Carlos Ghosn vs Japan Inc.

Nissan Diesel Trucks (Photo: NZ Car Freak)

This weblog post is about Carlos Ghosn (1954 – ), the former CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance and his cultural war with the Japanese business establishment. It might have had a different plot if I hadn’t read Exposure: Silenced. Threatened. Time to Fight Back. (2012) written by Michael Woodford (1960 – ).

The major reason for writing this post now, is Ghosn’s escape from Japan to Lebanon. He had been charged in Japan 2018-11-19 with under-reporting his earnings and misuse of Nissan assets, followed 2019-04-04 with charges of misappropriations of Nissan funds. He has spent considerable time in detention, as well as house arrest. However, many suspect that these charges were more about Japanese business interests (aided by the Japanese government) wanting to take back control of Nissan, than that anyone was actually worried about the relatively miniscule size of misappropriated funds. The fact that a major Japanese auto manufacturer had to use the services of a gaijin (foreigner) had been extremely embarrassing.

Background

In 1996, Renault hired Ghosn to turn the company around from near bankruptcy. By 1999, the plan devised by Ghosn had worked. Much of it involved using Japanese management practices. In 1999 Nissan was facing a similar bankruptcy threat. In 1999-03, Renault and Nissan formed the Renault–Nissan Alliance, resulting in Renault purchased a 36.8% minority interest in Nissan. This allowed Ghosn the opportunity to develop the Nissan Revival Plan to turn around Nissan, using many of the same approaches as he used at Renault. By 2002-03-31 all of these goals had been accomplished. As of 2018-11, Renault owned 43.4% of Nissan, while Nissan owned non-voting shares equal to 15% of Renault’s equity, showing the unequal strength of the two companies in relation to each other.

This webpost does not proclaim Ghosn’s innocence. Only a court of law can do that, although there is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. A legitimate question to ask is, what is the reason for the criminal charges against Ghosn? The problem with the Ghosn affair, is that Ghosn seems to be treated differently than equivalent Japanese business leaders caught up in similar situations. Here are some examples.

Fukushima

Perhaps the greatest Japanese crime of this century is related to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that began 2011-03-11. This disaster was the most severe nuclear accident since the 1986-04-26 Chernobyl disaster and the only other one to be given Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

The disaster caused meltdowns in three separate reactors. The lack of adequate preparations for a tsunami and related events resulted in the evacuation of more than 470 000 people. Nearly 18 500 people died in or were listed as missing from the disaster area. Despite the enormous ramifications of this disaster, Japanese society/ culture effectively blocked any one person or even group of people from being found responsible for it. Japanese prosecutors had twice declined to press criminal charges against former Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) executives, saying there was little chance of success. Then a judicial panel ruled that three men should be put on trial, despite the opposition of the prosecutors.

2019-09-19 a Japanese court found Tsunehisa Katsumata, Sakae Muto, and Ichiro Takekuro, the former most senior executives of Tepco, not guilty of professional negligence. No one else has been charged with anything related to this disaster.

The conviction rate in Japan is 99.4%. In other words, the prosecutors are acting, effectively, as judges. In this particular case, their reluctance to prosecute was interpreted as an indication of non-guilt.

Olympus

Only a month after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Michael Woodford was appointed president and COO (2011-04) of Olympus Corporation, a Japanese manufacturer noted for its professional optical products. He was appointed CEO six months later, 2011-10. Woodford started working for Olympus in 1981 and subsequently rose in the company to manage its European operations. Woodford was the company’s first non-Japanese CEO. He was removed from his CEO position after two weeks, when he persisted in questioning fees in excess of US$1 billion that Olympus had paid to obscure companies, which appeared to have been used to hide old losses and appeared to have organised crime connections. By 2012 this scandal had developed into one of the biggest and longest-lived loss-concealing financial scandals in the history of corporate Japan.

Woodford’s life was threatened, because of the criminal organisation connections. Ultimately, Olympus had to agree to a settlement for defamation and wrongful dismissal.

Reactions

Japan Forward was sceptical of Ghosn’s arrest: “A Western businessman with several decades in Japan noted: The “thin gruel of ‘misdeeds’ that they’ve put forward to date as justification is laughable. Reads like any day at the office for many [Japanese] CEOs. The Japanese business establishment crushes everything that threatens its worldview and privileges. … Another added: “During my time in Japan, I met the CEOs and managing directors of a variety of companies and a few were wonderful people, but a lot were not…. [They were] in cahoots with the yaks (Yakuza) — abused their expenses, went on company paid junkets, received kickbacks, got laid on the company tab…. I don’t know what Ghosn did, but I doubt it would have come close to what is normal behavior for many of his Japanese counterparts.”

Japan Forward may not have said it so explicitly, using a question mark rather than an exclamation mark, but many see systemic xenophobia in the Japanese business community.

Nikkei Asian Review was even more condemning: “There is no indication that other board members made actual moves in terms of governance processes or statements at the board level, [Nicholas Benes, head of the Board Director Training Institute of Japan and a former investment banker] noted. This makes him suspect that the board members were more concerned about protecting their jobs than confronting [Ghosn]…. If individual board members, including CEO Hiroto Saikawa, felt so strongly about the issue that they allowed a criminal investigation, they should have taken steps first. These could have included proposing to discuss the issue at the board level, trying to call an extraordinary board meeting, threatening to resign or getting advice externally. No such internal moves appear to have been taken before the prosecutors’ move to arrest Ghosn. Under Japanese company law, directors are expected to actively participate in discussions and oversee the chief executive.”

There are several recent Japanese business scandals:

In 2015 Toshiba revealed that it had overstated its operating profit by nearly $1.2 billion.

In 2017 Takada had become mired in a global scandal over faulty airbags. Ammonium nitrate was used to inflate airbags quickly, some with such force, they spewed shrapnel at drivers and passengers leading to injuries and in some cases, death. Takada was forced to recall millions of airbags which, along with facing a multi-million dollar wave of litigation.

In 2017 Kobe Steel admitted to changing or falsifying data about the quality of some of its goods before they were shipped to customers.

In 2018 Nissan admitted its emissions and fuel economy tests for its cars sold in Japan had “deviated from the prescribed testing environment”.

Japan’s Criminal Justice System

Counterpunch has detailed the inhumanity and authoritarian nature of the Japanese criminal justice system. The current laws are from 1947. Except for omitting offences relating to war, the imperial family and adultery, the 1947 Penal Code remained virtually identical to the 1907 version. This means that there has been no substantial revision for 113 years, as this post is written in 2020.

Nobuo Gohara, a former prosecutor, stated: “If you admit to the crime you’re arrested for, you’re released on bail relatively quickly. However, if you dispute the charges or claim innocence, you will be detained longer. You won’t be released on bail and your detainment will last weeks. You’re basically held hostage until you give the prosecutors what they want. This is not how a criminal justice system should work in a healthy society.” Cases detailed in the same article explain this further.

Beirut Press Conference

At the press conference held in Beirut 2020-01-08, Ghosn compared his arrest to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. He said his prosecution on charges of financial misconduct was politically motivated, the result of an elaborate conspiracy involving malevolent Nissan executives and even the Japanese government, a systematic campaign to destroy his reputation and impugn his character. He further claimed that Japanese authorities were repaying him with evil, because he was an easy target as a foreigner. Further information about the press conference can be found in numerous online news sources, including this report in The Guardian.

Smartphone Case Materials

For readers under 20, this weblogpost features this photo of a public telephone after it has been vandalized. It may appear to be unrelated to the text, but the materials found here could be repurposed to make a smartphone case, while improving the local environment. Photo: Jakob Owen.

This weblog post is an English language version of content prepared for students in my technology classes. I never was too concerned about the official goals of the course, apart from making sure I could document that they were being met. Some of my goals were to encourage personal expression, and upcycling (or at least reuse) of materials. In addition, another purpose was to encourage thinking about ethical and aesthetic decisions.

Assignment: As part of a design process, you are asked to produce a smartphone case for yourself. This will involve the selection of materials for the case, and the selection of processes to transform the material into a final product. You will have to defend your choices ethically and aesthetically.

While this post presents an overview, it is insufficient in depth to be used to defend your choices. You will have to research your material choices further. Please be aware that fake information abounds. For example, latex is often described as a sap. It isn’t.

Below are some descriptions of some materials that can be used to make smartphone cases. The list is not exhaustive, and you do not have to use materials found here.

Bamboos are evergreen, perennial flowering grasses. They are some of the fastest growing plants in the world. Bamboo has a higher specific compressive strength than wood, brick or concrete, and a specific tensile strength about that of steel.

Smartphone cases can be made from wood. Materials include hardwoods such as cherry, and softwoods, such as redwood.

Smartphone cases can be made from a number of different textile materials. This includes woven fabric from cotton, linen, wool or synthetics. The yarn used to weave with can be dyed prior to weaving, or the fabric can be dyed afterwards. Tie-dying is another approach. Various types of yarn can be knitted or crocheted into cases.

Leather is made from animal hides of cows and other animals. It is very soft and durable. For many people, leather symbolizes style and luxury. For others, it symbolizes animal cruelty. It can be used to make smartphone cases.

There are a wide variety of polymers that have been developed, but only some of them are suitable for smartphone cases. Polymerization is the process of combining many small molecules called monomers into a long chain. Plastics make extensive use of carbon in their chains. Some are natural, most are synthetic.

Synthetic leather is made from different types of plastic, most commonly polyurethane and polyester. It is soft and pliable.

Natural rubber is made from latex, a milky fluid found in 10% of all flowering plants. It is not sap, but a separate substance, separately produced, and with separate functions, but mainly as defence against herbivorous insects. People with latex allergies should avoid smartphone cases made of rubber.

Synthetic rubber is made from petroleum. Both natural and synthetic rubber have very similar characteristics, so it is difficult to tell them apart.

Polycarbonate is used in a wide variety of consumer products. It is very strong and resists breaking. As a protective phone case, it is almost ideal.

Polypropylene is especially useful with injection molding, and its to form different shapes. For that reason, it is very easy to manufacture smartphone cases from it.

Polyurethane is not as strong as polycarbonate but still offers phone protection. Polyurethane can be hard or soft, with many smartphone cases made from recycled polyurethane.

Silicones are polymers that include any synthetic compound made up of repeating units of siloxane, which is a chain of alternating silicon atoms and oxygen atoms, combined with carbon, hydrogen, and sometimes other elements. They have low thermal conductivity; thermal stability from -100 to 250 °C; low chemical reactivity; water repellent; low toxicity; do not support microbiological growth; resistant to oxygen, ozone, and ultraviolet (UV) light; Silicone can be formulated to be electrically insulative or conductive. Silicone’s softness and flexibility makes it useful for protective smartphone cases.

Carbon fiber is a relatively new invention that takes microscopic strands of carbon and weaves them together to make a very strong, resilient material that is stronger and lighter than steel.

People who like the look and feel of their metal smartphones may want a metal smartphone case. Most are made of aluminum, a lightweight metal used in many smart phones.

Because production processes are dependent on the material being processed, it is important to decide on the material to be used, before one decides on the manufacturing process. Said another way, if one has a limited skill set, those (lack of) skills will limit the materials that can be used.

Don’t own/ use a smartphone? No problem, design a case for a delicate object that you carry around with you regularly, and that could benefit from added protection.

Disruptive Technology: HET Motors

The Linear Labs

Andrew Gordon (1712 – 1751) was a Scottish Benedictine monk, physicist and inventor, who made the first electric motor in the 1740s. It is fully described in Versuch einer Erklarung der Electricitat (1745). Most of the basic research on motors was done in the 19th century, with all the major classes of motors available at the start of the 20th century. The one exception was the linear induction motor, that was developed between 1905 and 1949.

Most of the development work on motors in the 20th century falls into the category refinement or enhancement.

In the 21st century, Linear Labs, a Fort Worth, Texas, USA start-up, has raised US$4.5 million in seed capital to develop and commercialize a new electric motor, the Hunstable Electric Turbine (HET) that it claims reduces size and complexity while increasing efficiency, range and torque. Hunstable is the surname of the motor’s developers, son/ CEO Brad and father/ CTO Fred.

Electric motors typically use single-speed reduction gearboxes designed to let electric motors rotate at high, efficient RPMs while the drive wheels spin slower. These gearboxes are heavy, complex, expensive and unnecessary, according to Linear Labs. Their technology radically simplifies the electric power-train while delivering more efficiency/ torque/ power/ range.

Two important terms used below. Rotor = the moving part of a motor, that turns the shaft to deliver the mechanical power. Stator = the stationary part of the motor, that usually consists of windings or permanent magnets.

The HET is a three-dimensional, circumferential flux, exterior permanent magnet electric motor. What this means is that the motor’s electric field is engineered to create motion or, perhaps more correctly, eliminates many design imperfections that restrict motion efficiency in conventional motors. In addition, there are four rotors where other motors typically run one or two. The stator is fully encapsulated in a four-sided magnetic torque tunnel, each side having the same polarity, ensuring that all magnetic fields are in the direction of motion, and contributing to the torque of the motor. There are no unused ends on the coils, that could – potentially – dissipate energy.

Field weakening is a common technique used to increase more speed, when running at full voltage. In conventional motors this is done by reducing the field flux, by injecting extra current in the opposite direction. Current injection add speed at the expense of torque, and reduces motor efficiency. The HET uses a unique approach to field weakening by rotating one or both of its magnetic end plates out of alignment, meaning that this motor can build extra speed with no efficiency loss. Indeed, overall efficiency increases at higher speeds.

Another challenge with electric vehicles is torque pulsing (cogging) at low speed. This is experienced as jerky acceleration. The HET overlaps power pulses around the stator at low speeds. This provides high, but smooth torque as the motor accelerates. Then, the motor controller changes the motor’s operating patterns by grouping poles together as motor speeds increase. This acts like an electronic transmission, emulating six-phase, three-phase, two-phase or one-phase patterns and allowing the motor to increase speed without changing its frequency, voltage or current levels.

The HET doesn’t cost any more to manufacture than a conventional motor design, or require any specialized tooling – and it can be built without using rare earth metals (if necessary). The stator is easy to cool because liquid can run inside the copper coils.

The resulting HET motor produces two to five times the torque density, at least three times the power density and at least twice the total output of any permanent magnet motor of the same size. It also eliminates the need for DC/DC converters, gearboxes (previously mentioned), which reduces total vehicle cost and weight. Altogether this gives a 10 – 20% range increase, from a given battery pack.

These claims are backed up by comments from independent experts. However, without being an expert in the field one is unable to verify these claims, or to project the path between a disruptive idea its commercialization. Linear Labs says it’s looking to implement the motor in a scooter prototype in 2019, and a car prototype in 2021. The company sees further potential for the motors in other classes of vehicles, as well as multirotor drones, wind power generation and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).

The most interesting aspect of this disruptive technology is to set it in conjunction with that of of the micro-battery from Bothell, Washington, USA startup XNRGI. These batteries claim to offer 3 – 6 times the energy density of current LI-ion batteries. This can be translated into either 3 – 6 time increase in range, or a significant vehicle weight reduction, or some combination of both.

For further information, visit Linear Labs and/ or XNRGI.

Industry 4.0: Update

The Trent and Mersey Canal, at Stoke-on-Trent with narrow boat and pottery kiln. Photo: Geoff Maitland

Wedgwood, located at Barlaston, Staffordshire, England is one of the oldest ceramics companies in the world, established by Josiah Wedgwood (1730 – 1795) in 1759. In 1987, it merged with Waterford Crystal. Their assets were purchased in 2009 by New York based KPS Capital Partners, to become WWRD Holdings Limited, an abbreviation for Waterford Wedgwood Royal Doulton. The company was acquired by Finnish Fiskars in 2015.

In March 2019, Wedgwood announced that about 145 jobs (out of a total of 440) would be eliminated. Its reasoning for the firings almost seem poetic, as it looks to “reduce complexity across its operations”. Complexity is something that most companies embrace. If something is too simple, then anyone can do it, and there would be no need for that company.

Josiah Wedgwood was one of the great engineering entrepreneurs of the industrial revolution. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, led the industrialization of the ceramics industry, and played a significant role in establishing rail and canal infrastructure.

Why Wedgwood? Yes, he was born into a family of potters, but so were many others, and they did not develop a ceramics industry. One difference was that Wedgwood contracted smallpox as a child. This left him with a permanently weakened knee so that he was unable to operate a potter’s wheel. Because of this he spent his time on the science/ engineering/ design of pottery products and production techniques.

Other ceramics companies have had similar fates. To mention only one recent example, in April 2019, Dudson, also located in Stoke-on-Trent, announced that it would be shutting down its tableware, glassware and fine china business that started in 1800, and all its 390 employees would be made redundant.

This is a reversal of what Phil Tomlinson wrote about in an article titled, How England’s broken ceramics industry put itself back together (2015). Tomlinson comments on the reversal of the ceramics industry, that: “The first factor is global demand, where particularly US and Japanese consumers have become increasingly averse to purchasing premium wares manufactured cheaply in Asia (especially China) but sold under one of the branded names from the English Potteries. With Stoke wares still perceived to be among the highest quality in the world, the “Made in England” back-stamp is an increasingly important marketing tool.”

One of the major difficulties with Tomlinson’s perspective is that wages for the majority in much of the industrialized [sic] world have stagnated the past forty years. Income has been replaced with easy credit, and manufacturing jobs have been increasingly outsourced. Now, more than ten years after the great (financial) recession of 2008, those credit cards are increasingly being maxed out. The majority no longer have the opportunity to buy products “among the highest quality in the world”, but will have to accept that they belong to the “Made in China” class of consumers.

The world is filled with prophets expecting the emergence of a fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 as they prefer to call it. Some have even gone beyond to refer to it now as Industry 5.0. Technologies powering this include the usual components found in mechatronics, but with additional buzz words such as artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing and green tech, perhaps more accurately described as green wash.

These prophets are expecting smart manufacturing, as it is also called, to foster the return of manufacturing activities to advanced/ high-cost economies. They are looking at three areas: servitisation, personalization and makerization.

Servitisation: the symbiosis of traditional manufacturing and services.
Rolls-Royce is the poster child, and exemplifies this with ‘power-by-the-hour’ maintenance packages that replaces maintenance (a service), with maintenance-with-a-fancy-name, which is still a service.

The main point with power-by-the-hour, is that Rolls-Royce, as developer of airplane engines, has a greater understanding of their risk, and can manage it better than airlines, who are – essentially – passive recipients of the technology developed by someone else. American farmers, for example, want a right to repair agricultural equipment because manufacturers, such as John Deere, are placing all of the risk onto farmers, rather than taking upon themselves that risk, despite the fact that it is the equipment manufacturers who have designed the equipment, not the farmers.

The only fair solution to this dilemma is for the equipment manufacturers to lease equipment on an hourly basis, that includes all maintenance costs. This way, farmers can choose a solution, knowing the total costs involved. In other words a ‘power-by-the-hour’ solution for farmers would put the risk associated with agricultural equipment where it belongs, with the equipment manufacturers.

Personalization: Customised products produced in small batches or even as unique pieces which require customers to co-innovate/ co-produce with the manufacturer. The poster child here is Shapeways, which takes control over customer designs, 3D prints them, then uses third party logistics firms to transport products back to the original designer/ consumer.

Makerization involves a situation where local production (a service) is integrated with a global supply chain network to ensure that components (products) are globally available on short notice. To ensure that innovations are diffused, designs and other forms of intellectual property, should be (some would say, have to be) open source. The symbol of makerization is the 3D printer. Originally, this was invented by Chuck Hall (1940 – ) in 1983. He used photopolymers, acrylic-based liquids that instantly solidify when exposed to ultraviolet light. Since then, fused filament fabrication has been the norm, with Makerbot, Ultimaker, Reprap and now Creality becoming the poster children of the 3D era.

For personalization and makerization to work, it is necessary for (potential) consumers to know how to communicate with (potential) manufacturers. This means that they have to know how to draw. Freehand drawing is a minimum. Better still, they should learn how to use Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs, to express their intentions. SketchUp, developed by @Last, bought up by Google, then sold on to Trimble Inc., offers mainstream opportunities, as a web-based application (SketchUp Free), as non-open-source freeware (SketchUp Make), and as a paid version, (SketchUp Pro). The latter two requiring Apple OSX or Microsoft Windows operating systems. Fortunately, the open-source community has both Blender and Free-CAD (along with many other similar products), although both of these mentioned are more difficult to use than Sketchup.

There is also a granularity issue. The product made by one person/ business/ organization, can become the component of another person/ business/ organization. With the use of automated processes, labour costs become less of an issue, and component/ product prices become more standardized. Producers can then choose suppliers nearer to home, but connect with consumers both closer and farther away – at least when they offer a unique product. This offers the prospect of a more efficient form of production, with greater sustainability. See comment, below, about OEMs and tiers.

It is this kind of circular-economy efficiency that presents a real opportunity for advanced economies to pursue more evenly distributed and sustainable socio-economic growth. Enabling manufacturers to access and utilise new technologies in this way will be a key to success. Therefore, developing new industrial policies will be necessary to enable businesses to embrace Industry 4.0. New policies will be needed to bring sectors into the new age, so that they will be able to take advantage of new technologies that are emerging.

Unfortunately, not all sectors are embracing change, equally quickly. The construction industry, especially, is reluctant to modernize. Houses and other building have been 3D-printed, but that information has been ignored, possibly suppressed, by prominent business leaders. Despite this, Building on Demand (BOD) will be part of the future. A weblog post about this topic was written in 2018-07-04. See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Construction_3D_printing

A comment about OEMs and tiers

OEM stands for original equipment manufacturer. The OEM is the company whose name/ brand appears on the final product: Tesla is an OEM of electric cars, while Asus is an OEM of computers.

An OEM may produce little of the final product. Much of the time they assemble. In addition they design/ brand/ define product scope.

But to manufacture the product they use tier 1 suppliers who deal directly with OEM companies. These are often major companies in their own right. Panasonic supplies batteries to Tesla, AMD supplies microprocessors to Asus.

Tier 2 suppliers deal directly with the tier 1 suppliers, but not OEMs.

There may be additional tiers, depending on product complexity.

At some point there will be a tier 3/ 4/ x supplier that provides raw materials like steel/ wood/ plastic. This marks the end of the supply chain, except when it doesn’t because the raw material has to be grown/ mined/ or in some way extracted.

Open Source is not Enough

This story from 2017 explains why it is essential that people understand who controls every product they acquire. In this particular case – about garage openers, an open source hardware solution proves to be more problematic than a closed source solution.

An attractive garage door, totally unrelated to the one mentioned in this web-log post. Photo: http://homesfeed.com/unique-garage-doors/

Denis Grisak started Garadget, which makes an open-source Internet-connected garage opener. He promoted his start up on Kickstarter.

This device uses Wi-Fi-based cloud connectivity from Particle to open and close garage doors. The garage door is controlled over the internet by a mobile phone app. It also uses existing garage door hardware. The phone becomes a remote control.

On 2017-04-01, April fools’ day for some, R. Martin, a customer who purchased a Garadget opener on Amazon reported iPhone application control problems, and left the following comment on the Garadget community board: “Just installed and attempting to register a door when the app started doing this. Have uninstalled and reinstalled iphone app, powered phone off/on – wondering what kind of piece of shit I just purchased here…”

Yes, the language cannot be condoned, but one can understand that the customer is feeling frustration. Soon afterwards, not having gotten a response, he left a 1-star review of Garadget on Amazon: “Junk – DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY – iPhone app is a piece of junk, crashes constantly, start-up company that obviously has not performed proper quality assurance tests on their products.”

Grisak then remotely deactivated Martin’s garage opener [sic] and posted the following on the support forum: ” Martin, [NP] The abusive language here and in your negative Amazon review, submitted minutes after experiencing a technical difficulty, only demonstrates your poor impulse control. [NP] I’m happy to provide the technical support to the customers on my Saturday night but I’m not going to tolerate any tantrums. At this time your only option is return Garadget to Amazon for refund. Your unit ID 2f0036… will be denied server connection.” NP = New Paragraph.

This denial of service breaks the trust that is necessary between a manufacturer/ vendor and its customers. I was surprised to find that the company is still in business. It certainly doesn’t deserve to be. The legality of the server disconnection can be discussed, as could potential criminality, if someone were to be injured or killed because of this disconnection. However, we will not be visiting these subjects today.

Instead, there is a basic lesson to be learned by all consumers, and that is not to place too much trust in suppliers. In particular, it means avoiding technological solutions that give over-riding control of a product to someone other than the end user. In particular, control of communications is important. It does not make any difference if the product is open-source or closed-source, if the someone else controls communication.

In its Kickstarter description, one meets the following: “In its core Garadget uses the Photon module from the great folks at Particle and benefits from all the development tools and support materials created for the module[.]” Particle makes cloud-connected microcontrollers, that are powered by Device OS, a proprietary (closed-source) operating system. Cloud is just a funny name for someone else’s server. That puts consumers at the mercy of companies that have a more direct relationship with Particle. Particle may make it easy for a startup to prototype a product. It might make it easy for that same startup to scale up production, Unfortunately, neither of those are particularly important for consumers.

Some Choices

The main reason for writing this post is not to complain about a manufacturer/ vendor, but a way of life where needs are met exclusively by shopping, and where buying something leads to unintended consequences. In this particular case it is the loss of control.

Unfortunately, not shopping is not an option. Twenty-first century people cannot make everything from scratch. At some point a component has to be bought. The size of that component may vary – It may be a property with multiple buildings, a house, a garage, a garage door, a garage door opener, a microprocessor or a … Somewhere, one has to stop, and buy something.

R. Martin lost control at the garage door opener level, and it is here that a solution can be offered. There are several ways to make a garage door opener, including some that make excellent projects for an adult (including teacher/ parent/ grand-parent) and child (12+) to work on together, at school, home or community workshop.

Raspberry Pi is closed-source, but its products offer high value for their relatively low price. Normally, I have a reluctance to use closed-source products. For example, I use Linux, rather than Windows. In this particular case, I want to show that closed-source may be the appropriate choice, because the end-user retains control.

There are several different models of Raspberry Pi as well as several different generations. These instructions are general, and may be adapted to the specific variant used. Part of my crusade is to encourage people to use compute modules, rather than Model A, Model B or Zero varieties. The reason is simple – in most projects not all of the components supplied are needed. Compute module 3+ was launched 2019-01 and will be available until at least 2026. In terms of computing, future proofing does not get any better.

At the Inderøy Tekno-workshop, one of the projects that will be worked on will be a garage opener. Currently, the idea is to combine two different projects, using the following documentation:

https://github.com/andrewshilliday/garage-door-controller

https://github.com/sp1k3ster/home-assistant/pull/1

This weblog post was originally considerably larger when it was originally written: 2019-02-03 with a time stamp of 17:28:20.

Disruptive Technology: Micro-batteries

Christine Hallquist, CEO Cross Border Power.

World citizens intent on sustainability should rejoice that Vermont citizens were too dumb to elect Christine Hallquist as their governor. Allegedly, they were more concerned about a tax increase on fossil fuels, than they were about entering the 21st century. This means that Christine can use her insights and other talents to help North Americans transition away from fossil fuels to clean electrical energy solutions.

Soon after she lost the election she wrote a white paper on a North-American solution to climate change, which has a lot to do with sustainable electrical energy. Wind and hydro are part of the equation, but so are batteries. Now, she emerges as CEO of Quebec registered, Cross Border Power. Its strategy is closely aligned with that of Bothell, Washington startup XNRGI.

XNRGI (exponential energy) exuberantly tells us that it “has developed the first-ever porous silicon chip based Lithium Metal rechargeable battery technology. XNRGI’s 15 patented technologies and 12 pending patents, were developed over a 15-year period with more than $80-million of investment from Intel, Motorola, Energizer, the United States Navy, Argonne National Laboratory / US DOE Department of Energy grant for advance manufacturing and Novellus Systems, among others. XNRGI’s technologies enable scalable, high-volume manufacturing at the industry’s lowest cost, by using existing semiconductor wafer manufacturing and contract assembly which have been perfected in Silicon Valley over the past 20 years. This combination of original technologies and proven manufacturing processes provides XNRGI with an unprecedented manufacturing scale and at a low cost with minimal capex.”

XNRGI has developed a new battery technology that prints micro-batteries onto silicon wafers. There are 36 million of these machined onto a 300 mm silicon wafer, which is referred to as being 12-inches in diameter.

These batteries can scale from ultra-small batteries for medical implants to large-scale grid storage and initially promises four times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries for half the price. It claims to completely eliminates the problem of dendrite formation which, if true, would make it a massively disruptive invention. Dendrites are responsible for most fires in lithium based batteries.

Porous silicon gives about 70 times the surface area compared to a traditional lithium battery, with millions of cells in a wafer. The batteries are 100% recyclable. At the end of the product life, the wafers are returned, then cleaned to reclaim the lithium and other materials. Then can then be reused.

XNRGI has worked with partners in an early adapter program to test out 600 working samples in a variety of areas. These include: electric vehicles with 3 – 6 times the energy density currently found, while being 2 – 3 times lighter, and at a considerably lower cost; consumer electronics, providing 1 600 Wh/liter; internet of things applications with micron scale power with low discharge rates.

Grid scale storage for intermittent renewables like Solar/ Wind and backup power is another focus area.The battery banks that Cross Border Power plans to sell to utility companies as soon as next year will be installed in standard computer server racks. One shipping container with 40 racks, will offer 4 megawatts (MW) of battery storage capacity in contrast to a comparaAble set of rack-storage lithium ion batteries which would typically only yield 1 MW.

Electrical grid stabilization, is probably the one area in electrical engineering where battery density is irrelevant. Of course, everyone appreciates a price reduction, and this means that a 4 MW 40 foot container will cost twice the price of a 1 MW unit.

A 1 MW 40 foot container-based energy storage system typically includes two 500-kW power conditioning systems (PCSs) in parallel, lithium-ion battery sets with capacity equivalent to 450 kWh, a controller, a data logger, air conditioning, and an automatic fire extinguisher. When this is scaled to 4 MW, some of the details remain unknown, including the number and size of the PCSs. The total capacity should increase to 1.8 MWh.

What is missing from any documentation I have found, is any mention of these batteries in aviation. Because of its importance, this will be the subject of an upcoming weblog post.

Hype

The difficulty with hype, is knowing what technology has a basis in fact, and what is simply wishful thinking. Much hype is related to batteries specifically developed for electric vehicles. Despite chemical engineering studies, including physical chemistry, I lack sufficient insight to judge the veracity of any of these claims. One needs to be a specialist, with detailed knowedge and experience.

The first storage device that raised issues was one under development by EEStor of Cedar Park, Texas. It claimed to have developed a solid state polymer capacitor for electricity storage, that “stores more energy than lithium-ion batteries at a lower cost than lead-acid batteries.” Despite patents, many experts expressed skepticism.

The rise and fall of Envia is another example. This battery startup secured a contract with GM to supply its cathodes, made from nickel, manganese, and cobalt, to power GM’s Volt. Everything looked great until Envia’s cathodes failed to perform as claimed. Details about this can be found in an article by Steve LeVine in Quartz. Later, LeVine wrote The Powerhouse (2015), which more generally discusses the geopolitics of advanced batteries.

Phinergy, as Israeli company, has promoted an aluminum air battery, where one electrode is an aluminum plate, and the other is an oxygen and a water electrolyte. When the oxygen interacts with the plate, it produces energy. The good news is that these batteries could have 40 times the capacity of lithium ion batteries. The bad news is that the aluminum degrades over time. Current only flows one way, from the anode to the cathode, which prevents them from being recharged. This means that the batteries have to be swapped out and recycled after running down.

Fisker Inc. claims it is on the verge of a solid-state battery breakthrough that will give EVs extended range and a relatively short charging period. In contrast to conventional lithium-ion batteries that offer significant resistance when charging or discharging, which creates heat. Solid-state batteries have low resistance, so they don’t overheat, which allows for fast recharging. But the negative side is their limited surface area means they have a low electrode-current density, which limits power. Existing solid-state batteries can’t generate enough power, work well in low temperatures, or be manufactured at scale.

Fisker’s solution is to create a 3D solid-state battery, they call a bolt battery, that is thicker, and with 25 times the surface that a thin-film battery. This allows it to produce sufficient power to move a vehicle. It claims to produce 2.5 times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries can, at a third of the cost. Despite the hype, Fisher will not be providing solid state batteries on its EMotion luxury sport vehicle, claimed to be available from mid-2020. Rather, it will come with proprietary battery modules from LG Chem.

Desertec

This is not the first time I have announced disruptive energy technology. I have been a keen advocate of Desertec solar-thermal power, where I had hoped that electricity generated in North Africa could be used to power Europe (as well as North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere) with copious quantities of sustainable energy. Bi-products included desalinated potable water (not alw)ays appreciated as a benefit, opportunities for growing large quantities of food, and stabilizing soils to prevent climate deterioration. A White Book has been written on it. It was, and still is my hope, that the introduction of this system would result in more sustainable, and democratic societies, in North Africa, without reliance on fossil fuels.

Readers eager to find weblog posts on Desertec will be disappointed. During the period when I was most interested in this technology (2004 – 2008) I did not have a weblog. Instead, material was presented in the form of lectures and activities in science class, typically for grade 11 students.

The Charm of PLA

Biodegradable PLA cups in use at Chubby’s Tacos in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo: 2008-07-14, Ildar Sagdejev)

At Inderøy Techno-workshop, the standard plastic used on our 6 x 3D-printers is Polylactic Acid = PLA. The weblog post explains why.

The name Polylactic Acid is actually a misnomer. It does not comply with IUPAC (The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) standard nomenclature (naming standards for chemicals), and is potentially ambiguous/ confusing: PLA is not a polyacid (polyelectrolyte), but a polyester.

What distinguishes PLA from other thermoplastics/ -polymers is that it is made from plant-based renewable feedstocks. PLA’s list of raw materials include cassava, corn/ maise, sugar beet, sugarcane, potatoes and similar products. What is interesting, from an Inderøy perspective, is that the municipality has a potato processing plant that was established in 1844.

Despite its natural origins, PLA offers properties similar to other thermoplastics used industrially. One of the reasons for selecting PLA as a standard product, is that the workshop wants participants to reflect over their choice of materials, and to choose those that are least damaging to the environment and living things, including themselves and other human beans, as some people call them. PLA has less negative impact than most other plastics, so people can use it with a good conscience. If workshop participants want to switch to a different plastic, they will have to defend their choice!

There are several methods used to manufacture PLA plastic. Those interested in the fine details of PLA engineering should consult Lee Tin Sin, A. R. Rahmat, W. A. W. A. Rahman, Polylactic Acid: PLA Biopolymer Technology and Applications, (2012) ISBN: 9781437744590

PLA is a thermoplastic, which means it can be melted and reshaped without significant degradation of its mechanical properties. Thus, it is easy to recycle.

PLA is biodegradable. Microorganisms transform it into natural components, such as water and carbon dioxide. The speed of the transformation is strongly dependent on temperature and humidity. At the Inderøy Techno-workshop, we will ensure that PLA is properly recycled. There is a special bin, clearly marked with PLA – and not with resin code 7 used to identify “other” plastics. The plastic recycling resin codes 1 to 6 are used for petroleum based plastics.

One of the projects this writer wants to prioritize in 2020 is to work with Innherred Renovation, the local waste recycling company, to examine the feasibility of processing PLA locally to avoid excessive transportation costs, and to give the workshop a source of raw material to make coils of PLA filament – yet another project, scheduled for 2021. Disposal (as distinct from recycling) involves heating PLA to about 60°C and exposing it to special microbes, that will digest and decompose it within three months. If these conditions are not met, PLA can take between 100 and 1 000 years to decompose.

Because PLA is derived from renewable resources, and is not petroleum-based, it offers many positive characteristics for manufacturers. It is almost carbon neutral. The raw material it is made (plants) from absorbs carbon. When oxygenated or heated, it does not release toxic fumes. Yet there is a down side. With the world’s population raising, at least temporarily until towards the end of this century, there are concerns about using agricultural land for the production of non-food crops, such as bioplastics. In addition, raw materials for PLA typically use transgenic plants, plants that have genes inserted into them that are derived from another species.

Other challenges include agriculture based on monocultures; a lack of long-term testing; mixing/ contaminating PLA with petroleum based plastics (PLA plastic is brittle unless it is mixed with some petroleum based polymers.); decomposition of food storage PLA plastics during production, packaging, transportation, selling and consumption phases. There are also strength and crystallinity deficiencies.

PLA plastic is recognized as safe by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Its non-toxicity allows it to be used safely in all food packaging and many medical applications including implants. These can be biodegraded in the body over time, if PLA is in its solid form. There are some ventilation issues. Fumes emitted by PLA are claimed to be harmless, however, there are suggestions that the release of nanoparticles can potentially pose a health threat. At Inderøy Techno-workshop, extractors will be fitted to our 3D-printers, with both HEPA and active charcoal filters.

Physical characterics of PLA that are important to users are its mechanical, rheological (flow) and thermal (heat) properties. The makeitfrom.com database is a convenient site to get basic information abouta number of materials. Here are the results for PLA.

PLA has good mechanical properties, that are often better than many petroleum based plastics such as polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS) and polyurethane (PU). It’s Young’s modulus, ability to tolerate elongation under tension or compression, is ~3.5 GPa, in contrast to 0.1 GPa for rubber and 200 GPa for steel. Its tensile yield strength, the force needed to pull something, is ~50 MPa. Its flexural strength, the stress needed to start plastic deformation, is ~80 MPa, All of these are at the low end compared to other thermal plastics.

Rheology is the study of materials with both solid and fluid characteristics. PLA is a pseudoplastic, non-Newtonian fluid. Non-Newtonian means that its viscosity (resistance to flow) changes depending on the stress that it is subjected to. PLA is a shear-thinning material, which means that the viscosity decreases with applied stress.

PLA’s thermal properties depend on its molecular weight. It is classified as a semi-crystalline polymer, with a glass transition temperature at ~55°C and melting temperature at ~180°C. These are low compared to other thermoplastics such as ABS. PLA can burn. This means that heat/ and smoke detectors are necessary, if 3D-printers are to be used without people present.

Processing PLA requires humidity and temperature control to avoid unnecessary degradation.

Some sources recommend storing PLA in its original package at ambient temperatures but drying it before use, because of its hydroscopic tendencies.

The main usage of PLA at the techno-workshop will be 3D printing with filament. In addition, PLA can be extruded. While heat is needed to allow PLA to flow under pressure, more specific processes are needed to pump, mix and pressurize PLA. Related to this is injection molding, for small-series production. The main challenge is making inexpensive molds. Injection molding for PLA production is limited, because of its slow crystallization rate, compared to other thermoplastics.

Other processes include injection stretch blow molding, cast film and sheet and thermoforming.

Bioplastics such as PLA have a large economic potential, allowing job creation opportunities, especially in rural areas, such as Inderøy. There are estimates that the European bioplastics industry will provide 300 000 skilled jobs by 2030, up from an estimated 30 000 in 2020. Thus one of the key tasks of the Techno-workshop is to encourage young people to develop business ideas based on the use of PLA.

PLA is biocompatible, it can be used in the human body with minimum risk of inflammation and infection. It has been used to produce biomedical products for drug delivery systems and bone fixation, including plates, screws, surgical structures and meshes. These can dissolve inside the body show over a period of between three months and two years. that it posses great promise in solving problems such as tissue loss and organ failure

There are efforts in the textile industry to replace non-renewable polyester textiles with PLA. Advantages include breathability, lower weight, and recyclability.

The cosmetics industry facing a consumer backlash for using petroleum based plastic products, has sought more sustainable solutions using PLA.

While there were hopes that PLA could be used for structural applications in the construction industry, the same characteristics that made it useful in biomedical applications, detracted from its use as foam for insulation, fiber for carpets and more generally in furnishings.

Construction Technology

A 50 m2 office hotel in Copenhagen’s Nordhavn made with a 3D printer, 8m x 8m x 6m (Illustration: 3D Printhuset)

When I look at  construction today (2018-07-03), fifty two years to the week after completing high school in 1966, and beginning work as a construction labourer at that very same location, Lester Pearson Senior Secondary School, the work looks surprisingly similar and the tools surprisingly familiar. Someone working in 1968 would have no problem working in 2018.

Pneumatic nailers have been in use since the 1950s, and can save a lot of time. They also give a superior join. Yet, this week, on a site some hundred meters from our residence, two builders were using conventional hammers to construct a cabin. The work was progressing slowly.

One of the main reasons I prefer to build, rather than to hire, is that too many builders are living in the past. Fortunately, I actually enjoy building construction. Yes, it can be tiring work. But it means that I never have to work out at a gym. Yes, it is necessary to take precautions to avoid physical injury, and to use personal protective clothing. Yes, at the end of the day, much of the work will be invisible, but that  isn’t too different from my previous work as a teacher.

Many of my first jobs involved working with wood. While still attending junior secondary school, I built a sabot sailboat out of two sheets of 1/4″ (6mm) plywood. Later, I worked clean-up on the weekends at Brownlee Industries, in Surrey. They processed alder into lumber and made glue-laminate products from it. Other summer jobs were with Bel-Par Industries in Surrey, where I worked as a cabinet-maker’s assistant.  This was undoubtedly the job in Canada that suited my personality best.

Somewhat later, I also working for Habitat Industries on Annacis Island, Delta. It was a pre-fabricated housing factory that has had other names, both before and since. It was named after the first United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, held in Vancouver in 1976. John Reagan’s designs were anything but modular boxes. He designed octangular, split level and mineshaft buildings. They involved post and beam as well as platform framing. Here, I worked in the factory, not just framing, but other tasks such as electrical and plumbing installation, as well as in the office, mostly related to scheduling and project planning.

Pre-fabrication saved on build time and labour costs by moving much of the work to a climate-controlled environment. Part of the challenge is that these parts have to be transported, which means that the building has to be sub-divided into transportable units, with a maximum length, height and width. Modules are not always the solution. One compromise is to use pre-cut materials for flooring and roofs, but to make and transport walls in sections. Modules can work for bathrooms, less so for kitchens.

In February 2012, I watched an inspiring TED Talk, Contour Crafting – Automated Construction, with Behrokh Khoshnevis at TEDxOjai: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdbJP8Gxqog After this, I expected there to be a surge of interest 3D-printing of houses. I am still waiting, but understand progress has been made by Khoshvevis in China. Not so much on the North American continent or in Europe.

AMT-SPECAVIA of Yaroslavl, Russia started serial production of construction printers in 2015. Currently, seven models are available ranging from a small format for the printing of small architectural forms, to a much larger scale, that allows printing of buildings up to 3 stories high. A construction printer was delivered to 3DPrinthuset, in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2017. This 8m x 8m x6m printer was used to construct a 50 m2 office-hotel.

This is referred to as a Building on Demand (BOD) project. Only its walls and part of its foundation are printed. The rest of the construction is traditional. Further information See: https://3dprinthuset.dk/europes-first-3d-printed-building/ A time-lapse video of the project is available here: https://3dprinthuset.dk/the-bod/

I don’t think I will have an opportunity to build and live in my own 3-D printed house. However, I am encouraging my children to consider the potential this technology offers. I would enjoy helping them.

 

 

Measurements: Length & Volume

This post was initially written as a comment to a YouTube video by Steve Ramsey (WoodWorking for Mere Mortals) titled, Metric or Imperial Measurements: Does it matter in the workshop? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWwvS7Tl5QU

This is an expanded version.

It is standard practice on metric technical drawings to make all dimensions in millimeters. This eliminates the need to write mm everywhere, and it is assumed that the accuracy is within 1 mm. For metals, one should be using a metal measuring device that will automatically compensate for temperature changes, or work at a standard temperature.

Length

One secret of using metric lengths, is to physically separate meters from the remaining millimeters. I treat these as fractions of a meter. My experience as a teacher, is that many people are blind to large numbers. They may be able to understand 36 mm, or even 254 mm, but at some point numbers go off scale, and are interpreted in that person’s brain as a big, meaningless numbers. Taking the video’s example of a table at 1676 mm, it looks and feels like a large number, too large to understand. Therefore, I separate out the meters, and write the length as 1 676. The space after the meter measurement is a key to understanding. In this case, there is 1 meter, and about 2/3 of a meter (676/1000). (The reason I use a space rather than a comma, is that I live in a country that uses decimal commas, rather than decimal points. Space, comma, period it makes no difference, as long as one can see the separation.)

Steve complains that the individual markings for millimeters on metric scales are confusing because the millimeter lines are the same length. I have to agree that the imperial measures are more readable because they have different line lengths for feet, inches, half inches, quarter inches, eighth inches and sixteenth inches. Metric tapes tend to distinguish 10 cm = 100 mm, 1 cm = 10 mm, 5 mm and 1 mm.

A dual metric imperial tape. The imperial measurements can be easier to read!

Volume

The same approach can be used with metric volume measurements. There are two important volumes, the cubic meter and the litre, where 1 000 liters = 1 cubic meter. Once again, by separating out the value with a space after three digits, one is able to process the information better visually.

For values less than one liter, the millilitre is used. Here, I use a decimal delineator (usually a . rather than a ,) to separate the value.

I try to avoid all conventional units such as teaspoons, tablespoons, cups and even the notorious dash.

An Amusement

Looking for suitable units to use when discussing volume less than one litre, I tried to find something familiar to work with – Root beer! At one site, I came across the recipe for California Root Beer, and decided to have a look: https://www.drinklab.org/california-root-beer/

Using the site’s automatic metric converter, here is the result for 1 serving of California root beer:

28.35 g Coffee Liqueur

28.35 g Herbal Liqueur

56.70 g Club Soda

28.35 g Cola

1 Splash(s) Bitter Beer

This recipe is amazingly accurate, right down to 0.01 grams. There are no scales in the house that are that accurate! The original units in the recipe were liquid ounces, however, so these values should have been expressed in litres, except for the splash of bitter beer, that remains the same in both systems of measurement. With this recipe, the only thing missing is the root beer!

An Aside:

Yes, I have written my last measurement of grain expressed in bushels. For those fortunate enough to grow up with the metric system here is a summary:

1 imperial bushel = 8 imperial gallons = 4 imperial pecks = 36.36872 litres

1 US bushel = 8 US dry gallons = 4 US pecks = 35.2391 litres

In school, these values were memorized, but I had no idea what a bushel actually looked like until a librarian caught me cutting the grass one day, and commented that I had put the cuttings into a bushel basket, to transport them to our compost heap. Finally, at the tender age of 21, I was able to visualize a bushel!

A bushel basket

The Charm of Rebar

Today, it was 20° C and sunny, and I accompanied Trish to Ystgård gartneri (nursery) in Straumen. The first thing that one has to be aware of is Ystgård’s domain name, gartneri.no. Somehow, this little company located in the village of our municipal centre,  has managed to take possession of the generic name for an entire branch. Well done.

While Trish was admiring the plants, even asking for my input (“something red”) I was admiring other products, specifically the welded rebar on offer. Photos of which are attached for your visual pleasure.

The delightful arch in the foreground costs a mere NOK 1 300 = USD 160, while its more complex four sided neighbour, behind, costs NOK 2 000 = USD 245.

A Swing? This alluring two seater is available for NOK 6 000 = USD 737.

These captivating rebar masterpieces can be purchased for as little as NOK 700 = USD 86.