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Businessweek Archives

This Compound Can Take The Heat

Developments to Watch


FOR JET ENGINES, running hotter usually means running more efficiently. But engine designers are constrained by the low melting temperatures of metals used in such parts as turbine blades. Now, a Drexel University materials engineer has developed a ceramic-metal compound that can withstand nearly 400F degrees more heat than the best superalloys. Associate Professor Michel W. Barsoum's blend of titanium, silicon, and carbon can also handle quick temperature changes.

According to an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Ceramic Society, the compound combines the best attributes of ceramics and metals. It's two-thirds as hard as a diamond, resists corrosive oxidation, and conducts heat and electricity well. Similar compounds have been studied for decades, but Barsoum's patented baking process yields greater purity. Is it a metal or a ceramic? "It doesn't matter what you call it," he says. Barsoumite, perhaps?Edited by Neil Gross By Joseph WeberReturn to top


YOU'RE IN THE CEREAL AISLE when a color screen on your cart comes to life with a pitch for Toasty Mosties. Swipe the cereal box over a bar-code reader on the cart and it's charged to your credit card. No need to stand in the checkout line--just pass through a gate that checks whether everything in your cart has been scanned.

That shopping experience could be possible soon with new computer chips from Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla. The company's Prism chip set controls high-speed wireless data communications. Digital Radio Communications Corp. (DRCC) of American Fork, Utah, is already developing a simpler system for Klever Marketing Inc. mf Salt Lake City. The system, which delivers monochrome text ads to a screen on the cart, uses chips from a variety of suppliers. DRCC says it's considering switching to Harris chips to cut costs and size.

Harris predicts its chips will also replace wires in PC local-area networks and handle wireless messages in hospitals and rental-car lots. Six Harris chips that receive and convert radio signals, plus a computer-interface chip from Advanced Micro Devices Inc., have been squeezed into a small plug-in circuit board by IBM's Celestica Inc. subsidiary. The so-called PCMCIA card will go on sale later this year for about $300, half the cost of the bulkier, slower cards now on the market.Edited by Neil Gross By Peter CoyReturn to top


IN GERMANY, AN ORDINANCE FORCES manufacturers to take back all packaging used in transport. In the Netherlands, old or broken appliances must be returned to the manufacturer for recycling. In America, the laws are more lax--but that's almost certain to change. For manufacturers who want to get a jump on "green" design trends, two engineers have a smart new software idea: Design for Environment, or DFE.

The software, which will debut this fall from Boothroyd Dewhurst Inc. (BDI), a small Wakefield (R.I.) software house, will analyze a product design to determine how to minimize the product's impact on the environment. Created in cooperation with TNO Product Centre, a Dutch organization that specializes in eco-design, the program weighs tradeoffs in materials and components at the beginning of the design process. It suggests where recyclable parts or materials might be used and indicates how to manufacture products that are easier to disassemble later.

If the developers' past history is any indication, the new software could be a big hit. In the 1980s, BDI founders Geoffrey Boothroyd and Peter Dewhurst--engineering professors at the University of Rhode Island--pioneered a major trend in product design with a program called Design for Manufacture & Assembly. This summer, GE Plastics will fund an $87,000 test to see how DFE could help design greener instrument panels for cars.Edited by Neil Gross By Otis PortReturn to top

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