March/April 2010

Automation by the Numbers


The massive 8.8 earthquake that struck Chile in February may have changed the entire Earth's rotation and shortened the length of days on our planet, a NASA scientist said. The quake should have shortened the length of an Earth day by 1.26 microseconds, according to research scientist Richard Gross at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. One microsecond is one-millionth of a second long. "This change should be permanent," Gross said. There is a chance the Earth's rotation could relax over time, but it is too early to tell, he said. Over the course of a year, the length of a day normally changes gradually by about one millisecond, which is 1,000 microseconds. Furthermore, geologists said the city of Concepcion was moved an estimated 10 feet west during the massive earthquake, indicated by GPS measurements taken before and after the quake by teams of researchers from universities across the Americas.


The National Tooling and Machining Association, the Precision Metalforming Association, and the Association for Manufacturing Technology have launched a "re-shoring" initiative aimed at documenting to large manufacturers nationwide the benefits of sourcing in the U.S., including a "Re-shoring Fair" set to take place 12 May in Irvine, Calif. The associations said re-shoring means bringing lost manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. by uniting large manufacturers with competitive domestic suppliers. "Going local can reduce a company's total costs and offer a host of other benefits, while bringing U.S. manufacturing jobs back home," they said. The move to re-shore production has grown increasingly popular in the U.S. in the face of higher transportation and fuel costs, higher wage rates, and reject rates in developing countries, the organizations assert. For more information, visit


Fifty years after the first laser was demonstrated, engineers are celebrating the golden anniversary. Although there has been a historical debate over who is most properly credited as the inventor of the laser, the clearest milestone came on 16 May 1960, when Hughes Research Laboratories' Theodore Maiman demonstrated a solid-state device that used a flashlamp coiled around a ruby crystal to produce coherent pulses of red light. "Even 50 years after the invention of the laser, new applications are being patented at a phenomenal rate," said Thomas Baer, executive director of the Stanford Photonics Research Center. Patent data searches show the term "laser" ranks as the third most popular keyword, right behind "engine" and "computer."


David de Rothschild, one of the youngest members of the famous banking dynasty, wants the public to start viewing waste as a resource, particularly plastic. He and collaborators designed a boat made almost entirely of plastic bottles and recycled plastic, and in March, de Rothschild and the crew began the 11,000-mile (17,700-kilometer) voyage from San Francisco, Calif., to Sydney, Australia. The crew hopes to accomplish the voyage in 100 days on a 60-foot catamaran-style boat named The Plastiki. Builders of the boat said it weighs in at 12 tons, with only 10% of the vessel made from new materials. Constructed mainly from 12,500 reclaimed plastic water bottles designed to keep Plastiki afloat,the main frame is made from self-reinforcing polyethylene terephthalate, a recyclable plastic material, and the sail has been handmade using recycled PET cloth.