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Mechanical Engineering. 2007;129(06):26-30. doi:10.1115/1.2007-JUN-1.
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This article describes features of the U.S. National Rail Safety Action Plan. Under this program, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) the agency is addressing numerous factors that can contribute to accidents. Some of its solutions are procedural, addressing human behavior and the effects of fatigue. Others involve evolving technology meant to assure that the road itself is safe. The track technology promises to let the railroads perform predictive rather than reactive maintenance on their roads. According to FRA, its National Rail Safety Action Plan, begun in 2005, is working. After a three-year plateau, the total number of accidents declined slightly, about 2.4 percent, in 2005 and dropped by 8.5 percent in 2006. The FRA argues that the rules are not based on scientific observation, and to correct that, the agency is developing statistical models based on work histories that will predict when fatigue may be nearing a critical point.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2007;129(06):32-35. doi:10.1115/1.2007-JUN-2.
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This article discusses innovative ways for transporting hazardous materials. Many materials classified as hazardous are not directly toxic to human beings, but represent risks to the environment. Hazardous materials include whiskey, contaminated soil, and motor oil. Researchers have found new insulating materials that will take up less room and still give the same thermal protection, or perhaps better. The project is investigating materials from companies that include Microthermal and Aspen Aerogels. Reducing the thickness of insulation material leaves space for new materials to add strength to the car. The shipper, the tank car maker, and the rail operator have joined forces for stronger cars, and now they have government support, too. Dow looks at alternative ways of doing business to reduce the need to ship hazardous materials. According to an expert, one solution, along these lines, brought about a safer way to handle one customer's shipments of acrolein.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2007;129(06):36-39. doi:10.1115/1.2007-JUN-3.
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This article discusses features of a high-efficiency car. The group setting up the contest, the X Prize Foundation, used a cash prize to lure a private company to launch its own space vehicle. Automakers have been better at producing high-efficiency concepts, such as the Chevy Volt than actual high-mileage cars. After the success of the Ansari X Prize, the directors of the X Prize Foundation looked for other fields in need of a push. In an era of rising gasoline prices and stagnant fuel efficiency marks, the idea of setting up a prize for a highly fuel-efficient vehicle was a natural. The contest tests vehicles on several factors, not just the single metric of fuel economy. The eventual winner of the Automotive X Prize will be much different. For starters, the car must meet federal safety standards and will be judged on physical attributes such as exterior styling, interior comfort, and the quality of the workmanship. According to the managers of the competition, the most important objective of the Automotive X Prize is to encourage not only the mainstream industry but also people on the periphery to really layout on the table some strong ideas.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2007;129(06):40-42. doi:10.1115/1.2007-JUN-4.
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This article explains the concept of systems and negotiations theory. The article also discusses that by applying complex systems and negotiation research to collaborative design, research scientists have come up with several sound ideas to help engineers work together toward the best product possible. According to experts, the marketplace is making increasing demands for innovative, sustainable design. Many engineered products will have to be different from anything conceptualized today. In order to get there, engineers are going to have to work together in the smoothest possible manner. Using knowledge about systems and negotiation theory, researchers have turned their attention to the way that engineers negotiate as they work together on a single design. Researchers found that to get the best digital model possible, everyone involved must give a little. The article explains that collaboration was the norm when Boeing and Marshall Space Flight Center engineers worked on the lab module for the International Space Station.

Topics: Engineers , Design
Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster

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