This week on Best in Manufacturing, learn about a new manufacturing material, microspheres, "chabuduo" culture in China, eliminating metal defects and the importance of cyber security in manufacturing!

Best in Manufacturing – October 9, 2016

Each Sunday, we publish a list of top articles and other content related to manufacturing in areas like quality control, product development, supply chain management, sourcing, auditing and law.

1. Diamond nanothreads: another new manufacturing material

Amazing discoveries in materials technology seem to be happening at a breakneck pace. Just recently I wrote about super advanced manufacturing materials. And shortly before that, carbon nanotubes (see #3 in that article). Now it seems there’s been yet another breakthrough: diamond nanothreads (DNT).

manufacturing materialMake no mistake – DNT doesn’t actually look like a diamond. Rather, its name stems from its structure on the atomic level. DNT’s carbon atoms are arranged in a way similar to that of a diamond, which grant it enormous strength.

One key difference between DNT and carbon nanotubes is that the former has kinks of hydrogen in its hollow carbon structure. This characteristic allows DNT to be more flexible and less brittle than carbon nanotubes.

The man responsible for pioneering research into DNT, Dr. Haifei Zhan, believes

[DNT’s structure makes it] a great candidate for a range of uses. It's possible DNT may become as ubiquitous as plastic in the future, used in everything from clothing to cars.

And this is just the potential of one new discovery. When combined with nanocomposites and other materials, who knows what previously unthinkable products will come to life?

If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Zhan’s research into DNT, check out the full article in the link below:

Why Diamond Nanothread Could Prove Priceless for Manufacturing – Kate Haggman,

2. The massive potential of uniform microspheres

What are microspheres? Simply put, they’re small spheres made from materials (like polymers or glass) that range from 50 nanometers to 2 millimeters. They’re widely used in the pharmaceutical industry as a means of drug delivery to a patient. Other uses include injection molding, ceramics, insulation and more.

However useful microspheres are, they can be difficult to manufacture. Reliably producing microspheres of the same size isn’t always possible with current fabrication techniques, and trying to do so can  mean spending a lot of resources on quality control. But researchers from MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories have discovered a way to quickly produce consistently-sized microspheres.

The researchers accomplished this feat by using a device made by a commercial 3D printer. Since the new fabrication method for uniform microspheres comes from a 3D printer, users can keep costs low and quickly develop variations of microspheres for new applications.

One professor at Stanford University believes that this new method,

…has the possibility of revolutionizing the making of very sophisticated large-area devices. This would be the kind of technology that would allow you to do the Internet of things, to build functionality into structures at much, much lower cost than you could by gluing a silicon chip on. And you could actually have higher performance because the sensing is built into the physical structure.

Aside from this potential, microspheres might also further enable self-healing materials. And when you add all these promising benefits up, that means importers and consumers might one day be buying products that look simple on the surface but are remarkably complex on a small scale.

If you’d like to learn more about microspheres, check out the full article in the link below:

Manufacturing Microspheres – Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office

3. Cutting costs means “close enough” product quality in China

In Chinese, the phrase 差不多, or chàbùduō, means “close enough”. Were your sneakers supposed to use 100 stitches, but only had 90? Chabuduo. Did your order contain 10 defective units when the max you agreed upon with the factory was 5? Chabuduo.manufacturing material

This attitude doesn’t pervade every factory in China. There are many that know repeat business depends on products being complete and well-made. Unfortunately, there are also some that operate under this chabuduo mantra without much regard for true product quality or customer satisfaction.

As the author points out, awareness of this attitude in your supplier is critical for a few reasons:

  • Chabuduo might result in very cheap materials and shoddy workmanship;
  • It could mean a refusal to study and respect customer specifications;
  • It might encourage minimal effort at maintaining assets in their original condition; and
  • It might lead to not recognizing good craftsmanship

An example of the first point could be using materials that are similar to what you want, but don't quite meet your requirements. A supplier might say it will use grade-A steel, but will eventually use inferior grades as time goes on to save money and improve its profit margin. When confronted with the problem, the supplier will say – you guessed it – chabuduo.

Do you think this attitude shows any signs of changing or is it going to stay in China for many years to come?

If you’d like to learn more about the chabuduo attitude, check out the full article in the link below:

The Cost of Cost Cutting in China – Renaud Anjoran, China Manufacturing Consultants

4. Eliminating metal defects

When metal is cut, it often experiences a pesky problem: sheer bands. The deformation that results from sheer bands can lead to weaker metal, which then could lead to defective or substandard products.

Thankfully, however, researchers from Purdue University have discovered a way to reduce the frequency of sheer bands. The new method works by controlling the saw tooth patterns created during metal cutting.

This improved process could have applications in the aerospace industry. For all we know, it could also be used in the automotive sector and eventually in the production of smaller, everyday products that require metal.

If you’d like to learn the full details of this discovery, you can read Purdue University’s press release about it. Otherwise, if you’d like to see the video about the solution the talented minds at Purdue have cooked up, check out the link below:

Manufacturing Minute: A Simple Fix For Metal Defects – Andrew Szal,

5. Manufacturers: don’t forget cybersecurity

Trade secrets, schematics, proprietary production processes, you name it – if it’s digital, it’s vulnerable. And for manufacturers that rely on increasingly digital control systems and design manufacturing materialmethods, neglecting this area of security can cost you dearly.

As a result of Chinese hacking, for example, the US International Trade Commission estimates that American companies have lost more than $300 billion. The US Justice Department calls this hacking the “Great Brain Robbery,” and it threatens the overall foundation, financial stability, and international competitiveness of many businesses.

The case of Chinese hacking is just one example. There are hackers of many other nationalities who stand to benefit from plundering your unprotected manufacturing systems.

Specifically, the article mentions how,

Cyberattacks can cause real-world damage to a business which can result in downtime, stolen data, employee injury and beyond. Digital systems control nearly every aspect of the modern manufacturing enterprise so blast furnaces, chemical storage systems and fail-safes can all be attacked and remotely manipulated.

The article points out ransomware as a specific example, which is software that controls your manufacturing and/or computer systems until you pay a ransom to the hacker who hijacked your systems. Sounds like a nightmare situation, right?

Protecting your company is about more than just locking the doors to the business at night. Especially with the advent of the Internet of Things, it’s also important to have a protective wall around your digital presence so that you're not vulnerable to a cyberattack.

If you’d like to learn more about cyber security and how you can protect yourself, check out the article in the link below:

Cybersecurity for the Modern Manufacturing Enterprise – Editorial staff, Manufacturing Talk Radio

We’re constantly scanning the web for top manufacturing stories and news. But if you’d like to submit an article for consideration for our weekly Best in Manufacturing, send us a message and let us know.

4 ways importers conduct product inspections ebook


4 Critical Quality Controls For Cosmetics Packaging