Tag: Electronics

Graphene spins like nothing else on earth

illustration courtesy Chalmers University of TechnologyScientists at Chalmers University of Technology said that large area graphene preserves electronic spin over a long period.

And that means the window is now open for the long-touted spintronics, promising faster CPUs and memory for computers.

The aptly named Saroj Dash, head of the research group at Chalmers, said: “These results will attract a lot of attention in the research community and put graphene on the map for applications in spintronic components.”

Spintronics, already used in state of the art hard drives but Dash believes there’s more exciting times ahead. “The thin carbon film is not only an excellent electrical conductor, but also theoretically has the rare ability to maintain the electronics with the spin intact,” said Dash.

That means that in spin components of the future, electrons will be able to travel several tens of micrometers with spins staying aligned, something you can’t do with aluminium or copper, Dash said.

The researchers have managed to create graphene through chemical vapour deposition. Dash said: “The CVD graphene can also be easily removed from the copper foil on which it grows and is lifted onto a silicon wafer. There are good prospects for the production of large area graphene on an industrial scale.”

So when, and if, will we see spintronic computers? On that subject Dash is a little more pessimistic. He said: “Whether spintronics can eventually fully replace semiconductor technology is an open question.”

Partnership to make wearable electronics kicks off

Technology has once again met fashion as Peratech and the London College of Fashion have formed a partnership to develop wearable electronics.

Using Peratech’s QTC sensor technology, it is claimed that these designs, part of a three and a half year PhD research project funded by an EPSRC ICASE award, will help the military conduct remote monitoring of personnel for stress and chemical attack.

It is also predicted that the sensors could be incorporated into clothing for everyday health monitoring as early indicators of health problems.

Peratech said its QTC materials have already been used to provide switches in clothing for a number of years. It said the core of QTC technology was that these materials change their resistance when a force is applied such as pressure. 

Printing QTC inks on to textiles would enable simple on/off switches to be created but also because the resistance changes proportionally to the amount of force applied, areas of the cloth can become touch sensitive or can be made to recognise pressure inputs.

The company said the project would combine technology, design and user needs to work out how this growing area of wearable technology can be developed.

It said there were already glasses that provided computer displays, “but they lacked a simple way to input and interact with them”.

Peratech believes that, using its technology, people could potentially print a keyboard onto a sleeve or onto the back of a glove and link it via Bluetooth to electronic glasses.

The material could also potetially detect the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Its printable QTC E-nose sensors work by the QTC material expanding in the presence of VOCs which changes the resistance of the QTC material, giving a quick response and recover times along with a high level of sensitivity.

Different formulations can be made according to the specific VOC to be detected so that low cost warning sensors and the associated electronics can be printed onto textiles to provide clothing that monitors the wearer for signs of illness, fatigue or exposure to dangerous chemicals, the company said.

How many screens do you have?

I was in lovely San Jose a few months ago, and a charming chap saw that I had a notebook, a Samsung Galaxy SII and an Apple iPad to boot.

He asked me a question which caused me to ponder:  “How many screens do you have, Mike?”

It wasn’t until I got back to Oxford until I was able to tally the total.

Right here, in my “study”, I can count five, if I clued the LCD telly. In my “bedroom” I have two. Downstairs I have three. That makes a total of 10 and I am not counting the defunct phones in my drawers. If I counted them, I’d have 15 screens – hence your Mageek is in his own way bolstering the cartel rich LCD companies as if there was no tomorrow.

Now, one of my friends said: “Mike, have you written about Coltan yet?”  Coltan is an ore that is vital to electronic devices and some say that it has sparked all these atrocities happening in the Congo – a claim that has validity.

At the White Bull conference, recently held in Barcelona, an impassioned Sean Carasso reckoned that the world’s media isn’t writing about Coltan because there are way too many entrenched multinational interests to consider.

Indeed, in his speech at White Bull, Sean didn’t mention Coltan directly, but we saw it on one of the slides he flashed up. God bless an independent press!

Pigment discovery makes biological chips possible

Using melanin in semiconductors could open up the possibility of bioelectronics that are able to connect directly with human bodies.

Melanin is the pigment that occurs naturally in the human body, and a team of scientists at the University of Queensland believes its properties could bridge the gap between conventional electronics and our own biological systems.

Labs across the world are trying to work out how to create electronics which can interface with human tissue. The effects of this could revolutionise medicine, and would certainly appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in science fiction.

The team says that organic semiconductors – a relatively new method of production using molecules such as carbon and hydrogen – could hold the key.

Melanin’s use of electrons, fundamental in electronics , and ions, is necessary for biological system currents. Essentially, melanin can act as a translator between the two currents, bridging the gap to allow for an connection between electronics and biology.

By discovering these properties, researchers believe that a bridging device could be made and are working on an ion-based device.

The advantages of this are two-fold. Aside from the obvious health benefits such as repairing signal carrying pathways in tissues such as the brain, the researchers think the discovery would lead to cheaper and safer semiconductors through the use of organic materials.

Counterfeit electronic components on the rise

Reports of counterfeit components making their way into electronic equipment are on the rise, creating significant risk of costly – even potentially lethal – malfunction.

Research into the proliferation of counterfeit components reaching the US has shown an increasingly problem with more and more fake components being flagged in the supply chain.

According to IHS,  the number of knock off goods is on the increase, in 2011 there were 1,363 verified reports of counterfeit parts, up from 324 in 2009.  Over the past decade this has increased massively by around a factor of 700.

While the number of reports may not immediately sound like much, it is the case that each report could contain thousands of dodgy parts.  This means that there have likely been over a million fake components which have been found just in the last year, leaving the worrying thought that there may be many more which have gone undetected.

President Obama may have signed legislation at the tail end of last year which aims for greater regulations for counterfeit part detection, but it is appears the problem is rife.

And as anyone who has bought goods from a wannabe Del Boy, counterfeit goods are often shoddy at best, and in many cases outright dangerous.   Considering that many applications that the counterfeit component are destined for – from military applications to aerospace applications or consumer electronics – faulty goods could prove hugely damaging, and not just to the companies which have to replace them.

Apparently the US Missile Defense Agency realised that one of its computers had used some phony circuit components, leaving it with a bill for $2.7 million to fix it.

As well as posing potential physical safety threat, the IHS iSuppli report claims that counterfeit integrated circuits could potentially be used as malicious Trojans that can be disabled remotely to attack military defence equipment.

With a global supply chain and the sheer number of components being shipped around the world it seems there are inherent difficulties in detecting faulty goods – though we guess the ‘Trotters Independent Traders’ logo might be a give-away.

New regulations have demanded that contractors will have to be eagle-eyed in picking out and knock off components, with greater responsibility for their removal from the supply chain as well as over using reliable suppliers.

Electronic contract manufacturer revenues decline in 2012

Electronics contract manufacturers such as Foxconn are in for a tough year with revenues decreasing due to global economic uncertainty and increasing wage demands.

The electronics industry is feeling the force of the gathering clouds over the eurozone, with its knock on effects on the globalised economy halts growth, pushing revenues down this year.

IHS estimates that the total for contract manufacturers will hit $357 billion this year, meaning a one percent decline from the $360 billion seen last year.  In comparison there was 4.7 percent growth seen during 2011.

Electronic manufacturing services (EMS) and original design manufacturers (ODMs) are both set to be hit by this. EMS revenues are set to remain flat this year with a tiny 0.3 percent upward adjustment from $206.8 billion last year to $207.5 billion in 2012.

More worryingly, ODMs will see a shrinking of 2.3 percent to $150.0 billion to $153.0 billion.  This follows a 1.7 percent decline last after faltering growth in the second half of the year.

The main reason behind this is the lingering problems and lack of a solution to the problems seen in the eurozone.  Amidst the Davos financial summit there was a lack of answers from top financial thinkers to gnawing economic questions.   British PM David Cameron has also been demanding urgent action to push for growth.

While many products are often manufactured in eastern nations, it is in the west that many sales are made, so tightened purse strings in Europe and the US are beginning to reverberate up the supply chain.  The UK economy for example is expected to contract by 0.2 percent in 2012.

According to IHS analysts there is not much that can be done by contract manufacturers other than hope that price increases can continue to help keep profits up through the looming lean period.

Of course there is hope that the slightly-less-desperate situation in Asia could help with revenues.  China for example is a massive consumer of mobiles and PCs, so there is hope that its buoyant economy will allow growth.

Concerns about wages have concerned some.  Part of the reason that many firms such as Apple outsource production to foreign countries is that there are much lower labour costs.   However in the case of China there are increasingly demands for fairer wages from workers who want in on the booming economy.

Interestingly despite this analysts believe that there is little option but to accept these increasing labour costs.

In China there has been widespread unrest over wages, with manufacturing wages hitting a measly $2.19 per hour, though this still presented a substantial increase of 15 percent, an overheard that vendors have to consider.  Foxconn, which doesn’t exactly have the greatest history of worker treatment, has been making a pig’s ear of attempts to placate workers by labelling them all “animals” recently.

However there is little evidence that there are other regions with sufficient infrastructure where manufacturing can be conducted on a large scale say analysts.

The problem of labour laws is likely to be cause more problems this year says IHS with the news that Apple will demand more clarity from its contractors following accusations of sweatshop-like conditions.

 

Intel gets patent for switching electronics on

Chipzilla has just been granted  a patent which lets electronic devices be switched on by using another computer.

According to Patent.com, patent 8,086,879 was first filed in 2007 and it talks about a network of devices which can switch themselves on.

It is supposed to be a step beyond the WoL (Wake on LAN (Local Area Network)) feature.

What it does is use a third device that can determine its state and switch on a computing device on demand.

The advantage is that the whole thing uses less power as a WoL device never can be entirely turned off.

Intel said that the feature of “powering on devices via intermediate computing device” not only applies to enterprises, but also home environments where “devices coupled to a network may act as distributed media storage and playback with reduced power consumption when such devices are not in use.”

The power-on message is supported to be transmitted via wired and wireless signals over local and wide-area networks.

The data transfer takes place “via a point-to-point (PtP) interface using PtP interface circuits, respectively.” The microprocessor uses a high speed I/O bus channel in some embodiments of the invention to facilitate communication with various components,” the patent states. 

Report tears open Olympus' enormous loss hiding scandal

A 200-page report on the biggest corporate scandal Japan has ever faced, Olympus’ billion dollar loss-hiding, has been published, and it really is quite messy.

The report, writes the Wall Street Journal, says Olympus’ management was “rotten” and that “contaminated other parts around it”. The scandal, unearthed by ex-CEO Michael Woodford who was thanked with a sacking, has seen Olympus’ shares plummet and risked having the company delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Rather than face up to the dire situation the company was in, it allegedly created bogus funds around the world to buy off billions and billions of yen in bad assets. Later it tried to write everything off by buying start-ups at a hugely inflated price which subsequently vanished.

In the report, execs like Hisashi Mori, who was an executive vice president and his boss Hideo Yamada led the plans, along with a few others, to hide losses and make them disappear through made-up acquisition prices.  

The WSJ says, as Olympus faced a financial downturn in the mid-80s when the US dollar was devalued following the Plaza Accord, then-president Toshiro Shimoyama decided the best thing to do would be to plough money into other companies as part of its core business strategy. Many of the deals went sour and, coupled with other factors like the rise of the yen, it wasn’t looking good for Olympus. Mori and Yamada tried to fix it by gambling with derivatives and structured bonds.

Ex prez Toshiro Shimoyama denies any wrongdoing and used the useful line: he can’t really remember, said the WSJ.

Shimoyama left the company with the losses and was followed by Masatoshi Kishimoto as president, who, the report claims, didn’t do enough to fix the mess and left it up to Mori and Yamada to keep doing what they were doing. Kishimoto’s replacement, Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, was from Finance and well aware of Olympus’ situation.

Things really took a turn for the worse when changes to Japan’s accounting rules meant Olympus would have to go public with the securities losses – and the company had over $1 billion of that. It was then, the report says, that Mori and Yamada approached two brokers, Akio Nakagawa and Hajime Sagawa, to hatch a cunning plan.

It was as easy as moving Olympus’ dodgy assets away from the company and over to others that weren’t at all connected – avoiding having to disclose any at all on the official books. Nakagawa and Sagawa started a set up fund in the Cayman Islands called Central Forest Corp. This bogus company was to buy off Olympus’ assets. To fund the transactions, Mori and Yamada allegedly got Olympus to put ¥21 billion in Japanese government bonds into an LGT Bank account. The bank was then asked to give Central Forest an ¥18 billion loan.

To finance the whole operation, Mori allegedly lied to LGT bank and explained the whole bizarre situation away – claming Olympus was on a shopping trip to make a string of secret buys in Europe. Altogether, Olympus managed to shift ¥65 billion from Olympus in Europe.  

This scheme was, by and large, repeated in Singapore using accounts through Commerzbank AG and Societe Generale SA to move ¥60 billion away from its books, though the report doesn’t accuse the banks of being at fault.

Later, Olympus started another investment fund in Japan with an ex Nomura broker. That, too, was used to buy bad assets. Presidents Kishimoto and Kikukawa were told about the schemes, the report says. 

Olympus did get found out once. Auditor KPMG AZSA spotted some mysterious figures in the books and Olympus owned up to the loss-hiding – but it only admitted to one fund. 

Eventually the execs realised the decades-long plot was doomed and tried to write the whole lot off. They used three start-ups, a waste recycler called Altis, a cosmetics company called Humalabo and a microwave container company called News Chef. Olympus bought them all for  ¥73.2 billion before getting rid of them for good.

The report says Olympus then used that money to repay loans from LGT and shut down its dodgy European operations. Later, it offset the funds in Singapore, according to the report, by using $687 million it got from buying UK medi-tech company Gyrus Group PLC, which went through as recently as March 2010.

According to the report, there was a bizarre pervasive atmosphere at Olympus which discouraged anything other than yes-men: “The head of the company ran an autocratic regime over a long period, generating an internal atmosphere in which people hesitated to disagree. Among executives there was a rampant tendency to treat the company like their private possession. There was little awareness of loyalty to shareholders.”

Certainly that still rang true when current president Shuichi Takayama said of ex-CEO Woodford’s findings: “If this secret information hadn’t been leaked there would have been no change in our corporate value”.  

The accused orchestrators Mori and Yamada held onto their positions at the troubled cameramaker until the scandal was blown wide open. Olympus is now under a great deal of pressure to replace the entire board. Ex-CEO Woodford claims a takeover is out of the question because it isn’t normal business practice in Japan, but he does say Olympus needs a shareholders meeting ASAP and a different set of directors, as picked by the managers, urgently. 

Olympus is still on deadline for 14 December to post its most recent earnings or it risks being delisted.

Olympus admits enormous losses cover-up

Olympus has owned up to the longest ever running corporate snafu in Japanese corporate history – having fiddled the books for decades.

Executives instead opted to use a bunch of mysterious acquisitions to tidy up the grim reading. The camer-maker, which is almost 100 years old, makes it the longest running loss hiding activity in Japanese corporate history according to the Wall Street Journal.

Now Olympus is under the watchful eye of authorities from both the Tokyo Stock Exchange and the US FBI. The company had been embroiled in a bizarre scandal of its own doing by British ex-CEO Michael Woodford,  who detected some odd movements at Olympus. That included buying a string of companies registered in the notorious Cayman Islands, all of which ended up dissolved or shut down.

Olympus wrote off the value, according to an investigation from the Wall Street Journal

Woodford, in his efforts to fix the mess, was rewarded with a sacking. Chairman Shuichi Takayama blamed him for Olympus’ mess, arguing that if he hadn’t been playing Sherlock Holmes the company might have got away with it for a bit longer. “If this secret information hadn’t been leaked there would have been no change in our corporate value,” Takayama said at the time.

Woodford, who is reportedly shocked by the confession, still thinks Olympus needs a full investigation. Takayama insists Woodford has no place at Olympus anymore. After all, he was sacked for his management style. Er…

Share prices have been struggling. The cover up knocked 29 percent off immediately Monday to $9.40, the lowest they’ve been since 1995. The Wall Street Journal says stock has dropped 70 percent since the scandal cropped up in October.

Now, Takayama has shifted the blame onto three top Olympus execs. Ex chairman Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, vice president Hisashi Mori and corporate auditor Hideo Yamada. Takayama says he had no idea until Mori let slip to him on Monday. 

There’s a chance Japan’s Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission will further get involved. “We will carry out the necessary inspection if there is suspicion of false statement in financial reports,” a spokesperson told the WSJ.

Olympus Cayman Islands scandal confuses

Japanese camera manufacturer Olympus has found itself embroiled in a controversy with some mysterious Cayman Islands-based companies.

The Wall Street Journal says that Olympus paid much of the $1 billion it spent on three Japanese start-ups to mysterious businesses in the Cayman Islands. The WSJ saw an independent 2009 panel report by auditors for Olympus’ board. At the same time, the biggest shareholders in the start-ups were reported as “European funds”.

The start-ups were not exactly raking it in. None had over $12 million in revenue according to their most recent records. They were a recycling company called Altis, a dietary supplement company called Humalabo and a microwave-safe food container manufacturer called News Chef. 

Two of those were owned by a company called Neo Strategic Venture. That particular outfit was started in the Caymans in 2000 and dissolved by 2008.

A company executive said he hasn’t a clue about the companies, claiming the only information is the name of them along with their bank account details. After Olympus gave them the money, it’s reported that three companies were either dissolved or shut down.

Later, reports the WSJ, Olympus  allegedly wrote off most of the value of the start-ups.

Bizarre, then, the amount of money  which was reportedly funneled through. 

British CEO Michael Woodford, who was sacked this month, was trying to get to the bottom of the matter.

Woodford had sent Olympus’ chairman at the time a letter saying the company had made “calamitous errors”.Olympus’ reasoning for Woodford’s departure, the Wall Street Journal reports, is rather different. It was his “managerial style” the board had problems with. 

Olympus’ handling of the case has done it no favours. The Telegraph reports that stock market analysts have ‘deserted’ the company, Goldman Sachs being the first to pull the plug. 

Share prices have accurately emulated a yo-yo. But new chairman Shuichi Takayama, replacing the resigned Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, refuses to take the blame.

Instead, it’s Woodford at fault for exposing the scandal in the first place, according to Takayama.

“If this secret information hadn’t been leaked there would have been no change in our corporate value,” he correctly declared, sort of missing the point.