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Best Products of 2017

December 30, 2017

Filed under: entertainment,review — Terry Wohlers @ 09:13

The following are some of the best products and services I encountered over the past 12 months.

Samsung Galaxy S8 – I upgraded to this phone in July after owning two HTC Android phones. Both were very good, but the S8 is even better. I especially like Wi-Fi calling, recently branded as Calling Plus on the S8. With a wireless signal, it permits you to seamlessly make and receive calls anywhere in the world at no cost. One click turns it on and then you’re good to go. I like the phone’s performance, curved screen, water-resistance, and hot-spot feature.

HP DeskJet 3755 – For just $60, you can purchase the world’s smallest all-in-one document printer. It works especially well in small areas or if you have a second place, such as a cabin on a lake or condo in the mountains. I have not used it a lot, but when I have, it has worked flawlessly for scanning, copying, and printing.

Cambridge SoundWorks OontZ – For just $28, you can get this Bluetooth speaker. You are not going to get big sound in a large area, but it’s perfect for a relatively small space. Its design and battery life are very good.

Spotify – I’ve been using it for a few years, but decided to finally recognize it for how good it really is. Previously, I used it on an iPod that I’ve finally retired, and I’m now running it on my Samsung S8. It is free on a computer, but you’ll spend $10 monthly for using it on your phone.

Audible – It’s difficult to read a conventional book when you’re exercising, driving, or resting your eyes. With Audible, you can easily get through a good book while doing something else. The monthly subscription is $15 or you can pay as you go in the range of $15-25 per book.

Two Nights at a Kibbutz

December 17, 2017

Filed under: life,review,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 18:45

I returned from my eighth trip to Israel last week. The country is intensely interesting and thriving with many new infrastructure investments. Nearly everything about the country is fascinating, and I wish I had added another day or two with each visit. The Israeli people are highly educated, speak flawless English, and are up-to-date on world events and American politics. The amount of history in every corner of the country is staggering.

When visiting Israel the first time in March 1993, long-time friend Dave Tait, then with Laserform, and I were introduced to the concept of the kibbutz. A kibbutz is a type of community that originated in 1909 and initially focused on agriculture. The communal lifestyle has changed over the years and sources of income have expanded into the production of many types of products. I had always wanted to visit a kibbutz to see, up close, what life on one was like. More than 24 years later, the opportunity emerged.

Thanks to associate consultant Joseph Kowen, who lives in Zichron Ya’akov, Israel, for booking a room for me at Kibbutz Dalia, located about 37 km (23 miles) southwest of Nazareth. Upon our arrival, Joseph and I immediately caught the aroma of herds of sheep and cattle, which were located adjacent to the 800 or so residents. Dalia was formed in 1939 and has since expanded into the manufacture of water metering products, as well as wine-making. It offers visitor lodging as an additional stream of revenue.

I found my time at the kibbutz interesting. The lodging is not high-end, but my room was clean and comfortable and the wireless Internet and breakfast were excellent. Also, the employees were very friendly and helpful. Coincidentally, the father of one of them is working in Estes Park, Colorado, which is about an hour from Fort Collins. I went for walks both mornings to get a good view of the lifestyle on a kibbutz. It looked and felt somewhat similar to a quiet neighborhood in a rural village in the U.S., but without a main street, shops, restaurants, and signs with advertisements.

The Israeli kibbutz is among a lengthy list of reasons why I find the country so interesting. The country’s beaches, orchards, valleys, and deserts are striking, and its history is extraordinary. High-tech start-up companies and the economy are thriving, and many major infrastructure developments, including a light rail system, have been completed recently or are under construction. Tel Aviv is lively with trendy restaurants and nightclubs, posh hotels, and a beautiful Promenade that runs along the Mediterranean Sea. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

How I Built This

November 4, 2017

Filed under: entertainment,life,review — Terry Wohlers @ 08:22

NPR’s “How I Built This” series of podcasts are excellent. They are candid interviews with the founders and CEOs of some of the top companies in the world. Among them: Jake Carpenter (Burton Snowboards), Perry Chen (Kickstarter), Jim Koch (Samuel Adams), and Herf Kelleher (Southwest Airlines). Others are Mark Cuban (serial entrepreneur), Richard Branson (Virgin), and John Mackey (Whole Foods Market).

To listen to the podcasts, go to the NPR website, review the titles and descriptions, and download the MP3 files. I have downloaded 16 thus far, copied them to my phone, and listened to 12 of them. Most are 40-50 minutes in length. Thanks to John Dulchinos of Jabil for telling me about them.

Most of the people being interviewed had humble beginnings, with little financial resources. They believed strongly in what they were doing and had extraordinary determination. One podcast details how Jim Koch and his 23-year old former secretary sold their first beer and was voted the best in America just six weeks after it became available. Another is an interview with Maureen and Tony Wheeler and how they started Lonely Planet, the largest publisher of travel guide books.

The podcasts provide fascinating insight into how some of the most recognizable brands were established. They are easy listening, inspiring, and entertaining. Thanks to NPR for making them available free of charge.

Vestas Wind Turbines

October 20, 2017

Filed under: manufacturing,review — Terry Wohlers @ 07:49

Have you ever wondered how wind turbine blades are made? I have. Luckily, I was a part of a special tour initiated by SME Chapter 354 that gave a good view into the manufacturing process. I was one of 27 that toured the Vestas blade factory in Windsor, Colorado earlier this week. The blades produced at the impressive facility are 54 meters (178 feet) in length, weigh seven tons, and amazingly complex. When a blade is at work, the speed at its tip is an astounding 251 kph (156 mph).

Denmark-based Vestas began to make wind turbines in 1979 and leads in the production and worldwide sales, with more than 16% of the market. GE, Siemens, and many relatively small companies are also in the business. Vestas has factories in Denmark, Germany, Italy, Spain, China, India, and Colorado. The Windsor and Brighton, Colorado factories produce a significant number of all blades from the company. Windsor, alone, produces about 2,000 annually.

The visit began with an excellent presentation by Hans Jespersen, vice president and general manager of the Vestas blade factory in Windsor. Six other employees were on hand to answer questions and serve as our tour guides. Molds used to produce the blades are the largest—and definitely the longest—I have seen in 30+ years of visiting manufacturing facilities worldwide. The molds are made of a composite material, and the blades, themselves, are made predominantly of fiberglass and epoxy. On the surface, it may sound relatively straightforward, but sophisticated methods, intellectual property, and decades of experience go into the production of the blades.

Thanks to SME Chapter 354 for setting up the tour, and special thanks to the people at Vestas for sharing their time and expertise. Our tour guide, Phil McCarthy, senior production manager at the company, did an outstanding job in showing and explaining the many manufacturing steps and processes at the company. The tour was among the best I have taken in recent years. Vestas rolled out the “red carpet,” spent a lot of time with us, and answered many questions. I now have an even greater appreciation for wind turbines and their contribution to clean energy.

Ukraine

September 9, 2017

Filed under: life,review,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 08:53

I visited Kyiv, Ukraine for the first time in July. It was an eye-opening and intensely interesting experience. The Ukrainians are friendly and Kyiv is safe. Many of the restaurants in Kyiv were full, suggesting that people have discretionary money to spend. The streets and many of the buildings are beautiful, even though much of the city was destroyed in World War II. City planners did a great job with the architecture and feel of the buildings and streets. A recently built area of the city is stunning.

To some, Ukraine is best known for Chernobyl, which is 130 km (80 miles) north of Kyiv. The 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident was the most catastrophic nuclear disaster in history. At the time, Chernobyl was a part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of the Soviet Union. The city was evacuated 30 hours after the accident. Chernobyl is almost entirely a ghost town today, although a few people currently live there. Two general stores and a hotel are available for tourists.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kyiv remained the capital of Ukraine. In November 2013, a wave of demonstrations and peaceful protests began in Independence Square. My hotel was adjacent to the Square, so I walked around the area a few times. Russia’s Vladimir Putin pressured Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from forming close ties with the European Union, which Putin had long opposed. The protests in Kyiv led to calls for the resignation of Yanukovych and his administration for this, along with corruption, abuses of power, and human rights violations. This led to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. Special riot police were ordered to take over Kyiv, although the Uranium people dug in their heels. Scores of innocent people were injured and killed.

Hundreds of thousands, including my host and his wife, came to Independence Square, some for weeks or months, to join the protest. Some who did not, or could not, such as my host’s mother, prepared food for those demonstrating. In mid February 2014, the riot police finally gave up due to the extraordinary resilience and determination of the Ukrainian people. Yanukovych and others in his administration fled the country and headed to Russia in late February. The strength and will of the Ukrainians helped to make them stronger and define who they are today. A very good documentary, titled Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, is available on Netflix. It chronicles the sequence of events with horrifying detail and video footage.

My visit to Kyiv could not have gone much better. The food, people, history, sight-seeing, and hand-crafted products made it a fascinating place to visit. Ukraine is in territorial dispute with Russia over Crimea, which is in the south. In March 2014, after the revolution, Crimea was taken over by pro-Russian separatists and Russian Armed Forces. Eastern Ukraine is facing conflict, violence, and war with Russia. When returning to Ukraine, I will stay away from those parts of the country. In addition to Kyiv, my hosts told me that western Ukraine is beautiful and has a lot to offer.

Traveling the Iron Road

July 28, 2017

Filed under: life,review,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 04:05

Note: The following was authored by Julie Whitney, executive assistant at Wohlers Associates.

What do World War I, the Dolomites in Italy, and Telluride, Colorado have in common? The Iron Road (aka, via ferrata). Previously, I did not know what a “via ferrata” was and had never even heard the term before our German exchange student introduced it to me. According to Wikipedia, a via ferrata is a protected climbing route in the Alps and other areas. A modern version uses a steel cable, iron rungs, pegs, or other climbing aids that run along the route. Our exchange student’s family does a via ferrata trip every summer, and I wanted to try one.

When my Google search found a via ferrata route in Telluride, Colorado, I could not believe it. I anticipated a need to travel much further. Unlike its European brethren, the Telluride route is almost completely horizontal. Traversing 4 km (2.5 miles) and 152 meters (500 feet) above the valley floor, it is one of the most spectacular and breathtaking things I’ve ever experienced.

The route is not all metal rungs. In fact, most is hiked along a trail, albeit a very narrow one with a significant drop off. At certain points, it becomes so narrow that it is necessary to hook in with harness lanyards. At these points, the trail is literally a foot step in width. At one particularly interesting spot, a tree is in the middle of the path with a cable running behind it. It’s necessary to hook in and then hug the tree as you swing around, with your rear suspended in the air.

The actual via ferrata section is called the “main event.” It’s not particularly physical, but it is “off the charts” mentally-challenging, especially to those new to rock climbing. Tyler, our guide, was cheering me on and it felt awesome. As we were eating our lunch after successfully completing one pass, Tyler asked if we would like to return using the same route. He felt confident in our abilities and suggested that we head back while he stayed to take pictures of us. How could we say no to that?

As we eased back onto the rungs, I felt a little differently than before. I was missing Tyler and his encouragement. In the middle of the “main event,” panic was knocking at my door, but I was able to give myself a pep talk and pull myself back from the figurative edge, while standing on the literal one. Nothing worthwhile is easy, and sometimes you need to get out of your own way and go for it. The result is having one of the most memorable times of your life.

Click here to read the full version of this story at Empty Nest Adventures.

Ireland

June 19, 2017

Filed under: life,review,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 00:59

Note: The following was authored by Ian Campbell, associate consultant at Wohlers Associates.

Having been born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I thought I knew a lot about all things Irish. However, having joined Terry and Diane Wohlers on a trip to the southwest of Ireland this week, I have learned a lot more. Ireland is sometimes called “the Emerald Isle,” and here in County Kerry, the landscape is so incredibly green. There is an Irish song named “Forty Shades of Green” and I am sure we have seen most of them.

There is, of course, good reason for all the beautiful green vegetation. It rains. We met a waiter who told us that from October through March, it rained every day. Every single day! Amazingly, we are enjoying day after day of blues skies, bright sunshine, and near perfect temperatures. Today is our fourth day of it. The locals say we must have the luck of the Irish. The contrast between blue sky and green landscape makes everything even more spectacular.

It is sometimes said that America and Britain are two countries divided by a common language. Here in Kerry, they may write in English but we are not sure if they are speaking it. I can nearly manage to understand the local dialect, but Terry and Diane often look bemused. However, the Irish are so friendly and helpful, and they work hard to make visitors feel welcome. They are also very proud of their country’s history, from medieval walls dating back over 900 years, to a parade of 300 vintage cars and tractors, celebrating the 100-year anniversary of Henry Ford setting up a factory in Cork, Ireland, where we spent the first nearly 24 hours.

Perhaps the most interesting (or frightening) experience we have had was kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle. It involved climbing more than 100 steps and hanging over backwards from the castle parapet to kiss a stone that supposedly endows the “gift of the gab,” that is, the ability to speak with eloquence. I am not sure Terry really needed to do this as he is already an eloquent speaker. However, we all had a go and survived the experience.

Another Irish song asks “Have you ever been across the sea to Ireland?” We now have, and I would encourage everyone to do likewise. It’s a fascinating country with brilliant green landscape and an intriguing history.

Best Products of 2016

January 1, 2017

Filed under: review — Terry Wohlers @ 17:24

At this time nearly every year, I like to highlight some of the best products of the year. The following are those that stand out and deserve special recognition.

Jeep Grand Cherokee – We purchased the 2016 75th Anniversary Edition in May, which includes some special features, such as bronze wheels and trim. I like everything associated with this product, and it may be one of the best vehicles we have owned. It now has fewer than 6,435 km (4,000 miles) on it, so it’s probably too soon to draw a final conclusion. The safety features, adaptive cruise control, eight-speed transmission, and overall drivability and comfort make it a great product.

jeep

Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 – I paid $63 for this excellent device. It rests nicely at the top of my monitor and shoots high-quality 1080p video for saving or use with Skype or other types of broadcasts.

CamelBak Rogue Hydration Pack – This is my first CamelBak product and I like it a lot. I bought it for mountain biking and it’s perfect for half-day trips. It’s a good value at $44.

Black+Decker LST300 Trimmer/Edger – For $63, this battery-powered product is excellent for edging your lawn along the driveway and sidewalk.

Graco Secure Coverage Digital Baby Monitor – If you want to know whether your child or grandchild is awake, it’s a bargain at just $35.

With the exception of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, we purchased all of these products from Amazon. The company’s Prime service is excellent.

Best wishes to you for a great 2017. Happy New Year!

South Africa

November 6, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,manufacturing,review — Terry Wohlers @ 14:10

I spent last week in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa, at RAPDASA 2016. It was the 17th annual conference and exhibition of the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa. I’ve been lucky enough to attend all 17 of them. Like fine wine, the event continues to improve with age, and this one was the best, thanks to organizer and host Vaal University of Technology. VUT’s Science and Technology Park, the venue for the event, completes more than 1,000 industrial projects annually with machines and facilities that rival the very best in the world.

On Monday, a few of us visited a company that VUT is working with it. The company produces cast impellers for large industrial compressors. VUT is using Voxeljet additive manufacturing technology to produce sand molds and cores for the impellers. It is not yet into production with the process, but it is expected to cut the cost in half, saving R2 million ($147,000) per casting. What’s more, the delivery will improve dramatically from an excruciating 9-12 months to just one month. The impellers spin at 3,000 rpm and operate in a harsh environment. Company management is ecstatic about what the technology will do for it.

cast-impellers

Much of South Africa’s work began many years ago at the Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (CRPM) at Central University of Technology. Today, CRPM is extremely active, with more than 600 commercial projects annually. The group is running a wide range of industrial machines, including several metal AM systems that are at work building high-end parts used in an array of industries. One area of focus is around medical devices and implants. Earlier this year, CRPM received ISO certification, which shows that the people, processes, and work at CUT are among the best you’ll find anywhere.

A platinum project was launched recently with Lonmin, one of the world’s largest producers of the precious metal. I had the privilege of meeting and having dinner with several managers from the company. The effort is serious, although early in its development. The largest market for platinum, by far, is catalytic converters, followed by jewelry as a distant second. Time will tell whether the company can use AM to create entirely new markets for this special material, but it looks like the people are going into it with a lot of enthusiasm and determination.

What do these and other developments in South Africa have in common? Professor Deon de Beer. He began his work in AM at CUT where he helped launch the CRPM. He then went to VUT to establish the Science and Technology Park, which is mostly focused on AM. He’s now at North-West University, but has continued strong ties with CUT and VUT. His humble and somewhat quiet demeanor will fool you because he’s like a spark plug. He ignites an avalanche of activity wherever he goes and brings out the very best of people that surrounds him. Without Deon and his inspiration, AM progress would be VERY different in the country.

South Africa is home to many Idea 2 Product (I2P) labs, with more than 25 operating worldwide. They consist of facilities full of equipment for hands-on learning of CAD, 3D printing, and other design and manufacturing technology. The I2P labs were also a brainchild of Deon de Beer. With him and a growing number of colleagues and others, South Africa has grown to become a leader in additive manufacturing. The adoption of the technology is not as deep and widespread as it is in the U.S. and parts of Europe, but the work is just as advanced and impressive. I credit de Beer and the formation of RAPDASA (both the association and annual event) for the on-going ideas, programs, strategy, and education that are provided country-wide.

RØDE Microphones

August 15, 2016

Two of our consultants and I have had the privilege of visiting RØDE Microphones of Sydney, Australia. RØDE is a manufacturer of world-class microphone products for studio recording, performances, video broadcasts, and live interviews. It also manufactures microphones for presenters (lavalier and button mics) and smart phones. Over the past nearly two years, we have worked with RØDE and learned a great deal about the company and its products. Peter Freedman, managing director and chief executive, has given permission to disclose and discuss our relationship publicly.

RØDE hires some of the best people in Australia and other parts of the world. The company has offices in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, and Hong Kong. Most of the Australian employees we’ve met are young, bright, and energetic. Freedman is the driver of new products, is constantly pushing the limits, and is the heart and soul of the company. RØDE is running $30 million in precision equipment, including a considerable number of new machines that were installed since we’ve started working together. Freedman seeks to be among the best of the best in the design and manufacturing of microphones. And, it shows by the company’s strong growth in recent years.

rode

I feel lucky to be able to work with great companies such as RØDE and people like Freedman and his team. He always has a can-do attitude and is constantly looking for new and better ways for product development and manufacturing. Over our 29 years in business, I have worked with a few people and organizations that find reasons why you cannot do something and serve as obstacles to progress. Fortunately, most of the people that we’ve encountered have the right spirit and outlook. Engineering consultant, futurist, and friend Joel Orr once said, “Success breeds success.” I could not agree more, and RØDE is a company that is producing a lot of it.

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