New Opportunities for Space Manufacturing

Reduced access costs to space and the International Space Station has offered new opportunities for space manufacturing, which has gone unrealized in the past few decades. To demonstrate the feasible opportunities of manufacturing in Space is to produce products of value to Earth. The value must be in terms of use and profits.

“The opportunities for in-space manufacturing have never been better,” said Lynn Harper of the Space Portal Office at NASA’s Ames Research Center. “Large-scale manufacturing could be tested and perfected on the ISS, and then implemented in the many commercial carriers that are starting to emerge.”

Made in Space, an in-space manufacturing company is looking to manufacture a special type of fibre-optic cable called ZBLAN. By manufacturing in microgravity, tiny crystals that increase signal loss can be avoided. By avoiding these flaws, the cable is better at transmitting light signals by orders of magnitude over cables developed on Earth. The selling prices for a kilo of ZBLAN on Earth is around $1 Million and considering the costs of launching a kilo into space is around $20,000, the investment is expected to pay off.

“Demand for high-tech solutions requiring higher resolutions, faster processors, more bandwidth, greater precision, novel materials, unique alloys, innovative processes, higher energy efficiency, more processes in a smaller volume and more sophisticated tools, in general, are pushing materials and processes for manufacturing to the point that defects at the atomic- and molecular-level matter,” said Lynn Harper.

Space is a dangerous place for humans. Microgravity weakens muscles, radiation tears through our DNA and the vacuum outside is an ever-present threat. But for materials that show incredible strength, transmit information with barely any loss, form enormous crystals or even grow into organs, the harshness of space can be the perfect construction zone. As the cost of spaceflight goes down, more of these materials may become cost-effective to make or study in space.

There is enormous potential in this field with private firms such as SpaceX, Blue Origins, and Virgin Galactic making serious advances into commercialization. The reusability of the rockets launched by SpaceX has driven down the costs drastically. The volumes of data collected by SpaceX in their numerous successful launches have benefited the firm in securing multiple contracts from governments and corporations. Space manufacturing and commercialization may not be a dream too far away, and it could happen very much in our lifetime.

Space Manufacturing

The famous photograph of astronaut Barry “Butch” E. Wilmore holding a ratchet that he printed onboard the International Space Station.


Drones: The Cool Lifesaving Gadgets of Now

By Andrew Gunder, DCMME Graduate Assistant

Drones are becoming more and more visible and prevalent throughout our society. The practical applications of drone technology increase day by day as manufacturers, innovators, and hobbyists push the boundaries of what is possible with these “gadgets”.

One such innovator, Keller Rinaudo, the CEO and founder of San Francisco drone start-up “Zipline” has engineered a solution to one of the world’s most dire needs, medical supplies. Zipline utilizes its fleet of small, autonomous planes to deliver medical supplies, and most importantly blood, to rural communities across Africa, most notably Rwanda, after signing a contract to operate in the African country.

The operations process of Zipline is quite efficient. Should a hospital worker in Rwanda need critical supplies such as plasma, O- blood (universal donor) and or platelets they would send a text message to Zipline mission control in Kigali. A technician loads the supplies into a disposable box with an attached folded paper parachute, which is tucked into the belly of a drone. The aircraft and payload delivery system is designed to be cost effective to build and has a strong but lightweight foam shell and electrical components that snap in and out, making them easy to fix. The return on investment of saving a human life catapults drones into a realm that many would not think possible five to ten years ago. With capabilities like those of Zipline, it is not hard to see why this technology has taken flight on a global level.


What other practical applications for drones can you think of?

Is this concept scalable to where it could revolutionize other industries?

What are the biggest barriers to mainstream drone use?


Augmented Reality: Beyond Gaming

By Andrew Gunder, DCMME Graduate Assistant


When we think of Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) entertainment and gaming are often the first things that come to mind. Yet, AR technology is just scratching the surface of its potential and has already made a significant impact in the area of business in a diverse group of industries. Industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, retail, fashion, and even food and beverage have all benefitted from the implementation of this exciting technology. How you ask?

Manufacturing is a prime example of industry that successfully utilizes AR technology to improve assembly, maintenance, and quality assurance.  Imagine taking assembly instructions or a maintenance manual and having it directly in your field of vision versus having to frequently look up and down at a computer or paper version of the manual. Imagine the ability to take photos of vehicle parts under inspection and then compare the images to those of your company’s suppliers using an augmented reality overlay to ensure quality.

What once was thought of as an entertainment tool is finding practical applications in the world of manufacturing with impressive benefits.  The efficiency of having everything you need to get the job done right the first time in front of your eyes is almost too good to be true. Yet it’s true, and a huge leap in the evolution of business operations.


What are some other uses for AR/VR?

What are some roadblocks to implementing AR/VR in manufacturing?

Can you think of some other industries that can benefit from implementing AR/VR devices?


BLOCK CHAIN MAKING GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAINS BETTER by Abhilasha Satpathy, DCMME Center Graduate Student Assistant

When an E.coli outbreak at Chipotle Mexican Grill outlets left 55 customers ill, in 2015, the news stories, shutdowns, and investigations shattered the restaurant chain’s reputation. Sales plummeted, and Chipotle’s share price dropped 42%, to a three-year low, where it has languished ever since.At the heart this crisis was the ever-present problem faced by companies that depend on multiple suppliers to deliver parts and ingredients: a lack of transparency and accountability across complex supply chains.

Now, a slew of startups and corporations are exploring a radical solution to this problem: using a blockchain to transfer title and record permissions and activity logs so as to track the flow of goods and services between businesses and across borders.With blockchain technology, computers of separately owned entities follow a cryptographic protocol to constantly validate updates to a commonly shared ledger. A fundamental advantage of this distributed system, where no single company has control, is that it resolves problems of disclosure and accountability between individuals and institutions whose interests aren’t necessarily aligned. Mutually important data can be updated in real time, removing the need for laborious, error-prone reconciliation with each other’s internal records. It gives each member of the network far greater and timelier visibility of the total activity.

In a nutshell, this is a global system for mediating trust and selective transparency. Although much attention and money has been spent on financial applications of the technology, an equally promising test case lies with global supply chain relationships, whose complexity and diversity of interests pose exactly the kinds of challenges this technology seeks to address. The technology can reveal  hidden information and allows users to attach digital tokens — a unique, negotiable form of digital asset, modeled on bitcoin — to intermediate goods as they progress along the production, shipping, and delivery phases of a supply chain and as title to them passes between different players. This could give businesses far greater flexibility to find markets and price risk, by capturing the value that they have invested in the process at any point along the chain. What we end up with are dynamic demand chains in place of rigid supply chains, resulting in more efficient resource use for all.

Various endeavors have already started.Walmart is working with IBM and Tsinghua University, in Beijing, to follow the movement of pork in China with a blockchain. Mining giant BHP Billiton is using the technology to track mineral analysis done by outside vendors. And many more such examples.Advances in chip and sensor technology, which can translate data from the automated movement of physical goods, should greatly enhance these emerging blockchain systems. It could be especially powerful when combined with “smart contracts,” in which contractual rights and obligations, including the terms for payment and delivery of goods and services, can be automatically executed by an autonomous system that’s trusted by all signatories.

But this technology’s potential traceability and automation benefits don’t just pertain to things; it could also keep human beings in check. Staff and supervisors from different vendors can be granted special, cryptographic permissions, which, when placed into a blockchain environment, would appear as unique, traceable identifiers — preferably encrypted, to protect the employee’s personal information. This would allow all members of a supply chain community to monitor the activity of each other’s credentialed staff. This kind of provable, transparent credentialing will be especially important for additive manufacturing, which is central to the dynamic, on-demand production model of the so-called Industry 4.0 movement. These potential efficiency improvements, enabled by hitherto unavailable information, suggest blockchain technology could deliver vast savings for companies everywhere.

Please see the link for reference:


  1. How is blockchain a global system for mediating trust and selective transparency?
  2. How is blockchain creating automation in industries?
  3. How is blockchain changing the rigid supply chains to dynamic demand chains?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The First Industrial Revolution started in Britain and used steam power to industrialize production. It can be seen in the images of Britain in the 1800s covered in soot. The Second Industrial Revolution started in the United States when Henry Ford mastered the assembly line and introduced it to the world. The first two industrial revolutions made people richer and more urban. The Third started in the late 1960s and it used electronics and information technology to give rise to high-level automation in production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that began since the middle of the last century.

Today’s and tomorrow’s industries aim to connect all means of production to enable interaction in real time. Industry 4.0 makes communication among the different players and connected objects in a production line possible using technologies such as Cloud, Big Data, Internet of Things, etc. The applications for the industrial sector are enormous, predictive maintenance, real-time decision-making, minimizing inventory loss, improved coordination in jobs, etc. Every day, all these improvements are gradually optimizing production tools and revealing endless possibilities for the future of the industry.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution could be the first to deviate from the non-renewable energy sources because we have been integrating more ways to power our production processes with alternative energy sources. Tomorrow’s industries will be rooted in smart cities and powered by wind, sun and other forms of renewable energy.

Just like the previous revolutions, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise income levels and improve the quality of life globally. Until today, those consumers who are able to afford and access the digital world; technology has made possible new products and services that increase efficiency. Ordering cabs, booking flights, buying products, making payments, listening to music, watching movies, and many more can now be done remotely.

In a pessimistic view, the Fourth Industrial Revolution can robotize humanity, but it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness. The onus is on us to make sure the latter prevails.

Fourth Industrial Revolution


Child Labor in Supply Chains

Ten percent of the world’s children, 152 Million, are used as laborers.  While the global supply chain has lowered costs and increased efficiencies, it has also helped mask child labor violations in several industries. Businesses have a responsibility to build ethical supply chains that respect human rights

Child Labor

“These practices create not only human rights abuses, but they create an uneven playing field, making it hard for businesses that play by the rules to compete. A country’s failure to stop the exploitation of its labor force undermines the well-being of American workers and other workers around the world,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta writes in his foreword to the report.

Globally, the International Labor Organization’s minimum age convention sets 15 years of age as the minimum threshold for regular employment. An important step in fighting child labor is identifying its role in the supply chains. The chain often ends with unaware consumers buying goods that are produced by children.

Experts at the ILO have identified multiple factors that cause the use of child labor. Families under severe financial stress. They need to have the extra income gained from sending a child to work. Governments have a weak enforcement of child labor laws and don’t prosecute labor violations. Children end up working instead of pursuing an education.  According to the United States Department of Labor, children contribute to the production of 139 goods from 75 countries. The Labor Department has identified industries where child labor is most common, including, Agriculture: Growing cotton, sugarcane, coffee, and tobacco, Manufacturing: Making bricks, garments, and textiles, Mining/quarrying: Extracting gold, coal, and diamonds.

Companies that use child labor go to great lengths to cover it up. Many businesses hire compliance auditors to visit farms and factories to ensure suppliers are following the law. However, auditors can only review the worksites they’re aware of. It’s quite common for child labor operations to work as subcontractors to stay hidden from authorities or customers. While auditors visit worksites to confirm compliance, the addition of an analytics program designed to identify trends and correlations that may not be apparent to a human being are a crucial supplemental strategy. Advanced algorithms sort through information on violations by region or product, bringing potential risks to the attention of compliance professionals. Keeping child labor out of your supply chain hurts criminals where it counts i.e. their profits. Removing the financial incentive to employ cheap child labor can go a long way towards eliminating modern slavery and the exploitation of children.


Updating Manufacturing Security to Address New Threats

In today’s society where the use of new technology and the internet are advancing at ever increasing rates manufacturing operations are opening themselves up to a new type of threat to their operations – cyberattacks. This doesn’t just apply to the large manufacturing operations, but any manufacturer that manages lucrative assets and information. As Mark Sangster mentions in his article “Manufacturing Cybersecurity Must Adapt to Emerging Technology and Threats”, “Growth and economic strength of a nation is measured by its manufacturing” which means that any manufacturing operation is the prime target of espionage as groups try to steal vital manufacturing IPs and operational secrets to improve their own operations or sell to others for a profit. Breaches are occurring regularly and, as some major corporations such Foxxconn, Honda, and Boeing can attest, can be very costly. Each of these companies have been breached and ended up paying between $3.5 and $6.0 million to fix.


In his article, Sangster mentions ten things that manufacturers can do to mitigate the risks and fallout from cyberattacks on their operations. These are as follows:

  1. Identify and audit critical systems and data – determine what is most critical to your operation and would have the greatest impact if it were attacked so that you are focusing your efforts on protecting what is most important
  2. Understand your obligations – this means more than just legally but also in terms of regulations, client accountability, internal supply chain responsibilities, etc.
  3. Establish cybersecurity policies and procedures – the easiest way to fall victim to cyberattacks is not to have security procedures in place or a procedure for reporting and dealing with an attack when it happens
  4. Conduct an annual risk assessment and security readiness exam – continually assess and update your security to ensure that you are always protected to the best of your ability
  5. Require encryption of stored data – this includes data on all platforms including mobile devices, laptops, servers, cloud storage, etc.
  6. Use VPN security to protect data and user credentials in motion through a virtual private network
  7. Establish mobile and bring your own device (BYOD) policies and controls to enforce strong password and limit access to critical corporate assets such as the ones identified in number one
  8. Establish back-up systems and services to help you recover in the event that a cyberattack does occur
  9. Establish an incident response plan and team – more importantly run practice drills, like you do for fire drills, to ensure that everyone is aware of the procedure and aware of what to do in case of an attack
  10. Consider getting cyber insurance – this will help cover the cost of an attack from investigation and disruption to lost revenue and other costs not covered in non-cyber specific policies


Follow-Up Questions:

  1. What are my options legally in terms of recovering losses due to attacks? What agencies can I go to for help if I am attacked?
  2. Is it worth investing in outsourced cyber security to prevent an attack from occurring?
  3. As technology continues to advance, what additional risks do we need to consider when it comes to protecting our manufacturing operations?