Assembly technology experiences growth?

Assembly Automation

ISSN: 0144-5154

Article publication date: 1 June 2005



Loughlin, C. (2005), "Assembly technology experiences growth?", Assembly Automation, Vol. 25 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Assembly technology experiences growth?

Assembly technology experiences growth?

Our theme for this issue is adhesives and we have contributions that cover a wide variety of both adhesives and also other methods for joining parts together and even their eventual disassembly.

In the fields of robotics and machine vision (the theme of our next issue), there has been a steady trend over recent years towards mimicking nature or at least copying it as best we can. This includes developments such as McKibben muscles and neural networks and pattern patching techniques. These all move away from the rigid (literally) confines of previous mechanics and computation mechanisms.

What then are the prospects of mimicking nature when it comes to assembly? I don't mean just using organic based glues, but actually holding things together in the same way that they are held together in nature.

If we take the human body as an example, it is made up of a very wide range of materials that perform very different functions. We have bones, muscles, various bodily fluids and incredible varieties of soft tissue that somehow perform the amazing functions of the brain, liver, kidneys, etc.

Some parts are joined to others by ligaments, tendons and interconnecting tissues, but many organs and indeed the body as whole are held together by enclosure. The eye is held in its socket and usually stays there. The brain is secured inside the skull and the heart, lungs, etc., are contained in the chest cavity and abdomen. And all of the above are enclosed in a flexible membrane made up of flesh, skin and muscle.

All the above is made possible because we grow.

What then if we were able to grow components so that they in turn enclosed sub-components? Rather fanciful perhaps, but what if we could provide materials with artificial DNA? Intrinsic properties that defined their ultimate shape, the way they interacted with their surroundings and the functions that they were designed to perform.

Rapid prototyping takes us someway down this route in that components can be grown layer by layer and enclose internal structures and cavities; but the control of final shape all comes from an external computer that controls the RP machine.

Coming up with a plastic material that can grow itself into the case for a mobile phone is rather far fetched but what about materials that can grow into each other? We include a paper by Sahin (“An investigation into joining of austenitic-stainless steels (AISI 304) with friction welding”, pp. 140–145) that covers the friction welding of stainless steels, but this requires rotation and pressure to create the joint. Plastic parts are often joined by inserting a layer of solvent, but what if no external forces or additives were needed at all?

Our skin and flesh can heal itself together with little or no visible or structural detriment. If it were not for this we would never survive for as long as we do. Wouldn't it be excellent if we could develop a range of materials that would fuse themselves together and actually become stronger over time?

Concrete has been doing this since the Romans, so it is about time we came up with something new.

Clive Loughlin

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