The rapid route to manufacturing success

Sustainable and knowledge-based employment have been brought a step closer for Europe”s manufacturing industry, thanks to one EU-funded project. Work carried out has the potential to introduce novel changes to product design and manufacture processes.

Given the intense competition that Europe’s manufacturing industries face from the Far East, there is an urgent need to transform the sector and also thus boost the economy. A transformation calls for two critical moves: the first from primarily resource-based–driven manufacturing to knowledge-based–driven manufacturing; and the second from mass-produced, single-use products to new concepts of customisation, eco-efficiency, sustainability and higher added value.

European researchers are confident the above can be achieved with Rapid Manufacturing (RM), the evolution and current technological capabilities of which have the potential to trigger a new industrial and digital revolution. With product and product tool development and manufacturing enjoying faster turnaround thanks to rapid prototyping, RM is thus also an ideal production method for parts as well as end products.

The Custom-fit project set out to contribute to such a high-tech transformation of Europe’s manufacturing sector with a view to regaining and boosting competitiveness. Team members aimed to develop and integrate a breakthrough manufacturing process that delivers unrestricted geometrical freedom, gradient structures of various material compositions with less labour and improved RM machines and processes.

Focusing on products that enhance citizens” quality of life and improve applications suited for large market potential, work centred on medical goods and customisation of consumer durables.

As RM calls for identification of the requirements of the final product, reverse engineering, a common method used to capture 3D shapes, has much to offer this approach for achieving radically different product designs. There is a large market potential for Custom-fit products; the process has already brought commercial and financial benefits to both the medical and consumer durables sectors. 

Applications enable companies to overcome legal, commercial, strategic, financial and supply chain barriers — considerations that were taken into account by Custom-fit before proceeding with technological developments. Having showcased the benefits of RM — lower costs, materials enhancements and customisation, for example — Custom-fit succeeded in putting the spotlight on ways to revolutionise the European manufacturing industry.

Enhancing Solar Energy capture while decreasing costs

Researchers developed cost-effective double-sided solar cells to capture both direct and reflected solar radiation.

Worldwide dependence on fossil fuels for energy has led to a variety of important problems including environmental effects of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, fluctuations in energy security related to supply and demand, high energy costs, depletion of natural resources and limited access by people in under-developed countries.

Solar energy captured by photovoltaic (PV) solar cells offers solutions to many of these issues in the form of clean and renewable energy. In addition, exploiting solar radiation reflected from the Earth’s surface together with direct radiation has the potential to significantly increase the amount of energy captured, as it is estimated to be on the order of 30–50 % of direct radiation. However, current methods of manufacturing two-sided (bifacial) solar cells are complicated and expensive.

The ‘Novel bifacial single-substrate solar cell utilising reflected solar radiation’ (Reflects) project was undertaken by European researchers to employ simple manufacturing processes for two-sided solar cells, thus providing a cost-effective means of enhancing capture of solar radiation.

Specifically, researchers used established Lithuanian technology for manufacturing single-sided mono-crystalline silicium (c-Si) solar cells to prepare the front end of the cell and essentially copied the process to produce the back end. This greatly simplifies the current manufacturing process for bifacial solar cells.

Reflects project outcomes have the potential to significantly increase the widespread implementation of PV cells for capturing solar radiation, both direct and indirect, with dramatic effects on GHG emissions, energy security/access and costs.

Commercialisation of the bifacial solar cells could thus protect the planet while enhancing the quality of life for people in underdeveloped countries with ample sunlight and yet limited access to electricity for simple appliances.

Reflect’s elegant and cost-effective solution has the potential to attract investors to an industry largely dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises, thus creating jobs and boosting economies around the world.

The Earth’s gravity revealed

After just two years in orbit, ESA’s GOCE satellite has gathered enough data to map Earth’s gravity with unrivalled precision. Scientists now have access to the most accurate model of the ‘geoid’ ever produced to further our understanding of how Earth works.

The new geoid was unveiled today at the Fourth International GOCE User Workshop hosted at the Technische Universität München in Munich, Germany. Media representatives and scientists from around the world have been treated to the best view yet of global gravity.

The geoid is the surface of an ideal global ocean in the absence of tides and currents, shaped only by gravity. It is a crucial reference for measuring ocean circulation, sea-level change and ice dynamics – all affected by climate change.

Prof. Reiner Rummel, former Head of the Institute for Astronomical and Physical Geodesy at the Technische Universität München, said, “We see a continuous stream of excellent GOCE gradiometry data coming in. With each new two-month cycle, our GOCE gravity field model is getting better and better.  

Understanding ocean circulation
To understand ocean circulation

“Now the time has come to use GOCE data for science and applications. I am particularly excited about the first oceanographic results.

“They show that GOCE will give us dynamic topography and circulation patterns of the oceans with unprecedented quality and resolution. I am confident that these results will help improve our understanding of the dynamics of world oceans.”

The two-day workshop provides the science community with the latest information on the performance of the satellite and details about data products and user services.

New GOCE geoid
New GOCE geoid

Participants are also discussing how the GOCE geoid will make advances in ocean and climate studies, and improve our understanding of Earth’s internal structure.

For example, the gravity data from GOCE are helping to develop a deeper knowledge of the processes that cause earthquakes, such as the event that recently devastated Japan.

Since this earthquake was caused by tectonic plate movement under the ocean, the motion cannot be observed directly from space. However, earthquakes create signatures in gravity data, which could be used to understand the processes leading to these natural disasters and ultimately help to predict them.

The GOCE satellite was launched in March 2009 and has now collected more than 12-months of gravity data.

GOCE in orbit
GOCE in orbit

Volker Liebig, Director of ESA’s Earth Observation Programmes said, “Benefiting from a period of exceptional low solar activity, GOCE has been able to stay in low orbit and achieve coverage six weeks ahead of schedule.

“This also means that we still have fuel to continue measuring gravity until the end of 2012, thereby doubling the life of the mission and adding even more precision to the GOCE geoid.”

GOCE has achieved many firsts in Earth observation. Its gradiometer – six highly sensitive accelerometers measuring gravity in 3D – is the first in space.

It orbits at the lowest altitude of any observation satellite to gather the best data on Earth’s gravity. The design of this sleek one-tonne satellite is unique.

In addition, GOCE uses an innovative ion engine that generates tiny forces to compensate for any drag the satellite experiences as it orbits through the remnants of Earth’s atmosphere.

Prof. Liebig added, “You could say that, at its early conception, GOCE was more like science fiction. GOCE has now clearly demonstrated that it is a state-of-the-art mission.”

Rune Floberghagen, ESA’s GOCE Mission Manager, noted “This is a highly significant step for the mission. We now look forward to the coming months, when additional data will add to the accuracy of the GOCE geoid, further benefiting our data users.”


Appraisal – Capability Maturity Model Integration

Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) is a process improvement approach whose goal is to help organizations improve their performance. CMMI can be used to guide process improvement across a project, a division, or an entire organization.

CMMI in software engineering and organizational development is a process improvement approach that provides organizations with the essential elements for effective process improvement. CMMI is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by Carnegie Mellon University.

According to the Software Engineering Institute (SEI, 2008), CMMI helps “integrate traditionally separate organizational functions, set process improvement goals and priorities, provide guidance for quality processes, and provide a point of reference for appraising current processes.

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