For many engineers, their first action after getting a cup of coffee when they get to work is to check their email and their company's intranet to find out the status of the projects they're working on. Later, they'll browse for parts and information. Some will use configurators on suppliers' websites to calculate which components will fit their design needs, and others will actually download CAD drawings for parts.
The Internet has become a vital tool for engineers. And, Internet activity is only going to get brisker.
Many suppliers are upgrading their own websites to provide configurators and the capability for CAD-drawing downloads. "It can be a great time saver," says Jim Grady, manager of engineering data management at fastener and latch supplier Southco (www.southco.com). That's not just Grady's opinion either. The company recently surveyed customers to find out what enhancements they should make to their website to increase its usefulness. Survey participants said: CAD drawings.
In response, Southco recently added SolidWorks (www.solidworks.com) 3D PartStream tool to its website, enabling engineers to preview solid models of Southco parts before downloading a file. The site makes downloadable CAD files available in 15 different software formats, including Pro/ENGINEER (www.ptc.com), CATIA (www.3ds.com), SolidWorks, and others.
Southco also joins the growing list of suppliers enhancing their website with PartStream. Linear-motion-components supplier Nook Industries (www.nookindustries.com) has also used 3D PartStream to build its online catalog of parts and provide configurable 3D models for engineers. Likewise, Pacific Bearing (www.pacific-bearing.com) uses PartStream to enable its visitors to configure, view, and download 2D and 3D drawings of its products. In addition, Omron (www.omron.com) is using Partstream to assist engineers in finding what they need.
Of course, many companies are finding other ways to develop configurators and enable downloads. CAD downloads have been available on fastener supplier PennEngineering's website for a while. At www.pennfast.com, engineers can go to a CAD parts library and download drawings in IGES and DXF formats and convert them to Pro/ENGINEER or SolidWorks models. The website also includes a message board where engineers can ask questions and answer others' questions.
Downloadable CAD models are also available from fluid-components supplier Swagelok (www.swagelok.com). That website, which has won numerous awards for its ease of use, also includes a configurator.
Clippard Instrument Laboratory (www.clippard.com), which supplies pneumatic and electronic control devices, also has a configurator that engineers can use to size its valves and cylinders.
Ball screw manufacturer Steinmeyer (www.steinmeyer.com) includes on its website a design tool that helps engineers select the ball screw from the company's shelves that best fits their needs.
Circuit-materials supplier Rogers Corp. (www.rogerscorporation.com) includes, among other features, a microwave impedance calculator. The Java applet enables engineers to calculate transmission-line losses and temperature rises and get line widths calculations for stripline and microstrip circuits.
These and many other examples illustrate the kinds of features that are making the Internet a valuable tool for engineers.
Reach Teague email@example.com.