The art of making do

By Catherine


Written by Catherine Bolgar


When life gives you lemons, some make lemonade; others use the lemon juice to prevent the spread of gastroenteritis. Indeed, researchers at the German Cancer Research Center found that putting lemon juice on contaminated food or surfaces could be a cheap, practical and safe way to stop the spread of novoviruses, which cause gastroenteritis outbreaks, typically in hospitals, cruise ships and schools.

People who design solutions using simple materials are often called MacGyvers, named after the TV secret agent who would extricate himself from dangerous situations using only the materials to hand.

In India, such innovation is known as jugaad in Hindi. One jugaad pioneer is Ravidranath Tongaonkar, a surgeon in rural India, who substituted mosquito netting for expensive surgical mesh in the 1990s to repair groin hernias.

The idea spread. In Uganda, a piece of surgical mesh can cost $125  and patients often have to buy it themselves before an operation, says Jenny Löfgren, a medical doctor whose doctorate thesis at Umea University in Sweden examined the efficacy of mosquito mesh in Uganda.

However, when mosquito netting is cut to the right size, washed in water with a mild detergent and then disinfected for 30 minutes in an autoclave, it can do the job, Dr. Löfgren says. It’s important because out of 220 million hernias in the world, only 20 million receive operations. “And those who receive surgery in low- and middle-income settings are operated on with less-effective methods than in high-income countries,” she says.

The findings from our study will address and provide a solution for the inequality of surgery.”

Commonplace items are used for unintended purposes in a wide variety of situations world-wide. Cigarette ash has been deployed to removed 96% of arsenic from water, according to scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Hefei and King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Brazilian scientists have used banana peel to extract heavy metals such as lead and copper from water. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have used polyacrylate, a cheap, absorbent material found in diapers, to swell brain samples, making them easier to view under regular microscopes thus dispensing with the need for high-tech super-resolution microscopes. Another MIT team found that paraffin wax didn‘t just seal fruit preserves and jams, but was also a cheap way to encase chemical reagents to isolate them from oxygen, carbon dioxide or water. This allows for pre-measured “grab and go” capsules that don’t need an expensive inert storage container.

While Mr. MacGyver usually had to rely on paper clips and duct tape, today’s lab scientists have access to 3D printers—or at least know-how to make them. Consider the example of Michigan Technical University Prof. Joshua Pearce, who first made a self-replicating rapid (RepRap) 3D printer for about $500, that was comparable to $20,000 models.

He wanted to 3D print inexpensive versions of scientific equipment, such as open-source syringe pumps used in labs to discharge precise quantities of chemicals, in industry as 3D printing tool heads, and in hospitals to deliver medication.

The 3D printer uses open script-based computer-aided design, or SCAD, that calculates automatically the proportions for syringes of any size (whether pushing out tiny droplets or concrete). “You put in which size syringe you want and the size of the motor, and the parametric program automatically scales it and gives you the parts you need to print,” Dr. Pearce says.

You can customize the design, print out the files, then 3D print all the plastic parts, buying the few remaining parts at any hardware store, he says. The pump’s “brain” is an inexpensive credit-card size computer, the Raspberry Pi, which runs open-source software.

The free design and low-cost materials “make it possible for anyone to design a high-end syringe pump that might cost $2,000, for about $100,” Dr. Pearce says. “If a hospital in a developing country needs a high-end syringe pump, they can make it.”

The open-source software allows any changes to be widely shared. For example, the software was adapted to Arduino, an open-source electronics platform used on some 3D printers.

“Something you learn from engineering is you can design something exactly the way you want,” Dr. Pearce says. “Today, with open-source designs and easy access to prototype RepRap 3D printers, where you start is you go to the Web and download designs. You can stand on the shoulders of giants and your MacGyverism is taking that and applying it to a completely new application.”


Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe. For more from Catherine Bolgar, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion.

Photos courtesy of iStock

How an Industrial Mindset Helps SHoP Speed Its Design Process

By Akio

ArchiFuture 2015 is the largest and most influential BIM strategy and technology event in Japan. John Cerone, Director of Virtual Design & Construction at SHoP Architects, delivered a keynote address on Design Delivery to the ArchiFuture conference attendees on October 23, 2015 in Tokyo. The following is a summary of his presentation:

SHoP Architects ArchiFuture2015

John Cerone, Director of Virtual Design & Construction at SHoP Architects

Since moving its design process to the 3DExperience platform, New York-based architecture firm SHoP has adopted an “industrial” attitude toward buildings. The firm uses virtual design to “fabricate” buildings, much as the aerospace industry assembles airplanes using digital models.

“In architecture every building is different, and every detail is different, but our processes are very much the same,” explains John Cerone, director of virtual design and construction with SHoP Architects.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “Every building is different but our processes
are very much the same” – John Cerone @SHoPArchitects

This approach requires a new design mentality, focusing on a high level of detail and a close working relationship with fabricators very early in the design process.

Moving to a parts mentality

The most significant difference in this industrial approach is shifting to a focus on individual pieces as well as the project as a whole.

Very early on in a project, the design team works in terms of individual components and systems.

“They may not be the final systems that will be fabricated — they’re more like placeholders — but the system is setup so that when we get the accurate information we can easily swap the parts in,” Cerone explains.

A project may have hundreds of thousands of parts, but virtual tools allow the firm to structure all of that component data and access it in context of the larger system. CATIA allows the designers to easily move from a view of the entire building into separate building systems as well as the individual part.

Individual components within the larger structure

On SHoP’s largest implementation of this technology, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, SHoP learned to create templates for component types, then use CATIA language to expand those templates into distinct pieces.

As Cerone explains, “We’re beginning to think about design in terms of which parts are reusable and which parts are different.”

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “We’re thinking about #design in
terms of which parts are reusable, which are different”

In this case, a simple panel template containing all of the design, engineering and fabrication information was expanded into a handful of panel “families,” and then 12,000 unique panels.

Barclays Center: Installation of 12,000 unique panels

Barclays Center: Installation of 12,000 unique panels

The schedule component

With every aspect of a project living in the 3DExperience platform — not just geometry but also drawings, models, schedules and other details — something so abstract as the schedule itself can become a component that is attached to a design detail as a specific line item.

“That line item has a deliverable — the detail or a model of that detail is the deliverable and that can be attached to that schedule,” Cerone explains. “The schedule can be used in two ways: the linear time, but also as an object. The task that is associated with time is also a container for these deliverables.”

The result of this is a holistic view where time is always a factor, helping keep projects on schedule.


Viewing the schedule as a “component” attached to a design detail can help keep projects on time

A world without drawings

Because all component information is generated in the model, SHoP prefers to communicates through fabrication plans when possible, rather than passing design drawings to fabricators.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “Component info in model allows @SHoPArchitects
to communicate via fabrication plans, not drawings”

In the case of the Barclays Center, SHoP provided the panel fabricator with the machine code needed to cut each panel, as well as information on the install sequence to help plan which panels to cut and deliver first.


Fabricators receive machine codes needed to perform the cuts of specific pieces; no drawings need be exchanged

For both fabrication and installation, Cerone notes that the laser scan becomes a critical part of the design process.

“It’s essential that we know the conditions that we’re installing to so that we can find problem areas ahead of time, before units are installed,” he says. A laser scan will reveal when conditions are out of tolerance, and ensure an accurate fit for installed components.

An evolving process

In addition, the firm has found that as new virtual processes are explored on a given project, subsequent projects move much more rapidly.

For example, as the Barclays Center neared completion, SHoP began to apply the processes it had learned on that project to a project in Kenya. Despite working with a vastly different form, using a different technique, the firm was able to reduce the design time on its new project to a couple of months.

“This leaves more time to run analysis, and to be much more specific about what we’re designing,” Cerone says.

Subsequent projects have moved from design to fabrication in a matter of weeks, while retaining a high level of complexity.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “How an Industrial Mindset Helps
@SHoPArchitects Speed Its Design Process”

Related Resource: 

Façade Design for Fabrication: an Industry Solution Experience from Dassault Systèmes


Will dental visits soon be easier?

By Catherine

Written by Catherine Bolgar

New devices and materials promise to make dentist visits more pleasant, and help maintain our teeth between checkups. Here’s how.

Devices: Dentists may soon be able to eliminate tooth cavities quickly and painlessly without any drilling or filling. Tooth-destroying plaque, which feeds on dissolved food, comprises a complex mixture of bacteria that release acids into teeth, slowly dissolving dental minerals. But researchers at Reminova Ltd., a King’s College London corporate spinoff, have developed a device that re-inserts the calcium and phosphate minerals.

“We can stop the process and we can reverse it,” says Christopher Longbottom, fellow at King’s College London and Reminova co-founder. It’s not straightforward, but he says, we “can speed up the process of remineralization.”

Two or three agents clean out the proteins and lipids that have seeped through the plaque and replaced the minerals, then a tiny, imperceptible current drives the good minerals back into the tooth. The process takes about one hour, which Reminova hopes to reduce to between 20 and 30 minutes.

An alternative method is for a graphene sensor 50 microns thick (i.e., half the width of a human hair) with gold electrodes acting as an antenna, to be printed onto water-soluble silk and “tattooed” onto the tooth. As Manu Sebastian Mannoor, assistant professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., explains, the graphene, which conducts the bacteria’s electrical charge, is coated with peptides that bind to bacteria such as streptococcus mutans, listeria or salmonella.

A dentist could read the sensor like a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag to ascertain the extent of any decay or disease. The latter might include Heliobacter pylori, which is associated with stomach ulcers and cancer when found in saliva. Sensors could also be attached to bacteria-hosting objects such as hospital door handles or intravenous bags, warning of exposure to the likes of staphlylococcus.

Materials: For over 150 years, dentists have filled tooth cavities with mercury-based silver amalgam. More recently, researchers have sought alternatives, encouraged not least by the 2013 United Nations Minamata Convention on Mercury, which aims to reduce its harmful health and environmental effects.

One such possibility, for use as fillings and crowns, is glass ionomer cements. These enjoy numerous advantages: they don’t need an intermediary adhesive to bond to the tooth; like a tooth they expand and contract as temperatures change; they’re biocompatible; and they release fluoride. However, “the strength of these materials has not yet reached an optimal level,” says Ana Raquel Benetti, dentist and researcher at the Department of Odontology at the University of Copenhagen.

Dr. Benetti and Dr. Heloisa Bordallo studied the structure of conventional glass ionomer cements, with the aim of improving their durability. “Our work shows liquid mobility within the cements,” Dr. Benetti explains.

By improving the binding of the liquid to the cement structure, the material might become stronger.”

In other advances, scientists at the University of Rochester and University of Pennsylvania have found a way to use nanoparticles to deliver the antibacterial agent farnesol to plaque. Meanwhile, researchers at Anhui Medical University in Hefei, China, and the University of Hong Kong drew inspiration from the way mussels attach themselves to surfaces, and used a similar polydopamine to coat teeth, which helps remineralize their dentin, or interior.

And scientists at the Ninth People’s Hospital, Shanghai Key Laboratory, Shanghai Research Institute of Stomatology and Shanghai Jiao Ton University in China found that graphene oxide can fight bacteria in the mouth. Unlike treatments for tooth and gum-disease that rely on antibiotics (despite increasingly drug-resistant bacteria), graphene oxide destroys the bacteria’s cell walls and membranes, inhibiting their growth. One day, we might all protect our teeth with nanosheets.


Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe. For more from Catherine Bolgar, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion.

Photos courtesy of iStock

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