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Articles from 2006 In October

Design News Show Alert E-Newsletter: PACK EXPO 2006

Fieldbus Offers High Speed

Schaumburg, IL - Focusing on sensors and actuators, Omron Electronic is commercializing the CompoNet Specification from the Open DeviceNet Vendor Association (ODVA), unveiling an open fieldbus at PackExpo. The master/slave network offers high-speed messaging and simple configuration, diagnostics and maintenance. It can be linked to networks that share the Common Industrial Protocol (CIP) Network Library, such as Ethernet/IP, DeviceNet, ControlNet and CIP Safety.

CompoNet was designed for high-speed devices, updating 1024 I/O points in 1 ms, sending messages up to 1,500 meters. A PLC or other master controls the network, sending slaves I/O signals that transmit simple On/Off data. It also handles word slaves, transmitting 16-bit On/Off and analog information.

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Packaging Goes Green

At PackExpo, one of the few shows large enough to fill multiple floors in both enormous McCormick Place Halls in Chicago, the floor focused on packaging materials seems something like an ecological convention. Growing concern about the volume of waste going into landfills is driving material providers to focus on packaging materials that decompose more rapidly or reduce the amount of materials used in packages.

One focus is to replace long-lasting materials like aluminum foil with paper. StoraEnso, a Finnish company with U.S. headquarters in Stevens Point, WI, is announcing its Multiflex, a barrier paper that it says can be used on yogurt lids and other applications that now often use foils. A polymer barrier coating holds in aromas, oxygen and moisture, yet it decomposes at nearly the same rate as untreated paper, a spokesman says.

Eliminating the lamination step used to protect printing on plastics and other materials is the focus of Pliant Corp. The Schaumburg, IL, vendor has a film that is cured by electron beams after the package has been printed. The beam creates a protective layer over the ink, eliminating the weight of the lamination layer.

“This is generally less expensive, we have one step instead of the two-step lamination that many companies use, a spokesman says.

Elsewhere on the floor, Polinas, a Turkish manufacturer with U.S. headquarters in Fort Lee, NJ, is unveiling a biodegradable polypropylene bag designed for bagged salads and other fresh produce applications. Along with its environmental qualities, it has an anti-fogging capability so consumers can see the produce clearly.

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Seeing the Big Picture

Many bottlers and other packagers still rely on manual inspection to make sure labels are positioned correctly and containers have no blemishes. But vision suppliers are striving to speed up the process.

ICS Inex Inspection Systems is unveiling its 360 degree inspection system, a turnkey package that includes vision, software and controls. It has four cameras that inspect the entire package in one pass. The system, debuted at PackExpo, doesn’t need fine tuning even when production runs change.

“Plant engineers don’t have to adjust the camera to take the best angle even when they change the size of the bottle,” says Bernard McDowell, marketing director at the Clearwater, FL, supplier.

//Web Resources 

China RoHS may threaten IP

China RoHS may threaten IP

China’s version of the RoHS directive developed by the European Union (EU) may jeopardize intellectual property warns Robin Gray, executive director of the National Electronic Distributors Association. Gray notes that unlike the EU’s directive, China’s laws call for compliance that is verified by testing done in accredited Chinese laboratories.

According to an article on Push Back (, a site dedicated to challenging the science behind RoHS laws, Gray points to China’s inspection process as a means to examine the finest details about products. “Any intellectual property, with respect to alloys or chemical content, is going to be documented by these labs.

Gray notes that merchants in China already had a reputation for nabbing North American intellectual property for the purpose of counterfeiting component and other products. He is now concerned that China’s RoHS laws will put legitimate product in the hands of people who have not demonstrated the ability to protect intellectual property.

Early Design Involvement

Quality, time and cost were critical as Insulet Corp. prepared a dramatic innovation in diabetes treatment for market entry.

Insulet’s breakthrough OmniPod Insulin Management System consisted of two, fully integrated wireless components:

  • The OmniPod – a small, lightweight, self-adhesive pod that delivers insulin according to pre-programmed instructions. One of the features of the pod is automated cannula insertion, replacing tubing used in insulin pumps.

  • The Personal Diabetes Manager (PDM) – a hand-held device that programs the OmniPod with customized insulin delivery instructions, monitors the OmniPod’s operation, contains a fully integrated blood glucose meter, and stores data. The PDM sends a message to the OmniPod which inserts the cannula beneath a patient’s skin, delivering insulin.

The new system was designed to compete with insulin pumps, which gained very little traction with diabetics because they can be complicated to operate and are visible to other people. The Insulet system is also priced differently from pumps, making them attractive economically as well.

Founded in 2000 with venture capital funding, Insulet received 510(k) clearance from the Food & Drug Administration on Jan. 3, 2005 and was anxious to move the product to market quickly.Insulet chose Phillips Plastics of Hudson, WI to do rapid models, rapid prototyping, prototyping, and production of the components.

“I had prior experience with Philips and they are a first class supplier,” commented Kevin Schmid, vice president of manufacturing at Insulet, Bedford, MA. “Phillips was engaged early in the product design process. This ensured that we achieved the most effective component and system design with respect to design for manufacturability and assembly (DFM/DFA), process control, and component cost. Phillips is a one-stop shop and the Company’s diversified capabilities were a huge benefit to us.”


The manufacturing challenges for the system were significant and demonstrated the advantages of dealing with a partner with integrated art-to-part capabilities and mindset.

“We have been able to utilize a variety of our capabilities on this program,” comments Phillips program manager. “The term one-stop-shopping really is emphasized for this program. We offered everything from a variety of prototyping options; to our focused factories including medical molding, clean room, micro molding, painting, window decoration and assembly, multi-shot; and many secondary operations. Rather than Insulet having to go to a handful of molders to complete all of these requirements, they came here and we did it all for them.”

The OmniPod consists of 14 molded pieces and the PDM has five. The finished manufactured product encompasses several manufacturing technologies within Phillips: micro molding, multi-shot molding, lens molding, decorating and medical molding. In addition several technologies were used in the prototype stage, including Phillips Plastics’ proprietary RPTech Process, stereolithography and aluminum tools.Those techniques gave Insulet engineers the ability to get a touch and feel for components and do some testing.

Serious functional testing requires use of parts made in an actual production tool. Phillips’ engineers recommended development of a one-cavity tool that could produce parts for functional testing yet minimizing tooling costs if revisions were required.

“The one-cavity pull ahead approach allowed for an improved time-to-market solution as well as minimizing revision costs since only one cavity was initially

built,” comments a Phillips’ engineer. “This helped Insulet with their evaluation

of the initial design, making sure the design was right in the first cavity before the second cavity even began.”

Multi-Shot Expertise

Phillips Plastics also used its tooling know-how to solve other daunting problems in the OmniPod system design.

Case in point: the most critical structural element in the system is the chassis for the OmniPod, which includes a circuit board and a plateable electrical pathway. The solution was a multi-shot part, with a first shot of polycarbonate and a second shot of a plateable alloy of polycarbonate and ABS.“We realized right away that the geometry was complicated as we knew we had to create 12 separate areas of plateable material to provide 12 separate electrical pathways for the circuit board,” said the project engineer for Phillips. “The challenge was figuring out how to gate and fill the part because, normally, everything would be connected and fill at one time.”

The Phillips engineers designed a process based on a three-plate mold and extensive MoldFlow analysis. “We mold the first shot. Then for the second shot we use a three-plate mold where we drop into a runner and it splits off and has 15 drops come down and hit the 12 areas on the part to fill,” says the Phillips program manager. The MoldFlow analysis was important in balancing the runner system because each area has a different volume and some drops were done with two gates. Critical shutoffs were also critical to avoid flash that could interfere with the electrical current. Bondability to the first shot was also a concern due to the small size of the 12 areas.

Other manufacturing technologies used in the project were insert molding and micro molding. “We have a component in the device where we insert a steel lead screw with a plastic tip and we weren’t sure what direction to go to make it work,” says David Clare, Insulet’s program manager. “Phillips steered us in the right direction with insert molding and ever since, it has worked out very well for us.”

The result was a product that met its design and cost targets and made a rapid and successful market entry.

Altera ships RoHS-compliant development kits

Altera ships RoHS-compliant development kits

Altera Corp. has announced that all development kits supporting its latest generation of FPGAs and CPLDs are now compliant with the European Union’s RoHS directive. Altera now offers 10 RoHS-compliant development kits that support the Stratix II, Stratix II GX and Cyclone II FPGA families, and MAX II CPLDs. Altera now offers more than 1,200 products in lead-free packages. The company has shipped more than 25 million programmable logic devices in lead-free packages since 2002.

“Altera’s comprehensive portfolio of RoHS-compliant programmable solutions offers customers a wide range of environmentally friendly products without compromising performance or quality,” says Danny Biran, VP of product and corporate marketing at Altera.

The development kits are designed to be a complete, high-quality design environment for engineers that help simplify the design process and reduce time-to-market. Altera RoHS-compliant development kits are available with complete board design files, including schematics, layout and bill of materials, allowing designers to use portions of the board design as a reference for their own designs.

High-Resolution Scales Deliver Extreme Positioning Accuracy

Five air bearing stages working in concert with high-resolution scales provide the extreme accuracies required for assembling small hydrogen targets used in testing thermonuclear ignition.

The air-bearing system includes sliding mechanical arms with a positioning accuracy of 4 millionths of an inch.“Each target is 28 thousandths of an inch in size, smaller than the tip of a ballpoint pen,” says Ken Abbott, owner of AB Tech, the company that manufactures the system that builds the targets.

The machine is at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.For each test, a double shell implosion target is placed in a 30-ft-diameter chamber. The laser beams are fired simultaneously to explode it, demonstrating thermonuclear ignition.

The hydrogen targets are made of silica-based inner sphere, and the manufacturing requirements for surface finish and shell concentricity of the targets are essential to successful explosion.Shell halves are assembled on the custom 5-axis air bearing assembly station to achieve acceptable concentricity.

The components of the machine include three linear air bearings and two rotary air bearings, a PMAC motion controller from Delta Tau, a host PC and application software.The system is capable of positioning target shell halves to within 0.1 µm.

“The only way this is possible is with the use of today’s ultra-precise linear scales for use on the linear slides,” explains Abbott, “Because of the strict accuracies in the specifications, our only choice was the extremely high accuracy scales. “

The system employs LIP 481 scales from HEIDENHAIN Corporation that are exposed linear encoders characterized by high accuracy and measuring steps as small as 0.005 µm depending on the model.Their measuring standard is a phase-grating applied to a substrate of glass, and are typically used in high precision machines such as diamond lathes for optical components, facing lathes for magnetic storage disks and measuring microscopes and semiconductor equipment machines.

The ABTech air-bearing system includes three of these ultra-precise scales with one on each of the X, Y and Z linear axes; a high resolution camera, and a surgical microscope that provides views of the mating components. The new system’s bearings produce a thin film of air similar to the layer of air that allows a puck to move smoothly across an air hockey table.

The technical team spent four to six weeks in final system assembly and adjustment, setting up all of the five axes and testing them each individually to achieve the final specification.Much of the work involved aligning the mechanical elements of the system, since each axis has several degrees of alignment.

With the new hydrogen targets, NIF’s experiments promise to produce temperatures and densities like those of the Sun or in an exploding nuclear weapon. These experiments will help scientists sustain confidence in nuclear energy, without doing actual nuclear weapons testing.

Abbott says the success of the system is all about maintaining positioning accuracy at very, very slow speeds.A fast speed for the system is 0.5 inches/sec for aligning components.Small parts measure 28 thousands of an inch in diameter and are positioned on the system, moved around slowly, and very accurately positioned to achieve proper alignment.The smallest incremental move on the system allows the operator to push a button and the X axis will move four millionths of an inch.Moving that slowly while holding position stability is one of the main reasons for using the sophisticated scales to achieve the accuracy and high resolution performance required.

Dick had a Cameo Role in Scream 2


MCU Kits Motor On

You’ll find microcontroller development kits come in many sizes and with a variety of capabilities; from simple kits that address one type of application to complex development boards that offer a cornucopia of I/O devices. To see what companies now offer as ways to start using microcontrollers, we took a close look at four kits, two of which focus on motor control (Silicon Laboratories and Microchip) and two of which serve as general-purpose microcontroller development kits (Freescale and Ramtron). Our short reviews tell you what we liked and didn’t like about these kits and the ways in which they can assist you with an application or project.

Stepper Motor Reference Design Kit ($119) Silicon Laboratories

THE PRODUCT: The board in this kit comes with an 8051 microcontroller in place and four driver circuits ready to attach to a unipolar stepper motor (included). A JTAG programming pod makes the connection between a host computer’s USB port and the board. The board also provides a standard RS-232C serial port for computer-to-board communication. A power cube comes with a universal set of wall plugs. The CD-ROM contains documentation and Silicon Lab’s program-development software that operates through an IDE and lets you write code in the C language.

WHAT WE LIKED: This reference design provides everything you need to understand how to run a stepper motor under software control. A color-coded guide makes setup fool proof. Documents supply a solid explanation of stepper-motor operation and control, a schematic diagram and detailed descriptions of the hardware the reference design employs. Software listings include clear descriptions of operations and flow charts. Well commented code helps you understand the motor-control operations. A test program lets you control the stepper through the HyperTerminal program in Windows. Silicon Labs’ IDE was a breeze to install and use.

WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE: Nothing stands out as a problem or shortcoming in this package. One minor nit to pick: The demo program’s command instructions are clear, but the explanation of rotations and position counts doesn’t thoroughly explain how to keep track of position. In short, position counts accumulate, regardless of the number of rotations. After a couple of sample runs, you figure it out.

LAST WORD: An excellent reference design that delivers on its promise. I wished I had more time to experiment with this kit, plow through the code, and modify it so the motor would step through my preset patterns. You can learn much from the software and documentation. Before you modify any code, though, read the AN155 document so you understand how the software accelerates and decelerates the motor and how it uses a table of values — provided in the code — for proper motor control.

More Info on Silicon Laboratories

VersaKit 3074 VRS51L3074 (8051 architecture microcontroller) ($99) Ramtron
Montreal, QC, Canada

THE PRODUCT: In mid 2006, Ramtron, formerly Goal Semiconductor, brought to market an 8051-based microcontroller, the VRS51L3074. The chip provides an enhanced 8051 processor core, peripherals, SRAM, and Flash memory as well as 8 kbytes of FRAM, or ferroelectric random access memory. The latter memory uses a magnetic structure to store information. Developers can use the VersaKit 3074 board to investigate the MCU chip and the use of FRAM memory. Programming takes place through a JTAG pod.

WHAT WE LIKED: The small board (3.5 × 3.75 in.) offers a lot of flexibility to hardware designers because it doesn’t include on-board peripherals that could reduce the available number of I/O signals. Even the eight LEDs come unconnected to any I/O lines. So, developers have access to all the MCU’s signals and they can exercise all of the chip’s internal peripherals. The board also includes a small breadboard area.

WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE: The JTAG programming pod connects to a host PC through a parallel-port cable, which seems like a dated approach. These days development tools use either a serial port or a USB port. My laser printer uses a parallel port and I need to print program listings when I develop and debug code. The setup of supplied software requires too much work. You must load two freeware programs, the Small Device C Compiler (SDCC) and the Syn text editor. Then you must “connect” them to work together. The SDCC is a command-line compiler.

LAST WORD: This kit might have a lot going for it if the JTAG pod used a USB connection to communicate with a host PC, and if the company provided tutorial materials or even a few lessons on using the SDCC and Syn tools. Developers who must have an 8051 processor might have the fortitude to slog through the setup. I did not.

Expanded Review by Jon Titus | More Info on Ramtron |

Microchip Mechatronics Demo Board ($150) Microchip
Chandler AZ

THE PRODUCT: This demo board provides two motors — a brushed dc motor and a stepper motor — already mounted and ready to connect. And the board includes potentiometers, push buttons, LEDs, an LCD, a temperature sensor and a light sensor. The processor, a 40-pin Microchip PIC 16F917, came preprogrammed with a motor-control demonstration program. The MCU makes 14 I/O lines available for experimentation.

WHAT WE LIKED: In spite of a few documentation errors, it took little time to set up the board and run an experiment with the brushed dc motor. Two other experiments use a temperature sensor or a light sensor to control the motor’s speed. The board has a lot to offer and the standard header pins make it easy to connect jumpers to signals of interest. Although you can run the board from a 9-V battery, I recommend you use a lab power supply or “wall wart” power cube. The MPLAB IDE software works nicely for program development.

WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE: Although the User’s Guide lists eight other “projects,” you must gather documentation from app notes and data sheets on the CD-ROM to proceed. The projects lack step-by-step instructions, so you’re on your own most of the way. To program the 16F917 microcontroller chip, you will need either a PICkit 2 Microcontroller Programmer ($50) or an MPLAB ICD 2 In-Circuit Debugger Programmer ($160). It took a lot of work and caused frustration to get the software configured for the PICkit 2 programmer.

LAST WORD: Microchip should include a check list that explains how to load software, gather updates, and install and start updated software. The company has put together a powerful mechatronics demonstration board, but the documentation and project instructions present a mishmash of information that will defy all but the most resolute developer. It’s sad to see the motors and interesting peripherals go to waste for the lack of clear step-by-step instructions.

Expanded Review by Jon Titus | More Info on Microchip |

DEMO9S08QG8 Demonstration Board for 8-bit Microcontrollers ($50) Freescale Semiconductor

THE PRODUCT: Freescale’s board came with a socketed 16-pin MC9S08QG8 processor from the company’s popular line of HC(S)08 microcontrollers. A female connector provides access to the chip’s 14 I/O signals — six on Port A and eight on Part B. Peripherals include an analog-to-digital converter (ADC), an analog comparator, several types of serial-communication devices, timers, and pulse-width modulators. You cannot use all peripherals simultaneously. Memory gives you 8 kbytes of Flash and 512 bytes of RAM. The package includes CodeWarrior development software, a CD-ROM with documentation, a USB cable, and a 16-page booklet.

WHAT WE LIKED: The board provided easy access to the MCU’s I/O pins, and a standard I/O header makes this board easy to use in a prototype. The USB connection for program downloads and debugging, and the availability of a processor socket lets developers produce small quantities of parts for prototypes. Users can disconnect pushbuttons, LEDs, light sensor and potentiometer to gain access to their I/O pins. Powered via USB port. Good response to technical questions about board software and solid CodeWarrior tools.

WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE: Documentation and CD-ROM organization needs work as do software setup instructions, which seem to conflict with one another. Some demonstrations required a separate serial port that my laptop lacks, and instructions lack clarity and will confuse users. No tutorial or step-by-step information to help users work through a few examples. Difficult to locate header files. Peripheral and I/O port definitions require printing 69 pages. Digging into software requires solid C experience.

LAST WORD: I hate having to pry details out of multiple poorly organized documents. With a bit more thought and new educational material, this board might provide a useful introduction to an 8-bit MCU. As it stands, save your $50.

Expanded Review by Jon Titus | More Info on Freescale |