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Five MIT inventions win R&D 100 Awards

A device that could extend the lifetime of multimillion-dollar furnaces and a system for designing certain machines in the computer are two of five MIT inventions to win R&D 100 Awards this year.

The MIT inventors and colleagues attended a black-tie banquet in Chicago last week to celebrate the 1997 awards, which honor the 100 most technologically significant new products and processes. Winners were selected by the editors of R&D Magazine and more than 50 experts from a variety of disciplines.


Four of the five MIT awards involved one MIT faculty member: Professor Alexander H. Slocum, d'Arbeloff Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering. He has now won a total of seven R&D 100 Awards.

One of Professor Slocum's award-winning inventions this year is a device the size of a football for cutting metal. The TurboTool Ultra-High Speed Spindle "packs the power of a bulldozer" into machining operations, said Professor Slocum. The new spindle (a part that holds and rotates a cutting tool) can operate at a power of 100 kilowatts, as compared to the 40 kilowatts of a conventional spindle.

The TurboTool is also very fast and small. It runs at a speed of 100,000 revolutions per minute (other spindles average 40,000 rpm), and is one-tenth the size of a conventional spindle. According to R&D Magazine, "the TurboTool weighs and costs less, produces more and lasts longer than competing spindles."

Professor Slocum and Dr. Kevin Wasson of Aesop, Inc., developed the TurboTool with colleagues from the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, Aesop Inc., Boston Digital Corp. and the National Science Foundation.


The Machining Variation Analysis system allows designers to create machine tools (manufacturing equipment) in the computer, then use those tools to "virtually" machine parts and predict the exact shape of a part, given any error that may exist in the machine tool.

"Before the MVA, machine-tool designers could not predict the effects of the dozens of error sources that plague a real [manufacturing] process," Professor Slocum said. "Every time a machine was designed to make a new part, the company took a gamble. The MVA takes the risk out of developing new manufacturing equipment."

With the MVA, the user provides information including the nominal geometry of the part and sources of error in the machine's operation. "With these parameters, the MVA determines the exact shape of the part including all the consequences of the specified errors in machine operation," said Daniel D. Frey, assistant director of MIT's System Design and Management Program.

Dr. Frey is an inventor of the system with Kevin N. Otto, the Robert N. Noyce Career Development Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Professor Slocum, and colleagues from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Landis Division of Western Atlas, Inc.


A new device for testing computer chips before they are shipped to customers also won an R&D 100 Award. According to R&D Magazine, the ShieldBeam Contactor is "mass-producible using printed circuit manufacturing techniques" and "satisfies both the mechanical and electrical functional requirements of������������������ test contactors for virtually every type of integrated circuit package."

Professor Slocum developed the device with Scott Ziegenhagen of Kinetrix Inc.


The Kinematic Docking System aligns testheads -- refrigerator-sized machines for testing computer chips -- with the machine that presents the semiconductor packages to be tested. Until now, test engineers have had to manually position the testheads during setup of the systems. "The KDS automatically positions and aligns the big, bulky testheads with micron-level precision," said Professor Slocum, who invented the device with colleagues from Teradyne, Inc., led by one of his graduate students, Michael A. Chiu.


Paul P. Woskov of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center won an R&D 100 Award for a device that could extend the lifetime of multi-million-dollar furnaces. The Refractory Corrosion Monitor determines the thickness of the insulation in industrial furnaces for making, say, glass or steel. As the furnace ages, the insulation can wear away. How quickly it does so determines the lifetime of the facility.

By monitoring the corrosion of the insulation, the new device "allows an operator to control the operation of the furnace to minimize wear," said Dr. Woskov, associate head of the Plasma Technology and Systems Division at the PSFC.

A unique feature of the monitor is that it needs no access ports into the furnace. The microwaves it uses to determine insulation thickness travel through a furnace's walls.

Dr. Woskov developed the monitor with colleagues at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. This is his third R&D 100 Award.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 1, 1997.

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