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Copper Sulfide Looks Promising As Sodium Ion Battery Anode

Schematic model demonstrating grain boundaries and phase interfaces formations for copper sulfide anodes used in sodium ion batteries (Image source: KAIST)

The world keeps looking for cheaper, safer, longer lasting, and more powerful alternatives to lithium ion batteries. Commercial lithium ion batteries have been around since 1991 and have found applications powering everything from personal electronics, to electric vehicles (EVs), to electric power grids.

Sodium ion batteries have shown some promise—sodium ions replace the lithium ions as charge carriers inside the battery during charging and discharging. Sodium is significantly more available and cheaper than lithium. Sodium ion batteries could also be safer—they can be completely drained of their charge during shipping or storage, while lithium ion batteries need to maintain about 30% of their charge providing energy that could ignite a fire if the batteries are somehow damaged.

Commercial lithium ion batteries use intercalation-type materials, such as graphite, to serve as anode (negative electrode) materials that store and release lithium ions between planes of carbon atoms. But graphite anodes have not been viable for high-capacity sodium storage due to their insufficient spacing between the carbon atom layers to accommodate sodium ions.

To build viable sodium ion batteries, a search is on for materials that can achieve higher capacity in the anode. Most such materials unfortunately have large volume expansions and abrupt crystallographic changes when incorporating sodium ions, which lead to severe capacity degradation.

A team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has described in a news release their work using copper sulfide as an anode storage medium for sodium ion batteries. Professor Jong Min Yuk’s team confirmed the stable sodium storage mechanism using copper sulfide that is pulverized and that induces capacity recovery. According to the news release, “Their findings suggest that when employing copper sulfide, sodium ion batteries will have a lifetime of more than five years with one charge per a day. Even better, copper sulfide, composed of abundant natural materials such as copper and sulfur, has better cost competitiveness than lithium ion batteries, which use lithium and cobalt.”

According to Yuk, “Sodium ion batteries employing copper sulfide can advance sodium ion batteries, which could contribute to the development of low-cost energy storage systems and address the micro-dust issue.”

As with so many battery research results, the replacement of lithium ion batteries with commercial sodium ion batteries does not seem like it will happen any time soon, despite the optimism of the Korean team. But progress is continuing and the incentive to improve upon lithium ion batteries is increasing almost daily as a move to further electrification of the transportation system and battery storage for the electric grid reaches primetime.

Senior Editor Kevin Clemens has been writing about energy, automotive, and transportation topics for more than 30 years. He has masters degrees in Materials Engineering and Environmental Education and a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. He has set several world land speed records on electric motorcycles that he built in his workshop.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

3D-Printed Flexible Mesh Eyed for Knee, Ankle Braces

While 3D-printing has allowed for the fabrication of materials that can customize certain types of prosthetics and other devices for medical use, typically they are made out of rigid materials, which limits the mobility of a patient using them.

Now researchers at MIT have 3D-printed mesh materials that can offer more customization and flexibility for medical devices and braces that support parts of the body that need to flex, such as muscles and tendons.

MIT engineers have 3D-printed stretchy mesh, with customized patterns designed to be flexible yet strong, for use in ankle and knee braces. (Image source: Felice Frankel)

Sebastian Pattinson conducted the research as a postdoc at MIT and is now a faculty member at Cambridge University. He was inspired by two disparate materials—fabrics and their conformable nature, and collagen, the structural protein that comprises human soft tissue—to design the new material.

Under a microscope collagen appears as intertwined strands, but these strands can easily be stretched out. However, once that happens, the strands are more difficult to extend, he said.

Inspired by this molecular structure, Pattinson designed wavy patterns that he then 3D-printed in a thermoplastic polyurethane material. He then designed and fabricated a mesh configuration in the style of a flexible yet durable fabric. The waves became key to the design—the taller he designed them, the more the mesh could be stretched at low strain before becoming stiffer, which he said can be tuned to act similar to human soft tissue.

“The structures can mimic the mechanical response of soft tissue and improve how devices conform to the body,” Pattison told Design News. “These may enable medical devices such as orthoses and surgical mesh to better support the body.”

Material in Action

To test and demonstrate how the material can be used in medical applications, the team printed a flexible mesh for use in an ankle brace. The specifically designed the mesh’s structure to prevent the ankle from turning inward—which is why so many people sustain ankle injuries—while allowing the joint to move in other directions freely.

Pattison and his team also 3D-printed a knee brace using the mesh that can conform with the movements of the knee as it bends, as well as a glove with 3D-printed mesh sewn into the top of it that can conform to the person’s knuckles. This latter item could be used to provide resistance against involuntary clenching that occurs in stroke victims, researchers said.

“The mechanics we show are achieved through the local variation of mesh geometry, connectivity, and material composition,” Pattison told us.

Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Unique Printing Tactic

Pattison’s team employed some unique methods to give the mesh a quality similar to fabric, which helps it conform and flex with the body, even while it’s in motion, he said.

In traditional 3D printing, a material is printed through a heated nozzle, layer by layer, with each heated polymer layer bonding with the one beneath it. In his work, Pattison discovered that once he printed a first layer, he could allow for more time for the material to land on the layer below if he raised the print nozzle slightly. This gave the material time to cool, making it less sticky.

By printing the mesh pattern in this way, Pattison created layers that didn’t fully bond, so they could be freer to move relative to each other. This gives the mesh its flexibility and pliability, he said.

“3D printing is useful because it allows the mesh to be customized to individuals, enables 3D shapes that can better conform to the body, and allows the local patterning of different materials,” he told Design News.

Researchers plan to continue their work to explore further how they can use the mesh structures and materials to improve medical devices, Pattison said.

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.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!

 

Sabic K Show highlights—performance and processing efficiency

Sabic K Show highlights—performance and processing efficiency

While circularity will feature prominently at Sabic’s K Show stand (stand D42, hall 6)  this October in Düsseldorf, expect to see an array of additional technological highlights beyond certified circular plastics.

One highlight will be the Cohere S series of polyolefin plastomers (POPs) boasting up to 10% lower seal temperature that will enable conversion machinery to run faster for production of frozen food and bag-in-box packaging, pouches, co-extruded protection films, and stretch wrap, among other applications.

Sabic has also developed a high melt strength grade of polypropylene (PP) dubbed Sabic PP UMS (for ultra-melt strength) that can be used in expanded lightweight PP returnable packaging for e-commerce. With a melt strength of 65 cN, Sabic estimates that foamed packaging made from the material could be reused up to 30 times.

Sabic PP 514M12, meanwhile, is an odor-free grade made using phthalate-free, peroxide-free technology for application in melt-blown fibers (lightweight, breathable nonwovens). Applications include hygiene products, medical masks, air filtration and wet tissues for industrial use.

Sabic also sees a market opportunity for its Lexan polycarbonate (PC) resin in grille-less designs for electric vehicles. These can incorporate transparent panels to add new functionality such as lighting effects and integration of sensors, while also differentiating EV platforms. Use of PC can reportedly offset the weight of new components required for electric, connected and autonomous vehicles

Sabic also plans to showcase a new concept for battery protection combining thermoplastic and metal that is 40–60% lighter (up to 20 kg) versus an all-metal version. The solution features an e-coatable resin with excellent energy absorption and eliminates multiple metal stamping pieces with a single-piece hybrid solution for ease of assembly.

In the appliance field, Sabic will introduce grades such as PP FPC 70 Flowpact ICP, a high gloss grade for replacement of polystyrene in refrigerator inner door liners.

KraussMaffei brews ‘new blend of plastics expertise’ ahead of K

KraussMaffei brews ‘new blend of plastics expertise’ ahead of K

“I like coffee, but above all else what I really like is a good blend,” said KraussMaffei CEO Frank Stieler at the recent K 2019 Preview in Düsseldorf, Germany. With that gustatory metaphor, Stieler went on to explain how changes going on within the Munich-based company that engineers injection molding, extrusion and reaction process technology systems will achieve a “new blend of plastics expertise.”

KraussMaffei CEO Frank Stieler
KraussMaffei CEO Frank Stieler.

The company’s subsidiaries and  locations—Netstal-Maschinen AG and KraussMaffei Berstorff—henceforth will operate under the single KraussMaffei name, Stieler told the 70-plus members of the press at the event. Netstal will now be known as KraussMaffei High Performance AG (although the machinery will continue to bear the Netstal name) and KraussMaffei Berstorff will operate as KraussMaffei Extrusion GmbH. Bringing the brands together, said Stieler, reflects the company’s identity. “KraussMaffei is a technological pioneer in the plastics industry, which supplies its customers across all industries with innovative and customized solutions in line with our new motto: Pioneering plastics,” he said.

The repositioning is a “big step” for Netstal, acknowledged Stieler, and he applauded the "courage of the people of Nafels, Switzerland," where Netstal is based, for coming together under a single brand. But business integration had been a reality before the company formalized the structure, noted KraussMaffei in a press release distributed at the preview event. The injection molding, extrusion and reaction process machinery divisions already work hand-in-hand for many applications, such as lightweighting. The restructuring “means that customers can select the solution that best suits them from the whole technology portfolio via their respective contact person,” said the press release.

KraussMaffei made a number of other announcements in relation to its participation at K 2019, which included:

  • An example of the circular economy in action—the company will mold polypropylene buckets on the show floor and then recycle them into a premium-quality automotive A-pillar panel with over-molded fabrics. A more detailed description can be found in the fifth slide of the slideshow, "K 2019 plans a show of sustainability."
  • A technology that allows processors to align older equipment with Industry 4.0–style connectivity through a simple retrofit.
  • Nadine Despineux, President, Digital & Service Solutions, KraussMaffei
    Nadine Despineux, President, Digital & Service Solutions.

    A new online business-to-business marketplace for the procurement and sale of compounds, masterbatches, recycled materials and post-industrial materials. “Polymore will connect compounders and convertors, in Europe initially, who today don’t know each other,” said Nadine Despineux, President, Digital & Service Solutions. “It goes beyond machinery to enable a circular economy,” she added at the preview event.

Amid all this change and forward movement, KraussMaffei remains steadfast in its commitment to the pioneering spirit that has shaped the company since it was founded in 1838, it said. “At a time when the public is commenting negatively on plastics, KraussMaffei has deliberately formulated this claim—‘pioneering plastics’—as a key performance promise,” said the company. “And whatever we do we will not decouple from this foundation,” added Stieler. “In this industry, we build the Mercedes S Class of machines, and that is not about to change.”

How a New Sensor Could Diagnose Sepsis in 25 Minutes

Felice Frankel/MIT How a New Sensor Could Diagnose Sepsis in 25 Minutes
An MIT-invented microfluidics device could help doctors diagnose sepsis in about 25 minutes, using less than a finger prick of blood.

MIT researchers have invented a sensor that could accelerate the process of diagnosing sepsis. In a paper presented at the recent Engineering in Medicine and Biology Conference in Berlin, Germany, the researchers describe a microfluidics-based system designed to automatically detect clinically significant levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a protein biomarker found to be an early indicator of sepsis.

In sepsis patients, IL-6 levels can rise hours before other symptoms begin to show. But even at these elevated levels, the concentration of this protein in the blood is too low overall for traditional assays to detect it quickly, MIT News reported.

How It Works
Magnetic beads are coated with an antibody that attracts IL-6 and a catalyzing enzyme called horseradish peroxidase. The beads and blood sample are injected into the device, entering into an “analyte-capture zone,” which is basically a loop. Along the loop is a peristaltic pump with valves automatically controlled by an external circuit. Opening and closing the valves in specific sequences circulates the blood and beads to mix together. After about 10 minutes, the IL-6 proteins have bound to the antibodies on the beads. Automatically reconfiguring the valves at that time forces the mixture into a smaller loop where they stay trapped. A tiny magnet collects the beads for a brief wash before releasing them around the loop. After about 10 minutes, many beads have stuck on an electrode coated with a separate antibody that attracts IL-6. Then, a solution flows into the loop and washes the untethered beads, while the ones with IL-6 protein remain on the electrode. The solution carries a specific molecule that reacts to the horseradish enzyme to create a compound that responds to electricity. When a voltage is applied to the solution, each remaining bead creates a small current. A common chemistry technique called “amperometry” converts that current into a readable signal. The device counts the signals and calculates the concentration of IL-6. 

In one channel of the new sensor, microbeads laced with antibodies mix with a blood sample to capture the biomarker. In another channel, only beads containing the biomarker attach to an electrode. Running voltage through the electrode produces an electrical signal for each biomarker-laced bead, which is then converted into the biomarker concentration level, the researchers explain in the paper.

“For an acute disease such as sepsis, which progresses very rapidly and can be life-threatening, it’s helpful to have a system that rapidly measures these nonabundant biomarkers,” said Dan Wu, a PhD student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT and first author of the paper. “You can also frequently monitor the disease as it progresses.”

Wu worked with Joel Voldman, a professor and associate head of MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, co-director of the Medical Electronic Device Realization Center, and a principal investigator in the Research Laboratory of Electronics and the Microsystems Technology Laboratories.

The problem with traditional assays that detect protein biomarkers is that they are bulky, expensive machines relegated to labs that require about a milliliter of blood and take hours to produce results, MIT noted. Point-of-care systems have been developed to produce similar results in about 30 minutes using microliters of blood, but these systems are still expensive because most of them rely on optical components to detect the biomarkers.

How They Did It

The MIT researchers set out to shrink components of the magnetic-bead-based assay, often used in labs, onto an automated microfluidics device roughly several square centimeters. To do so, they had to manipulate beads in micron-sized channels and fabricate a device in the Microsystems Technology Laboratory that automated the movement of fluids. 

The device uses about 5 microliters of blood, which is about a quarter the volume of blood drawn from a finger prick and a fraction of the 100 microliters required to detect protein biomarkers in lab-based assays. The device captures IL-6 concentrations as low as 16 picograms per milliliter, which is below the concentrations that signal sepsis, meaning the device is sensitive enough to provide clinically relevant detection.

The current design has eight separate microfluidics channels to measure as many different biomarkers or blood samples in parallel. Different antibodies and enzymes can be used in separate channels to detect different biomarkers, or different antibodies can be used in the same channel to detect several biomarkers simultaneously.

Next Steps

Next, the researchers plan to create a panel of important sepsis biomarkers for the device to capture, including interleukin-6, interleukin-8, C-reactive protein, and procalcitonin. But Wu said there’s really no limit to how many different biomarkers the device can measure, for any disease.

“This is a very general platform,” he said. “If you want to increase the device’s physical footprint, you can scale up and design more channels to detect as many biomarkers as you want.”

The work was funded by Analog Devices, Maxim Integrated, and the Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research.

Medtronic Hopes to Broaden Patient Access for Guardian Sensor

Pixabay Medtronic Hopes to Broaden Patient Access for Guardian Sensor

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Study Shows Theranica’s Wearable's Effectiveness for Treating Migraines

Pixabay Study Shows Theranica’s Wearable's Effectiveness for Treating Migraines

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So, That Was Obalon’s Plan All Along!

Pixabay So, That Was Obalon’s Plan All Along!

Obalon’s new retail plans are becoming a bit clearer as the company revealed it has entered into a commercial lease for its first weight loss center. The weight-loss specialist said the center would be located in San Diego and could open this fall.

As part of a strategy to increase patient access and utilization of its novel gastric balloon weight loss system, Obalon said it intends to own and operate a network of retail centers throughout the U.S. that focus solely on patients wishing to lose weight using the Obalon Balloon System.

Obalon’s gas-filled intragastric balloon system treats obesity. The device won a nod from FDA back in 2016.

The center’s announcement sheds significant light on Obalon’s recent activities. In April, the company said it was eliminating all of its direct sales force and some of its headquarters staff in a move that could reduce operating expenses in 2Q19 by about 35%. Obalon said it was jettisoning off its sales force to transition to a new selling model.

About a week after the layoffs were announced, Obalon said it had retained Cowen as an independent financial advisor to assist in exploring financial and strategic alternatives. And earlier this month, the company reduced debt under a facility with Pacific Western Bank from $20 million to $5 million.

The reduction in debt would lower Obalon’s annual interest expense burden from about $1.4 million to about $350,000.

“We are transitioning the business with the intent to create a network of Obalon retail centers in the U.S., where patients can access our novel weight loss treatment in an environment dedicated to a standardized experience and achieve the most successful outcomes,” Bob MacDonald, Obalon’s Chief Retail Officer, said in a release. “We have shown in the past that patient interest in the Obalon Balloon System has been high with moderate direct-to-consumer marketing, and we believe Obalon-owned centers may provide a more efficient means to convert patient interest into Obalon customers. We are targeting the opening of our first center in San Diego this fall.”

Marketing Your Medical Technology for Outpatient Use: Five Strategies for Success

Marketing Your Medical Technology for Outpatient Use: Five Strategies for Success
Image by mcmurryjulie from Pixabay 

Profits are shrinking at many U.S. healthcare systems. Their inpatient costs are increasing, while their admissions and revenues remain flat.

In response, organizations are shifting their care-delivery strategies away from the costly inpatient setting to more cost-effective outpatient settings. Many companies see this shift and are investing to reflect it. However, simply labeling a product for outpatient use is not enough. In today’s value-based care environment, the bar for outpatient use is even higher than that for inpatient use.

The shift in care delivery demands a shift in R&D and marketing. Follow these five strategies to overcome the barriers and create the vital need for your solution.

Strategy #1: Demonstrate that it reduces the total cost of care

Nearly 150 million Americans have chronic diseases, and those accounted for $1.1 trillion of U.S. healthcare costs in 2016.¹ While prevention is far cheaper than treatment, changing human behavior has proven challenging. Historically, little has been spent on prevention, because its cost savings are hard to determine. That’s why you need to demonstrate how your product, used in an outpatient setting, conclusively reduces the total cost of care.

Cost-reduction case: Livongo Health

Livongo uses behavioral coaching to reduce the impact of diabetes, the single most expensive chronic disease. Payers have aggressively adopted their solution, the result of a marketing strategy that promotes the following cost-reduction proof points.

Researchers have found that reducing HbA1C by 1% in patients with type 2 diabetes leads to:

  • a 21% reduction in death from diabetes.²
  • a 14% reduction in heart attacks.²
  • a 43% reduction in peripheral vascular disease.²

Livongo is averaging a 7.7% reduction in HbA1C for its members. Its success stories include:

  • a 59% net reduction in inpatient admissions for Iron Mountain, a data and records management company.³
  • a 21% net reduction in non-emergent ER visits for clients of Mercer, an HR consulting firm.
  • a 22% reduction in medical spending by employees of three self-insured companies, translating to a savings of $88 per month and more than $1,000 per year.

Strategy #2: Show how it transforms care models

Medtech companies need to do more than build better mousetraps. Providers are looking for them to help transform inefficient and error-prone outpatient care models. If those companies can remove process steps and accelerate diagnosis, initiation of therapy, and recovery, it needs to be marketed.

Care transformation case: Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) devices

Many of these products are being marketed today, yet their market uptake remains sluggish. Companies that are succeeding follow the approach utilized by point-of-care lab testing company Abbott with iStat:

  • DON’T: Market all the new places where it can be used, or that it costs under $2000.
  • DO: Market the exact clinical scenarios where the device can have maximum impact.
  • DO: Market how it can redraw and shorten clinical pathways.

Strategy #3: Address the labor component

The critical problem with medical products used in the home is the cost to support them with a professional caregiver. To make the economics work, they need to be used sparingly, if at all.

Labor reduction cases

  • Acelity PREVENA RESTOR Incision Management System: For Acelity, extending its negative pressure wound therapy technology to the home after a total knee replacement required one key thing: no visual inspection of the wound or human intervention be required until the first follow-up visit by the surgeon. Creating a drainage canister and power supply that work for two full weeks made this possible.
  • Philips Care Orchestrator Patient Management System: Philips sleep apnea devices and non-invasive ventilators for COPD wirelessly send usage data to this remote data management system. With it, durable medical equipment (DME) suppliers can identify patients who are not responding to therapy, so a respiratory therapist can be strategically deployed to intervene. It facilitates more targeted care and a more cost-efficient approach.

Strategy #4: Make it simple to use and troubleshoot

The minimum requirements for technology in the outpatient space are ease of adoption (e.g., easy to use, easy to train) and ease of management (e.g., easy to administer, easy to fix).

Stakeholder simplicity cases

  • Professionals: When inpatient-grade technology moves to the outpatient space, chances are the traditional users change. POCUS (point-of-care-ultrasound) devices are not used by sonographers who are trained to use ultrasound technology. They are used by doctors, nurses, EMTs, anyone. POC lab testing devices are not used by medical technologists who are trained to run lab tests. They are used by nurses, pharmacists, doctors. For inpatient-grade technology to be adopted and properly used in the outpatient space, it has to be as easy to use as a consumer device.
  • Patients: As outlined in Strategy #3, the professional labor presence in the home (e.g., home health, PTs, RTs, WOCNs [wound, ostomy, and continence nurses], etc.) is waning. This requires patients to become part of the care team. When basic device errors occur, patients must be able to troubleshoot them, so as not to interrupt therapy, require costly professional intervention, or spur a readmission.

Strategy #5: Keep patients engaged and adherent

Bundled reimbursement for knee and hip replacement has resulted in a relatively steep reduction in outpatient rehabilitation services and in-home PT and home health visits. Post-op patients can be uncomfortable, undisciplined, depressed, or disengaged. Without a physical caregiver present to help motivate them, they can become non-adherent with their rehabilitation protocols and put successful outcomes at risk. Zimmer-Biomet saw this risk to providers and developed a solution that packaged all of these services into a virtual assistant.

Engagement case: Zimmer-Biomet mymobility app for the Apple Watch

The weeks after a total knee or hip replacement are critical to a successful functional outcome. Patients that remain immobile post-op can be a harbinger of costly readmissions or poor outcomes. The mymobility app, paired to the Apple Watch, helps guide patient activity pre- and post-op. Not only does it provide tasks for the patient to complete, it captures biometric patient activity data. This gives providers insight into non-adherent patients that require early intervention.

The companies listed here are but a small sampling of success stories. That’s because they don’t focus on the features of their medical devices, but how their solutions save far more than money. Follow the above strategies—and you can, too.

References

  1. Waters H, Graf M. Milken Institute. "The Cost of Chronic Diseases in the U.S. Executive Summary." https://assets1b.milkeninstitute.org/assets/Publication/Viewpoint/PDF/Chronic-Disease-Executive-Summary-r2.pdf Accessed 6/27/19.
  2. Stratton AM, Adler AI, Neil HA, et al. "Association of glycaemia with macrovascular and microvascular complications of type 2 diabetes (UKPDS 35): prospective observational study." https://www.bmj.com/content/321/7258/405 Accessed 7/23/19. BMJ 2000; 321 (7258): 405-12.
  3. "Case Study: Impact of Livongo on Iron Mountain." https://www.livongo.com/docs/pdf/Livongo%20Case%20Study%20-%20Impact%20on%20Iron%20Mountain.pdf Accessed 6/27/19.
  4. "Livongo Impact on Utilization and Costs." https://www.livongo.com/docs/pdf/Mercer%20Five-Client%20Study%20-%20Livongo%20Impact%20on%20Utilization%20and%20Costs.pdf Accessed 6/27/19.
  5. Whaley CM, Bollyky JB, Wei L, et al. "Reduced medical spending associated with increased use of a remote diabetes management program and lower mean blood glucose values. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31012392 Accessed 7/23/19. J Med Econ. 2019. DOI: 10.1080/13696998.2019.1609483

Stainless Steel Powder Invented to Simplify Metal 3D Printing

Researchers in Austria have developed a steel powder that allows even complex components to be fabricated using 3D printing, providing more design freedom without compromising the stability of the finished products.

A team led by Mateusz Skalon, a professor in the TU Graz Institute of Materials Science, Joining and Forming, developed the powder—called NewGEN SLM powder--which eliminates the need for support structures that are typically found in metal 3D-printed parts, making them more expensive to design.

Researchers have developed a new steel powder for metal 3D printing that they said improves the quality of and reduces the cost of products over those created using conventional powders. (Image source: IMAT-TU Graz)

The metal-working industry is using additive manufacturing at a rate that’s increasing by 30 percent each year due to shorter production times and lower costs, among other benefits, researchers said.

The new powder developed by Skalon can now help promote this growth even more by simplifying the process even further, he told Design News.

The typical metal 3D-printing process is selective laser melting (SLM), which builds the component up in layers. However, in this type of printing, the scope for design is limited in terms of construction and design because the more complex the component, the more extensive support structures needed, Skalon told Design News.

“Currently, when heavily leaned surface is printed, then it has to be supported by support structures otherwise it will become really rough and porous--basically useless,” he told Design News. “The elaborated powder helps to stabilize the melt-track--created by a laser beam--so when the leaned surface is printed, it requires supporting at lower angles.”

More Stability, Less Support

To develop the powder, Skalon and his team modified the surfaces of the particles’ surfaces of conventional 316L stainless-steel powder so that the metal—when liquefied by a laser beam during the printing process--behaves in more stable way, he said. This will help ensure that components with low angles of inclination don’t collapse during printing.

Figuring out the right formula to create a powder with the right characteristics did take the team considerable time, Skalon acknowledged.

“Firstly we had to understand the reason why the leaned surfaces tend to get rough along with the decreasing angle--it took us over a year,” he told Design News. We performed multiple experiments and when we finally understood the problem, we drew up a plan of how to suppress the negative effects.”

The team then conducted a few more months of research to find a way to successfully modify the powder so it supports s “melt-track stability,” Skalon added.

The team estimates that cost savings of $128 per each kilo of printed metal can be achieved using the NewGEN SLM powder. The surplus powder also can be recycled at the end of production, which also will help save material costs, Skalon said.

Researchers hope to bring the powder and process they developed out of the lab quickly through what’s called a Spin-Off Fellowship of the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG). Through the program, Skalon and his researchers will test the powder on the most typically used laser-melting systems in the next 16 months.

After the testing period is over, researchers want to establish a production company in Austria to modify and sell NewGEN SLM, with business and industrial partners already showing interest, Skalon added.

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.

 

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!