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Implantable Batteries: Powering the Human Body in Unusual and Innovative Ways

2013 January 14

Quick – what do you think of if someone says to you “implantable battery”?  Nine out of ten people think pacemaker.  However, in just a few more years implantable batteries may well be ubiquitous in the human body.  A review of the OEM medical market shows many new applications for implantable batteries.  PEI is proud to be on the forefront of implantable battery technology.

For example, new cochlear implants for the severely hard-of-hearing combine a microphone, a speech processor, a transceiver, and an electrode array that collects the resulting audio impulses and directs them to the proper sections of the auditory nerve.  Likewise, a fascinating new treatment is under development called “deep brain stimulation” which also uses implantable batteries.  This  “pacemaker-like implanted device” stimulates parts of the brain threatened by dementia with tiny controlled electric pulses so it may provide the key to effective treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.  Clinical trials are also showing promising results treating major depression and even Tourette syndrome. Finally, within just the past few years, there have been startling developments in the treatment of various cancers by means of implantable drug infusion pumps.  Such pumps release a timed and measured dose of chemotherapy to a pinpoint region of a body that’s battling cancer.

The prospect of more “body-tech” health devices feels less revolutionary today than ten years ago due to advancing technology.  At PEI, we are thrilled that our specialty manufacturing experience in anodes and cathodes will help enable the future advances in implantable battery technology that will ultimately reduce pain, suffering and improve the quality of life the world over.

From War to Peace: How Prosthetics & Robotics Combine To Assist Our Wounded Warriors in Making the Recovery

2012 December 5
by andreakbass

One of the most pernicious weapons used against American soldiers throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade has been, without argument, the IED. Ranging from simple to complex designs, these “improvised explosive devices,” when triggered by pressure or activated by remote control, have caused significant casualties and dismemberment in both conflicts. Without the hyper-advanced medical solutions available today for soldiers on the battlefield and in the recovery wards of military hospitals in Germany and the U.S., the number of combat deaths experienced by the Army, Marines, and Special Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan would undoubtedly be significantly higher.  IEDs, in particular, have been identified as causing up to 60% of the casualties in Afghanistan alone according to Gareth Porter’s article, “How the US Quietly Lost the IED War in Afghanistan” on October 9, 2012.

The recovery process from an IED explosion lasts a lifetime. There is, as yet, no ability to replicate organic limbs for wounded personnel (though the relatively near future does indeed hold such possibilities). The veteran must return to civilian life often with unfamiliar prosthetic limbs and joints. Fortunately, today’s technology allows prosthetic limbs to be effectively used to assist a wounded soldier in returning to a mobile life independent of a wheel chair.  Today’s prosthetics are forged from high-grade corrosion-resistant materials such as titanium as well as state-of-the-art electronics thereby allowing for much longer (and safer) integration into the human body. With today’s prosthetic limbs, soldiers can walk, jog, and oftentimes run with a completely natural gait by pairing prosthetics with robotics.

At PEI, we machine photochemically etched parts that might be used within mil-spec prosthetics.  Our familiarity with precision titanium components and micro electronics puts us at an especially useful advantage in promoting the technologies that will ultimately assist returning veterans.   As the technology improves and costs become more manageable, the benefits will also flow to the countless thousands of civilians who also need prosthetic limbs to manage their daily lives.  We at PEI are proud to be on the pioneering edge of assisting companies engaged in integrating robotics and prosthetics for improving the quality of human life.

Planet Desalination: a Look into the Future of Global Water Technology

2012 November 19
by andreakbass

It’s been heralded as the technology that has allowed the sudden emergence of Middle Eastern “global city” powerhouses like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha, Qatar. Desalination – a process by which seawater is purified of its saline content by means of boiling – has proven that even in the driest parts of the Earth, cities can bloom alongside palm fronds and camels. In fact, experts estimate that Dubai – the poster-child par excellence of free market globalism – spends $18M/day on its desal needs. Clearly, given the geography and climate that Dubai finds itself in, desalination will necessarily play a critical role in its future development if it plans to remain globally competitive for the long run.

But for many years, desalination technology has found detractors – particularly in the States – who argue it is too costly in relation to the benefits it produces. The cost arguments run more-or-less twofold: first, that most current desalination technology consumes disproportionate amounts of energy in comparison with the amount of water it produced. Small wonder, their argument continues, that desalination has been applied principally in oil-rich Gulf States who can afford to lavish vast numbers of oil barrels on keeping their water supply up and running for business, residential, and tourist-related industries.

The second argument is that the resultant chemical and biocide waste produced by desalination is still higher than the numbers of sheer clean water produced. The byproducts of the desalination process eventually find themselves being dumped back into the ocean from whence they came; the only difference being that they are now chockfull of contaminants. Some studies have indicated that the effect on marine life via desalination run-off has been extensively harmful.

These arguments have their merits, certainly. But we at PEI are already looking ahead to what lies on the horizon in terms of building clean desalination technology. Already, solar-powered desalination plants are up and running on a limited scale in countries such as India (as well as the city-state of Abu Dhabi) – much of this technology having been developed by companies in the United States such as Solar Water Energy, LLC of Detroit, Michigan. Furthermore, there are multiple ongoing international research studies that advocate better solutions for mitigating – perhaps even eliminating – desal’s impact on oceanic life. Many of these studies already appear to be quite promising in the near future.

The fact of the matter is, global freshwater supplies are dwindling drastically. Already 1 billion people in the developing don’t have access to freshwater resources. Like it or not, as our human population continues to peak throughout this coming century, desalination technology will have a continual presence at the table of possible solutions. We at PEI anticipate a day when our photochemical etching capabilities will be called upon to produce parts for desalination plants worldwide. When that inevitable call comes, you won’t find us napping at the switch.

The Robots of “Tomorrow” Come Into Existence “Today”

2012 October 5
by andreakbass

The Robots of Tomorrow

Since NASA’s Curiosity rover landed in Mars’ Gale Crater this August, millions of people worldwide have gained a new appreciation for what advances in science – specifically those in the field of robotics – might imply for their future. The Curiosity robot, with its $2.5B price-tag, its picture-perfect renderings of Martian topography (via its MastCam), and its ability to visualize and analyze Martian soil down to 12.5 microns, has achieved a cult following on Earth one usually finds only with rock-stars. There is definitely something about the Curiosity that goes beyond the here and now and promises the first denizen* of tomorrow.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be on Martian soil to encounter futuristic robots.  Here on Earth, one can see the numerous applications that robotics are favorably impacting.  Broadly framed we see the following as exciting worldwide developments for which robots (and robotic sciences) are responsible. In Australia, a bionic eye has reconnected a blind woman’s optic nerve, allowing her to see perfectly again. At a trendy New York luxury hotel, a 20’ robotic arm named YOBOT handles guests’ luggage as they arrive and depart without so much as asking for a tip. Companies like CSAIL and Tecnalia are developing robots that interact competently and intelligently with their human co-workers. And, of course, there are currently 76 countries in the world that field UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) for purposes as various as defense, surveillance, weather tracking and data collection. True, you don’t yet see C3PO wandering lost down a tree-lined sidewalk in, say, Cleveland … but robotics is truly still in its infancy.

Among the many features of the Curiosity rover to consider is the robot’s use of titanium.  Its tubing was actually provided by a Chattanooga-based bicycle company that specializes in building titanium bikes. PEI already has a proven track record of building perfectly-dimensioned titanium components for the aerospace, microelectronics and maxillofacial surgical industries so it only seems natural to our company to celebrate the next logical step forward with a martian rover’s use of titanium.  With our ISO 9001:2008 and AS 9100-2009 certifications, our proximity to technology corridors outside of Cambridge and Boston, MA, and our mastery of etching difficult to machine metals, we are proud that PEI stands to become one of the principle suppliers of robotic components in North America.

At PEI, we have a long history of making the “distant future” of tomorrow come to life today. Come find out the specifics of how and why our company can help you build the intelligent machinery of tomorrow – today.

The Future of Healthcare Lies in Telemedicine

2012 September 24
by andreakbass

Telemedicine is now providing patients with hospital care while at home.

As the globe and our nation flounder in looming financial uncertainty, and our country alone faces a trillion dollars of potential spending cuts, it is only fitting to take a look at the potential after-effects of how slashing the budget will affect essential American industries. Healthcare is one such key sector of the economy that is on the cutting board: by the end of the next decade if continued at current levels, healthcare spending will account for approximately 20% of our nation’s annual GDP. While the battling and bickering rages back and forth in Washington on how best to reduce the overall costs of America’s healthcare system, private industry might do well to examine the practical effects of what a possible reduction in government healthcare spending might entail. In short, what are the advantages, disadvantages, and technological opportunities presented in the event of healthcare reform?

At PEI, we manufacture many different types of products that find their way into high-tech medical devices and apparatuses that effect healthcare services. Many different parts of our operation converge in their use in medical applications: not just our medical manufacturing services alone, but also our microelectronics, semiconductor, and even telecommunications production areas – all these coincide in providing critical offerings for the medical industry. Since it’s the hallmark of any good company to anticipate future markets, and how best it might serve these future markets, we’ve been taking a serious look at the widespread adoption of telemedicine for tomorrow’s healthcare.

In brief, telemedicine is a medical treatment method that uses telecommunications (whether still-frame pictures or live-frame interactive cameras) to provide treatment for a patient who isn’t able to get to – or can’t afford treatment at – an actual hospital. Everything from beestings, to rare rashes, to even assisted surgery, can be performed successfully via telemedicine. While for now, telemedicine finds most of its use in isolated communities that aren’t located close to a qualified healthcare facility, that trend is changing. More and more, we anticipate that hospitals, rehabilitation centers, senior care facilities, and the like, will adopt telemedicine as a way of freeing up “bed-space” at their physical locations, providing patients with hospital care while at home. In one sense, telemedicine is a new version of the traditional house doctor. In another, telemedicine is using cutting-edge technology to cut the rising cost of actually using it. As a technology, telemedicine offers its own healthcare cost-reduction program. It is a true force to be reckoned with by any measure of 21st century patient treatment and promises better and longer at-home care.

At PEI, the rigorous quality control behind our photo-etching methods to make precision metal parts, as well as our integration into the multiple technologies that go into telemedicine, put us in good spot to best serve the interests of tomorrow’s patients. We can manufacture almost any aspect of the telemedical process: from shielding for high-tech circuit boards and electronics, to the production of critical mesh screens and encoders, to the production of small surgical tools and implantables, we can handle pretty much anything that comes our way. To find out more about our manufacturing services and how they will revolutionize healthcare as we know it, contact us today.

Reports of the Demise of American Aerospace Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

2012 August 13
by andreakbass

There have been many media reports to the effect that the American aerospace and defense industries are as good as dead in the face of impending federal spending cuts. Some forecasters have gone as far saying that one million American workers face losing their jobs if this were to happen. Others contend this is not the case. We at PEI are not really here to speculate on questions like these. What we are focused on is the Big Picture. And we are here to state with confidence that the long-term survival and prosperity of America’s aerospace and defense industries are well assured.

Yes, it’s true that the purchase of 177 of the new 5th generation F-35 Lightning II “Joint Strike Fighters” has been postponed to 2017. But the overall commitment from the Pentagon remains firm to providing the full complement of 2,443 F-35s – the final of which will be produced well into the 2030s. Likewise, while the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter program may be on hold for the moment – there comes news that China has developed a Raptor “knock-off” fighter that may well provide the necessary spur to continuing the development of these powerful fighters. Alone, these programs would net American aerospace defense companies such as Northrop-Grumman, BAE, Lockheed-Martin and Boeing with hundreds of billions of dollars in contracts. But that’s not all. The piece de resistance may well arrive in the form of a long-rumored replacement for the venerable B-52 bomber. Going on 50 years in service, Pentagon planners seek to replace the B-52 with 100+ long-range heavy stealth bombers by the mid-2020s, thereby completing American military aviation’s full upgrade to “5th Generation.”

This news resonates profoundly at PEI, since we already fabricate customized mil-spec flat lids for major American aerospace defense applications. These photochemically etched flat lids are designed to house crucial microelectronics systems in extremely grueling weather and pressure conditions. While our house specialty lies in working with iron-nickel-cobalt alloy, we can photo-etch in a wide range of metals and alloys whenever needed. While defense cuts may well be on the way – who knows? – the long-game demise of American aviation is hardly the right conclusion to draw.

The 4G Revolution Will Be Televised (with the Help of Antennae)

2012 July 31
by andreakbass

4G antennaeFew technology stories are more omnipresent these days than the “4G revolution”. The sudden proliferation of high-speed smart phones with low bit-rate compression and high-resolution graphics has made for a livelier experience for tens of millions of cell phone users worldwide. 14% of the population of South Korea, for instance (some 7 million people), are already using LTE smartphones. And while as yet only 5% of Americans own 4G network-enabled cell phones, that number is quickly on the upswing. As the popularity of the new technology continues to increase, companies from Google to Apple to Samsung to BlackBerry anticipate massive long-term profits from the latent possibilities of 4G technology.

Lost somewhat in the (not unwarranted) hoopla of the new generation of cellular technology are the actual components that go into its assembly. One of the crucial parts involved in improving a 4G smartphone is a cell phone antenna. Just as with any telecommunications network, 4G access suffers when there’s a physical impediment to reception, such as hills, or a tall building, or a particularly thick tree-line. As a result of 4G antennae, these sorts of obstacles can be avoided, letting you have the experience you’ve come to expect from 4G service. The antenna augments what is already a powerful, high-speed communications link, allowing you to “talk above the tree-line,” so to speak. Furthermore, these antennae are fabricated by means of photochemical etching.

The fine work that goes into 4G antennae requires a tolerance tightness and consistent level of precision that only photochemical machining allows for. Because of the specific nature of photochemical etching, which allows for parts to be “etched” from the same mould, it follows that there is an obvious and corresponding precision involved. PEI is proud to serve as a partner in the emergence of 4G technology. Our antennae are available to optimize your user experience that much more readily.

Beryllium Copper: One of the World’s Most Dangerous (and Most Useful) Alloys

2012 July 18
by andreakbass

Beryllium copper bushings are critical components in fighter jetsThere are few metallic alloys in the world that have a resume comparable to that of beryllium copper. Its ductility, in addition to its machineable and weldable qualities, make it an optimal alloy to worked with for fine-tuned electronic applications, such as precision measuring devices, musical instruments (the electric guitar, for instance), in addition to high-tech defense and aerospace applications. Beryllium copper bushings are critical components, for instance, of the new “5th generation” F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, considered by many aviation experts to be the most advanced combat flying machine ever built in world history.

The trouble with beryllium copper is that it is also one of the more hazardous alloys to inhale. When working with BeCu, most manufacturing facilities run the risk of lofting noxious particles into the air. The dust of this problematic alloy is a known carcinogen, and if inhaled over a long period of time, can cause severe – even fatal – damage to a workman’s lungs. Since most machining processes introduce minute particles of dust into the atmosphere (think, for instance, of how even something as precise as laser engraving can create microscopic airborne residue), many machinists refuse to work with this otherwise vital and lucrative base material.

Not so at PEI. Our photochemical machining process doesn’t involve grinding, burning, or any other form of friction on the surface of the metals and alloys we work with. Photochemical etching allows for fine, detailed work – the sort of work that beryllium copper needs for most of its applications – without running the slightest risk of dust-borne toxins being released into the air. It is why PEI is one of the keynote companies that work with BeCu for any number of industries. Whether your business lies in cutting-edge aerospace, or elsewhere; when it comes to beryllium copper, PEI’s methods are a match for the means.

One of the Prime Challenges of Our Era: the Manufacturing Skills Gap

2012 June 15
by andreakbass

These past two years have seen a breath of fresh air for American manufacturing, but the previous years are still too close not to be remembered. In 1950, manufacturing provided 30% of the jobs in the United States. Today, that figure stands closer to 9%. The last decade alone has witnessed the outsourcing (or automation) of over five million U.S. factory jobs. While the past 20-some months have been a much-needed respite to that trend, with our economy gaining 334,000 new industrial jobs, the situation remains unstable, to say the very least.

Some economists and industry leaders estimate that there are over 600,000 manufacturing positions available this moment in the United States for the taking. At PEI alone we’ve added several new critical positions in the past few months, including new machinists, a new sales engineer (Greg Pollack), and a new sales rep on the West Coast. Yet despite the potentially lucrative number of jobs available in this country, manufacturing can’t seem to find enough qualified candidates. In the past few years, machining processes have become ever more advanced and digitized, leaving otherwise talented, experienced workers out in the cold in regards to having the right skills for the right job at that right moment.

The cumulative effects of outsourcing and automation throughout the 90s and 00s have created a brand-new, oftentimes bewildering environment for American workers to navigate. But there are signs that much of this might be changing, or at least changeable. Talk is in the air of creating a series of up to fifteen “manufacturing institutes” across this country to help – amongst other things – American workers develop the knowledge-base to become confident and competitive producers in the global economy. Additionally, many large American companies have – completely on their own accord – “insourced” manufacturing jobs back to the United States. A recent report by Marketwire triumphantly crows that up to 3 million fresh American manufacturing jobs could be created as soon as 2015, on account of the rising labor costs of doing business in countries like China. These potential jobs could, according to the estimate, generate $100 billion in new export opportunities for the United States.

All of these facts and figures are – of course – tarnished by the harsh rhetoric of a Presidential election year, with both parties taking shrill credit for the moderate renaissance in American manufacturing. But for now at least, these 3 million projected jobs remain unrealizable. In the meanwhile, the best thing we can do as a country is begin training (and in some cases retraining) a generation of skilled laborers to create American products worthy of their name.

Precision Manufacturing of Optical Encoders

2012 June 4
by andreakbass

Car suspension, with brake. Precision control is essential to any number of industries and applications: from the anti-lock brake systems of automobiles and motorcycles, to the wheel speed sensors on railcars and mobile robots – all such equipment systems rely on minute monitoring of their displacement, speed variance, rotation, and translation distance. There is, in essence, no room for error. The lives of automobile passengers, for instance, depend on a car’s anti-lock braking system sensing if a particular wheel is moving at a speed slower or faster in relation to the other wheels. If the monitoring in such a system breaks down, everything stands to be lost.

In order for precision control systems to perform optimally, it is absolutely critical that the right sort of optical encoder is being used.  Optical encoders, otherwise known as optical “choppers,” are rounded discs equipped with light sensors, with each sensor activated upon exposure to a light source through an aperture. As the optical encoder spins, each light sensor gets triggered by the light source, then “shuts off” when no longer exposed. In turn, the pattern of information relayed by the light sensors allows for the larger precision control system to determine the wheel’s moment-by-moment stats, directional patterns, and overall condition.

The level of precision required to make optical encoders is perfect for the photo etching (a.k.a. photochemical machining or milling) process as pioneered by PEI.  Our photo chemical-based machining allows for extremely tight, consistent tolerances – an absolute must in an application whose precision can mean, quite literally, the difference between life and death. Given our long-standing mastery of exactitude, PEI is in a perfect position to meet the production needs of virtually all optical “choppers” and encoders.