Is China at risk of Blowing up as the headline in the British publication the Daily Telegraph reads?

Coming fast on our blog last week (I wonder if that is what prompted the Telegraph to cover this topic?) the paper makes the case that not only is inflation putting China in particular, and Asia in general, at risk of a crash but they add energy and transport into the mix ” the former leading into the latter. Pointing to the number of low cost manufacturing jobs coming back to the US or Mexico such as furniture, shoes, textiles, etc, a trend we have seen considerable anecdotal evidence of ourselves, the article explains how freight rates have tripled on the back of rising fuel costs. Of how energy prices in China have been capped by the government and subsidized to be kept low but how this is a temporary  tactic that can not be perpetuated for long. The Asian economies and business models were built on the concept of cheap labor but were underpinned by cheap energy. China’s use of energy per unit of gross domestic product is three times that of the US, five times Japan’s, and eight times Britain’s. China’s factories were not built with current energy levels in mind and when the true impact of current costs is fed through the impact could be dramatic.

The affect of high energy costs on the metals markets has been significant with costs passed rapidly down the line to the fabricator or end user. To what extent a relocation of manufacturing would impact the patterns of consumption remain to be seen, but as we have seen with the distortions in the US steel market it is as much where product is consumed as how much is consumed that has the most significant impact.

–Stuart Burns

I hope you all enjoyed your cookout as much as we did. I had a chance to catch up with my cousin Scott who was here from South Florida. Scott is a robotics engineer by trade working in the medical device industry. By night he is a part-time inventor/tinkerer. So I got a big chuckle out of this gadget he invented. Besides the shameless plug, I thought I would take advantage of the opportunity to interview him on a range of topics related to the role of metals both for automotive accessories (you too can get your Scion tC radio cover to automatically open with a turn of the ignition) and medical devices or more specifically robotic medical devices.

As the content for electronics within cars continues to grow and eat into other systems (e.g. electro-mechanical), it surprised me to learn how many metal elements were used to make this motorized radio cover. First, the printed circuit board (e.g. copper for traces) and for some boards, they must be gold plated especially for contacts (things that need to mate to something). Because metals are such good conductors, they will likely be used for a long time in printed circuit boards. In addition to the boards, the device contains metal brackets, custom carbon steel rods, zinc plated steel screws, zinc plated metal brackets and a threaded stainless rod which my cousin had to machine himself (nobody would quote it). Quite a few metals I thought for an “electronic device”.

But the interesting development is really in the area of ROHS compliance (ROHS, developed in Europe but has since been adopted by the US automotive industry) requires the removal of lead used on the printed circuit board. Lead has traditionally been the one metal that is soldered on which helps give boards their electronic capability. The elimination of lead has in turn, created some interesting conundrums. The main one is that no long term reliability studies have been conducted to show that alternative soldering mechanisms (e.g. tin/silver) would hold up as well as lead. For this reason, military and medical device applications were exempted from ROHS compliance. The automotive industry is now ROHS compliant but not without first expending a whole lot of cost for reliability testing.

Later in the week we’ll cover the use of metals in the field of medical robotics.

–Lisa Reisman

1 1,721 1,722 1,723 1,724 1,725 1,745