Engineering agility test

DN Staff

May 15, 2000

7 Min Read
Engineering agility test

Engineers from Hungary, India, Turkey, Taiwan, Russia, and the U.S. walk into a bar. The Hungarian engineer orders a ham sandwich and says...

No, this isn't the start of the latest ethnic joke to wind up in your e-mail in-box. It's a typical lunchtime scene in Columbus, IN, where Cummins Engine Co. has assembled a truly multinational squad of engineers. Trained in traditional engineering disciplines, they bring a blend of different points of view to tackle the thorny problems that arise in every design cycle.

This virtual United Nations of an engineering team is often the rule in companies that design products for worldwide availability. Sometimes, as in the Cummins case, the engineers are all in one location. Other times, they are spread out across a continent or an ocean, communicating through phone, e-mail, intranets, and the Internet. And their very composition-as well as each project-presents challenges for the engineering managers who have to supervise them. Among those challenges:

Different industrial safety standards between countries

Language and cultural barriers between foreign engineers

Different electrical standards between countries

Time zone differences among offices, partners, and factories

Metric and English units and part measurements

To a greater or lesser extent, companies like Cummins that entered the recent Design News Global Innovation Contest had to face these and other challenges. Omron Electronics, Inc. (Schaumburg, IL) sponsored the contest, which was won by Siemens Medical Systems for its E.CAM(TM)nuclear camera, which uses profile attenuation correction to reduce the number of false-positive and false-negative diagnosis errors in medical imaging. Omron gave Siemens a $5,000 cash award plus a $15,000 grant to a designated school of engineering at Design News' annual Engineering Awards Banquet in March. (See Design News, March 6, 2000.)

Cummins and four other companies listed below may serve as examples of how to handle global design pressures, so we will examine some of their methods in this article. Other contest entrants included:

Haeger Inc. (Oakdale, CA) and its computerized fastening machine (details in story below)

The Pronto touch-screen LCD remote control from RCS Philips (Leuven, Belgium), designed to control any number of digital home products, such as televisions and stereos, by downloading the correct software from a web site. Its design allows engineers to use one electronic device to span the great range of home electronics and languages found across the world, and satisfies electronics regulations such as FCC and CE.

The iMeter intelligent hydraulic system for fuel dispensing systems, from Wayne Division, Dresser Energy Group (Salisbury, MD), which can filter and meter gasoline at the pump, and convert a mechanical signal to an electrical signal that will measure the volume of the gas sold. The necessary international approvals it won include an alphabet soup of UL, CE, BASEFA, PTB, OIML, NIST, and more.

The Twister(TM)three-dimensional wire forming machine from Fremont Machine and Tool Inc. (Fremont, NE), designed to create the structure for automobile seats, store displays, magazine racks, shelving, and consumer product components. It had to satisfy widely varying international standards on electronics, and is currently selling in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, Australia, and South America.

For a complete list of entries, see

Fixing high-pressure leaks.

The Cummins entry was a patented hydraulic leakage control sleeve that will reduce the fluid leaking from a plunger/barrel assembly by 90%, and thus increase engine efficiency by 95%, the team claims.

Although the group speaks English as a common tongue when they meet for their weekly group lunch, their cultural differences often proved to be a greater challenge than language.

"In the Japanese culture, saying I'm anxious to see you' has negative connotations. So saying I'm looking forward to seeing you' is a better way," says Cummins engineer John T. Carroll III. "Or, we'd describe something as the shoulder of a part, or the head of a part, and that isn't as clear as you'd think to other cultures. So you're continually reminded that you didn't grow up in the same neighborhood as them."

In fact, engineers working for international companies occasionally move to new neighborhoods. For example, Cummins team member Yul J. Tarr, Cummins'Technical Director of Midrange Engines, replied to interview requests for this article from the Frankfurt Airport in Germany, on his way to an overseas assignment coordinating the technical research and development group at Cummins' plant in Pune, India.

The conventional plunger and barrel has been around forever, Carroll says. What makes Cummins' new sleeve design unique?

The engineers spent much of the six-month design cycle trying to balance international hydraulic safety requirements.

The team also ran computer simulations to optimize the sleeve's performance. They began with ProENGINEER for the 3D modeling, used ANSYS for FEA, and used HYSAN to generate hydraulic loads at various operating conditions. Finally, they used an in-house leakage calculation code and an in-house iterative method to capture the interactions between the mechanical and hydraulic functions, Tarr says.

The result is a deceptively simple assembly that consists of a sleeve inserted into the annulus between the plunger and the barrel. The new annulus is between the sleeve and the outside barrel, so when the descending plunger creates high pressure, the hydraulic fluid presses the sleeve more tightly around it. The higher the pressure, the better the seal.

"Leakage across barrel and plunger clearances is a problem common to hydraulics wherever they're used, and that leakage increases with higher pressure," Carroll says. "So one of the benefits of the Leakage Control Sleeve is that it not only reduces leakage, but it also allows higher operating pressure. Now hydraulic lines can be a smaller size, with higher pressure and lower volume of hydraulic fluid."

It was designed specifically for Cummins' high-pressure engines, but engineers see future applications in everything from off-road hydrostatic construction equipment to agricultural planting equipment and airplane wing flaps. The first commercial application will be in a high pressure (2,000+ bar) diesel fuel system, says Tarr.

Faster set-ups.

The engineers at Haeger Inc. (Oakdale, CA) knew they could build a faster, easier fastening system. And in February, 1999, they launched the 824 One Touch(TM)Fastener Insertion System, a machine that allows users to insert up to four different types of fasteners in a single handling.

It reportedly minimizes part-handling and work-in-progress with this technology for automatically indexing auto-feed tooling during insertion. And it is controlled through a PC-based, touch-screen controller that allows users to save complex programs on disk, allowing just-in-time production with minimum set-up.

Despite all its bells and whistles, engineers had another set of design hurdles to clear when they decided to sell the 824 One Touch worldwide-CE (the French acronym for "European Conformity") standards.

"We had to add an electrical noise filter for the vibratory feeder part of the machine, because CE standards say that the electrical noise could affect a machine nearby," says Rory T. Kelly, a senior design engineer and the lead engineer on this project.

Next, the team invented its own relay board, called a force guided contact relay, to satisfy CE electrical contact regulations. A normal relay has contacts that are open or closed, then switch position when an electric current is passed through them. But with the danger of heat-welded contacts refusing to move, CE rules require a redundant safety system. So the Haeger group created a plastic rod that joins all the relays together, so if one can't move, none will move.

And finally, they had to design the machine to operate with either a 50 or 60 Hz cycle, Kelly says. Today, the machine is used in manufacturing operations throughout Wisconsin, California, Finland, Holland, England, and Italy.

Lessons of global innovation.

The 21st century engineer must juggle the pressures of the global marketplace, with implications that echo from a company's headquarters to its supply chain to its factories to its customers. The Haeger and Cummins engineers learned to manage these challenges as they created innovative products targeted for worldwide sale.

In both cases, they drew inspiration from the demands of global product standards, government regulations, environmental requirements, and special cultural needs.

The lesson is clear-an international approach to engineering is an opportunity, not a burden.

Global Innovation

Omron sponsors the Design News Global Innovation Award, presented this year to Siemens Medical systems during National Manufacturing Week.

This story reports on some of the other entries.

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