startup XEE, which will be looking to use Edge TPUs for advanced data processing inside of connected vehicles. In a statement released on Google's blog, Romain Crunelle, CTO at XEE, said, “Cloud IoT Edge and Edge TPU will help us to address use cases such as driving analysis, road condition analysis, and tire wear and tear in real time and in a much more cost efficient and reliable way. Enabling accelerated [machine learning] inference at the edge will enable the XEE platform to analyze images and radar data faster from the connected cars, detect potential driving hazards, and alert drivers with real-time precision.”

ESC, Embedded Systems ConferenceToday's Insights. Tomorrow's Technologies
ESC returns to Minneapolis, Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2018, with a fresh, in-depth, two-day educational program designed specifically for the needs of today's embedded systems professionals. With four comprehensive tracks, new technical tutorials, and a host of top engineering talent on stage, you'll get the specialized training you need to create competitive embedded products. Get hands-on in the classroom and speak directly to the engineers and developers who can help you work faster, cheaper, and smarter. Click here to submit your registration inquiry today

LG CNS, a subsidiary of LG that focuses on providing IT services, is looking to leverage the new chip and cloud service to augment its manufacturing execution systems (MES). “Our Intelligent Vision Inspection solution enables us to deliver enhanced quality and efficiency in the factory operations of various LG manufacturing divisions," Shingyoon Hyun, CTO of LG CNS, said on Google's blog. “With Google Cloud AI, Google Cloud IoT Edge, and Edge TPU, combined with our conventional MES systems and years of experience, we believe Smart Factory will become increasingly more intelligent and connected.”

Google's Edge TPU development kits are currently in beta and available through an early access program. Engineers interested in getting their hands on one can apply through Google. The company is especially encouraging applicants working in the manufacturing, oil and gas, transportation and logistics, healthcare, commercial building, and retail industries. 

Chris Wiltz is a senior editor at Design News covering emerging technologies, including VR/AR, AI, and robotics.

Chairman’s 5 Picks for The Battery Show

In less than a decade, The Battery Show North America has become symbolic of how rapidly the “electrification” movement is sweeping the world. With attendance of over 8,000 people, more than 150 speakers, and over 70 hours of educational opportunities, this show has become one of the premier shows in the world. The significant value offered by this 2018 show is in the networking opportunities, high quality papers, fantastic expo show room, and the overall environment with the thought leaders of our industry.

Bob GalyenIt is my honor to be the Chairman of The Battery Show North America 2018.  Actually, the show is three leading shows in one powerful event: The Battery Show, Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Expo, and the Critical Power Expo. All three run concurrently on one showroom floor, which fills the Novi Suburban Collection Showplace facilities.

This event differentiates itself from many battery conferences, as it mixes the commercial application of the various technologies required to build energy storage from batteries for use in real life products for sale. These include the markets for mobility and stationary energy storage products. This event is well covered by all the major media outlets and publishers for battery and battery related products. Please allow me to give you a bird’s eye view of this year’s conference.

Since the inception of The Battery Show at the beginning of this decade, we only had an idea of the widespread adoption of the electrification effort worldwide. Back in the 1990s, we had such a movement. But for those of you who are old enough to remember Who Killed the Electric Car?, you will understand that it was a flash in the pan at great cost. Now, we actually see the adoption of electrification happening in market growth in Asia, Europe, and North America. 

Much of this adoption is for different reasons in those regions, but the end result is a movement away from fossil fuels toward more electrified vehicles. If the attendance and the technical papers are any indication of this movement, it is clearly going to hold this time and has become far more than a flash in the pan. [Editor's note: Chelsea Sexton, notably featured in Who Killed the Electric Car?, will be delivering a keynote at The Battery Show.]

As the CTO of the largest battery company in the world, I can attest that you will get the cutting edge technologies and in-depth educational opportunities from the engineers and executives who are making it happen worldwide. The supply chain base will be there in force on the showroom floor for three days with over 600 strong helping us build great products for applications in transportation (including land, water, and air), portable electronics, medical, military, telecommunications, stationary power, and many more. And did I mention, the Expo pass is free? You get to see some of the latest designs, manufacturing processes, materials, and general trends in the combination of all of these. In fact, the biggest benefit is networking on the floor to make contacts for future follow-up.

During the three day conference program, you will see a unique multi-track session program, which is timed to allow you to jump from one session to another smoothly. One of my favorites is the first day, when you hear what the key executives have to say on the trends of the global market. Sometimes, it even gets into a few heated debates of political fringes, economic trade barriers, and technology challenges—you know, the stuff we all enjoy! It should be interesting this year as well, as the topics were carefully chosen and the papers were reviewed by a committee of experts within each segment to ensure good-quality presentations.   

Although we have a great variety in this year’s conference agenda, each one of us will have favorites. I find it more interesting to jump back and forth between the track sessions specific to my interests. Yours may vary widely from mine, but let me give you an example. With my role as a CTO with a chemistry background, there will be more focus on future development areas. Therefore, I have selected the following to attend:

Typically, my show plan includes a mixture between the great conference sessions and carefully planned time on the expo floor to provide maximum benefit. To that point, the conference sponsors have a great tool on their website called “My Show Planner” to assist you in creating the best plan for your needs. 

Make sure to visit The Battery Show website for the entire program of this event and register for the event. There are significant improvements in the navigation tools and the agenda, mapped out in an easy to read calendar format. You can add your selections into “My Show Planner” along with your own scheduled meetings for a complete agenda of your entire show. 

I am very much looking forward to seeing everyone at The Battery Show North America 2018 in September! 

Bob Galyen currently holds the position Chief Technical Officer of Contemporary Amperex Technology Limited (CATL), located in NingDe City, Fujian Province, in The People’s Republic of China. Bob is recognized as one of the top executives in the battery energy storage world with experience in technology and business operations of small and large corporations.

The Battery Show logoThe Battery Show, Sept. 11-13, 2018, in Novi, MI, will feature Bob Galyen participating in a Leaders' Roundtable discussion on Examining Battery Market Drivers, along with more than 100 other technical discussions covering topics ranging from new battery technologies to thermal management. Register for the event, hosted by Design News’ parent company UBM.

The Battery Show, Sept. 11-13, 2018, in Novi, MI, will feature Bob Galyen participating in a Leaders' Roundtable discussion on Examining Battery Market Drivers, along with more than 100 other technical discussions covering topics ranging from new battery technologies to thermal management. Register for the event, hosted by Design News’ parent company, UBM.