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Technology bulletin

Technology bulletin

CAD/CAM market continues to climb

According to the latest user spending figures compiled and reported by Daratech, Cambridge, MA, the CAD/CAM, CAE marketplace is growing apace. The market research and technology assessment firm forecasts in its annual survey and buyer's guide that the worldwide mechanical software vendors and resellers will top $4.7 billion in revenues for 1997. This is up 18.6% from 1996, a year that saw similar levels of growth. Bruce Jenkins, Datatech's vice president, says capital investment by manufacturing companies working to streamline productivity and enhance global competitiveness is driving the record growth. "Also spurring sales is a stepped-up focus by all major vendors on marketing to specific industries, especially automotive companies and their suppliers," Jenkins adds. Leading the curve in the industry are Parametric Technology Corp., IBM/Dassault, SDRC, and EDS Unigraphics. For more information, contact Bruce Jenkins at (617) 354-2339.


Objects may have shifted during flight

Self-movers may have experienced the pang of fear while driving their rental truck as the armoire slides to the opposite side in a sharp curve, unbalancing the unfamiliar vehicle. Changes in trajectory resulting from changes in centers of gravity is the operating principal behind a proposed guidance system proposed by Sandia National Labs, Albuquerque, NM. Researchers suggest a moving-mass trim-control system that purposefully unbalances a missile or space vehicle could provide an inexpensive method of guidance. Such a system would be composed of two internal weights that rotate on a metal ring inside the vehicle. A computer would control the positions of the weights according to GPS data. Sandia says the moving-mass trim-control system would be easy to install and wouldn't change the external shape of the vehicle. The concept follows on previous work done by the DoE lab and Lockheed Martin that saw moving weights mounted to an extension of the vehicle that changed aerodynamic behavior. For more information, contact Bev Sturgis at (505) 844-9695.


Stay in control

While Sandia is working to impart controlled instability on spacecraft, researchers at Stanford University are developing a dynamic control system that provides stability for same. Doctoral student Harrison Teague has designed a system that uses GPS data to detect errant oscillations in different sections of dispersed space structures and then fires jets to bring relative movements into synch. Dispersed structures have the virtue of generally being pound for pound more spacious than capsule-type craft, such as the Apollo command module. However, since they are composed of a number of interconnected modules (as is the proposed International Space Station), dispersed structures are prone to damage if the sections begin moving in different directions. Teague's system intervenes to cancel undesirable motion, providing enhanced stability without requiring additional rigidity, which adds weight. The student has constructed a testbed of his control system involving 100-lb blocks of aluminum representing space modules connected by 15-ft rods. The assembly is suspended on strong wires. Each section has a radio receiver and a cluster of four compressed-air thrusters. Transmitters in the lab provide faux-GPS signals. Tests so far have demonstrated the ability of Teague's system to return the unwieldy assembly to stability when undesirable motion is detected. For more information, contact Harrison Teague, (415) 723-0256.


Instruments help predict sun daze

Two instruments developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are helping to determine whether bursts of radiation from the sun have an impact on telecommunications on Earth. The instruments, called Faraday Cups, are part of the Solar Wind Experiment aboard NASA's Wind satellite. Violent eruptions emanating from the sun are plainly visible from the Earth through telescopes. The Faraday Cups are able to detect increases in solar radiation, and are being used to determine if a given eruption reaches the Earth. Scientists hope to be able to predict disruptions in communications and damage to satellite hardware resulting from solar storms. For more information, contact Elizabeth Thomson at (617) 258-5402.


Avatars fight fires on the high seas

Any sailor will tell you that fire is the worst enemy aboard ship. The threat is all the more potent when the vessel is a warship packed with ordnance. In recognition of this, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sponsored a demonstration program to create an immersive virtual environment for training damage control teams. General Dynamic's Electric Boat Corp. and Lockheed Martin expanded on existing computer mock-ups of surface ships with 'avatar' models developed using ergonomics software from Deneb Robotics Inc. The avatars followed the motions of participants equipped with tracking systems, and the participants themselves wore head-mounted displays to immerse them in the action from their avatar's point of view. As virtual fire and smoke consumed the ship's compartment, the participants brought virtual fire hoses into play to battle the flames. Most importantly, various scenarios and fire-fighting techniques can be tried and recorded for evaluation without anybody getting burned. For more information, contact Sophie Hadrych, Deneb Robotics, at (248) 377-6900.


Is that a bomb or just a pop?

Two portable detection systems developed by the Pacific Northwest National Lab, Richland, WA, are being used in concert by the U.S. Customs Service to accurately type metals. Such a capability is important to determine whether a shipment contains, say, soda cans or nuclear warheads. The Material Identification System measures the flow of electrical currents through metal. The resistance of the flow varies from one metal to another. Operators pass a probe over a suspect material and the flow results are matched against the U.S. Customs database. "Most metals are similar in appearance, so it can be difficult to say what is what by sight," says Richard Pappas, senior research scientist at Pacific Northwest. "The Material Identification System can identify strategic materials, or, it can be used to determine whether a shipment of metals has been fraudulently labeled." Inspectors are also using the Ultrasonic Pulse Echo instrument, which, as its name suggests, transmits ultrasonic pulses and receives their echoes. The device is capable of determining the contents of sealed containers by identifying the signature of echo returns. Pacific Northwest researchers developed the system to help examine suspected stockpiles of Iraqi chemical weapons in the wake of the Gulf War. Examples of both units are being provided to inspectors in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. For more information, contact Tim Ledbetter (509) 375-5953.


Now boarding at Gate 5, don't mind the temblor

Travelers to San Francisco's new airport terminal building due to be completed in 2000 may be relieved to know the structure could remain operational following quakes as strong as eight on the Richter scale. So concludes engineering students at the University of Buffalo. As part of a class project, the students analyzed a large, longitudinal section of the airport building-located less than a mile from the San Andreas Fault-using equipment in the university's Earthquake Engineering Research Center. The building itself is constructed on a slider that will permit it to slide by as much as 20 inches during a quake. The semi-spherical steel slider is connected to the base of each column of the building. In the event of a quake, the slider moves along a concave spherical pocket, which houses the bearings and transfers the weight of the building down into the foundation. The airport terminal building will be the largest base-isolated structure in the world. The design is intended not only to save lives, but to keep the facility operating even during a major quake. For more information, contact Ellen Goldbaum at (716) 645-2626.


Needle, where is thy sting?

Humorist P. J. O'Rourke has two words for anybody pining for a return to the good old days: modern dentistry. Nevertheless, many still dread a trip to the chair. Herbst LaZar Bell Inc. and Milestone Scientific recently teamed up to launch a computer-controlled local anesthesia system that promises virtually pain free injections. The WAND delivers constant pressure to the target area and follows up with a pre-injection anesthetic drip that numbs the tissue. When the needle comes, it is barely perceptible. Furthermore, the anesthesia flows at a smooth, constant rate. All in all, the experience is supposed to be more comfortable for patient and dentist alike. According to its developers, the WAND has been "clinically proven to produce a non-threatening injection." Part of this lack of menace stems from the WAND's un-syringe-like appearance, which reduces apprehension at its approach. For certain techniques, such as a periodontal ligament injection, precision delivery means only one-forth the normal amount of anesthetic need be administered. This serves to reduce facial numbness. Now, if somebody could come up with a friendlier alternative to that high-pitched whining drill. For more information, contact Walter Herbst at (312) 454-1116.


Better life through sputtering

Acompany formed by a cadre of MIT graduates claims it has developed the world's first solid-state, high-voltage pulse module for semiconductor and materials processing. So? Well, Diversified Technologies Inc., Bedford, MA, says the new PowerMOD system is expanding capabilities in plasma source ion implantation, sputtering, etching, and other plasma-assisted applications vital to advancing the state of the art in industries that rely on materials deposition. In one application, the PowerMOD generates the rapid pulse modulation required to produce a diamond-like coating on automotive pistons. The new modulator is composed of solid state switch modules that allow manufacturers more freedom to adjust process parameters and a broader operating range. The PowerMOD model HVPM 20-2000 generates up to 40 MW of power in a single pulse 1,000 times per second, and handles over 2,000 amps. "When used as a fast operating switch, the modulator prevents arcing to protect fragile, high-power transmitter tubes, such as those used in radar systems and particle accelerators," says Marcel Daudreau, founder, president, and senior principal engineer of Diversified Technologies. "Other potential applications include food processing and pollution control." For more information, contact Mike Kampkes, V.P. of Marketing, at (781) 275-9444 x140.

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