What a difference a generation makes!
Twenty years ago, you shaped your designs on a drafting board, probably using a calculator or slide rule. You had to build prototype after prototype to verify your designs. You balked at sharing data with others inside or outside the company. Standard materials were the norm, and microprocessors were still a novelty. Few engineers cared about designing for export, what with America's huge captive market.
It's a completely different world today. First, the engineering toolbox brims over with computer and software aids to make you more productive. You can get virtually any material you want, made to order. And the emergence of microcontrollers has helped lower part counts and costs, while increasing the reliability and functionality of all kinds of products.
And those are just the tangible changes. The way you work today is different too. Globalization demands that you design with foreign customers in mind. Pressure to get to market fast is fierce, and one of the drivers of design for manufacturing. Environmentalism and the quest for quality have led to designs incorporating recyclability and ease of maintenance. Demands for efficiency and cost control have brought about outsourcing and technical alliances.
The changes are mind-boggling, says Victor Poirier, president of Thermocardio Systems and a former Design News Engineer of the Year. "We have to consider things we never thought about 25 years ago."
Adds Norman Augustine, president of Lockheed Martin Corp.: There has been "an explosion of technical knowledge engineers must deal with." And, he says, "they must increasingly bear the burden of selling the projects they wish to undertake."
This issue of Design News identifies 10 megatrends that are dramatically changing engineering. Let us know how they are affecting your job.
1. MORE POWERFUL COMPUTER TOOLS
Tasks that used to take days now take hours
To fully grasp the staggering advances in computer performance, it helps to make comparisons. One oft-cited example: If auto price/performance had made similar leaps in the past few decades, a Rolls-Royce today would cost $2.75 and run 3 million miles per gallon.
What has all this affordable computer power done for users?
Physical prototypes are being replaced by simulations. Paper drawings are giving way to 3-D solids models. And, high-performance workstations now allow engineers to perform sophisticated analyses on their desktops--and easily share information with colleagues.
Computers were a key part of Boeing's 777 design. The 777 passenger jet is the world's first airplane to be 100% digitally designed and preassembled on computer. "Designers could see parts as solid images and then simulate the assembly of those parts on the screen--easily correcting misalignments and other fit or interference problems," the company explains. Thanks to a powerful computer network, 238 different design/build teams could work concurrently, so problems could be found early.
The results: Engineering changes, errors, and rework dropped to less than half of other programs; while parts and systems fit together better than expected. In fact, the first 777 was just 0.023 inches away from perfect alignment--about the width of a playing card, the company says, while most airplines line up to about half an inch. "Digital preassembly helped us significantly improve our engineering and manufacturing processes, and overall quality," says Charlie Kyle, Boeing chief project engineer, Airplane Integration.
In its constant push to cut time to market, General Motors has also used high-powered computer technology to "redesign the entire design process," according to Larry Howell, director of body systems and research at GM's R&D Center, Warren, MI. GM is using its computer systems and networks to help with concurrent engineering: allowing engineers from different departments, and even outside suppliers, to share information--and fix problems--early on.
The kindest cut. GM has cut its auto-design time from 5-6 years at the beginning of the decade, down to "four, perhaps three," he says; and a two-year cycle may be possible.
Using faster computer simulation tools has helped. Now, for example, automakers can simulate a car crash in considerable detail, to test the safety of a proposed design, with a few hours of supercomputing time. "Five years ago, we couldn't even do that," he notes.
At this year's North American International Auto Show, GM revealed another significant new tool: a powerful proprietary computer program that allows engineers to easily simulate the complex surface of a complete auto body, not just one part. "In a recent benchmark, a commercial CAD supplier took 39 hours to do what SurfSeg could accomplish in 90 seconds," says Paul Besl, staff research scientist at GM's Research & Development center.
Besides cutting time, this helps improve quality, Howell says, by testing for fit and finish very early in the process. SurfSeg was used on several 1995 GM models, including the award-winning Chevy Blazer.
How much faster are computers today? Processor power has been increasing about 1.7-fold per year; and the accumulating advances offer staggering improvements. Jim Glass, an engineer at Rockwell International's Rocketdyne Division, recalls an early assignment to develop some "engine-balance" software. "I can remember when it used to run overnight to generate one case on a CDC mainframe," he says. "Now, it runs in minutes or an hour (maximum) on a workstation."
That means engineers can run hundreds of iterations to explore their designs. "In the old days, we didn't have this luxury," he notes. In addition, Glass says, all this analysis helps an engineer "begin to internalize a 'feel' for rocket-engine systems; that is, the codes teach the humans how the engines behave. One's intuition becomes sharper; we come up with better design concepts earlier in the cycle."
Share design data with colleagues internally and at supplier locations.
Evaluate more design options than ever before.
Sharpen knowledge of product behavior.
—Sharon Machlis, Senior Editor
2. DESIGN FOR EXPORT
Standards, quality, customer preferences the key
In today's world, companies scramble to sell their goods in international markets. Likewise, engineers are designing and redesigning to meet foreign standards and tastes.
All too often, companies find that if you don't design for export, you can't sell at all. The 12 nations of the European Union, for example, increasingly ban a growing variety of products that don't conform to their formal standards.
Of broader impact is the worldwide popularity of global standards--especially the ISO 9000 series for quality management. Many engineers now must search for component suppliers that are "ISO-certified." Comments IBM's Lawrence L. Wills, who chairs the American National Standards Institute: "International standards are becoming national standards."
What's the trickiest part of designing for export? Fulfilling the special needs of customers in other lands, manufacturers say. It often means working closely with foreign engineers.
Kodak's case. Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, NY, is among many giant firms that have embraced design-for-export as company policy. "We aim to assure that our designs meet worldwide criteria," Michael Tennity, manager of Kodak's Design Resource Center, told Design News. "We are finding that the Japanese and European markets have higher expectations than what you would find if you were designing for a U.S. market."
To illustrate, Tennity points to how Kodak units responded to management's decision in late 1993 to widen markets for its one-time-use cameras. The firm sent teams of researchers to Japan, France, the United Kingdom, and parts of the U.S. They interviewed consumers, retailers, and photofinishers to find out what they wanted in next-generation, single-use cameras--including looks, performance, and price.
Steve Chapman, Kodak's lead designer on the program, describes the results of the surveys abroad: "They said our 'Fun' cameras of that time were like big, bulky bricks. They had sharp corners, and didn't fit well in pocket or hand. Some said the camera felt like a lower-end product, and they were kind of embarrassed to be seen with it."
Size was the main concern among the Japanese, Chapman continues. They wanted a thinner, lighter camera that would grip well, without fingers looping over the flash. And they wanted a flash that took less time to recharge.
"They basically didn't want a cardboard box," Chapman recalls. "Foreigners seem more aware of how things are put together. We in the U.S. are more price driven. The American consumer will give up looks or feel or ergonomics for lower prices."
A major concern of Germans: the recyclability of the cameras. They wanted a camera designed so a larger portion of its material could be reused after photofinishers returned the emptied cameras to Kodak.
Multiple choice. Kodak engineers came up with 30 different camera concepts. Armed with block models of the versions, survey teams went back to their interviewees around the globe. They repeated the process at various stages as designers narrowed the candidates to four.
In testing and verifying the models, Chapman's design team worked closely with foreign counterparts. "I got to know them very well over the phone and face-to-face," Chapman relates.
Kodak wanted to make sure the final version of the new camera conformed with all standards in prospective world markets. Among proposals rejected for being nonstandard: use of a smaller film cartridge. Instead, Kodak chose to install 35-mm, 400-speed film. That allows photofinishers in different countries to process more conveniently. As an added benefit to photofinishers, engineers designed a cover that opens easily.
Once they chose the film cartridge, the designers shaped the camera to contour around the film. They smoothed corners to make the device smaller and easier to hold and use. And they surrounded the lens with a raised plastic ellipse to protect the lens and prevent the user's hand from blocking the picture.
Also, the engineers installed a flash unit that automatically recharges for the next shot. It remains in a ready state throughout the picture-taking event. Kodak replaced the cardboard body with a sleek, black cover made of lightweight polystyrene. It designed virtually every major component, including circuit board and polystrene label, to be reused. Recyclers can grind up the other parts.
From conception to shipping, the new product--the Fun Saver--took Kodak just over a year.
—Walter S.Wingo, Washington Editor
3. DESIGN FOR MANUFACTURING
Using DFM, General Motors reduces part counts in bumpers and doors
When General Motors engineers began designing the doors for their 1995 J-car, few thought they could improve on the existing configuration. After all, GM's tried-and-true door designs had changed little over the past decade.
After applying Design For Manufacture techniques, however, they learned otherwise. Engineers at GM's Lansing automotive division reduced the number of parts in the door by 50%. More important, they eliminated the need for several stamping dies, replacing them with lower cost rolled steel tubing. In all, they cut the unit cost for the 1995 Chevrolet Cavalier and the Pontiac Sunfire by 13%.
"Going in, I was convinced that they couldn't improve the doors," notes Joe Joseph, manager of General Motors Knowledge Center and a former door designer for Fisher Body. "But by applying creative techniques, they succeeded."
The J-car's success was by no means an isolated one. During the past five model years, GM engineers have applied Design For Manufacture (DFM) to scores of automotive systems, wringing substantial costs from many vehicles. In the 1992 Cadillac Seville, for example, they found new ways to attach the bumper fascias, thus eliminating 61 fasteners and retainers from the front bumper fascia, saving $4 per car on labor and $51 per car on materials. Similarly, engineers for the 1992 Caprice saved $17 and 3.3 kg per car by moving the ABS module from the trunk to a location beneath the instrument panel.
Such manufacturability wasn't always the norm for GM, or any other major American manufacturer, for that matter. In decades past, design engineers and manufacturing engineers often failed to communicate, resulting in the well-known "throw it over the wall" mentality. As a result, many products were maddeningly difficult to build. Many others went through numerous, time-consuming design changes before they reached manufacturing.
The early 1980s, however, changed the approach of many heavy manufacturers, particularly in the automotive field. At that time, droves of American carbuyers were opting for foreign designs. "We knew we had to improve the productivity of engineering, design, and manufacturing efforts," Joseph recalls.
Emphasis on assembly. Many companies achieved that by shifting the emphasis to the assembly level, rather than the component level. "If you look at the collection of items that make up your product, and then force yourself to ask critical questions, you find that you can actually reduce the number of individual parts," notes Peter Dewhurst, a partner in Boothroyd Dewhurst Inc., a Wakefield, Rhode Island-based consultant in DFMA (Design For Manufacture and Assembly). "And if you do that during the early stages of the design, it can result in very large savings."
Dewhurst says the key to DFMA success is the formation of teams that view the product holistically. "The important thing is to gather all the people who will be responsible for the product at the beginning, so that the reliability, service, and maintenance issues are considered at the same time as design performance," Dewhurst says.
The results can be startling, as a recent Boothroyd Dewhurst study showed. The study documented the following average successes across several industries as reported in DFMA forums, conferences, newsletters, and internal papers: 56% reductions in parts counts; 62% reductions in assembly times; 45% reductions in assembly costs; and 72% reductions in the number of fasteners.
GM's multi-disciplinary teams typically include materials engineers, product designers, product engineers, and manufacturing engineers, as well as participants from purchasing, financial, and supplier companies.
Ultimately, DFM efforts could spell the difference between success and failure for many products. As the trend gains momentum, most large companies now have DFM programs in place, giving them an edge over competitors that don't. Boothroyd Dewhurst, for example, has counseled such giants as GM, Ford, AT&T, 3M, Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas, Hewlett-Packard, and scores of others.
"The industry leaders are reaching a point where they are all doing it," Dewhurst says. "If they don't have DFMA in some form, their product development efforts simply aren't competitive."
Cut costs by cutting unnecessary parts.
Form interdisciplinary teams to consider all aspects of product design.
Make even complex designs easy to manufacture.
—Charles J. Murray, Senior Regional Editor
4. OUTSOURCING ENGINEERING DESIGN
Design engineers take on new roles
It's a straightforward concept. If you manage a big OEM, push your suppliers to do more design work, and relieve your company of the need to perform tasks outside its core competencies. Outsourcing has become commonplace in these days of belt-tightening and corporate re-engineering. It has, of course, created new opportunities for suppliers. Engineering consulting groups have also seen increases in billings, and changes in their relationships with clients, attributable to outsourcing.
The Brian J. Lewis Company, Castle Rock, CO, is one such firm. After a study of published data on consulting firms, principal Brian Lewis says that in 1974 only three U.S. engineering consulting firms had billings greater than $50 million ($150 million in today's dollars). In 1994, he says, more than 50 consulting firms exceeded $150 million in billings. The most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirm the trend toward bigness:
Between 1987 and 1992 the number of engineering services firms with annual receipts exceeding $10 million grew from 515 to 886.
Total employment in the field, at firms operated for the entire year, grew from 544,686 to 644,110.
The total number of companies in the field operating for a full year rose from 31,472 to 35,893, or 14%.
Even some software companies are taking on outsourced work. For example, Algor, Inc., Pittsburgh, PA, has established a service called Speed Mesh™ to undertake the time-consuming creation of eight-node hexahedral finite element meshes from manufacturers' CAD solid models. Algor uses its Houdini software to do the work. This activity is a case, says Algor President Michael L. Bussler, where manufacturers are outsourcing to gain speed as well as offload work.
Driving to outsource. The automotive industry has probably committed itself to outsourcing more completely than other industries. And Milwaukee-based A.O. Smith, the self-declared largest supplier in North America of suspension and structural modules is poised to capitalize on the trend. (A module consists of a system of integrated components and assemblies that can be installed as a unit.)
In fact, Charles Chapman, senior vice president of sales and marketing at A.O. Smith, declares that his company intends to lead the way in outsourcing. "OEMs want the major suppliers to do more of the design work for them," says Chapman. But meeting that demand calls for changes in suppliers' approaches to OEMs.
In 1992, A.O. Smith opened a facility dedicated to supplying front- and rear-suspension modules for Chrysler's popular midsize LH car line. Some 33 vendors supply as many as 70 components for the modules, and A.O. Smith coordinates their efforts. The program is the largest Chrysler module program managed by an outside supplier.
"Yet for years we just did the assembly portion of module production," Chapman says. "With Chrysler, we're well into Phase Two, the phase where we administer all the efforts of the Tier 2 suppliers. And now we're just poking into Phase 3, which we call systems integration engineering."
At A.O. Smith, plans exist for a Tierless Engineering Co-Location (TEC) Center, where engineers from suppliers and OEMs will sit shoulder to shoulder. A facilitator from A.O. Smith will help the engineers, all employees of other companies, integrate components to optimize the design of each OEM's module. "By looking at the module as a total system instead of a bunch of stand-alone components, we can take cost and weight out," says Chapman. "And we're beginning to get the OEMs interested."
What does outsourcing mean to design engineers? Some engineers will find themselves functioning as coordinators. Others will receive design data from colleagues located at a customer's site. Operations not considered part of the company's core areas of competence--like FEA mesh construction--will be farmed out. But, no matter how much of the job gets outsourced, someone will still have to meet the project's deadline and handle recalls. And more likely than not that someone will be the design engineer.
—Brian J. Hogan, Managing Editor
5. QUEST FOR QUALITY
First step is engineering the design process
The pursuit of quality has become a sprint since the 1980s, when changing consumer demands and Japanese competition in the auto industry drove it into the American consciousness. Of course, closer inspection shows that many successful firms had incorporated quality aims in their business philosophy long before it was fashionable to do so.
The advent of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award gave us shining examples of quality in action; yet the methods behind achieving high quality are still elusive. Now, standards such as QS9000--ISO 9000 standards with additional automotive-industry requirements--are expanding the impact of quality on competition and design.
Cutting warranty costs. "The automotive industry is pushing for absolutely transparent product," observes Jonathan Slass, general manager at Rotor Clip, Somerset, NJ. "They want to do anything they can to reduce warranties--even if it means paying a bit more for the product."
Rotor Clip, a producer of spring clips, is no stranger to automotive quality awards. Their accolades include top awards from GM, Chrysler, and Ford, a Saturn Supplier Recognition Award, and quality awards from Allied Signal, Borg-Warner Automotive, and Warner Electric.
Rotor Clip uses Pareto tools to identify the sources of quality problems and prioritize them as part of the corrective process. The technique allows engineers to chart, and therefore visualize, the specific causes of defects--then determine the best way to eliminate them.
Another veteran of engineering's quality crusade is Cherry Electric, Waukegan, IL. Cherry supplies electronic and electrical products and assemblies to automakers, and has been decorated with such awards as General Motors' "Worldwide Supplier of the Year," Ford's "Q1," and a World Class Manufacturing Award from the Advanced Manufacturing Systems Exposition.
How has Cherry used quality to distinguish its products in the intensely competitive automotive industry? "Quality has to be considered right up front, during the conceptual stages of the design process--typically before there are even drawings," says Ken Kunin, manager of electro-mechanical engineering at Cherry's Automotive Group. A good design idea is not enough, he adds, noting that a well-refined design concept takes the manufacturing process and repeatability into account.
Emphasis on process. As they gear up for QS9000 certification, Cherry engineers are paying close attention to the processes that surround design.
"The engineer establishes a concept for a product, and in general terms, he really is also establishing the manufacturing plans for that product," Kunin says. "Design can drive process, just as process can drive design, and one of the keys to high quality is to let the process drive the design; Understand what processes are going to best be repeatable."
For example, when designing ganged high-current switch assemblies, Cherry engineers examined methods for interconnecting the individual switches to a group carrier. They weighed hand- and wave-soldering, mechanical twist-locks, and toy-tab features based on historical parts-per-million reject rates.
Engineers at Cherry also use formal evaluation techniques such as FMEAs (failure mode effects analyses) and software-based, worst-case design analyses.
Cherry recently combined quality-improvement techniques in the early stages of development of a product supplied to GM. Within twelve weeks, engineers brought the defective-parts-per-million count down from 70,000 to 124.
With results like those, today's automotive quality standards may well be tomorrow's general manufacturing standards. In the next months, Cherry and other auto suppliers will participate in audits for QS9000. "It's a logical extension of ISO 9000," says Kunin. "And I'm pretty confident we'll receive it the first time through."
Focus on core technology and improve it incrementally.
Integrate production, manufacturing, automation, and testing considerations into the design process.
Test at every step.
Set guidelines that allow design freedom
Review the process every six months.
—Andrea L. Baker, Associate Editor
6. SMART MACHINES
Microcontrollers give machines brains—and more
Microcontrollers are everywhere. They're in your telephone, answering machine, VCR, TV, power drill, stereo, thermostat, security system, utility meters, camera, microwave, remote controls, pager, exercise equipment, coffee maker, and even your electric toothbrush. Your car alone has dozens of microcontrollers--you could call it a computer on wheels.
Motorola--the worldwide leader in the microcontroller market with a 19% market share--recently sold its one billionth 8-bit microcontroller. And there's no end in sight.
In fact, for every microprocessor sold in a desktop computer, four processors or controllers go into embedded systems, says Tom Franz, general manager of the Intel Embedded Processor Operation.
One reason for the proliferation of microcontrollers is the electronics explosion, says Motorola's Gary Daniels, senior vice president and general manager of the Microcontroller Technologies Group. "We're all using more electronic devices in the home, office, and cars and there's a huge market waiting in the developing countries."
In addition to the increase in the electronics market, many typically mechanical or electromechanical systems are starting to use microcontrollers, says Mark Throndson, strategic marketing manager for embedded controllers at National Semiconductor, Santa Clara, CA. "A microcontroller makes products easier to use by making the user interface friendlier and simpler," he notes.
"Microcontroller applications really started to take off about 10 years ago when semiconductor makers started designing chips for applications other than computers," says Dataquest Principal Analyst Tom Starnes. Microcontroller companies are now making chips for specialized applications to fit the needs of OEMs.
Advantages abound. Many designers are surprised to find that adding a microcontroller to a design can actually lower cost and complexity and speed time to market. Other advantages include: increased reliability and lower parts count. One microcontroller can replace many discrete logic devices, timers, gates, and electromechanical switches and relays. Microcontrollers also offer programmability: You can make changes to software instead of ripping out logic circuits. And there are specialized chips for specific applications. The chip designer has already done some of your work for you.
Recent examples of traditionally mechanical designs that have benefited from microcontrollers include:
A scooter controller from Curtis PMC, Dublin, CA. The company was pleasantly surprised that as current levels and complexity increased, microcontroller designs became less expensive. In the high end of their product line, the company went from 350 parts to 250 parts. Using Motorola's 68HC11 decreased the cost of the product, gave the controller more features, and let the company meet new European safety regulations.
A bulldozer design that John Deere engineers are developing uses a microcontroller to implement a fuzzy-logic control system. This technology uses an experienced operator's knowledge as well as sensor inputs from the equipment to help the bulldozer do a better job--even under the control of a mediocre operator.
Automated meter reading. For 100 years, home power meters have been mechanical devices. Several companies have added microcontrollers, which can measure power electronically, drive the digital display, store the data, and transfer the data to the utility via modem, over the power line, or using radio signals.
After embedding a 4-bit microcontroller in its QuadPacer Sonicare electric toothbrush, Optiva Corp., Bellevue, WA, is evaluating an 8-bit National Semiconductor chip for the next version.
A previous version used discrete ICs, and engineers were looking for a way to reduce the design's cost. "I couldn't believe a microcontroller would let me do that--and add lots of features." says Electrical Engineer Ryan McMahon. He designed the circuitry and wrote the specs for the controller's software. A programming consultant wrote the actual code.
"The cool thing about this new design," adds McMahon, "is that it let us reduce the total number of parts--passives and ICs--from 32 to 15. We had five discrete logic ICs and a timer, and we replaced them with the 4-bit micro." He also notes that reducing parts count means the company isn't as subject to parts going out of allocation, which had caused problems in the past.
"Microcontrollers give you what you need to control almost anything," explains Daniels. "They contain the brains, or CPU; some scratch-pad memory, or RAM; program instructions in ROM; timers; and input and output ports to communicate with other components. The beauty of it is that for a company that builds lots of one thing, they can use one controller board and change the software."
—Julie Anne Schofield, Associate Editor
7. FASTER DESIGN CYCLES
Software gives engineers a leg up in race to market
Since the first caveman decided to capitalize on his best idea for a new club, businesses have operated on the principle that the first to get to market owns the market--at least for awhile. The theory still holds. With increased competition from all corners of the globe, and the nearly universal consumer fascination with having the latest, most innovative products, cutting time to market is now a critical element of competitive advantage.
"Marketing and finance drive the trend," says Chris Stergiou, president of engineering firm Global Design and Procurement, North Andover, MA. And they are driving hard. Indeed, 64% of the respondents to the most recent Design News/Simmons Market Research survey of the design engineering universe said shortening design cycles was one of the biggest engineering challenges they face.
How they meet that challenge can change their companies' future. Speed in new product development ranks highest among eight organizational skills in its effect on both market share and growth of market share, according to a recent survey of nearly 600 U.S., European, and Japanese manufacturing companies by the Boston Consulting Group and Cambridge, MA-based Product Development, Inc. (PDC). Quality ranked second.
The strategies companies employ to win the race to market include better understanding of customer needs, simultaneous engineering, and early prototyping, says PDC's Shelia Mellow. Adds engineer Michael Black, of Seattle-based Stratos Product Development, "software is one of the tools that make shorter development cycles possible by helping us do faster iterations." Examples abound:
With the aid of SDRC's I-DEAS CAD software, Stratos helped Fluke Corp. take two new multimeter designs from concept to molds in nine months rather than the normal year to year-and-a-half for the process.
Engineers at Artco, Inc., Thief River Falls, MN, used EDS' Unigraphics to cut development time for its watercraft hulls and decks from eight weeks to four weeks. Chief Engineer Charlie McCarty expects to eventually get the time down to four days.
And, Navistar International recently used Algor's Houdini software to cut the time for creating the finite element mesh of a crank shaft. Creating the mesh is among the most time-consuming tasks in FEA, which itself is a necessary-but-time-eating development step. "This was our first use of Houdini," says engineer Anton Calash, "and we still created the 13,000-element mesh in less than three days rather than the normal one to two weeks."
Blending technologies. Most often, time-to-market success depends on a multi-faceted, cross-departmental effort. A classic example is Waring Products, New Haven, CT. The company combined corporate re-engineering with extensive use of software to cut design time 40% for its blenders and kitchen equipment.
Such improvements are critical in the fiercely competitive consumer-goods industry, says Robin Ruck, Waring's director of engineering. "You need to be there first to capture the market before competitive prices eliminate profits." Waring achieved that with its new Pro-Line drink mixer, taking the product from design to launch in just three months. That rapid turn-around required Waring to tear down walls separating departments, employ concurrent-engineering principles, and experiment with its CAD/CAM software.
Waring evolved the design by simultaneously creating hand-crafted urethane foam and wooden models, and capturing the geometry in Pro/ENGINEER mechanical design software from Parametric Technology Corp. Systems integrator Rand Technologies laser-scanned product geometry from the industrial design model into Pro/ENGINEER. They held important areas of the stand to one-sixteenth of an inch to ensure that all design subtleties were recorded.
Ruck says the scanning saved time by avoiding multiple iterations between machining and solid modeling. Engineers used Pro/MANUFACTURING to machine for casting patterns. At the same time, they developed stereolithography models from the database as a master pattern in preparation for urethane casting of the head. 3-D Systems, Valencia, CA, provided the stereolithography machine.
Ruck says that because industrial designers worked on the patent of the stand at the same time design engineers created the Pro/ENGINEER solid models of the entire product, everything was ready for limited as well as full production in the same time frames.
Using the software to quickly evaluate several design alternatives helped engineers avoid downstream design problems that could have slowed the product-development process, Ruck says. "With our mold designs, for example, we evaluated more options in the early design stages. As a result, we caught flaws that would have gone to the tool-making stage." Additionally, they avoided shrinkage flaws, shearing problems, and cold flow lines.
"Previously, we would spend three or four months just getting the tooling right," Ruck notes. "We've dramatically cut that time, and we know our tool will be right the first time."
Cut your design cycle--but don't cut quality.
Use CAD and FEA to automate time-consuming engineering design tasks.
Perform different design tasks simultaneously to save time and catch problems early.
—Paul E. Teague, Executive Editor
8. TAILOR-MADE MATERIALS
Choices snowball as suppliers fight for market share and end-use needs become more specialized
Special orders don't upset us. That line, made famous by a hamburger chain, applies increasingly to the materials available to design engineers.
The fact is, there have been no major new inventions in metals, ceramics, rubber, or plastics in recent years. On the other hand, there has been an almost unbelievable proliferation of types and grades, all offering some incremental advantage in either the final-use application or processing.
The result? Opportunity--or chaos for the unsuspecting.
"There are 21,000 off-the-shelf plastic materials in the U.S.," reveals Mike Kmetz, president of IDES, Inc., a Laramie, WY, database firm. "That's up from 11,000-12,000 just five years ago."
The trend toward tailoring also prevails in other materials groups. When Advanced Refractory Technologies, Buffalo, NY, went to market recently with a series of advanced ceramics, emphasis was placed on their tailorability. The A500 series not only offers outstanding thermal conductivity and corrosion resistance, but the materials can be specifically sized, treated to be water-resistant, and spray dried. "As we talked with the customers, it was a clear case of one size does not fit all," comments Mary Spohn, director of marketing.
Few steel-industry companies escaped the well-publicized round of R&D budget cutting in the 1980s. Still, ferrous specialists are targeting growth through customization. One such leader is Carpenter Technology Corp., Reading, PA. New efforts are underway at CarTech to develop special alloys for all-fuels compatibility in cars and/or for specialized medical requirements, such as easily machinable, very-tough hip implants.
Innovative new product. CCM-plus, a cobalt chrome molybdenum alloy made in bar form through powder metallurgy, solved a specific customer's request, says Ron Gower, manager of stainless and high temperature alloy R&D at CarTech.
Several materials experts reveal that the most intense efforts in custom formulation are under way in the medical market. Identifying the correct material for a specific medical application is a ten-step process, explains Tom Huitema, senior engineer at Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Cincinnati, a Johnoson & Johnson company. He recently completed a materials change for a next-generation stapler used for intestinal surgery. The device features a flexible shaft, articulating stapler head, and trigger-operated handle.
In the original design, a pair of laser-cut, stainless-steel support plates acted as structural members and provided support and guidance to other components. These plates were fastened and separated by six double-ended shoulder rivets. The riveted assembly was strong, but 20% heavier than the design objective. In addition, the steel plates were costly, assembly was difficult, and the design did not support disassembly for salvage.
Before beginning the process of selecting from alloy steel, aluminum, or hundreds of possible plastics, the engineering team at Johnson & Johnson determined critical performance.
Then, the engineers reviewed opportunities to improve the design through use of alternative materials. A switch to injection molding would allow integration of spacers and bosses into a plate and the incorporation of several assembly aids.
Engineers then analyzed the initial computer concept model, generated rapid prototypes with stereolithography, and cast urethane prototypes for limited structural testing. Example: Making certain that bosses would not be crushed or split when barbed pins were inserted during manufacturing.
Ethicon contacted a plastics materials supplier, molder, and aluminum die caster to help identify specific materials candidates. Three manufacturing-related issues emerged with the die caster. Secondary machining would be required of the die-cast parts to achieve close tolerances on holes, for example.
Initial top choices, based on very high stiffness requirements, included die-cast aluminum and carbon-filled nylon. Preliminary testing on the urethane prototypes indicated that other filled plastics could do the job at a lower cost. Engineers reviewed two other plastics: 30% glass-filled liquid crystal polymer (LCP) and 40% long-glass-filled engineering thermoplastic urethane (ETU). The 40% ETU fell short on stiffness, so Ethicon looked at an even more exotic grade, 60% long-glass-fiber ETU, which offers flexural strength close to carbon-filled nylon.
Ethicon developed a matrix to compare all of the final materials candidates against each other and the minimum and desired performance requirements. Five materials, including four filled high-end engineering plastics, were compared. Two were eliminated: aluminum, due to weight, cost, poor tribological properties, and lower flexural strength than the plastics; and nylon, due to cost and past experience with shrinkage and warpage.
Ethicon picked the 60% ETU material (Isoplast from Dow Plastics) because of its toughness, stiffness, strength, dimensional stability, and cost. One caveat Huitema offers design engineers: Published properties for plastics and other materials are based on tests conducted using standard test samples. "The mechanical properties of molded parts may vary significantly from the published values," says Huitema. "The material that looks the best on paper may not be the one which performs the best in the part," adds Karen L. Winkler, the Dow medical specialist who worked on the project.
Still, use of large materials databases provides a good starting point when it comes to making a rough cut on materials selection. Most major resin suppliers offer electronic databases of their products, sometimes as part of an industry collection of materials.
It boils down to this. Pushing the envelope on materials' capabilities through a custom formulation or newly developed grade can be a time-consuming affair, but it could give your company a competitive advantage.
Specify detailed performance requirements.
Don't make assumptions based on data sheets.
Accelerate use of rapid prototyping to make certain parts are dimensionally accurate.
—Doug Smock, Contributing Editor
9. LIFE-CYCLE ENGINEERING
Tomorrow's products to feature ease of maintenance and recyclability
It may be a bumper-sticker truism, but even the highest-quality designs eventually break down, grow obsolete, or get mandated out of existence. Tomorrow's successful engineers must keep entropy in mind: Not only will their products be efficient and manufacturable, they also must be easy to dispose of and to service.
As the range between survivors in various quality surveys narrows, the consumer's choice hinges on how simple a product is to keep up, rather than how often it breaks down.
Whether or not a product's recycling benefits the environment remains a moot point. For designers, recyclability will become an imperative for economic reasons. Consumer environmentalism and government mandates may soon dictate component recycling. But more significantly, improved serviceability and OEM downsizing will lead to smaller service departments, resulting in more widespread equipment leasing.
Future is now. Examples of increased emphasis on recycling and serviceability abound. According to the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, 76% of the average car is already recycled. New SAE standards for plastics marking will raise that figure in the near future.
The proliferation of engines good for 100,000 miles between tune ups underscores the new emphasis on serviceability in the automobile industry. Better transmission fluids and coolants with 10-year life spans will debut in 1996. "We're trying to please the customer by making cars as maintenance-free as possible," says Edward Zeller, Cadillac's chief engineer.
Further, 1996 introduces the second phase of government-mandated On-Board Diagnostics (OBD II). The law requires computerized monitoring of emission-system performance that warns operators when service is required. General Motors, for one, has broadened the scope of OBD II diagnostic capabilities to alert operators of impending mechanical difficulties. Technicians will interrogate the system to pinpoint problems and speed repairs.
Switching fixes. Recyclability and serviceability issues merged in the recent upgrading of power supplies used in digital central-office phone switching equipment used by GTE. As these units aged, their failures created an increasing percentage of equipment down time.
How to handle the problem--recycle or redesign? To answer the question, the switching-system OEM, AG Communications, Inc., Loraine, OH, asked GTE's Electronics Repair Services, Ontario, CA, for help. GTE ERS, a separate business unit of the telecommunications giant, provides depot-level maintenance expertise to a variety of electronics manufacturers. As a result, its personnel has gained significant expertise in end-of-life design issues.
ERS examined a prototype redesign of the power supply, performing a failure analysis, testability analysis, and critique for ease of maintenance. Doug Suda, manager of technical support at ERS, says the analyses resulted in several design changes. Among them: use of de-rated electronic components to improve mean time before failure.
ERS also recommended that the power supply's heat sink include holes to allow access to all nodes beneath it for in-circuit testing and simplified troubleshooting. "I'd estimate we'll save a half-hour or more in diagnosing the boards in the field, since the device won't have to be removed for access," explains Suda. Overall, he estimates that the in-service life of the power supply went from seven years to between 12 and 15 years.
Half the power supplies will be recycled. ERS replaces five components on each board that are the most vulnerable to electrical and thermal stress, including all electrolytic capacitors older than four years. The better-than-new power supplies reduce the company's procurement costs and cut waste at the same time. It's a lesson with an easy to understand moral.
Make service life and ease of repair differentiators.
Communicate with service personnel.
Design products so they can easily be recycled.
—Terrence Lynch, Northeast Technical Editor
10. ENGINEERING WITHOUT WALLS
To compete, collaborate
At companies throughout the world, the walls are tumbling down. In the '80's, they fell between engineering departments within companies; now they're falling between the companies themselves.
This new cooperation is often called partnering or a technical alliance. At its purest, an alliance is an agreement between two or more firms to pool resources--engineering, marketing, manufacturing, or otherwise--to create a new product that each could not produce easily or at all alone.
What's driving this trend? The fall of trade barriers is one cattle prod. "Global competition is the source of all of this," says Dr. Jordan Lewis, industry analyst and author of The Connected Corporation: How Leading Companies Win Through Customer-Supplier Alliances. "It's not us against them anymore, it's everybody against everybody else."
Another prod: the uncompromising demands of customers for the latest technology delivered in the shortest time. "One way to do this is to share the expense of product development with partners," says Phil Pompa, director of marketing at Motorola's RISC (reduced instruction set computing) processor division in Austin, TX.
To that end, Motorola entered into the AIM alliance in 1991, teaming with engineers from IBM and Apple Computer. The goal: to develop next-generation microprocessors and create a new standard for future computers. Given the seeming dominance of Intel-based PCs at the time, it was quite an ambitious undertaking.
As with any good partnership, each company carried particular strengths into the marriage. Apple brought the Macintosh operating system and its base of PCs. IBM contributed its advanced semiconductor development and fabrication, RISC microprocessor architecture, and array of design tools geared towards rapid IC development. And Motorola delivered its bus and I/O expertise, experience with high-volume production, and knowledge of compact IC design.
"It's increasingly difficult to find all forms of expertise in one firm or design group," says Pompa. "Other partners may have already developed technology, and it doesn't make sense to reinvent it."
In just 12 months--far less than typical in the industry--the engineers at AIM completed the design and fabrication of the PowerPC 601. Containing 2.8 million transistors and measuring 0.4-in square, the chip was said to be both smaller and more powerful than those from Intel. In addition, it would run several operating systems, including Mac OS, SunSoft's Solaris, IBM's AIX, and Microsoft's Windows NT.
Don't call home. To facilitate cooperation and communication, AIM partners built the 80,000-sq-ft Somerset Design Center in Austin, TX. More than 300 engineers from the three companies converged on the site, sporting ID badges not from IBM or Motorola, but from the consortium. "You checked your ego at the door," says Pompa. "Had we set up in an Apple, or Motorola, or IBM building, things would have been very different," Pompa says.
Master documents spelled out security and legal issues as well as means to resolving conflicts. Not once did AIM engineers have to refer to them, a tribute to the close cooperation fostered by co-locating designers at Somerset.
Could the PowerPC have been developed without AIM? Possibly. But Pompa doubts any one partner would have taken the risk. "The project would have cost more, taken longer, and would not have had the market influence of all three companies," he surmises.
Not every technical alliance can afford to build a separate facility like Somerset. Nor does every one require it.
At Enterprise Integration Technology (EIT) in Palo Alto, CA, principal scientist Jay Glicksman concerns himself more with how engineers will collaborate than why. An advocate of the "virtual corporation," he's working on creating computer tools that will allow engineers at remote locations to communicate and share engineering information over the Internet. "It's a way to overcome geographic limitations and team with people that you would not or could not otherwise," he explains.
Several academic examples point to the future of such virtual collaborations. SHARE, an ARPA-sponsored project, funds EIT and Stanford University's Center for Design Research (CDR) to come up with a methodology and environment for collaborative product development. SHARE researchers envision a world in which teams of engineers from multiple organizations work together over networks.
To demonstrate and develop such capabilities, ARPA also funded the MADEFAST project in which researchers from Stanford and the University of Utah modified a missile seeker head into a target tracker for civilian applications such as parking-lot surveillance. Collaboration occurred entirely over the Internet using a variety of computer programs that allowed the sharing of voice, video, CAD, and data right at an engineer's workstation.
The point of all technical alliances--virtual or co-located--is survival. And to survive, designers must think beyond their organization and hone their relationship skills. "Engineers will not make it in the future without those two attributes," says Lewis. "Having good technical skills is no longer adequate. Those who don't cooperate won't be in business."
Look beyond your own organization for technical capabilities.
Your competitor in one project can be your ally in another.
Focus on the goal of the alliance. It will further your corporate goals.
—Mark A. Gottschalk, Western Technical Editor