Month: July 2020

Engineers vs. Nature: An Impossible Bridge

Most engineers have the dream of completing an almost unattainable work of genius. Sometimes, the engineer dreams of creating a new way to propel a car, while others dream of fantastic buildings reaching new heights into the sky never before achieved by anyone else. 

With the completion of the Rio-Antirrio Bridge, the engineers involved in the project achieved greatness. In the early 19th-century, prime minister of Greece Charilaos Trikoupis wanted a bridge built over the Gulf of Corinth. The structure needed to be able to overcome serious natural and geological complications in order to have a sound, usable, and lasting construct. 

A plethora of problems needed to be solved to make a permanent structure. Read the article below to find out just how many issues engineers solved to create the modern marvel Rio-Antirio Bridge.

Challenge #1: No Solid Foundations Underwater

The Gulf of Corinth is 65 meters deep, and at the bottom is sand and silt for hundreds of meters down. Bridges usually need a solid base to be placed on, optimally bedrock. 

A solid foundation is vital for a bridge, especially in areas with frequent earthquakes. The silt on the bottom of the gulf combined with an earthquake causes liquefaction, making stable soil behave like a liquid.

Engineers needed to find a solution to anchor the bridge when an earthquake turns the silty soil into what effectively is water. They found it in the roots of a plant growing in India customarily used to make incense.

Vetiver grass grows in India's swamps, and the oil in their roots are used to make a sweet-smelling incense. The plant's roots went down seven meters, and the bridge designers noticed how the roots stabilized the soil around them. 

The wet sand was stabilized by installing 200 metal piles in the sand underneath three out of four piers. Engineers now had a solid foundation to keep the bridge from sinking into the silt in an earthquake. 

Challenge #2: Earthquakes Make the Ground Slide Laterally

While each pier weighs about 171 thousand tons and is 90 meters across, the shaking of an earthquake could cause it to fall. The piers sliding around on the ground means an edge could catch and dig into the soil, causing them to tip over and take the bridge down. 

Unless the piers had some give when the ground began to shake, the bridge would come down in the first significant earthquake after its completion. Engineers found if they replaced the sand underneath the base of the piers with gravel on top of the metal piles, it would give the base room to move. 

The piers would have room to slide on top of the ground and not catch while still having a good strong foundation underneath


Challenge #3: The Bridge Deck Could Buckle When the Piers Move

The good, solid foundation was an excellent start for the bridge, but how do you connect the deck? An already unconventional design for a foundation makes the bridge deck a problematic task. Connecting the deck to piers that are able to move across the gulf's bottom means that in an earthquake, the deck could buckle or break. 

To protect the bridge deck from collapse, the engineers came up with a way to separate the deck from the piers' movement and still be functional. They studied how a hammock stayed almost steady and smooth in rough seas, this gave designers the idea to suspend the bridge above the piers.

A hammock demonstrates the pendulum principle. Large cables hold the bridge deck on a pivot supported by the piers. If an earthquake shakes the piers, the bridge decking will swing back and forth over its original position.

However, by solving the issue of the shaking piers taking the decking in opposite directions and breaking it apart, the engineers created another problem.

Challenge #4: The Bridge Deck Could Hit the Piers as it Swings Freely

The freely moving deck meant a strong enough earthquake could send the 75,000 tons of road swinging into one of the piers' four arms. Something would have to be created to keep the bridge decking from swinging too far in an earthquake because once something that large starts moving, it is difficult to stop.

Engineers ended up creating something called a Viscous Damper, which is a brake system using a liquid to help slow down the motion of an object. The braking system designed for the bridge using oil and pistons is the largest in the world. It turns the kinetic energy of the bridge deck movement into heat as it slows movement to prevent the bridge from destroying itself. 

Challenge #5: The Gulf of Corinth is a Natural Wind Tunnel

Even with the dampers in place to help keep the bridge movements in check, another problem engineers had to solve was the wind on the Gulf of Corinth, causing the bridge to swing continuously. This made the bridge uncrossable unless they could find a way to keep the bridge deck from moving except during an earthquake. 

Engineers created a predictable failure: a fuse attached to the pistons under the bridge to keep the bridge steady, up to a point. High winds would cause the bridge decking to move without them keeping the pistons in place.

However, the fuse has a “fail” feature. When enough movement from an earthquake happens, the fuse holding the piston in place snaps off to allow the viscous dampers to move and protect the bridge decking. 

Challenge #6: Vortex Shedding

The gale-force winds coming off the gulf create another problem. Vortex shedding, or swirls of air around an object, cause the cables to vibrate and shake, which leads to metal fatigue that could cause the bridge decking to collapse. 

Installing a helical strake was the solution, a large metal pole with a coil like a metal spring winding its way to the top. Winds hit the spirals and break apart to even out over the air, preventing vortex shedding and keeping the cables safe.

Problem Solving to Greatness

The extraordinary Rio-Antirio bridge is a modern marvel created out of a chain of ingenuity to solve the many problems that arose when trying to create it. Even with the high seismic activity and high winds, the engineers figured out how to make the bridge sustainable and even got it finished four months ahead of schedule.

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Is XR Tech Going to Transform Trade Shows in 2020 and Beyond?

Have your favorite trade shows been canceled or postponed?  

Many companies are transforming their traditionally in-person shows to digital experiences. This means that you may be visiting trade shows very differently in the near future.

You could tour booths using a virtual headset or browse from your computer screen. As more and more companies take advantage of this technology, you're going to start seeing a lot of changes. 

Let us show you some examples of how XR can become the new way to do trade shows, meetings, and conference calls.  

What is XR?

XR — or "extended reality," a term used to encompass VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality), and MR (mixed reality).

How Is XR Transforming Trade Shows?

WHY IS XR GOOD FOR TRADE SHOWS — 

  • COVID travel and group size restrictions

  • Costs of travel and accommodations

  • Employees that are unable to travel (childcare, etc.)

  • Eliminates travel to areas of the world where travel might be unsafe

  • Limitations of physical spaces — you can sell more tickets, have bigger audiences, meet more people in less time with XR

Examples of XR Trade Shows and Expos

Let’s take a look at some real examples of trade shows as well as videos from some of the top XR trade show technologies that showcase how their tools can be used to transform trade shows and events.

iWorkinSport Education Virtual Expo 2019

In December of 2019, iWorkinSport held a virtual expo. Ten sports management programs showed their courses to over 550 students from all over the world.

Modest Tree

Modest Tree’s virtual trade show product, Modest3D Xplorer, allows you to make a customizable virtual booth. These trade shows can be accessed from a PC, a mobile device, or a VR headset.

QODE 2020 Conference

This video shows a virtual trade show from the participant’s viewpoint. When you first sign in, participants are shown how to navigate the exhibit floor. You can see and interact with other participants, by swapping business cards, messaging, or simply waving. Clicking on a podium takes you to the booth where you can find a link to their website and learn more about the company.

meetyoo’s Virtual Fair

Meetyoo’s virtual fair starts in the main hall, where you can gather information on the vendors and the events taking place. You can join a live session in the auditorium or you can go to the show floor where you can find various interactive booths.

Faber Audiovisuals

Faber Audiovisuals is a virtual event studio with a stage and green screen set up that allows you to modify your background while on a live video session. Their setup enables you to interact with your audience and virtually bring on other speakers.

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Robots vs. Cobots: What do Designers and Manufacturers Need to Know?

Have you heard talk about a new type of robot called a cobot? Are you wondering what makes them different from the conventional industrial robots that are already in use?

The benefits of cobots in comparison to those of their traditional robot counterparts are what make them so popular. It explains why so many manufacturers are integrating them into their assembly lines.

According to the International Federation of Robotics, cobots are expected to lead the robotics industry in the coming years.

Keep reading to learn what cobots are, the top 3 benefits they provide to manufacturers, and how you can stay up to date with the latest innovations. 

What Are Cobots?

Cobots are collaborative robots designed to work alongside humans without the need for separate walls or cages to keep people safe. Watch the video below for a demonstration of how they work.

Top 3 Benefits of Cobots

Cobots will be in manufacturing facilities worldwide before long, and for a good reason. The following 3 benefits alone make cobots well worth the investment, but you’ll find there are many more when you add them to your assembly lines.

To explore everything there is to know about robots and cobots, visit the Robotic Industries Association website.

Benefit #1: Cobots Can Work Alongside Humans

The number one benefit to cobots is that they can work alongside your human workforce. You don’t have to worry about extensive health and safety regulations like you do with other robots.

Cobots have built-in features to make them safer to work with. Some of those features include:

  • Safety monitored stops that automatically make the cobot stop when it comes into contact with a person 

  • Power and force limiting sensors

  • Speed and separation monitoring 

  • Hand guiding

Cobots are safe enough for a restaurant in Japan to use one to make pancakes, ice cream cones, and cocktails for their customers. 

“The current robot can make about 5-6 [pancakes] per hour. It’s not fast at all, but it does the work neatly. As Japan ages and the population of the youth declines further, we’re experimenting with how we could operate this restaurant efficiently with fewer people.”
- Kotaro Takada, Executive Director of Huis Ten Bosch

Benefit #2: They Perform the Jobs Humans Don’t Want

Boxing, taping, and shipping packages is a particularly tedious job. It’s ergonomically terrible, and chronic back pain among factory workers is common.

60% of industrial workers report experiencing lower back pain regularly. With the introduction of cobots, factory workers can shift to better jobs within or outside the company that won’t take such a toll on their mental and physical health.

Packing and shipment facilities aren’t the only companies that can use cobots to allow their workers to do more desirable jobs. Any facility that has jobs that involve highly repetitive tasks that aren’t ergonomic can significantly benefit from investing in cobots.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the CEO of Rapoo (Michael Zeng) answers questions about replacing workers with cobots and their impacts on China’s unemployment rate. 

“...in China there’s been a very big salary increase beginning from 2008. So we feel a little pressure from the labor side. So we decided to change a lot of our manufacturing system to robots,” said Michael.

When asked if he was worried about the workers he would lay off in favor of adding more cobots, he responded by saying, “No, they can easily get jobs. No problem. They will easily find another job because China is growing very fast.” 

Benefit #3: Your Productivity & Product Quality Skyrockets

As most people know, robots are more efficient and precise than humans, so it should be no surprise to learn that cobots will boost your facility's productivity and quality.

One company located in Oregon found that cobots increased their productivity by 30% when used in screw-driving and box-erecting applications.

They even noticed the quality of their products was improved because the cobots never missed any screws, and their precision was unparalleled.

"The screw driving application had some quality issues with screws being missing because the holes in the housing were kind of hard to see into, so, with the robot, it won't miss any of the screws. It'll hit em all. And we've seen, yeah, we've seen the quality go up because of it." - Sam Jacobson, Production Engineering Supervisor for Darex

Should Your Company Invest in Cobots?

Investing in cobots is a big decision, and it shouldn’t be made lightly. You have to weigh the pros and cons and compare costs and risks to determine if it’s a smart investment for your facility.

Keep in mind, your competitors are adopting this new technology at alarming rates, and if you don’t do the same, you might be left behind.

The number of industrial robots purchased is expected to grow from 381K in 2017 to 630k in 2021, and currently, China is the leading supplier.

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Top Engineering Topics for 2020

Are you ready to geek out on the latest advancements in your field? 

Or just curious about the emerging technology in today’s top engineering topics? 

We know how exciting it is to see the technological world changing. And we know how important it is for you to keep up. 

But it can be time-consuming sifting through hundreds of thousands of articles to see what’s happening. You don’t want to miss breaking edge discoveries— but you still need time to smash through your own boundaries. 

That’s why we put this list together of the top engineering topics we think show the most promise for 2020. 

Topic #1: AI, Robotics, and Machine Learning

It is no secret that advancements in AI and machine learning create a positive impact on all areas in engineering. This is especially true in 2020 as we move forward with generative design and manufacturing robots. 

This year, we see radical changes in the form of generative design with AI and machine learning. Generative design uses AI algorithms to create and calculate for us— without the limits of human imagination. 

When appropriately used, the generative design reduces human error. If, for example, you build a house and everything uses a generative design, everything should integrate and operate how it's supposed to. 

We also see an AI revolution in manufacturing! Mainly due to the 16.5 billion dollars recently invested in manufacturing robotics. 

These robots are great at performing repetitive tasks or things that may be too dangerous for humans. But they've lacked dexterity and flexibility. 

With the help of AI-controlled machinery, though, robots are becoming more sophisticated. And with that more in-depth learning, they will gauge the size and depth of objects better— improving their dexterity and flexibility. 

Topic #2: Vehicles That Drive Themselves

Self-driving vehicles didn't exactly happen as quickly as most people thought, but the evolution of autonomous cars picked up pace in 2020. 

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International identified five-levels for driving automation. 

  • Level 0 – no driver automation
  • Level 1 – some driver assistance
  • Level 2 – partial automation
  • Level 3 – conditional automation
  • Level 4 – high automation
  • Level 5 – full automation

Parking assistance and automatic braking are some driver assistance features that we see in most modern cars today. But that is about as far as we have gotten. 

Ford initially anticipated the release of level 5 automation in 2021. They have since revised that timeline. 

Ford now hopes to release a highly automated vehicle, level 4, by the end of 2021. 

But for 2020, we are likely to see several level 2 releases. And possibly even some level 3, if technology continues to move at its current pace. 

Honda, Toyota, Volvo, and Hyundai are all planning to release their version of a level 3 vehicle this year. 

Topic #3: Environmentally-Friendly Engineering

Clean energy and environmental engineering continue to receive high investments. And with the affordability of technology these days, 2020 shows an increase in competition and surges in renewable energy. 

According to Deloitte's Renewable Energy Outlook for 2020, offshore wind farms and PV solar systems are the areas to focus on. 

Some engineers, though, are putting their efforts into helping the world's water scarcity issue. One attractive solution offered for this is "Skywater" technology. 

Skywater technology creates potable water by removing humidity from the air. 

We also see new environmentally-friendly building materials— things like eco-bricks decrease coastal erosion by removing sand aggregate use. 

And by using eco-cement, construction companies are releasing less carbon dioxide into the air. Regular cement produced a lot of Co2 during its decarbonization process. So, by using eco-cement, construction companies are releasing less carbon dioxide into the air.

Emerging technology and innovations in 2020 will help fight the war on global warming by helping us meet environmental engineers' goals. 

Some of those goals include: 

  • Boosting human health and protecting the environment 
  • Finding ways to reduce air pollution 
  • Prevent the spread of diseases
  • Make drinking water accessible around the globe 

Topic #4: Advances in Nanotechnology

The development of new nano-functional materials puts Nanotechnology in the top engineering topics of 2020. All these new innovative materials are making way for quantum computing and so much more. 

Nanotechnology is changing how we make smartphones by replacing semiconductors made of rare and expensive elements with nanotubes.

Nanotubes are a new nano-functional material made from carbon, solid UV-laser, white-LED, and photonic-crystal materials. It will be useful in things with LED displays like smartphones.

But one of the most significant nanotechnology developments in 2020, is the potential we are starting to see in graphene. 

While graphene is not new, we've used it in cooling technology for laptops and tennis rackets before— 2020 is the year that graphene finally takes flight. 

It's a lighter and more flexible option than steel, making it an excellent choice for vehicles and airplanes. 

Aerospace engineers are excited to use graphene to design a lighter-weight aircraft, reducing fuel consumption. And Automotive manufacturers plan to use it as well. 

Topic #5: Bioengineering

3D printing— need I say more? With all the things going on in biomedical engineering, 3D printing is the hottest point to discuss. 

Because of it, bioengineering is quite possibly the most exciting of our top engineering topics in 2020. 

The rise of biomedical 3D printing is going to change the world. These printers already replicate muscle and bone, so it's only a matter of time before we see them creating human organs.

Although it is still in the research phase, we will see human transplant organs in the near future.  

Other things happening in biomedical engineering include growing spider silk from bacteria. Spider silk is a sturdy but flexible material used in the textile industry. 

It's impossible to farm spiders, though, at an industrial scale. So AMSilk started genetically engineering bacteria. 

AMSilk celebrated the launch of its first product earlier this year. It was a luxury watch with a strap made out of spider silk. 

“On the one hand, consumers want products with better performance properties, and on the other, they are demanding more sustainable materials and production methods. Traditional materials cannot meet both demands, but biofabricated materials can.” - Jens Klein

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Using McDonald’s Cooking Oil for 3D Printing

If the cost to your wallet is what keeps you from investing in the growing field of 3D printing, the University of Toronto’s Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences recently found a way to make cheaper, environmentally-friendly resin to use in machines.

Their teams figured out they could recycle used McDonald’s cooking oil to make the resin you use in your 3D Printers.

With the discovery of this new way to make resin, these students found a way to recycle waste and save people money while getting the same — if not better — quality supplies. 

Keep reading to learn how McDonald’s cooking oil can save you money on 3D printing costs and learn how to stay up to date on the latest industry news.

The Experiment That Lead to a Break Through

The 3D printing craze has swept across the populace like wildfire — from the hobbyist wanting to print fun things for their family and friends to the engineer needing a custom part for their new project. 

With 3D printing becoming more popular with every day that passes, it isn't a surprise to see more and more schools investing in the printers for their students to learn about and use for various purposes. 

From creating new art pieces to making pieces of a large engineering project for class, the machines are getting a wide variety of uses for all. This led to a science lab buying a printer to create a receptacle to protect their samples for their experiments. 

The University of Toronto's Environmental NMR Center uses high-quality light projecting resin to make the parts to use in their NMR spectrometer, a machine similar to MRI's for medical diagnostics. 

Professor Andre Simpson bought the printer for the lab to help the students study biochemical responses to tiny organisms to environmental changes. 

They needed the printer to make custom parts to use in the NMR spectrometer to house the microorganisms and keep them protected from outside factors so the data would remain uncorrupted. 

However, the resin's cost in their experiments ended up costing the school over $500 per liter. Budget cuts could eventually remove the much-needed supply for his students' research if Simpson did not come up with a way to find the resin cheaper. 

Who would have thought the solution to the problem would be sitting in a cheap lunch from McDonald's?

In his research for a suitable substitute, Professor Simpson discovered the properties of the commercial resin they currently used were very similar to the fats found in cooking oil. 

His colleagues and students decided to take the chance and try to create something they could use as a suitable substitute for their research. 

It took around two years, but the University of Toronto ended up creating a resin comparable to the commercial resin they currently used by filtering out the food particles from the McDonald's cooking oil and synthesizing it to make the new resin. 

They tested the resin by printing a small butterfly, getting details down to 100 micrometers. 

"We did an analysis on the butterfly. It felt rubbery to touch, with a waxy surface that repelled water," said Simpson. He described the butterfly as "structurally stable." It didn't break apart and held up at room temperature. "We thought you could possibly 3D print anything you like with the oil," he said.

How McDonald’s Cooking Oil Saves You Money

Using this process, the cost of the type of resin needed for containers to keep the samples safe in the NMR spectrometer drop drastically. 

It costs almost $500 per liter for the materials to make the resin with the traditional ingredients for liquid Plastic while recycling old cooking oil from McDonald’s would cost around $300 a tonne. 

Not to mention, the cost of disposing of the cooking oil can add up, sometimes in the millions of dollars. Using up the old cooking oil from McDonald’s and other fast-food entities would cost less, but it would also remove the waste they create. 

What Makes It Safe For the Environment

Another upside to this technology is the new materials are biodegradable. When someone starts using a 3D printer, the failed experiments and little projects not up to standard often end up in the trash. 

This creates more trash in our landfills and has a more significant impact on our already suffering environment. 

Professor Simpson’s team buried some of the printed butterflies for two weeks and found the butterfly lost 20% of its weight. Because it’s primarily made up of fat, the microbes in the soil break down the structure: 

“Microbes like fat, they like to eat it, so they do a good job of breaking it down,” explains Andre Simpson.

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What Are Hybrid Machining Systems and How Are They Transforming Manufacturing

Are you trying to stay up-to-date with the latest trends in engineering but keep falling behind? Engineering is a fast-paced field, and if you've blinked recently, you might be asking yourself, “what are hybrid machining systems?" 

It's okay, though. We understand how busy everyone is, and that's why we've researched for you. We've found everything you need to know about this new manufacturing technology to help you stay informed. 

Keep reading to learn what hybrid machining systems are and how they are transforming manufacturing. 

What is Hybrid Manufacturing?

Hybrid manufacturing, in simple terms, is when additive processes and subtractive processes combine. Of course, there are many other combinations of these processes, but hybrid manufacturing is different. 

What makes it so unique is that with hybrid manufacturing, both the additive and subtractive processes happen simultaneously on the same machine. Hybrid manufacturing uses various materials depending on the machine.  

You can use almost every type of metal in hybrid manufacturing 3D printing from cobalt chrome to titanium. One of the most significant advantages to hybrid metal is that it enables the application of dissimilar metals of the same part. 

Polymer systems use fused filament fabrication, and larger systems use injection molding pellets and reinforced polymers. 

Additive Manufacturing vs. Subtractive Manufacturing

Hybrid machining systems combine additive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing. It can do both! But additive and subtractive manufacturing have stand-alone processes. 

They differ significantly on a fundamental level, but they fall under the same umbrella in manufacturing.What makes each one unique? What about them makes one more appropriate than the other? 

To better understand hybrid manufacturing, it’s best to first understand what it’s combining. 

Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing creates a product layer by layer. It starts with a 3D model usually created in CAD, and then it's processed by a slicer software. 

The software slices the model into layers and then reconstructs it for the real world. 

3D printing is the most common example of additive machining. But some forms of sculpting and welding are considered additive manufacturing, as well. 

Additive manufacturing creates complex models with minimal setup. It is completely automated and offers flexibility for "on-demand" production. But it has its limitations. Additive manufacturing creates objects that may not be durable enough to withstand certain conditions. 

Workspaces on most 3D printers are also limited. This means larger products need deconstructing so that the machine can print it in smaller components. 

Subtractive Manufacturing

Subtractive manufacturing reproduces a design by removing unneeded material from a solid piece of raw stock. It can work with metal, plastic, glass, wood, or even composites. 

With subtractive manufacturing, computer-aided drilling, and milling is more accurate. 

CNC machines are the most common examples of subtractive machinery found in manufacturing companies. CNC machines complete tasks such as milling, turning, and drilling. 

Some advantages of subtractive machining are that it preserves the integrity of the material used and creates a more superior product than additive machining. 

Because products made with subtractive machining are more durable, it is a popular technology among automobile and aircraft industries. 

CNC machines fall short when it comes to time. They require manual steps like retooling. They also are limited in design because they can't create objects with hollow centers. 

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages?

Hybrid machining systems come with many advantages over additive or subtractive machining alone. 

For one, it cuts down on material costs. Because a hybrid machine uses additive features to add material, it can build and repair broken parts. While also using subtractive features to ensure material only gets added when needed. 

Hybrid machining systems also allow for the combination of various metals. This means you can create something with its own mechanical properties. You can add strength or heat resistance. 

Another advantage of hybrid manufacturing is the ability to switch operations between subtractive and additive. This frees up more workspace and saves time. 

With every new piece of technology, though, there comes a few challenges. Hybrid machining systems are no different here. One of the biggest challenges hybrid manufacturing faces is the cost. It's a substantial investment that most machine shops can't afford. 

And these machines are definitely a learning curve. It takes time to learn the best ways to add and subtract materials. You also have to learn about heating and cooling cycles so that you know how they might impact your project's properties. 

Some people also worry about the hybrid machining systems keeping up with the demands of mass production. 

It's true that hybrid manufacturing is still in its infancy, but the potential is there for people willing to spend the money and learn the machinery. 

Examples of Hybrid Manufacturing

Now we know what hybrid machining systems are, but how are they transforming manufacturing? We've rounded up two examples of products created by hybrid machining systems to show you. 

Curtiss Motorcycles

Curtiss Motorcycles produced a new bike faster than usual with hybrid machining technology. By mixing additive and subtractive methods, they completed the bike within 12 days. 

Among the 60 parts that a hybrid machining system helped create are the intricate aluminum and carbon fiber frame and the V8-style battery cylinders. 

Foster + Partners

Foster + Partners pushed boundaries in additive manufacturing when they used a hybrid machining system called LASIMM. LASIMM helped them produce a 16.4-foot-long structural-steel building truss. 

The company reduced manufacturing time and costs by 20% while increasing productivity by 15% because of the hybrid machining system. 

Stay Up-To-Date on Other Innovations

Tired of never knowing about emerging technology in engineering? Maybe you don't have time to scour the web after work, but you want to be well-informed on your field topics.  

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