Toying with ideas leads to hit products
Newton, MA--Toy inventors' backgrounds may vary, but their desire to bring pleasure to children of all ages remains a constant. Take these men for example: Sonny Smith, a Chattanooga musician, created an innovative new toy, the Rad Board ™ multi-plane scooter, with his grandchildren in mind. Mike Jones, a Portland cement contractor, balked at paying $175 for a simple toy scooter and applied a novel gear and transmission design to the Power Pumper TM kid's cycle. Thomas Hughes, a former NASA engineer, created the patented clay mixture that enables Teddy WarmHeart ™ to be a warm plush animal for children. All of these men brought their ideas to market without major corporate backing.
Warm bear hugs. Teddy WarmHeart lives up to his name by generating warmth for four hours after only a two-minute "hybernation" in the microwave. Teddy WarmHeat uses no batteries, wires, or harmful chemicals in his warming process.
Finding a way to warm the bear proved challenging. "The hard part was getting a plush product that's microwave safe. A great deal of experimentation and coordination with hospitals went into this," says Gregg Harwood, president, Teddy WarmHeart Corp., Springfield, IL.
Thomas Hughes, a former NASA engineer, developed and patented the Thermal Ceramix TM, an all-natural, clay-based product that's the key to the bear's heart. According to Harwood, the heart's novelty is that it's a heat sink, not a heat reflector. The Thermal Ceramix consists of a soft, non-toxic clay-based heat sink. Directions tell parents to microwave the bear in the cloth sleeping bag provided.
So, Teddy's warm heart is basically a well-packaged Thermipaq ™ Hot or Cold Therapy Pack from Thermionics Corp., Litchfield, IL. "Doctors brought the bear into the preemies," says Gregg Harwood, president, Teddy WarmHeart Corp. "The babies responded positively; it's ideal in this environment."
Teddy WarmHeart is now also widely used in nursing homes as a comforting toy. Some elderly patients who are afflicted with alzheimers or arthritis have shown improvement after being exposed to the warm bear, says Harwood. Teddy WarmHeart retails for around $40. For more information, call (800) 800-3353.
Ride on. In March 1992, Mike Jones handed his business partner the shovel he was using and walked away from a career of manual labor. A flood of interest in one of Jones' inventions, the Power Pumper, convinced him to abandon his cement-contracting business and pursue his dreams.
The Clackamas, OR inventor had balked at paying $175 for a toy scooter and began imagining how to turn the simple device into a "better mouse trap." What he envisioned while staring at the scooter is now known as the Power Pumper ™ , manufactured by Hart Enterprises, Vancouver, WA.
The Power Pumper 4-wheel cart's novel gear and transmission design received two U.S. patents. By pushing the pedals and pulling on the handle bar, and then reversing the action, riders propel themselves forward.
Safety is built into the design. A low center of gravity helps to prevent tipping over. Other safety features include a hand break and a roll-back lock (prevents rolling downhill backwards). A fluorescent safety flag is included, and flies four feet above the ground. Recommended weight for riders is 120 lbs, although it has been tested to 250 lbs.
The Portland, OR School District adopted the device in its physical education programs. And children who ride Power Pumpers in their neighborhoods discover they are the center of attention as amazed friends wonder at the race-car design and unique pumping action. Jones is now developing Power Pumper prototypes for adults and disabled persons.
The suggested retail price for the Power Pumper is $199.95. For more information, call: 1-800-859-HART.
What's that? The Rad Board from Smith-Horton Enterprises, Chatanooga, TN, derives its name from observers saying "That skateboard is radical." What's so radical? This skateboard, scooter, street-toboggan combination actually consists of three short skateboards joined together, with a total of eight wheels and handlebars at each end.
Sonny Smith, a well-known Chattanooga musician, designed the Rad Board with his grandchildren in mind. He had a prototype made and got a patent on it, but died of cancer before he could really develop it. His son-in-law, Eddie Horton, and widow, Marie Smith, decided to try to find a manufacturer for the toy.
Rad Board's double-steel tube frame consists of three non-slip riding planes; four sure-grip handles; four high-performance adjustable trucks; eight wide, stable, precision-formed wheels; and 16 semiprecision bearings. Upon introduction in late 1994, 11,000 callers in less than four weeks asked where they could buy a Rad Board® scooter.
Since the 1992 plywood prototype, changes to the design of the board have made it safer, more durable, and more colorful, with a greater variety of designs. The 1995 model, aimed at kids from six to sixteen, now offers a decelerator, a breaking device that allows for a more versatile range of tricks and spins.
Design problems were minimal, according to Neil Miller, director of promotions. "We did have problems finding a way to apply the decelerator," he says. Michael Smith, son of the Rad Board inventor, came up with the design for the decelerator. "We went through 5 prototypes before finding one that would attach between the two pipes for the wheels." Because the decelerator wears down from friction, replacement pads are available for purchase.
Also a design hurdle: choosing a bearing to use on the Rad Board. The eight wheels contain 16 bearings. Original specifications called for standard bearings; the boards now have replaceable semiprecision bearings that offer longer life and reduced deterioration. This upgrade cost four to five cents a bearing, or about 80 cents per board. Full-precision bearings were considered, but at a cost of 25 cents each, weren't feasible.
Testing and deciding on the tube gauge and the strength of each board proved the toughest part of designing the Rad Board says Franz Reichert, CFO, Rad Board Inc. "The board strength comes mainly from knowledge gained in the skateboard industry," he explains. "Reinforcement webbing built into plastic makes the polypropylene board thin and light. We had an idea of what perfomance characteristics were needed."
So far, over 50,000 Rad Boards have been sold. The manufacturers expect to sell at least this many, according to Reichart, before this Christmas.
For the future, Rad Board Inc. is looking into designing an off-road wheel that would make the Rad Board usable on grass and other previously unattainable surfaces. Another area for change: Using a new technology to print graphics on a piece of plastic and then putting the plastic into mold design.
On line for 1996 are the new Mighty Mini® Rad Board for ages four to eight; the Rad Rex ™ Doll, which is the mascot for the Rad Boards; and tee-shirts and caps with various Rad Rex and Rad Board designs.
The Rad Board sells for $79.95, and the Mighty Mini for the three-to-six-year-old crowd sells for $39.95. For more information, call (800) REAL-RAD.
These products show that a good concept can catch on without major toy industry marketing. So, if a fun toy idea is on your drawing board, share it with the kids.
What this means to you
--Gail M. Considine, Staff Editor
Recycled plastic helps build a better printer--and environment
Palo Alto, CA--Hewlett-Packard has introduced the DeskJet 850 series of printers, said to be HP's most advanced personal color inkjet printers. Equally interesting, at least from an environmental aspect, is that the printers' outer casing contains up to 25% recycled ABS plastic.
"We expect to use more than 6 million pounds of plastic that otherwise could end up in landfills," says Jim Langley, general manager of HP's Vancouver, WA, printer operation. "It's an exciting step forward for the industry, and shows what a tremendous impact can be made when you design products for the environment."
For the printer project, HP turned to Cycolac® REC 550 ABS resin from GE Plastics, Pittsfield, MA. According to GE, the thermoplastic resin has a minimum 25% recycled content, and performs like a virgin material. Major sources for the resin's recycled content include post-consumer telephones and pre-consumer (molding discard) automotive interiors and business machines.
GE began working with HP about three years ago in the early phases of the printer line's development. "Due to the continuing decrease in printer prices and the increase in environmentally friendly products, HP needed a cost-effective material with recycled content," notes Doug Nutter, general manager of resource and recycle programs for GE Plastics. "Also, HP wanted a durable, precolored, flexible material to design an attractive printer that would meet the lifestyle needs of consumers."
The DeskJet 850 printers have other environmental benefits. For instance, they are designed for easy disassembly and recycling. Their modular architecture contains few permanent screws, which makes them faster and easier to take apart. And all plastic parts in excess of three grams are identified and marked by type.
Moreover, the printers require fewer materials than previous models. They are molded using a thin-walling process, which creates thinner and lighter components. The trimmer printers require fewer shipping materials, and, as a result, less fuel to ship.
Finally, all HP printers are inherently energy-efficient, using about 80% less power than dot-matrix printers. But the new DeskJet 850 models include power-down and sleep modes, which cut energy use in half when compared to other inkjet printers.
Fasteners smooth path for document-folding equipment
Doylestown, PA--CAD has changed the way engineers do business, but many still rely on engineering documents to convey information. Printfold Co. designs and manufactures systems that convey, fold, and collate oversized engineering drawings.
For the design of a recently introduced document handler, Printfold engineers chose fasteners from Penn Engineering & Mfg. Corp., Danboro, PA. The model 3000-CF is an on-line, automated large-engineering-document folder to complement 36-inch printers and plotters.
To get load-bearing threads in thin metal sheets too thin to thread, Printfold engineers use self-clinching PEM® fasteners. For example, self-clinching stainless-steel nuts attach the bridge which connects the printer to the fold unit. The fasteners deliver a tight bond and ensure a clear paper path, company officials say. Likewise, stainless-steel Keyhole® standoffs allow spacing along the paper-guide rail while securing the bearings for the pressure rollers.
Inside the model 3000-CF, type S self-clinching steel nuts secure electrical components such as circuit boards. The fasteners have proven reliable despite constant motor vibration.
Other fasteners, such as carbon-steel self-locking fasteners and blind threaded standoffs, eliminate the need for lock washers and nuts in the frame assembly. "We originally started building equipment with welded frames," recalls Roger Funk, formerly chairman of Printfold's parent company. "But it prevented us from being able to quickly remove components for service in the field. The switch to PEM fasteners solved this problem and resulted in a less bulky assembly with fewer parts."
Composite protects pump from chemicals
Carrollton, TX--When engineers at Dosmatic USA, Inc. design a chemical feed pump, they never know what kind of chemical it's going to be used with. Therefore, to ensure that its new Mini Dos pumps would resist attack from even the harshest chemicals, the company looked for the most chemically resistant material it could find.
The Mini Dos pumps inject a proportional amount of liquid chemical into a water stream. "Our pumps add whatever kind of liquid chemical you need, in a precise, metered amount," Dosmatic President Frank Walton explains. Some typical applications include: spraying lubricants on conveyor tracks in bottling plants, carrying antibiotics or vitamins to animal feed, or adding fertilizers through a residential sprinkler system.
To make sure the pumps will operate under these conditions, engineers turned to Verton® MFX, a long-glass, fiber-reinforced polypropylene composite from LNP Engineering Plastics, Exton, PA. "The composite not only gives us the strength and wear resistance we need, its chemical resistance is excellent," Walton adds. "This translates into a longer life for our Mini Dos pumps."
Dosmatic plans to use the composite on other pump models. Says Walton, "Currently we use a polycarbonate composite on some of our other pumps, but it doesn't have the same kind of extensive chemical resistance as Verton MFX."
Dosmatic received added benefits from using the composite--a material that's easy to mold, has good pressure and wear resistance, and stands up to UV exposure. "It's extremely difficult to get a plastic that will deliver all of these things at the lowest possible cost. Verton MFX gives us exactly that," says Walton.
Even shipping costs dropped when Dosmatic began using the composite. "We air freight our pumps all over the world, and the freight companies charge by the pound," Walton reports. "The low specific gravity of Verton MFX allows us to produce a lightweight, high-performance unit that doesn't cost a fortune to ship."
Adhesive repair salvages torn sail
Bridgewater, NJ--Experienced sailors know that when you tear a sail, repairs either involve a costly panel replacement, or sewing on a patch that will alter the sail's intended shape and affect sailing performance.
For Jim Nowicki, however, a torn jib sail in his 30-foot Lippincott sloop was no problem to fix. Nowicki, a senior project supervisor at the Adhesive Division of National Starch and Chemical Co., simply bonded the damaged sail with a reactive hot-melt adhesive.
To repair the L-shaped rip, Nowicki transfer-coated a 4-mil film of PUR-FECT LOK® 70-7799 adhesive onto thin strips of sail fabric, then positioned them on both sides of the 3.5- x 1.5-foot tear. Nowicki chose the aliphatic-based polyurethane adhesive for its strength and because it has the UV and chemical resistance to withstand continuous sunlight, salty air, and high wind forces.
After using an ordinary garment iron to heat the adhesive, Nowicki let the bond cure for a week and then began sailing with the refurbished jib. "The sail retained excellent shape," he recounts. "The patched jib is still going strong despite encounters with some really bad weather."
Now, National Starch is working with an Australian sail maker to examine the potential for commercial sail-making applications. The adhesive's elasticity may reduce seam slippage and improve the sail's ability to retain its intended shape. For commercial use, Nowicki proposes that the adhesive be applied by slot applicator at 110° to 120°F along the seams of the sail.
Cushion car seats with recycled fibers
Plymouth, MI--From cola bottle to car seat: That's the route some PET resin is taking thanks to a process developed at Johnson Controls' Plastics Technology and Automotive Systems Groups.
The seat backs and cushions use recycled PET fibers from soft-drink bottles. PET (polyethylene terepthalate) seat pads have a few advantages over the polyurethane foam pads used in current auto seats: PET pads are easier to recycle, lighter weight, offer better "breathability," and can be molded into a wider variety of densities, say Johnson engineers.
Johnson's "thermobonded" PET manufacturing process uses heat and low pressure to compress the fiber into seat pads. The process is less environmentally toxic than foam-blowing methods, and eliminates adhesives and their associated solvents.
"The PET recycling industry is growing significantly," says Alok Kumar, director of advanced development for Johnson Controls. "In the 1999 model year, we will be in a position to provide recyclable PET-fiber seat pads for production vehicles, and we're working to develop PET-based trim covers for future applications."
The cushions, which were unveiled at the recent Frankfurt Auto Show, meet comfort, durability, and material requirements, say engineers. A new molding process boosts the high-temperature durability of the pads.
Johnson is also improving the recyclability of seat designs by reducing the number of parts, using standardized fasteners, avoiding insert-molded plastic parts, and designing structures using lay-on pads. "In the near future," Kumar adds, "environmental features will become as important to automakers as quality and safety are today."
'96 E-Class, engineered like...a Mercedes-Benz
La Quinta, CA--For the past 15 years, Design News' engineer readers have voted Mercedes-Benz builder of the world's most desirable "dream cars." And for ten of those years, the E-Class sedan has dominated the company's sales. In 1995, IntelliChoice picked the decade-old design--changed only modestly since its inception in 1986--as the "best value" in its class. So when Mercedes unveiled the all-new 1996 E-Class at a lavish event outside of Palm Springs, I expected a lot.
The car delivers.
Controversial front styling aside, the new E320 (217-hp, 3.2l inline 6) and E300 Diesel (134-hp, 3.0l inline 6) incrementally up the ante in the highly competitive $40,000 luxury-car arena. A 275-hp V-8 version, the E420, will debut as a 1997 model, and cost just under $50,000.
Smooth, quiet, solid, balanced, and with one of the most supple but well-controlled suspensions ever mounted beneath four doors, the E-Class models boast a host of innovatively engineered components. Highlights include:
The HVAC system incorporates a dust and pollen filter and an activated charcoal filter to absorb odors. To reduce the effects of smog on occupants, a sensor detects levels of both CO and NOx and will switch the climate control to recirculation mode for up to 30 minutes.
Another acronym, ESP (Electronic Stability Program), describes a sophisticated stability system that is optional on the E420. It uses sensors to monitor steering angle, individual wheel speed, lateral acceleration, brake pressure, and yaw rate. Should the car begin to understeer or oversteer, ESP applies appropriate brake pressure at one wheel to correct the instability.
A three-stage intake system on the E300 Diesel is the first ever incorporated into a production diesel automobile. It incorporates six intake runners feeding through a butterfly valve into a twin-pipe resonance manifold, which is divided by a second butterfly valve. The runners and resonance manifold lengths and volumes are tuned to give three torque peaks at 2,400, 2,900, and 4,000 rpm.
Worth more than a mention are new safety features that give Volvo--our readers' perennial favorite in the auto-survey "safety" category--something to think about. Side airbags--the first mounted into the door, the company claims--protect both driver and passenger. Due to the door's close proximity to occupants, the TRW-produced system triggers in 5 msec and fills in just 12 msec. That compares to the 40-msec fill time spec'd for the front airbag.
Not forgetting the seat belt, engineers added new pre-tensioners that rewind 13 cm of belt--30% more than before--during a collision. And torsion-bar belt-force limiters--the first installed in a production car--reduce peak loads.
As expected, all this technology adds up to performance and--something Mercedes-Benz wants to emphasize with the E Class--fun. Informal drag races at a test track in Palm Springs, CA, had the E320 handily beating BMW's V-8 powered 540i. And fun it was.
--Mark A. Gottschalk, Western Technical Editor
Simulation helps Alcoa get parts right on 1st try
Pittsburgh--If you're designing parts that cost $100,000 or more to make, you'd like to get them right the first time.
That's why Aluminum Company of America's Process Design and Smelting Section is using CAD and analysis software to create dies for the automotive industry. "We have improved the quality of the parts," says Technical Specialist Walt Wahnsiedler. "We have also reduced the number of trips back to have the dies reworked, probably by a factor of two."
Alcoa uses a number of different software programs to analyze the dies before they are cast: FLOW-3D (Flow Science Inc., Los Alamos, NM), PROCAST (Universal Energy Systems Inc., Annapolis, MD), FIDAP (Fluid Dynamics Inc., Evanston, IL), and CFDS-FLOW 3D (CFDS Inc., Pittsburgh). "By analyzing filling and heat transfer, we reduce problems of porosity," he explains.
The codes had been running on networked workstations, but Alcoa recently purchased a Convex Exemplar parallel-processing system.
With the larger system, Alcoa can simulate much larger parts, and get results more quickly, Wahnsiedler says. "We only have a few weeks to influence a design before it is cast in stone--or, in this case, steel."
Processor makes designing PDAs as easy as ABC
Austin, TX--Motorola's M68328 DragonBall ™microprocessor sports all the features and interfaces you'd want for a personal digital assistant, or PDA. The low-power, low-cost chip also packs enough computing power for such applications as electronic organizers, mobile na-vigation systems, dictionaries, handheld video games, and personal communicators.
Features include an LCD controller, three power-saving modes, a real-time clock, two timers and a UART ready to support the infrared communications standard IrDA, a PWM for generating tones or melodies, a system-memory interface, and a serial interface for pen input. And as a member of the company's 68K family of microprocessors, DragonBall already has an extensive suite of development tools available.
"DragonBall delivers efficient system performance, low power consumption, and outstanding system cost advantages for battery-powered consumer electronic devices," says Ken Edwards, marketing manager of Motorola's Portable Systems Operation.
One company that agrees is Samsung, which selected the chip to build a personal data communicator featuring a built-in pager, pen-based handwriting recognition, and a high-speed data/fax modem. "Our partnership with Motorola allows us to deliver the most cost-effective and compact personal data communicators to the worldwide market," claims Robert Kim, VP and general manager of the Multimedia R&D Lab of Samsung Corporate Technical Operations.
PEEK extends valve-plate life
Ventura, CA--Valve plates normally require more maintenance than any other part of a compressor. That's why the Uni-Seal Valve Co. turned to a polyetheretherketone (PEEK) material to extended its valve plates' life and reliability.
"We wanted to reduce compressor downtime," says Uni-Seal Customer Service Manager Chris Hodgetts. "The PEEK valve plates have excellent stress resistance and fatigue endurance." His company selected Victrex® PEEK from Victrex USA Inc., West Chester, PA.
Before switching to PEEK, Uni-Seal used a variety of materials, including nylon and mcarta. The trouble, according to Hodgetts, was that "plates made from these materials experienced breakage problems."
The valve plates act as a seal in reciprocating compressor valves to regulate substance flow through machinery in the oil and gas industries. As a result, they operate in very tough environments. The PEEK engineering thermoplastic can survive under this punishing use because it resists harsh chemicals and is thermally stable. "Not only is PEEK very strong, it is wear resistant and performs very well under extremely high-temperature conditions," Hodgetts notes.
Other physical properties of PEEK include: good tensile strength, as well as resistance to stress cracking, high-pressure steam, gamma radiation, and low smoke. Adds Hodgetts: "PEEK's superior chemical resistance makes it an effective material as a metal replacement."
Uni-Seal supplies plates for all OEM compressor-valve designs. It also specializes in replication compressor valve plates, as well as complete valves.