Building and design products often find unique ways to make the mainstream news. This week’s product roundup includes a touch-screen interface that incorporates the third dimension in real time and 80-year-old steel that is making the partial deconstruction of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge even more hazardous.


MIT Researchers Give Digital a Tactile Twist
MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group is reshaping the touch screen with InForm, a user interface that transmits digital information physically. While there’s no market application for the product—yet—the research team says it plans to use the technology as a basis for advancing 3D geospatial displays, such as architectural models. There, it can serve as a potential alternative to 3D printing that allows users to tweak their designs more readily. InForm’s pixel-like table array can recognize and adapt both to digital commands and to the presence of physical contact with the display surface. The goal, according to the research team, is to apply the complexity of digital interfaces with the tangibility of analog controls. “As humans, we have evolved to interact physically with our environments, but in the 21st century, we’re missing out on all of the tactile sensation that is meat to guide us, limit us, and make us feel more connected,” the platform’s co-developer Daniel Leithinger told Fast Company. “In the transition to purely digital interfaces, something profound has been lost.” <Tweet this>


Walmart Subsidiary Dabbles in 3D Printing
From prescription eyeglasses to hunting gear to produce, there are few items that can’t be procured at a Walmart. Customers at the York, U.K.–branch of the retail giant’s British subsidiary, Asda, can now add 3D-printed models to that list. But the move is about more than offering shoppers at the supermarket chain a chance to print the annual family portrait in 3D. Rather, it’s evolving the discussion around how global retailers such as Walmart can reconcile their high-volume, low-price-point business models with technological gains putting advanced 3D-printing technology within the general public’s reach, particularly that of consumers who can use it to create products on demand. In his comprehensive overview of digital manufacturing’s impact on conventional production, John Hauer, chief marketing officer at online vendor of 3D-printing templates 3DLT, contends that the retailer is appropriately scaled to become a leader in 3D-printing services—suggesting that the thought of a 3D-printing shop wedged between the Subway and the optometrist inside a Walmart may not be too far-fetched. <Tweet this>




Old Material Makes Bay Bridge Deconstruction Risky
Using modern technology to dismantle a structure made from 80-year-old materials is proving challenging for the crew tasked with taking apart the now-obsolete eastern span of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. It’s so risky that one engineer has even dubbed the project “the world’s largest armed bow and arrow.” The Contra Costa Times reports that the deconstruction job, which will take three years, requires workers to balance shifting structural loads as they disconnect the suspension bridge’s 10,000 steel trusses to keep from sending debris flying. “We have to manage that energy that’s held in this bridge, and that energy can really be dangerous,” said Brian Maroney, an engineer with project lead Caltrans, in an interview with the Times. “They have to basically take this bow and arrow apart.”  Watch Maroney explain the process in the video above. <Tweet this>


CertainTeed Leads Industry with Health Product Declarations
The manufacturer, whose offerings include envelope products such as insulation, roofing, and drywall, is leading the way among peer firms with its Nov. 6 announcement that health product declarations (HPDs) are available for 24 of its ceiling product lines. The move comes ahead of LEED v4's launch next week, which offers project teams the opportunity to earn additional points in the certification’s Materials and Resources category for using products with HPDs. The documents were developed through the HPD Collaborative—a group of manufacturers, designers, and end-users that seeks to standardize the language of disclosure for sustainable building-product material sourcing, manufacture, and distribution. <Tweet this>



Credit: iangbl/Flickr

U.S. ITC Says Not Enough Information in Hardwood Ply Antidumping Case
If you haven’t been following the case, here’s a quick rundown: Last fall, a group of North American hardwood plywood manufacturers banded together against the import of hardwood ply from Chinese manufacturers, alleging that the firms were undercutting U.S. producers by selling the product at below-market rates and that they were being subsidized by their government to do so. Those on the importers’ side contended that material differences in the domestic product and the foreign product rendered them non-competitors—i.e., China’s climate supports high-growth forests that produce species such as poplar and eucalyptus that make for a sturdier product used in the interiors of products such cabinets, whereas the domestic hardwood is more often used in decorative applications on cabinet and panel facings. Fast forward to Nov. 5: The U.S. International Trade Commission wrapped up the dilemma by ruling that antidumping advocates lack sufficient information to prove that the U.S. hardwood industry is being harmed by the sale of imported products. Had the ruling body decided otherwise, a large percentage of the product imported from China would likely have been issued a related import tariff. “The industry has been uncertain for months over the outcome of this case and with today’s vote can turn their attention back to their businesses,” Cindy Squires, executive director of the International Wood Products Association told Woodworking Network. “We look forward to returning to industry growth in both domestic and imported wood products.” <Tweet this>