Supercomputing moves into the mainstream
Newton, MA--The same forces that sparked an explosion in affordable desktop-computing power have come to the world of supercomputing.
Once thought of as the last bastion of the computing elite, supercomputers are now seeing major growth in the under-a-million-dollar midrange. "Silicon Graphics and IBM have really taken what was a sleepy market by storm," says Jeff Liebl, research analyst with the Smaby Group in Minneapolis.
While the over-a-million-dollar computer market is essentially flat, the $100,000-to-a-million market should grow 15% a year for the next 5 years, Smaby predicts. In fact, a company perhaps best known for its desktop graphics has the largest single piece of that market, at 36%: Silicon Graphics Inc. (Digital Equipment Corp. is next at 18%).
SGI, DEC, and IBM engineers used the same potent RISC chips powering their high-end workstations to develop their mid-range supercomputers, adding high-speed data-sharing methods between processors. Hewlett-Packard's RISC chip, meanwhile, is the "brains" behind a new generation of Convex mid-range machines (and in September, H-P announced it would acquire Convex); Cray Research also has strong mid- range entries.
While these systems are unable to match the performance of multi-million-dollar supercomputers, they tend to dramatically exceed them in price-performance. "The supercomputer has essentially caught up with the level of integration that the PC people had," says long-time industry watcher Lloyd Thorndyke, former CEO of ETA Systems.
These mid-range machines differ from other industry efforts to design so-called massively parallel systems--which use hundreds or thousands of processors to break problems into tiny pieces. Instead, systems like IBM's SP2 or SGI's Power Challenge use more-limited parallelism, typically with 4 to 32 processors. This makes it a lot easier to adapt conventional software, written for one or two processors, for the newer machines, proponents say.
The resulting dramatic rise in supercomputing price-performance means that some engineers can tackle supercomputer-class analysis problems for the first time. Others say they can solve larger and more complex problems for the same system expenditure.
"Prices dropped in half during the last two years," says Carol Crothers at IBM's RISC 6000 division. "You get quite a lot of compute power for half a million dollars." Today, that will buy 1 GFLOP peak performance for an IBM SP2.
Steve Feldman at Adapco, a Long Island, NY, engineering analysis firm, says machines like the SP2 "make it possible for a company like ours to afford the resources to do high-end analysis." The company performs computational fluid dynamics and structural analysis work for most major U.S. and European auto manufacturers. For some clients, the company can now model flow-through of an engine cooling system, including engine block, head, and radiator. A high- end workstation could perform the task, but "it takes too long," Feldman says. With a multi-processor SP2, "instead of looking at a week, you're looking at two days."
Adapco also uses its SP2 to run larger models in the same amount of time, improving results. "We run bigger models, and get more accurate answers," he says. "We can see that we are getting more accurate. We couldn't think of doing a problem with 5 million cells on a car body five years ago."
Mid-range supercomputers are also running crash-analysis simulations--one of the problems that used to be the exclusive domain of big-iron systems. BMW conducts many of its crash tests on Silicon Graphics Power Challenge supercomputers, company officials say. Engineers run models of 100,000 to 150,000 elements, in parallel over several processors. "Power Challenge systems solved a problem for us by giving us better price performance," says Michael Holzner, leader of BMW's Crash Simulation Group.
"Many applications two years ago were looked at as pure Cray applications," says Wayne Martin with IBM. "For example, we have run MSC/-Nastran problems with a million degrees of freedom, in very reasonable time." Turn-around time: 2 days.
Cray joins the fray. Cray Research, the market leader in big-iron supercomputing, has also moved into the mid-range with its new J90 series that starts at $225,000. The J90 is the fastest growing product in Cray's history; and of the more than 170 systems already sold, 40% were to first-time Cray buyers. "The kinds of things being done on million-dollar machines wouldn't have been dreamed of five years ago," says Greg Clifford at Cray Research.
Cray officials say there are complimentary uses for mid-range and "big-iron" supercomputers. One example: a relatively new area for supercomputer analysis, acoustic simulation. In the time it took two years ago to get NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) simulation results up to 50 Hz on a conventional high-end Cray, automakers can now go up to 200 Hz. That change allows them for the first time to model sound levels that passengers will hear--not a trivial problem, since one automaker said complaints about "squeaks and rattles" were its number-one warranty problem.
"I think this will have as big an impact on the auto industry as crash analysis," Clifford predicts. And meanwhile, as the multi-million-dollar supercomputers are doing the wide-spectrum analysis, J90s can now perform the 50-Hz analysis.
As advances in computer power march on, mid-range supercomputers and high-end workstations will take on yet more problems once the sole domain of multi-million-dollar machines. "Lots of things that were done on a supercomputer are done on a workstation now," says Sid Karin, director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center. "There will be more next year."
For example, some of today's "big-iron" problems involve multiple disciplines, as engineers seek to combine aerodynamic and structural analysis on a single airplane model. This allows designers to see how the movement of a plane affects its stress load. As computing power improves, those complex models will likely run on less-expensive hardware.
But many who work with both high- and mid-range machines believe there will always be a place for both. Says Karin: "When we've got that problem solved on a workstation, there will be another level of problem that people will be tackling on supercomputers."
--Sharon Machlis, Senior Editor
High-end desktop CAD offerings expand
Newton, MA--The engineering toolbox for desktop mechanical CAD software expands this fall with two major new products.
Autodesk is now beta-testing its Mechanical Desktop, an integrated software application that provides 2-D and 3-D CAD functions. Autodesk says the product represents its most aggressive push into the mechanical CAD market, and some analysts agree. Says Dennis Wiseman, of CAD One, Inc., "Autodesk is getting serious about the mechanical market."
The Mechanical Desktop contains integrated modules for parametric solid modeling, assembly and surface modeling, and associative drafting. The assembly and surfacing modeling components are new. Also included is a new release of AutoCAD 13.
Expected ship date: End of 1995. Expected full price: $6,250.
Also hitting the market is a new solid modeling package called SolidWorks 95™, from SolidWorks, Inc., Concord, MA.
Its developers bill the product as "Pro/ENGINEER at an AutoCAD price," referring to the popular high-end CAD product from Parametric Technology Corp.
Among the features is a browser called FeatureManager™, which records every design sequence. Located to the left of the graphics display, it enables users to go back to any sequence without a lengthy search.
"SolidWorks has lots of promise," says Bruce Jenkins, of the market research firm Daratech.
The product ships later this year. Expected price: $3,995.
FEA helps company meet warranty
Columbus, IN--Engineers at Cummins Engine Co. needed to produce engine components that could sustain a 500,000-mile minimum warranty. To meet the challenge, they used FEA software to conduct thermal/stress analyses on cylinder heads of a heavy-duty Class 8 truck diesel engine.
The engineers had two main concerns: fatigue failure of head components due to thermally induced stresses, and deflection due to pressure loads that would affect fuel-injector timing through a mechanically controlled cam-and-rocker mechanism. If the injector timing is off, the engine not only performs poorly, but also may fail to meet federal emission standards, the company says.
To address these issues, engineers used ANSYS 5.0 and 5.0A to conduct a coupled-field analysis on the pressure load case of the cylinder head. The analysis yielded both thermal and structural results. Engineers used the Jacobian Conjugate Gradient (JCG) solver to save time in analyzing all six cylinders.
The analysis showed that both the diameters and positions of the valve ports needed to be altered. The pressure load analysis also verified the sealing effectiveness of the liner. Company engineers say that, overall, the software analysis allowed them to save substantial resources that would have been expended in traditional design, prototype building, and testing. And, they claim, it helped them to build a more reliable product.
Sensor technology makes trackball impervious to dust, chemicals
Fremont, CA--The trouble with trackballs is that their reliability suffers from dirt, food particles, and other contaminants. But Logitech says it solved that problem with the TrackMan® Marble™ trackball--so dirt-resistant, the company says, it doesn't require regular cleaning.
The result of four years' research and development, Marble's patented sensing technology uses advanced optics and neural-network logic. It detects movement in a manner similar to that of the human eye and transmits the information to the computer.
Most trackballs use mechanical parts to track movement--usually a system of rollers, shafts, and wheels. This made them prone to such problems as the blocking of shafts by dust particles and the reaction or corrosion of metal parts due to oils and chemicals from a user's skin.
In Marble technology, a laser-like beam illuminates the random pattern of dots printed on the trackball, while a sensor tracks the motion. The trackball itself is protected by a special coating. This design, say engineers, increases precision, reduces wear, and ensures smooth tracking--even if the ball gets dirty or scratched. Replacing the moving mechanical parts eliminates tracking problems caused by dust and other contaminants. The trackball especially suits the often adverse conditions of portable computing.
TrackMan Marble is plug-and-play ready and can hot-plug under Windows 95. It sells for $99, including a three-year guarantee.
Logic chip set includes Universal interface
Santa Clara, CA--In a move to make connecting PC peripherals as easy as plugging an appliance into an electrical outlet, OPTi Inc. is developing an Open Host Controller interface for the Universial Serial Bus standard. The USB lets each peripheral--be it a modem, phone, camcorder, keyboard, or mouse--use the same connector. Compaq, Microsoft, and other leading companies developed the specification so novice computer users would know where and how to connect any serial peripheral to a computer.
OPTi's logic implementation will handle the task of sending different data to different devices over the same physical wire. The interface will be a feature of the company's motherboard core logic chip set, to be available this quarter. (OPTi will also make available VHDL models of the Open Host Controller interface.) The chip set will let OEMs save PC motherboard or add-in I/O-card space by eliminating the need for a dedicated controller to support each serial port.
CAD improves shift-lever fit
Kitchener, Ontario--When Chrysler wanted to re-design a shift lever for the 1996 Dodge Ram T-300 truck, they turned to metal stamping and assembly maker Apex Metals, Inc. The deadline: A working prototype in one month.
Apex had designed the part for the '95 model, and Chrysler wanted the new lever to fit more snugly against the vehicle's transmission input shaft. "It was a very difficult assignment," recalls Apex Corporate Computing Manager Harry Tempelman. The shift lever is comprised of a transfer pin, a metal progressive stamping with nut, bolt, and a pre-torque D-shaped hole.
"Chrysler's previous attempts to tighten the lever's tolerances created interferences that made it extremely difficult to assemble," explains Tempelman. "When clearances were expanded, the lever would sit too loosely, posing a risk to the input shaft's operation."
To solve the problem, Apex engineers used Pro/ENGINEER solid modeling software from Parametric Technology Corp. (PTC), Waltham, MA. After checking the model using the Pro/CAT function, they ensured there were no car-position envelope errors, says Tempelman. Next, they exported the model to Mechanica for mechanical and structural analysis.
PTC's Pro/SHEETMETAL™ module provided a flat-pattern layout of the lever, allowing Apex's toolmakers to prepare the die layout progressively. Engineers then performed tolerance and stack-up calculations using the Pro/ASSEMBLY™ management system to ensure proper pre-torque assembly fit. The software let engineers model the material positions and make sure they could assemble the lever and tighten the bolt without spinning the nut, says Tempelman.
The software helped Apex engineers create a working prototype at the end of three weeks. "All Chrysler's assemblers had to do was put the lever over the input shaft and apply final torque," adds Tempelman. "They were thrilled to see how easily everything fit together."
Software focuses on assembly design
Huntsville, AL--Intergraph Corp.'s mechanical software solutions group has announced development of Solid Edge software for mechanical assembly and parts modeling.
Built on the company's Jupiter technology, the software has features for solving part-to-part interface and interference problems as well as assembly configuration. Intergraph says it enables designers to use parts from other CAD systems in assembly design.
"Most existing CAD systems were written for parts design," says Product Manager Kim Corbridge. "With Solid Edge, we concentrated on letting engingeers work in the context of assemblies."
Assembly design features include a distinct command environment for assembly; assembly navigation with selective part display; assembly constraints; and compound assembly modeling that uses parts from different CAD systems.
Intergraph says the software captures assembly intent with mating and alignment constraints that preserve part-to-part relationships throughout the design cycle.
Intergraph designed Solid Edge for the Microsoft Windows environment, and claims its ease of use shortens learning curves while improving design productivity.
Initial comments from the analyst community confirm its user friendliness. "The software is very easy to use, and its simplicity from step to step is great," says Gisela Wilson, market analyst with International Data Corp., Framingham, MA. "The software is exciting and makes a lot of sense. Now, Intergraph's task is to find the proper way to position the product."
The product, which requires a 486-66 or more powerful Intel-based computer running Windows 95, or Windows NT, will be available by the end of 1995. Expected price: $5,995.
2-D CAD quickens sprinkler-component design
Bountiful, UT--Engineers at Orbit Sprinklers say they have saved time and money using 2-D CAD software to redesign several of their existing products.
In one product, their WaterMaster® pop-up sprinkler head, the goal was to reduce production costs by shortening assembly time on a threaded-cap assembly that required eight turns. Led by Manager Richard Morrison, engineers designed a ¼-turn connect in Micro Cadam 2-D without a prototype.
The first production article showed leakage in the tube seal because of the manufacturing holes needed for the mold plug to retract from the cap after injection and cooling. Orbit's solution was to change the seal angles and increase the cap's wall thickness.
In another project, engineers encountered problems with a flat gasket diaphragm on electrical control valves. The valves were expensive to make considering the high quality standards Orbit had set, say engineers on the project. Flat rubber gaskets required a strong stainless-steel backing plate to maintain the proper torque on the assembly screws.
Led by Project Engineer Jim Elzey, Orbit used Micro Cadam to design a molded diaphragm with a lip that did not require excessive screw torque.
The engineering team at Orbit is investigating 3-D CAD packages now, and, says Elzey, plans to migrate to 3-D eventually. Their study may take awhile. Just recently, the company used 2-D Micro Cadam to re-engineer existing parts and assemblies developed by a supplier who went out of business. "2-D CAD will be our workhorse for the time being," Elzey says.
Projection panel displays high-end graphics
Newport News, VA--LCD projection panels are a useful alternative to static slides, overhead transparencies, and low-resolution projections in engineering presentations. And with the GRAPHX Z350 high-resolution LCD projection panel, engineers can present complicated schematics and tool paths, and show elaborate graphic simulations or animations. To make information sharing even easier, the panel can project these intricate graphics from almost any computer source--PCs, Macs, and powerful workstations.
Developed by nView Corp., the GRAPHX Z350 panel projects a 1,024 x 768 resolution in 1.4 million colors from a 10.4-inch, active-matrix, LCD display.
Engineers who need to project images with resolutions greater than 1,024 x 768 can make use of the panel's Preview mode. It compresses images with resolutions of 1,152 x 900 or 1,280 x 1,024, and projects them through the 1,024 x 768 window. A Pan function allows users to shift higher resolution images from left to right and top to bottom, in order to view all the information in the display window.
A 24-button remote provides control over the unit's Curtain, Brightness, Contrast, and Mute functions, as well as Preview and Pan. For those who prefer to work at the projector, the Z350 also has an on-board control panel.
The GRAPHX Z350 projects interactive color displays, in real- time, as large as 12 feet, corner-to-corner. Measuring 14.8 x 13 x 1.5 inches, the panel weighs only 5 lbs. It offers a contrast ratio of 100:1, and a video speed refresh rate of 50 ms. The unit can also integrate video images with an optional external video adapter. The first panels shipped in September at a cost of $9,495 each.
CAD/CAM provides support for bed lift
Oxford, CT--CAD/CAM software helped engineers at Creative Product Development cut costs and shorten design time when designing Truman Products' "Bed Buddy," a compact lift unit for beds.
Jim Gleason, a designer at Creative Product Development, says he could quickly model the framework of the control unit--pneumatic motor and switch buton--by using the "Picture It" rendering utility in Cadkey software. Picture It enabled Gleason to visualize five or six 3-D representations, then capture the designs for color and black-and-white output.
Another challenge facing engineers: Design of the unit's air pump. The pump needed to meet many requirements and its design threatened to disrupt scheduling. However, as recommendations from mold designers and electronics experts filtered in, Gleason says he programmed frequently used macros to icons on his digitizer. This gave him the means to quickly make modifications.
During the design process, Creative Product Development received data from many sources. Data translators accurately brought geometry from outside systems into the company's own system, and at the same time sent out data to other Cadkey users working on the project. The DFX translator also enabled in-house modelers to work directly from full-scale layout plots. Therefore, the original CAD geometry was preserved throughout the entire process.
Engineers say the software modeling helped the product come out on time and meet design criteria: the product be UPS shippable, its control unit hand-held, and the price below $150. The outcome: a hand-held control that encloses the pneumatic motor and safe compressor, and an exterior body that consists of a power cord and one small air hose.
Acetal eases access to computer tapes
Broomfield, CO--Springs and wheels molded from an acetal resin help ease the filing and retrieval of computer tapes in a space-saving storage system developed by Engineered Data Products. The Extreme Density System (EDP) stores tape cartridges in 20-slot, rack-mounted modules.
The springs, made of Delrin® acetal from DuPont Engineering Polymers, Wilmington, DE, lock the individual cartridges against a lip at the front of the slot. Tapping the top of the cartridge raises it above the lip, allowing the spring to eject it. A tap at the bottom secures the cartridge in the slot.
The springs, molded in strips of ten, snap into the back of a rack module. Integral hooks on the strip retain the module in the rack. Up to 80 models mount in the fixed or sliding racks.
The acetal springs cost less than metal parts overmolded with plastic, according to John Wylie, a design engineer at Engineered Data Products. The snap-fit design and integral mounting hooks also lower assembly costs. "We have tested the springs for 275,000 operating cycles and have expeienced no failures," Wylie adds.
The Delrin wheels on the sliding racks also replace metal parts. They solved noise problems, and also eliminated chipped-paint cleanups for customers. The wheels roll freely, Wylie explains, because they are molded within an extremely accurate roundness tolerance of only ñ0.006 inch on a diameter of 3.5 inches.
Using Delrin for the springs and wheels also solved some problems for the molder, Plastmold, Inc., Denver. "Compared with the acetal we used in the past, Delrin 500P gives us improved yields," says Ted Herman, Plastmold's vice president of operations. "The molds require less frequent cleaning to remove deposits, and the resin resists degradation."
Extreme Density tape-cartridge racks move with less than 2 lbs of force, thanks to precision-molded wheels of DuPont Delrin acetal resin.
Consortium offers rapid prototyping
Louisville, KY--A group of manufacturers has joined with the University of Louisville to bring rapid-prototyping technology to small as well as larger companies.
Founded in 1994, the J.B. Speed Scientific School Rapid Prototyping Consortium gives its more than two dozen members access to university staff expertise and a DTM Sinterstation 2000 System. The DTM machine uses a process called Selective Laser Sintering to make models directly from CAD data, utilizing a modulated laser to create solid parts from powdered materials.
Consortium member Holley Performance Products, a manufacturer of automotive aftermarket products, recently used the SLS process to model a fuel-injection system, upper intake manifold for a Ford Mustang, and high-performance carburetor.
"One project that might have taken six months took only 30 days because we were able to prototype the parts so much faster," says Engineering Manager Gary Kessinger. In addition, rapid prototyping saved money and gave engineers the flexibility to fine-tune designs. "We have the freedom to go back to the drawing board without incurring a lot of additional costs," he says.
The consortium recently beta-tested a new SLS material, composite nylon. "It exhibits higher strength and durability, yet its glass content makes it easier to finish than pure nylon," says Tim Gornet, CAD consultant for the university. "Everyone who works with the glass-filled nylon loves it."
EMB Corp., Elizabethtown, KY, prototyped a refrigerator compressor motor start relay with the new material. The plastic housing consisted of two complex close-tolerance parts that would have required production of an expensive mold for each execution. "We delivered working composite-nylon prototypes to our customers faster and for less money than we normally could have," says President Bill Schaffrick.
The university group is now waiting to test DTM's new RapidTool process, which will create prototype core and cavity molds for injection molding. It uses a metal powder with polymer plastic binder that melts and sinters during the SLS process. The completed part is then fired in a furnace so the plastic binder burns out, and the metal part is reinforced with copper. Predicts Gornet: "It will be easier and less expensive to work up the core and cavity molds needed to produce runs of 10 to 500 injection-molded parts."
Ford gives circuit-board polymer global exposure
Southfield, MI--Engineering thermoplastics continue to help drive advances in molded interconnect devices, particularly for automotive applications. Ford Motor Co. provides a good example.
The automaker turned to a high-heat polyetherimide (PEI) polymer filled with 30% milled-glass fiber for the instrument cluster circuit board on the VX 62 minivan. The multi-passenger vehicle (MPV) is marketed in Europe as the Ford Galaxy and the Volkswagen Sharan.
For the project, Ford specified Ultem® 2312 resin from GE Plastics, Pittsfield, MA. The result for Ford: reduced secondary operations, faster cycle times, and recyclability.
One primary contributor to systems cost savings in the circuit-board endeavor involves design for assembly. Parts consolidation eliminated 16 components from the application. Intricate parts, such as connectors, pins, holes, recesses, fasteners, ribs, snap fingers, and other features, can be molded directly into the boards.
The in-molded parts provide further cost savings from reduced secondary operations, including drilling and assembly. Materials such as thermosets require deflashing, trimming, and scrap removal. Added savings resulted from reduced inventory, while the packaging space actually increased.
Another factor in the circuit-board application's use of Ultem concerns the resin's advantage over thermosets in regard to stable dielectric constant, along with improved signal velocity. The boards can be soldered in the same way as traditional materials, and feature a patented, molded-in characteristic that compensates for larger tolerance stackups for board components.
In addition, Ultem's tight molding tolerances and low coefficient of thermal expansion help ensure consistency of the molded parts. The material is said to provide cycle times 25 to 50% faster than thermosets--and they are recyclable.
Nylon aids parts transmission between plants
Auburn Hills, MI--Recently, a Big Three automaker approached Creative Techniques Inc. (CTI) to design and produce dunnage for a materials handling system to transport automotive transmissions between assembly plants. The fully assembled car transmissions weigh 250 lbs each.
"The entire system has to be extremely durable," says Dick Yeakey, president and co-owner of CTI. His material of choice for plastic parts in the dunnage: Celanese® 6000-series nylon from Hoechst Celanese Corp.
CTI selected the material because of its toughness, impact resistance, and processability, Yeakey says.
The dunnage is constructed from several thick-wall, injection-molded rails. The rails are fitted together using molded-in slide-joints to create a form-fitted cradle for the transmission. The cradles are bolted together in two rows of four to accommodate eight transmissions within a single, stackable rack.
Once seated, the transmissions are secured with a molded, ribbed panel called a strap. The strap bolts to the bell-housing of the transmission and is mated to the rack by a molded-in sheath that receives a vertical steel tongue. The tongue is welded to the rack's frame.
CTI used Celanese impact-modified nylon in two colors for the application: black for the dunnage rails to protect against exposure to ultraviolet radiation, and orange for the strap.
The transmission racks travel between the automaker's plants in railroad cars or truck trailers, and are subject to numerous multi-directional stresses, vibration, and shock during loading, unloading, and the trip itself. "We needed a material that would hold up over years," says David Matthews, engineering manager at CTI. "That's why we chose the 6000-series nylon."
Microcontroller supports automotive applications
Chandler, AZ--A new microcontroller offers cost-effective solutions for systems requiring high-performance computing, real-time event control, and communication using standard network protocols.
The 87C196CB from Intel Corp., Santa Clara, CA, joins the MCSX microcontroller family to support automotive and industrial applications. It is a highly integrated Intel automotive product that features 1 Mbyte of external addressing, and integrated CAN 2.0 (Controller Area Network) specifications.
CAN is a standard networking protocol, often referred to as multiplexing, that reduces the complexity of wiring in vehicles by providing a single data path for electronic data transfers. CAN integration onto a microcontroller decreases printed circuit board area and system complexity. It allows for quicker access to CAN registers and also decreases board noise.
Other features include 2 kbytes of on-chip RAM and a user-selectable 4x clock multiplier which allows for greater flexibility when selecting an external clocking source. This creates a more cost-effective design. For example, designers can employ a 5-MHz crystal to run a 20-MHz device.
Primary applications for the 87C196CB controller are vehicle dynamics, anti-lock braking systems, and powertrain control. The device offers high-performance, real-time single-chip implementations for these types of applications.
"The 87C196CB expands Intel's automotive 16-bit product line to more than 60 different products," says Lee Davidson, general manager of Intel's Automotive Operation. "This large family allows designers to maintain software compatibility over a broad range of application requirements, from airbags to power-train control. "
Further information about Intel is available from its World Wide Web site at URL http://www.intel.com/.
Next-generation chip pushes PCs into workstation arena
Huntsville, AL--With each new generation of Intel processors, the line between personal computers and low-end workstations has become a little fuzzier. Now, the latest Intel CPU may have blurred it altogether.
The P6 processor, Intel's successor to the Pentium, boasts 215 SPECint92 and 220 SPECfp92--about double the Pentium's integer and floating-point performance. Intergraph Corp. has designed a family of 3-D desktop computers around the P6 that the company says offers the power of mid-range UNIX workstations at a lower price.
Some consider the new TDZ 3D computers PCs, because of their Intel processors; some consider them workstations due to performance levels; still others characterize the machines as personal workstations. "We do not care anymore how people position it," says Wade Patterson, vice president of engineering. What matters, he says, is that people understand it offers workstation-class performance at PC prices.
TDZ 3D computers come with one to four P6 processors and the option of several specially designed 3-D graphics accelerators. Those accelerators, which include five different custom-designed Intergraph ASICs, offer 24-bit double buffering up to 1,600 x 1,280 resolution, as well as speedier rendering, geometry, and texture mapping. The GLZ accelerator series is designed to boost OpenGL graphics, which means the boards will speed up any software utilizing the popular Open-GL graphics standard.
Charles Foundyller, president of Daratech Inc., a Cambridge, MA-based market research firm, calls the TDZ a "dream machine...It rips through tasks that my Pentium desktop chokes on."
Intergraph engineers say they utilized workstation-class components, such as interleaved memory, error-correction logic, Fast SCSI-2 disk subsystem, and 32-bit Ethernet capability. TDZ computers run Microsoft's Windows NT operating system, a version of Windows that supports multi-tasking, multi-processing, and multi-threading. The keyboard features built-in stereo speakers and volume control for multi-media voice mail.
"For less than $12,000, users can experience true real-time simulation and true-to-life textures that create the 'reality' in virtual reality," says Tom Coull, president of VR software developer Sense8.
Intergraph engineers call the P6 "a giant technology leap beyond Pentium." Although the Pentium allowed for dual-processor system design, they say, much of the circuitry required for multiprocessing needed to be supplemented. P6, however, has a secondary cache and cache controller integrated into the same module as the processor core. And, the cache subsystem is interconnected by a high-bandwidth bus that integrates the error checking and correcting logic needed to maintain data integrity across multiple processors. This makes it easier for engineers to design powerful and efficient multi-CPU systems.
The TDZ machines have up to 34M of VRAM. Combined with GLZ graphics, Intergraph officials say, the computers offer photorealistic design surfaces. The graphics accelerators also use 24-bit, true-color double buffering for smooth on-screen animations.
Prices start at $10,000; a dual-processor TDZ with 64M memory would cost about $20,000.
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Engineers use I-DEAS to help prevent thefts
Westbury, NY--For video retailers, digital video disk (DVD) technology is a mixed blessing. Though the small packaging promises more sales per square foot, it also entices shoplifters. Autronics Plastics Corp. may have a solution to the DVD security challenge: a universal display case, locking mechanism, and checkout-counter decoupler.
The clear, polypropylene display case has internal mounting brackets arranged and nested to accommodate a variety of video and game cartridges and packaging, as well as CDs in their "jewel" boxes. To design the case, Autronics used I-DEAS Master Series™ from Structural Dynamics Reseach Corp. (SDRC), Milford, OH.
The concept was developed and refined as a 3-D solid model in only two weeks, and then turned into prototype parts using stereolithography apparatus (SLA). "We had the universal case, lock, and decoupler concept design and the SLA models completed before I went for my first I-DEAS training session," says Autronics Designer Andrzej Soporowski. Though new to solid modeling, he went through a minimal learning curve with I-DEAS. "The software is very logical and easier to learn than other packages I have used."
To make sure the locking mechanism would work as designed, three prototypes were made. The first was with laser orbital machining for a quick, low-cost functionality check. Then, two stereolithography models were made.
Autronics used the I-DEAS STL translator to convert the 3-D solid model files to Stereolithography Tessellation Language (STL). Engineers then modemed the files directly to Laser Prototypes in Denville, NJ.
The entire product development process was so accurate, says Michael Lax, Autronics president, that the usual rework of production tooling was eliminated. This cut manufacturing costs alone by 25%. States Lax: "We were very impressed."