Diaries from the Design Show

May 4, 1998

13 Min Read
Diaries from the Design Show

CHICAGO--Like many of his counterparts, Ray Ferriss, a senior design engineer at Fellowes, came to the National Design Engineering Show looking for ideas.

"We're in the process of redesigning a new line of paper shredders, and I'm here to see what's new, what technologies we might be able to apply," Ferriss told Design News, joking that Ollie North himself might be surprised at the recent advances in shredding equipment. "Basically, I don't want to get blind-sided the next time something new comes along."

Engineers weren't the only ones searching for the latest technological advancements at the National Design Engineering Show, March 16-19, 1998. Design News sent a team of editors out to scour the aisles of the show, looking for the latest technology advancements and trends. Here's their notes on what they found--in case you missed the show, or are just trying to make sense of it all.


Cheaper, more powerful workstations

Workstations are clearly the rage for computer hardware companies preparing to take advantage of the lucrative CAD market.

Intergraph Computer Systems, for example, debuted the RealiZM II 3D graphics system for their TDQ 2000 ViZual Workstation. "The availability of high-performance MCAD software for Windows NT is revolutionizing the MCAD industry, and Intergraph is leading the charge on the hardware side with our powerful workstations," says Rob Esterling, executive director for PCs and workstations. "We offer the fastest Windows NT systems on the market."

The Intergraph system handles extremely large, complex models, allowing for shading and texture, without impacting performance. Yet, its cost is a major selling point, Esterling says. "If you want to drive a Cadillac at Chevy prices, buy a TDZ 2000," he claims. "The performance and features will still be competitive in two years."

Known for its low-cost boxes for the Windows consumer market, Gateway debuted its E-5000 Workstation, shipped with Windows NT preloaded. With a 333 MHz Pentium II processor, 128 Mb SDRAM DIMM ECC, the Intel LX 440 xchip set with Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) technology, the box sells for approximately $4,000.

"We are one of the lowest, if not the lowest in any price configuration for workstations out there," says Craig Marzolf, marketing manager.

One of the only companies not to pay homage to Microsoft, Sun Microsystems demonstrated its answer to the personal workstation at PC prices: The Ultra(TM) 5 and Ultra 10 workstations, also called the Darwin line, which operate on a UNIX platform.

The Ultra 5, starting at $2,995, comes equipped with a 270 MHz UltraSPARC(TM) IIi RISC processor; 256 external cache; 64 Mbyte of memory expandable to 512 Mbyte; a 4.3 Gbyte hard drive; 8-bit accelerated graphics; and three PCI I/O slots. The Ultra 10, starting at $6,395, has a 300 Mhz UltraSPARCIIi processor; 512 kbyte of external cache; 64 Mbyte of memory expandable to 1 Gbyte; a 4.3 Gbyte hard drive; creator graphics; and four PCI slots.

"Sun Microsystems' new workstations demonstrate that reports of the demise of the UNIX workstations have been greatly exaggerated," says industry analyst Peter Ffoulkes of Dataquest. "With this system, Sun has once again placed itself in a leadership position in the price-performance game, causing many UNIX users to question the wisdom of migrating to Windows NT anytime soon."

Laurie Peach, Associate Editor


Components get simpler, more versatile

Aiming for greater flexibility and ease-of-use, electronics manufacturers are broadening their product lines.

Efector introduced a series of products for Actuator Sensor-interface (AS-i) bus systems--including master controller modules, slave connection modules, power supplies, cables, and software. These modular devices allow users to interconnect standard efector proximity switches, photoelectric devices, and flow and pressure switches on simple, two-wire buses to nearby slaves with standard wiring.

Mitsubishi Electric Automation is widening its range, too--most notably with computerized numeric control, robots, variable-frequency drives, programmed logic controllers (PLCs), and PC-based control products. Citing faith in the future of PLCs, company representative Trayton Jay sees integrated environments in the future.

Putting its money where its mouth is, Mitsubishi had on display what it calls Supermicro(TM) PLC, the compact FX2N family. Keys to the device's versatility are the 60 kHz counting and 20 kHz pulse outputs and an expandable memory.

Electronics manufacturers are also aiming to make end products easier to use. New color LCD panels, the VT-30 models, introduced by Aromat, illustrate the advancements in operator interfaces. Vincent Fuggetta, assistant general manager of automation controls, demonstrated the ease of using the 6.2 X 5.0-inch panels. A touch-screen and function switch version are available, with a 120-degree viewing angle.

Touch Controls displayed its large plasma touch screens, developed to meet robust U.S. Navy standards and now on the market for civilian use. Wielding a screw driver, VP James Watford repeatedly rapped the flat panels to demonstrate their resistance to shock loading.

Ease-of-use was also evident in new test and measurement equipment. Fluke Corp.'s ScopeMeters(TM) provide some oscilloscope-like functions by giving users waveform shapes as well as information in a traditional digital multimeter (DMM) format. According to Peter Walle, of Fluke's electronic test tools group, the T-5 model measures current by positioning a wire between the device's forks rather than having to break the circuit.

Another trend, simplified wiring, means neater, and easier-to-assemble products and systems. Direct circuit-board-to-field connections were among the products Phoenix Contact introduced. Typified by the Varioface automation-device front adapters, they enable transition from I/O cards to ribbon cable pin strips for system cable connection directly to the cards.

Rick DeMeis, Associate Editor


Fluid power focuses on safety, environment

If you're like most people, the terms "safety" and "environment" conjure up images of sport airbags, seat belts, or reduced emissions.

The terms took on a different connotation at the National Design Engineering Show. In the booths of the world's biggest manufacturers of fluid power equipment, safety meant no oil leakage, no slippery puddles on factory floor, and no piles of oil-absorbing kitty litter. And environment meant...well, the same thing. As it turns out, users of farming and construction equipment don't want leakage any more than industrial users do. To them, it means contamination and costly clean-ups.

"Hydraulic leakage is becoming intolerable," notes Brian Smith, products sales manager, Parker Hannifin's tube fittings division. "You have the hazards and cost of environmental clean-up, not to mention the problems of people slipping and falling."

At the Parker Hannifin booth, engineers demonstrated the company's efforts to curb oil leakage by showing FE, FF, and NS Series non-spill couplings. They employ a valve on each side, along with a flush face design that prevents oil drippage. Used on such equipment as Bobcat skid steer loaders, the couplings eliminate the problem of oil spillage each time the couplings are disconnected. Parker Hannifin engineers estimate that they save approximately 1/2 ounce of oil per disconnect.

Safety was also the theme at CEJN Industrial Corp., which demonstrated its Ultra-ASI Series connections. They offer a special twist-and-release safety feature, which forces users to perform two separate and distinct operations before disconnecting a fitting at very high pressures.

Oilair Hydraulics also introduced an accumulator unloading valve. The unloading valve, or "safety block," as it's known, mounts between the accumulator and the main hydraulic system of a machine. It thus enables users to de-pressurize the system before they perform maintenance. "It's exactly like throwing the main switch of an electrical system," notes Oilair's Ron Gordon.

Taking a slightly different tack, Bosch Automation Technology demonstrated its all-aluminum structural framing systems, which can be used as safety guards for all kinds of hydraulic machinery. The framing, which consists of bolt-together extruded aluminum elements, can be used as a frame to contain wire mesh, sliding doors, or clear plastic windows around a machine. It also can serve as a slide table for Cartesian robotic products.

Charles J. Murray, Senior Regional Editor


Materials developers push the envelope

Engineers are looking to materials manufacturers to solve specific application problems. And from what we saw at the show, manufacturers are responding with versatile new material formulations.

Rogers Corp., for example, has expanded its high-performance elastomer technology to meet the need for smaller, lighter product designs, especially in the wireless communications market.

At the show, Rogers introduced PORON 4701-50 materials, thin versions of its high-performance PORON(reg) urethane foam. These materials are cast in thicknesses down to 0.017 inch and, according to the company, produce an attractive finished surface on both sides and retain resistance to compression. They are also low outgassing and meet stringent anti-fogging criteria.

PORON 4701-50 materials are used in making LCD lenses, gaskets for pagers, personal organizers, cellular telephones, and navigation or GPS systems. They are also capable of holding and separating stacked components inside densely packed electronic housings and serve as speaker gaskets and bezel seals in a variety of products.

Along the same lines, new Carilon® polymers from Shell Chemical Co. are turning up in many applications, such as the mobile communications industry.

The male power lead connectors are now made of Carilon, because the thermoplastic originally used to create the part tended to absorb water in humid tropical climates.

A major research lab supplier also uses Carilon as an injection-molding material for test tube racks to replace the glass-filled acetal homopolymer it was previously using to create the racks.

Stevens Urethane manufactures thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) in several different grades. The TPU is normally used as a fabric lamination, such as for camping or life vests, but can also be used in athletic equipment.

"We process the product the same, the grades just have different characteristics," says Tim Graham, product manager for Stevens.

The company introduced two new grades of TPU, Stevens Urethane ST-1776 and ST-1796, for use in applications requiring flame-resistant thin films, such as fire-fighting gear and life vests. "The tensile strengths are similar, but the tear strength of the 1776 is 4,000 psi, and the 1796 is 6,000 psi," says Graham.

The TPU meets UL-94-VTM-O standards for flame resistance, tested at 2- mil thickness.

Anna Alle, Staff Editor and Christine Ferrara, New Products Editor


Motion control keeps moving

After absorbing the latest in motion control at the show, it struck me that the notion of it as appendages to automated systems is outdated. Thanks to industrial networking and the impact of open architecture, most engineers now view motion control as an integral part of an automated system.

What particularly stood out was the efforts broad-based automation suppliers are making to strengthen their competencies in motion control, in turn leading motion control suppliers up the automation value ladder. Further, price reductions and performance improvements in electronics have resulted in greater intelligence for motion system components.

For example, Boston Gear displayed three additions to its ac motor controller family for applications in the 1/4 through 30 hp range. All feature a 16-bit microprocessor and use IGBT (insulated gate bipolar transistor) output power switches and advanced power modulation for smooth, quiet motor operation.

As network connectivity is integrated into controllers and servo drives, the industry edges closer toward distributed motion control architecture. A 1.5-axis modular motion control system, called LYNX(TM), developed by Intelligent Motion Systems, enables distributed control and offers design flexibility. Its innovative building-block design lets engineers create easily-expandable custom solutions with pluggable terminal strips, power supply, drive and I/O modules.

Fieldbus, Ethernet, and device networks provide peer-to-peer communication between motion controllers and machine controllers. But all too often the selection of a device network is of higher priority than a motion controller or PLC. That's why virtually every supplier already has or will introduce products with device-level capability.

Proof was on the show floor with Daniel Woodhead Company's 8 I/O DeviceNet sensor-bus system. Its CANbus ASIC (application specific integrated circuit) automatically configures itself, and the 5-conductor trunk or bus line reduces wiring. Omron added two remote temperature input terminals and a high-resolution analog input to its DeviceNet products. And Cutler-Hammer introduced DeviceNet Gateway-Incom Master to give users the ability to make control decisions from meters and protective relays.

In existing applications, controller decisions are typically driven by software compatibility. To be competitive, suppliers now support numerous device networking options. Further, motion control suppliers now integrate controllers directly into servo drive stages.

John Lewis, Northeast Technical Editor


The 'midrange' gets bigger

Midrange CAD--those relatively inexpensive products that help engineers optimize well-defined processes--continue to proliferate. Autodesk and other vendors have been making great strides in functionality and ease of use in these products.

Among the midrange products receiving the most attention--from other software vendors as well as attendees--was IronCAD, a Windows-native product from Visionary Design Systems, Inc. (VDS). VDS recently merged with 3D/EYE, and IronCAD is one of the offspring of the marriage. The developers claim it's the first new solid modeling architecture in nearly a decade. Others may disagree on that point, but most everyone will grant VDS this: IronCAD certainly has the flashiest user interface, and, says analyst Ken Versprille, of D.H. Brown, that's important. IronCAD incorporates handles on models that engineers can click on to move the models. Other products require users to highlight an edge. The handles look much easier. Additionally, users can import solids from another CAD package, attach handles, and move the model as if it were created in Iron CAD. Analyst Versprille says VDS hasdone a good job of exploiting the capabilities of ACIS.

Unigraphics Solutions demonstrated Solid Edge 5.0, the first product to emerge from the acquisition by EDS Unigraphics of Intergraph's mechanical CAD group. The product incorporates the Parasolid kernal for solid modeling, replacing the former ACIS kernal. For users who want to do some analysis, the MacNeal-Schwendler Corp. showed off MSC/InCheck for Solid Edge.

The InCheck product is one of MSC's efforts to help bring easy-to-use analysis to design engineers. This product provides stress, vibration, buckling, heat-transfer, and shape optimization capabilities. Users never have to leave Solid Edge to do their analyses.

ACIS is the kernal behind Ashlar's Vellum Solids. In Vellum Solids, curves define surfaces, so any modification to a curve automatically modifies the surface. Tim Olsen, former chief CAD engineer for Lockheed, developed the product at Ashlar, aiming for high functionality without sacrificing usability.

Cad.Lab, a 20-year old company that moved its operations from Italy to the U.S. just last year, is a new entrant to the CAD Wars on this side of the Atlantic. The company's Eureka Gold 97 uses a Windows 95/NT interface and a non-manifold topology to handle a wider range of geometric entites, including integrated solid, surface, and wireframe modeling.

In the company's first major mid-range CAD annnouncement since its purchase of Computervision, Parametric Technology Corp. (PTC) introduced the release of DesignWave 2.0. The new version--backed by a promise of continued support from PTC--features concurrent updates, a new Sketch Solver, and modeling improvements.

SolidWorks 98 from SolidWorks Corp. offers increased functionality in the form of new part and assembly modeling features, and more powerful drawing capabilities.

Laurie Peach, Associate Editor and Deanna Colucci, Associate Editor

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