Monthly Archives: November 2015

Service Economy

This blog is about manufacturing and engineering and production, but sometimes services are important too. You need to know how to market and sell your products and the internet is becoming ever more important in that process. Many companies are good at what they do, but they have no idea how to take the best advantage of the internet. It can be very complex. Take a look at to see the various aspects involved in internet marketing. And this doesn’t even cover it all.

Many companies throw up a website and expect it to make a difference. That is like putting up a billboard in the middle of nowhere and expecting it to help sales. Seventy to seventy five per cent of all clicks go to the first three organic listings. If you don’t know what an organic listing is, look at the website mentioned above.

Proper Content

You need to have an adequate amount of text with keywords or phrases that people who are interested in your products and services are actually searching for. If you don’t have the right content, the search engines can’t connect your website with people searching for what you do.

Directories and Citations

Then it helps to be listed as many places as possible. These are directories and citations such as and but also hundreds of other sites that could list your company and products. If you don’t sign up on those, the people searching on those sights can’t find you. It also tells the search engines you are a more serious site and worth showing your site when people search.

Social Media

Similar to the directories and citations, you need to be listed on the search engines and social media. Google has Google My Business which lists businesses as does Bing Places of Microsoft’s, Facebook and LinkedIn. The same rational applies for these as the directories. Also, if you have a listing on a search engine, that search engine is more likely to show your website in organic listings.


If other websites link to your website, that can help funnel people to see your website. But it is also an indication to the search engines that your site is good enough to be worth linking to.

Features vs. Benefits

There is nothing magical about this and it greatly predates computers and the internet. But, so many people still fall into this trap. They get so caught up in their product and how good it is that they only talk about the features. They forget to tell potential customers about how those features can benefit the customer. If the customer doesn’t understand how your product can save them time, save them money, make their job easier or some other benefit, the sale is going to be a lot harder. This needs to be conveyed on the website, just like any other marketing piece.

New Engineering Concepts

Popular Mechanics had an article that listed new concepts to be aware of which is summarized here. Some are older concepts that have been reborn or upgraded.


Old concept. However, a utility is using it for the first time. Beacon Power opened a 20MW plant that uses flywheels to store energy at off-peak times and draws the energy down at times of high demand and high prices.

White space.

The electromagnetic spectrum is getting crowded. The FCC ruled that the space that used to be taken by analog television would not be regulated and that anyone could use it. There used to be very little unregulated space in the spectrum. Companies have found that is very good for wifi because it travels further and goes through walls better than wifi does.


Already old hat and being vilified by environmentalists. It did have a tremendous impact on the supply of oil and on oil and gas prices.

Medical isotopes.

The reactors that produce them are old and have had problems staying online. This has caused shortages and could cause further problems going forward.

Complex event pattern recognition.

A lot of companies are mining databases and using pattern recognition to help make discoveries and understand trends. But now some companies are focusing not on databases of information from the past but on data streams that are coming in in the present. This can be used by people on Wall Street for trading purposes or intelligence agencies and anyone else who needs to make split second decisions.


This is a way of stimulating specific neurons. In the past, electrical impulses were used to stimulate different areas of the brain but it wasn’t very specific. With this newer technique, individual neurons can be turned on and off.  It has been used in rodents and monkeys and they are looking to do testing with humans.


Shades of the Terminator and other scifi movies. These are sensors that will change color when they are stressed or damaged that can be incorporated into infrastructure. This way engineers can just look and see if a bridge is compromised. They are working to make them react to different stress levels. They are also looking to see if they can be made to be self-repairing.

Cell Phone Medical Diagnostics.

More and more apps and devices are being made to attach to cell phones that can help make medical diagnoses. This is incredibly important in 3rd world countries with poor health systems. There may be non-medical uses as well.

New Encryption Technologies.

IBM has come up with a new “double blind” method that allows databases to be searched without knowing what is in the database. That is above our pay grade of understanding.

100 Gigabit lines.

New technologies that have allowed the production of fibreoptic lines that can transmit 100 gigabits per second. That is a big jump from the current 10 and 40 gigabit lines. It could carry 15,000 HDTV channels at once.

Manufacturing Helps Innovation?

Does manufacturing help innovation? No one knows for sure because it hasn’t been studied academically. This topic is now beginning to get attention. MIT Susan Hockfield has an initiative to reinvent manufacturing in the US. Following are notes from an MIT forum on the topic from an article in the Boston Globe.

MIT has a new Production in the Innovative Economy Committee and the co-chair, Suzanne Berger says that not much work has been done studying the relationship between research and development in relation to manufacturing.  The question they are beginning to look at is how much sending production overseas hurt companies’ ability to innovate.

Manufacturing Moved from China to US

An MIT materials science professor co-founded a company to make better lithium ion car batteries. He said they wanted to start production but all the battery companies had moved production overseas. There was no one in the US that had a factory or the expertise in manufacturing. They had to go to South Korea and China to get the beginning knowledge to start up manufacturing. Now they have their own plants here in the US and find it very important. It allows them to play with product design, manufacturing procedures, and experiment with new ideas for quality improvement.

Why China and Why China is Bad for US Manufacturing & Innovation

MIT professor Ed Steinfeld said that a number of companies are almost forced to locate in China. They license cutting edge technology from universities or other companies and want to go into production quickly. There is not the expertise in the US so they go to China for a commercial scale demonstration project. Since that is China, they then go to full scale production there. The US loses out. All that expertise could stay here if we had more infrastructure.

Loss of Jobs & Expertise

Manufacturing accounted for one third of the jobs in 1950 and it has dropped to only 10% of the jobs in the US. The last two recessions in 2001 and 2008 took a fairly heavy toll on manufacturing companies. Massachusetts has lost jobs, but because of their hi-tech sector, they haven’t been hit as badly as some others have been. These sectors include medical, biotech and advanced electronic equipment.

Several people commented that despite the relatively good position of Massachusetts, that more work needed to be done to train workers for hi tech jobs.  Although there are not the studies proving it, a number of people commented that if was important to do something about the manufacturing base so that our innovation didn’t decline.

Metal Fabrication Methods

We had the pleasure of interviewing Ari of Annapolis Railings & Stairs about his metal fabrication business. He has decades of experience and has developed a loyal following. 

There are different size metal fabricators and Mark’s company could be considered a small to medium sized. He does a lot of work for large construction and metal fabrication companies that do large projects. They will sub some of the work out to companies of his size. The solo operators are too small to work with these large companies even for subcontracting work that Mark does.

There work is always varied and interesting. It may be making replacement parts for machinery, or structural components for building something. Or it could be work for an architect or landscape company.

They have made metal railings, metal stairs, fire escapes, enclosed ladders for industrial and commercial sites. (Regulations require that if a ladder that is bolted in place and is more than a certain height it must have a cage around it to reduce the risk of falls.

Then there have been beautiful, artistic gates and fences around properties and as pool enclosures.

Iron Gate
Ladder & Cage

You can see from the picture an example of an ornate gate and also a picture of a ladder with a cage. The angle is a bit odd because the ladder is lying on the ground and you are looking at the top platform and then along the steps of the ladder going away horizontally.

Mark had worked for many years at a large metal fabrication company in Baltimore but wasn’t satisfied and decided to split off on his own. His new company not only does work around the Bel Air area but all over Baltimore as well.

Some of the jobs are done for homeowners. This can range from simple railings and other jobs on smaller houses to extensive work on mansions in the area. That could be elaborate railings and stairs, fences, gates, and pergolas among other things. Then there are the commercial and industrial jobs. It might be fencing at an industrial site, the caged ladders, machinery parts and an assorted list of other potential jobs too long to mention. Life is never dull and there is always a new deadline to meet and problem to solve in doing the best job possible.

The jobs could involve steel, cast iron, aluminum, bronze and other metals. There might be glass, wood, or plastics incorporated in some way. Then there is TIG, MIG, arc welding and more. It all depends on the material and what use the materials are going to be put to.

Roof Trusses vs. Stick Built

This blog post only applies to houses that are being built. If the house is already there, you aren’t going to change it. Most houses are called stick built, meaning everything is done right there. All the materials are delivered and put together on site.


There is a growing industry of prefab houses. This does not mean double wides and trailer park homes. These are whole houses that are made in a factory and shipped to the site. The walls and other parts come in sections and then they are attached together on site. That will be the subject of another blog post.

Pre Made Roof Trusses

There are other possibilities between stick built and prefab. In this case we are talking roof trusses. These are the structures on top of the house that support the roof. In stick built the joists and rafters are all assembled on site. They always depend on the exterior walls for support and may also depend on interior walls.

Trusses are prebuilt off-site and delivered to the construction site, ready for installation. They are designed and engineered for the needs of the house but also to withstand the typical weather where the house is being built. That may include a lot of snow, or lots of wind and rain.

Controlled Manufacture

They are built indoors so they are not affected by weather and moisture conditions when they are put together and they are cut by computer controlled saws so the fit is better than with stick built. They are labeled and bundled and shipped to the site to be installed. They will fit perfectly every time even though they are custom for each job. Unless of course, you are building a development with just a few models of homes. That can help reduce the price a bit as well.

They are environmentally friendly because they use 2x4s to a large extent rather than larger boards which means you don’t need to cut down larger old growth trees to make them.

Design Flexibility

Because they are designed to rest on the exterior walls, this means that you can move interior walls around at a later date without having to worry about whether they are a supporting wall or not.

Another major benefit of a truss versus stick built is that you can do interesting designs for about the same price. Instead of a simple flat ceiling, you can put in vaults and arches or other features and make the house look like a much more expensive house.

Cost Savings

There are several places where you will save money. Because they are prebuilt, there is little if any waste so you don’t have to worry about cleanup and dumpster costs. Also, they install much more quickly than if it was stick built, so there is time savings which means cost savings. This leads to savings in borrowing as well since construction loans tend to be at a higher interest rate and you won’t need the loan as long.

Bending Concrete into a Dome

A group from the Vienna University of Technology has come up with a way of creating a domed concrete structure much cheaper and faster than current methods. Normally concrete domes are not built often because of the expense. Up until now to build a concrete dome, it was necessary to build a wooden structure to hold it in place. while the concrete hardened.

First you lay down a plastic bladder that can be inflated. Then you set out rebar on top of it and tie the rebar together. The rebar is laid out in pie shaped wedges. At this point, concrete is poured in and allowed to harden while it is all flat on the ground. Then the sections are all fastened together and cables attached.

There is an oval in the center which acts as the roof. Then around that but connected are the wedge shapes which have an empty channel between them.

Now, they start to slowly inflate the bladder to raise it into a dome structure. The concrete cracks some but supposedly is still structurally sound. Supposedly because the sections support each other, a bit like ice blocks in an igloo. Of course the rebar has to help as well. It must bend some as the the bladder is inflated. We also wonder if the concrete is raised before it is entirely hardened, but the article about the process didn’t say. They say the cracks are only small cracks.

As the bladder is being inflated, the cables are tightened. This apparently ensures that all the sections rise at the same rate. The article was less than clear as to why this was the case. After fully inflating the dome, the bladder is deflated and removed.

Then a layer of plaster can be coated over to help strengthen and to cover up the cracks. Seems odd unless the plaster is added to the inside. It seems like most of the cracks would be on the outside. But it doesn’t seem like plaster would hold up well exposed to the elements. The article could have been a bit more specific.

They built a test dome 10 feet high and the lead professor thinks they can create domes with a diameter of 160 feet or so without any problems. They think it will cut the cost of a building like this in half and also reduce time and material. Interesting idea but we would like to know a bit more about it before we trusted the process.