Technology forecast 1996

DN Staff

January 8, 1996

28 Min Read
Technology forecast 1996

Engineers are voracious consumers of new technology, constantly replenishing their tool boxes with the latest devices to help them do their jobs. And for good reason: Faced with ever-increasing pressure to develop better products faster, they can't afford to rely on any but the most up-to-date tools to keep their productivity high.

Fortunately, OEM suppliers continue to introduce breakthroughs in materials, electronics, computer hardware and software, fastening systems, motion control, fluid power, and other technologies to help them do their jobs.

To find out what advances engineers can expect to be able to take advantage of in 1996, Design News editors talked to experts in several fields. Here is our exclusive report on new technology to appear this year.

Joint efforts advance materials

Companies involved in the world of materials have experienced a very profitable couple of years. But, as this forecast for 1996 proves, they are not about to rest on their profits. Instead, design engineers can look forward to a wide array of new technology, processes, materials, and innovative applications this year.

Many of these new introductions have as their basis the joint endeavors of some of the materials giants, something that virtually never happened in the past. Typical of such movements, Owens-Corning has announced the buyout of Soltech, Inc. a leading supplier of structural, thermal, and acoustical insulation products and assemblies. Even without this assist, O-C will introduce a preformed product, Programmable Powdered Preform Process (P-4), that "will provide better value and greater structural stability demanded by OEMs."

In an even more telling prophecy, DuPont and Dow Chemical have formed a partnership that covers the discovery, development, production, and sale of thermoset and thermoplastic elastomer products. Many new materials and applications should spring forth this year from such friendly courtships.

On the metals front, certain to make a big impact in the not too distant future is a consortium of 30 steel companies that will invest $20 million in 1996 in an attempt to "prove steel's continuing preeminence for the world's next generation of autos." The consortium will attempt to validate the design of an UltraLight Steel Auto Body that could reduce the weight of the body structure by up to 35%.

On the magnesium scene will appear a plethora of new facilities designed to satisfy the appetite for magnesium die castings, according to Byron B. Clow, In- ternational Magnesium Association executive vice president. Part of this increased capacity will result from a joint venture--a linkup between Noranda Metallurgy, which will build a $33 million pilot plant for the Magnola Magnesium Project. Recycling also will take top billing, headed by a new facility provided by Magnesium Services (U.S.) Inc. Also, look for more creative structural use of magnesium in the auto community for seat pans, wheels, and instrument panel support beams.

Not to be outdone, aluminum manufacturers will continue their push to out duel steel in the automotive arena. Although he is not at liberty to reveal the exact nature of the product, Al Poste of Alcoa reports that engineers can expect to see an aluminum alloy that eliminates lead. And Alcoa's new auto-parts plant in Toledo continues the trend toward value-added, multi-part extrusions for auto parts. In a counter move, Alcan is at work on a "most promising" adhesive weld bonding process that could rival aluminum extrusions, according to Pat Carpenter, but it will make an appearance this year only in 40 "aluminized" test vehicles. Continuous casting of alloys will increase in use, says Reynolds' Terry Olbrysh, a process that appears ripe for use in the automo-tive field for "hang-on" body parts.

Powdered metal to the pedal. Anticipate these moves in powdered metals in 1996, says Peter K. Johnson from the headquarters of the Metal Powder Industries Federation: In the automotive market, powder metallurgy (P/M) connecting rods and engine main bearing caps will increase dramatically in new engines. So will P/M stainless-steel parts in airbag and exhaust systems. Processes such as metal injection molding, warm compacting, and spray forming also will offer property improvements "that will thrust P/M into new, higher-strength applications," Johnson predicts.

And, speaking of automotive exhaust systems, R.G. Delagi, a TI Fellow at the Materials and Controls Group of Texas Instruments, predicts an increase in the use of metal substrate catalytic converters, "particularly where it is desirable to lower emissions by moving the catalyst closer to the exhaust manifold." This will be accelerated by the adoption of a new technology from TI for producing the highly brittle catalyst substrate material at a reduction in cost when compared to conventional metal substrate.

Here's a blow-by-blow report from plastics producers on how they hope to expand their products' use, again starting with more joint endeavors:

* Expect more activity from BASF and Freudenberg-NOK, the partners that developed the air intake manifold for the Cadillac Northstar engine. And BASF and GE Plastics will pool their expertise to develop materials for body panels. Meanwhile, LNP has formed a development partnership with a Big Three automaker to optimize the gas-assist molding process for its Verton(R) long-glass, fiber-re-inforced structural composites. In addition, LNP plans to expand its Lubriloy(TM) product line to include more amorphous resins, while its R&D department will focus on formulating more "heavy" materials in the LNP line of Thermocomp(R) reinforced thermoplastics.

* GE Plastics will unveil several new materials and applications, some slated specifically for structured products, consumer electronics and information systems, automotive, and "emerging" markets. Among them: new applications in the medical industry, exterior automotive body panels, trim, bumper beams, and structural thermoplastics for energy management, as well as expanded use of recently introduced Ultem(R) HTX and ATX resins with improved processability, heat-balancing, and impact properties.

* DuPont will introduce new Zenite(TM)-crystal polymers (LCP) for use in thin-wall electronic connectors, surface-mount components, and other electrical/electronic parts; Zytel(R) IITN high-temperature nylon resins designed to meet a growing range of applications, such as transformer components and housings for tool and automotive windowlift motors; Crastin(R) PBT thermoplastic polyester grades offering lower warp and more toughness; the commercial debut of components molded from improved color-stable grades of Ry-nite(R) PET thermoplastic polyester resins that replace metal parts; and more problem-solving types of Vespel(R) polyimide parts for bearings.

* Dow Plastics will debut a series of high-flow/high-glass natural Magnum(R) ABS resins for complex, thin-wall molded parts; two ignition-resistant Magnum ABS resins that feature improved processability and toughness; Magnum 344CC ABS resin for automotive interior trim; Pulse(R) 830W PC/ABS resins having improved weldability and compatibility with harsher paint systems for use in instrument panels and trim; Retain(R) 8209 post-consumer, glass-filled PC/ABS resin for instrument panels that contains 25% post-consumer recycled content; Retain 7490 high-heat ABS, a 25% post-consumer content resin for exterior trim; Sabre(R) 500 molded-in-color resin for exterior trim; and Spectrim(R) BP90 polymer for auto-body panels.

* A new technology from Bayer Corp.'s Polymers Div. combines the light weight and easy formability of plastics with the strength of metal. GM is developing instrument panel support beams that use this hybrid or composite technology, resulting in a beam that is lightweight, consolidates parts, and enhances vehicle safety. Other potential applications include: doors, hatchbacks, bumpers, and seats.

* Polymer Corp.'s division of DSM Engineering Plastics will introduce more high-performance plastics for parts used in manufacturing and testing semiconductor devices. In addition to electrostatic dissipative (ESD) grades of acetals, polyetherimides, and fluoro-polymers, expect to see the debut of resins that combine ESD with high strength and heat resistance.

* Amoco Polymer plans to extend its Amodel(R) polyphthalamide (PPA) resins line with new grades that feature enhanced performance, faster cycle time, lower temperature moldability, and greater chemical resistance, as well as introducing new grades of Acctuf(R) impact copolymer and Accpro(R) high-stiffness polypropylene products.

And as if this isn't enough, James R. Best, project director for Market Search Inc., Toledo, OH, which keeps its pulse on the plastics industry, predicts increased movements on the metallocene front, particularly from Dow and Exxon, including improved versions of polyethylene, LDPEs with more clarity, and more grades of polypropylenes and elastomers. Structural fiberglass SMC automotive parts also will be on the upswing now that they have passed the test for use in radiator supports, Best adds.

Electronics boom; shortages loom

Electronics is booming, and will continue to do so in 1996. However, all is not rosy: Component shortages are on the horizon.

"The digitization of everything"--that's the latest catch-phrase from Steven H. Leibson, editor-in-chief of EDN Magazine, a leading trade magazine for electrical engineers.

"It means that everything--whether it be text or sound or image or video--is ending up in digitized form for storage and transmission," explains Leibson. The advantages of the digital format are that you gain tremendous noise immunity by converting from analog, and you can use compression technology. Using compression means you need less capacity for storage and you need less bandwidth for transmission.

Examples: Transmission channels, which have been primarily analog in the past, are going digital. Storage technologies such as microfiche, videotape, and audiotape are going digital and becoming disk-, CD-ROM-, optical-disk-, and even digital video tape-based storage.

An early example of digitization Leibson cites is direct TV, or DTV. This technology uses an 18-inch dish from RCA to receive 150 digital channels direct from satellite. "DTV has been on the market for a little more than a year, and RCA has sold more than 1 million units," notes Leibson. "It's the most successful electronic consumer product introduction ever."

Today, all other avenues of delivering TV, such as VCR, broadcast, and cable, are analog. DTV is the first widespread application of digital video transmission and it's a huge success.

Microprocessors rule. The market for controllers and processors will grow 23% in 1996, predicts Jack Quinn, a senior analyst with Integrated Circuit Engineering in Scottsdale, AZ. The market grew 26.8% in '95, according to his data.

"Production is not coming on-line as fast as demand is growing for 32- and 64-bit microprocessors and for microcontrollers across the board," Quinn says.

High-end microprocessors are in demand for computers as well as embedded applications such as laser printers, communications equipment, and games. For many mid- to low-end embedded designs, instead of using microprocessors, designers are switching to microcontrollers when possible because everything--the CPU, memory, and other peripherals--is on one chip. Designers save pc-board real estate, and the electronics are cheaper.

In the x86 market, suppliers will be able to sell all the Pentium-class chips they can make, says Quinn. He also predicts that the Pentium Pro won't take off until 1997. "Cyrix will be ramping up production on the 6x86 and will be able to sell all they can make, but what they can make compared with what Intel can make is going to be pretty small." The 6x86 processor runs x86 instructions and both 16- and 32-bit code.

The 486 is now largely moving into the embedded market; even notebook PCs are moving toward the Pentium.

Jim Feldhan, president of Phoenix-based semiconductor research firm Semico, agrees with the solid swing toward Pentium-class chips in the PC market. His numbers show that in 1995, PC makers bought 27 million Pentiums and 17.5 million 486DX processors. He predicts that this year the numbers will be 50 million Pentiums and 3.8 million 486DXs. The 486 chips will wind up in notebook PCs.

"Microprocessor prices will continue to decrease," says Feldhan, "and Intel will aggressively price Pentiums to minimize AMD and Cyrix's market share."

Speaking of computers, USB (Universal Serial Bus) connectors and the industry-supported Plug and Play standard will make them still easier to use and further drive the market. USB sockets in the back of PCs will let users plug in any serial peripheral with an easy-to-use 4-lead USB plug. Look for computers and peripherals with this new connector system in the second half of the year.

Users will also have an easier time plugging and unplugging add-in boards because the Plug and Play standard allows for hot-swapping. The standard also eliminates the need for configuring boards via DIP switches and software--a task rarely accomplished on the first try.

Component shortages. Microprocessors and microcontrollers won't be the only parts in short supply.

"Component availability is going to be very tight for the next two years across the board and worldwide," says Leibson. He explains that the electronics industry has taken off to the point where semiconductor manufacturers have been caught completely flat-footed. They don't have enough fab capacity to satisfy demand.

Prices are going up already, says Leibson. The trend also holds for passive components--parts are going to get scarcer and scarcer. This fact of life is going to compel engineers to design products with fewer components and with components that have some sort of assured availability.

PDAs make a comeback. New personal digital assistants (PDAs) will become available in 1996, but this time they will have the features that users have expressed interest in. "We won't be shoving the technology down their throats," says Motorola's Ken Edwards, marketing manager of the Portable Systems Operation.

As consumers try out the new PDAs and give manufacturers feedback, the manufacturers will in turn give the consumers more of what they want. This process will be on-going in 1996, says Edwards, and he predicts that 1997 will be the year of the PDA.

Computers and CAD get more robust

Expect to get a lot more bang for your computer buck in '96--even if overall system prices remain fairly constant.

Industry officials say that PC and workstation prices can't keep plunging as they have the past few years. Instead, what you'll find is much higher speed, better graphics, and more memory for the same money.

How much? IBM says it increased performance per dollar 40-fold for its workstations so far this decade--and there's no reason to believe that trend won't continue.

Blurring the line. The "P6," Intel's powerful successor to the Pentium processor, will further blur the line between PCs and workstations. Sometimes called "personal workstations," new hybrid machines offer serious computing power, built-in networking, and expandability like workstations; but off-the-shelf components, the Windows NT operating system, and more-PC-like prices. And, with Windows, these machines will be able to run a huge variety of software.

"The engineer is really going to be able to have a single device on the desktop that runs all office and engineering applications--at PC prices with high-end workstation performance," says Dana Lajoie, technical director at Digital Equipment Corp.'s Software Partner Group for Tech-nical Applications, Marlboro, MA. DEC and Intergraph, among others, have already announced desktop computers based on the P6 running Windows NT. The P6 about doubles Pentium's integer and floating-point performance.

On the higher end, "You will see everything that happens in the server market come down to the desktop," predicts Ben Barnes, vice president of market development and strategy at IBM's RS/6000 division. Symmetric multi-processing--having more than one processor to work on a problem simultaneously--is likely to become more common in workstations in '96.

Sixty-four-bit computers are likely to become more prevalent after Sun Microsystems announced its new UltraSPARC architecture using 64 bits. Digital Equipment Corp.'s Alpha line and some SGI systems also use 64-bit addressing, which refers to how many bits of information are processed at a time by the machines. DEC officials say this larger addressing will be crucial for running very large-scale assembly models that take up more than 2 Gbytes of memory, as engineers attempt to run sophisticated analyses on entire automobiles or aircraft. Lajoie believes that 2 and 4 Gbytes of main memory will become somewhat common on the desktop this year.

Industry watchers also expect major advances in graphics price/performance--perhaps bringing graphics boards that were selling for $6,000 to $12,000 not too long ago down to $1,000, Lajoie says. For $1,000, an engineer might get very good 2-D wireframe performance and capable low- end solids--bringing such performance to a whole new class of users. "I think we are going to see a lot of neat stuff in 1996," he says. "There is a lot of room for im-provement."

IBM, for example, boosted its 2-D graphics performance more than 12-fold during the past three years, Barnes says. And, officials don't expect any slowdown in the coming months.

Other companies are working to make high-end graphics technology available for the PC. Mitsubishi Electronics America recently announced a partnership with Evans & Sutherland to combine Mitsubishi's 3D-RAM technology with E&S graphics acceleration. The plan: "Migrate the best in workstation-class 3-D graphics technology to the PC level," says Stephen Hester at Mitsubishi in Sunnyvale, CA.

In color displays, a U.S. company is working to wrest some market share back from the Japanese, with an innovative 5-mm-thin CRT for laptop computers. The device uses a matrix cathode, like a conventional cathode-ray tube, but in a thin vacuum tube. Using a microscopic emitter, pixels can be turned on but without generating a lot of heat. "It's the display you already love, but without the bulk and without the power," says Nick Sturiale at Silicon Video Corp., San Jose, CA. The company has a partnership with Hewlett-Packard, he says, and investments by several other computer makers including Compaq. Samples of a small display screen should be ready for OEMs later this year.

What about storage? The venerable floppy disk is likely to get a boost in 1996. While computer processors, graphics, and hard disks have all shown dramatic improvement during the past few years, the floppy drive has held steady at 1.44 Megabytes for some time. "Diskette technology has kind of lagged behind," says Hedy Baker at Compaq Computer Corp. in Houston.

A year ago, Iomega unveiled its Zip Drive that reads floppy-like cartridges with up to 100 Mbytes of data. In 1996, Compaq, 3M Corp., and Matsushita-Kotobuki Electronics Industries Ltd. expect to announce a 3.5-inch diskette that will hold 120 Mbytes. Special drives will be needed to use the disk's full capacity, but this new disk will be readable on existing 1.44-Mbyte PC drives.

Not only will the new disk increase conventional capacity 80-fold; it will also boost data-transfer speeds up to five times, Compaq officials say.

Hard drives saw a more reasonable rate of improvement during the past decade, but recently it has accelerated. Until about two years ago, disk-drive density was increasing about 30% a year; now, though, that has soared to about 60% annually. One reason: magnetoresistive technology, which uses a more-precise MR sensor for data reading and an inductive head for writing. Around in research labs for two decades, the technology has just recently made its way into commercial applications.

"The demand for capacity is absolutely insatiable," says Bruce Spenner, general manger for Hewlett-Packard's Information Storage Group, Boise, ID. Optical storage dramatically increases density--a single CD-ROM, for example, can hold the equivalent of a bookcase worth of data. HP's new CD-Writer 4020i offers one way to use optics for transferring large CAD files, Spenner says: a $1,100 drive that can record up to 650 Mbytes onto a CD. That "write-once," non-erasable CD can then be read by any conventional CD-ROM drive.

Desktop prototyping. Also this year, the leader in rapid prototyping is expected to come up with a copier-sized system that will sit on a network much like a plotter. Says 3D Systems President Charles W. Hull: "Engineers can conceive their idea, design it in CAD, and without leaving the CAD workstation build a physical model of their concept as easily as creating a paper print or plot."

Software snapshots. Mechanical CAD/CAM software revenues will grow about 18.3% in 1996, predicts James Rapinach, of Cambridge, MA research firm Daratech. Along with that growth will be more performance for fewer dollars. Among developments to watch:

* Widely acknowledged industry leader Parametric Technology Corp. will consolidate the user interfaces and otherwise collapse into one model its acquisition of Evans & Sutherland's CDRS and Rasna's Mechanica software. Additionally, the company will be extending its Pro/MANUFACTURING software, viewing it as a core technology for manufacturing functionality. PTC will also ship version 17 of Pro/ENGINEER mid year. Version 16 came out just before Christmas.

* SDRC's I-DEAS software will include advances in surfacing, an integrated solid modeler, more analysis tools, manufacturing enhancements, and integration of I-DEAS and Metaphase technology.

* In late 1995, Bentley Systems shipped Microstation 95, a major product upgrade that includes techniques for improving operating efficiencies and interfaces to other programs. In 1996, the company will release a new version of Microstation Modeler; TeamMate, a document management system; Microstation Review; and PowerTools, for me-chanical drafting.

* Microcadam's He-lix, version 2, will be available in the second quarter of 1996, with enhancements such as surface support for the solid modeler; associativity from 3D to 2D; 5-axis machining for surfaces, analysis, and kinematics; and mold design. The company will also introduce Micro Cadam EDMS, an engineering data management system.

* Cadkey will release Cadkey 8 for Windows, which will include enhancements such as symbol libraries, parametric design, and OLE 2.0 support for linking to other Windows applications. Additionally, the company will release Cadkey Advanced Modeler for Windows, which includes features for solid fillets and draft surface capabilities, as well as speed improvements over previous versions of the software.

New adhesives fill in the gaps

Expect to see more options in adhesive performance, strengths, and cure times in '96. Whether it's better high-temperature performance, higher green strength, or a faster cure you seek, chances are new developments will suit your needs.

"Reactive hot-melt technology is probably the fastest-growing adhesive area," says Bill Harrington, Editor of the Adhesives and Sealants Newsletter. Reactive hot melts are becoming more economical, and more companies are getting involved, he says. "For the design engineer, the advantage of this technology is that it provides thermoset-type bonding characteristics. Most hot melts give only thermoplastic bonds, which can be deformed by heat."

Previously, hot melts were limited to applications below 160F, or were expensive, adds Harrington. Look for new reactive hot melts to offer performance characteristics similar to Neoprene(TM) contact adhesives; with fast processing time, high-strength bonds, and high-temperature performance, he says.

If eliminating solvents is high on your wish list for '96, reactive hot melts are a good alternative to popular solvent-based adhesives. "Previous hot-melt products didn't have the temperature resistance and often didn't have the high-strength characteristics applications needed. Reactive hot melts overcome those problems," says Harrington. Companies providing such products include National Starch and Chemical Co., Bridgewater, NJ; Bostik Inc., Middleton, MA; 3M Co., St. Paul, MN; and H.B. Fuller Co., St. Paul, MN.

What will these alternatives mean to the design engineer? "It will let him look at bonding processes that have advantages such as speed of operation and green strength," says Harrington.

Don't discount water-based products. Experts predict significant improvement in polymer compounds will yield economical water-based adhesives for applications where increased drying time isn't a problem. "For example, water-based Neoprene(TM) adhesives require a longer drying time, but now you get virtually the same performance from a water-based contact adhesive that you used to get from solvent-based products," says Harrington. "That's a distinct improvement over what was available two years ago." Expect further improvements in other resins and additives which will make them more functional, he adds.

Another example: A new water-based acrylic micro-encapsulated fastener adhesive from ND Industries, Troy, MI. Microspheres(TM) room-temperature-curing, thread-locking materials are designed as an alternative to dry powders and solvent-based slurries. The adhesive meets all Industrial Fastener Industry (IFI) torque requirements, claims ND Industries.

Another area to watch in '96: structural adhesives. Keep an eye on polyure-thanes, cyanoacrylates, and polyimides, which will continue to find new application, say analysts at TPC Business Research Group, Basel, Switzerland.

Green strength. Recent improvements in epoxy formulas will also yield new products in '96, predicts Michael Tongen, marketing manager for Ciba-Geigy Corp., East Lansing, MI. Case in point: Ciba's new 90-second epoxy. Araldite(R) 2043 is a multi-purpose, clear epoxy designed to combine the fast-cure of cyanoacrylates with the performance of epoxies. The two-part system gels within 90 seconds, and bonded parts can be handled in less than five minutes, says Tongen.

The epoxy was developed to fill a gap in the adhesives market, says Tongen. Potential applications include golf-club assembly and snowboard manufacturing, where the adhesive would shorten assembly time. "For the design engineer, it will provide more options in the process set-up stage," says Tongen, and free designers from some of the curing restrictions of other adhesives.

Software to rule in motion control

This year should see exciting developments in motion control devices and systems. George Gulalo, president of Motion Tech Trends in Inglewood, CA, sees significant growth coming in the use of ac motors for motion control. When combined with a good drive, the tried, true, and inexpensive ac motor can be robust and handle many different loads. "We're expecting growth of maybe 15 to 20% a year in ac adjustable-frequency drives," says Gulalo. "And where we thought dc would move into the ac arena, the ac technology has been able to push that technology aside or keep it at bay."

Suppliers of motion control equipment will soon rely upon software to distinguish their products, he says. More and more of a drive's functionality will be in the software, permitting quicker changeover and improving flexibility. As part of this trend, Gulalo sees open architectures and software standardization as vital. "Standardization must occur. And certainly if it doesn't occur across the board, it must happen in the interface, where people need to be able to go from one language to another and from one bus to another."

Software also concerns Bob Eisenbraun, vice president, drive products and systems, ABB Industrial Systems Inc., New Berlin, WI. Typically, in the past, if an ABB drive required an application-specific adjustment, the factory had to do it. On new ABB drives, says Eisenbraun, software tools permit third parties, such as customers and integrators, to perform application modifications in the field.

Will we see standardization of network protocols? "If you're going to service the general motion control market today, you must interface to a variety of field buses and device networks. There's a handful of device-level networks we're going to have to support," says Eisenbraun. He does not believe any of the protocols now available will achieve the status of an industry standard anytime soon.

Looking at motors for motion control systems, George Kaufman, director of engineering and business development at Reliance Motion Control in Eden Prairie, MN, expects to see more use of brushless technology. And, says Kaufman, "we see some new magnetic design technologies that will result in smaller, lower- cost, and easier-to manufacture motors. I can't be more specific, because some of these technologies we're working on are still proprietary."

Feedback technologies will also see significant change, and soon, he says. "Essentially, the industry today uses low-resolution incremental en-coders and resolvers. I see a new era coming with the feedback technologies that will push us a couple of orders of magnitude to higher resolution and lower cost absolute capabilities." Further he expects the new feedback devices to be smart units. In addition to position information, "you'll be able to get other kinds of information via the feedback device," says Kaufman, "like motor temperature and identity."

Drives will soon become either much smarter or much dumber, says Kaufman. He expects more and more of a breakaway from traditional motor control drive architecture, and predicts that digital interfaces will be placed between the drive and motor, as well as the control and drive. Integration will advance--soon--to new levels. "You might see controls and drives embedded in motors, rather than the stand-alone components you see today," Kaufman asserts.

Like Gulalo and Eisenbraun, Kaufman believes that connectivity in motion control systems is necessary, but unlikely to happen soon. "There's a lot of confusion in the marketplace on networks. There are more than 50 network protocols--it's the flavor of the week," he remarks.

New technology dictates that conventional thinking will go by the board in long-established areas. "You're going to see that the tradition definition of a servodrive and a variable-speed drive will blur very quickly. All of these definitions are changing right and left. There is a lot of upheaval in the motion control market because of these changes."

What's coming up? "The communication technology, the microprocessor technology, the power electronics technology, all are there to put drives in motors, to put controls in drives, to connect those products to high-speed factory networks. All of these things are reality technology today," Kaufman insists. This type of broad, irreversible change always threatens many people, however, and the technologies now driving the motion control market will pose real problems for many vendors and users. "There's a lot of opportunity and many changes are taking place," says Kaufman. "If you don't like change, it's not a great time to be in the business. But if you like the challenge this kind of situation brings, the next five to ten years are going to be exciting."

Cleanliness the key for hydraulics

In 1996, the key word in fluid power is cleanliness. Both inside and outside, today's fluid power systems must be cleaner than ever. On the inside, they need contamination-free fluids. On the outside, they must eliminate spillage and leakage.

The biggest driver in the push toward cleaner hydraulic fluids has been higher pressures. The reason is that higher pressure and contamination can be a damaging combination, experts say. "Higher pressures require tighter tolerances, therefore cleanliness has become more important in ensuring component life," notes Al Zingaro, marketing manager for Parker Hydraulic Filter Division, Toledo, OH.

Incredibly, more than 70% of all hydraulic failures are caused by contamination, say engineers from Vickers Corp., Maumee, OH. That figure could grow as designers employ more high pressure systems. "System pressures are rising at a dramatic rate," explains Bob Bond, general manager for Parker's Quick Coupling Division, Minneapolis, MN. "It used to be that 2,500-psi systems were common. Now, it's much more common to be up in the 4,000-psi to 5,000-psi range."

For that reason, sever- al hydraulics manufactur- ers have launched programs to combat contamination. The programs include a combination of products, such as laser particle counters, as well as services and technical solutions.

For design engineers, such programs are becoming vital. Engineers designing products for a given service life, or for a certain level of performance, are now finding that they must establish cleanliness operations for their products. That may mean specifying cleanliness levels and calling for periodic reports from customers to prove that products are being maintained properly. It may also mean testing of products prior to shipping. By testing products, manufacturers can ensure that they contain clean oil and proper filtration.

The development of less expensive, more portable laser particle counters is expected to help such efforts. Smaller, less costly counters can now be placed next to assembly lines, enabling equipment manufacturers to check each product as it comes off the line. Simpler operation of the new counters further aids such efforts. "Up until recently, particle counting has been tied to a fixed lab space," Zingaro says. "Now, you can bring it to the site. It's a one-step operation." In the near future, engineers also expect counters to check for water content and oil viscosity in a sample.

The new systems are serving a variety of industries, including: power generation; pulp and paper; industrial; mobile; automotive; and aerospace, Zingaro says.

Environmental driver. The drive toward cleanliness isn't limited to the quality of the oil, however. The surrounding environment has been an equally powerful driver for nearly a decade.

The key to meeting tougher environmental standards is to reduce leakage and spillage. To address that, manufacturers are designing non-spill couplings. The new, non-spill designs don't have recesses or cavities in which small amounts of fluid can become trapped and spill during disconnection. Instead, they use flush-faced valves, which eliminate the phenomenon of trapped oil in a cavity. As a result, spillage is typically limited to no more than 0.15 milliliters, or about one-tenth that of conventional couplings. "To create enough residue to form a single drop of oil would take nearly 100 disconnects," Bond says.

Many experts also believe that reliability and service will loom as big issues in 1996. Those concerns have spawned more customer interest in computer diagnostics, Bond says. Such systems enable users to easily diagnose the status of a hydraulic system, often by plugging in a hand-held meter or a laptop computer. Diagnostic systems typically allow users to review temperature, pressure, fluid flow, voltage, and current. Design engineers need to be aware of the growing market for diagnostics, Bond says, so that they can equip their systems with numerous diagnostic test points from the outset. Typical users of the new systems include engine and truck manufacturers. Says Bond: "We're seeing this trend spread dramatically throughout the transportation industry."

For most users, however, cleanliness is the key for '96. "It's just a matter of awareness," says Zingaro. "Most people are aware of the need for cleanliness. But they need to know that it's now more important than ever."

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