Last October, Bloomberg published a blockbuster story claiming that some of the largest tech companies in the world, as well as sensitive US government and military systems, had been attacked through minute hardware implants that had been inserted at a subcontractor facility during the manufacture of servers from the world's leading server company, Supermicro.
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MIT researchers developed a robot that can play Jenga based on a novel approach to machine learning that synthesizes sight and touch. From MIT News:
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Alberto Rodriguez, the Walter Henry Gale Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, says the robot demonstrates something that’s been tricky to attain in previous systems: the ability to quickly learn the best way to carry out a task, not just from visual cues, as it is commonly studied today, but also from tactile, physical interactions.
“Unlike in more purely cognitive tasks or games such as chess or Go, playing the game of Jenga also requires mastery of physical skills such as probing, pushing, pulling, placing, and aligning pieces. It requires interactive perception and manipulation, where you have to go and touch the tower to learn how and when to move blocks,” Rodriguez says. “This is very difficult to simulate, so the robot has to learn in the real world, by interacting with the real Jenga tower. The key challenge is to learn from a relatively small number of experiments by exploiting common sense about objects and physics.”
He says the tactile learning system the researchers have developed can be used in applications beyond Jenga, especially in tasks that need careful physical interaction, including separating recyclable objects from landfill trash and assembling consumer products.
“In a cellphone assembly line, in almost every single step, the feeling of a snap-fit, or a threaded screw, is coming from force and touch rather than vision,” Rodriguez says.
According to the Encyclopedia of Pasta, there are hundreds of pasta shapes. At Smithsonian, Elizabeth Chu and D. Lawrence Tarazano of the US Patent Office look at relatively recent machinery to crank out the floury forms. From Smithsonian:
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The various shapes can be categorized based on the means by which they are formed: by hand, rolled into sheets, or extruded. For each pasta making method, there have been a number of inventions to ease and mechanize the process.
Pastas formed by hand have been the most difficult to replicate by machine because of the complexity of the actions done by hand. Cavatelli, gnocchi and orecchiette, for example, are made by rolling pasta dough by hand into a long snake shape, cutting it into equal sized dough pieces, and dragging the dough to form a cup like shape. With cavatelli and gnocchi, the dough is dragged against a fork or grooved surface with a thumb to form a curled dough piece in the shape of a hot dog bun; the only real difference between the two is the dough. Gnocchi is made from a dough containing eggs, flour and cooked potatoes, whereas cavatelli are typically made from an eggless semolina wheat dough. Orecchiette, Italian for “little ear,” are made by dragging the dough pieces against a flat surface using a small spatula or knife, followed by a little hand shaping to round it out.
Italian inventors Franco Annicchiarico and Adima Pilari, who received U.S. patent no. 4,822,271 on April 18, 1989 for “an improved machine for manufacturing short cut varieties of Italian pasta (orecchiette, etc.),” developed a machine for making these cupped pastas.
When it comes to making rope, there's no school like the old school. I love that, despite the advances made in the areas of fabrication and industrial automation, there are still products made using methods that haven't changed in a century. Some things, as this video from How it's Made illustrates, are better off without updates. Read the rest
You may have thought that you were prepared for this moment, but I want you to sit down, nonetheless. Brace yourself. Buck up. Be strong.
Here we go.
Crocs, squishy footwear manufacturer to the stars (also, Larry, who stops by to top off that pig tank of propane I’ve got sitting outside of my RV when we winter in Texas,) is closing its last manufacturing plants.
According to a statement plopped out by the company last week, Crocs decreed that they will no longer be making the iconic closed cell resin kicks that made them famous, any longer, saying “In connection with ongoing efforts to simplify the business and improve profitability, during the second quarter, the company closed its manufacturing facility in Mexico and moved ahead with plans to close its last manufacturing facility, which is located in Italy,"
That said, it’s sounding like the company will likely be licensing out the right to make Crocs sandals, clogs and other squishy footwear options to outside manufacturers.
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...there have been multiple media reports that Crocs is winding down production in our owned manufacturing facilities. While accurate, some people have interpreted that to mean that Crocs will no longer be making and selling shoes. Quite the contrary, Crocs will continue to innovate, design and produce the most comfortable shoes on the planet. As we streamline our business to meet growing demand for Crocs, we’re simply shifting production to third parties to increase our manufacturing capacity.
We’re extremely grateful, but not surprised that our passionate fans are rallying around the brand today.
Sara from MIT Sloan Management Review writes: "Our new (and free)
eight-part documentary video series examines a revolutionary new
manufacturing approach — the digital thread."
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Science Channel's popular program How It's Made toured a paintball factory to see how the colorful welt-causing projectiles are manufactured. Read the rest
My Esel is an interesting design concept: It's a bike where the frame is made out of wood, with each cut bespoke to the dimensions that best fit the rider's body.
As this piece in Bikerumor describes it:
The key to that customization has been developing a parametric design software that lets My Esel plug in all of the key measurements of a rider’s body and translate that into a scalable frame layout part of which is then produced on a CNC mill. You have longer than normal lower legs? The software can accommodate a taller seat height without impacting reach.
The idea of using wood as the material for a bike frame isn't new. But what I dig about My Esel's concept is how it shows the great advantage of wood as material for customizable products.
Wood is easy to work with -- computer-guided mills can cut and shape it generally much more easily than, say, metals. Wood is both robust but reasonably easy to recycle, or even to biodegrade, depending on how organically you treat and finish it. And in most places on the planet wood can be obtained via renewable local resources, if you plan for it.
Too often when we think about making modern customized products, the imagination drifts to plastics or other synthetics, of the type that roll easily out of mass-manufacturing processes or one-off tech like 3D printers. But wood, as a medium for customizable stuff, totally rocks.
I'd grab one of these bikes myself, if the price weren't in the neighborhood of $3,500. Read the rest
George Toubbeh of Fountain Valley, California is suing Heineken and grocer The Kroger Co. after allegedly finding two dead geckos in his 24-ounce beer can back in 2015. Apparently they weren't supposed to be in there. From the Los Angeles Times:
According to the suit, Toubbeh noticed that the beer had a foul taste and he immediately began having abdominal pain and started vomiting. His daughter examined the can of beer and found two juvenile leopard geckos inside, the suit states. Geckos are a type of lizard.
“When discovered, the geckos had not been decomposed at all and were likely alive when the beer was poured and sealed into the cans in the bottling and/or canning facility,” the lawsuit states.
Heineken USA, a subsidiary of the Dutch brewing company, said in a statement that it “holds the safety and integrity of the products we import to the highest standards. We have investigated this isolated claim, and based on a number of factors, we confidently believe there is no merit to this claim.”
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The workers at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi are attempting to organize under the United Auto Workers, but Nissan is fighting the "nastiest anti-union campaign" in modern history, breaking the law so egregiously that even Trump's National Labor Relations Board has filed a series of complaints against the company. Read the rest
A fine example of factory porn: The International Table Tennis Federation paid a visit to Double Happiness, manufacturers of balls and other ping pong products.
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The zippo factory of Bradford, Pennsylvania makes 28,000 lighters a day. This video presents an inside look at how they and made and who makes them, including Beth, in the case assembly department, and Betsy the buffer. Read the rest
This industry video from Korean steelsmiths Dai Han Anchor shows workers forging and testing the largest anchor chains in the world. A fascinating mix of forge technology and cutting-edge quality control awaits. Read the rest
Every second, 15,000 aluminum beverage cans are manufactured. This is a terrific video about how beverage cans are made, and why they look the way they do. Read the rest
Inertia friction welding joins two metal objects by spinning one at high rates of speed, then pressing it against the stationary piece. The friction heats both pieces and makes a weld sturdy enough for drive shafts, jet engines, spacecraft, and other machinery where joined pieces will endure tremendous stresses. Read the rest
The Empowerment Plan is a Detroit-based organization that creates manufacturing jobs making EMPWR coats that double as sleeping bags:
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
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