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January 2001

In This Issue:
bullet Save Your Breath, Turn on the Propeller!
bullet New Standard Test Methods to Keep Auto Industry in Top Form
bullet Treadmill Manufacturer Slims Costs, Bulks Up Sales and Production
bullet Brilliant X-Ray Beams Illuminate Microstructures of Materials
bullet Reporters Invited to Help Celebrate NIST's Birthday
bullet Near-Centenarian Cast Iron Standard Still Going Strong
bullet Tech Trivia

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Building Research

Save Your Breath, Turn on the Propeller!

Huffing and puffing to blow a house down might have worked for the Big, Bad Wolf, but researchers and engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Texas Tech University, the Department of Energy, and its Oak Ridge National Laboratory prefer a Hercules C-130 turboprop airplane.

Within the next three months, Texas Air National Guard pilots will taxi their C-130 aircraft to the edge of a Lubbock, Texas runway and stop in front of instrument-laden test homes built on site. Propeller blasts from the planes will subject these buildings to three sustained wind levels, one comparable to that of a hurricane. The researchers will make detailed measurements of air flow properties and the aerodynamic loads on selected points of the buildings’ envelopes. Along with these structural performance measures, important energy performance assessments also will be conducted.

Subsequent data analysis should yield realistic computer models that can tell homebuilders and manufacturers the actual wind resistance of different types of residential buildings under any realistic wind condition. Manufacturers should be able to use the information to incorporate structural and energy-efficiency improvements into their building designs.

Turboprops provide a wind source not available in traditional wind tunnels since existing systems cannot envelop an entire house. Additionally, the procedure is very cost effective; a comparable test in a large-enough-sized wind tunnel would cost as much as $200 million.

Media Contact:
John Blair,  (301) 975-4261



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MetallurgyMetal Stamping

New Standard Test Methods to Keep Auto Industry in Top Form

With the goal of improved fuel economy, U.S. auto manufacturers are looking at using lightweight materials—high-strength steel, aluminum or fiber-reinforced plastic—in auto body parts. The challenge of using these new materials is understanding their behavior during the forming process—how varying states of pushing, stretching and drawing affect final shape and crash-worthiness. Unfortunately, today’s computer models cannot make accurate predictions because they lack sufficient data on new material behavior. NIST scientists, partnering with auto industry companies, are working to provide substantial data on the behavior of new materials through developing more effective measurement technologies.

The industry spends some $700 million a year on sheet-metal forming die sets, which shape the material into auto body parts. Arriving at the final die set involves a lot of trial and error on the production floor. New techniques are enabling NIST researchers to collect data throughout the entire forming process rather than just at the point the sample breaks or assumes its final shape. They also are working on minimizing the costly problem of surface roughening through detailed analysis of material microstructures and the strains of the forming process. By designing more accurate computer models, NIST will help manufacturers reduce the number of unsuccessful try-outs, resulting in reduced cycle time for making parts and overall cost savings for industry.

Media Contact:
Pamela Houghtaling,  (301) 975-5745Up


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Treadmill Manufacturer Slims Costs, Bulks Up Sales and Production

At a time of year when many of us are trying to get leaner, ICON Health and Fitness recently went on its own fitness program with the help of the Utah Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

A small manufacturer of health and exercise equipment in Clearfield, Utah, ICON wanted to improve its production processes and eliminate non-value-added activities. The company also wanted to find a better way to maintain production equipment and involve employees more in the process. Utah MEP trained ICON managers and employees in lean manufacturing techniques. Originating in Japan in the 1970s, lean manufacturing is a concept that eliminates manufacturing activities or actions that add no real value to the product or service.

The training helped ICON eliminate waste; increase production by 9 percent; and improve employee effectiveness, saving $1.3 million in labor costs. With their improved job skills, ICON employees had more control over issues that affected their productivity and job satisfaction. As a result, employee turnover and injury rate declined while sales per employee grew by 3 to 4 percent.

For further information on the Utah MEP and its assistance to ICON, contact James Winegar, (801) 764-7905. Small manufacturers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico can reach their local NIST MEP affiliate by calling (800) MEP-4MFG (637-4634).

Media Contact:
Jan Kosko,  (301) 975-2767


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Brilliant X-Ray Beams Illuminate Microstructures of Materials

When the UNICAT (University-National-Laboratory-Industry Collaborative Access Team) facility at Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source opened up its new advanced X-ray instruments to scientists in November 2000, the National Institute of Standards and Technology already had been involved in two ways. First, NIST funded, designed and built several of the devices for the Argonne, Ill., facility, one of three sources in the world for “hard X-ray third-generation synchrotron radiation light”— the brightest available X-ray beams. Secondly, NIST scientists had put the new beams through their paces for a year, examining the structures of materials such as metals, ceramics and polymers at previously unattainable levels of microscopic detail.

One area for which NIST researchers have been using the bright beams is investigating what happens to materials as they “deform” under stress. Other microstructural studies are helping define a material’s lifetime and in-service properties (such as how heat and gas affect the ceramic coating inside a gas turbine or how material coiled into a superconducting magnet behaves). The extensive data collected from such experiments can be used to create extremely accurate computer models of material behavior, which, in turn, can result in cheaper, more efficient materials processing.

Partnering with NIST in UNICAT are the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Illinois and UOP Research Inc.

Media Contact:
Pamela Houghtaling,  (301) 975-5745Up


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Centennial Events

Reporters Invited to Help Celebrate NIST's Birthday

What do gas pumps, truck scales, blood cholesterol tests, DNA chips, industrial lasers, satellite antennas, aircraft altimeters and ballistics-resistant body armor have in common? In no small measure, these diverse tools and technologies owe their reliable performance to an indispensable, yet inconspicuous federal agency that is about to celebrate its 100th birthday.

Founded March 3, 1901, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has supplied a century’s worth of essential technical contributions to science, industry, human health and safety, the environment and national defense. Throughout the year 2001, the agency that began life as the National Bureau of Standards will be hosting events to highlight its past achievements and help focus its attention on 21st-century science and technology needs.

Planned Centennial events at NIST’s Gaithersburg, Md., headquarters, and
its Boulder, Colo., facility include open houses; a “History and Reunion Day”; special symposia and meetings; the opening of a new interactive exhibit; the installation of a NIST time capsule; and tours for industry leaders, government officials and students. Reporters are eagerly encouraged to attend these events, which are listed on the NIST Centennial web site at


Media Contact:
Michael E. Newman,  (301) 975-3025


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NIST Centennial

The National Institute of Standards and Technology's 100th year of service to America began on March 3, 2000, and will culminate with our centennial anniversary one year later. For each month during this period, NIST Tech Beat will recall a significant event that occurred in the past century.

Near-Centenarian Cast Iron Standard Still Going Strong

Publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle in January 1906 revealed the gruesome working conditions, unsafe practices and lack of quality controls in meat-packing plants. An outraged American public demanded that standards be established for safer food. Within six months, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act and a meat inspection law.

At the same time, January 1906, researchers at the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) were fulfilling another request for standards—although in this case, the clients were somewhat calmer.

The American Foundrymen’s Association, an organization representing the
metalcasting industry, had asked NBS to take over the work of preparing and distributing samples of standardized iron to its members. To prepare the standards, quantities of iron were reduced to fine borings and then carefully analyzed, divided into samples of known composition as certified by the Bureau.

On Feb. 1, 1906, Standardized Iron Sample 5 was made available to steel manufacturers who needed to verify the iron composition of their product. Ninety-four years and 18 renewals later, the standard—now called Cast Iron Standard 5m—holds the record for longest continuous service among NIST’s vast portfolio of Standard Reference Materials.

Standard Reference Materials are samples of solids, liquids or gases characterized by NIST as having specific physical and chemical properties. These certified artifacts help establish the quality and reliability of devices, goods, medical data and scientific results.

Media Contact:
Michael E. Newman,  (301) 975-3025


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Tech Trivia

Oxidative damage of pipes, lead-shielded cables and other underground metallic structures by stray electrical currents from streetcar railways prompted NIST to begin researching corrosion in 1910. Almost two decades of NIST investigative work later, the use of sacrificial anodes (metals such as zinc attached to a structure that attract stray current and become corroded instead of the original target) had become common practice.

NIST's corrosion research went coast-to-coast in the 1940s and 1950s when the agency buried metal samples at 128 test sites around the nation. The sites represented virtually every type of American soil, including Gulf Coast clay, California silt loam and South Carolina tidal marshland. The samples were unearthed periodically and assessed for corrosion damage.

Starting in the 1960s, corrosion experts at NIST expanded their research to more non-traditional aspects of the field. Included were studies of microbial involvement in metal degradation, the development of ultrasonic evaluation techniques to pinpoint corrosion at its earliest stages and investigations of the electronic structure of metals to define the mechanisms of corrosion.

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Editor: Michael E. Newman

Date created: 2/20/01
Last updated: 5/30/01
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