What do you get when you take a bad economy, throw in a complex engineering application proposal, and slap a fast-approaching deadline on it? The answer is quite possibly the perfectformula for the contenders of the Best Products of 2001. Designed for ease-of-use and efficiency, these products represent the best of their respective industries. Be it the latest 3D software or a new adhesive that eliminates steps in the assembly process, these Best Products contenders have all been recognized for ingenuity and innovation. At our request, vendors nominated their best products introduced from September 2000 to September 2001. Our technical editors then picked finalists and passed them on to an independent panel of judges to select a winner in each of the seven categories. Here are the judges' choices for the best products in each category:
Electrical/Electronic. Sensory Inc. (Santa Clara, CA) has the best product in the field with its Voice Extreme™ Toolkit, a suite of speech-enabled hardware.
Power Transmission & Motion Control. Netzer Precision Motion Sensors Ltd. (Smithtown, NY) wins this category with its Rotary Electric Encoder™.
Test, Measurement, & Control. The LS-7000 optical micrometer system from Keyence Corp. of America (Woodcliff Lake, NJ) tops this group with its high-speed linear CCD and high-intensity LED light source.
Fluid Power. Moog Inc.'s (East Aurora, NY) Digital Interface Valve scores the highest for its flexible functions.
Computer Productivity Tools. SolidWorks Corp. (Concord, MA) wins this category with SolidWorks 2001 3D mechanical design software.
Fastening, Joining, & Assembly. ADCO Products Inc. (Michigan Center, MI) wins the fastening category with its AT-3 Bakeable Acrylic Tape, which works as both an adhesive and a mask.
Plastics, Metals, & Other Materials. Delrin® acetal resin, from DupontEngineering Polymers (Wilmington, DE) is noted for its low wear and friction characteristics.
All seven products represent the best engineering of their class, but only one can be chosen as the Best Product of 2001. We need your help to do this. The following pages contain full product descriptions, photos, and quotes from the judges. Read up on these contenders, select the product that exemplifies design engineering at its best, and send back the ballot at the end of this article or e-mail us at email@example.com with your vote (please include company name and your subscriber number). The chosen Best Product will be featured in the March 11, 2002 Engineering Awards issue.
Hardware builds voice applications
The Voice Extreme™ Toolkit consists of hardware and graphical programming tools designed to build speech applications efficiently. Users write programs in VE-C, which permits access to voice and audio technologies. Two boards—a main development board with a built-in microphone and speaker, and a removable VE module with speech processor and Flash—make up the toolkit. The product is made for control of I/O ports, an RS-232 interface, and timers, while also supporting speaker verification, speaker-dependent recognition, DTMF generation, word spotting, and speech and MIDI music playback. "This product exemplifies continuous design...and consideration for the obstacles that prevent developers from adopting innovative hardware," says Michael Ruane, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Boston University's Photonics Center. "[Voice Extreme Toolkit] could change the way a lot of us do design—putting speech in more places, more cheaply."
Sensory Inc., www.sensoryinc.com.
Encoder offers absolute output in full rotation
The Rotary Electric Encoder™ is designed to offer the accuracy and absolute output advantages of optic and magnetic encoders in a full rotation absolute position output. Consisting of a stator and a rotor, the encoder features a temperature range of -55 to 150C, low power consumption down to 50 microwatts, high resolution to 20 bits, and high accuracy to 16 bits. Made of reinforced polymers and engineered for resistivity to magnetic and electrostatic fields, encoders have reportedly low sensitivity to vibration, temperature, and humidity. Hagen Schempf, Director of the Hazardous Environments Robotics Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon, describes the encoders as, "Capable of low-cost OEM-market usage for motors and space- and interference-sensitive applications...Its low power and simple interface make it a natural for future applications." Other uses for the encoders include the automotive, industrial automation, office automation, robotic, medical, consumer products, machine tools, and aerospace industries.
Netzer Precision Motion Sensors Ltd., www.netzerprecision.com.
Optical micrometer system measures with no moving parts
The LS-7000 optical micrometer system uses a high intensity LED light source and a high speed linear CCD to achieve measurement speed and accuracy. Without motors, rotating prisms, or other moving parts, heat and vibration are eliminated, reportedly making it maintenance-free. The sampling rate and repeatability are twice that of conventional scanning micrometers, at 2,400 samples/sec and ±0.15 microns respectively. The unit also includes a Target Viewer, which allows for quick and accurate setting of the target in the beam. A continuous 30-mm wide beam eliminates scanning and thus detects targets without gaps. According to the company, clear target images are obtained with the low noise GaN LED light source. "The [LS-7000] integrates the latest in electro-optical componentry to the levels necessary for high-precision micrometry gauging," says Hagen Schempf of Carnegie Mellon University. "The use of this system in high-speed inspection as part of a production and assembly line will be a valuable resource to many industries."
Keyence Corp. of America, www.keyence.com.
Digital interface valve has decentralized control
The Digital Interface Valve is designed to offer digital flow, pressure, and fieldbus communication capabilities, while also providing reportedly reduced system costs and installation time, and remote or on-site diagnostic convenience. The valve's flexible functions allow users to perform parameter tuning, define dynamic behavior, and configure characteristics to specific applications. For further flexibility, subsystem tasks are given to local devices, rather than the main control device. "The notion of decentralized control and fieldbus communications is becoming an embraced system architecture across process industries, allowing high-bandwidth, accurate local control based on locally-set parameters," says contest judge Hagen Schempf. The design of the valve is made to be temperature- and vibration-resistant, while still maintaining its limited mechanical size. According to Schempf, "Moog's [Digital Interface Valve] is a step into the future of smart and networked actuation and sensing systems."
Moog Inc., www.moog.com.
Software design features mirrored components
SolidWorks 2001 is Windows®-based 3D mechanical design software offering ease-of-use enhancements. According to Douglas Stamps, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Evansville, "Learning SolidWorks is fast…the learning curve should be even easier with the new Heads-up User Interaction feature." This new feature reduces visual clutter and design steps with visual display and mouse-driven capabilities. For collaboration ease, Internet capabilities allow users to share CAD files via e-mail or a 3D Instant Website. Mirrored components let users create parts based on existing designs, and flexible subassemblies allow for configuring individual movement within a subassembly. The Visual Basic for Applications feature provides advanced macro offerings. Other software capabilities include features and parts uses for flexibility, sheetmetal capabilities, and more tools for production-ready engineering drawings. Stamps adds, "SolidWorks has as a strength in the design of its software the ability to make it very easy to use without sacrificing capability."
SolidWorks Corp., www.solidworks.com.
Acrylic tape works as mask and adhesive
Intended to reduce labor and materials in the automotive industry, the AT-3 Bakeable Acrylic Tape operates both as a mask during the paint and bake process and as an adhesive for parts assembly. Instead of a foamed core, the tape has a solid core that can provide adhesive strength while withstanding paint cycle exposures. The tape eliminates the process of removing and cleaning the mask, and reapplying adhesive after baking. According to consultant and contest judge Dick Miller, "The time and cost savings…derive from innovative applications of materials and an elegant engineering solution, combing the masking and assembly processes, resulting in enhanced ease of assembly and end product quality."
ADCO Products, Inc., www.adcoglobal.com.
Acetal resin can replace steel, reduce lubrication
Designed for applications that require low wear in abrasive environments, Delrin® 100KM acetal homopolymer resin reportedly offers low wear and friction against both itself (1,150 × 10-6 mm3 /Nm) and steel (12 × 10-6 mm3 /Nm). The material is made with the same aramid polymer used in the company's Kevlar® fiber, which is often found in military applications. Its yield stress is 62 MPa (9 kpsi) and its stress at break is 65 MPa (9.4 kpsi). "Capable of replacing steel in many applications and additionally reducing lubrication requirements, Delrin 100KM reduces both product and operating costs without sacrificing durability and reliability," says technology consultant and contest judge Dick Miller. "The superior wear properties of Delrin 100KM facilitate not only weight but also cost savings over the product life. In addition, they represent a unique application of the Kevlar fibers." Early material applications have included conveyor components and automotive door checks. The material can also offer benefits in industrial equipment and consumer products.
Dupont Engineering Polymers, www.dupont.com.