Watch formerly homeless people make jackets that double as sleeping bags

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The Empowerment Plan is a Detroit-based organization that creates manufacturing jobs making EMPWR coats that double as sleeping bags:

Via designboom:

the empowerment plan is a detroit-based, nonprofit organization focused on permanently elevating families from the generational cycle of homelessness. it hires single parents from local shelters and provide them with training and full-time employment as seamstresses so that they can earn a stable income, find secure housing, and regain their independence. the individuals it hires manufacture a coat designed to meet the needs of those in the homeless community. the durable ‘EMPWR coat’ can transform into a sleeping bag at night or an over-the-shoulder bag when not in use. since 2012, it has provided employment to 34 homeless individuals—all of whom have now secured permanent housing for themselves and their families—and distributed over 15,000 coats to those in need across the US and canada.

REDFworkshop.org (Vimeo / The Empowerment Plan via designboom) Read the rest

Very satisfying videos of thermoforming

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There's something very pleasing about watching the process of thermoforming, where a plastic sheet is heated atop a mould. Here's a cool example of even more complex manufacturing, using 3d modeling and pre-printed color sheets: Read the rest

Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard shows how they make clear vinyl albums

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This delightful tour of how the United Record Pressing plant in Nashville makes clear vinyl albums is narrated by Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes. Read the rest

Computational thermoforming is fun to watch

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Here's a very clear video showing how to create textured 3D objects with complex shapes.

From the YouTube description:

We propose a method to fabricate textured 3D models using thermoforming. Differently from industrial techniques, which target mass production of a specific shape, we propose a combined hardware and software solution to manufacture customized, unique objects. Our method simulates the forming process and converts the texture of a given digital 3D model into a pre-distorted image that we transfer onto a plastic sheet. During thermoforming, the sheet deforms to create a faithful physical replica of the digital model. Our hardware setup uses off-the-shelf components and can be calibrated with an automatic algorithm that extracts the simulation parameters from a single calibration object produced by the same process.

Read the rest

How tennis balls are made.

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Those workers look like they love their job. They're really having a ball!

(via Devour)

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New 3D printing config dramatically reduces print time

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Autodesk’s Project Escher allows multiple 3D printers to manufacture the same object simultaneously via a software "conductor." Read the rest

Pre-mutated products: where did all those "hoverboards" come from?

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Those bowtie-shaped "motorized self-balancing two-wheeled scooters" you see in the windows of strip-mall cellphone repair shops and in mall-kiosks roared out of nowhere and are now everywhere, despite being so new that we don't even know what they're called. Read the rest

New Clay Shirky book on how China challenges western Internet firms and vice-versa

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Clay Shirky writes, "I wrote about the mobile phone manufacturing powerhouse and tech innovator, Xiaomi, for Columbia Global Reports, looking at both what makes Xiaomi so successful (they were founded when it was possible to take ecommerce and social media for granted, basically), and at the challenge internet services firms face operating in China." Read the rest

"Unmanned factory" replaces 600 humans with robots

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Official Chinese Communist Party newspaper People's Daily claims that the Changying Precision Technology Company in the city of Dongguan replaced 600 people on its assembly lines with 60 robots, making it the "first unmanned factory in Dongguan" as part of the company's "Robot Replace Human" program. Read the rest

Chinese mega-manufacturers set up factories in India

Foxconn is opening a $5B facility in Maharashtra; Huawei just got a green-light for a networking gear factory; Xiaomi already runs a phone assembly plant in Andhra Pradesh that will announcing new products today. Read the rest

Dolls with hearing aids, port-wine stains and canes

Makielab, the 3D printed toy company my wife Alice founded, has created a line of toys for the Toy Like Me campaign, which urges toy companies to make toys that all children can see themselves in. Read the rest

How to Get a Figurine Produced in China and Not Lose Your Shirt

Jared Zichek decided to make his own, and says you can, too.

Video: tiny swarm robots for microscale manufacturing

SRI International is creating coordinated systems of tiny ant-like robots that can build larger structures. The aim is a swarm of magnetically-controlled bugbots that could construct electronic devices, conduct chemistry for lab-on-a-chip applications, or do other micro scale manufacturing. It's part of the US Department of Defense's "Open Manufacturing" program. (via Re/code) Read the rest

3-D printed part from an airplane turbine

Yesterday, we posted a tech memoir by Steven Ashley about the slow rise of 3D printing — from sci-fi fantasy, to toy, to creator of real tools. Towards the end of the piece, Ashley mentions how GE is starting manufacture aircraft engine parts using 3D printers. Here's the excerpt:

Rows of industrial 3D-printing units in plants will soon be fabricating turbine engine parts—fuel nozzles—from cobalt-chromium alloy powders. Each one of GE’s new LEAP jet engine will contain nineteen of the fuel nozzles, which are up to 25 percent lighter and five-times more durable than traditionally manufactured fuel nozzles. In airplanes cutting weight saves fuel. The LEAP engine has already amassed more than 4,500 orders, so between it and the new GE9X engine, the corporation could end up making as many as 100,000 additive manufactured components by 2020.

In the picture above, you can see one of those fuel nozzles, in all its 3D-printed glory. Read the rest

Why (some) manufacturing is returning to the USA

General Electric has moved some of its key appliance-manufacturing work back to the USA, re-opening "Appliance Park," a megafactory in Louisville, KY. The company is finding it cheaper to do some manufacturing in the US relative to China, thanks to spiking oil costs, plummeting natural gas prices in the US, rising Chinese wages, falling US wages, and, most of all, the efficiencies that arise from locating workers next to managers and designers.

The GeoSpring suffered from an advanced-technology version of “IKEA Syndrome.” It was so hard to assemble that no one in the big room wanted to make it. Instead they redesigned it. The team eliminated 1 out of every 5 parts. It cut the cost of the materials by 25 percent. It eliminated the tangle of tubing that couldn’t be easily welded. By considering the workers who would have to put the water heater together—in fact, by having those workers right at the table, looking at the design as it was drawn—the team cut the work hours necessary to assemble the water heater from 10 hours in China to two hours in Louisville.

In the end, says Nolan, not one part was the same.

So a funny thing happened to the GeoSpring on the way from the cheap Chinese factory to the expensive Kentucky factory: The material cost went down. The labor required to make it went down. The quality went up. Even the energy efficiency went up.

GE wasn’t just able to hold the retail sticker to the “China price.” It beat that price by nearly 20 percent.

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Automated system to identify and repair potential weak-spots in 3D models before they're printed

"Stress Relief: Improving Structural Strength of 3-D Printable Objects," a paper presented at SIGGRAPH 2012 from Purdue University's Bedrich Benes demonstrated an automated system for predicting when 3D models would produce structural weaknesses if they were fed to 3D printers, and to automatically modify the models to make them more hardy.

Findings were detailed in a paper presented during the SIGGRAPH 2012 conference in August. Former Purdue doctoral student Ondrej Stava created the software application, which automatically strengthens objects either by increasing the thickness of key structural elements or by adding struts. The tool also uses a third option, reducing the stress on structural elements by hollowing out overweight elements.

"We not only make the objects structurally better, but we also make them much more inexpensive," Mech said. "We have demonstrated a weight and cost savings of 80 percent."

The new tool automatically identifies "grip positions" where a person is likely to grasp the object. A "lightweight structural analysis solver" analyzes the object using a mesh-based simulation. It requires less computing power than traditional finite-element modeling tools, which are used in high-precision work such as designing jet engine turbine blades.

New Tool Gives Structural Strength to 3-D Printed Works Read the rest

Sex doll in a box

The head of an inflatable sex doll is pictured in a box at Ningbo Yamei plastic toy factory, on the outskirts of Fenghua, Zhejiang province, February 13, 2012. The company started producing sex dolls three years ago, and now owns a total of 13 types of dolls at the average price of 100 RMB (16 USD). More than 50,000 sex dolls were sold last year, about fifteen percent of which were exported to Japan, Korea and Turkey, according to the company. (REUTERS/Jason Lee) Read the rest

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