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Articles from 1995 In January


CVD diamond substrate cools microwave divider

CVD diamond substrate cools microwave divider

Northboro, MA--As engineers downsize microwave circuits, high-power-density components create thermal management problems. One way to dissipate the excess heat is to mount high-temperature components directly onto heat sinks. This requires large holes (through-vias) in alumina substrates. Through-vias, however, complicate manufacturing, weaken substrates, cause cracks, and shorten life.

GDE Systems of San Diego, CA, tackled this problem by eliminating through-vias. Taking advantage of diamond's unparalleled thermal conductivity, GDE's engineers surface-mounted all components of a microwave frequency divider to a CVD diamond substrate made by Norton Diamond Film. The synthetic-diamond substrate simplifies manufacturing and lowers temperatures by 20 to 30C.

GDE ran into thermal problems when it cut the size of automated test equipment for the F-16 fighter by an order of magnitude. In particular, downsizing the microwave frequency divider drove heat densities up, which raised temperatures and threatened performance and longevity. To maintain safe temperatures, engineers tried placing the alumina-substrate-mounted gallium arsenide dies in through-vias and directly onto chip carriers/heat sinks.

This technique lowered temperatures to acceptable levels, but complicated manufacturing and raised costs, says principal designer Kent Roberts of GDE's Automated Test Systems Group. Precision through-vias require laser cutting and disturb uniform photoresist spreading. And finally, to make good thermal contact, devices are scrubbed-in-rubbed back and forth-a painstaking process in tight through-vias.

Seeking to simplify the manufacturing process, Roberts decided to explore diamond's potential as a substrate. Depending upon its purity, the thermal conductivity of diamond ranges from 6 to 20 W/cm-C. Diamond's high electrical resistivity also makes it appropriate for electronic applications.

Roberts turned to Fred Borchelt, manager of market development at Norton Diamond Film. Norton can produce 250-micron-thick diamond substrates as much as six inches in diameter. Test-bed circuits made at GDE proved that CVD diamond, by acting as a high-conductivity heat spreader, could lower junction temperatures by as much as 50 degrees C.

Measurements also revealed that the material possessed a suitable dielectric constant and a loss tangent of less than 0.001 when subjected to microwave frequencies. (The loss tangent is the ratio of the irrecoverable to the recoverable part of the electrical energy introduced into an insulator by an electric field.)

"Gallium arsenide power-amplifier temperatures have dropped 20 degrees to 30 degrees C or more, which should improve product life by 8 to 10 times," says Roberts. Diamond substrates require less handwork than alumina substrates. No large cutouts are required to receive dies, less precision handling must be done, and fabrication, especially with microwave devices, becomes simpler, according to Roberts.

Additional details, frequency divider...Contact Kent Roberts, Engineering Staff Specialist, GDE Systems Inc., MailZone 7134H, Box 85310, San Diego, CA 92186-5310, (619)573-7368.

Additional details, CVD diamond films...Contact Fred Borchelt, Manager, Market Development, Norton Diamond Film, Goddard Rd., Northboro, MA 01532-1545, (508)351-7968.

Jetliners' future: BIG vs FAST

Jetliners' future: BIG vs FAST

It's crunch time in the airliner business. Positive economic trends in Asia foreshadow an imminent boom in transpacific and trans-Eurasian travel. With their long lead times, aircraft manufacturers will have to decide very soon on airplane designs to meet the demands of the next decade.

As with any other mass-flow problem, engineers face two choices: increase the flow speed or build a bigger pipeline. In aircraft design, the solutions come down to second-generation supersonic transports or 1000-passenger super-jumbo airliners.

Of the two, the subsonic Very Large Civil Transport (VLCT) seems the surer bet, since its technological hurdles appear lower. Still, with development costs for either aircraft projected to be ten billion dollars or more, it's a gamble no manufacturer takes lightly. Industry engineers are currently at work on both possibilities.

The VLCT challenge. Manufacturers' planned VLCT configurations seem to be zeroing in on a double-decker aircraft about the length of a 747. Artists renderings belie the size of the aircraft until one notices the number of emergency exits made necessary by the FAA rule requiring no more than 90 seconds to evacuate passengers in an emergency.

A VLCT's size and the need to integrate the plane into existing airport operations present significant design problems. "To compete effectively, our proposed A3XX airliner will have to offer a saving of around 15% in direct operating costs relative to the (Boeing) 747-400," explained Airbus Industrie's Adam Brown, vice president of strategic planning, in a recent speech concerning his company's plans for a super-jumbo. "Significant advances in aerodynamics, materials, systems, and manufacturing techniques will be required to meet that goal."

The aerodynamics challenge of a VLCT stems from the need to keep the wings relatively short and to minimize drag for economy's sake. "We've put emphasis on supercritical, advanced airfoils since they're more efficient at high coefficients of lift and high wing loading," says David Murphy, manager of advanced wide-body programs at Douglas Aircraft. "The result is that, in proportion to gross weight, we can fly efficiently with a smaller wing area than previous designs, and thus fit better into current airport infrastructures."

Techniques for controlling airflow over the wing may also play a part in improving the economics of a million-pound-plus airliner. Under study: laminar flow control by using engine vacuum to generate suction through thousands of laser-drilled holes on a wing's upper surface. Such a system would greatly reduce drag by forestalling the onset of turbulent airflow over the wing. Alternatively, a circulation-control system also under consideration would bleed high-pressure engine air over the leading and trailing edges of a large aircraft's wing to boost lift as needed. The concept would allow for smaller wings free of complex flap mechanisms. Nevertheless, sources say that designing these systems for low weight and simple maintenance remains a complex engineering task.

In contrast, engineers seem confident about the materials technology needed to keep down the weight of a VLCT. "We're estimating composites are to be roughly doubled in application as a percent of airframe relative to the MD-11," says Douglas' Murphy of his company's planned 600-to-800 seat MD-12 aircraft. Large composite structures such as vertical and horizontal stabilizers will require larger autoclaves and stitching machines, but there are no show stoppers, he says.

Advanced engines. Aircraft-engine price, nacelle cost, fuel use, and maintenance constitute 40% of a long-range airliner's operating costs. Thus, engines encompass all the technical challenges encountered in VLCT design.

Here, too, the design themes seem more evolutionary than revolutionary, but again, the scale is startling. The 68,000-lb-thrust high-bypass turbofan engines that manufacturers plan to use on initial versions of VLCTs feature inlet sections around 100 inches in diameter and weigh approximately 12,000 lbs each. Large as they are, even larger engines are now being developed for VLCTs that will boost fuel economy and decrease generated noise.

Pratt & Whitney calls its super-jumbo engine the Advanced Ducted Propulsor (ADP). Based on the common core of its PW4000 family of turbofans, ADPs will include new technologies giving them potential thrust in excess of 120,000 lbs. The ground-breaking feature of the ADP is an extremely efficient gearbox between the fan and low-speed rotor. Rated at 80,000 hp, the 3:1 reduction gearbox lets the engine's high-speed turbine run at an efficient 10,000 rpm while keeping fan tip speed below Mach 1.4, where efficiency drops precipitously.

ADP demonstrator engines now undergoing testing include single-crystal, transpiration-cooled, 3-D airfoil turbine blades with electron-beam, vapor-deposited ceramic coatings. Those coatings are needed to resist the 2,800F temperatures of advanced-design, float-wall-cooled combustors. With a bypass ratio of 13:1 and a jet velocity around 730 mph, the ADP should meet projected FAA "Stage IV" noise requirements and deliver better economy than any earlier design. "Right now, turbofan aircraft can move one seat 100 miles on one gallon of gas," explains David Crow, Pratt's senior vice president for high-thrust propulsion systems. "With ADP, we expect 15% fuel-economy improvements." That's music to an airline-executive's ears.

High Speed Civil Transport (HSCT). Although physical and environmental laws conspire against building an economical new breed of supersonic airliners, their potential to cut transoceanic flight times by more than 50% provides a powerful incentive for continued research and development work.

That incentive isn't just to offer passengers greater convenience: "If you can effect quick turn-around, i.e., keep it in the air, then an HSCT can carry more passengers more miles in a day than the same size subsonic aircraft," explains Douglas' Murphy. Studies show that if that greater productivity could be coupled to fares no more than 25% to 50% greater than current first-class ticket prices, passenger volume would support a fleet of 500 HSCTs.

"Baseline" industry HSCT designs center on a 250- to 300-passenger, four-engine airliner flying between Mach 2 and 3. Range must be at least 5,000 nautical miles in order to serve transpacific routes with adequate fuel reserves. Its wing will be a sharply swept delta with the fuselage pinched at the wing root to minimize trans-sonic wave drag. Sources cautiously predict an HSCT debut by 2010.

As with the super-jumbo airliners, the principle problems facing HSCT designers include increasing use of composites, improving aerodynamics, and designing more efficient engines. The similarity ends there.

Building a fleet of low-maintenance, environmentally friendly HSCTs requires enormous strides in computational fluid dynamics, extremely high-strength, high-temperature-resistant materials, better environmental modeling, and computerized flight control. The job is so daunting that long-time industry rivals around the world have established consortia to work on the problems.

Temperature/pressure extremes. Richard Hines, manager of the joint Pratt & Whitney/GE Aircraft Engines Supersonic Transport Propulsion Program has worked on supersonic engine programs for 34 of his 38 years at Pratt. An HSCT engine will look like a scaled-up version of a military turbofan. But, he says,"This will be a bigger jump in composites technology than in any previous design."

The materials problem comes down to the unprecedented levels and durations of heat and stress on aircraft components that HSCT flight entails. A subsonic airliner and its engines see their largest thermal and mechanical stresses for just a few minutes of each flight-at take off. In contrast, any HSCT will take off at relatively low engine-thrust levels to minimize noise. Once it reaches open water and cruise altitude, supercruising requires maximum throttle settings for most of the flight. No one, says Hines, knows how even advanced intermetallic composites behave at prolonged high-stress exposure to 3,000F combustion-chamber temperatures.

So reliability remains the biggest technical question surrounding an HSCT. Pratt's Crow notes that Concorde operators have to keep a second SST ready to fly in case problems develop with a scheduled aircraft. Otherwise, passengers would receive refunds for the time lost amounting to the difference between supersonic and subsonic fares. Money-making HSCT operations could not afford to be so lavish.

Will experience with supercruising military aircraft engines help answer questions about reliability? Yes, says Hines of the Pratt/GE consortium, but he cautions that military engines average around 200 flight hours per year. An HSCT engine will need to fly 3,000 hours or more in the same time and perhaps go 10,000 hours between overhauls.

"We're looking at new codings, new coatings, and new materials," explains Hines. "Cycling isn't as much of a problem as creep in an HSCT engine." A similar statement could be made about the airframe materials that will have to withstand sustained 400 degrees F temperatures during supersonic flight and last for a large portion of the plane's 20-year lifespan.

Engineers feel more sanguine about the designs needed to reduce the NOx emissions of a fleet of 500 HSCTs flying through the ozone layer at 60,000 ft. Various combustor designs, including staged combustion, show promise toward reducing emissions to the projected eight percent of current limits. More important may be reducing fuel consumption by adding high-lift devices for subsonic flight, cutting supersonic drag by careful airframe construction and minimizing control-surface movements through very fast flight-control computers. Another requirement: developing variable-cycle engines for efficient thrust at all speeds.

With all these technologies still to be mastered, and the outlook for fuel prices, as always, uncertain, the probability is that 1000 people at a time will be riding at Mach 0.8 before 300 people ride at Mach 2.5. But the opportunity for both types of aircraft is there. "The overwhelming fact is that .75 of the world's population lives within four hours flying time of Hong Kong," says Crow of Pratt & Whitney. "They're terribly under-airplaned."

Still, the enormous cost of developing either airplane makes one wonder if larger fleets of conventional aircraft wouldn't be cheaper. Asked this question, Douglas's Murphy bristles: "It's Progress. If you don't try to make improvements you guarantee that you don't get them."


HSCT design hurdles

  • Deliver per-seat costs no greater than 1.5 times cost of current first-class ticket

  • Develop advanced composites to handle increased temperature gradients, prolonged high stresses of supersonic flight

  • Optimize airframe and engine design trade-offs between subsonic and supersonic flight efficiencies.

  • Create pilot artificial vision systems for restricted-vision, aerodynamic cockpits

  • Reduce acoustic signatures at take-off and supercruise

  • Develop advanced stability and control algorithms to minimize drag-producing control-surface movements.
    VLCT design hurdles

  • Reduce direct operating costs 15% compared to current jumbo aircraft

  • Expand composite construction to large flight-control surfaces, airframe

  • Increase engine bypass ratios to improve fuel economy while maintaining reliability and current power-to-weight standards

  • Meet anticipated "Stage IV" noise- level standards

  • Minimize necessary airport infrastructure changes and upgrades to deal with the larger aircraft

  • Improve wing lift/span ratios, reduce drag with supercritical airfoil, circulation-control or laminar-flow-control mechanisms.

4-wheel drive steps back to the future

4-wheel drive steps back to the future

Time was when four-wheel drive was simple. You turned your ignition key, popped the car in gear, and you were in full-time-four-wheel drive.

Then came the oil embargo. Anything that guzzled an extra drop of gas was targeted for redesign. So part-time-four-wheel drive became the rage. And with it came an evolution of new features: manual hub lock; automatic hub lock; shift-on-the-fly; push-button access. Unfortunately, none of the part-time versions offered the convenience and performance of full-time four-wheel drive.

Now, a new system is taking a giant step back toward convenience. The product of a team effort by Ford Motor Company and Borg-Warner Automotive, it combines full-time performance with part-time fuel economy.

Called Control Trac by Ford, it acts as an automatic form of four-wheel drive. Using sensors, microprocessors, and a specially designed electromagnetic clutch, the unit quickly switches from two-to four-wheel drive when it senses wheel slip.

Gone are the inconveniences associated with part-time-four-wheel drive. Drivers don't have to ruminate over their choices; they don't have to wonder whether they're in four-wheel drive; they don't need to possess a shred of knowledge about the technology. "This system is totally automatic," says Stephen G. Lyons, Ford Division general marketing manager. "You just set it and then you forget it."

Oddly, the market force behind the new automatic four-wheel drive system is just as quirky as the oil embargo that launched the trend toward inconvenience. Utility vehicles are automotive's fastest growing segment, and a healthy portion of new utility owners aren't yet familiar with four-wheel drive. Ford estimates that two-thirds of its Explorer buyers are new to the market. Hence, the need for a no-fuss system.

What's more, few utility drivers ever leave the highway. Though many envision themselves driving up mountainsides, estimates reveal that only 7% will ever go off-road. That means that four-wheel drive might play its most important role when the vehicle hits an icy patch on the way to the grocery store.

In the past, most part-time systems were less useful on the way to the grocery store. Because part-time transfer cases typically have no differential, manufacturers warned users to keep such vehicles in two-wheel drive on dry pavement. Otherwise, they could generate "wind-up torques" that would affect the vehicle's handling.

Control Trac suffers from no such operating limitations. Though it contains no differential, its use of microprocessor logic and the electromagnetic clutch enable it to address highway slippages without generating wind-up torques.

What's more, Control Trac is smaller, lighter, and, reportedly, more reliable than competing versions. "We've been reviewing this system for three years," notes Ford Explorer Chief Engineer Keith Takasawa. "It's gone through all kinds of testing: sand pits up to the wheel hubs; snow conditions; mountainsides; highway miles. It's a very robust design."

User friendly. The idea for electronically controlled four-wheel drive emerged at Borg-Warner Automotive's Sterling Heights, MI, facility in 1985. At the time, all automakers were endowing their engines with electronic control, and many were working on electronic transmission control. "We saw a need for a user-friendly, fuel-efficient, four-wheel-drive system," recalls Ronald A. Schoenbach, vice president of product engineering for Borg-Warner Automotive. "And we envisioned electronics providing it."

That year, Borg-Warner engineers thought out the rough concept, drew it up, and prototyped it on an existing vehicle. The prototype called for an electronically controlled clutch with a differential. The system was crude, though: Its original clutch controller was a rheostat.

Within a year, the controller had grown larger and more complex. A breadboard electronic version-complete with sensor amplifiers and bulky control modules-consumed the entire back end of a station wagon. Input data came from variable reluctance sensors installed at the front propeller shaft, rear propeller shaft, throttle, brakes, and steering. The goal: Control clutch actuation by controlling current.

Up to that time, Borg-Warner engineers had intended to use the clutch in conjunction with a mechanical differential. But, in 1988, they realized that electronic control had opened a new avenue. "We asked ourselves: "Why do we need a differential?'" Schoenbach recalls. "There was all of that iron, all that weight, all that cost. And here, we saw that we could control the clutch pack very precisely without it." Thus was born the Torque-On-Demand transfer case.

Such a design, however, was considered unconventional for a so-called part-time/full-time system. With a part-time/full-time system, users expect to employ four-wheel drive on the highway. But accepted practice held that a planetary or bevel gear differential was needed to prevent generation of wind-up torques on a dry road. Designs without mechanical differentials have long been known to cause particular problems during tight turns and parallel parking, when wheels on one side of the vehicle travel a different distance than wheels on the other side. Forcing all four wheels to operate in synchronization during such manuevers causes drive-line wind-up.

But Borg-Warner engineers were convinced that proper application of the electromagnetic clutch would alleviate drive-line wind-up, even without the presence of a differential. "It all depends on the control algorithms," explains Dan Showalter, chief engineer of advanced design. "You can get wind-up torque if you don't program it right."

The design team gained confidence in their concept during 1989, when they made a breakthrough in the clutch's control system. Development of closed-loop control smoothed its operation. Using it, the clutch made smaller adjustments, but did it more frequently. Ultimately, the microprocessor would review input from sensors every 20 msec and decide if the front axle needed more torque.

Using this technique, the unit's computer watched for wheel slip. If it sensed as little as half an rpm difference between the front and rear axles, it sent a power signal to the clutch. The clutch engaged, diverting torque to the front axle in 10% increments, until it alleviated the wheel slip. As a result, the system could control runaway wheel speed in as little as a third of a wheel revolution.

Drive-off. In 1991, members of Borg-Warner's engineering team travelled to Ford's light truck engineering facility in Dearborn. There, they presented the basics for the Torque-On-Demand transfer case. They told Ford engineers about the electromagnetic clutch, the closed-loop control system, the sensors, and the elimination of the planetary gear differential. "We slid a set of keys across the table and said: "Here, this is more than a nice, fancy paper study," Schoenbach recalls. "Here's an operating prototype. Go drive it. Tell us what you think.'"

Though Ford engineers reserved judgment, Borg-Warner executives believe that the prototype was a key to success. Although the transfer case was an early mechanical prototype, it was fully functional, with years of research and close to a million dollars in development behind it. "It improves your credibility when you can hand over the keys to their vehicle," Schoenbach says.

Months later, Ford engineers called Borg-Warner with a proposal: Build an all-wheel-drive system for the new Explorer, to be introduced in '95. Borg-Warner's all-wheel-drive model would go head-to-head in a drive-off against two other manufacturers' versions.

At the drive-off, staged in October, 1991, Borg-Warner showed up in Dearborn with three identical, dark red, Eddie Bauer Explorers. One of the three contained the Torque-On-Demand system, another incorporated a viscous coupled four-wheel drive, and the third used the electromagnetic clutch with a mechanical differential. Borg-Warner engineers never saw their competitors' systems.

In the drive-off vehicles, the Borg-Warner design team also incorporated another new concept: a rotary selector knob on the dashboard. The selector knob enabled users to choose two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, or low-range-four-wheel drive. The decision to add the knob was based on feedback from customers who didn't like pushbuttons or couldn't see LED displays. The engineers borrowed a heater knob from a Taurus, backlit it, and installed it on the instrument panel. Result: The Borg-Warner four-wheel systems took on the appearance of finished products. "Our hardware looked like it was showroom," notes Robert L. Seaman, vice president of marketing and sales for Borg-Warner Automotive. "It reflected that we hadn't "kludged' it up in a hurry."

A blind jury evaluation followed, with a cast of engineers driving the vehicles up a slippery hill at the Ford proving grounds. By November, Borg-Warner received word that the Torque-On-Demand system-soon to be known as Control Trac-had been selected for the Explorer.

Desert testing. Still, the development work was far from finished. Led by Showalter, Borg-Warner engineers set out to bullet-proof the new transfer case. A key area of concentration: clutch plate material.

Early in the development, Borg-Warner had employed a sintered bronze clutch material that exhibited an operating condition commonly known as "stick-slip." The slippage had inspired engineers to replace it with a paper-based material mounted atop metal. The paper offered a better coefficient of friction and solved the slippage problem. Seaman credits Borg-Warner's automatic transmission components division for the solution.

Now, however, another dilemma surfaced: heat. Heat was burning out the new clutch material. To solve the problem, engineers studied the clutch's torque. "Heat was a problem, not because of the material, but because we had inadequate clutch torque," Showalter recalls.

Engineers beefed up the capacity and equipped a fleet of test vehicles, which they took to the Anza-Borrego Desert in southern California. They made 11 trips in all, subjecting the prototypes to heat, mountain driving, and deep sand. It was the most rigorous test possible for a four-wheel drive, with the clutches being called upon for almost continuous delivery of torque.

At first, the environment quickly burned out the clutches. But as engineers gained knowledge, the clutches improved. "It got to the point where we would go out there and thoroughly demolish the test vehicles, but the clutches would still look good," Showalter recalls.

Back at the lab, engineers tortured the four-wheel-drive system in every imaginable way. What would happen if the rear wheels lost traction while backing down a mossy boat ramp? William R. Kelley, manager of advanced engineering development, built a test stand to find out. "We asked one fundamental question: "Do we have enough torque capacity for every imaginable Explorer use?'" Kelley says.

When Ford engineers later questioned the use of powder metal in the clutch's ball-ramp cams, Kelley devised another technique for testing the cams at maximum load for millions of cycles. To simulate service conditions for a separate concern, he also worked with MTS Systems Corp., Minneapolis, MN, to build a special simulator. Says Seaman: "In my 21 years of transfer case and manual transmission development, I have never seen a product more thoroughly tested."

Light, quiet, simple. By the time the product was introduced late in 1994, it had been so thoroughly tested that it had served in two national off-road championship vehicles. At only 70 lbs, it also laid claim to being the lightest and smallest transfer case on the market. The next closest, according to Borg-Warner engineers, weighed in at 83 lbs and 100 lbs.

Control Trac's transfer case might also be the auto industry's quietest, says Kelley. Borg-Warner engineers employed magnesium to minimize weight, then used finite element analysis to improve its acoustic characteristics. The electronics, which once filled the back end of a station wagon, are no larger than a cigarette pack.

Since its introduction to the press late in 1994, Control Trac's evaluations have been unswervingly positive. "The transition from two- to four-wheel drive is nearly imperceptible, except for the additional traction," noted Automobile magazine in a typical review. Adds the Detroit Free Press: "The simplicity of the system is sure to make a hit with folks who want the security of four-wheel drive when the going gets slippery."

The system, engineers believe, fills a growing need among a new class of car buyers. "Customers are demanding that we make it simple and make it work," concludes Seaman. "And that's precisely what we've done here."


Four-Wheel Drive Primer

Few automotive components are more misunderstood than four-wheel drive systems. Following are explanations of basic four-wheel-drive categories.

Part time. These systems operate in four-wheel drive when they're off-road and two-wheel drive on the highway. Since gaining popularity on Army vehicles in World War II, they've appeared in many configurations. Part-time systems are lighter and offer better overall mileage, but generate undesirable torque effects on dry pavement if left in the four-wheel-drive mode.

Full time. Known also as all-wheel drive, these systems operate off-road and on. They use planetary or bevel gear differentials to allow wheel slip on tight turns on dry pavement. Large and heavy, they lost favor during the oil embargo of the 1970s.

Part time/full time. The best of both worlds. These systems incorporate a planetary or bevel gear differential, but typically must be manually shifted from two-wheel to four-wheel drive. Control Trac is the first automatic part-time/full-time system to use electronic control and no differential.


Control Trac's Impressive Debut

The fastest way for an automotive component to earn a reputation is on the racing circuit. Unfortunately, the reputation it earns may not always be a good one.

"Sometimes firms are a little reluctant to race because they don't want to be embarrassed by a big failure," notes Robert L. Seaman, vice president of marketing and sales for Borg-Warner Automotive. Never is such caution more warranted than in off-road races.

Yet, the Torque-On-Demand transfer case already has served as the four-wheel-drive system on the Borg-Warner-sponsored Rampage Racing Team. The transfer case has served on world champion off-road trucks in successive years: a Ford Bronco in the Class 3 World Championships in 1993; and the F-150 in the Class 4 in 1994. The Bronco never lost a race after it used the Control Trac transfer case. In all trucks, the four-wheel-drive systems never experienced a failure.

Off-road racing experience, Seaman says, serves as the ultimate test bed for four-wheel-drive systems. "We have not just relied on laboratory and proving ground experience," he says. "With the Control Trac, we've gone a step beyond."

3D Studio, Release 4

3D Studio, Release 4

3D Studio is a high-quality rendering package that generates realistic still and animated images from meshed, 3-D models constructed within 3D Studio, or imported in DXF file format.

The construction tools can generate nearly any 2-D or 3-D shape. The 3D Editor rendering tools add versatile lights and cameras, and assign surface materials that define all optical properties needed to simulate realistic response to light. Mapping facilities add local control to most optical properties and provide a means of combining external image detail, e.g., photographic or computer-generated images of color patterns or textures. The combination of effects is virtually endless. The software includes an extensive library of materials and maps, while additional tools let users modify existing materials and define new ones.

The Keyframer generates animations, providing the tools needed to move and modify model objects, light and cameras. It provides complete control of scenes at designated key frames. The Keyframer interpolates between these user-defined frames, generating intermediate motions and adjustments, automatically producing rendered, continuous animations.

Inverse kinematics. I animated a variety of machines and mechanisms using the earlier 3D Studio, and found the generation of keyframes to be tedious, particularly for mechanisms involving complex, nonlinear motions. The new Inverse Kinematics module (known as the IK) answers nearly all my wishes! The IK is an iterative solver that generates key frame data for 6 degree-of-freedom (DOF) joints between objects.

SPEC BOX 3D Studio is a production quality construction and rendering tool capable of generating realistic still and animated images of a wide range of 3-dimensional, meshed surface models. Release 4 adds powerful animation enhancements, speed improvements for model editing and preview rendering, as well as advanced tools for script control animation. It runs under MS DOS on 386 machines or better with 16M bytes of RAM and 40M bytes of free disk space (20 MB minimum) recommended. Available on both floppy and CD-ROM, all packages include a CD-ROM with a wealth of extras.
List Price: $2,995
Autodesk Inc., 2320 Marinship Way, Sausalito, CA 94965; ph. (800)228-3601

The IK includes a wealth of intuitive visualization and control aids to make and check kinematic setup, giving it an exceptional "smooth feel", and making the entire process very efficient. For my test example, I imported an AutoCAD Designer model of an oscillating steam engine in DXF format. The final engine animation, including metallic rendering, shadows, and reflections, was exceptional.

Next I loaded a complex model involving multiple linkages with spherical rod ends (3 DOFs) that accommodate slides and cranks at oblique angles. I had animated this model earlier with 3D Studio, and had spent hours generating keys to provide realistic linkage motions. The IK reduced the key-generation time dramatically, and produced a more realistic result than I had achieved before.

Perspective match. For users who combine 3-D studio models with bitmap backgrounds, the new Perspective Match capability is indispensable. To experiment, I took a Polaroid photo of my desk, scanned the photo, and added it as the background for the steam engine model. Initially the scene looked absurd, with totally inappropriate engine size and perspective. Entering the Perspective Match module, I quickly adjusted camera position, focal length, and field of view, comparing the model image to that of the "surrounding objects" in the background. The result was a convincing image of the engine, sitting on my desk. The new Fast Preview Animation capability produced a rough, rendered animation of the combined model against the scanned background in a few minutes, compared to several hours rendering time for the full resolution final with all visual effects.

Release 4 includes a Keyframe Scripting Language that permits fully automated keyframe generation with BASIC-like commands, a must for complex, parametric animations. Additional new features such as increased 3D Editor speed, "null" display mode for background Windows operation, and enhanced display and setup tools make Revision 4 even more appealing.

Changing platforms challenge software developers

Changing platforms challenge software developers

Jack Hendren, President and Chief Executive Officer,
Ashlar, Inc., Sunnyvale, CA

Before joining Ashlar, Hendren was general manager/vice president of IBM's CADAM EDA Division, with responsibility for development, marketing, and distribution of P-CAD EDA software products for PCs and workstations worldwide. He also spent 12 years at Motorola Computer Systems, where his last assignment was as senior marketing and manufacturing executive. He has a BA in math and physics from Hanover College and an MS in operations research from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA.

Computer platform changes have several impacts on developers of CAD software, says Hendren. Among the impacts: continual efforts to make sure user interfaces accommodate the platforms.

Design News: What do you see as the key technology issues facing software vendors now?

Hendren: Naturally, there are several. The largest is the rapid change in platforms. That constant change makes the environment unstable. In any year, there could be two platform changes. This year the changes include the Power PC. Windows '95 and NT are also changes, although NT hasn't made the jump we expected. All the changes affect the way suppliers program user interfaces, and the way customers use them, or the way they share data with others. We have to keep a team of people expert in each platform to follow the changes.

Software companies can't always pick the winning platforms, so Ashlar's products run on Macs and on Intel-based systems. We know that the ability to exchange data reliably is under the surface of all the issues software vendors deal with. Data sharing is vitally important to corporate America, where managers want purchasing and design, as well as other functions, on the same data base. CAD vendors have to open up their systems to reading and writing data from other vendors' systems, and the shared geometry in systems must be manufacturable. We try to identify key data formats that support the work of multiple users and back them up as standards. As a front-end supplier, we have to be able to export data to multiple environments.

Q: What will be the next major breakthrough in engineering software?

A: The breakthroughs will be in usability of the software. In word processing, when software allowed users to work on a page with free forms, the industry went from a character-based system to a shape-based system. That change opened up the possibilities for desk-top publishing. Today, high-end CAD, in essence, requires users to have between a bachelor's and a master's degree. At Ashlar, we have given users context-sensitive feedback, and we're going to add that beyond 3-D wireframe to surfacing and solid modeling levels. We're trying to show that CAD can be open to the masses, too, and it's that kind of ease of use that will make it happen.

Q: What effect will massively parallel computing have on engineering?

A: Software developers have moved to C++ and object-oriented programming. The latter allows you to spread out what you're doing to multiple processors so operations will be quicker. That also enables software to answer questions with incomplete input by running what-if scenarios. Massively parallel processing can help bring math-intensive, specific-function tools to the general engineer. The result will be renaissance engineers who can do much more than they can now.

Q: Do you plan to expand Ashlar's product offerings into such areas as solid modeling?

A: Our first areas of extension are surfaces, shading, and rendering. People think of things as surfaces, and it's natural to want to adjust a design by manipulating the surfaces. It's easier to use surfacing than Boolean operations or solids. So, our direction is to apply the Vellum paradigm to surface design, then continue into the solids area. In each case, we have to ask, "How do we make it as easy to use as Vellum is today?" Interestingly enough, our overseas customers are telling us to put more 2-D functionality in, while our domestic customers are telling us to make it more exciting in 3-D. We will balance the two.

Q: Is seamless integration among software products possible?

A: It's almost possible, if you follow one platform or vendor's conventions. Microsoft, Sun, and Apple are all pushing their conventions. Customers would certainly like seamless integration to happen, especially if they don't have to pay for it. But, if there is no additional income from it, vendors would have difficulty providing for seamless integration. Nevertheless, it's inevitable that more and more process and database integration will happen.

'What-if' analysis moves to the desktop

'What-if' analysis moves to the desktop

A combination of speedy processors, larger hard disks, and less expensive memory has enabled a dramatic leap in desktop-analysis capabilities. "Models running in our software have doubled in size over the past two years," says Bob Haubrock, director of simulation and test products at SDRC.

This performance boost has given engineers unprecedented access to real-time analysis.

"We are doing problems on desktop computers that just a few years ago we would have had to do on a mainframe," says David Dearth at Applied Analysis and Technology, a Huntington Beach, CA, engineering consulting firm. "Our analysis capabilities have gone up by orders of magnitude."

For example, engineers can now process models with several hundred thousand degrees of freedom on a mid-range workstation running MSC/NASTRAN, according to Ken Blakely at MacNeal-Schwendler Corp. "Five years ago, these were large models for mainframes."

Now, MacNeal-Schwendler has introduced MSC/NASTRAN for Windows, bringing the same functions of its supercomputer-class software to Pentium PCs. "We have reduced the barriers to doing analysis," he says.

"In 1987, it was considered by everybody to be almost magic that we could do 6,000 to 10,000 degrees of freedom on a 386 PC," Dearth recalls. "That problem would run for a couple of days, but we could do it."

Recently, Dearth performed static analysis on a pressure-bulkhead for an aerospace contractor using Algor FEA software on a Pentium PC. "It was almost 50,000 degrees of freedom, and it ran in less than an hour," Dearth says. "That's absolutely amazing." It's also an indication that Algor's PC-based FEA products are as powerful as its UNIX-based products, says Algor's Peter May.

Empowering an individual. At Burlington Northern (BN) Railroad, mechanical engineer Scott Landrum single-handedly developed a new freight car to carry more steel at less cost-all on a personal computer. After developing the design with AutoCAD, he performed the necessary structural analysis with Algor Linear Stress software.

"The really good thing about this was just one person was able to do the design and structural analysis," he says. "In the past, it took a team."

Landrum ran a number of analyses based on various load scenarios, constantly tinkering with the design to find an optimum weight. The result: A 47,200-lb car, compared to 65,400 lbs for the earlier model; and the new, lighter car can carry an extra 12 to 15 tons of steel. The entire project, from concept to the first car put into service, took nine months. BN won an initial order for 175 cars worth more than $8 million, and another 50 are being built. "It's pretty successful," Landrum says.

Wheel design. Innovation in Composites says its award-winning one-piece hollow bicycle-wheel design depended on current computing technology. "There's no way we could do this project without desktop computing and analysis," according to Doug Olsen, vice president of engineering.

The company developed an injection-molded plastic wheel, reinforced with carbon fibers, Olsen explains. The big question: Would it be strong enough? Engineers used Rasna software to run through numerous scenarios. "I can do ten times the work, and ten times the what-ifs, as I did five years ago," Olsen says. "You do so many what-ifs, you get a better part." The design won a Society of Plastic Industries (SPI) award for overall best part.

Slashing design time. Mitsubishi says it cut product-development time 40% for new circuit breakers with advanced software modeling. The software helped with key design challenges: placing contact points in a vacuum or heavy insulation, and making sure the circuit breaker didn't open so slowly that it melted from electricity "jumping" across the contacts.

In one case, engineers used SDRC I-DEAS software, running on Silicon Graphics workstations, to perform stress analysis on a tank used in gas-insulated circuit breakers. Mitsubishi engineers have long done such analysis, but it used to take an entire day to receive results from the company's computer center in Osaka, Japan. "Now that we can analyze with I-DEAS in real time, analysis results can have an immediate impact on the design," says Masao Narita, manager of the Circuit-Breaker Development Group. "We can perform design and analysis in parallel."

Replacing impractical tests. Computer analysis plays a crucial role in designing military spacecraft that can withstand radiation from a nuclear explosion. "Since underground nuclear testing was curtailed, and because above-ground simulator tests are expensive, accurate analysis techniques are critical," says Anthony Botting, who works as a composite structures design engineer at Mission Research Corp.

A team at Mission Research had one chance to gather data from an actual field test. First, they developed analysis models using COSMOS/M from Structural Research and Analysis Corp., then checked simulation data with actual test results. In one analysis, the company tested a space-based interceptor bridge structure that connects two propulsion tanks and provides support for thrusters, pumps, and pressurized lines.

The part, fabricated from an advanced metal matrix composite material of silicon-carbide/aluminum, forms a non-symmetric ring-like structure. It includes flanges, tapped holes, a number of pump and control line cut-outs, and thruster seats. Mission Research also tested four other rings similar in shape to the bridge, but of simpler construction-one bare, and the others having 3-ml plasma-sprayed alumina coatings. The researchers placed circumferential strain gages at various locations on the rings and bridge.

They first analyzed the uncoated ring to check calculated loads, silicon-carbide/aluminum material properties, and analysis procedures. Then they moved to the coated rings to generate information for analyzing the bridge itself.

"Our analysis followed a building-block scheme, wherein we generated a simple model of the solid ring and validated it against measured natural vibration frequencies," Botting explains. They used four-node shell elements at five degree-arc increments, with some mesh refinement near slot boundaries, and "tuned" the model against actual test data.

When finally analyzing the bridge, Botting says, "the correlations of data and calculated strains are quite good." The next step? Modeling larger structural assemblies-and ultimately complete spacecraft systems. "Continuing research will give spacecraft designers and analysts the capability to predict accurately possible optical and sensor misalignments, time delays, and jitter associated with radiation." And all the work was done on a 50-MHz, 486 PC that sells for about $1,000.

Spacelab equipment. Computer analysis also helped in designing health-monitoring equipment for European astronauts exposed to long periods of weightlessness. The European Space Agency commissioned Innovision, Odense, Denmark, to develop a 234-lb respiratory monitoring system, 49-lb washout gas-supply system to mount on a standard Spacelab rack, and 88-lb cycle ergometer for mounting on the center aisle of the European space shuttle.

The design team had to ensure that the equipment's fundamental eigen frequency exceeded 36 Hz to protect it from resonance caused by vibration during the space-shuttle launch. Using COSMOS/M software, they created a variety of models, ranging from 7,000 to 25,000 degrees of freedom, with boundary spring elements at shuttle-equipment interface joints supporting each model.

"PC-based COSMOS/M analysis was very competitive to mainframe FEA," says Go-Jacobsen, head of analysis at Innovision. "In addition, the user interface is incredibly easy to use." Lab tests showed the analysis work agreed closely with actual results.

As processing speed continues to double every one to two years, industry observers say engineers can expect more analysis advances, such as semi-automated design optimization. That would continue the trend toward trying to more tightly integrate analysis with CAD, using the results to automatically refine some geometry within the CAD model.

Says Bruce Jenkins at Daratech, a Cambridge, MA, research and consulting firm: "The amount of raw power that's going to be available will make any engineering computation problem solvable at the desktop.

Electronics firms still make it big in Massachusetts

Electronics firms still make it big in Massachusetts

Minicomputers fueled Massachusetts' high-technology boom in the 1980s. The state's Route 128, "America's Technology Highway," was second only to California's Silicon Valley as the country's high-tech center.

Later that decade the boom went bust. Minicomputers became obsolete with the advent of PCs. Computer companies and related electronics firms went out of business or laid off thousands of workers. The recession didn't help, nor did the decline in defense spending.

But Massachusetts and the electronics industry has rebounded. Today, the state enjoys the second lowest unemployment rate-5.2%-among the leading industrial states. That's down from more than 9% at the depth of the recession in 1991. And the state still boasts one of the highest concentrations of high-tech companies in the nation.

With engineering schools such as MIT, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and the University of Lowell, Massachusetts turns out lots of engineering talent. Graduates have started high-tech companies right out of school that are now flourishing.

Moreover, 33 Bay State companies made the Inc. 500 in 1994-the magazine's ranking of the nation's fastest-growing private companies. "In its jump to 33 companies this year," noted Inc., "Massachusetts increased its Inc. 500 ranks a whopping 50% in a single year." The state now ranks third in the nation, after California and Florida, in the number of companies on the list.

These companies may hold the key to the state's high-tech future. They tend to locate outside of Boston and not along Route 128. But don't count the Route 128 companies out. Among the five electronics companies I visited in my week-long tour, only one-Keithley Metrabyte-is located outside the 128 ring.

Knocking out the competition

Analog Devices in Wilmington, a Fortune 500 company with a national presence, recently won a $3.4 million award under the federal Technology Reinvestment project. The objective: development of the next generation of MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS).

Many experts-including Analog CEO Ray Stata-say these tiny silicon electronic and mechanical devices could change the world the same way integrated circuits did several years ago. Analog was the first to take MEMS, or surface micromachining, technology out of the R&D lab and into volume production.

Analog touts its first micromachine, the ADXL50 accelerometer, as a completely specified acceleration-measurement system on a chip. The chip has a surface-micromachined movable element as the sensor. Because the sensing element measures less than 0.5 mm 2, the chip has plenty of room for signal-conditioning and self-test circuitry. The complete chip takes up only about 9 mm.

Analysts have predicted micromachined silicon sensors to be a billion dollar market by the year 2000, says Accelerometer Marketing Manager Bill Riedel. "And most of these applications don't even exist yet."

One ADXL50 application that does exist can be found in air-bag systems in Saabs. The sensor detects the rapid deceleration that occurs during a crash. Signal-conditioning circuitry transforms the signal into a form that travels to the air-bag system's electronics module. The module "decides" if a crash is in progress and, if so, triggers air-bag inflation.

What really sets ADXL50 air-bag systems apart is that engineers can test them. Digitally toggling the self-test node prompts the device to exercise all its signal-conditioning circuitry and the sensor element. "It actually works the device the same way a negative acceleration would," says Chuck Kitchin, application engineer. Needless to say, you can't test an electromechanical air-bag system.

Applications for the 50g sensor--other than the punching bag I tried--include:

Head-crash avoidance in disk drives.

  • Inertial navigation systems.

  • Coupled with a GPS receiver, pinpointing remote accidents.

  • Vehicle suspension systems.

  • Detecting rental-car abuse.

  • Smart home alarm systems that could shut off gas lines during earthquakes.

  • Industrial vibration control.

  • Detectors to record shocks during shipping of large, expensive items.

Analog Devices has planned a family of micromachined devices ranging from accelerometers and gyroscopes to resonators, oscillators, and microelectro-mechanical filters. The second product out the door: a plus or minus 5g accelerometer. One application already in the works: a virtual-reality glove. The accelerometer could measure a hand's angle by measuring gravity and calculate distance by double-integrating acceleration.

"It's an enabling technology because it optimizes five qualities: price, performance, size, weight, and reliability. Nothing else comes close," says Riedel.

Data Aquisition hits the road

The southeastern Massachusetts town of Taunton serves as the home of Keithley Metrabyte-a division of Keithley Instruments, a $91 million company headquartered in Cleveland, OH. High-tech companies are new to Taunton, which formerly housed several textile companies. But it would like to entice more of them to set up shop.

Keithley Metrabyte specializes in PC-based data-acquisition hardware and software. It lays claim to being the largest producer of these products in the world. Because its hardware and software conform with open industry standards, users can add competitive products with or without Keithley Metrabyte linkages.

The latest product engineers can try out is the DacPac. This ISA bus expansion chassis lets users take their PC-based data-acquisition system anywhere "on the road." The DacPac holds two boards and connects to a notebook computer, such as those from AST, Dual, and Toshiba. It gives users the power of a desktop data-acquisition system in a compact, lightweight size.

Remote monitoring applications prove ideal for this technology. Examples include: field service, in-vehicle testing and repair, aircraft testing, on-ship monitoring, and seismic measurements.

Keithley introduced the DacPac in the UK for a range of mobile applications. At one end of the spectrum, engineers have installed the unit on specially designed vehicles that go into gas pipe fields to detect gas leaks and gas clouds. At the other end, medical technicians use it on house-call visits where patients have newly implanted hearing aids. DacPac enables the technicians to adjust sound reception on-site instead of having the patient journey to the research center.

New family member. To plug into the DacPac, you can try Keithley's DAS-1800AO data-acquisition boards-one of the newest members of the DAS-1800 family. The family addresses the problem of using Windows for the real-time task of data acquisition. Even when running on today's high-performance PCs, data acquisition can't always keep up with critical applications.

DAS-1800 boards can handle the job because of two hardware innovations: an on-board FIFO buffer and two 16-bit DMA (direct-memory-access) channels. The buffer can hold up to 1,024 data samples, allowing an application to sample data continuously-even if the PC is busy performing other functions. The dual DMA channels ensure gap-free data, so applications are no longer limited to 64k contiguous data points.

The DAS-1800AO board's two analog outputs let users send synthesized or previously captured waveforms to a device and simultaneously measure that device's response.

An example: The DAS-1800AO collects data from shock-mounted accelerometers during a test drive. Back in the lab, it outputs the data as waveforms to hydraulic actuators. Engineers evaluate the data and modify the waveforms to simulate different conditions.

Connectivity cuts hospital costs

While studying engineering at Massachusetts' Worcester Polytech, this reporter spent her summers putting together patient heart monitors at Analogic in Danvers, MA. The company's headquarters, off Route 128 in Peabody, employs about 900 people. I decided to see what innovative products the company had introduced since my last visit.

Analogic specializes in measurement and control products, data-conversion devices, video processing, and medical imaging. I met with Chap Cory and Paul Keezer, general manager and director of product management, respectively, of the Computer Design and Applications (CDA) Division. We talked about the DASM Rx system for interconnecting medical imaging equipment and cameras.

"The health-care industry has been very free with our money over the past 15 years or so, buying all this heavy metal-CT scanners and MRIs-and cost really wasn't an object," says Cory. "So there really was no demand to go to standards."

But recent demands for making better use of expensive medical equipment have forced the industry to improve connectivity. Currently, most modalities-medical equipment that generates a visual output-have their own protocols and a dedicated imager, such as a digital or analog laser camera. These cameras can cost upwards of $100,000. However, most digital imaging equipment does have a common, industry-accepted image communications standard-the "film object."

The familiar X-ray film presents a printout of a film object. When a digital imaging system prints a film, the system "communicates" a film object to an output device, or imager. Although computers can store and retrieve this digital data as files, medical professionals primarily rely on physical film for diagnosis.

Every digital imaging equipment vendor has a way to format and print a film. The DASM Rx product line works with these established procedures to let multiple modalities share one or more imagers-even if they are from different manufacturers. This, in turn, lets hospitals add imaging equipment, such as MRI and ultrasound machines, without having to invest in a new imager.

The system has as its base a Sun SPARC Classic computer running Solaris. Intelligent hardware modules, called DASMs (Digital Analog System Managers), link each modality and laser imager to the computer via a SCSI (small computer system interface) bus. The modules communicate directly with the medical equipment and imagers, can understand different protocols, and convert back and forth between SCSI and the various protocols.

DASM Rx features include:

Automatic queuing of images from multiple modalities.

  • Automatic image rerouting when a camera breaks down.

  • High-speed print queuing so equipment can continue scanning while the network sends images to the camera.

  • Transparent image conversion from the modality's to the imager's format.

An unexpected benefit: Fewer interfaces and cables reduce an imaging center's connectivity costs.

Analogic takes advantage of the Internet to service this line of products. Using its "Telesupport" service, Analogic engineers call up DASM Rx systems via modem to perform checkups and make any necessary adjustments-just like an old-fashioned house call.

Switches turn on with the times

C&K Components, a leading international producer of electromechanical switches for the computer and electronics industries, has called Watertown, MA, home for more than 30 years. But the company, with more than 3,500 customers and distributors worldwide, has been anything but static when it comes to the introduction of products.

For instance, the company makes a variety of miniature and subminiature switches, including toggle, rocker, DIP, surface-mount, sealed, rotary, pushbutton, slide, thumbwheel, illuminated, and membrane devices. Most of the products are modular, giving customers more than half a billion possible combinations, say company officials.

Chief Engineer Andy Tolland points out that C&K also designs custom switches that "don't cost as much as you might think. We use components from our standard products to save tooling costs."

At the other end of the spectrum are such high-volume customers as Proctor Silex (toasters) and Motorola (hand-held radios). C&K has dedicated machines to make the thousands of switches every week these companies demand.

Energy-conserving switch. One of its latest commodity products, the KT Series sealed miniature pushbutton switch, measures only 0.112 x 0.250 inch. This model conserves valuable pc-board space and employs a seal that withstands machine soldering temperatures and pressure-wash cleaning methods.

The KT functions as a single-pull/single-throw, normally open switch. Actuator buttons may remain flush or up to 0.100 inch high. A silicone rubber seal is standard. The switch has a guaranteed life of 100,000 actuations; dielectric breakdown is 250V rms at sea level.

Applications include through-hole and surface-mount installations that require a switch with a long life and low profile. C&K's John Sutherby gives these examples:

Remote controls.

  • PCs, peripherals, and printers.

  • Hand-held radios.

  • Radar detectors.

  • Key-chain garage-door openers.

  • Medical stations.

  • Process-control equipment.

There's even a C&K switch for golfers. It turns on a small light on a hat. If the light falls on the golf ball, the player has his or her body correctly positioned.

Cooking up profits

Tucked away in an industrial section of Watertown resides United Electric Controls-a 63-year-old, family-owned maker of industrial sensors and controls for pressure and temperature. When I visited, engineer Mario Pasquini wanted to discuss cooking computers.

The firm's line of cooking controls increases the efficiency of such equipment as ovens, fryers, griddles, and grills. The controls ensure consistent, quality food products, and reduce cooking time. Products range from $25 solid-state thermostats to microprocessor-controlled computers. Customers run the gamut from Mom and Pop establishments to such OEMs as Blodgett Ovens and Franklin. Blodgett sells ovens to fast-food giants like Pizza Hut; Franklin's customers include KFC.

Electronics remains a mystery to many in the food industry. Therefore, Pasquini spends much of his time explaining the benefits to would-be customers. He credits MacDonald's with pioneering the use of electronics to automatically cook fast food about 20 years ago.

The electronic cooking advantage: high accuracy, closer temperature control, accountability for variables such as the number of muffins to be baked, and implementation of a cooking profile. Such a profile includes information about what temperatures to bake a food at and for how long, when a fan should cut in or shut off, and whether steam is required. A computerized profile lets a 16-year-old bake like a pro at the touch of a button.

Pasquini also spends a lot of time experimenting with food in restaurant kitchens. Although United Electric's customers are the oven makers, the company writes custom software for the end users. A typical day might find Pasquini at KFC roasting chickens using varying cooking profiles, then sampling the results.


Bay State Biggies

Visiting all the electronics companies in Massachusetts would have been a worthwhile endeavor, but utterly impossible within a week. This abridged list of companies I didn't get to includes some new firms and others that have called the state home for decades.

Allegro MicroSystems, Inc., Worcester-Designs and manufactures mixed-signal ICs, Hall-effect sensors, power ICs, linear ICs, and discrete semiconductors.

American Superconductor Corp., Westborough-Researches and develops ceramic high-temperature-superconductor products.

Battery Engineering, Boston-Develops battery technology.

CP Clare Corp., Wakefield-Produces switches, relays, surge arresters, and display components.

Data Instruments, Acton-Test and measurement products.

Dragon Systems, Inc., Newton-Develops speech-recognition products.

Fenwal Electronics, Inc., Milford-Makes thermistors for automotive, medical, and computer applications.

GenRad, Inc., Concord-Supplies test, measurement, and diagnostic systems for the manufacture and maintenance of electronic products.

Integrated System Assemblies, Inc., Woburn-Develops 3-D multichip module technology.

MultiLink, Andover-Manufactures multimedia teleconferencing equipment.

Setra Systems, Acton-Manufactures weight sensors.

Wakefield Engineering, Wakefield-Offers thermal-management products.

Application Digest

Application Digest

Providing cooling in tight spaces

Arthur Ward, Applications Engineer, NMB Technologies

Many times, an engineer completes an electronics enclosure design only to find it needs additional cooling. If a low or medium speed fan was initially selected, then the simple solution is to substitute a high-speed fan with the same dimensions. However, if no higher-airflow fan is available, a simple fix can become a major redesign.

Rather than redesign the enclosure to increase airflow or accommodate a larger fan, multiple fans can often be used with minimal changes. Adding a second identical fan results in only a 3-dBA increase in noise. But engineers must choose between operating the fans in parallel or series.

In a low-impedance system, two fans can work in parallel to increase airflow. This approach doubles the effective airflow rate in free air. As system impedance increases, added airflow from the second fan decreases. Care must be taken in mounting two fans side-by-side. The mounting must be secure to eliminate the possibility of vibrational resonance between the fans.

In systems with high impedance, two fans applied in series are most effective. Theoretically, the system back pressure can be doubled, resulting in increased airflow.

The best method is to mount one fan at the intake and one at the exhaust. Mounting the fans back-to-back is less effective because the angular airflow component from the first fan reduces the second's efficiency.

To speak with an NMB Technologies' application engineer, call: (818) 341-3355.


Don't Underestimate Screw Pumps

Luca Cozzi, Chief Engineer, SEIM srl

Though positive-displacement, self-priming screw pumps have been available for many years, ongoing R&D has led to remarkable performance improvements. So much so that, nowadays, screw pumps are used in applications ranging from lubrication schemes to actuating systems and oil-hydraulic test benches.

The most important features of screw pumps-nearly constant flowrate, silent operation, and high mechanical efficiency-also make them excellent contributors to off-line filtration systems. Consider: The tooth-profile characteristics of gear pumps and the interaction of the two gears can lead to temporary rupture of the lubricating fluid film. Likewise the pressure in the sealing area of vane pumps and the reciprocating motion of the vane into the rotor can rupture the lubricating film. In both cases, this rupture can cause wear and release contaminating particles into the fluid current.

With screw pumps, no contaminant particles are released because:

The rolling diameters are equal, hence the relative speed between driving screw and idler screw is nil.

  • The epicycloidal screw profile engages the corresponding profile of the idler screw via a rolling contact.

  • There are no trapping areas for contaminant particles-the sort typically found in other types of pumps-crossing the screw pump.

  • There is no contact between the driving screw and idler screws, or the three screws and the pump casing.

In short, screw pumps-thanks to their low sensitivity to polluting particles and simple construction-offer long service life for maximum filter performance.

Engineering News

Engineering News

PCs come to numerical control

CNC manufacturers around the world are turning to PCs to offer customers flexibility and ease of use

Tokyo, Japan -- Several large Japanese, American, and European manufacturers of CNC equipment have announced new products based on the IBM PC. In an industry dominated by proprietary, incompatible control systems, these introductions provide official (though perhaps belated) recognition of a new age in numerical control: one in which the PC and the CNC become inseparable.

Once the domain of tiny start-ups such as Delta Tau Data Systems (Northridge, CA), PC-based NC has spread to such powerhouses as Fanuc (and US-based GE Fanuc), Mitsubishi Electric Industrial Controls, Cincinnati Milacron, Siemens, Fadal, NUM, Karatsu Iron Works, IBM Japan, and others. According to Mitsubishi, roughly 60 PC-based systems appeared at the IMTS show last fall in Chicago.

What's driving the trend? Flexibility, capability, cost, and customers. PCs allow users to develop custom front ends, run familiar CAM programs, and get away from cumbersome codes. "We recognize that PCs are the wave of the future," says Henry Glick, national sales manager at Mitsubishi.

Choosing a solution. Two distinct approaches have appeared: Plug a motion-control card into a PC slot to transform the computer into a CNC; or, use a PC as a front end to a conventional CNC. In the latter case, engineers either build the two into the same housing or join them with a network.

Each approach has its advantages. The first rides the wave of ever cheaper and more powerful PCs, making cost almost irrelevant.

The second solution separates the PC from the CNC. Proponents claim this insulates expensive CNC hardware from unnecessary changes provoked by the endless evolution of PC hardware and operating systems.

An example of the former is Mitsubishi's (Mt. Prospect, IL) MELDASMAGIC. Available in the first quarter, MELDASMAGIC is a full-function, four-axis CNC motion-control card that plugs into a standard PC ISA slot. The PC allows users to run familiar CAD/CAM software packages such as Virtual Gibbs from Gibbs & Associates (Moorpark, CA), SmartCAM from Point Control, (Eugene, OR), or SURFCAM from Surfware (San Fernando, CA). Background programming can occur while the card is running.

Most importantly, the card's performance isn't tied to the speed of the PC processor. But for proper screen updates, the company recommends at least a 486-class computer. "This PC/card combination has the same capabilities as our other CNC controls, and you can run any front-end program you want," says Glick.

Karatsu Iron Works (Tokyo, Japan) is also offering an add-in board and software for four-axis control. The board sells in Japan for the equivalent of $1,200 and the software for $330, and is being used by industrial and agricultural equipment makers. Currently, Karatsu's board and software run only on Japanese NEC PC 98 series computers. A DOS version is under development.

Other players include Delta Tau with its new PMAC (programmable multiaxis controller) board for Windows. It's essentially a PC equipped with control card, dual-port RAM board, and proprietary software. And, Cincinnati Milacron quietly unwrapped its Acramatic 2100, a Windows NT-based CNC.

Alternative approach. Engineers at GE Fanuc (Charlottesville, VA) feel PCs aren't ready to take on CNC work full time. "I see the risk as the need to continually upgrade your system to keep up with evolving PC technology," says John Turner, manager of CNC product marketing at GE Fanuc.

The company offers two alternatives to the CNC-on-a-card solution. One is MMC-IV, the Machine Management Control workstation. It consists of a single-board PC embedded in a common backplane bus with a conventional GE Fanuc CNC.

A second product, unveiled at IMTS, is Open System CNC. With Open System, a high-speed cable connects a communications card in the PC to one in the CNC. A hybrid solution, it maintains the user's familiar numerical controllers but provides a means to communicate with them via PC.

IBM Japan (Tokyo), has taken a somewhat different tack by basing its Integrated & Flexible Controller (IFC) on a modified version of a new real-time operating system developed at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center. Combined with a package of software drivers, it can control such things as a robot, screw feeder, conveyor, and bar-code reader for a machinery assembly cell or food processing line. The basic system uses a 486DX CPU with 4M Bytes RAM and a 170M Byte hard disk. With optional boards, the system offers the added capabilities of four-axis machine control and networking connections. IBM Japan touts the system's low cost.

World governments have a piece of the action as well. In Europe, the OSACA program (Open System Architecture for Control within Automation) combines machine-tool builders, CNC vendors, and universities. Participants include Siemens, Bosch, NUM, ATEC, Fagor, Index, Huron, and others.

  • Cheaper CNC

  • Integration with existing CAD/CAM programs

  • Simpler NC programming

In the U.S., the Air Force was scheduled to announce winners of an $8-million grant in its NGC (next generation controller) program. Both programs aspire for an open-architecture, generic, modular CNC standard. The PC may prove an essential component.

As an interesting alternative, researchers at Sandia National Laboratory have begun working with a company on an all-software solution. The still-proprietary method "would completely eliminate third-party motion-control boards," according to a laboratory spokesman.

Whatever the solution, it's clear that PCs and numerical controls will soon become fast friends. "We have no choice," says Glick. "Customers are demanding that capability."

-Mark A. Gottschalk, Western Technical Editor,
with Dennis Normile in Japan


PCMCIA revises PC Card design

Sunnyvale, CA--The Personal Computer Memory Card International Assoc. (PCMCIA) has recently unveiled a unified PC Card(TM) Standard. Compiled in a joint effort with the Japan Electronic Industry Development Assoc. (JEIDA), the new standard incorporates many technical enhancements designed to broaden the market for PC Card technology.

"We've witnessed a rapid proliferation of smaller, more mobile communications devices," says Stephen Harper, PCMCIA president and chairman. "This new standard addresses the most significant and timely technical issues in our industry."

The new criteria include:

  • Support for multiple function I/O cards. Manufacturers can now house several applications on one card, such as sound and data/FAX capabilities.

  • Low voltage support for 3.3V cards. This allows PC Card products to use energy more efficiently in laptops and hand-held PDAs, while also supporting future low-power initiatives.

  • Direct memory access (DMA) capability built-in. Products such as sound cards, network adaptors, and others can be designed without the developer having to emulate DMA in software.

  • A wide and higher-bandwidth 32-bit bus mastering interface, permitting 132M bytes/sec at 33 MHz. Performance-intensive applications such as 100Mbps Ethernet and full-motion video are now conceivable.

In addition to these benefits, developers must take advantage of new power-management regulations and address compatibility with an expanded Card Information Structure (CIS). This new structure should permit more comprehensive dialog between the card and host computer.


Hard-disk-drive makers agree on standards

Milpitas, CA--Systems designers who want the high performance of serial data-storage interfaces but aren't ready to bet on which will become the next industry standard can use the parallel Ultra SCSI as an interim solution. So say three major hard-disk-drive manufacturers: Quantum Corp., Hewlett-Packard, and Seagate Technology. The three have agreed to back 40M-byte/sec Ultra SCSI as an extension to the established SCSI standards, and are placing their bets on 100M-byte/sec Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop (FC-AL) as the serial interface of the future.

Applications for these standards include storage for mainframes, disk-array subsystems, and enterprise system servers. Drives using the Ultra SCSI standard will be available this quarter.

SCSI standards describe parallel interfaces, but OEMs are finding serial interfaces increasingly attractive. The reasons: simplified connectivity, the ability to hang many more drives on one cable, higher bandwidth, and increased reliability due to dual porting.

Three serial interfaces are contending for computer storage applications: FC-AL, SSA, and P1394 (or Firewire). Quantum's Product Line Manager Jon Toor says the three companies are betting on FC-AL because it offers higher performance and bandwidth. "Also, manufacturers already use it for box-to-box connections."

But adopting any of these interfaces will entail considerable cost and work for systems designers, so some companies will postpone making the decision until there is a clear winner. In the meantime, Ultra SCSI will let designers significantly improve the performance of existing parallel SCSI interfaces without committing to a potentially obsolete serial interface.

By speeding the clock rate, the Ultra SCSI interface can double burst transfer rates in existing drives without changing the physical connector.


Machine saves time in line

Cincinnati, OH--Everyone knows how convenient vending machines can be for cigarettes, drinks, and food. But what about a vending machine for tools? It may sound unusual, but Vertex Technologies, a marketing unit of developer Electronic Merchandising Systems, says the machine has enormous advantages.

Called the Automatic Tool Dispenser (ATD), the machine lets workers get drill bits, inserts, taps, and other perishable machine tooling at the touch of a button. The self-service machine permits each user to access tools in minutes by entering an individual code. The result: An end to long lines at the tool crib. In fact, the company claims that as much as 30 minutes of tool-retrieval time can be saved per machinist, per day.

Another benefit of the ATD: Managers can use data collected by the host computer to continuously monitor usage, inventory levels, and restocking requirements. Analysis of the data could result in more efficient tool acquisition and distribution.

Company officials also say the ATD can be used as an aid to true job costing. Data collected on tool usage can be linked with information such as what job each tool was used for and what cost or profit center each tool was used in. The resulting information can then be used to calculate quantitative factors such as comparative tool performance.

And, when the system is networked with off-site suppliers, direct real-time links can be established to facilitate automated JIT resupply. This would ensure that needed tools are always available and eliminate obsolete tool inventory, says Vertex. The ATD system will automatically update, electronically, levels of inventory, accounting, and all purchasing records.


HP's virtual napkin keeps everyone updated

Palo Alto, CA--Hewlett- Packard brings document conferencing to the desktop with its own introduction to the "whiteboard" revolution. OmniShare allows two users to share CAD drawings, text, and annotations while speaking on the phone. But, unlike many high-end conferencing systems, HP's slim, notebook-sized tablet needs only a standard, analog line.

Users load their documents into the tablet from any PC or via a FAX machine. An image of the document then appears on the tablet's screen. Using an electronic pen, both parties can mark-up the image, together in real-time.

Engineers can flip through several pages of drawings, rotate graphics, or zoom in for a close-up view-all while talking over the same line.

OmniShare is composed of a backlit, monochrome LCD screen/digitizing tablet, a connection unit that houses the computer hardware, and a cordless pen. Users can store up to 500 pages of text, and print to a standard printer. List price is $2,595.


3-D software models retrofit filter

New Port Richey, FL--When engineers at Pall Aeropower Corp. set about retrofitting a turbo-charged military vehicle with an air filter, they knew they wouldn't have much space to work with.

To model the component and fit the self-cleaning Turbodyne II filter to the small envelope of an exis-ting diesel engine, Pall engineers looked to CATIA version 4 design software from Dassault Systemes, Paramus, NJ.

"For complex shapes we'd normally have to build a mock-up physical model," explains project engineer Gerald Tang-Kong. "With CATIA, we tried a couple of configurations first to visualize it, and that saved time." Because the package offers seamless integration with stress and flow-analysis software, CATIA also simplifies the design process, adds Tang-Kong.

3-D software is especially critical for optimizing the design of complex components, says vice president of manufacturing Terry Flack. "3-D means we can extract surface data and check for clearances, wall thicknesses, and the weight of the finished item. An engineer can refine a design and watch it happening."

Pall engineers plan to use the 3-D model data to go directly to a stereolithography prototype of the filter, which will further speed the design process, says Tang-Kong. "Because the assembly will most likely end up in full production, we want to get it right the first time," he adds.

The most recent version of CATIA, Release 1.3, includes modules for sheetmetal design, rough cutting, generative part stress analysis, fitting simulation, and realistic imaging.


Imager lets firefighters see through smoke

Clifton, NJ--Searching for people trapped in a blazing building can create havoc for firefighters-especially when the fire involves dense smoke. But such rescue efforts should become less perilous with the introduction of a tactical accessory from Cairns & Brother.

The CairnsIRIS system consists of a helmet-mounted infrared sensor and a tiltable heads-up, high-resolution display, plus a separate belt-mounted processor. The technology relies on a heat-sensitive miniature ceramic chip (CCD) that reacts to infrared light in the 8-14 micron band. It detects temperature differences as small as 0.5F.

A tiny CRT in the binocular display provides the firefighter with vision in smoke and total darkness. Flipping the display up puts the system into a standby mode to conserve batteries. The firefighter can operate the single on/off switch while wearing heavy protective gloves, according to Joseph P. Kosiarski, Cairns' product manager.

Udel P-1700 polysulfone from Amoco Polymers, Alpharetta, GA, helps protect the heads-up display from excessive heat. The helmet-mounted IR sensor, display, and processor housings consist of Amoco's Radel R-5700 resin. The materials provide a higher temperature capability, as well as outstanding impact strength and chemical resistance, says Cairns Project Engineer Michael Barthold.

The system can also be used for fire-training sessions. With the device, the instructor can "see" students during live fire training. Moreover, faulty circuit breakers will heat up and glow in the IR spectrum, while wall studs can be located to determine the presence of fire breaks inside walls in arson investigations. In addition, industrial plant applications for the technology might include remote inspection of steam lines to detect which ones are hot.


VR system distracts dental patients

Seattle, WA--Going to the dentist wouldn't be so bad if your mind could just be somewhere else. That's the idea behind a new VR product called i-glasses! developed by Virtual I/O.

I-glasses! consist of two 0.7-inch full-color LCDs with 138,000 pixels per panel, mounted into a lightweight head-mounted display. They accept standard NTSC television input and allow patients to watch two- or (someday) three-dimensional programming-or play video games. A pair of built-in stereo headphones provide sound. Patterson Dental, the nation's largest dental supply firm, sees the glasses as a way to entertain anxious patients while helping to sell its intra-oral cameras used for patient education.

Unlike exit-pupil forming systems, such as binoculars, i-glasses! use an energy-window forming system developed under an Army small-business research grant. The optics lie several inches from the eye, accommodate standard eyeglasses, and need no inter-pupilary distance adjustment. They form an 80-inch diagonal image that appears to be 11 feet away. The system isn't immersive; users can see around the periphery of the glasses and, when switched off, see through the front as well.

Out of the dental office, Autodesk and Evans & Sutherland are studying i-glasses! for engineering applications. "It's perfectly 3-D capable," says Linden Rhoads, Virtual I/O's senior VP and co-founder. "CAD companies could offer true stereo 3-D visualization." An optional three-degree-of-freedom motion-tracking sensor provides head-position feedback for VR applications.

The current TV-oriented product lacks a computer monitor's resolution. But a monochrome VGA version appeared at Fall Comdex, and Rhoads expects color VGA units to appear as quickly as LCD manufacturers can create the displays. I-glasses! cost $599 for the base model and $799 for the version with head-tracker and VGA converter.


Lincoln Continental sports wealth of changes

Washington, DC--"Design the best front-wheel-drive car in the world." That was the challenge management handed the engineering team for the '95 Lincoln Continental.

"We're known for technological innovation," boasted Keith C. Magee, general manager for Ford's Lincoln-Mercury division. He is particularly proud of the way designers solved a major problem with torque.

In replacing the 3.8l V-6 engine of last year's Lincoln with a new 4.6l InTech(R) V-8, power perked up 62%. That called for a new front-wheel-drive transaxle able to handle the top torque output of the engine and a significantly higher operating rpm range than before.

To meet the need, the engineering team created the AX4N, a four-speed overdrive transaxle with electronic controls. It has non-synchronous shifting, which not only improves torque demand, but also allows coasting downshifts during urban driving.

The AX4N has an extra friction plate in the forward, direct, and intermediate clutches, with near-net shape differential gears. It also carries a new high-capacity torque converter clutch with a stouter friction element to reduce energy density.

Other transaxle improvements: a balanced piston added to the intermediate clutch, a new Grob spline joint on the overdrive drum and shell, and a set of high-strength pins in the drive chain.

To hush the engine, Ford engineers for the first time inserted a blanket of sound-absorbing fiberglass material in the valley between the fore and aft cylinder banks.

The car's body rests upon a completely redesigned suspension. The system operates with accelerometers, a linear position sensor at each wheel, and fast-acting damper actuators.

An on-board computer figures out the best damping rate and time to change the strut or shock damper between states of firm, normal, or "plush" suspension.

How well did Lincoln designers meet their challenge? Alex Trotman, Ford's chairman and CEO, gave Design News his opinion: "We have a real world-beater on our hands."

--Walter Wingo, Washington Editor


Design brains beat manufacturing brawn

Madison, WI--Rayovac Corp.'s Workhorse(R) line of portable fluorescent lights used to be made overseas. Recently, with advances in design-for-manufacturing and concurrent-engineering techniques, the company assembled what it called the "Off-Shore-No-More" team to redesign the light and test the economic feasibility of building it in the U.S.

As a partner in the venture, Rayovac chose Flambeau Corp., a large custom injection molder and custom assembler with headquarters in Baraboo, WI. The team brought the parts count on the new light from 78 down to 36. It also developed innovative assembly procedures that reduced non-value-added work and lowered the unit cost enough to make domestic manufacture possible.

Martin Wirt, director of product development for Rayovac's Lighting Products Division, praises his manufacturing partner: "The Workhorse 8 is a better light because of the input from Flambeau."

Specific design changes include the handle, which now requires two parts instead of the previous six. Fasteners have been reduced from 11 screws and three rivets to a single screw and no rivets. The inverter circuit board went from 25 parts to 13 and now boasts an inductive feedback feature that boosts light output for a given battery charge.

The lens changed from an extruded part that required cutting and supplemental assembly to a net-shape injection-molded component of Ektar(R) thermoplastic olefin. Bonding the olefin lens to the ABS base required a unique sonic-welding process developed, prototyped, and tested by Flambeau engineers along with Branson Ultrasonics Corp., Danbury, CT.

The light's assembly line uses work cells to minimize parts handling. For example, molding-machine operators print on-off position indicators on the base unit at a station adjacent to the molder instead of sending them to a separate printing station. Lenses move from a molding machine via robotic handlers, then mate with top and base units at ultrasonic welding stations. Workers attach minimal final componentry, package the units, and ship them directly to Rayovac's distribution center.

Workhorse 8's sales have been brisk since the redesign, the companies say, but its production team still meets regularly to lower costs and improve the design further.


American firm snares top Japanese quality award

Mesquite, TX--A division of AT&T has become the first U.S.-based winner of Japan's prestigious Deming Prize for quality control.

AT&T Power Systems, maker of devices that regulate and distribute electrical power, says its Total Quality Management (TQM) system initiated in 1990 slashed development time in half, boosted outgoing-product quality 20-fold, and met customers' re-quested shipping dates 95% of the time. Officials say more than 98% of possible items are recycled.

One key to the program: concurrent engineering, says Jim Wadlington, director of modular power systems. "That has been very effective for us. We have a lot more allegiance to the needs of the factory than most design organizations."

The teamwork goes beyond simply collaborating on product development. Design and manufacturing engineers worked together to develop an extensive set of written guidelines, to ensure that designs can be manufactured efficiently. A typical first complaint from newly hired engineers, he admits: "We're too rigid." However, the company makes sure that engineers develop the guidelines themselves. "It works very well when people are involved in developing the process, not when it comes across as a management directive," he says.

AT&T Power Systems says it combines Japanese-style TQM with respect for the individuality of American workers. Employee suggestions at the division soared from 50 to more than 7,000 per year. The company's devices are incorporated into products ranging from laptop computers to major telephone systems.

The Deming Prize, awarded annually by the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers, honors W. Edwards Deming, an American manufacturing pioneer whose quality-control theories helped Japanese firms rebuild from the ashes of World War II.

One of America's top quality honors, the Baldrige granted by the U.S. Commerce Department, was not awarded in the manufacturing category this year. However, Baldrige service recognition went to another unit of AT&T, its customer long-distance business, along with GTE's Directories Corp. Wainwright Industries, which makes stamped and machined products, earned the small-business award.

Technology Bulletin

Technology Bulletin

Prototype brings UNIX to blind users

For blind or visually impaired computer users, the buttons and icons of a graphical user interface can make a software program impossible to use. A new auditory interface system developed by engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, NASA, and Sun Microsystems solves that problem for the most widely used UNIX graphical interface, X-Windows. The Mercator prototype substitutes sounds for the visual cues that help sighted users to navigate a program. The system will allow sighted and blind computer users to work side-by-side on UNIX workstations, using the same applications software. For details, fax the Georgia Institute at (404) 894-6983.


OEM partnership to develop low-cost sensors

An OEM partnership called the Uncooled Low-cost Technology Reinvestment Alliance (ULTRA) will develop and manufacture advanced industrial and military infrared heat-detecting sensors and components. Conventional thermography systems use mechanical scanners and detectors that must be cooled to cryogenic temperatures. In contrast, ULTRA sensors will use silicon microbolometer uncooled focal plant array detectors made using standard silicon semiconductor processes, and will operate at room temperature. The ULTRA effort will reduce the costs of infrared radiometric and imaging sensors by a factor of eight, predict engineers. Partners include Inframetrics, Rockwell International, and Honeywell. For more information, fax Inframetrics at (508) 667-2702.


Time to enter R&D 100 awards

R&D MAGAZINE is accepting entries for the annual R&D 100 awards. The award is an international competition that recognizes innovators and organizations for outstanding applied sciences developments and technological advancement. The winning products will be honored in a four-week exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago from September 15 through October 14. Past winners include the electronic video recorder (1969), the automatic teller (1973), the fax machine (1975), and the digital compact cassette (1993). For an application, fax "R&D 100 Entry Forms" at (708) 390-2618.


System brings automated refueling down to earth

Engineers at Robosoft S.A. in France have developed OSCAR, a 24-hour robotic refueling system specifically designed for fleets of vehicles. Among OSCAR's features is a robotic sensing device that locates the vehicle's fuel-tank filler cap, unscrews it, and replaces it when the tank is full. An electronic on-board label system captures data such as vehicle ID, date, and location of the tank filler. Engineers have tested prototypes for three years, and the company plans to commercialize the technology in France this year.


NASA and Ford to transfer technology

NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, and Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, MI, have agreed to a two-year cooperative agreement that will allow Ford engineers to use NASA-developed technology to improve the design and engineering of new vehicles. NASA and Ford designated eight technology areas after assessing more than 60 Langley technologies. Among them: computational fluid dynamics, flow measurement techniques, antenna measurements, and advanced materials to improve manufacturing processes. The agreement marks the first broad technology transfer between NASA and any automaker. For details, fax NASA at (202) 358-2983.


Million-mile, ten-year auto radiators?

New technologies such as no-flux brazing and inno-vative tube and fin designs may yield copper and brass automotive radiators that offer one million miles of service and a ten-year life. So say engineers at the Copper Development Association (CDA) and the International Copper Association. The new radiators, which may be ready for manufacture as early as this year, will be 30% to 40% lighter than their modern counterparts, claim developers. Other technologies under test include anneal-resistant fin and tube alloys, laser-welded tubes, and electrophoretic coatings. For information, fax the CDA in New York at (212) 251-7234.


Micromirrors may make optical coupling easier and cheaper

Using surface micromachining techniques, engineers at University of California, Berkeley, have miniaturized optical systems that use movable beam-steering mirrors. Their microscopic version, designed for fiber-optic systems, uses a micromotor not much larger than the cross-section of a human hair to make mirror adjustments. The entire movable micromirror fits within an area four-hundredths of an inch square. The gold-plated micromirror reflects laser beams into optic fibers for communication systems, environmental sensing, or for optical scanners where the mirrors are continuously vibrated. The micromirrors will be especially useful in systems that require precise alignment, say researchers. They claim that due to their very small mass, the micromirrors can survive a six-foot fall without going out of alignment. For details, fax the Berkley Sensor and Actuator Center at (510) 643-6637.


Rotary engine passes beta tests

A prototype rotary engine developed by Canadian-based firm Reg Technologies, Inc., recently passed test-firing with continuous combustion on both sides of the rotor. The test verified successful combustion, the sealing design, and the ignition system, say Reg engineers. The Rand Cam engine uses only seven moving parts. It offers a power-to-weight ratio of less than one pound of engine weight per horsepower-compared to a six-to-one ratio for piston engines, say Reg engineers. The engine is being modified in Detroit for use as a compressor for auto air-conditioning units. Look for a diesel version from Hercules Aerospace and West Virginia University within a year. For more information, fax John Robertson in Vancouver at (604) 241-4232.


Composite structures to bridge the future?

Innovative polymer matrix composite materials may go a long way towards repairing deteriorated bridges in the U.S. and reducing the cost of offshore oil rigs. With help from a three-year, $2,000,000 award from the government Advanced Technology Program, engineers at Morrison Molded Fiber Glass Co., Bristol, VA, plan to design new composite structural members using glass and carbon fibers in a resin matrix. Morrison will work with engineers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, to optimize composite shapes and testing. The firm plans to develop the process capabilities and build the necessary pultrusion equipment in-house. For details, fax Morrison at (703) 645-8132.


Performance fluids replace CFCs

3M Engineering Fluids and Systems, St. Paul, MN, has announced replacements that may help electronics, computer, and medical-device manufacturers meet phase-out requirements for CFCs and ozone-depleting compounds (ODCs). Existing perfluorocarbon products, known as 3M Performance Fluids, address applications defined by the EPA's Significant New Alternatives Policy. 3M is also developing new hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) products with short atmospheric lifetimes that include: highly inert liquids for applications where containment and recycling are difficult, high-solvent-power liquids formulated as "drop- in' replacements for CFC-113 in applications such as vapor degreasing, and fluorinated gases for heat-transfer and refrigeration uses. The new products are expected to be available later this year. For details, call 3M at (800) 621-6413.


'Space age' microprocessor withstands radiation

Hitachi Ltd. and the National Space Development Agency (NASDA) of Japan have jointly designed a 32-bit RISC microprocessor that they claim can withstand hard-radiation environments such as outer space. The processor is insulated with a 1,200-nanometer layer of silicon nitride film on top and a 550-nanometer silicon dioxide film below. Tests confirm that the microprocessor withstands radiation equal to that encountered by a satellite operating in geostationary orbit for 10 years, Hitachi reports. NASDA plans to conduct a series of tests in low-Earth orbit using satellites during the next few years. For details, fax Hitachi in Japan at +81 3 3258 2375.


New composite may aid thermal management

Electronic systems engineers are faced with the challenge of designing high-performance thermal management systems that are both lightweight and economical. A new composite developed by DuPont and Lanxide Electronics Composites may offer one solution. Lanxide's process combines silicon carbide and aluminum to produce composites that exhibit low thermal coefficients of expansion and high thermal conductivity. The composite-silicon-carbide-reinforced aluminum-has a thermal conductivity comparable to that of aluminum alloys. Another benefit: Its thermal coefficient of expansion closely matches those of commonly used ceramic materials and semiconductors. For more information, fax Lanxide in the U.K. at +44 929 550357.


Optical wheel-rotation sensor to boost brakes

Engineers at NTN Bearing Corp., Mt. Prospect, IL, and Los Alamos National Laboratory are developing an optical wheel-rotation sensor for future automatic braking systems (ABS). They predict that future cars will use fiber-optic communications systems that offer several advantages over conventional wiring: They aren't damaged by salt or water, and they don't oxidize. Another advantage to the optic sensor is that it suffers no signal loss when the vehicle slows down. Since the sensor works down to zero speed, the same sensor can be used with the speedometer. For details, fax NTN Bearing at (708) 297-2552.