Manufacturing Ideas to Watch – Issue 12 (April 2018)

In this issue of Manufacturing Ideas to Watch: Metal Matrix Nanocomposites, Improved Cathode Production, Solid Lubricants, Improvement of Time-of-flight Measurements, and Making Improved Electrodes. Let us know what you think by leaving a comment!

Metal Matrix Nanocomposite Process Innovations

Diagram of Metal Matrix Nanocomposites
Image Source: Patent Application US20170204500A1

Metal matrix nanocomposites (MMNCs) are lightweight, strong, and ductile materials with applications in a variety of industries including metal casting, defense, aerospace, automotive, and electronics. Their performance is enhanced by the ability to fabricate highly dense and uniform nanocomposites. However, current dispersion technologies struggle to uniformly disperse nanoparticles at the high densities necessary to yield high quality MMNCs. Researchers at UCLA developed a novel evaporation-based method to concentrate nanoparticles in an MMNC by partially evaporating the carrier metal from the carrier and matrix mixture. At the same time, a thermally activated self-stabilization mechanism ensures uniform particle distribution, resulting in the dense and uniform nanoparticle dispersions needed for improved MMNC performance. Additionally, the evaporation-based method allows for recovery and recycling of both the metal and nanoparticle components of the reaction.
Xiaochun Li, University of California, Los Angeles

Continuous, Environmentally Friendly, Cost-effective Cathode Production

Close-up images of Continuous Nanostructures
Image Source: Research article – Solvothermal Synthesis, Development, and Performance of LiFePO4 Nanostructures

Anodes and cathodes are essential to battery functionality, and the quality of their nanostructure is essential to realizing charge cycle stability. Currently these structures are primarily manufactured with high temperature solid state synthesis methods. These manufacturing processes use environmentally hazardous solvents and are costly. A new low-cost and environmentally friendly process has been developed by researchers at University of California, Riverside to manufacture battery-critical nanostructures, such as LiFePO4 (LFP) based nanostructures. By raising and lowering the pH of a solution of metal salt nanoparticles, the process can create nanostructures with highly reproducible morphology at relatively low temperatures and with environmentally friendly solvents. This results in lower manufacturing costs in cathode and anode production. In addition, the produced structures are uniformly dispersed and retain homogeneity in size and shape, providing better performance and capacity.
David Kisailus & Jianxin Zhu, University of California, Riverside

Solid Lubricants for Extreme Conditions

Chart showing effectiveness of solid lubricant
Image Source: Press Release

Lubricants are essential for a range of advanced manufacturing machinery, however, liquid lubricants struggle to perform under extreme conditions. Researchers at Purdue University have developed a new solid-state lubricant that is a viable option for extreme operating environments. The new liquid-free lubricant is a composite made from a slurry of graphene and zinc oxide nanoparticles bound together with polyvinylidene difluoride. Graphene has properties of extreme mechanical strength and ultralow friction while the zinc oxide enables durable binding of graphene to the contact surfaces. This new type of non-liquid lubricant has been shown to significantly reduce friction and wear under extreme conditions.
Vilas Pol & Farshid Sadeghi, Purdue University

1,000-fold Improvement on the Resolution of Time-of-flight Measurements

Graph showing improvement in Tim-of-flight Measurements
The GHz gap in correlation Time of Flight imaging. The modulation frequencies of correlation ToF imagers have steadily increased over the past decade. The Microsoft Kinect at 120 MHz has the highest modulation frequency among commodity devices. This research extends the scope of modulated Time of Flight imaging to the realm of GigaHertz frequencies (green region). Image Source: Research Paper

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology presented a new way of using time-of-flight optical measurements, the basis for Lidar technology, to significantly improve the resolution of distance measurements. The team combined methods from optical interferometry and from Lidar to get the best aspects of both. The result is an optical system that can measure objects two meters away with three micrometer resolution using optical components already available. The technique can be applied to autonomous vehicles as well as a whole host of manufacturing applications where distance is important but optical triangulation or other types of optical sensors are unsuitable.
Achuta Kadambi & Ramesh Raskar, MIT

Making Improved and Inexpensive Electrodes for Supercapacitors

Coin cell supercapacitor
Full x-ray reconstruction of a coin cell supercapacitor. Image Source: Press Release

Supercapacitors can store and deliver energy faster than batteries, but they tend to have lower charge capacity. A team of engineers at the University of Washington developed a supercapacitor electrode material with improved capabilities. Ultra thin sheets (10 – 100 atoms-thick) of WS2 or MoS2 are promising materials for boosting charge capacity, however they are limited by mechanical stability. To provide mechanical support, the team embedded the thin sheets into a carbon aerogel (which can act as a crude electrode itself), resulting in 127% higher capacitance than the aerogel alone. The team expects to reach higher capacitance with thinner WS2 or MoS2 sheets. This supercapacitor material was made using a refined method for making aerogels that is much faster than established methods, making it especially attractive for advanced applications.
Peter Pauzauskie, University of Washington


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