Thursday, April 28, 2016

Made-in-Taiwan Used to Mean PC, Now It’s 3D

by Bruce Einhorn
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 27, 2016 — 3:08 PM PDT

With consumers and businesses switching to smartphones, the PC market that has long dominated Taiwan’s economy is shrinking, and companies such as Acer are struggling. Taiwan’s exports in March fell 11.4 percent, marking 14 consecutive months of declines for Made-in-Taiwan products. The economy shrank 0.6 percent in the first three months of 2016 from a year earlier, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists’ estimates, the third straight quarter of contraction.

Fear of being left behind is a strong motivator for New Kinpo Group Chief Executive Officer Simon Shen. The Taipei-based group last year sold about $7 billion worth of products ranging from electric pianos and pachinko displays to printers and TV set-top boxes. Kinpo also makes hard disk drives, routers, and other devices that link to PCs, leaving the group exposed to the computer industry’s decline. Finding the next big innovation to manufacture and export is an urgent task for Shen. “We need to try something new,” he says. “Otherwise the current product line eventually will be gone.”

Kinpo’s path to something new is through XYZprinting, a company Shen founded three years ago. Building on Kinpo’s track record as an outsourcing manufacturer for such customers as HP and Konica Minolta, XYZprinting makes small, low-cost 3D printers for consumers and small businesses.

Selling 3D printers will be a viable business, Shen says. To make that day come sooner, XYZprinting sells such machines as the da Vinci Jr. 1.0w, a Wi-Fi-enabled 3D printer that can print as fine as 0.1 millimeters and retails for as little as $350 on The low-cost strategy has established XYZprinting as the No. 1 brand for 3D printers of all sizes worldwide, by the number of machines sold. In the final quarter of 2015, XYZprinting had 31 percent of the global market in desktop 3D printers, according to data recently published by London-based research group Context. The company sold more than 50,000 of its low-cost printers in 2015, giving XYZ a 21 percent share, more than twice that of No. 2 brand 3D Systems. Shen, who expects his company’s total 3D printer revenue to reach about $50 million this year, projects sales will grow to $200 million to $300 million within three to five years.

Bigger names are getting into affordable 3D printing. Mattel in February announced plans to sell the ThingMaker, a 3D printing system designed with San Rafael, Calif.-based software company Autodesk that will enable families to design, create, and print their own toys. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon for $300. In January, Polaroid introduced its ModelSmart 250S 3D printer, produced through a partnership with Environmental Business Products, a London-based manufacturer.

XYZprinting may not have much name recognition, but it does have an advantage, because of Kinpo’s years of squeezing out profits in Taiwan’s notoriously thin-margin electronics industry. “They do very well in cost management,” says Wendy Mok, an analyst with IDC in Shenzhen. “They have the manufacturing background, they know the difficulty of R&D.”

Even so, the 3D printer consumer market “is still in the infancy stage,” says Simon Chan, an analyst in Hong Kong with Bloomberg Intelligence. Printing materials are expensive, he says, and consumers haven’t yet identified must-print products that would increase demand. “The user case is still not really decided,” says Chan. Stratasys, an Israeli-American company that is a major player in 3D printing, is focused mostly on the technology’s use in manufacturing. That’s also the case with most of Shen’s competitors. “We are not seeing a lot of demand” in the consumer market, says Stratasys Chief Business Officer Joshua Claman. Eventually there will be a market for desktop 3D printers, he says, but not before quality and reliability are improved. And inexpensive 3D printers are less versatile, Claman says—most “don’t handle multiple materials and don’t handle multiple colors.”

The biggest threat to Shen’s plans for XYZprinting is across the Taiwan Strait in mainland China. Taiwanese producers of PCs and computer components have lost ground to mainland-based competitors, and the 3D printing industry faces similar competition. There are hundreds of mainland companies making the printers, according to IDC’s Mok. Chinese companies “can learn very fast,” she says. For the most basic 3D printers, “we have seen a lot of Chinese vendors can really produce printers at a very good price.”

Shen says his team, with decades of printing know-how, will be able to stay ahead of its Chinese rivals. “If you don’t have a 2D background, it’s difficult to catch up,” he says. And he’s making sure to diversify the business, producing more expensive machines for industrial use and working with a local university to develop 3D printing of dental implants. XYZprinting is developing a system that can make cookies, chocolates, and other food on a 3D printer. “Eventually,” he says, “I think everything will be possible.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Conflict with Russia

Since the Russian "invasion" of Syria and the encirclement of Turkey, the potential of a serious conflict between the Turks and the Russians cannot be understated! The United States (under the inept Obama administration) has let the situation in the Middle East deteriorated rapidly, putting the Turkish forces in a very bad position. Washington has signaled to Ankara that it will not support any military action against Russia in several ways, including withdrawing US military jets from eastern Turkey, where they are normally situated. Turkey is literally surrounded by its enemies, enemies of its own making: in the recent past the Turks massacred the Greeks, Armenians, Bulgars, Kurds, and many others, cutting off any potential allies for Ankara. The only real hope for support for Turkey comes from the United States; even their NATO allies in Europe aren't interested in going out on a limb for Turkey. To make maters worse, the Turkish president Erdrogan has gutted the Turkish military ranks by sacking many high ranking (and experienced) officers, mainly in a move to prevent a secular military coup against his Islamist administration. Oddly enough, since many poorer Turks are becoming Islamic Fundamentalist, one of the few allies that Ankara can now count on is devious Iran, a traditional enemy. Sadly, Erdrogan has let his Islamist attitude destroy the one vital military alliance that Turkey has gained in recent years, the one with Israel. Overall (and mainly because of Erdrogan's foolish schemes) this has led the Turks into a very serious strategic and tactical nightmare, one that doesn't seem to have a future positive outcome. Russian troops passing through Turkey's largest city of Istanbul (an enormously populated city of over 10 million people) were seen brandishing weapons as they passed through the Straits, inflaming the situation. Without much more provocation by Moscow, Ankara could shut down the straights, causing a serious crisis. Turkish leaders have little recourse when it comes to Russian aggression, with the lack of support from Washington and other European capitals, the Turks may feel they are on their own and have to look out for their own security, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. This mindset is creating a very dangerous situation, one that could spark World War 3 in mere moments. Stay tuned!

Keep the A-10!!!

The US Air Force is being backed into a corner when it comes to retiring the A-10. Pressure from some US Senators and advocates of the A-10 Thunderbolt II have led to the USAF launching all sorts of studies ranging from justifying the F-35A Lightning II’s credentials as a suitable Close Air Support (CAS) platform, to looking at other existing types in the Combat Air Force (CAF) to pick up the mission, to now even looking at a new platform to fill the A-10’s shoes.

If the recent words of some senior RAF officers ring true, the USAF is likely to be fighting a counterinsurgency war in northern Iraq and Syria well past the current 2022 final retirement date set for the A-10C. Chances are that the US military is going to need a CAS platform that get down and dirty for decades to come. Few will query the wisdom that a high-end F-35 shouldn’t be eating up valuable service life fighting this kind of battle in an uncontested environment.

So, what will the USAF do? ‘My requirements guys are in the process of building a draft-requirements document for a follow-on CAS airplane,’ Lt Gen Mike Holmes, the deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, told reporters last week. Thoughts turn to two key areas, the Beechcraft Textron AT-6 Coyote and Scorpion or the T-X trainer competition.

Textron has spent a lot of time and money working with the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command down in Arizona proving the credentials of these aircraft. Few gave them a sniff of landing domestic US government business a year ago… has that changed?

As for T-X, there’s all sort of talk of potential dual use for whichever aircraft/OEM wins this. It started with Red Air, but now, companion trainer (embedded alongside front line fighter units to provide aggressor support or downloaded flying hours), and even complementary fighter. Could a developed T-X fulfil the USAF’s nees for a lower end, cheaper, lightweight fighter…?

As reported in the fascinating Steve Davies feature in our current May issue of Combat Aircraft, the USAF’s elite 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nevada, was tasked within its F-15E and F-16C teams to work very hard throughout 2014 and 2015 to be able to inform the USAF of how it could fulfill the A-10’s key roles — combat search and rescue (CSAR) and CAS — if the ‘Hog’ went away.

Steve Davies spoke to the commander of the ‘4-2-2’, Lt Col Joshua Wood. ‘The purpose of the test was really to inform the Air Force’s senior leadership which platform is better suited to take on CSAR, if we divest the A-10. More importantly, we wanted to tell them what the known unknowns are, and what training bill they can expect if they want to keep this mission as a primary training task for a given squadron. Why? Because what we in the OT community want to avoid is this mentality that if the airplane can do it, you can put this mission on the shelf and you never have to train to it, and you never have to revisit it. In our opinion, that will get people killed. ‘If you want to pick up this mission, you have to devote X number of training sorties a year to keep your aircrew current, and this is the cost that you are going to buy’’, Wood expounded.

‘What we determined was that CSAR is hard. It’s a challenging mission, and something that the Air Force cares deeply about’. But the ‘Green Bats’ came back with two key learning points. Firstly, ‘If the A-10 goes away, it doesn’t really matter which platform you choose. F-16s and F-15Es each have strengths and weaknesses: it’s not so much the platform as the operator and the aircrew who are trained for that mission and have the culture that comes with being asked to do that job.’

Secondly, and most interestingly, the F-35 excelled in the CSAR test!

Wood’s test findings are a timely reminder of an oft-neglected component in the air combat equation — the man in the loop.

One ‘4-2-2’ pilot added: ‘What’s the difference between other ‘CAS assets’ and the A-10? The training. Any time you talk to an A-10 pilot and he’s beating his chest about CAS, it’s because he was trained to find the target, kill it and protect the friendlies. We’re not talking about the friendlies being one click away; we’re talking about shooting within 50m (164ft) of a known friendly location. He can go into a chaotic battlefield and he can kill the enemy within that proximity of the friendlies — he was raised to do that.’

Read more on the 422nd TES and their CAS studies in the current issue of Combat Aircraft Magazine.

Another viewpoint HERE

Editors note: if the  F-35 costs over $50,000 USD per hour to maintain and the A-10 less than $15,000 USD to maintain, why are we getting rid of this aircraft? If the Air Force hates it so much, give them to Israel, South Korea, Kuwait, and several other at-risk allies.....or at least the US Army or Marines!

Saturday, April 02, 2016

China to Shoot Down Satellites

America's new Zumwalt-class DDG-1000 destroyer is a marvel of engineering.

Sixty percent bigger than the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers it was designed to replace, but just as fast as a DDG-51 and featuring a stealthier design, Zumwalt touts two 155-millimeter guns, can carry a combination of 80 Tomahawk, Sea Sparrow, and ASROC missiles, and is one of the few warships in the U.S. fleet capable of producing enough power to operate the new railgun and laser cannon weaponry just starting to come on line.

But Zumwalt is not cheap.

Although it was initially designed in 1998 with the intention of producing 32 warships for a total cost of $36.9 billion (including R&D costs), a combination of cost overruns and procurement cuts have sent per-ship costs skyrocketing. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, each of the Zumwalt-class ships now under construction, expected to cost $1.2 billion to build, will instead cost $7.5 billion.

That's more than half the cost of a Ford-class aircraft carrier, and a big price to swallow and get only a destroyer in return. So it's little wonder that, with costs spiraling out of control, the Pentagon pulled the plug on the Zumwalt program in 2009, ordering a halt to production after just three ships.

But now there's a new threat on the horizon that could convince the Navy it can't afford not to build more Zumwalts.

Introducing China's Type 055 battle cruiser
As reported in The National Interest magazine in late March, China is hard at work developing a new "Type 055 cruiser" for its navy. This new weapons system, which TNI dubs a "dreadnought," is believed to displace 11,500 tons, putting it somewhere between the size of an American Arleigh Burke destroyer and a Zumwalt. And the Type 055's size may be only its least impressive attribute.

According to TNI, the Type 055 will boast:

X-band and S-band radars, giving it defensive characteristics similar to America's "Aegis"-equipped cruisers -- a capability even the Zumwalt does not possess.

A new electric drive allowing cruising speeds of 32 knots, and perhaps producing enough juice to power next-generation laser weapons like on Zumwalt.

Long-range land attack cruise missiles

Sea-based missile interceptors

Medium- and long-range air defense missiles

Medium-range antisubmarine missiles

A "new-type supersonic long-range antiship missile."

In total, Type 055 will pack 96 such missiles -- 20% more than Zumwalt can carry, and on a platform 20% smaller (and we presume, correspondingly cheaper). In the best of all possible worlds, in which we assume that China's cost of building a warship "per ton" is equal to what the Pentagon is spending on Zumwalt, the Chinese navy would still be putting missiles on boats at roughly 60% the cost we're spending.

And here's the real kicker: According to TNI, China's missiles have much greater range. In fact, the missiles carried by China's new battle cruiser might even be able to shoot down satellites.

One question: Why?
That's a pretty alarming line to read in a TNI assessment of China's new weapons program. It also raises the question of why China would build a new boat to load anti-satellite missiles aboard. (One would think it'd be cheaper to just set up the missiles on land, and skip the cost of building a battle cruiser.)

Presumably, the answer is that land is fixed in location, and this location may not be conducive to targeting a satellite in some other location. Conversely, an anti-satellite battle cruiser can be sent all over the globe, attacking satellites on any orbit, from any vector. But whatever the answer, this is not the point defense investors should be focusing on.

The real point is that China is building a new battle cruiser that, at least judging by the specs that have been released, appears to outclass the most advanced "destroyer" in the U.S. fleet, both in traditional missions (anti-ship) and in new objectives (anti-satellite). This, in turn, could affect the U.S. Navy's plans to continue doing things as it's been doing them for decades -- focusing on the construction of old-model Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and budget-busting aircraft carriers, for example.

As the threat from China evolves, however, so too must the Pentagon's acquisitions strategy. Chances are, Huntington Ingalls and General Dynamics will still be the companies that get tapped to respond to these threats. But the work they do might be directed more toward research and development of new weapons and new ships, and less toward building older, more standardized designs. This, of course, could put pressure on profit margins.

Trust that as the rules of the game change, we'll be watching. From the Motley Fool website (which I just love!)

Demoncrats: the God-Haters

Hillary and Hitler

North Carolina Trans Issues

On the issue of trans stuff happening in North Carolia right now, I say this:

I am a gay man and I say MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS! The totalitarian left insists that people all over this country THINK the same way, and its absurd. If you dont like the rules and laws in North Carolina, dont live there! Californians need to mind their own business and let others live the way they want too. Its this sort of intolerance on the political left that is ruining this country. Diversity is what is needed in this nation, not conformity. If everywhere in the USA was similar to California, it would suck. I dont LIKE California, I dont want to live like California, I dont like California's kooky laws, and California and other states need to mind their own business, period! I like the fact that Idaho (where I am from) and North Carolina (where I have lived, in Charlotte to be precise) are different, that the laws are different, that the lifestyles and ways of thinking are different. Let freedom RING and leave others alone, they dont have to be like all you nutbags!