Printed Circuit Design and Fab/Circuits Assembly | Year: 2012
Automated 3D X-ray inspection (3D AXI) is used to detect Bottom-termination components (BTC) marginal joints and other solder-related defects on high-temperature thermal pads. For detecting cold solder joints, 3D AXI again looks at the slope of the joint. A cold solder joint will have a much smaller slope than that of a good solder joint. For detecting voids, 3D AXI looks at the gray level of each pixel on the pad and compares it to a nominal gray level value. The most common types of defects found during 3D AXI are insufficient solder opens, voids, misalignment and shorts. To detect these defects, 3D AXI looks at the diameter and gray level of each joint at multiple slices and compares the measurements collected with standard or nominal values set by the user. Because 3D AXI can take multiple slices, the user can specify the z height for AXI inspection.
Hawaiian Electric Co. is assessing a wide variety of technologies to help manage the challenges that come with a lot of rooftop solar on the edges of its grid -- from demand response and energy storage, to smart inverters and grid-edge power electronics. This week, HECO announced its latest partner on this front, Santa Clara, Calif.-based startup Varentec. In a new pilot program, the utility will deploy Varentec’s Edge of Network Grid Optimizer (ENGO) devices and Grid Edge Management System (GEMS) software to test their ability to stabilize the voltage fluctuations on a distribution circuit with a high penetration of solar PV. Varentec’s ENGO units are among a new class of grid-mounted power electronics devices, capable of injecting reactive power into grid circuits to lower or raise voltages. To date, they’ve primarily been tested out as tools to allow utilities to squeeze more efficiency out of volt/VAR optimization (VVO) systems. In that role, they’re primarily being asked to increase voltages on circuits that would otherwise be pushed below minimum levels by centralized VVO schemes, which in turn can allow for a near-doubling of the overall efficiency gained by the process. But Varentec CEO Guillaume Dufossé said in an interview late last year that the company has also been demonstrating its ability to manage the voltage effects of rooftop solar PV on distribution circuits. That requires the ability to reduce over-voltages caused by an excess of distributed solar power, which can trip off rooftop solar systems, damage home appliances, and even endanger utility crews working on the grid, HECO noted in Tuesday’s announcement. It also requires technology with the flexibility to respond to the moment-by-moment changes in solar output as clouds pass overhead, rather than simply responding to the commands of a central VVO control system. Varentec’s ENGO devices can act autonomously to stabilize voltages, or take orders from its GEMS software platform to act in concert with other utility systems. "Varentec offers a mature, grid edge volt/VAR Control technology that can be deployed very quickly to help solve the rooftop solar integration problem we are facing,” Colton Ching, HECO’s vice president of energy delivery, said in Tuesday’s statement. “Even though Varentec's technology was not primarily designed for this purpose, our innovative engineers are eager to test this volt/VAR control technology to solve our unique solar challenges." The fundamental technologies behind Varentec’s ENGO devices have been in fairly wide use at transmission scale for some time now, in the form of static VAR compensators, static synchronous compensators and other flexible alternating current transmission systems (FACTS) devices. But advances in electric motors, power converters, electric-vehicle drives and other industries have allowed companies like Varentec, Gridco, GridBridge and Smart Wires to shrink these systems to pole-mounted size, manage waste heat without fans or other moving parts, and network and control them at costs low enough to make them a potential alternative for the distribution grid. GTM Research predicts the U.S. market for these devices will reach $320 million by 2017. That’s based on the business case of solar PV integration alone, since that’s a particularly challenging problem to solve using traditional utility grid equipment and control systems. This isn’t HECO’s first test of advanced grid-edge power electronics. In a GTM Squared article last month, we covered some of the details of the utility’s pilot project with Gridco, using the startup’s in-line power regulators (IPRs) on a western Oahu circuit that’s undergoing voltage increases and back-feeding from several customer-sited PV systems. UPDATE: HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg described in a Wednesday email how the two projects differ: "In simple terms, with Varentec, we are looking at optimizing and reducing voltage fluctuations across an entire circuit (from substation to the customer meter). The Gridco project looks at optimizing and reducing voltage fluctuations for a specific cluster of customers." Because Varentec's systems work as a "swarm of shunt-connected (in parallel) power electronic devices," they can potentially "inject reactive power into the circuit to stabilize the voltage and allow for more voltage headroom to interconnect more PV." Hawaii is a ripe testing ground for these types of technologies, given its challenges integrating the growing amounts of customer-sited PV on its island grids. HECO has a number of distribution circuits that can generate more solar power at midday than is being used by the customers on those lines, leading to back-feeding problems. It’s also seeing load-curve disruptions that HECO grid planners have dubbed the “Nessie curve” -- a more pronounced version of the “duck curve” problems that California is facing. Technologies like those coming from Varentec and Gridco aren’t the solution to all of HECO’s problems. The utility has developed a broad-ranging set of initiatives to manage its push toward a target of 100 percent renewables by 2045, including a large-scale energy storage procurement, deploying behind-the-meter batteries from Stem and grid-responsive water heaters from Steffes, and engaging the smart inverter capabilities of vendors such as Enphase and SolarCity. Varentec raised $13 million in Series C funding in January, led by new investor 3M New Ventures, and joined by previous investors Bill Gates and Khosla Ventures. The new round comes on top of $7.7 million raised in 2012 and $8 million in 2013, along with earlier Department of Energy and ARPA-E grants. Varentec has also signed a contract manufacturing deal with Flex (formerly Flextronics), continued collecting and analyzing data from large-scale pilot projects with utilities such as Southern Company and Duke Energy, and added a new customer, Ontario, Canada-based distribution utility Entegrus, deploying the devices for a conservation voltage reduction pilot.
One-axis tracking for large-scale ground-mounted solar is "a no-brainer," according to Dan Shugar, CEO of tracker firm NEXTracker, who called it the "dominant" mounting structure in that space. Kate Trono, VP of products at SunLink, believes a centralized tracker architecture is "the right solution for the preponderance of projects in the U.S." Bob Bellemare, CFO at tracker leader Array Technologies, says his firm "focuses on simplicity and ease of installation." These three tracker execs met last week on a panel at Greentech Media's U.S. Solar Market Insight conference in San Diego, Calif. Bellemare pointed out the varying design and engineering philosophies, saying, "The most we have in common is we track east to west." Trackers can improve solar output by 20 percent in Las Vegas and 30 percent in Chile, said Shugar, at what is approaching a single-digit premium to fixed tilt. At the same time, trackers help provide a better match to utility load. MJ Shiao, panel moderator and director at GTM Research, notes, "Tracking, specifically horizontal single-axis tracking, continues to be the fastest-growing structural [balance-of-system] component and is expected to make up nearly 20 percent of ground-mount projects installed globally this year. The U.S. leads this market, where over 60 percent of ground-mount projects are installed with trackers -- and that share is growing. We expect the market for trackers will reach nearly $5 billion by 2020." Array Technologies shipped more than 500 megawatts in 2014 and is now shipping 300 to 500 megawatts per month, according to Bellemare. GTM Research notes that "for many years, ATI was the only 'bankable' tracking product, and it remains the largest third-party tracking manufacturer globally." Array Technologies expects to deliver nearly 4 gigawatts of trackers between mid-year 2015 through the end of 2016. Bellemare notes that the firm has been around for 25 years and has been solely focused on trackers and tracker design. The company has shipped a cumulative 4 gigawatts of its centralized design and will ship "enough to cover 40 to 50 square miles of land surface in the next year." He notes that the company uses "no sensors -- we feel like that's a break point." He said the firm uses fewer parts -- "half the bolts of other trackers" with "two motors per megawatt, connected by a flexible drive line to track all types of terrain." Bellemare said, "We focused on taking the maintenance out of the system," suggesting that the firm's tracker "does not require any routine maintenance." He noted that several of the firm's trackers were in the path of Hurricane Sandy and "all survived," adding, "We design for the unusual and assume the improbable and unlikely will happen." SunLink's Kate Trono discussed the firm's design decision to go toward the most centralized solution possible with its hydraulically-actuated system. Trono suggested that the many large, flat sites in the U.S. favor a centralized approach that "expedites commissioning" and "reduces O&M." She said SunLink's offering is "the right solution for the preponderance of projects in the U.S." Trono sees her firm's goal as "making solar more valuable" and providing the owner with insight into O&M and maintenance and ultimately lowering the cost of solar by employing "as big a block as possible." She said that the choice of tracking "depends on the project. On a site with extreme terrain variation, with challenges like that, a distributed architecture is the way to go." Still, for Trono, "Centralized is for massive utility scale. The right projects require the right solutions." Solar tracker startup NEXTracker was recently acquired by Flextronics for up to $330 million. The company shipped 275 megawatts in 2014 and now has 1.8 gigawatts of trackers operating and under construction. NEXTracker expects to deliver over 2 gigawatts in 2015 and has large supply agreements with SunEdison and Blattner Energy. The firm is now shipping 100 megawatts' worth of products per week; CEO Dan Shugar said it took the first 12 years of his career to get to a cumulative 100 megawatts. NEXTracker uses an unlinked tracker architecture, unlike the linked scheme and centralized architecture used by SunLink and Array Technologies. Shugar rattled off the advantages of his firm's design: maintenance costs are lower, it's easier to clean, it can be driven through, grading requirements are decreased -- but the most prominent edge that NEXTracker has is: "We [need] less steel, and at the end of the day, we win on less steel." In a previous interview, Shugar said, "Virtually every tracker system uses a mechanical interlock -- and that hasn't evolved a lot." He said that when his team was hammering out the requirements for their new tracker design, they determined that "it needed to be individually driven, not interlocked (think Venetian blinds)." Shugar told the U.S. SMI crowd, "We measure the angle of every row in real time and measure to one-tenth of a degree." "NEXTracker uses the exact data collection systems used by utility smart meters (ZigBee wireless protocol with mesh network), and archives data in the same database system used by 100% of the utility [independent system operators]. We use 'closed loop control,' meaning the angle of each row is measured and used to exactly control its angle. Those angles, plus other important things like the health of the motor, are measured, reported, and stored with the same integrity as utility data. We believe the world has moved to more accountability, and when power-plant assets are now in the hundreds of millions of dollars on some plants, real data on key metrics is essential to financing and optimum performance," wrote Shugar in a follow-up email. Shugar told the conference audience, "We must track to take [solar] to the next level...[and] get rid of the duck curve."
News Article | August 23, 2016
Back in 2011, an unknown smartphone brand called Imerj began to show off a slick prototype for a dual-screen smartphone. The device unfolded like a clamshell laptop, allowing users to type on one screen while interacting with apps on another. In portrait mode, users could run two apps side by side, with swipe gestures to pass apps back and forth between the two displays. Unfortunately, the product never shipped for a variety of reasons, and since then, no one's released a phone with side-by-side screens outside of Japan. But if anything, the idea makes more sense now than it did five years ago. Smartphones continue to cannibalize tablets and laptops, as we spend more time texting, reading, socializing, watching videos, and playing games on the one device that's most readily available. As such, we demand ever-larger smartphone displays, to the point that we can barely fit them in our hands and pockets anymore. Surely, we'd go even larger if we could. But instead of making a single-screen even larger, perhaps the time is right to add a second one. Imerj wasn't the first attempt at a dual-screen Android phone. That honor goes to the Kyocera Echo, which sold as a Sprint exclusive in 2011. The Echo launched with a lot of fanfare, but it had a number of problems. When unfurled, the two screens had a thick bezel between them, tarnishing the tablet-like experience Kyocera was aiming for. The extra display also consumed a lot of power—a point that Kyocera seemed to acknowledge by shipping the Echo with an external battery pack. Worst of all, the Echo lacked the software to support its ambitious hardware. Out of the box, only a handful of apps supported side-by-side use, and Kyocera's attempt at an app-developer program went nowhere. Perhaps Kyocera could have established an ecosystem had it committed to the dual-screen concept over the long term, but the Echo ended up being a one-off experiment. (A Kyocera spokesman initially seemed willing to have the company answer questions about the Echo, but then stopped responding to my emails.) Imerj's take on the dual-screen phone was more refined, but also more ambitious. The prototype was conceived and built by electronics manufacturer Flextronics (now known as Flex), with the original goal being to create a phone that could dock into a desktop workstation, says Sean Burke, who ran Flextronics' computing division at the time. To enable multitasking on the workstation, the Imerj team adapted the Linux kernel to run multiple Android apps side by side, along with a full Linux desktop. The dual-screen phone evolved out of that effort. "Because we had resolved the whole aspect of doing multitasking and multi-displaying, we could actually do dual screen and have the combination of making it a full-sized screen across two screens, or running multiple apps at the same time and maintaining full Android compatibility," Burke says. But while Burke maintains that the device was ready for production, Flextronics was unable to drum up interest from electronics brands. Motorola, for instance, was busy with its own laptop docking system on its Atrix smartphones, while Sony didn't want to diverge from its existing three-year product roadmap (which included a dual-screen tablet but no phone). Cisco, which had been dabbling in consumer electronics with its acquisition of Flip camera maker Pure Digital, liked the Imerj idea but decided it was too aggressive a leap into the smartphone business, Burke says. A "big retailer in the U.S." also opted against making its smartphones after initially seeming interested in the project. Meanwhile, Flextronics itself was reluctant to go directly to market, Burke says. Like many Android phones, its design would likely have infringed on patents from companies like Apple and Microsoft, who at the time were some of Flextronics' largest contract customers. "Contract manufacturers tend to be risk-averse. We don't want to piss off anybody, because everybody's a potential customer," Burke says. "When it got down to the wire of, do we go or don't we go, the board and CEO just said it's really not worth it." Still, Burke—who is now a corporate vice president and general manager at AMD—is convinced the idea was a good one. As proof, he sent me a focus group video in which people are marveling over the two screens ("As soon as he opened it up like that, I was like, wow," one participant says), and claims that some of the Imerj team members still use their prototypes. "I thought it was much more natural to the way I use my computer," Burke says, noting he'd use the second screen to reference a Word or Excel document while writing an email, or use the extra screen as a touch keyboard. Although no major phone makers have attempted a dual-screen smartphone since Imerj wound down, the pieces are starting to fall into place. Android, for instance, will support two apps running side by side in the next major version, dubbed Nougat. Burke says while phone makers would still have to define how dual-screen interactions work, native multi-window support should make things easier. As for hardware, the borders around smartphone screens have gotten much narrower over the last five years. (On Xiaomi's Mi 5, for instance, the bezel is practically nonexistent.) And while a dual-screen phone would still draw extra battery power and require a thicker design, display technology and power efficiency have improved to the point that a doubly thick phone doesn't seem like a big tradeoff. Lenovo's Moto Z, for instance, is a mere 5.2 mm thick. If you stacked two of them together, they'd still be slimmer than an original iPhone. (Hey, maybe one of the phone's Moto Mods attachments could be a slide-out secondary display.) That's not to say the concept is without its design challenges. The borders around smartphone screens won't go away completely until displays become fully bendable—an advancement that's still many years away—and Burke says he's still not sure how well a dual-screen design would accommodate third-party cases. Technology analyst Patrick Moorhead points out another issue. Hinges, he says, are notoriously difficult to design when trying to strike a balance between sleekness and sturdiness. As an example, he points to Windows tablet-laptop hybrids from a few years ago, which were either too flimsy or too clunky. It took PC makers a few years to get it right. "I think that's a mechanical problem we haven't fixed yet," Moorhead says. "I feel like we're probably three years away from being able to fix that, but somebody has to come out with it first in order to iterate off it." Perhaps that's the biggest challenge of all: To design a dual-screen phone, some hardware maker will have to part with nearly a decade of design conventions and take a big risk. But for Burke, who never envisioned that giant screens would instead become the norm, a second screen makes at least as much sense. "I do like the bigger screen, because I'm old and my eyes aren't as great," Burke says. "But it's like, how big can you get without being stupid?"
News Article | November 17, 2015
Benjamin Blumenthal, one of the co-founders of SunToWater, is making a new appliance that seems a little bit like magic: Even in the middle of a desert, the device can pull drinking water out of thin air. "We're using air, sunlight, and salt, and we're making water," he says. The company won first place in Singularity University's 2015 Impact Challenge, which is bringing entrepreneurs to its Silicon Valley lab to work on technologies that can help solve the growing global problem of drought. By pushing air over salt, the SunToWater device—that's it in the bottom left of the house in the picture above—can suck drops of water out of the air and then pull the water out of the salt when it needs to be used. It's designed to work even in the driest air in the planet. "Cracked-earth Africa, where nothing can grow, is 18% relative humidity," says Blumenthal. "Our engineers created an artificial environment with 14% relative humidity, and we were still able to produce water. Wherever people can live, it can provide water." In a place like a remote part of sub-Saharan Africa, a group of the devices, which can each harvest 20-40 gallons of water in a day, could serve as the only water source. The same could be true for homes in California. "You could certainly put a network of these units into a village in Africa and provide all the water that they require," he says. "In California, if people want to take their house off of the water grid, the same way that they took their house off of the power grid using solar panels, they could put one or two units in their home and they'd be water independent." Even if the technology was used at a large scale, the startup says it wouldn't have an effect on the weather. "The water cycle is truly enormous," says Blumenthal. "The USGS says there's 12.9 trillion tons of water in what is essentially an ocean above our heads. If you were to prick your finger and drop a little bit of blood into the ocean at the beach, have you bloodied the ocean? Technically, yes, but statistically, not at all. That's the same principle here." The catch: The technology is right now even more expensive than desalination. The company estimates that it would cost about 3.5 cents to make a gallon, including energy costs, in a place like Los Angeles. But desalination only makes sense along the coast, where ocean water is plentiful. "If you want to move desalinated water inland, you either need to build a billion-dollar pipe infrastructure, or you need to pipe water, which leaves you with the uncomfortable problem of burning gasoline to move a small amount of water," he says. Taking water from air, on the other hand, can happen anywhere. SunToWater, which is a spinoff from the electronics company Flextronics, isn't the only startup working on this type of device. Another finalist in the Singularity University contest, Permalution, is focused on harvesting water from fog—something that California still has an abundance of despite the drought. "We're mimicking the spiderweb in the morning, where the dew droplets would appear in the surface of the fiber, but on a big scale," says Tatiana Estevez Carlucci, co-founder of Permalution. Using 65-by-29-foot screens, the company can catch fog and drip it down into a storage tank. The company estimates that about 21% of the West Coast is exposed to coastal fog and could start collecting it. It's a process that used to happen more naturally—redwoods and some other trees also collect fog and drip it down to their roots, but as trees have been cut down, some of that has been lost. "There's only 3% of that vegetation left in the state," says Carlucci. "It's necessary that we bring this source of water back." Permalution is working with regulators in San Francisco and Marin County to get approval for fog harvesting and hopes to start providing a new water source for irrigation and fighting wildfires. A third finalist in the Singularity University contest, the Philippines-based AWE, produces both water and energy from air simultaneously. Producing water was actually an unintended benefit: The company started by trying to find a new way to produce wind power. While most wind power requires high wind speeds—around 20 miles an hour—the new machine works with winds as low as two miles an hour, when it's barely possible to feel a breeze. The device compresses air to store it, but as the engineers designed the device, they realized it only worked with dry air. They had to squeeze humidity out of the air—and that meant they suddenly had a new source of water. "We said, ok, let's rethink the whole thing," says Richard Joye from AWE. "It isn't just a wind-driven energy device, but a water-extracting device that doesn't require energy to work. It produces water and produces energy, solving two problems at once." Each unit can produce between three and 120 million gallons of water in a year. "The small units are more for natural disaster or emergency response, or remote communities," says Joye. "Here in the Philippines, we're working on an island where they have no power and they have no fresh water." He says the large-scale devices could compete with large wind or solar farms. As a startup, Joye thinks AWE is in a better position to take on global environmental challenges than more established companies, even those already working in something like renewable energy. "If you look at water and wind, even to some extent solar, there haven't been real breakthroughs in the last 40 years. ... If you look at wind, the turbines are much the same as they were in the 1980s," he says. "We're nimble, flexible, small, but we're starting to attract money from VCs," he says. "I think we live in interesting times because now there's high pressure to serve the environment, climate change, water problems, and small companies can really address these problems fast." He thinks there's room for several new startups in the space. "We need a portfolio of solutions," he says. "I don't think one technology can address the whole problem, at least not in the short term."