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Articles from 2016 In January

SkyMath iPad App Provides Fun, Personalized Math Learning for Kids

Helping to turn kids into math whizzes and inspire them for future learning? There’s a new app for that, thanks to SkyMath, a new iPad app from San Francisco-based Circumventure Learning that it’s heralding as “the most fun, most personalized math mentor imaginable.”

While some kids naturally excel at math in school, many don’t. With the need for more skilled workers to enter STEM (science, technology, education, and mathematics) careers in the United States, there’s a major effort underway to help kids begin developing these skills -- even if they’re not naturally adept at them -- at an early age.

SkyMath is aimed at aiding in this task for young school-aged children. It’s been designed to help kids of all math levels improve their aptitude for math -- the “M” in STEM -- in a fun and customized way, said SkyMath CEO Scott Hamilton, the brainchild behind the app.

A screenshot from the SkyMath app.
(Source: SkyMath/Circumventure Learning)

“SkyMath is a great way to help young students gain knowledge and confidence in mathematics,” he said. “American students have not improved their math abilities while students in many other developed countries are improving and getting ahead. Our girls, in particular, continue to not fare well in math, despite the fact that they are inherently as good, if not better, at math as boys.”

He said the iPad was a natural fit for the app since kids today already spend a lot of time on the device. “It is a great way to help turn some of that time into a way for them to get ahead in math,” Hamilton said. “Greater knowledge and confidence in math will help them in science, technology, problem solving, and critical thinking, all of which will help them get into a good college and eventually have much better job opportunities.”

[Learn more trends and developments at Pacific Design & Manufacturing, Feb. 9-11, at the Anaheim Convention Center.]

Hamilton also said that as a father, he was unsatisfied with the myriad apps already available to help kids learn math skills. Rather than just something that could help parents assess a child’s ability, he also was looking for a tool that could provide guidance from educators on the best way for children to learn at their individual pace and skill level.

Hamilton is no slouch himself in helping kids achieve learning goals, as a veteran of educational programs for more than 25 years. For five years he led the effort to grow the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) to develop inner-city schools from two schools in 2000 to more than 160 presently. He also served as Massachusetts’ Associate Commissioner of Education, among other educational organizations.

Available on iTunes, SkyMath uses an adaptive diagnostic test to assess a child’s skill level and identify areas with the greatest opportunity for growth. It then creates a personalized learning profile for each child with recommendations on other educational apps to help them develop math skills at their own level.

Once a child establishes a certain confidence in a skill, they can return to the SkyMath app to continue developing math proficiency in higher skill levels, according to SkyMath. To make learning fun, the app uses an interface in which children enter various “islands” full of animated characters, such as animals, as they progress through skills. It also integrates other apps for them to use as they are appropriate to a child’s learning.

The first five “islands” of SkyMap that assess a child’s level are available for free, but there are fees for higher-level sets of learning islands and other applications available through the platform. Most of the apps are less than $4, but some cost a bit more, according to the company.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

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Gadget Freak Case #276: See UFOs and Explosives With a DIY Polarimetric Camera

It's no secret that there are entire wavelengths of light invisible to the human eye. Animals and insects have eyes that can filter light and polarize it to all sorts of benefits like seeing in the dark and hunting prey. For a more in-depth definition you should consult your old college physics book, but the idea of polarized light is that it oscillates on a single plane, as opposed to scattered around like normal sunlight or lamp light.

You've probably seen cameras use polarization filters to enhance or remove certain colors in a shot. But this is really only the tip of the iceberg. Long story short, if a human could see in polarized light he or she would be able to detect all sorts of things normally invisible to the naked eye.

Enter the polarimetric camera.

Design News reader David Prutchi has come up with a project - the DOLPi - an affordable, Raspberry Pi-based polarization camera that anyone can use to see polarized light. Aside from some interesting visuals you'll also gain the ability to detect unseen objects like pollutants and hidden explosive devices (if you're the sort of person concerned about that sort of thing...we don't judge).This project was a finalst in the 2015 Hack-A-Day competition.

Prutchi has included a whitepaper with highly detailed build instructions, a parts list, and Python source code to run the camera.

Watch the video below for an explanation of the DOLPi and to see it in action:

Download the full build instructions and parts list here

Want to submit your own project to Gadget Freak? Email us! Be sure to include "Gadget Freak" in the subject line.

As always, Gadget Freak is brought to you by Allied Electronics and Design News. You can recreate David Prutchi's gadget using the parts list below:


Component reference Component/Material Source
RasPi Raspberry Pi 2 - Model B - ARMv7 with 1G RAM Allied Stock#: 70465426
SD Card SanDisk SAEMSD64GBU3 64GB
Extreme UHS-I microSDXC Memory Card (U3/Class 10)
B&H Photo
+5V Power Supply 5V 2A Switching Power Supply w/ 20AWG 6' MicroUSB Cable Adafruit ID: 1995
RasPi NoIR Camera Raspberry Pi NoIR Camera Board - Infrared-sensitive Camera Allied Stk #: 70323539
RasPi Touchscreen Pi Foundation PiTFT - 7" Touchscreen Display for Raspberry Pi Allied Stk #: 70689378
Keyboard/Mouse USB keyboard and mouse Allied Stock#: 70472529
USB cable USB male to USB micro male 6” cable
To connect Raspberry Pi to Pi Foundation PiTFT Touchscreen
Allied Stock#: 70591759
Lepton® Longwave Infrared (LWIR) Imager FLIR Lepton® Development Kit Sparkfun Part No. KIT-13233
Wires to connect FLIR Lepton®
Break-out board to Servo Hat
Premium Female/Female Jumper Wires - 40 x 12" (300mm) Adafruit ID: 793
EMI filter for Lepton® Fair-Rite P/N 0443164251/B1 Allied Stock#: R1057478
Servo Controller Adafruit 16-Channel PWM/Servo HAT for Raspberry Pi Adafruit ID: 2327
2 x Servos Two HiTec HS-322HD heavy-duty standard-size ±90⁰ hobby servos Jameco Part No. 395760

4 x Wire Grid Linear
Polarizer Film Filters
Four 14.5 mm x 14.5 mm filters cut from 80 mm x 50 mm Asahi KASEI wire-grid polarizing film sample. MeCan Imaging
RHCP and LHCP Circular
Polarizer Film Filters
RHCP and LHCP polarizer films taken from RealD 3D movie glasses RealD movie glasses
VIS Filter 1” diameter BG-39 glass filter Edmund Optics Catalog Number 48637
IR Filter 1” diameter optical-cast plastic IR filter Edmund Optics Catalog Number 43948
UV Filter 1” diameter BG-39 glass filter + 1” diameter UG-1 glass filter Edmund Optics Catalog Number 48637 + 46047
Filter Retention Rings Easy-Install Spiral Internal Retaining Ring,
Spring Steel, for 1" Diameter
McMaster-Carr Part Number 91663A570 (10 pack)
3D Printed Parts

Polarization Analyzer Filter Wheel 3D printed Polarization Analyzer Filter Wheel. Black PLA or ABS DIY using FilterWheelSquare.stl
Bandpass Selection Filter Wheel 3D printed Polarization Analyzer Filter Wheel.
Bandpass Selection Filter Wheel. Black PLA or ABS
DIY using FilterWheelCircle.stl
Light Shield Enclosure Section 3D printed Polarization Analyzer Filter Wheel.
Light Shield Enclosure Section. Black PLA or ABS
DIY using LightShieldFrame.stl
Enclosure Back 3D printed Polarization Analyzer Filter Wheel.
Enclosure Back. Black PLA or ABS
DIY using EnclosureBack.stl
Mechanical Hardware

Front Plate and Main Chassis Multipurpose 6061 Aluminum, Brushed Finish, 0.032" Thick. Front Plate and Main Chassis cut and drilled per templates Machined from one sheet of McMaster-Carr Part Number 1651T11
Tripod Mount Multipurpose 6061 Aluminum Rectangular Bar,
7/8" x 7/8" profile. Tripod mount machined per template.
Cut from McMaster-Carr Part Number 9008K13
4 x Chassis-to-Front Plate Standoffs Four Aluminum Male-Female Threaded Hex Standoff,
1/4" Hex, 7/8" Length, 4-40 Screw Size
McMaster-Carr Part Number 93505A445
4 x Chassis-to-Touchscreen Standoffs Four Aluminum Male-Female Threaded Hex Standoff,
1/4" Hex, 2" Length, 4-40 Screw Size
McMaster-Carr Part Number 93505A439
4 x Chassis-to-RasPi Standoffs Four Aluminum Male-Female Threaded Hex Standoff,
1/4" Hex, 9/32" Length, 4-40 Screw Size
McMaster-Carr Part Number 93505A476
4 x RasPi to Servo Hat Standoffs Four Aluminum Male-Female Threaded Hex Standoff,
1/4" Hex, 13/32" Length, 4-40 Screw Size
McMaster-Carr Part Number 93505A485
8 x Servo Standoffs Eight Aluminum Male-Female Threaded Hex Standoff,
1/4" Hex, 11/32" Length, 4-40 Screw Size
McMaster-Carr Part Number 93505A482
¼” 4-40 screws 18-8 Stainless Steel Pan Head Phillips Machine Screw,
4-40 Thread, 1/4" Length
McMaster-Carr Part Number 91772A106 (100 pack)
RasPi Standoff Screws 18-8 Stainless Steel Pan Head Phillips Machine Screw,
4-40 Thread, 3/16" Length
McMaster-Carr Part Number 91772A105 (100 pack)
4/40 nuts Type 18-8 Stainless Steel Hex Nut, 4-40 Thread Size,
1/4" Wide, 3/32" High
McMaster-Carr Part Number 91841A005 (100 pack)
LEPTON screws 18-8 Stainless Steel Flat Head Phillips Machine Screw,
1-72 Thread, 1" Length
McMaster-Carr Part Number 91771A175 (50 pack)
LEPTON nuts Low-Strength Steel Hex Nut, Zinc Plated,
1-72 Thread Size, 5/32" Wide, 3/64" High
McMaster-Carr Part Number 90480A002 (100 pack)
RasPi NoIR camera screws Nylon Pan Head Machine Screw, Phillips, 2-56 Thread, 1" Length McMaster-Carr Part Number 93135A019 (100 pack)
RasPi NoIR camera nuts and LEPTON spacers Nylon 6/6 Hex Nut, 2-56 Thread Size, 3/16" Wide, 1/16" High McMaster-Carr Part Number 94812A100 (100 pack)
Hub screws and nuts 0-80 Thread Size machine screws Ace Hardware

Glue White paper glue to retain polarizing film filters Office supplies store
Double-sided tape Heavy-duty double-sided tape to adhere EMI filter to Chassis plate Office supplies store
Adhesive tape ½” adhesive tape to tack front servo wire to Front Plate Office supplies store

DOLPI-EO Electro-Optic Polarimetric Camera

Component reference Component/Material Source
RasPi Raspberry Pi 2 - Model B - ARMv7 with 1G RAM Allied Stock#: 70465426
SD Card SanDisk SAEMSD64GBU3 64GB Extreme
UHS-I microSDXC Memory Card (U3/Class 10)
B&H Photo
+5V Power Supply 5V 2A Switching Power Supply w/ 20AWG 6' MicroUSB Cable Adafruit ID: 1995
RasPi Camera Raspberry Pi Camera Board Allied Stk #: 70280250
RasPi Touchscreen Pi Foundation PiTFT - 7" Touchscreen Display for Raspberry Pi Allied Stk #: 70689378
Keyboard/Mouse USB keyboard and mouse Allied Stock#: 70472529
D1 Blue LED (rectangular, ground to 4mm height) Radio Shack 276-0013
R1 270 Ω, ¼ W Allied Stk #: 70183331
R2 7mm diameter CdS LDR Any electronic parts store
R3 10 kΩ, ¼ W Allied Stk #: 70022898
R4 22 kΩ, ¼ W Allied Stk #: 70063067
R5 100 kΩ trimmer potentiometer Allied Stk #: 70154049
C1, C2 0.01 µF monolithic Allied Stk #: 70186297
C3, C5 0.1 µF monolithic Allied Stk #: 70186301
C4 10 µF / 25V tantalum Allied Stk #: 70195923
Perfboard (will eventually be PCB) 0.1” x 0.1” pefboard cut to 98 mm x 55 mm Allied Stk#: 70219540
GPIO Header Extra-tall stacking 40 pin header Adafruit ID: 19179
U1 MAX392 or similar low-impedance N.O. quad analog switch Mouser Electronics Part No. 700-MAX392CPE
U2 CD40106 Hex Schmitt Trigger Inverters Mouser Electronics Part No.595-CD40106BE
VCPA VCPA hacked from auto-darkening welding mask filter per text Online (Amazon, eBay, etc). Filter manufactured by “Mask” (see Figure 13)
ADC ADS1015 Breakout Board - 12-Bit ADC -
4 Channel with Programmable Gain Amplifier
Allied Stock#: 70460623
DAC MCP4725 Breakout Board - 12-Bit DAC w/I2C Interface Allied Stock#: 70460904

LCP Enclosure 3D-printed enclosure 3D-print DOLPi3.stl
Enclosure Raspberry Pi Touchscreen Enclosure; For Use With:Raspberry Pi 7"Touch Screen with Pi B+ or Pi 2 Boards;
External Height: 131mm;
External Width: 213.2mm; External Depth: 51.5mm;
Element14 Catalog No. 55Y8475
Camera mounting screws Four M2.5 x 1” nylon machine screws and eight matching nylon nuts Hardware store
Tripod mounting block ¾” x ¾” x 4” aluminum machined as shown Machined from McMaster-Carr 9008K12

Images via David Prutchi

Another Use for 3D Printing: Physically Modeling Fluid Flow Trajectory Lines

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software is widely used by the mechanical engineering community to determine fluid flow. The most important information is typically how variables such as density, velocity, and temperature change as the fluid flows inside or around a structure.

3D printing allows the creation of models that brilliantly display flow simulations that can be used for product demonstrations or at trade shows to describe designs more vividly. The lines in the model depict the flow of fluids, and different colors indicate changes to key variables.

Figure 1 shows a CAD model of a globe valve. The left side has an inlet with mass flow rate defined and the right side indicates atmospheric pressure.

Figure 1: CAD model of a globe valve.
(Source: GoEngineer)

Flow trajectory data are analyzed using images and animations within the CFD software. In Figure 2, the flow of water is analyzed and the trajectory lines for velocity distribution are displayed. The range of colors between blue and red represents slower to faster velocities.

Figure 2: Flow trajectories showing velocity inside a globe valve.
(Source: GoEngineer)

SolidWorks Flow Simulation can export the trajectory lines as curves that can be used to create solid bodies. To represent multiple colors, a single curve might entail four or five different solid bodies, since each solid body must be a unique color (Figure 3). The fluid volume can also be exported as a separate solid body. This body represents the entire space inside the structure where the fluid can flow.

[Visit SolidWorks at booths 3401 at Pacific Design & Manufacturing, Feb. 9-11, at the Anaheim Convention Center.]

Figure 3: CAD model showing solid bodies of flow trajectory lines.
(Source: GoEngineer)

The volume occupied by the solid bodies representing the flow trajectories is subtracted from the fluid volume to ensure there is no overlap. This completes the creation of the structural geometry; its trajectories are ready for 3D printing. (The assembly file is saved in STL format.)

[Visit Stratasys at booths 3601 and 3605 at Pacific Design & Manufacturing, Feb. 9-11, at the Anaheim Convention Center.]

A Stratasys Connex3 printer is used to additively manufacture the 3D model in Figure 4 in approximately 18 hours. The Connex3 uses PolyJet technology, which can print in the widest variety of materials. PolyJet 3D printing is similar to inkjet printing, but instead of jetting ink onto paper, it jets layers of curable liquid photopolymer onto a build tray.

Figure 4: 3D-Printed flow model showing trajectory lines of a globe valve.
(Source: GoEngineer)

The Connex3 printer has the ability to print three colors or any mixture of the three colors. Figure 5 shows the palette. The three colors used in this example are Vero Clear, Vero Yellow, and Vero Blue. The engineer assigns colors for each of the solid bodies from this palette.

Figure 5: Palette used for 3D printing the flow trajectories shown in Figure 4.
(Source: GoEngineer)

Creating a CAD model with solid bodies is an elaborate process. However, the end result is a transparent 3D-printed part that shows, with easily distinguishable colors, the details of how fluid flows inside a given geometry or around it.


3D printed models of flow trajectories are more likely to be used for sales and marketing purposes. However, the value to the product development process should not be overlooked. When everyone on the team can see a physical example of the problem they are trying to solve, it often generates new ideas and approaches to solve the problem at hand.

Similar 3D prints may also serve as engineering or educational models for the classroom. The medical community already uses 3D printing to make anatomical models for learning.

Manufacturing applications engineer Arvind Krishnan works at GoEngineer, focusing on finite element analysis and 3D printing. He completed his master’s degree in mechanical engineering at North Carolina State University with a thesis in Using Michell Truss Principles to find an Optimal Structure Suitable for Additive Manufacturing. Arvind enjoys playing tennis, badminton, racquetball, chess, and soccer; he is also passionate about hiking and cooking.

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Seashells Hold Clues to Stronger Materials

Anyone who has been to the beach knows how strong some seashells can be, while chalk is a material that’s easy to break and is soft enough to allow for drawing on a blackboard or sidewalk.

Calcium carbonate is a material common to both of these items, and it’s the subject of breakthrough research from the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory that is providing clues to the development of stronger materials that can be used in the renewable energy field.

Calcium carbonate crystals are hard materials that also include clumps of soft biological matter that make them stronger. The work of the research team, which includes research scientist Jim De Yoreo, is exploring how these clumps use chemical reactions to integrate with atoms in the crystals, providing insight into the formation of natural composite minerals that include both soft and hard components.

Calcium carbonate is a common material found in seashells that contributes to their strength. It’s the subject of new research from the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory that is providing clues to the development of stronger materials that can be used in the renewable energy field.
(Source: Wikipedia)

The team discovered where the compressive strain of the crystals that makes it harder to disrupt their underlying structure -- the key to the materials’ strength -- comes from. Based on their observations of this process, scientists hope to develop new materials for a sustainable energy future, De Yoreo said.

"This work helps us to sort out how rather weak crystals can form composite materials with remarkable mechanical properties," he said. "It also provides us with ideas for trapping carbon dioxide in useful materials to deal with the excess greenhouse gases we're putting in the atmosphere, or for incorporating light-responsive nanoparticles into highly ordered crystalline matrices for solar energy applications."

[Learn more materials trends and developments at Pacific Design & Manufacturing, Feb. 9-11, at the Anaheim Convention Center.]

Indeed, materials researchers know that calcium carbonate is one of the most important natural materials on earth. It crystalizes into chalk, shells, and rocks, and is used by animals from mollusks to humans to make biominerals such as pearls, seashells, and exoskeletons. All of these biominerals include proteins or other organic matter in the crystalline matrix to change weak calcium carbonate to hard, durable materials.

To determine the geochemical principles of how these biominerals form -- and also how to build synthetic materials with unique properties and in any shape or size -- has been the subject of scientific research for many years. The significance of the latest work from the DoE is that scientists discovered the origin compressive strain that helps make calcium carbonate stronger, providing clues how to replicate this in new materials, De Yoreo said.

Before this work, the leading explanation for how growing crystals incorporate proteins and other particles was based in mechanics. That is, particles land on the flat surface of calcium carbonate as it is crystallizing and the calcium carbonate attaches over and around the particles, trapping them. De Yoreo compared this to a wave washing over a rock, with the crystals moving too fast for the particles to get out of the way.

This explanation, however, lacks details about where the strain within the material comes from. By using atomic force microscopy (AFM), De Yoreo and his team used a high concentration of calcium carbonate that naturally forms a crystalline mineral known as calcite to find the solution, using a several-step, chemistry-driven approach involving introducing organic molecule-based spheres called micelles into the mix.

During the chemical process, the calcium carbonate closed around the micelles and buried them within the crystals, according to researchers. A mathematical simulation showed that the micelles -- or any spherical inclusions -- are compressed like springs as the calcium carbonate enclosed them, creating a strain in the crystal lattice between the micelles that gives it mechanical strength. This strain likely accounts for the added strength seen in seashells, pearls, and similar biominerals, researchers said.

The work will form the basis for new materials research for solar energy at the DoE. The DoE Office of Science and National Institutes of Health provided support for the research.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

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Sensing and Connecting Our Way into a More Predictive, Prescriptive World

Instrumenting manufacturing equipment with sensors is an old and trusted practice used by everyone who has an interest in maintaining productivity. Downtime, when equipment has to be taken offline for maintenance or repair, is costly and cumbersome for manufacturers, often interrupting entire production processes.

Subsequently, the run-to-failure, colloquially known as the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” model of maintenance, was quickly replaced by preventative maintenance, using the mean-time-to-failure (MTTF) model to schedule upkeep. However, the MTTF model wasn’t particularly effective, causing operators to take machinery offline for upkeep when it was still perfectly functional while missing events that caused equipment to break and require repair outside regular maintenance schedules. That’s where predictive maintenance, also known as condition-based monitoring, comes in, examining changes in equipment condition to predict potential failures.

In the 1950s, the first vibration meters measured the overall vibration of a machine; shortly thereafter, tunable analog filters helped to discriminate frequency components, allowing a more qualitative analysis to the traditional method of “hey, that machine doesn’t sound right” –- which up to that point had essentially been the status quo. Sensor technology continued to advance with acoustic, magnetic, resistive, piezoelectric, capacitive, photoelectric, and thermal modules, all of which became important tools in machine health diagnostics.

Given that sensor technology has been around for the better part of 60 years, why is there currently so much hype and discussion around predictive maintenance? It is the result of the Internet of Things revolution, and if we look at the industrial Internet as the physical network used by industries to monitor, analyze, and act on data collected throughout their processes and environments, we can explore how connectivity and sensor innovation is driving a new era of manufacturing capability. We’ve moved from instrumenting individual pieces of equipment with sensor arrays for tracking their operation to connecting entire production lines to the Internet to understand the production processes in the broader context of time and resource efficiency.

Sensors, which have long had a home in the manufacturing realm, are now playing an increasingly important role in creating more efficient, productive, and safety-oriented manufacturing. But beyond that, what’s most exciting is that sensors for preventative maintenance now go well beyond manufacturing, expanding into monitoring of critical infrastructure, medical imaging systems, jet engines, power lines, oil and gas drilling rigs –- the list and applications are essentially endless.

Connecting sensors and sensor data to access predictive analytics will allow end users to capitalize on the advancements in machine learning to develop more robust predictive maintenance schedules. It’s important to note that adding connectivity is only as valuable as the data and insight gained from those connections. Connecting devices for the sake of it rarely leads to valuable insight, so it’s important to maintain a strong connection between the data you’re collecting and the insight you’re attempting to extract from it.

There is no magical solution today; adding sensors to every piece of equipment and automation device and connecting them to the Internet will not lead to groundbreaking insights about production processes. Instead, we will see a slow but steady stream of progress wherein sensor innovation -– better, faster, and cheaper sensors -– feed data into analytics systems that will provide more accurate feedback and monitoring. Slow and steady progress should not be discouraging, because that progress can lead to huge savings –- like the offshore oil rig operator that uses GE’s connected solutions and was able to save $7.5 million in lost production by replacing a part proactively.

We can thus look forward to a future of cost savings, safer industries, and averted catastrophes thanks to the insight we will gain from connected sensors.

Maryanna Saenko will present "The Next Generation of Intelligent Sensors for Better Visualization," part of the educational conference program at Pacific Design & Manufacturing at the Anaheim Convention Center, Feb. 9-11, a Design News event and the West Coast's most comprehensive design and manufacturing trade show of the year. Register here.

[image via kittijaroon at]

Maryanna Saenko is an analyst at Lux Research who leads the Autonomous Systems 2.0 service. She covers technological and market developments in Autonomous Systems, including autonomous vehicles, robotics, unmanned aerial vehicles, and artificial intelligence. Prior to joining Lux Research, Saenko worked as a senior research associate at Cabot Corp. and a research engineer at FerroSolutions Inc. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a M.S. in Materials Science and Engineering and a B.S. in both Biomedical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering.

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LED Lighting: Tech Trends & Design Challenges

How Superbugs Could Change Medical Cable Assemblies

The venerable silicone-jacketed cable, a staple on countless surgical tools and medical devices, may soon have to make way for less costly challengers.

Cable suppliers say there’s a sweeping change afoot, especially in in-body, camera-based surgical instruments, such as fiber optic endoscopes. In the future, they say, such instruments may be used only once or twice, instead of hundreds of times, as they are now. As a result, the material of choice for cable assemblies might change.

“A few years ago, we couldn’t have imagined that such a thing could have been available, not just because of the cost of the cable assembly, but because of the cost of the video camera,” Hank Mancini, product manager for Molex Inc., told Design News. “But it’s achievable now, partly because of the cost of the electronics, and partly because some customers don’t want to have to sterilize it, even a single time.”

[Visit Molex at Booth 1746 at Pacific Design & Manufacturing, Feb. 9-11, at the Anaheim Convention Center.]

If medical manufacturers move to limited-use devices, thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) could emerge as candidates for cabling assemblies. Molex’s MediSpec Connector employs a TPE material.
(Source: Molex Inc.)

Indeed, sterilization is the issue, not only for the hospitals that use surgical saws, drills, and endoscopes, but for the suppliers who provide the cable assemblies. Silicone-jacketed cables made sense when an instrument was repeatedly sterilized and re-sterilized in a steam autoclave, mainly because the cost of the cables could be amortized over hundreds of applications. But as manufacturers move toward devices that may be used only once or twice, the cost dynamics are changing.

“If you’re going to a single-use model, cost becomes a huge factor,” noted Kevin DePratter, director of research and development for Northwire Inc., a cable manufacturer. “It really opens the door for silicone substitutes.”

[Visit Northwire at Booth 1842 at Pacific Design & Manufacturing, Feb. 9-11, at the Anaheim Convention Center.]

In February 2015, seven people became infected with a deadly, drug-resistant “superbug” called CRE after undergoing endoscopy procedures at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. The superbug scare has prompted some medical manufacturers to consider single-patient-use designs for endoscopes and other surgical tools.
(Source: Wikipedia)

The Impact of ‘Superbugs’

The inspiration for this design change was quite sudden, and played out in full public view. In February 2015, seven people were infected with a deadly, drug-resistant “superbug” called CRE after undergoing endoscopy procedures at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. The scopes, known as duodenoscopes and inserted through the mouth to examine a patient’s pancreas and liver, had been sterilized in accordance with manufacturer’s guidelines. But after two people died of exposure to the so-called superbugs, experts raised questions about whether some scopes are too difficult to clean.

To be sure, silicone cabling was never considered an issue. Silicone has long been a default choice in medical scopes and tools because it could stand up to all forms of cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilization, including hundreds of steam autoclave cycles. It also meets some of the most stringent biocompatibility standards, including USP Class VI and ISO 10993. “Silicone has a good name for medical devices and endoscopes in particular, because it’s been around for a long time,” DePratter told us. “There are a lot of good companies out there that have put a lot of work into silicone.”

Still, the medical industry was spooked by the prospect of the superbugs, and medical companies began developing alternative technologies. “It’s made a number of major OEMs question the ongoing viability of cleaning and sterilizing these devices hundreds of times,” Mancini said.

CAD Expands Beyond Graphics

In the past, design engineers used a number of tools to create products: CAD, simulation, structural analysis, materials selection, and costing, to name a few. The data from the CAD drawing was translated to one of these analysis programs and then translated back into CAD, often resulting in some loss of accuracy. The back-and-forth was also time-consuming.

Here's a CAD design going through the inspection process for validation.
(Source: SolidWorks)

When the process was finished, the data was typically stored in a 2D CAD file as drawings. That was fine for a commercial operation that made products with short lifecycles. Yet those who counted lifecycle in decades -– such as the US military -– were concerned that a 20-year-old CAD file might not be readable as the world migrates out of 2D and into 3D CAD.

Now that design is moving away from 2D drawings to 3D CAD, CAD developers have created CAD programs that also have integrated tools for simulation, materials and structural analysis, and costing, among other engineering aids. They are also working with the government to create rich 3D CAD files that can be stored in 3D PDFs, freeing design engineers from creating and archiving 2D drawings.

Integrating Programs into CAD

Perhaps the biggest shift in CAD development in recent years has been the addition of features that go beyond drawing. “You can always improve on the geometry,” Paul Brown, senior marketing director for NX product engineering at Siemens PLM, told Design News. “Yet if you look at product development in CAD, it’s not just about geometry. It’s also about the product’s requirements –- tracking those requirements and controlling them.”

[Learn more CAD trends and developments at Pacific Design & Manufacturing, Feb. 9-11, at the Anaheim Convention Center.]

CAD platforms are incorporating non-design features so design engineers don’t have to leave CAD to do structural analysis or to spec materials. In the past, the design would have to be put through these tools outside the CAD program and then returned to the program. “Now there is a lot more emphasis on tracking and validating the product, so you can show how the product is meeting its requirements,” Brown said. “We continue to invest a lot of time and effort into bringing that into CAD.”

One of the advantages of staying within the CAD environment when exploring engineering and non-graphical aspects of the product is that the object doesn’t have to be redesigned when changes are made. “A single requirement at the top end makes all kinds of changes. How do you monitor that change?” Brown said. “You’re seeing a lot more focus on that” from CAD developers, he said.

Here's an example of a CAD file turned into a 3D PDF.
(Source: SolidWorks)

“The integrated analysis tools have been niche tools. What’s happening now is the big players like Siemens PLM and some of our competitors have been expanding the CAD solution to give users more capability without having to go outside CAD,” Brown added.

Bringing the analysis tools into CAD saves both time and accuracy. “Every time you translate data, it costs you money, and you have to worry about the accuracy of the translation. Plus it costs you time,” he said. “If you can use the same common core data, you save accuracy and time.”

Simulation is another product development tool that used to live outside the CAD program. Siemens PLM recently acquired the simulation company LMS specifically to integrate product simulation into its program. “This was part of the whole drive for integrated solutions for the simulation of product behavior,” Brown said.

Moving Beyond 2D Drawings

The integration of simulation into CAD trims product development time. SolidWorks acquired a simulation tool specifically to add this functionality. “The newest big thing that SolidWorks has been adding to CAD is the move toward integrated design with functional requirements,” Craig Therrien, senior product portfolio manager at SolidWorks, told Design News. “We’ve used the acquisition of Cosmos to integrate simulation into SolidWorks. What we’re doing is expanding SolidWorks outside of CAD.”

[Visit SolidWorks at Booth 3401 at Pacific Design & Manufacturing, Feb. 9-11, at the Anaheim Convention Center.]

In another move to make design a more efficient process, SolidWorks is helping design engineers move beyond the need for 2D drawings. “Last year we added MBD (model-based definition) to SolidWorks. Sometimes it’s called model-based enterprise (MBE),” Therrien said. “It’s been around for a long time in concept as drawingless manufacturing. You don’t have to make the 2D drawing representation. You can go directly into the 3D model.”

The ability to go straight to the 3D model was a function of saving a considerable amount of time. “People are looking for a faster way to get to manufacturing. They’re looking at avoiding the 2D model,” Therrien said. “They have to get the product to market as soon as possible. So they don’t create the 2D drawing. That's common in automotive, aerospace, or for anyone who wants to speed up their process.”

Preserving and Archiving the 3D Model

The advantage of 2D drawings is they can be stored for the long term, since they don’t depend on ever-changing software. The military needs to store drawings over decades. That poses a problem if you eliminate 2D, however. “What happens years from now when you want to open the file? If you store it in a CAD model, maybe 20 years from now you might not be able to open that CAD file,” said Therrien. “It might not be an available [file format] with the software you’re now using.”

The solution was to create a 3D PDF, since Adobe can read any PDF regardless of advances in software. “With the advent of the 3D PDF, people feel comfortable that it is as good as paper. People will be able to open it 20 or 30 years down the road,” Therrien said. “Manufacturers have developed the new standard, MIL-STD-31000A, a definition for providing CAD data in a way that is consumable. It’s a model-based approach to define the characteristics of the design PMI (product manufacturing information).”

New Data in the CAD Drawing

As once-external tools are added to the CAD program, design models effectively become intelligent. It knows from its dimensions, tolerances, and constraints what changes can and cannot be made. “You can create machine parts in 3D that are intelligent, with dimensions that know things about their environment. If you say this is the flatness tolerance, it knows you can’t go to a cylinder,” Therrien said. “We wanted more intelligence in the 3D model. We wanted something that would say, ‘Hey you’re putting the right tolerances and dimension on the model.’ It will tell you if the object is fully constrained.”

One of the major advantages of integrating analysis tools and simulation into CAD is that there is one instance of the drawing that is consistent through the entire design process. “The idea is that there’s one database, one true source of information, and that’s the CAD model,” Therrien said. “It contains all the information downstream, all of the tolerances and dimensions. That’s what the government wants. In a way, that’s the original dream of STEP (the standard for the exchange of product model data). There’s all this rich 3D data in CAD now.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 15 years, 12 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

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How to Find and Retain Engineering Talent

There’s a shortage of engineers and designers. This is a story heard practically every day. Companies large and small are all saying that they have trouble finding the talent they need to help realize their business goals. Indeed, the market for technical talent is tight, but that doesn’t mean that gaps can’t be filled. There are strategies that companies should be using to help feed the talent pipeline like with any other type of critical supply chain.

Our firm, Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS), created and sustains a pipeline of entry-level engineering talent by establishing relationships with nearby educational institutions. When done right, almost any company can realize a similar pipeline of top new college grads and entry-level talent (and retain them). What are the key factors for success? Here are five recommended elements of the strategy:

(Source: Sira Anamwong at

1. Be Selective About Which Universities to Target

IPS had to pick which schools to focus on. Small companies like ours can’t afford to invest time and effort using a shotgun approach. As a result of our location in Hauppauge, N.Y., we have access to a dozen very high-quality engineering and design institutions. Our firm targeted three local institutions with high-quality talent, with a specific reason for each:

Stony Brook University

This is the largest engineering-oriented institution in our area and one that draws an incredibly diverse and talented student body from all over the world. This university has tentacles into much of the economic activity in our area on Long Island. Stony Brook University is only minutes from our office, which makes meeting with university staff and supporting its student activities a breeze.

New York Institute of Technology

This is a smaller institution than Stony Brook University but one that has a talented pool of students. NYIT gives us a channel for recruiting and establishing business relationships in New York City. This school also has a very strong outreach to women in STEM careers and to under-represented engineering-oriented students.

St. Joseph’s College

This institution is only providing us with computer science students. Although it is not a classically engineering-oriented institution, and although it is a small university without national or even regional brand recognition, the students are of high caliber and have proven to be outstanding as we throw them into action alongside graduates of bigger-name institutions. Since this is fundamentally a commuter college, almost all students have their own transportation. Why is this important? When we need interns, they need to be able to get to our workplace. St. Joseph’s is an underrated institution which remains on our short list.

2. Develop Broad University Relationships (From Leadership to the Career Center)

One element of professional/talent pipeline management is to invest in relationships with university leadership. We put particular effort into getting to know the dean of the school, the department chairpersons, and the faculty. Relationships with the engineering school administration and staff get us recommendations on the best students to pursue and student referrals.

[Meet and Network with your peers at Pacific Design & Manufacturing, Feb. 9-11, at the Anaheim Convention Center.]

These relationships also provide collateral insights into technology and research, which can then be applied to the benefit of our clients. Moreover, we spend time building relationships with the career centers at these target institutions. Career centers have connections to the student body, help promote our company, and find ways for us to engage in school volunteer activities that get our staff face-to-face time with potential interns and graduating students.

3. Invest Time in Student Activities (Clubs, Competitions, etc.)

Since a small firm like ours cannot hope to compete with deep-pocketed large companies apples to apples, we build our brand recognition through having our engineering and design teams involved in student activities. The value of big, full-page ads in the student newspaper pales in comparison to the marketing buzz we get from direct interaction between IPS engineers and the student body.

For example, we support the student clubs of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers by providing coaching and mentorship along with interviewing and resume-building skills. Also, we offer to provide coaching and materials for student team technology competitions. Supporting students’ extracurricular activities helps build word-of-mouth recognition and gets prospective new grads engaged with our staff in a more personal way.

One more thing: We go to career fairs. Virtually every university has them, and this is yet another venue to get in front of students. It is valuable to participate in these events every year, and, if a school conducts two events per year (as many universities do), we go to both. You say budgets are tight? Go anyway. Do it even if you are not sure you will need interns or new grads. Showing up at every career fair consistently, year after year, displays commitment in good times and bad.

Google Glass Overtaken By Rivals in Enterprise Adoption of Augmented Reality

Smart glasses are seeing adoption in use for workers in factories, distribution centers, oilfields, and other workplace applications, but products by Osterhout Design Group, Epson, and Sony boast top design features and generally are becoming more widely adopted than Google Glass for these solutions, said Lux Research Analyst Tony Sun in the report, “Better Than Google Glass: Finding the Right Smart Glasses for Enterprise.”

As augmented reality solutions in manufacturing and other sectors begin to take hold, Google Glass -- the pioneer in technology in the field -- is being pushed aside in favor of rival technology from Sony, Epson and others.
(Source: Google)

It’s the form factor of the glasses and their wearability that differentiates them from technology that has similar features like transparent displays, voice control, and touchpad interfaces, Sun told Design News.

“Compared with other form factors like PCs, tablets, and smartphones, the two major benefits of smart glasses are hands-free control and information display in field of view,” he said. “The combination of the two allows workers to do tasks more efficiently, such as receiving instructions from a remote expert without interrupting the hands-on work.”

Indeed, the report identifies at least 70 enterprise deployments for smart glasses that fit into three categories -- accessing information, real-time communication, and documentation.

[Learn more electronics trends and developments at Pacific Design & Manufacturing, Feb. 9-11, at the Anaheim Convention Center.]

For example, in the area of accessing information, Lockheed Martin is in a pilot program to deploy Epson Moverio BT-200s for technicians working on building F-35s. The smart glasses can overlay instruction images and part numbers onto the technician's field of view with software developed by NGRAIN, allowing engineers to work 30% faster, and with improved accuracy up to 96%, according to the report.

Among the three types of applications, Google Glass is used only in real-time communication applications, such as online sales support. But even there it faces competition from Vuzix, which offer smart glasses that are light enough for users to wear all day and also include a live video streaming function that Google Glass does not have, according to Sun.

[Visit EPSON Robots at Booth 4111 at Pacific Design & Manufacturing, Feb. 9-11, at the Anaheim Convention Center.]

Both were used together in another pilot application evaluated by Lux in the report. DHL is using Google Glass and Vuzix M100 smart glasses to run applications developed by Ubimax that read bar codes and tell workers the fastest route to find requested products. DHL said the solution is reducing the time it takes workers to retrieve an item and pack it for shipping by 25%.

Another competitive product, Sony’s SmartEyeglass, is making its mark in customer-service and quality-control applications, Sun said in the report. Its lightweight, small form factor, and competitive price makes it a good fit for these apps, he said. It also is well-suited to warehousing, assembly, and installation applications behind Meta-1 from Meta, which is not on the commercial market yet, he added.

While some smart glasses have their niche application, the report found that the best overall is the ODG R-7 from Osterhout, which meets minimum performance requirements across all three key enterprise applications of the devices. It’s the only one on the market that does not need a wired controller and meets industrial standards for hazardous environments, according to Sun.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

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