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Design Show Highlights Engineering Technology

March 1, 1990

CHICAGO (AP) _ Innovations expected to propel the manufacturing industry into the future, including video headsets and floating concrete, are on display at the National Design Engineering Show and Conference.

About 25,000 engineers are expected to converge on Chicago’s lakefront McCormick Place through Thursday to see new designs from companies such as Dow Chemical Co. and Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co. - even NASA.

Many of the products and materials on display represent minor advances - a fiber that resists fading just a bit longer, for example. Nevertheless, consumers will feel the effect of the new technology.

″You and I, ultimately, in some way will be related or involved with every single product in this show, whether it’s paint on an automobile or the spring in the seat or the knobs to turn on your hi-fi,″ said Robert Rosaler, director of an engineering conference sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in conjunction with the show.

Some new products debuting at the show take a broader step into the future.

For example, a Massachusetts company is showing a miniature video display monitor slightly larger than a lipstick. Through the use of a magnifying lens, the one-inch display window produces an image that looks as though it is on a 12-inch screen.

″This is basically the walkman of the future. It’s a videoman,″ said Raymond Hoffer, a representative of Reflection Technology of Waltham, Mass.

By Christmas, the mini video monitor is due to appear in stores as a component in a 5-by-2 inch paperless pocket fax machine, said Neil Golden, director of sales for Reflection Technology.

The 2-ounce terminal can display 25 lines of 80 characters each on a red- and-black screen. It can attach to a headband that positions the video screen a few inches in front of the eyes, allowing a person to look up information while leaving the hands free to work.

At least eight other companies plan to use Reflection Technology’s monitor in products including a 5-by-3 portable computer and a patient monitor that doctors can wear in the operating room, Golden said.

NASA is at the show ″to make the U.S. engineering and scientific community aware that there is NASA technology available that they may use,″ said Walter Heiland, manager of the agency’s Technology Utilization Office.

The space agency has a history of spinning off its technological advances.

For example, NASA’s need in the 1960s for a tool that Apollo astronauts could use to scoop up moon rocks, resulted in hand-held cordless vacuum cleaners that eventually reached consumers. More recently, a version of a pump developed for the Viking Mars lander has been implanted in people to deliver medicine such as insulin.

3M is showcasing a lightweight concrete subsitute called Macrolite that weighs about a third as much as the real thing.

To illustrate, 3M representatives filled a tub with water and put in two ″concrete″ logs. One sinks. The other, made of the substitute, floats.

Developed by 3M in 1986, the lightweight concrete can be used for building in earthquake-prone areas.

″You can build the same high-rise buildings, only much lighter, so when they sway they don’t topple over,″ said William Whitcomb, a company representative.

3M says the ceramic substance, pumped with air, is a better insulator than concrete. An 8-inch wall of Macrolite provides the insulating power of 65 inches of concrete, Whitcomb said.

Dow Plastics, a division of Midland, Mich.-based Dow, is on hand with a product it has no intention of producing - a plastic, elliptical lawnmower that cuts a swath about a foot wider than traditional push mowers.

Plastic allows a bigger machine that is no tougher to push than steel and aluminum models, said mower designer Robert Cleereman.

The idea is to show commercial engineers that plastics - particularly Dow plastics - can be used in place of metals and woods, said Cleereman, who also is director of Dow’s Materials Engineering Center.

″Here’s an example where plastics not only do it as well, they do it better,″ he said.

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