The Biggest Engineering Innovations of 2013

The Biggest Engineering Innovations of 2013Engineering is, fundamentally, a discipline of innovation. Assessing systems and optimizing their performance and configuration requires creativity, an analytical mindset, and the pursuit of potentially unconventional solutions. In addition to fostering innovation in their own work, companies developing solutions for engineers work to offer new ways to handle the complex problems of industrial, digital, and civil processes.

The cusp of innovation is rife with ingenuity that can make a difference in our occupation. Keeping an eye on emerging technologies affords us the chance to change the playbook and improve our designs by leaps and bounds. A look at the bleeding edge of engineering technology in the year 2013 shows a field filled with ideas designed to save time, money, and lives in creative new ways.

Sustainability

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 10.57.40 AMIn the realm of resource conservation, Energy Recovery's new technology brings exciting developments to heat exchangers. PX Pressure Exchanger Energy Recovery Devices employ several new innovations that guarantee performance improved performance and minimal down time. According to their product profile, the device captures hydraulic energy from the refuse stream of seawater reverse-osmosis processes and utilizes it with an efficiency of over 98%. In addition, the device uses no electrical power, meaning big energy savings for process designers.

The product is designed to maximize energy usage with minimal lost production time. The durable materials and construction ensure consistent operation and rigorous testing has proven this, with some devices lasting as long as twelve years with no breakage. Through ceramics, the exchangers feature chemical resistance that helps them adapt to changing processes and handle corrosive chemicals in stride. What's most impressive, however, is the fact that these improved exchangers can be retrofitted to existing plants for a purported energy saving of 60%; savings that will not escape the attention of any budget-conscious designer.

Medicine

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 10.59.15 AMThe pursuit of better solutions to life's problems is integral to the discipline of engineering. Nowhere is this interaction between science and human more apparent than in the realm of medical technology. In 2013, OrganOx developed the metra, the first automated liver perfusion device that maintains materials at normal body temperature for better organ preservation. The unit is battery powered and comes equipped with a rolling cart that facilitates transport.

The specifics of the device are astounding. A complex and proprietary computer system assesses organ function and adjusts the automation process in response. Disposable containers are used to prevent contamination and a robust design prevents breakages or accidents. The system features a self-regulating oxygen supply, bile monitoring, and maintenance of all physiological factors, including temperature, pressure, flows, oxygenation, and pH. These considerations ensure that liver transplant operations will benefit from healthier organs and safer transport.

Communications

Even with tiny computers in our pocket that dwarf the performance of recent desktop iterations, communications is still an emerging field of innovation. Qualcomm's RF360 Front End Solution promises the possibility of single, global LTE design for the next generation of smartphones, meaning better availability and performance of the high-speed mobile protocol. With 40 cellular radio bands competing for airspace, the solution addresses consequent band fragmentation issues and enables the use of all seven cellular modes for device manufacturers.

What's most notable about the technology, however, is the device-side implementation. The technology can be employed in new cellular devices, solves 4G LTE network issues, and does so with reduced power consumption and a 50% smaller form factor. This combination of signal handling, size, and hardware-based deployment means more compact cellular phones that can communicate on a truly global network.

Electronics

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 11.01.48 AMMobile innovation drove a great deal of effort in 2013, including the release of Wolfson Microelectronics' WM5102 HD Audio Hub. The technology was adopted by Sharp for its AQUOS devices on the basis that the new solution would enable more realistic sounding voice calls with a 90% reduction in the transmission of background noise, regardless of the particular sonic environment.

In addition, the technology is adaptable across a wide range of platforms. The 113dB signal-to-noise ratio of the device ensures high definition audio with minimal power consumption and embraces the increasingly significant concept of device agnosticism; technologies that perform a function correctly and consistently regardless of hardware or software contexts.

Agriculture

Finally, the further automation of agricultural processes rounds out the list. New Holland's IntelliFill technology works in tandem with self-propelled, GPS enabled forage harvesters that can greatly reduce the workload of busy farmers. The system utilizes a 3D camera that analyzes fill levels of trailers in order to prevent over-filling and loss of valuable yields. The filler arm and deflector spout are also computer controlled to optimize results.

The most pointed aspect of the innovation, however, is its accuracy regardless of optical concerns. Camera technologies can present challenges in especially dark or light environments, but New Holland's device ensures performance well into the night, as well as on bright days. Combined with an automatic notification system when trailers are full, IntelliFill works to streamline logistics and operations in the field in a very real way.

By automating tasks, improving the performance of critical components, and protecting precious, life-saving tissue, the engineering field continues to demonstrate how powerful innovation can be. Technologies that focus on the everyday challenges of our lives are seeing more and more attention from engineers and the results speak for themselves. It is impossible to tell what the next big breakthrough will be, but suffice to say that, if its value is comparable to any of the technologies listed here, the future is in excellent hands.

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