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Technology Forecast '95

DN Staff

January 9, 1995

14 Min Read
Technology Forecast '95

Ever wish for that material that's lighter than a feather, but stronger than steel? What about an electronics component that could shrink a design in half? Perhaps you would like to have a fluid-power system that not only performs flawlessly, but does so at the speed of light? Or how about a software system that would take all of the guesswork out of design, and do it in half the time? Would these breakthroughs make your job easier and improve product quality?

Certainly, these innovations won't be available to design engineers in 1995. But, we can give you a glimpse of pioneering products the experts tell us will debut this year in the areas of materials, fluid-power, electronics, computer hardware and software, fasteners, and motion control. You may want to put them on your shopping list.

Electronics: Getting personal

Julie Anne Schofield, Associate Editor

"The electronics business is smoking and it should remain that way in the next year or two." These optimistic words come from Mark V. Rosenker, vice president of public affairs for the Washington, DC-based Electronic Industries Association.

"I think we're the only business in the world that, as we begin to advance new technology and products, the products get better, more reliable, smaller, and cheaper," says Rosenker. "This means we have to sell more at a lower price to grow."

For the rest of the 90s Rosenker sees incredible growth. Electronic products have become integral to people's daily lives, he says, citing the cellular phone as a good example. "We're also going to be seeing the convergence of communications, computers, and entertainment devices as we move into HDTV. Then there'll be new software services, such as interactive television and telecommuting."

Fueling growth in 1995 will be quantum leaps in technology, as well as people becoming desensitized to what such technology can do for them. And this new technology is becoming more user friendly,

One such technology revolves around the digitalization of products. It will provide clearer, more reliable, and easier-to-maintain telephones, audio and video equipment, TVs, and data transmission devices.

Rosenker adds that people now recognize the importance of product areas that at one time were defense-oriented: "Dual-use capabilities are forcing economies of scale within our defense community and spilling over into the commercial world. These changes will be incredibly important to the future of our industry and our national security efforts."

Also in 1995: The Battle of the RISC chips. High-end reduced-instruction-set-computing microprocessors from such companies as Digital Equipment Corp, MIPS, SPARC, and IBM will go neck-and-neck for new server, high-end PC, workstation, and embedded designs.

Computers: More power, less cost

Dramatic increases in computing power witnessed over the last year show no sign of abating in 1995, industry analysts say--allowing ever-more-complicated engineering problems to be solved on the desktop. And, engineers are likely to see hardware prices keep declining even as the capabilities of their desktop systems soar.

Raw processing speed should again roughly double in 1995 compared to chips unveiled 12 to 18 months ago. IBM, for example, outlined such plans for its PowerPC line, while Sun Microsystems "will introduce faster and higher-performance processors across our product family," says Sun's Jamie Enns.

All this extra power will help bring analysis and optimization to the desktop as an integral part of the design process, according to Bruce Jenkins at Daratech, a Cambridge, MA, market-research firm. In addition, high speeds will spur work on more sophisticated CAD-software interfaces--everything from embedded multi-media to virtual reality.

The game of 'leapfrog' in processing speeds has been joined by fierce competition in the graphics arena, Jenkins adds. "We have seen very strong offerings by Hewlett-Packard, Sun, and IBM," he says--all going after Silicon Graphics. The result: a continued string of graphics announcements in '95.

New power-management chip designs will bring ever more powerful performance to notebook and laptop computers. "Engineers want to do CATIA on the plane, or AutoCAD," says Deep Kaul, mechanical CAD workstation manager at IBM for RISC 6000 workstations. Manufacturers are already announcing notebook PCs using Intel's powerful Pentium processor, while IBM, Motorola, and Apple say they will unveil a low-power version of the PowerPC chip for portable computing.

Engineers can also expect a blurring of the line between personal computers and workstations--especially as the Windows NT operating system becomes more prominent on both types of platforms. "NT will greatly increase price competition among traditional UNIX vendors," Jenkins says. "Adoption of NT has been slow, but Microsoft is just starting to concentrate on the technical markets."

Software: Improving with ease

Deana Colucci, New Products Editor

The year 1995 will accelerate the trend toward making software more accessible and easier to use for design engineers. Gisela Wilson, manager of the CAD/CAE/CAM Program at IDC, Framingham, MA, notes that companies are making ease-of-use a priority.

A prime example: the new edition of SDRC's Master Series, scheduled for release in the first quarter of '95. It reportedly includes major enhancements in graphics capabilities.

Meanwhile, several other companies have taken steps in this same direction. For instance, Parametric Technology Corp. will carve out a new middle-ground market for CAD users. Early in '95, the company will release a subset of its high-end ProENGINEER product that could retail for $8,000 to $10,000. One goal is to make it easy for casual CAD users to take advantage of solid-modeling technology. To do so, PTC will further streamline its user interface. The company may also provide self-guided tutorials and stand-alone documentation.

Additionally, the MacNeal-Schwendler Corp. recently made it possible for engineers with PCs and Windows 3.1 to use MSC/NASTRAN. The company says the new version has the same analysis power as the original, with an easy-to-use graphical interface.

Also in the FEA arena, ANSYS has added a Motif-like graphical user interface, fully on-line documentation, and a hypertext-based HELP system to the recently released ANSYS 5.1. Peter Smith, CEO, reports that FEA products must become more intuitive and useful to a greater segment of engineers.

Algor has also set its sights on enhancing the capabilities of a larger number of engineers. The company expanded its line of Unix products with its recent Houdini release, which the company will continue to enhance in 1995. The software aims to make it possible for engineers to more easily use hexagonal FEA elements, which many people believe provide the most accurate results in the shortest computer processing time.

Motion Control: A turn to silicon

Russell King, Contributing Editor

The digital and knowledge revolutions will gain strength in the motion-control industry in 1995. George Gulalo, president of Motion Tech Trends, Inglewood, CA, refers to these component and systems-level developments as "technology transparency" and "solutions in silicon and software."

What does this mean for design engineers? Greater speed, efficiency, power, reliability, precision and accuracy. Additionally, the demand for lower-cost, smaller packages will open the door to digital technologies.

"We're seeing that the performance of motion control systems is being determined by electronics, not by mechanical and electromagnetic components anymore," observes Gulalo. "The industry is evolving towards simpler, less-expensive motors and more complex electronics that perform the functions that motors, gears, and reducers once performed."

Given that premise, variable reluctance and switch reluctance motors--simpler than ac induction motors, but requiring complex control--are around the corner. And design engineers should also expect more compact, variable-speed digital microdrives and servo drives.

A surge in controls software will parallel advances in components. "Programming is taking leaps and bounds," states Jim McCormick, chief applications engineer at Baldor Electric Co. Natural-language and Windows-based graphic-oriented software will allow quicker, easier programming. In designing systems, the designer's need to know component electrical or mechanical intricacies will diminish or disappear.

Watch for improvements in communications and systems integration, as well. Precise and rapid control and coordination of complex machines comprising multiple sensors, motors, drives, and controllers will steer the need for standardized network protocols. According to Gulalo, German-based Indramat may lead this push with the SIRCOS standard it's successfully spreading in Europe. Allen-Bradley's "Highway" is another contender in this arena.

As a result of all of this action, motion-control designers will be able to build and program faster, more reliable, and more precise systems in less time for less money. This will enable designers to concentrate more attention on system design, not on components. And they will have more choices than ever, since nearly any motor technology will work in any motion-control function.

Fluid Power: Combatting noise and leaks

Charles J. Murray, Senior Regional Technical Editor

Engineers in the fluid-power industry have long recognized the need for advancement in three key areas: control systems, noise reduction, and leakage.

In 1995, equipment users will continue to see innovation on all three fronts. More pumps, valves, and cylinders will incorporate on-board electronics, resulting in greater flexibility for design engineers. With this new generation of components, users will program acceleration and deceleration profiles directly into actuators. They'll do the same with pumps. By varying the position of the pump's swashplate with a control signal, for example, they can now vary its output. The result: fewer components, less complexity, and lower overall system cost.

"To control speed and direction in the past, you would have needed a directional valve and a flow-control valve," notes Jim McKee, chairman of the board of directors of the National Fluid Power Association and executive vice president of Trinova Corp., Maumee, OH. "Now, you'll have one valve that controls everything, so it simplifies your hydraulic circuit."

Electronics aren't the only area of innovation on tap for '95. Environmental concerns are driving component manufacturers to design systems for less noise and leakage. By employing finite element software to analyze pressure ripples, manufacturers are creating a new generation of quieter pumps. Improved sealing techniques and better machining of valve interfaces also will continue to reduce hydraulic-oil leakage. In addition, an increasing emphasis on the use of synthetic oils will help the industry combat contamination.

All three areas of concentration--control, noise, and leakage--apply to hydraulics and pneumatics alike, says McKee. Even leakage, a malady normally associated with hydraulics, is a concern for pneumatics manufacturers. Some new designs will exhaust environmentally friendly "dry air," rather than a conventional oil mist.

Experts say that the 1995 innovations may only be the tip of the iceberg. "There's an ongoing focus on technological improvement," notes McKee. "You can expect to see more improvements in '96, '97, and '98."

Fasteners: Focus on flexibility

Andrea L. Baker, Associate Editor

As fastener manufacturers look to 1995, they face a philosophical decision: To standardize or not to standardize their product lines?

Some manufacturers, such as Southco Inc., Concordville, PA, and Penn Engineering, Danboro, PA, have built a reputation for custom designs, as well as off-the-shelf fasteners. Others, like Spirol International, Danielson, CT, focus exclusively on standard product lines. "Standardization eliminates tooling charges and is ideal for saving money in low-volume applications," says Spirol President James Shaw.

Pressure to simplify manufacturing will intensify efforts at parts consolidation--often reducing the number of fasteners used in an assembly. But the trend toward design for serviceability means that the fasteners an engineer selects often must meet added performance requirements. For example, a new rivet from Avdel Corp., Parsippany, NJ, permits easier access for disassembly. Avdel engineers predict that removable and reusable fasteners will gain popularity in '95.

In the race to market, automated fastening systems prove valuable tools. "Today's manufacturing machinery is better, and wire quality is better," says Dick Schofield, managing director of the Industrial Fasteners Institute. He forecasts further improvements in equipment and raw-material quality that will allow fastener manufacturers to improve the final product. "The war cry is 'make it right the first time,'" Schofield adds. "With automatic gang-setting, the customer needs zero defects."

Many fastening engineers also predict that 1995 will witness an increased use of plastic in component design. As resins find their way into new applications, engineers will rely more on threaded inserts and compression limiters. A variety of products allow strong, removable fasteners to be used without distorting or splitting the host plastic.

Materials: Cornucopia on tap

Gary Chamberlain, Senior Editor

"There is excitement in the industry this year, driven by economic growth," proclaims Peter Davies, business operations manager for polyurethanes at Dow Plastics. "Business has rebounded substantially beyond people's expectations." And Davies' comments could be echoed by many other industry leaders in the materials arena.

But the material manufacturers are not about to rest on their laurels. These innovations will arrive on the scene during 1995:

On the plastics front, expect to see new materials and processes that will enable designers to tailor materials to their specifications. For instance, Dow's Insite single-site technology process, which walked off with two major design awards last year, will continue to turn out new members of the Engage and Affinity polyolefin plastomers and elastomer families. Also high on the list of material introductions are some experimental grades of tough, thin polyethylene film from Dow's Dowlex family based on the Insite process.

Other novel plastics to keep an eye on:

  • Miles Inc.'s Polymers Div. introduction of energy-absorbing foams for automotive side-impact applications; a new technology involving waterblown agents and polyurethanes that eliminates CFCs; an expanded line of softer-grade Texin TPU resins; a polycarbonate resin with improved internal-mold-release performance; and flame-retardant nylon 6, polyamide, and polycarbonate grades.

  • A new glass fiber from Owens-Corning called Miraflex that will compete with synthetic, petroleum-based polymer fibers.

  • A technology partnership between M.A. Hanna Co. and 2nd Story Concepts to market photochromic materials that permit plastics to change color when exposed to sunlight.

  • A new family of 100% water-blown, integral-skin polyurethane foam systems from BASF.

  • From LNP, new glass-reinforced, flame-retardant, and aramid-reinforced versions of Lubriloy lubricating nylon 6/6; a wider range of glass loadings and lubricated grades of Verton UF long-glass-fiber structural composites; and the introduction of Stat-Kon K, a carbon-fiber-renforced acetal.

  • A range of new materials from Polymer Corp. designed specifically for use in semiconductor applications.

In the world of powder metals, engineers can expect to see these events occur in 1995, according to Pete Johnson of the Metal Power Industries Federation:

  • More PM parts used by the Big Three automakers in engines and transmissions, with a particular emphasis placed on connecting rods.

  • Continued growth in nanoscale powders with particles the size of "tobacco smoke."

  • Protracted use of metal injection molding for automotive, biomedical, and business machine components.

On the composites front, keep tabs on these developments:

  • A partnership between DuPont Automotive and Cambridge Industries that will produce "Class A" automotive body panels and structural components from DuPont's XTC thermoplastic composite sheet.

  • The union of The Solectria Corp. and the Charles Stark Draper Lab to build "the world's first" high-volume, all-composite, four-passenger electric vehicle.

  • A process developed by Textron Speciality Materials to produce less expensive carbon-carbon brake discs.

And when your needs lean toward metals, consider these 1995 breakthroughs:

  • Use of National Aerospace Plane materials by Texas Instruments' Metallurgical Materials Div. to design a car engine.

  • Use of a Shape Memory Alloy by Oaktree Automation as actuators to maneuver an aircraft while in flight.

  • Steels from The Timken Co. that deliver the performance of lead steels without their toxic ramifications.

  • Growing commitment by U.S. and foreign car makers for spaceframe constructions that use aluminum castings and extrusions.

  • An environmentally friendly nickel alloy plating technology from Fidelity Chemical Products as a replacement for chrome.

  • Production of steel components with a yield strength of over 1,000 N/mm using a process called press-hardening.

So, if your needs are plastics, metals, composites, or powder metals, you will have an exciting array of new choices available to make your designs more innovative in 1995.

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