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Mechanical Engineering. 2008;130(12):24-29. doi:10.1115/1.2008-DEC-1.
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This article discusses the innovative programs of Ausra, a solar power company based in Palo Alto, California, to convert sunshine into electricity. The team is trying to use the best tools available to design a renewable energy system that can be put together by largely unskilled labor and do it cheaply enough to be profitable. The paper also highlights that instead of using one parabolic surface, Ausra divides its mirrored reflectors into strips, each of which concentrates light into a set of pipes mounted 40 feet overhead. A single square mile of mirror field like this one near Bakersfield can generate as much as 80 MW. The Ausra manufacturing plant in Las Vegas is a garden-variety factory, using robotic welders and hard-hatted workers to build the trusses that support the mirrors. According to researchers, a look at a solar radiation map of the United States shows that finding sunshine ought not to be a problem. While the eastern half of the country has too many partly cloudy days to make much use of solar thermal power, the Southwest is one of the best locations in the world for it.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2008;130(12):30-34. doi:10.1115/1.2008-Dec-2.
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This article explores diverse ways adopted by companies to find ways to make extracting oil from the sands of northern Alberta a little easier. At Petrobank’s Whitesands site, heat from in situ combustion both melts and upgrades the bitumen in the underground deposit. Horizontal production wells carry the oil to the surface. However, even with the new processes in place, copious quantities of energy and water are needed to produce oil from sands. In situ production processes exploit bitumen deposits that are inaccessible through surface mining. The facility at EnCana’s Foster Creek site processes some of the water used to extract bitumen in situ. That recycled water is then boiled and reinjected below the surface. Environmental arguments aside, many observers contend that the only argument against exploiting the Alberta oil sands that might have any success is economic—that it might cost more than alternatives. The paper concludes that barring some unforeseen calamity, oil demand is expected to outstrip the capacity of conventional petroleum production. Even if wringing oil from the Alberta sands is expensive and energy-intensive, it is probably a cost most consumers will be willing to pay for access to the next easiest oil.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2008;130(12):40-42. doi:10.1115/1.2008-DEC-3.
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This article discusses features of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems that aim to help small engineering firms in managing their businesses. With the proliferation of ERP systems and vendors in the past decade, the big vendors as well as a series of small and niche players are now marketing their offerings for the small-to-midsize company and for specialized companies. Small companies often find that ERP systems give them better control of inventory and production scheduling. The engineer-to-order operation has unique needs that can be met by a specialized ERP system. Jobscope, a company in Greenville, South Carolina, makes ERP software especially for small-to-midsize engineer-to-order companies. In order to serve engineer-to-order type of engineering companies, the Jobscope system stores business information on a per project rather than a company-wide basis. It is because engineer-to-order companies batch and track jobs on a project basis. The experts agree that bringing in an ERP system might seem daunting to the smaller engineering operation. However, they also agree on another thing: it can help small companies manage the complexities of growing business.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster

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