Ford streamlining procedures for designing its vehicles
Ford Motor Co. is making major changes in its process for designing vehicles. The National Research Council describes the transformation in its report Advanced Engineering Environments Phase 1. Traditionally, top-level teams meet weekly to discuss auto design issues that members and their staffs have investigated during the previous week. Ford's goal is to replace those teams with small groups that meet continuously. The new groups would use rapid methods to investigate and resolve issues daily. The CAD/-CAM/CAE staff at Ford is assigned to interdisciplinary product teams. Ford has been shifting one vehicle program at a time to a single CAD tool, I-DEASฎ. Many vehicles in the Ford fleet, however, share systems, such as power trains. That, the report says, has created complications; some designers still use old tools while their power train, for example, has been designed with I-DEAS. Some engineers also have been reluctant to part with familiar tools. Increasingly, Ford is using a digital mock-up to guide its entire design, engineering, and manufacturing process. Already, the firm has been able, in some cases, to assess designs and release components and systems for production without having to fabricate and test prototypes. To buy the report, phone the National Academy Press at (800) 624-6242 and ask for ISBN 0-309-06541-0.
Automotive aluminum presents advantages to environment
The use of aluminum in autos has broad benefits for the environment. So contends an international study released by the Aluminum Association (AA; Washington, DC). Each kg of automotive aluminum replacing heavier materials, it says, can save a net 20 kg of CO2 equivalents, due mainly to the efficiencies of lightweighting. Recovering and re-melting aluminum automotive scrap saves 95% of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with emissions from primary ingot production. The figures are the result of studies by the AA and similar groups in Europe and Australia and the International Primary Aluminum Institute. Copies of an executive summary and the complete report are available by phoning (202) 862-5134.
Stiffer rules for child seats begin three-year phase-in
The government is requiring that all child safety seats for autos meet stricter standards for head protection. The first phase of the regulation is underway. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandates that most forward-facing child seats be equipped with a tether -- a strap that runs from the back of the child seat and attaches to the vehicle. The ruling eventually will require two lower attachment points in vehicles and child safety seats in addition to the top tether attachment points. For passenger cars, 80% of those now manufactured must be equipped with top attachment points. All new passenger cars and light trucks must be so equipped by Sept. 1, 2000. The lower attachment system will be phased in over the next three years and will be in all vehicles and all safety seats manufactured on or after Sept. 1, 2002. More information about the new universal child safety seat system is available on NHTSA's web site at www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/childps/index.asp
Report praises auto companies for environmental innovations
Regulations fail to elicit the most creative solutions to environmental problems in the auto industry. That's a conclusion in a report by a committee of the National Academy of Engineering. The committee recommends changes in the metrics used to judge progress in the industry's fight for cleaner air and water. "Flexible incentive-based approaches," the report contends, will more effectively stimulate future innovations. Many metrics currently used spring from regulations. The automotive industry, the report adds, seeks risk-based metrics that are easy to understand, are related to environmental impacts that can be quantified, and are tied to business performance such as return on assets, customer responses, and operating costs. For copies of Industrial Environmental Performance Metrics: Challenges and Opportunities phone 1-800-624-6242.
Detector of tiny sparks predicts failures in high voltage gear
A new system can continuously measure small pulses of electricity that can lead to the failure of expensive high-voltage equipment. Engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which developed the system, say it is the first practical detector of random "partial discharge" pulses. Software in the portable device can detect pulses up to 100,000 times weaker than the typical "static electricity" spark caused by touching metal in dry air. Such sparks commonly occur where insulation is at its weakest, gradually damaging the insulation until it fails. Phone Michael Newman at (301) 975-3025.