By Mark Lum on
I saw an article recently about a breakthrough from Disney Research(with school-age children at home I spend a lot of time on all-things Disney), where they have engineered generators out of paper. These ingenious inventions generate electricity with friction, in the same way that industrial generators do. In this case, the friction comes from common hand motions that create interactions between materials carrying intrinsic charges. Gestures such as tapping, rubbing, rotating and sliding generate levels of power that can light up attached LEDs―or even activate an eBook screen.
To create the paper generator, the Disney team used paper, conductive ink and some inlaid circuitry, all of which set the stage for harvesting the electricity that human motions produce.Although the paper generators look like little more than an interesting science project, the three-person development team believes they offer potential for real-world use. The high-voltage, low-amp energy is more capable than a watch battery, perfect for mechanical motions and lighting multiple LEDs.A common desktop printer can print these paper generators, making them inexpensive and environmentallyfriendly.
Generator technologies are advancing everywhere, not only with inventions like this simple paper generator, but also with the commercial, industrial and residential generators that so much of the world relies upon for power. In some cases, those advances come in the form of process improvements.
One example is generator remanufacturing. When Caterpillar began remanufacturing generators in the early 1970s, many in the industry―including Caterpillar executives―weren’t sure it was a feasible concept. Fortunately, Caterpillar had an opportunity to “trial” the process with less risk than such an undertaking might normally involve.
According to the historical record, the impetus for Caterpillar’s decision was a request from the Ford Motor Company to provide remanufactured diesel engines for its 1100 Series delivery vans. Even then, remanufacturing was already common in the light-duty car and truck market, but Caterpillar, as a leading heavy-engine manufacturer, had never explored the potential of remanufacturing.
Today, remanufacturing has become a standard component of what we now call the sustainable service economy. Caterpillar and other engine manufacturers promote their support for this “cradle to cradle” approach, and they tout the quality of their remanufactured generators, which are reengineered to original factory specifications.
The marketplace has embraced these generators, as well. Worldwide Power Products sells remanufactured engines frequently―probably on at least a weekly basis. Customers love the idea that they can enjoy the quality of a new engine at a much lower cost and delivery timeframe than a new engine would normally require.
Such process improvements are a lot like the paper generator―on its face, it doesn’t appear to represent a radical development, but the potential for a ripple effect is enormous. And, just as remanufactured engines have become an important part of the generator market, so paper generators might eventually have their day in the spotlight, as well.
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