Editor's Choice


From the editor's desk: Another dimension

First Quarter 2022 Editor's Choice


Kim Roberts, Editor

It is with great sadness that I am communicating the news of the passing of my colleague Steven Meyer, who was the editor of our sister publication, SA Instrumentation & Control. It was a privilege to have assisted him as associate editor over the years. He may have been quiet but Steven was a very cool guy with a huge intellect. I will miss his links to funky 90s rock music, our companiable journeys to conferences and functions and our chats about the latest developments in the world of automation. When I first knew him we hadn’t even heard of IIoT. A highlight for me was the afternoon we spent in a flight simulator at OR Tambo, courtesy of Beckhoff, where we somehow narrowly missed crashing the plane. Go well Steven, I’ll miss you.

The speed with which Covid vaccines have been developed by drawing on decades of earlier research is one example of the power of science and technology – ‘it takes years to create an overnight success’. Steven loved new technology trends and he would have enjoyed The Economist’s recent list of ‘22 emerging technologies worth watching in 2022’. They range from 3D-printed housing, to flying electric taxis (oh my goodness), to solar geoengineering, to meetings in the metaverse, to wireless electricity (charge your electric car while its sitting in your driveway).

Having recently built a house the traditional way, I have to say that 3D-printed houses caught my eye. They are created by extruding concrete through nozzles to gradually build up layers to form the structure of a house. There is no difference in the walls built by a 3D printer and the walls built by a normal construction crew; but builders can get the measurements wrong – a robot can’t. A project that would usually take weeks can now be done in hours and at a fraction of the cost. Material waste is next to nothing as the printer uses exactly the amount of material it needs. Producing buildings layer by layer with a lattice structure inside also results in big reductions in cost; and the impact on the environment is greatly reduced. A home created with 3D printing has a 70% lower carbon footprint. Its early days but the possibilities are endless. How cool would that be to have a 3D-printed house?

There is also huge potential for 3D printing in the world of hydraulics and its already taking off. According to Bosch-Rexroth, some of the trends shaping the hydraulics industry are energy efficiency, noise reduction and reduced installation space and the benefits of 3D fit right in here. Many hydraulic equipment manufacturers are starting to explore this technology and the possibility for using it to produce hydraulic components like manifolds, servo valves and adapter blocks. Advanced designs using 3D printing make it possible to include new features, reduce the weight and size of the components and improve the overall performance of the hydraulic system. It allows manufacturers to make parts lighter and smaller and to redesign the internal geometries of a hydraulic component to optimise fluid flow and reduce pressure drop.

 Complex geometries and internal configurations that are not possible with traditional CNC machining processes can be created. For example engineers can position fluid flow channels inside a manifold right where they are needed and in a variety of shapes and sizes. This means flow channels can have curved shapes and be spaced closer together than with normal manifolds, which makes the manifold lighter and more compact. Curved flow paths can improve flow efficiency by 30 to 70%. Meanwhile the elimination of auxiliary drilling takes away the chance of fluid leaks.

In addition to reducing weight, 3D printing also allows for more compact parts that better fit into space-constrained areas. This advantage makes them ideal for applications that require high precision and light weight without compromising on strength or wear resistance. The ability to rapidly produce multiple prototypes also results in faster product development, reduces the time to market and lowers costs.

So what else does the future hold? BBC Science Focus magazine has more to say. There are innovations happening right now that are straight out of science fiction. Around the corner are robots that can read minds to help tetraplegic patients interact with the world; environmentally-friendly lab-grown dairy products; artificial eyes; 3D-printed bones; planes powered by hydrogen; airports for drones, energy storing bricks; digital twins that track your health; and smartwatches that are powered by your sweat. There is plenty to look forward to in the world of future technology. I think I’ll fasten my seatbelt.


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