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Favorite Products of 2007

January 19, 2008

Filed under: entertainment,life,review — Terry Wohlers @ 08:33

I’ve listed my favorite products and services in the past and it’s time to do it again. Some companies provide good quality, but many do not. The following, listed at random, are a few of those that have met or exceeded my expectations over the past year or so.

1) PdaNet. This is an excellent application that runs on Palm Treo handheld devices. A one-time cost of $34 turns your Treo into a broadband modem for your laptop or desktop computer. Read about it in an April 2007 Wohlers Talk blog commentary.

2) tryda. This free “directory assistant” operates on a Treo running the Palm OS. (A Windows Mobile version is coming soon.) The application permits you to quickly search for names, addresses, and phone numbers of companies and individuals nationwide. Looking for a pizza restaurant? Just enter “pizza” and a zip code or city and tryda will list pizza restaurants in the area. What’s more, it links to Google Maps and displays locations and directions. Did I say that it’s free?

3) OnlyMyEmail. I’ve tried many spam filtering programs and services and this one is the best, especially for small companies and individuals. At $4 per month, it’s a bargain.

4) Shure Sound Isolating Earphones. This $150 product (Model SE210) is worth every penny, if you’re looking for compact, in-the-ear quality sound. The product dramatically reduces the ambient noise when on a plane or in other noisy environments. It’s easy to fit the earphones to your ear canals because they come with many types and sizes of rubber and foam sleeves. I prefer earbuds over bulky headsets, but most do not stay securely in my ears. These do and they are comfortable.

5) Panasonic Plasma Television. In high definition (HD), this 50-inch screen (Model TH-50PX75U) is the next best thing to being there. You will see detail that you’ve never seen before on a television. The price continues to drop, making it affordable to a broader range of customers.

6) Philips Home Theater System. This $200 product (Model HTS3544/37) is near the low-end of the home theater system-in-a-box price range, but you wouldn’t know it when hearing its 1,000 watts of power.  In fact, I would bet that most blindfolded listeners would guess that it’s priced 3-5x higher. A DVD player with HDMI upconversion is built in.

These products and services from six companies stood out from the pack. Check back at this time next year to see what makes the list.

Machines that Build Themselves

January 5, 2008

Filed under: additive manufacturing,future,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 09:28

Self-replicating machines have been a topic of futurists and science fiction writers. Nanotechnology shows some promise for nanoscale assembly, although practical applications of this may be many years into the future, if ever. A professor at the University of Bath in England launched an ambitious open source project a few years ago that aims to produce a macroscale self-replicating machine by additive fabrication (AF), although little evidence of actual self-replication has been demonstrated thus far.

Today, two companies offer machines that are beginning to build themselves. One year ago, EOS announced that laser sintering was used to produce 23 parts on its Formiga P 100 laser sintering system. Among the parts being produced are the filler hopper for the plastic powder, a switch cover, and pieces for a pyrometer. Last month at EuroMold 2007, Stratasys announced that fused deposition modeling (FDM) was used to manufacture 32 parts for its new FDM 900mc system. Some of the parts include the touch screen bezel, door latch filler, pull handles, status tower base, and cable strain relief bracket.

As the capabilities and materials for these machines improve, expect the number of parts that they build for themselves to increase. Will they ever be capable of producing themselves entirely? Maybe someday, but not until systems can process a very wide range of materials, including plastics, composites, and metals. Today’s machines can process plastics/composites or metals, but not both. For a long time into the future, standard parts, such as motors, gears, bearings, belts, wires, printed circuit boards, switches, fasteners, and sheet metal, will be purchased and assembled the way they have in the past.