DEARBORN, MI – Highlighting new technologies and advancements in manufacturing, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) has released its 2013 list of “Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture.”

Selected by SME’s Innovation Watch Committee, the new and emerging technologies on this list have already shown successful implementation and are making a difference in manufacturing today. Manufacturers can adopt these materials and processes to reduce costs and develop innovative products that will keep U.S. manufacturing strong.

“While much of the tech world discusses the latest phone, computer, etc., the SME Innovation Watch Committee discusses what makes that new gadget possible,” said Lauralyn McDaniel, manager of the Innovation Watch Committee. “They don’t stop at what we can do today, but look to what is possible.”

On the list are superhydrophobic coatings. Inspired by lotus leaves and the namib beetle, superhydrophobic coatings use surface roughness and chemistry to amplify water repellency. Capable of being applied to any surface and complex geometries, the coating can also have nearly perfect optical clarity. Like the lotus leaf, the coating also has a self-cleaning effect. Applications include avoiding the biofouling of medical devices, preservation of monuments and buildings made of stone, and protective coatings for furniture. Companies like Lotus Leaf Coatings manufacture both superhydrophobic and hydrophilic coatings based on the work done at Sandia National Labs, while other like NeverWet and Nokia are working on their own versions.

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are another item on the list. Approximately 50,000 times thinner than a human hair, CNTs have unique properties that include high electrical and thermal conductivity. With a strength-to-weight ratio 117 times greater than steel, CNTs are the strongest and stiffest materials yet discovered. There are more than 100 CNT manufacturers and more than 1,000 organizations engaged in research and development. Applications in development include: artificial muscles for robots and prosthetic limbs, oil-spill cleanup processes, printable electronics and sensors that can detect chemical vapors or bacteria in drinking water.

Also featured is a one-step, low-cost holographic lithography method to fabricate a polymer with extraordinary properties that can significantly reduce the cost and size of the current state-of-the-art multispectral analyzer from about $250 to $10/piece. Used as a filter for light, this material could form the basis of handheld multispectral imaging devices that identifies the “true color” of objects examined. Accurate color detection, measuring spectral discrepancies in the nanometer range, has applications in anti-counterfeiting, remote sensing for military and defense applications, environmental, agricultural and climate monitoring, as well as microscopic bioimaging. The graded photonic bandgap (PBG) structure could be easily coated on cell phone cameras to analyze the real color of food, medicines, coatings or cosmetics.

In reviewing submissions for the "Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture," the committee also highlights an "Innovation Watch List." These technologies are showing great promise but, as yet, are unproven in the manufacturing setting. This year’s list includes: aerovoltaic wind technology with no moving parts, a manufacturing method for cheaper solar, air fuel synthesis, 3D printing of silicon nanostructures, robotic self-modeling, an ultrafast camera that sees around corners, nanoscale light conduits, quantum memory storage using gaseous atomic vapor to store information, silicon surface patterns that use less material and increase efficiency, and metamaterials that bend light.

The "Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture" will be a featured session at the SME Annual Conference, June 2-4, 2013, in Baltimore. The conference brings together manufacturing professionals and leaders from throughout North America and beyond who are interested in innovations and exchanging ideas in one place.