Engineering News 7615

DN Staff

August 12, 1996

24 Min Read
Engineering News

Aviation giants turn to off-the-shelf software

Companies are finding commercial packages can help them manage the most complex projects

El Segundo, CA--The summer is abuzz with Hornets. Whether bombing terrorists on Alcatraz or engaging alien invaders with designs on our independence, the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter is this season's cinematic weapon of choice. It also is in fashion with foreign air forces: the Finns, the Malaysians, and even the ever-neutral Swiss are all opting for the twin-engined, twin-tailed warplane.

The prime American customer, the U.S. Navy, wants a better F/A-18, and so the Super Hornet is on the way. The new E/F model in many respects is a brand-new airplane. It is larger, faster, packs a bigger wallop, and generally outperforms its forbearer, the C/D model. Astonishingly, the extensive redesign effort was brought in on time and on budget. The first prototypes currently are undergoing flight testing at the Naval Air Warfare Center in Patuxent River, MD.

According to managers at Northrop Grumman, a major subcontractor for the Super Hornet and developer of the original F-18 design, one key to the program's success was found in improved work scheduling and cost control. These were attained with the help of the Management Systems Workstation (MSWS, or "miz-wiz"), a custom-integrated application using mostly commercial software. North-rop Grumman implemented MSWS after the Navy concluded in a 1993 performance review that the company's processes, procedures, and systems would not support the Super Hornet program effectively. Three years later, the Navy is awarding Northrop Grumman millions of dollars in bonuses for "excellence and superior performance."

Much of the Navy's prior displeasure stemmed from Northrop Grumman's inability to accurately report on the status of the Super Hornet program. There was no real way of assessing what had actually been accomplished at a given moment: the contemporary management system issued reports on a month-end basis. "This situation did not lend itself to handling a program as complex as the Super Hornet," says Michael DeLaurentis, a former MSWS program manager. "A problem could be a month old before managers knew enough to assign more engineers to fix it."

In rectifying this problem, Northrop Grumman reached for off-the-shelf solutions rather than expending time, money, and talent developing them in house. The core of MSWS is the Cascade cost and schedule control software from Mantix Systems Inc. of Reston, VA. Cascade provides a structured data model for defining a project in terms of discrete, manageable packages. Each work package consists of a job description, schedule, and cost.

Another important component of MSWS is the GQL graphical query reporting tool from Andyne Computing Ltd. of Kingston, ON, Canada. With GQL, Super Hornet managers and engineers are able to access a broad range of program information without having to learn a database query language, such as SQL.

In an effort to keep the Super Hornet on track, the Navy wanted weekly program reviews combined with written reports on how contractors would recover if costs and schedules slipped. With MSWS, Northrop Grumman is able to provide this information. Moreover, MSWS enables managers to identify problems sooner so engineering assets can be reallocated to deal with them more quickly. The MSWS reporting tools make Super Hornet program status transparent for all authorized managers to see. Scheduling and cost reports, once valued mainly by accountants, are now regarded as engineering data essential for project planning and timely troubleshooting.

Under their skin. As Northrop Grumman was figuring out how to get its Hornets in a row, Boeing's Seattle-based Commercial Airplane Group was engaging in some introspection of its own. Late in 1993, the company outlined a set of goals for itself: to reduce product cycle time, cost, and defects while improving overall customer satisfaction. Like Northrop Grumman, Boeing concluded that its business procedures must be changed and off-the-shelf software offered the most promising solutions.

A major Boeing initiative, called Define and Control Airplane Configuration/Manufacturing Resource Management (DCAC/MRM), seeks to apply information systems to accomplish business ob-jectives. According to Doug-las Frederick, IS director for DCAC/MRM, getting a handle on con-figuration was the first priority. "All design and manufacturing de-cisions flow from this activity," Frederick explains. "Therefore, we concluded that by simplifying the configuration process we would advance our ob-jectives to design and build better airplanes."

The DCAC/ MRM concept features four commercial packages integrated so that information flows freely through the system. The latter capability is facilitated by the Orbix object request broker from Iona Technologies Ltd. of Dublin, Ireland. Orbix enables developers to create networked applications using otherwise incompatible software products.

At the front end of the process, engineering and sales personnel will use the Sales Builder package from Trilogy of Austin, TX, to enter cus-tomer requirements. The product data is managed by the Metaphase Series 2 PDM sys-tem from Structural Dynamics Research Corp. of Milford, OH. Manufacturing engineers develop process plans using the Process Planner package from Cimlinc Inc. of Itasca, IL. When designs have been released, orders are placed automatically with suppliers via the Enterprise Resource Planning System from Baan International in The Netherlands.

DCAC/MRM eliminates much of the redesign work associated with a project. Traditionally, Boeing treats every part as a new design, even if it has been created many times before for earlier aircraft. DCAC/MRM enables workers to use parts logged into the system for multiple projects, which in turn enables design engineers to focus on original work and special modifications.

Boeing intends to implement DCAC/-MRM throughout the company, although this will take two years. In the short term, the Skin and Spar shops of the Fabrication Division, located 20 miles apart in Auburn and Puyallup, WA, were chosen as sites for rapid implementation. As of February of this year, workers at Skin and Spar, which produces wing panels and support structures for Boeing commercial aircraft, have been using DCAC/MRM to prepare manufacturing plans, create production schedules, release fabrication and purchase orders, and ship finished kits.

Frederick indicates the rapid implementation program is intended to demonstrate that an effective solution can be installed quickly using off-the-shelf software. A new release of DCAC/MRM, incorporating lessons learned from Skin and Spar, is scheduled for this summer.

Both Northrop Grumman and Boeing came to the conclusion that the complexities of modern aircraft programs can be controlled using innovative management solutions. Off-the-shelf software, properly applied and integrated, can perform tasks previously reserved for large-scale proprietary systems and can be implemented much faster.

--Michael Puttre, Associate Editor

Workflow software keeps company on track

Spokane, WA--For years, Kaiser Aluminum's Technical Center relied on in-house-developed workflow software to help engineers share and track drawings. That is, until the cost of internally maintaining and upgrading the system became too much. Searching for commercial software to replace the existing system, Senior Staff Mechanical Engineer Kevin Person selected AutoManager(R) Workflow (AM-Workflow) from Atlanta, GA-based Cyco International.

To ensure that all of its CAD drawings meet company standards, Kaiser's Technical Center checks each one for adherence to CAD standards and naming conventions, as well as for overall design integrity. That's where AutoManager Workflow comes in.

The workflow process enforced by the software begins when a drawing is created. While an engineer is working on a drawing, the file is locked so that no one else can modify it. Once complete, the document is routed to the person assigned to review the drawing. From there, it is either sent back for revision or ushered on to its next stop. By the time the document is admitted to the general database and made available to other engineers, its integrity has been thoroughly checked at several levels.

The entire workflow process is facilitated by AutoManager Workflow's messaging capability. The software supports the Microsoft Messaging Application Programming Interface (MAPI), which integrates document-management functions with an e-mail system that conforms to the MAPI standard. When a user presses a button in an AM-Workflow screen, a macro routes the drawing to the appropriate person, and notifies him/her that the drawing has arrived.

Currently, ten engineers and managers are using a WindowsTM -based version of AM-Workflow on the Technical Center's Novell(R) local-area network.

Engineering offers alternative to hysterectomies

New York, NY--Excessive menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia) is a chronic condition that causes pain to nearly 20% of women worldwide. Many sufferers turn to drugs, surgery, or complex heat-delivery procedures for relief, experiencing unpleasant side-effects and/or great expense.

Dr. Robert Neuwirth, director emeritus at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, has devised a procedure for treating menorrhagia that promises an easier solution. The Uterine Balloon Therapy system consists of two components: a balloon catheter containing heating and sensing elements, and a controller unit. Through a method known as thermal ablation, physicians can use the system to remove the endometrial lining of a patient's uterus. The system currently is undergoing clinical trials in the United States as a prelude toward expected FDA approval; it has already been used in Europe.

Neuwirth says the Uterine Balloon Therapy concept originated in work he did to develop a laser endoscopy technique for removing fibroids--a common cause of menstrual bleeding--as an alternative to hysterectomy, the surgical removal of the uterus. Although approved by the FDA in 1982, laser endoscopy remains a rather uncommon procedure due to the skill required to perform it. Other endoscopic procedures, such as those using roller balls, require even greater skill. "The common denominator is heat," Neuwirth explains. "I decided there had to be a simpler way of applying heat."

Neuwirth teamed up with engineer Lee Bolduc to implement a concept for applying heat to the endometrial lining. A balloon catheter is inserted through the cervix into the patient's uterus. A syringe is used to pump a sterile solution through the catheter into the balloon, which inflates to the dimensions of the uterus. A heating element in the catheter heats the fluid to nearly 190 degrees F, and this temperature is maintained for eight minutes. The heat destroys the endometrial lining. When treatment is completed, the balloon is deflated and the catheter withdrawn. Sensors provide data to a controller throughout the procedure, which is designed to be performed under local anesthesia on an out-patient basis.

Neuwirth said the Uterine Balloon Therapy system is most effective for treating menorrhagia cases when the endometrial lining itself is the chief cause of the problem, although it can be effective in treating fibroids provided these have not significantly deformed the shape of the uterus (that would inhibit balloon inflation). Gynecare Inc. of Menlo Park, CA, was formed in 1994 to bring the procedure to market. Vahide Saadat, the company's vice president of research and development, says all is going well with clinical trials in the U.S. and he expects these to be wrapped up late this year.

Flexible flashlight strikes successful launch

Shelton, CT--SnakeLight(TM), a flexible flashlight from Black & Decker, has slithered off the shelves in numbers 350% above initial projections. In fact, it's the most successful product launch in B&D's history.

Holding together the multi-patented flashlight is Lustran(R) 648 ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) from Bayer Corp.'s Polymers Div., Pittsburgh. ABS components include the flashlight's battery and lamp housings, and, in one of the four models, a wall-mounting fixture.

"We looked at filled polypropylene and polystyrene, but we felt the Lustran ABS best met our needs for chemical resistance, high impact strength, and low cost," explains Marcella Turk, commodity specialist with B&D. "The fast cycle time of the material quickly became very important in helping us to meet the unexpected demand for the SnakeLight."

Another reason for the selection of Lustran: a strong relationship between B&D and Monsanto's styrenics division. Bayer acquired the division earlier this year. Monsanto even ran molding trials at its Springfield, MA, Application Center to prevent B&D from losing production time to test a new tool.

Smooth and seamless best describe the SnakeLight. B&D uses multiple-cavity molds to injection mold the battery and lamp housings, both of which have a clam-shell design. The wall mount is a single, U-shaped component. Cycle times for the parts average 35 seconds.

"It was imperative that we have no discrepancy in the material and color from lot to lot," notes Jim Hollifield, manager of team molding for B&D. "All of the design details must match and be repeatable. Lustran ABS has given us no problem in either area."

"We're always looking for ways to drive out costs in our manufacturing process," says Turk. "Because we're at a point where ABS is performing so well, material choice is at the bottom of the cost scrutiny list."

Latest 'wearable PCs' are truly portable

Montpellier, France--Advances in batteries, displays, and low-power components are giving birth to a new class of PCs: the wearable computer.

These systems, currently targeted for tasks ranging from military to industrial maintenance, often include speech recognition and head-mounted displays for "hands-free" operation on the go. "A person's computer should be worn, much as eyeglasses or clothing are worn, and interact with the user based on the context of the situation," according to an MIT Media Lab Internet presentation on the subject.

This spring, one such computer, the Mobile Assistant from Xybernaut Corp. (Fairfax, VA), received the First Interactive Innovation Award at the "Interface to Real and Virtual Worlds" conference for developing a significant and innovative human-machine interface.

The Mobile Assistant hangs from a belt, with a display suspended in front of one eye only, to make sure that a user can see the real as well as computer-generated world. The system is ruggedized for use by pole-climbing technicians, in the rain, or on a battlefield, according to President Edward Newman.

With 486-class performance in a package the size of a telephone (7 x 3 x 6 inches), engineers had to pay special attention to drawing out heat when designing the system. "You can't just stick a fan in and vent it," notes Mike Jenkins, one of the project's original engineers. Low-power components, traditional heat sinks, gel packs, and efficient air-flow channeling all played a part in cooling the wearable computer. "It's not just one solution," he says.

The latest lithium-ion battery technology offers four hours of operation from a 1.8-lb battery pack. That means with just one extra battery, a technician can complete a full 8-hour shift without recharging the unit, he says. The display uses an active-matrix LCD, and including earphone and noise-cancelling microphone weighs only 8 oz.

While the system comes with a weather-proof mouse, most commands are issued by voice, which allows users to continue doing other work with their hands while using the machine. "Voice technologies have come of age," Newman says. "They're not perfect, but now we can choose from half a dozen outside technologies. Ten years ago, we had to develop our own."

Next generations of the device might feature solid-state memory instead of conventional hard-drive technology, and built-in modems to carry simultaneous voice and data transmissions. Further down the road, company officials see systems that fit in a pocket or are built into standard eyeglasses, activated by eye tracking or even brain waves. Current systems, with 4M RAM and 250M hard drive, cost $8,749.

Representatives from MIT, Carnegie Mellon, the University of Oregon, University of New Mexico, and Boeing Information and Support Services are organizing a Workshop on Wearable Computers at Boeing in Renton, WA, Aug. 19-21.

For more information on the Mobile Assistant from Xybernaut visit

For more information on the Wearable Computers Workshop visit

Acura TL adds luxury

Newton, MA--Acura has upped the ante with its newest model. Dubbed the "TL," this car takes the "one-of-everything" philosophy to an extreme.

From behind the wheel of the 300-hp, 3.2-l V6 model, the immediate impression stems from the car's substantial weight: a hefty 3,516-lb curb weight (as driven).

Along with all that car comes a deliberate isolation from the outside world. Heated mirrors and seats, automatic climate control, traction control, and an impressive lack of interior noise combine to suggest you're not out in the real world. What Acura describes as "a liberal amount of sound-insulating material" effectively lowers noise in the passenger compartment by more than three decibels from previous models.

Acura engineers stopped short of isolating all road feedback, however. For example, rather than varying steering power boost based on road speed alone, the TL's steering system varies the degree of power assist by monitoring a combination of engine rpm, road speed, and the amount of torque generated between the pavement and the tire. The engineering goal was to provide more linear steering under the lateral loads induced by hard cornering. In the case of this heavy car, the efforts were worthwhile.

Handling is likewise managed with a sophisticated suspension. The TL's front suspension uses upper and lower control arms and nitrogen-gas-pressurized shock absorbers. These are fitted with a patented progressive-valve system--also used in the rear suspension--that replaces the conventional fixed orifice with layered disk plates to control fluid flow. The valve allows improved tuning to balance handling and ride quality, according to suspension engineers.

Both the 3.2-l engine and the 2.5-l in-line five-cylinder model are aluminum alloy blocks. The V6 uses an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. The engine has four valves per cylinder and a two-level intake manifold for better engine breathing and gets an EPA rating of 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway. Base price is $32,950; with the premium package, the suggested retail rises to $35,500.

--Andrea Baker, Associate Editor

Stereolithography keys redesign

Madison, WI--The benefits of using new rapid-prototyping techniques are many. With stereolithography, molders and customers can quickly view new concepts, review design changes, or make fit-and-function inspection.

These advantages came into play during the redesign of an exhalation manifold assembly for Ohmeda's 7900 Anesthesia Ventilator. The project, called "Mercury," received an assist from Phillips Plastics Corp., Hudson, WI. Time-to-market was critical in order to maximize marketing impact.

"We worked closely with Phillips to co-design a product that could quickly be taken off the anesthesia system and disassembled for cleaning and autoclaving, then reassembled and put back in service," says Ohmeda staff engineer Ron Tobia. "The Mercury unit is similar to an anodized aluminum part we currently use in an ICU ventilator assembly. However, because of the amount of handling needed during the removal and cleaning process, we saw the need to mold the part in plastic. Our goals were ambitious: We hoped to do the entire anesthesia-ventilator program within an 18-month period."

Part design, initiated at the Phillips Customer Center, was based upon preliminary Pro/ENGINEER files supplied by Ohmeda. Those files consisted of a database depicting a solid block of aluminum, according to Phillips CAD designer Mark Sponsel, which Ohmeda's internal machine shop used for testing. Phillips imported the data to use as a reference tool, but essentially created a new database.

"The initial design called for ventilation ports to be molded as three separate pieces and insert-molded into the lower half of the manifold," Sponsel explains. "We approached the part with snap assembly in mind to make it simpler for cleaning. We took the design to a certain point, built a stereolithography (STL) model, and had Ohmeda review that design. There is little doubt that having those STL models played an important role in helping Phillips and Ohmeda achieve the same results with a significant redesign."

The redesign (patent pending) breaks the manifold assembly into two halves, has the three ports molded into the lower portion, and uses an angular separation between the upper and lower halves of the unit. By eliminating the need for insert molding, this version proved more efficient to mold--and, by nature of the design, created a needed interior passageway when sealed. A third part, the circular exhalation valve, which fits within a circular recessed area of the upper half, involved the use of a geometry from a current Ohmeda part.

Because of its successful use on the Ohmeda autoclavable ventilator bellows assembly, Phillips and Ohmeda agreed that a Radel(R) resin from Amoco Polymers, Alpharetta, GA, would be the material of choice. The high-performance, polyphenylsulfone engineering resin can withstand the 134C temperatures often encountered during autoclaving.

"The sliding action between the two halves is essentially parallel, but the surfaces that mate are actually angled to eight degrees," says Sponsel. "As a result, there is no contact until the very last instant--just the slightest bit of travel before it compresses a gasket to seal off the chambers. For cleaning, laboratory technicians can easily unsnap and separate the two halves, remove the gasket, replace it if necessary, and reassemble it."

The overall process that culminated in the creation of the STL parts was seamless. "Our CAD designers output their Pro/ENGINEER files in an STL format," notes Phillips' SL engineer, Jim Klos. "We could then import the files directly into our workstation and, depending upon machine availability and part complexity, have parts within days."

PDM helps re-engineer business

Harboro, PA--When Charles Ziccardi set out to re-engineer the way General Instrument Corp.'s (GI) communication division did business, selecting a PDM solution was not an obvious choice.

Ziccardi, senior director of engineering process quality and support services, first leaned toward using document imaging for an information-management system streamlined around electronic documents. But he soon realized that document imaging would only scratch the surface of what the company wanted to accomplish. A cross-functional PDM team at GI selected Metaphase 2, implemented by Control Data Systems, Arden Hills, MN.

The GI team aimed to improve its time-to-market processes by 20% once the PDM system was complete. "More importantly, we felt these re-engineered pro-cesses could improve employee pro-ductivity by 40%," says Michael Lewandowski, manager of design automation at the Communications Division.

A Metaphase-based data repository manages design and engineering data including parts master information, vendor and customer documents, BOMs, and 2-D drawings. This information is distributed across Sun servers residing in multiple sites around the world. Now, authorized employees at any site can view or copy data from any locale to their own system.

Benefits to engineers and others using the 300 installed seats: instant access to information, legible markups, and faster part location since users need only look in one place rather than search every database in the company, says Leslie Jones, director, Documentation Services.

Metaphase has helped bring GI "out of the mainframe and paper-pushing days and into the world of distributed data," says Jones. "By the end of the year, we'll be managing all product structure information for both engineering and manufacturing in Metaphase."

--Deana Colucci, Associate Editor

Technology cuts wire-bundle sealing costs

Menlo Park, CA--Raychem Corp. has developed a sealing method that enables automotive wiring-harness manufacturers to seal wire bundles on the moving harness board. The LMxTM 2000 system uses significantly smaller induction-heating equipment to speed assembly and reduce sealing costs.

Harness designers benefit from the sealing process by no longer having to resort to drip loops and inconvenient routing to avoid high-splash areas. Instead, the LMx system lets designers route a harness over the shortest pathway, possibly saving 100 feet of wire on a car. The system also eliminates the need for sealed bulkhead connectors, while withstanding underhood temperatures of 125C.

Wire-bundle sealing protects automotive electronics from moisture and controls noise between the engine and passenger compartments. Until now, the sealing process required harness makers to move the wiring harness from the board to stationary induction-heating equipment.

Raychem's new induction heater head mounts on a flexible extension cord, allowing the induction heating of the LMx wire block to occur on the moving board. The small induction generator is located a short distance from the moving carousel.

Induction heating reduces the amount of energy required to install heat-shrinkable products normally installed with hot air or infrared heaters. It also reduces installation time: An effective LMx wire bundle seal takes about 45 seconds for a 50-wire bundle.

"Air and water pressure tests have shown that the sealing method provides a more reliable seal than mastic sealing products," says John Stewart, Raychem automotive product manager. "Also, mastic seals are craft-sensitive and subject to distortion at extreme temperatures."

The LMx 2000 system consists of adhesive-lined, heat-shrinkable tubing and hot-melt adhesive combs. More than 100 wires may be placed in the channels of the combs as the harness is assembled. Once the wires are in the channels, tubing is positioned over the comb for shrinking. A metallic filler in the combs and tubing liner is then heated by induction. This melts the adhesive, which is pumped between the wires as the tubing shrinks. Upon cooling, the system forms a resilient, reliable seal to block water and other fluids.

Acoustical evaluation of cable bundles through a typical bulkhead demonstrates that noise transmission decreases at 1,000 Hz and above using cable blocking.

Urethane solves tough drug-delivery challenge

Abbott Park, IL--To cut health-care costs and encourage more home treatment, Abbott Laboratories has developed the Abbott SnapDoseTM. Available this year, the portable intravenous drug-delivery system will allow patients to receive the correct drug dosages at home.

"Our new SnapDose provides accurate doses of medication to be delivered intravenously over a specific period of time," notes John Moore, Abbott development engineer. "It is lightweight, compact, and portable, so the patient can move around without being restricted by a heavy pump or an IV pole."

SnapDose presented a unique set of material requirements for a critical system component. Abbott design engineers found those properties in Stevens Urethane, supplied by JPS Elastomerics Corp., Holyoke, MA.

The SnapDose system administers a drug, often an antibiotic, at a prescribed rate over a specific period of time--100 cc per hour, for example. It consists of a thermoplastic container carrying the drug in solution, a urethane cuff, a gas-generation pouch to apply dispensing pressure, and a flow-control system to ensure correct dosing. The single-use unit clips onto the patient's clothes or fits into a hip pack for ease of mobility.

The urethane cuff, critical to system operation, consists of three layers of Stevens Urethane, radio-frequency sealed. The first two layers surround the container holding the drug; the second and third layers enclose an ampule that, when activated by snapping or squeezing, produces carbon dioxide through a chemical reaction. The gas inflates the urethane cuff and compresses the container carrying the drug.

Pressure from the gas forces the drug through the administration set attached to the bag. This set includes a restrictor to control the drug's flow rate, and a luer connector attached to the patient's IV site.

"The urethane cuffs must maintain pressure over a long period of time, more than 72 hours in some cases," says Moore. "If we had selected a material that stretches too much, it wouldn't maintain correct pressure or flow, and the patient would receive the medication too slowly. If the material was too stiff, the drug would be delivered too quickly. Urethane flexes just the right amount, with minimal change in elasticity. It creeps very little over time, so it maintains a consistent pressure. And it is easy to weld."

We anticipate exceptionally satisfactory results when the product hits the market."

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