Jackie Mader’s picture

By: Jackie Mader

Walk into any K-5 classroom in Illinois’ Rockford Public Schools, and there’s one thing you’re guaranteed to see: kids playing with Legos. Although it may look like unstructured free time, kids in Rockford are actually hard at work when the Legos are out—building historical homes, constructing ramps, and designing amusement park rides.

Lego play is a critical part of the district’s efforts to introduce science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts early, and in an engaging way. In 2018, the district began training educators on how to use special kits from Lego Education to teach STEM skills—and, in the process, concepts like cause and effect and problem solving. This school year, teachers are using Legos to help kids learn concepts from all subject areas, including literacy, history, and science. “Just to talk about [STEM concepts] abstractly is difficult at that level,” said Susan Uram, educational technology coordinator for Rockford Public Schools. “But if they can build something... they’re understanding in a concrete way.”

Multiple Authors
By: Sheng Lin-Gibson, Vijay Srinivasan

Biopharmaceuticals, also known as biological drugs or biologics, are manufactured from living organisms, or contain living organisms that have been genetically engineered to prevent or treat diseases. Biologics are chemically and structurally complex, and often highly heterogeneous; therefore, controlling and maintaining quality remains a challenge. The potential for new therapeutics to cure and treat previously untreatable diseases is enormous, but there is still a long way to go before they can be manufactured at the required scale, with predictive control of quality, and at a lower cost. NIST’s Vijay Srinivasan and Sheng Lin-Gibson discuss their recent paper on some of the challenges and solutions associated with manufacturing these life-saving drugs.

Multiple Authors
By: Ian Hesketh, Cary Cooper

Most people are familiar with presenteeism, where employees spend many more hours at the workplace than necessary—out of a sense of duty or to impress the boss or whatever. Presenteeism damages productivity, ultimately weakening the economy, and many companies now prioritize stamping it out.

A few years ago, our research into this sort of behavior led us to identify a related but different phenomenon: employees using annual leave or other work entitlements, such as banked flexi-hours, to go off sick or to look after a relative or dependent. There was no name for such situations, so we called it leaveism.

As part of the same category, we also included employees taking work home that can’t be completed in normal working hours, or catching up on work while on leave or holiday. Half a decade later, the bad news is that leaveism appears to be getting more and more common.

William A. Levinson’s picture

By: William A. Levinson

Almost half of Americans work in low-wage jobs despite the nation’s low unemployment rate. Aimee Picchi, writing for CBS News, cites a Brookings study that says “44 percent of U.S. workers are employed in low-wage jobs that pay median annual wages of $18,000.”1 A Bloomberg story adds, “An estimated 53 million Americans are earning low wages, according to the study. Their median wage is $10.22 an hour and their annual pay is $17,950.”2

These wage levels are not consistent with the United States’ industrial and technological development or its standard of living, but this is far from the only issue. Executives with profit-and-loss responsibility should realize that low wages are also often symptomatic of low profits. Purchasing managers should recognize that a supplier’s low wages are often symptomatic of excessively high prices, even though this seems counterintuitive. The reason is that low wages, low profits, and high prices all have the same root causes: waste (muda) and opportunity costs. Recognizing this simple fact, for which there are proven, off-the-shelf, and simple remedies, opens the door to almost limitless wealth for all stakeholders.

Casandra Robinson’s picture

By: Casandra Robinson

Perhaps for as many as 40,000 years, people have been protecting their feet with some type of covering, initially using animal hides and fur. Today, footwear has become high-tech, sophisticated, and in some cases smart, incorporating sensors that communicate with apps on your phone. Much of the advancement in footwear is possible because of standards that address the basic performance and functionality, allowing manufacturers to go beyond the basics.

There are hundreds of standards for all types of shoes, from industrial work boots to high-heeled dress shoes and everything in between, and for the shoe materials and components. Most of these are published by private-sector standards-developing organizations, such as SATRA, ISO, and ASTM International. But what do I care if my shoes meet any standards? I just want them to look good, feel good, and be fit for my activity—running shoes for jogging, boots for hiking, high heels for dancing, safety shoes for work—that’s all there is to it, right? Not quite. In terms of construction, fit, comfort, functionality, and protection, footwear is probably the most complex of all the clothing that we wear.

Jennifer Chu’s picture

By: Jennifer Chu

At the heart of any electronic device is a cold, hard computer chip, covered in a miniature city of transistors and other semiconducting elements. Because computer chips are rigid, the electronic devices that they power, such as our smartphones, laptops, watches, and televisions, are similarly inflexible.

Now a process developed by MIT engineers may be the key to manufacturing flexible electronics with multiple functionalities in a cost-effective way.

The process is called  “remote epitaxy” and involves growing thin films of semiconducting material on a large, thick wafer of the same material, which is covered in an intermediate layer of graphene. Once the researchers grow a semiconducting film, they can peel it away from the graphene-covered wafer and then reuse the wafer, which itself can be expensive depending on the type of material it’s made from. In this way, the team can copy and peel away any number of thin, flexible semiconducting films, using the same underlying wafer.

In a recent paper published in the journal Nature, the researchers demonstrate that they can use remote epitaxy to produce freestanding films of any functional material. More important, they can stack films made from these different materials to produce flexible, multifunctional electronic devices.

Ken Voytek’s picture

By: Ken Voytek

I find that every so often it is good to step back and think about the current state of manufacturing in the broadest sense. We all see bits and pieces as part of our daily work with manufacturers across the country and from reading the news, but sometimes it can be difficult to fit those puzzle pieces into the whole.

This is the day I break out my trusty old charts and graphs and data points to try and work some augury on where we may be headed.

Overall, most indicators show the manufacturing landscape slowing. Whether the slowdown is a temporary aberration (we saw similar patterns in 2016, for example) remains to be seen. The current data do, of course, reflect some large OEMs (GM and Boeing, in particular) slowing production, the trade dispute with China, and an economic slowdown globally, concurrent with the one we’re experiencing here.

Randall Goodden’s picture

By: Randall Goodden

The manufacturing industry, stock market, and new product development have really taken off in the past four years, and there’s a lot of focus now on moving offshore manufacturing back into the United States. With all of this growth, it is also apparent that many manufacturing corporations are primarily focused on marketing their new products, increasing sales, and hopefully, ensuring their products are safe and will live up to expectation.

But with all the records being set in the stock market and employment, record numbers of product recalls and product liability lawsuits are also happening. What further compounds that problem are executive management teams making assumptions that their employees know how to prevent product recalls and product liability lawsuits, that it’s basically “common sense.” This false perception has led to an ever-growing trend in product recalls, record-breaking numbers of product-liability lawsuits, and manufacturing corporations going bankrupt.

Lolly Daskal’s picture

By: Lolly Daskal

When I first started out as an executive leadership coach, not many CEOs saw the importance of leadership coaching or development. During the past few years attitudes have changed, and recent research finds that 90 percent of CEOs are planning to increase their investment in leadership development and see it as the most important human-capital issue their organizations face.

Identifying and developing great leaders is a critical factor in organizational health, which in turn drives shareholder returns. But what direction should that development take? I think it’s important to focus on the fundamentals—the most critical traits and skills leaders need to be successful. Here are some of the most important:

Emotional intelligence. Any successful leader must have a healthy dose of emotional intelligence. Leaders with good emotional intelligence know how to identify and manage emotions—their own as well as those of others. They practice awareness and empathy, and stay connected with their own feelings and in control of situations. Understanding emotional intelligence and developing the emotional intelligence of your organization’s leaders is a great investment.

Jennifer Chu’s picture

By: Jennifer Chu

A modern airplane’s fuselage is made from multiple sheets of different composite materials, like so many layers in a phyllo-dough pastry. Once these layers are stacked and molded into the shape of a fuselage, the structures are wheeled into warehouse-sized ovens and autoclaves, where the layers fuse together to form a resilient, aerodynamic shell.

Now MIT engineers have developed a method to produce aerospace-grade composites without the enormous ovens and pressure vessels. The technique may help to speed up the manufacturing of airplanes and other large, high-performance composite structures, such as blades for wind turbines.

The researchers detail their new method in a paper published in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces.

“If you’re making a primary structure like a fuselage or wing, you need to build a pressure vessel, or autoclave, the size of a two- or three-story building, which itself requires time and money to pressurize,” says Brian Wardle, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. “These things are massive pieces of infrastructure. Now we can make primary structure materials without autoclave pressure, so we can get rid of all that infrastructure.”

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