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Articles from 1995 In December

Connections to the world

Connections to the world

Just as many people don't know that Harrisburg is the capitol of Pennsylvania (no, it's not Philadelphia), many also don't know about the plethora of connector companies located there.

AMP lays claim to being the world's leading interconnect company. In fact, many connector companies can trace their origins back to AMP. Most companies in this central Pennsylvania setting employ engineers who have spent time working for the connector giant or its competitors.

Other major players in the area include Berg Electronics, Phoenix Contact, Stewart Connector Systems, and InterCon Systems. A tour through their plants leaves me with a newfound appreciation for interconnect devices.

Like enclosures, connectors used to be an afterthought. But with signal speeds getting increasingly faster, designers need to make certain that the connector they choose doesn't end up being a bottleneck and forcing a redesign.

Due to this speed increase--and the fact that designers want their products to connect with other companies' products--connector companies play a vital role in setting standards. Today, engineers might settle on a connector or connection standard as a first step in design. They even take advantage of connector companies' SPICE models to completely simulate high-speed circuits.

AMP: Moving beyond hard-wired connections

Founded in 1941, Harrisburg-based AMP Inc. is the granddaddy of all connector companies. You can't drive far in this neck of the woods without passing one of its many buildings.

AMP won't soon abandon its bread-and-butter connectors, but it plans to move beyond its core competencies and play a role in setting standards. For example, one new product--the PHASIR Port--does the work of a connector--but without any wires.

Leveraging a standard from the InfraRed Data Association (IrDA), AMP developed a serial infrared adapter that enables wireless file and data exchanges. The PHASIR port connects to any 9- or 25-position serial connector. It enables communication between two computers or a computer and a peripheral, such as a printer.

One popular use for the adapter is transferring files between portable and desktop computers. As increasing numbers of portable computers come equipped with internal infrared transceivers, many users are retrofitting their desktops with the PHASIR port, rather than dealing with cables or multiple floppy or hard disks.

You use the PHASIR port by pointing it at the second platform's IR transceiver. The baud rate is from 9,600 to 115,200 bps, the transmission range one or two meters. Soon, you'll see PHASIRs with Universal Serial Bus (USB) interfaces. From the start, AMP helped a computer industry consortium that included Intel, which designed the bus's chip set, and Compaq to implement the standard. AMP's part involved the mechanical aspect of the specification, and the firm was first with a USB connector.

These surprisingly small 4-position connectors consolidate serial, parallel, keyboard, mouse, and game ports. "The idea," says William B. Deedy, Jr, director of the computer systems marketing group, "was to make computers easier to use and broaden the base of home users." It's almost impossible to plug this connector in wrong.

AMP has been involved with standards committees for the past five years. In addition to USB, AMP continues to play a role in the Serial Storage Architecture, Fibre Channel, and emerging Very High Density Cabled Interconnect standards.

"Before, connectors were an afterthought for electrical and mechanical engineers. Now, they almost have to think of interconnection first for the sake of compatibility," says Deedy, who expects AMP to continue its standard-setting role.

AMP also gets involved in assemblies--mostly using its own connector products. An example: A docking bar, or port replicator, for portable PCs, which eliminates the hassle of plugging in a monitor, external keyboard, mouse, and printer every time you get back to your desk. Instead, you attach your laptop to the docking bar via one connector. The bar already connects to everything else.

The bar differs from a docking station in that it doesn't include drive bays, speakers, or other electronic equipment--just the essential connectors. It is also much less expensive--typically 80% less than the price of a docking station.

In 1996, you'll see all these products merge into a docking bar with USB connectors and an infrared docking transceiver. "Those plans are definitely on the drawing board," says Market Manager David A. Hernjak, "as we continue to move up the food chain."

Son of AMP, reborn

In 1950, after putting in time at AMP, mechanical engineer Quentin Berg started his own company--with AMP's blessing and financial backing. Also based in Harrisburg, Berg Electronics flourished and provided a second source to AMP.

Twenty one years after Berg sold his company to DuPont in 1972, management firm Mills & Partners, backed by a Dallas investment firm, took over. The new owners restored the Berg name and built the business by acquiring related technology companies. They have also increased capital spending and the R&D budget in the last two years.

Today, Berg Electronics is listed as the world's third biggest connector company. Its 1995 sales of sockets, cable assemblies, and connectors should exceed $650 million.

Technology drives the company, which has an impressive ISO 9001-certified test lab. In 1984, Berg quietly invented the PCMCIA card for a Japanese printer manufacturer who wanted a simple way to load different fonts without programming. Another Berg invention: a patented palladium nickel plating as a low-cost alternative to industry-standard gold.

With Berg continuously turning out such inventions, it's not surprising that three patent attorneys have offices next to the company's engineering department. Designers can have their ideas checked right away for previous patents. Berg was awarded 47 patents in 1994.

"As bus widths and speed increase, connectors can be a system bottleneck," notes Tom Lyons, vice president of engineering. "Today, they're designing computers where connectors are a big deal."

Like AMP, Berg is involved in setting standards. For example, it led the way for the Small PCI (SPCI) standard. The standard describes a 0.8-mm-pitch connector that lets PCMCIA-format cards plug directly into a computer's PCI bus. The connector could also be used in set-top boxes.

Also like AMP, Berg has under development wireless interconnection technologies--helping to build a stepping stone to the company's future.

Where high density means high profits

The move to smaller and denser electronic packages makes high-density interconnections a necessity. As a result, InterCon Systems, a 100-person company in Middletown, PA, that designs and manufactures high-density board-to-board and cable-to-board interconnect systems, looks forward to a bright future. The company prides itself on being innovative and listening and responding to customers.

These qualities have paid off. This year, InterCon Systems' revenue grew more than 25%. Next year, they expect to grow another 25 to 30%.

InterCon's location makes it pretty easy to fill key spots with quality people. "The advantage of a smaller company like ours," says Sales Manager Warren Persak, "is there's not a lot of politics or red tape to deal with."

One new high-density product is shielded to prevent EMI (electromagnetic interference) problems. The 0.050-inch-centerline connector system employs metal plating on Mylar(R) to shield the connector and a metal foil to shield the ribbon cable. The system replaces sub-D SCSI connectors and keeps the same profile as the company's unshielded version. Configurations range from 2x5 to 2x50. It is designed for systems whose signals have subnanosecond risetimes, such as board-to-board data transmission.

"In portable electronic products, such as cell phones and pagers, size is even more important," notes Development Engineer John Walden. To interconnect boards in these applications, designers use only the tiny connectors and forego the cable.

InterCon's new 1-mm-centerline, 2x5 connectors are 20% smaller than 0.050-inch-centerline products. Measuring only 0.067 inch high, Walden believes the connector could be the highest-density, lowest-profile device on the market. He considers this the limit of pin-and-socket technology.

"The next step down will require a new technology, one that won't require molding plastics at 0.01 inch around pins," says Walden. Blade systems fit this scenario. Here, the pins aren't physically isolated. Instead, air provides insulation between contacts.

Bus system drives connector designs

Phoenix Contact Inc. has called Middletown home since its start in 1981. The company is the world leader in its field: manufacturing DIN-rail and pc-board high-density terminal blocks, interface and relay systems, signal-conditioning modules, I/O modules, transient protection devices, power supplies, and distributed I/O systems.

Phoenix products can be found in control and instrumentation systems throughout the industrial process industries. AMP and Phoenix consider themselves competitors only in attracting engineering and other talent.

The company first made its name in terminal-block technology. These devices let you connect wires or wires and boards without using solder or connectors that require crimping. Instead, you insert a wire into the block and screw down the contact to make the connection. You can choose between 1-piece and 2-piece pluggable versions, most of which mount on DIN rails.

Today, the company is miniaturizing its terminal blocks and adding custom circuitry. The goal: easing the connection from an electronic controller having high-density connectors to electrical devices having larger wires. The smallest pitch Phoenix offers is 0.100 inch; the industry standard is 0.200 inch. "To go any smaller," predicts Alan D. Ringhoffer, terminal-block product marketing manager, "we'll have to abandon the screws."

"We make custom products incorporating some of the customer's circuitry," says Product Marketing Manager Joe Pickell. "We help design the circuit board and build in testability and maintainability, which are important in industrial control enclosures." Standard terminal blocks are also available--2,000 catalog pages worth.

Like the other interconnect companies, Phoenix Contact gets involved in standards, particularly the INTERBUS-S version of the fieldbus. INTERBUS-S replaces bulky parallel wire cables from controllers to I/O devices with a single twisted-pair cable. It concentrates multiple proprietary communication networks into a single network. The protocol lets controllers control and monitor with sensors, actuators, and I/O devices at the factory-floor level.

More than 475 manufacturers support this open-standard sensor/actuator bus. Siemens and Oki Semiconductor make INTERBUS-S chips, and General Motors is one of the bus's biggest users.

"The idea is to consolidate wiring and circuitry in one intelligent device that can be networked," says Marketing Manager John F. Rupp. INTERBUS-S is the fastest distributed bus on the global market, he claims.

Phoenix takes advantage of its packaging expertise to put these modules in plastic or aluminum hermetically sealed packages. This protects the electronics from harsh industrial environments and eliminates the need for enclosures. The modules mount on DIN rails. It marks another step in the path to wireless connections.

The house that jacks built

About 45 minutes outside of Harrisburg--right down the road from an AMP building--sits Stewart Connector Systems in Glen Rock, PA. Since being spun off from Stewart Stamping in 1987, it's one of the new kids on the block, but still ranks as one of the ten largest connector companies in the U.S.

Part of Insilico Technologies, Stewart specializes in designing high-speed modular and specialized connector systems for networking and telecommunications equipment, computers, medical instrumentation, and automotive communications systems. One recent innovation: the Harmonica fully shielded, multiport jack system that eliminates EMI while improving high-speed transmission. Stewart engineers also developed surface-mount jacks.

"These connectors are the face of the networking industry," says Andrew MacDonald, managing director of Stewart's German office. "They're what the customer sees."

Stewart engineers continue adding more and more technology to these jack systems and positioning them closer together. Next on the list: integrating magnetics into the jack to offer further cost and space savings and filter out line noise.

One of the newest additions to the product family is a RJ-45 connector system that satisfies EIA/TIA Category 5 performance specifications for high-speed (100-MHz) data transmission over local-area networks. It also can route interactive video and voice. Fore Systems, Pittsburgh, PA, uses the system for its 155-Mbps ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) products, says Engineering Manager Russell Jacobs.

More recently, and in conjunction with Apple Computer and IBM, Stewart developed the P1394 serial bus connector for high-speed computer peripherals. (Texas Instruments designed the bus chip set.) The connector system can transmit data to and from color printers, scanners, monitors, and high-speed disk drives.

Unlike the USB connector, the P1394 also handles the high baud rates of video, making it suitable for digital television, VCR, and cable-TV box applications. Expect to see products sporting this connector in the first half of next year.

After completing a 23,000 square foot addition to its facility in May 1994, Stewart will complete another 35,000 square foot expansion this year. It needs the space: The company has had an average annual revenue growth of 25% in the last five years. "With increasing global sales, there's no end in sight," says Roland Kolu, Insilico Technologies' marketing director.

AMP Technical Marketing Manager Geoff Zech advises Electronics Editor Julie Anne Schofield how to update desktop files from a notebook PC using PHASIR wireless technology (right).

Berg's Small PCI (SPCI) header and receptacle let users plug PCMCIA-format cards directly into a computer's high-speed PCI bus.

This 0.050-inch-centerline connector system from InterCon Systems is shielded to prevent electromagnetic interference. Metal plating on Mylar shields the connector, and a metal foil shields the ribbon cable. The system replaces sub-D SCSI connectors and keeps the same profile as the company's unshielded version.

With INTERBUS-S, intelligent field devices can be networked alongside sensors and actuators. Phoenix Contact manufactures host controller boards, bus terminal modules, I/O modules, and other modules for this open fieldbus.

With a 6-mm height and 0.100-inch pitch, the MPT 0.5 pc-board terminal blocks are the smallest screw-clamp units available, according to developer Phoenix Contact.

RJ-45-style modular connector system from Stewart Connector Systems meets EIA/TIA Category 5 specifications for 100-Mbps data transmission over unshielded twisted-pair cable. The CAT 5 "harmonica" jacks come in shielded versions with up to eight ports, and unshielded versions with up to 13 ports.

RJ-45-style modular connector system from Stewart Connector Systems meets EIA/TIA Category 5 specifications for 100-Mbps data transmission over unshielded twisted-pair cable. The CAT 5 "harmonica" jacks come in shielded versions with up to eight ports, and unshielded versions with up to 13 ports.

Application Digest

Application Digest

Measuring gear transmission variations

Richard J. Will, Chief Engineer, Delroyd Worm Gear

When engineers want to reduce the output shaft speed of a motor or engine, while increasing torque, they typically turn to a gear drive. Gears are never perfect, and minor variations in the manufacture of the gears used in drives result in transmission variations.

These variations cause slight changes in the drive's output rpm each time a gear tooth goes into or out of mesh. If an application requires very accurate drive output speed, these errors can become a significant problem. Delroyd Worm Gear Division of IMO Industries can measure and analyze the shaft speed variations caused by gear imperfections.

Delroyd's CSF/2 Single Flank Gear Tester consists of portable input and output encoders, a signal processor and a recorder. The user mounts encoders on the input and output shafts of assembled reducers. Inspection data record the angular variations of the output shaft relative to the input shaft while the gears rotate.

Data obtained by using such test equipment can determine the suitability of a specific drive for an application. It can also enable companies to perform quality control on vendors' products, and alert suppliers to problems before they become lethal.

To speak with a Delroyd applications engineer, call: (609) 890-6800.

Applying capacitive accelerometers

John M. Kubler Vice President, Kistler Instrument Corp.

Recent advances in silicon micromachining technology have made a new variety of acceleration sensors available for measuring low-level, low-frequency vibrations, as well as slowly moving phenomena. In fact, these sensors provide accurate output even when the motion temporarily halts--and they maintain that reference indefinitely.

Performance of variable capacitance accelerometers closely matches that of larger, heavier, and more expensive servo accelerometers. Weighing just 3 to 10 grams, many of these units mount on printed circuit boards for easy system integration. These units can be designed for analog or bit-stream digital output.

When compared to piezoresistive microsensors, capacitive accelerometers offer greater sensitivity. This allows a high signal-to-noise ratio over a wide dynamicrange(>100dB at 100 Hz bandwidth).

Capacitive accelerometers also operate over a wider temperature range (-55 degrees C to +125 degrees C). Such advantages allow low-frequency measurement with very little drift. Variable capacitance accelerometers, therefore, may be of interest to original equipment manufacturers of guidance and control systems, vibration control instruments, and stabilization systems.

To speak with an applications engineer from Kistler Instrument Corp., call 716-691-5100, or fax 716-691-5226.

Defense contractor finds a new niche in NVH

Defense contractor finds a new niche in NVH

O'Donnell became general manager of the Barry Controls Defense and Industrial Division of Applied Power in 1992. Prior to becoming general manager, he worked for two years as manager of engineering and operations. In that job, O'Donnell was responsible for all engineering groups and all manufacturing operations. From 1989 to 1990 he served as engineering manager for all engineering groups. O'Donnell joined Barry Controls as a project engineer in 1979. He spent five years as a project engineer and senior project engineer, and then became CAE manager in charge of CAD/CAM implementation. O'Donnell was employed by Barry as a co-op engineering student from 1975 to 1979. He holds a B.S.M.E. and M.B.A from Northeastern University in Boston, MA.

It's a noisy, vibrating world out there, and Brian O'Donnell sees every squeak, shake, and shock as an opportunity.

Design News--How does a formerly defense-oriented company like Barry Controls make a living these days?

O'Donnell: Defense is now about 1/3 of our business. Our focus on the defense side is to go after very targeted segments of the defense market, and also to fight for market share in those programs as well. Because when you do get specified on those programs, they can be lucrative. We've also diversified into markets where we can use our technology and our expertise. For us, one of the biggest areas of diversification has been heavy trucks. Those companies have been downsizing, so they depend on us as a resource to do specific things like shock and vibration control.

Q: Some consider NVH a cosmetic problem. How do you and your engineers view NVH?

A: From an ergonomic standpoint, it's a big issue and it's becoming still bigger. From an efficiency standpoint and a human factors standpoint, it's more than just perception. And in some markets, it can make a product stand out. Remember that a big emphasis in the market is on quality. Quality has a lot of connotations, but one of those connotations is: "smooth and quiet." So smooth and quiet sells. It's important to consumers.

Q: What sort of future do you see for traditional passive vibration control technology?

A: It'll definitely be there. In a lot of low-to-medium performance kinds of applications, passive technology yields an excellent cost/benefit ratio. We will definitely see active technology in automotive applications, heavy-truck applications, construction equipment, and agricultural equipment. For active technology to be commercially viable in some of these applications, you need systems that must be commercially available for less than $500 per system. That's the kind of price range we're talking about, and that price will be reached within a year.

Q: How important is software to the field of shock and vibration control?

A: It's important in a number of specific areas if you're talking about active systems. The control algorithms and the interface to those control algorithms are very important--not only to run the system. Many times people want to be able to feed that information into other systems. Also, many of the materials used in shock and vibration control are difficult to analyze. There's a lot of work being done on FEA techniques for many different types of elastomeric material applications. More and more applications are demanding higher-end analysis capabilities, and most of the higher-end applications require some sort of durability or qualification testing, which is very expensive. So there's a drive towards being able to do less empirical testing and more analytical testing.

Q: How can U.S. manufacturing companies like Barry Controls compete with low-cost competitors offshore?

A: First, there's definitely still a very high level of need for companies that can layer engineering support on top of a manufacturing product. A lot of companies have essentially outsourced their engineering capabilities and look for that support in addition to manufacturing capability. Of course they can still go to design houses and source products offshore. So from a materials standpoint or a process standpoint we need to be more efficient than offshore suppliers. Also, we need to be global suppliers, and Barry Controls is part of Applied Power, which has manufacturing facilities throughout the world. We can look to source in areas where we can get economies of scale.

Q: How important are foreign sales to your company, and how important will they be in years to come?

A: They're fairly important now, and they're going to be getting much more important. Brazil is a big country. If their economy remains stable, there will be a lot of demand for the types of products that we supply. So we have a facility there and a lot of people there. There are a number of programs that we're involved with in Korea for export throughout Asia. And Barry Controls has two facilities in Europe right now. About 1/3 of our business is in Europe, and the same type of markets exist in Europe as in the United States. So Europe is a big area of focus for us as well.

Pro/JR. 1.1

Pro/JR. 1.1

Pro/JR. offers the same parametric modeling found in Pro/Engineer but without several add-on modules. The solid modeler is based upon a complete history-based parametric definition of geometry rather than on creating static geometric shapes.

PTC's design philosophy has two shortcomings with its approach to parametrics. First, all parametric geometry must be created inside of Pro/JR. via 2-D constrained sketches. This means existing geometry from other CAD systems is not usable for parametric design changes or modifications. Second, when major changes are required for Pro/JR. parts, it is often quicker to recreate the part from scratch rather that determine which feature relates to another in its constructive history.

Getting started. Overall, using Pro/JR. gave little surprises. While its menu structure does not adhere to exact GUI standards, its layout and use is logical. The menu structure is based on a hierarchical scheme that leads the user through the next required step for any given operation. Several special functions, such as single clicking on a circle for radius dimension, give quick control of commonly used options.

While models created in Pro/JR. are upwards compatible with Pro/Engineer, models created in Pro/Engineer are not supported in Pro/JR. But Pro/JR. does support a range of standard file and model import and export formats. As for utilizing existing data from DXF or IGES, Pro/JR. falls short of the entire industry since it only allows DXF data to be imported as 2-D data to its Drawing file. An entire 3-D IGES model may be imported into Pro/JR. as a base feature with new features added to it. However, parametric editing is not possible with the original base part.

Getting started with Pro/JR. is much different than other products in the industry. It does not have primitives, so all geometry must be created as 2-D profiles. When the geometry is fully constrained, it is made into protrusions to make it a solid. Once an operator gets past Pro/JR.'s three different plane definitions for creating sketches, using Pro/JR. is similar to other products.

Once the geometry is created it must be manually dimensioned or have constraint modifications applied to it. By using the Regeneration menu, the system checks for over/under constraint situations. Under- constrained sketches are not allowed; all dimensional constraints must be solved.

Dimensioning is quick and versatile. Dimensional values are the constraints which are automatically labeled with incremental constraint names. These have no true numeric length or size displayed at this time. Upon modification, the actual value is displayed. It can either be made into a new value, or a relationship of other labeled constraints or equations can be keyed in.

2-D links. The associativity of Pro/JR. makes it really standout with dimensions. Not only are they for driving the geometry, they are also used by the software for annotation in the Drawing mode. Bi-directional changes are supported from the drawing back to part and vice versa. Further system performance is provided by quick system-generated View Scale, Detail, and Section labels. These start out as definitions the operator keys in for creating view sections. The data is used for annotation of the views once these views or sections are located on the drawing. This makes annotation of multiple-view 2-D drawing almost automatic.

Pro/JR.'s Assembly support allows mating of parts within an assembly based on terms common to the assembly discipline. Commands such as mate, align, and orient are used rather than defining shape locations, specific plane definition, or coordinate values. The placement data becomes part of the parametric features database, rather than a static location.

While its tools are wonderful, getting to know Pro/JR. takes some time. The weak link is that it cannot utilize existing geometry from other CAD systems for parametric modeling. Since installation is still UNIX-type in its procedures, PC users will find it more difficult to install as compared to other products that offer typical "setup.exe" install methods. Shortcomings aside, Pro/JR. is offering the competition a tough fight for dominance in the mid-range solid-modeling market.

A similar product:

AutoCAD Designer--Autodesk, 111 McInnis Parkway, San Rafael, CA 94903; ph: (800) 551-1490.

Spec Box

Pro/JR. 1.1

Required Hardware: Windows 95 on Intel Pentium; Windows NT on Digital Alpha AXP, Intel Pentium, and MIPS R4000 Family; UNIX workstations from Digital UNIX, HP-UX, IBM AIX/6000, Silicon Graphics IRIX and Sun Microsystems Solaris. 32M bytes RAM, Ethernet adapter, CD-ROM, and 200M bytes free disk space.

List Price: $4,995.00.

Parametric Technology Corporation, 128 Technology Dr., Waltham, MA 02154; ph: (617) 398-5000; FAX: (617) 398-6000.

DN 100

DN 100

Mergers, buy outs, reorganizations, job cutbacks, and a volatile stock market. Sound familiar? It should. It's the same scenario portrayed in the last two DN 100 reports. And the picture hadn't changed all that much as we tallied the results for this year's Design News ranking of the Top 100 Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) employers of engineers--with one major exception.

Sitting at the top of this year's Top 10 list is Lockheed Martin with a whopping 50,000 engineers on board. That's nearly 20,000 more engineers than are working at General Motors, last year's biggest employer.

Actually, this news should come as little surprise to Design News readers. We predicted this could happen last year following the announcement of the merger of Lockheed, which placed number 10 on the list, and Martin Marietta, which held the lofty number 2 spot. However, from a job standpoint, beware. The nation's largest defense contractor recently announced plans to eliminate another 15,000 jobs and close 12 plants and laboratories over the next two years.

But those layoffs might not mean much, at least as far as the number-one slot goes. Lockheed recently reached a memorandum of understanding to buy General Electric's jet-engine-control manufacturing and service business. The GE unit makes the digital-electronic equipment that regulates many of GE's commercial and military aircraft engines.

The good and the bad. In spite of the similarities found in the last three surveys, this year's results from the country's manufacturing giants provide some interesting information for engineers. And, like last year's report, there's good news and bad. Let's begin this report with the good.

According to The Forbes 500, median profits per employee rose 61% last year, while sales per employee increased 24%. In other words, U.S. industry continues to produce more and earn more.

With one exception, this year's Design News survey nearly matches the Forbes results. The Top 100 companies had combined sales of $1.1 trillion last year, down $302 billion from 1993. The Top 10, on the other hand, reported sales of $405 billion, $89 billion more than the previous year.

Jump in jobs. Engineering employment set a new record in the final quarter of 1994 with 1.9 million engineers on the job, according to the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES). As a result, the unemployment rate for engineering professionals dropped to 2.6% from its unprecedented high of 4% just a year ago.

The Design News Top 100 survey reveals a similar trend. Last year, the Top 100 employers reported they had 554,764 engineers on the job. This year, the number has grown to 561,390. The 6,626 jump in jobs is a far cry from 1994, which recorded a 2,850 decrease in the engineering population.

This year's top employer is greater than the sum of its parts. Lockheed Martin's 50,000 engineers compares with 15,500 for Lockheed and 28,000 for Martin Marietta last year, a gain of 6,500 engineers. Other Top 100 OEMs that added extensively to the engineering population: AT&T Bell Laboratories, with 30,000 engineers, up 17,000; Raytheon, with 15,000 engineers, up more than 6,000; and Loral Corp. (13,000 engineers) and Northern Telecom (5,000 engineers), both up 2,000.

Despite this rosy picture, AAES warns that future trends in engineering remain uncertain. Early 1995 data suggest that the size of the workforce has slipped back under the 1.9 million threshold, and recent layoffs and cutbacks by organizations like NASA and Lockheed Martin contribute to the mixed outlook.

The picture appears to be even bleaker for older electrical, electronics, and computer engineers. Based on a survey released recently by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), nearly 6% of members in their 50s report they are involuntarily unemployed, compared to no more the 2% for all other age groups.

Pay improves--sort of. On the salary side, the Engineering Workforce Commission of AAES has found that overall salaries of engineers have risen an average of just 1.2% over the past year. While median starting salaries are up 1.3% from 1994 levels, salaries of engineers with 12-23 years of experience are actually lower than they were a year ago.

Design News readers should be encouraged, however, since the commission notes that engineers working in manufacturing industries did well in the past year (a rise in median income of 5.1%), while their non-manufacturing counterparts' wages decreased by 4.5%.

The Design News Top 100 survey adds another pleasant note to the AAES findings when it comes to OEMs. Of those companies willing to divulge their pay scales, 46% revealed that entry-level salaries range between $30,000 and $40,000 a year, up 9% from last year. A total of 8% said their starting salaries range from $40,000 to $45,000, up 3% from 1994. The 1% who reported that new recruits earn only $25,000 to $30,000 dropped 4% from the previous year.

For those engineers on the job five or more years, 33% of the Top 100 companies reporting said that salaries range from $40,000 to $50,000 annually, up an average of only 1% from 1994. However, 18% reported that salaries for longer-term engineers in the $45,000 to $50,000 pay range increased 5%, while those making only $40,000 to $45,000 dropped 4%. Also making gains, engineers earning $50,000 to 55,000, up 5%; those in the $55,000 to $60,000 range, up 1%; and those in the over $60,000 range, up 2%.

Firms that reported paying more for both entry-level engineers and those on the job five or more years also increased somewhat from last year's survey. If you would like to start your career at a salary of $45,000 to $50,000, FMC would be the place to visit. In the $40,000 to $45,000 range, check out DuPont, Ford, Los Alamos Laboratories, National Semiconductor, Polaroid, Qualcomm, Sandia National Laboratories, or Teledyne. For those engineers who have more experience and would like to make $50,000 to $60,000 a year, the companies to contact would include Ford, NASA, Sandia, Seagate Technology, and Storagetek.

Although the merger mania and downsizing shuffles have diminished somewhat, they remained active enough to create some major shakeups again among this year's Design News Top 10 list. Lockheed Martin aside, it's not hard to see why AT&T, with 17,000 more engineers on the job this year, jumped from the number 16 spot last year to number 3 on this year's list. However, Chief Executive Robert Allen announced in late September that the electronics giant will divide itself into three independent, publicly traded communications companies. What this means on the job front remains to be seen.

On the downside, Boeing slipped six places from number 4 to number 10. With the exception of Motorola, which held down the number 9 spot, all other Top 10 club members merely shuffled up or down one or two slots.

Some equally revealing ups and downs also wove their way in and out of the remainder of the Top 100 companies. After sliding from number 4 in 1992 to number 17 last year, IBM moved up one slot in this year's survey to number 16. Having recently brought prominent software maker Lotus Development Corp. into its fold, the computer giant could once again move into the Top 10 next year.

The biggest move upward, however, is reserved for Silicon Graphics, leaping from number 75 to number 54. This advance up the Top 100 ladder was closely followed by Northern Telecom (46 in 1994 to 28 in 1995) and Tektronix (93 in 1994 to 75 in 1995), both moving up 18 rungs.

On the down side of the coin, Cooper Industries took a nose dive from number 33 to number 59, a drop of 26 places. It was followed by Asea Brown Boveri, which plunged 21 spots, and Ball Aerospace, with an 18-point descent.

Recent news from Wall Street indicates that investors are increasing their stakes in high-technology companies. One reason seems to be that the U.S. high-tech industry is quickly learning to make the most of R&D dollars. As part of its 1995 Product Development Benchmarking Study, management consulting firm Pittiglio, Rabin, Todd & McGrath (PRTM), using its R&D Effectiveness Index, determined that U.S. industry's overall return on R&D investment has increased 84% since 1992.

In 1992, the average index was .25, meaning that for every $1 of R&D investment, companies received a return of 25 cents in new products. In 1993, that return rose to 31 cents, and in 1994, to 46 cents. With $100 billion spent on R&D in the U.S. in 1994, those index figures translate to a $21 billion improvement since 1992.

This picture becomes even more encouraging considering that the National Science Foundation has reported that industry R&D spending has increased only 2% since 1993. "The fact that U.S. companies were still able to see an increased return of $21 billion shows that they got much more from the same level of investment," says PRTM Managing Director Michael E. McGrath. One of the major reasons for this, McGrath states: cross-functional design teams.

High on the list of companies that make good use of those R&D dollars are those high-tech firms that produce electronic marvels. Motorola, which occupies the ninth spot on the Top 100 list, posted record earnings in the third quarter of this year.

Not to be outdone, rival Texas Instruments, number 20 on the Top 100 tally, reported a 55% rise in net income for the third quarter. TI's results continue to be driven by its semiconductor business, which accounts for about three quarters of its revenue and more than 90% of its profit. Moreover, William Aylesworth, TI's chief financial officer, predicts that sales for its key chips will continue to grow, faster than the semiconductor business as a whole next year.

Intel, the number 19 company on the Top 100 chart, could be raking in the highest corporate profits in the world within several years, according to The Wall Street Journal. Intel Chairman Gordon Moore thinks he knows why. Moore is famous in the industry for his observation that the performance of microchips doubles every 18 months with no increase in price. "Moore's law" continues to drive down the cost of technology, spreading the use of products that were once affordable by only a few. "It looks like we will stay on the same trend we've been on for another decade," Moore predicts.

Hewlett-Packard, already among the fastest-growing companies and number 4 on the Top 100 list, should also benefit from this surge in sales. Its revenues have exploded from $6.5 billion in 1985 to $25 billion in 1994. Richard Sevcik, general manager of H-P's systems technology group, forecasts that consumers and workers will, by the next decade, each own three or four sub-$100 electronic devices for work. What does this rosy picture portray for engineering opportunities? According to the Top 100 survey, it's "very good" at HP, Motorola, and TI, and "good" at Intel. Even IBM says its hiring outlook is "good," as does Apple Computer. On a more subdued note, job prospects at Unisys are only "average," and Digital Equipment's are "fair."

Automotive slips a gear. Last year at this time, the automotive industry seemed poised to set an all-time annual sales record in 1995 of more than 16 million units. However, after a brisk start for the 1995 model year, summer sales sagged. Even many incentives to get cars off the dealers' lots late last summer failed to spur much buyer interest. As a result, analysts say the Big Three automakers are expected to post sharply lower combined earnings of about $1.9 billion for the third quarter, down from the year-earlier $2.3 billion. With the '96 models already at the dealers, it appears that '95 sales will fall below the 15-million-plus range of last year.

Looking ahead, if the economy continues to grow at a steady pace, and '96 models like the all-new Ford Taurus strike the buyer's fancy, automotive sales could shoot up again. Even General Motors might set its sights higher following J.D. Power & Associates' recent announcement in its Initial Quality Study that GM builds "the most defect-free cars of the Big Three." Ford's formerly stellar quality numbers have deteriorated, the report also notes.

What does this mean from the standpoint of jobs for engineers? For one thing, if sales continue to sag, don't look for hiring flags to be in abundance at any of the Big Three companies. And it seems doubtful that GM's quality coup over Ford will translate into engineering jobs. In fact, by the end of this decade, GM plans to cut about 25% from the cost of developing new vehicles. The reduction, according to Arvin Mueller, GM's vice president and group executive for North American vehicle development and technical operations, should enable the company to eliminate about 5,000 of the 30,000 engineers working on vehicle development. This applies to jobs at both the automaker and at contract engineering companies that GM hires.

If there is any consolation, at least for engineers working in the auto industry, consumer satisfaction with American cars and vans has grown since last year, while satisfaction with Japanese auto brands has declined. This word comes from the American Society for Quality Control in its most recent Customer Satisfaction Index. Ironically, the proclamation came at just about the same time that Honda announced it had produced its one millionth Civic in the U.S. Still, the quality report could turn buyers away from foreign brands and back to U.S. models.

A mixed bag. You already know how Lockhe

An ARMY Of Energy Misers

An ARMY Of Energy Misers

Cleaning industrial chemical and pharmaceutical tanks typically requires a lot of energy, time, and caustic solvents. The handling and disposal of spent solvents is also an energy- and labor-intensive process. Now, engineers at Telsonic USA, Inc., Bridgeport, NJ, have created a tube resonator that uses ultrasonic waves and soap and water to clean tanks more thoroughly and quickly. In applications at the DuPont Merck Pharmaceutical Co., engineers estimate that the system saved 3.51 million Btu--the equivalent of 605 barrels of oil--in one year. Cleaning time was slashed 86%, and 6,100 lbs of solvent were eliminated. On the market now, the technology also can be used to de-aerate liquids, speed chemical reactions, and cause crystal formation in certain metals or slurries.

Ceramic 'recuperator' recovers waste heat

Almost every industrial process uses heat exchangers to transfer heat among process streams, or to recover waste heat normally vented to the atmosphere. Until now, such "recuperators" used metal tubes that were limited to airstreams of 1,400 degrees F or cooler. A new ceramic composite heat exchanger developed by U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Industrial Technologies and Babcock & Wilcox, Barberton, OH, allows manufacturers to recover energy from waste streams such as flue gasses exceeding 2,000F. The alumina-zirconia fiber material resists corrosion and wear better than metal, and exhibits a high strength-to-weight ratio. At a prototype installation at a DuPont incinerator, researchers estimate that the ceramic heat exchanger reduced fuel consumption 35-38%. Other applications: Scrap-metal remelting and advanced gas-fired turbines.

Lamp cuts energy use more than 60%

When engineers at Fusion Lighting, Inc., Rockville, MD, discovered that sulfur glowed when stimulated by microwave energy, a new light bulb design literally went on in their heads. Soon after, they substituted sulfur for toxic mercury in their ultraviolet industrial lamps. Their invention, the "Solar 1000'' sulfur lamp, delivers the equivalent of eighty 100W conventional light bulbs in a shoebox-sized device. The lamp is coupled with a large semi-transparent lightpipe developed by A.L. Whitehead, Vancouver, British Columbia. The lamp has no wires, filaments, or metal parts to burn out, and produces a spectrum close to sunlight. In one test installation, a single sulfur lamp and lightpipe replaced 240 conventional 200W mercury high-intensity-discharge lamps, and slashed energy use by 72%. Potential applications for the sulfur light are wide-ranging. The light is powerful enough to light stadiums and airplane hangars; its color spectrum makes it useful for medical and plant research, claim Fusion engineers. Prototypes presently illuminate the entrance to the U.S. Department of Energy and the Space Hall at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Look for it on the market next year.

Air-conditioner 'freezes out' competition

In air-conditioning systems, cooling capacity is the name of the game. A new accumulator/heat exchanger can inexpensively boost the cooling capacity of automotive a/c systems by at least 15%--and reduce fuel use. The accumulator, designed for use in conventional a/c systems, boosts cooling by "overfeeding" the evaporator with liquid coolant. Excess liquid coolant exiting the evaporator is rerouted to the heat exchanger and vaporized. This in turn decreases the compressor's work load. The accumulator works with piston and rotary compressors, as well as CFC-free refrigerants. The system is patented by Oak Ridge National Laboratory engineers Fang Chen and Vince Mei, and may also find use in vending machines and refrigerators. U.S. automakers and a/c OEMs may license the technology.

Motion control with character

Motion control with character

For all the power inherent in today's microprocessor-based motion controllers, programming them too often remains an esoteric science that engineers keep at arm's length from machine design. Not so at nuLogic, Inc., Needham, MA.

"We want to make motion control a tool, like CAD," explains nuLogic President Jeffrey Seiden. "Ease of use is as important as functionality."

Ease of use could be the mantra of the six-year-old company, whose first product Seiden, a veteran of several start-up electronics companies, put together in his basement. Called nuControl(TM), it was a single-board, three-axis controller designed for the newly introduced nuBus for the Apple Macintosh(R).

The then-novel ability to run servomotors by manipulating icons rather than specialized programming commands presented a market opportunity, Seiden recalls. Although Apple's product represented a small market, nuControl was different enough to garner attention, giving the new company the revenue and experience it needed to grow.

nuLogic became profitable in 1990 and hasn't looked back. The company bootstrapped itself to sales now in the "single-digit millions," without relying on outside venture capital.

Other products followed. nuStep (TM) a nuBus-based stepper-motor controller complemented the original nuControl. Later, the company made the transition to IBM-compatible computers with pcControl (TM) and pcStep(TM) . Each product shared the original's dual-processor architecture that permits high-speed motion control without taxing the host. Software innovations included compatibility with National Instruments' LabView(TM) , which further simplified programming and allowed a highly graphical user interface.

Turning point. Through its first five years, Seiden admits, nuLogic played technological leapfrog with competing companies in bus-based control. And though nuLogic has grown 90% annually, that market grew slowly: PC or Mac, office-automation hardware for industrial control is an idea that has taken time for engineers to accept.

That situation has changed. The emergence of broad industry acceptance, powerful new processors, and advances in software design forms the opportunity for the company's latest product, the FlexMotion TM board. According to Seiden, "It represents a turning point." Capable of controlling as many as 10 axes of any combination of servo or stepper motors from a single PC ISA slot, FlexMotion has the functionality and connectability to cover 98% of the electronic motion-control market, he says.

As with earlier boards, the FlexMotion board is a dual-processor design. A Motorola 68331 32-bit CPU handles such chores as communications, trajectory planning, I/O interrupts, PID, and velocity-feed-forward control. An Analog Devices AD2111 digital signal processor handles number crunching.

The board's peripheral hardware design further enhances its utility. For example, flash memory stores the controller's firmware, making program upgrades or customization easy. Termination options let designers minimize noise in encoder signals, whatever the signal frequency. Field-programmable gate arrays allow it to be configured through software for a range of feedback devices. Similarly, its software-configurable, 16-bit, digital-to-analog-converters give users options like dual-loop motor feedback or torque limiting without interrupts--a feature that puts the controller's lag or "latency" into the nanosecond range.

Software options. As with prior nuLogic products, FlexMotion can be run through LabView Motion Virtual Instruments. But Seiden says OEM or larger embedded-control manufacturers will probably find that the company's pcRunner(R) software more closely meets their needs.

Included with each FlexMotion board, Windows-based pcRunner presents a graphical user interface that makes it easy to get machines running quickly. Pull-down menus give users access to the more than 120 functions for precise motion-scheme definition.

Source communication, function, and driver codes, as well as programming samples in C, C++, DOS, and Basic, are also available. So is a nuLogic graphical software tool called Servo Tune (TM), which lets users model and exercise their system's PID loops to get the desired response. "We think it saves users from the trade-offs of conventional auto-tuning programs," Seiden says.

Capabilities. FlexMotion is just emerging from beta-site testing. To date, users, including several large production-equipment manufacturers, report good results.

Equally important, the capabilities arising from synergy of FlexMotion's hardware and software design speak for themselves. The system's library of functions include point-to-point, linear interpolation, jogging, and circular, spherical, and cylindrical interpolation, as well as S-curve acceleration control.

Because of the dual-processor design, the FlexMotion board can combine any or all of these functions in defining multiaxis motion, changing the definition, if desired, with each 60-musec update. Called Infinite Trajectory Control Processing (TM), this capability is further enhanced by a novel "blend" command that lets users anticipate motion changes and achieve extremely high motion-profile fidelity.

The ability to put together complex, high-precision motion profiles from a graphical menu, says Seiden, "puts motion control at the level of CAD." That's important, he feels, because "to be successful, we have to be attentive to the designer's expectations."

Engineering News

Engineering News

Toying with ideas leads to hit products

Newton, MA--Toy inventors' backgrounds may vary, but their desire to bring pleasure to children of all ages remains a constant. Take these men for example: Sonny Smith, a Chattanooga musician, created an innovative new toy, the Rad Board (TM) multi-plane scooter, with his grandchildren in mind. Mike Jones, a Portland cement contractor, balked at paying $175 for a simple toy scooter and applied a novel gear and transmission design to the Power Pumper TM kid's cycle. Thomas Hughes, a former NASA engineer, created the patented clay mixture that enables Teddy WarmHeart (TM) to be a warm plush animal for children. All of these men brought their ideas to market without major corporate backing.

Warm bear hugs. Teddy WarmHeart lives up to his name by generating warmth for four hours after only a two-minute "hybernation" in the microwave. Teddy WarmHeat uses no batteries, wires, or harmful chemicals in his warming process.

Finding a way to warm the bear proved challenging. "The hard part was getting a plush product that's microwave safe. A great deal of experimentation and coordination with hospitals went into this," says Gregg Harwood, president, Teddy WarmHeart Corp., Springfield, IL.

Thomas Hughes, a former NASA engineer, developed and patented the Thermal Ceramix TM, an all-natural, clay-based product that's the key to the bear's heart. According to Harwood, the heart's novelty is that it's a heat sink, not a heat reflector. The Thermal Ceramix consists of a soft, non-toxic clay-based heat sink. Directions tell parents to microwave the bear in the cloth sleeping bag provided.

So, Teddy's warm heart is basically a well-packaged Thermipaq (TM) Hot or Cold Therapy Pack from Thermionics Corp., Litchfield, IL. "Doctors brought the bear into the preemies," says Gregg Harwood, president, Teddy WarmHeart Corp. "The babies responded positively; it's ideal in this environment."

Teddy WarmHeart is now also widely used in nursing homes as a comforting toy. Some elderly patients who are afflicted with alzheimers or arthritis have shown improvement after being exposed to the warm bear, says Harwood. Teddy WarmHeart retails for around $40. For more information, call (800) 800-3353.

Ride on. In March 1992, Mike Jones handed his business partner the shovel he was using and walked away from a career of manual labor. A flood of interest in one of Jones' inventions, the Power Pumper, convinced him to abandon his cement-contracting business and pursue his dreams.

The Clackamas, OR inventor had balked at paying $175 for a toy scooter and began imagining how to turn the simple device into a "better mouse trap." What he envisioned while staring at the scooter is now known as the Power Pumper (TM) , manufactured by Hart Enterprises, Vancouver, WA.

The Power Pumper 4-wheel cart's novel gear and transmission design received two U.S. patents. By pushing the pedals and pulling on the handle bar, and then reversing the action, riders propel themselves forward.

Safety is built into the design. A low center of gravity helps to prevent tipping over. Other safety features include a hand break and a roll-back lock (prevents rolling downhill backwards). A fluorescent safety flag is included, and flies four feet above the ground. Recommended weight for riders is 120 lbs, although it has been tested to 250 lbs.

The Portland, OR School District adopted the device in its physical education programs. And children who ride Power Pumpers in their neighborhoods discover they are the center of attention as amazed friends wonder at the race-car design and unique pumping action. Jones is now developing Power Pumper prototypes for adults and disabled persons.

The suggested retail price for the Power Pumper is $199.95. For more information, call: 1-800-859-HART.

What's that? The Rad Board from Smith-Horton Enterprises, Chatanooga, TN, derives its name from observers saying "That skateboard is radical." What's so radical? This skateboard, scooter, street-toboggan combination actually consists of three short skateboards joined together, with a total of eight wheels and handlebars at each end.

Sonny Smith, a well-known Chattanooga musician, designed the Rad Board with his grandchildren in mind. He had a prototype made and got a patent on it, but died of cancer before he could really develop it. His son-in-law, Eddie Horton, and widow, Marie Smith, decided to try to find a manufacturer for the toy.

Rad Board's double-steel tube frame consists of three non-slip riding planes; four sure-grip handles; four high-performance adjustable trucks; eight wide, stable, precision-formed wheels; and 16 semiprecision bearings. Upon introduction in late 1994, 11,000 callers in less than four weeks asked where they could buy a Rad Board(R) scooter.

Since the 1992 plywood prototype, changes to the design of the board have made it safer, more durable, and more colorful, with a greater variety of designs. The 1995 model, aimed at kids from six to sixteen, now offers a decelerator, a breaking device that allows for a more versatile range of tricks and spins.

Design problems were minimal, according to Neil Miller, director of promotions. "We did have problems finding a way to apply the decelerator," he says. Michael Smith, son of the Rad Board inventor, came up with the design for the decelerator. "We went through 5 prototypes before finding one that would attach between the two pipes for the wheels." Because the decelerator wears down from friction, replacement pads are available for purchase.

Also a design hurdle: choosing a bearing to use on the Rad Board. The eight wheels contain 16 bearings. Original specifications called for standard bearings; the boards now have replaceable semiprecision bearings that offer longer life and reduced deterioration. This upgrade cost four to five cents a bearing, or about 80 cents per board. Full-precision bearings were considered, but at a cost of 25 cents each, weren't feasible.

Testing and deciding on the tube gauge and the strength of each board proved the toughest part of designing the Rad Board says Franz Reichert, CFO, Rad Board Inc. "The board strength comes mainly from knowledge gained in the skateboard industry," he explains. "Reinforcement webbing built into plastic makes the polypropylene board thin and light. We had an idea of what perfomance characteristics were needed."

So far, over 50,000 Rad Boards have been sold. The manufacturers expect to sell at least this many, according to Reichart, before this Christmas.

For the future, Rad Board Inc. is looking into designing an off-road wheel that would make the Rad Board usable on grass and other previously unattainable surfaces. Another area for change: Using a new technology to print graphics on a piece of plastic and then putting the plastic into mold design.

On line for 1996 are the new Mighty Mini(R) Rad Board for ages four to eight; the Rad Rex (TM) Doll, which is the mascot for the Rad Boards; and tee-shirts and caps with various Rad Rex and Rad Board designs.

The Rad Board sells for $79.95, and the Mighty Mini for the three-to-six-year-old crowd sells for $39.95. For more information, call (800) REAL-RAD.

These products show that a good concept can catch on without major toy industry marketing. So, if a fun toy idea is on your drawing board, share it with the kids.

What this means to you

  • Ideas can be brought to market without major corporate backing

  • Uses for innovative products often transfer over to the disabled and the elderly

--Gail M. Considine, Staff Editor

Recycled plastic helps build a better printer--and environment

Palo Alto, CA--Hewlett-Packard has introduced the DeskJet 850 series of printers, said to be HP's most advanced personal color inkjet printers. Equally interesting, at least from an environmental aspect, is that the printers' outer casing contains up to 25% recycled ABS plastic.

"We expect to use more than 6 million pounds of plastic that otherwise could end up in landfills," says Jim Langley, general manager of HP's Vancouver, WA, printer operation. "It's an exciting step forward for the industry, and shows what a tremendous impact can be made when you design products for the environment."

For the printer project, HP turned to Cycolac(R) REC 550 ABS resin from GE Plastics, Pittsfield, MA. According to GE, the thermoplastic resin has a minimum 25% recycled content, and performs like a virgin material. Major sources for the resin's recycled content include post-consumer telephones and pre-consumer (molding discard) automotive interiors and business machines.

GE began working with HP about three years ago in the early phases of the printer line's development. "Due to the continuing decrease in printer prices and the increase in environmentally friendly products, HP needed a cost-effective material with recycled content," notes Doug Nutter, general manager of resource and recycle programs for GE Plastics. "Also, HP wanted a durable, precolored, flexible material to design an attractive printer that would meet the lifestyle needs of consumers."

The DeskJet 850 printers have other environmental benefits. For instance, they are designed for easy disassembly and recycling. Their modular architecture contains few permanent screws, which makes them faster and easier to take apart. And all plastic parts in excess of three grams are identified and marked by type.

Moreover, the printers require fewer materials than previous models. They are molded using a thin-walling process, which creates thinner and lighter components. The trimmer printers require fewer shipping materials, and, as a result, less fuel to ship.

Finally, all HP printers are inherently energy-efficient, using about 80% less power than dot-matrix printers. But the new DeskJet 850 models include power-down and sleep modes, which cut energy use in half when compared to other inkjet printers.

Fasteners smooth path for document-folding equipment

Doylestown, PA--CAD has changed the way engineers do business, but many still rely on engineering documents to convey information. Printfold Co. designs and manufactures systems that convey, fold, and collate oversized engineering drawings.

For the design of a recently introduced document handler, Printfold engineers chose fasteners from Penn Engineering & Mfg. Corp., Danboro, PA. The model 3000-CF is an on-line, automated large-engineering-document folder to complement 36-inch printers and plotters.

To get load-bearing threads in thin metal sheets too thin to thread, Printfold engineers use self-clinching PEM(R) fasteners. For example, self-clinching stainless-steel nuts attach the bridge which connects the printer to the fold unit. The fasteners deliver a tight bond and ensure a clear paper path, company officials say. Likewise, stainless-steel Keyhole(R) standoffs allow spacing along the paper-guide rail while securing the bearings for the pressure rollers.

Inside the model 3000-CF, type S self-clinching steel nuts secure electrical components such as circuit boards. The fasteners have proven reliable despite constant motor vibration.

Other fasteners, such as carbon-steel self-locking fasteners and blind threaded standoffs, eliminate the need for lock washers and nuts in the frame assembly. "We originally started building equipment with welded frames," recalls Roger Funk, formerly chairman of Printfold's parent company. "But it prevented us from being able to quickly remove components for service in the field. The switch to PEM fasteners solved this problem and resulted in a less bulky assembly with fewer parts."

Composite protects pump from chemicals

Carrollton, TX--When engineers at Dosmatic USA, Inc. design a chemical feed pump, they never know what kind of chemical it's going to be used with. Therefore, to ensure that its new Mini Dos pumps would resist attack from even the harshest chemicals, the company looked for the most chemically resistant material it could find.

The Mini Dos pumps inject a proportional amount of liquid chemical into a water stream. "Our pumps add whatever kind of liquid chemical you need, in a precise, metered amount," Dosmatic President Frank Walton explains. Some typical applications include: spraying lubricants on conveyor tracks in bottling plants, carrying antibiotics or vitamins to animal feed, or adding fertilizers through a residential sprinkler system.

To make sure the pumps will operate under these conditions, engineers turned to Verton(R) MFX, a long-glass, fiber-reinforced polypropylene composite from LNP Engineering Plastics, Exton, PA. "The composite not only gives us the strength and wear resistance we need, its chemical resistance is excellent," Walton adds. "This translates into a longer life for our Mini Dos pumps."

Dosmatic plans to use the composite on other pump models. Says Walton, "Currently we use a polycarbonate composite on some of our other pumps, but it doesn't have the same kind of extensive chemical resistance as Verton MFX."

Dosmatic received added benefits from using the composite--a material that's easy to mold, has good pressure and wear resistance, and stands up to UV exposure. "It's extremely difficult to get a plastic that will deliver all of these things at the lowest possible cost. Verton MFX gives us exactly that," says Walton.

Even shipping costs dropped when Dosmatic began using the composite. "We air freight our pumps all over the world, and the freight companies charge by the pound," Walton reports. "The low specific gravity of Verton MFX allows us to produce a lightweight, high-performance unit that doesn't cost a fortune to ship."

Adhesive repair salvages torn sail

Bridgewater, NJ--Experienced sailors know that when you tear a sail, repairs either involve a costly panel replacement, or sewing on a patch that will alter the sail's intended shape and affect sailing performance.

For Jim Nowicki, however, a torn jib sail in his 30-foot Lippincott sloop was no problem to fix. Nowicki, a senior project supervisor at the Adhesive Division of National Starch and Chemical Co., simply bonded the damaged sail with a reactive hot-melt adhesive.

To repair the L-shaped rip, Nowicki transfer-coated a 4-mil film of PUR-FECT LOK(R) 70-7799 adhesive onto thin strips of sail fabric, then positioned them on both sides of the 3.5- x 1.5-foot tear. Nowicki chose the aliphatic-based polyurethane adhesive for its strength and because it has the UV and chemical resistance to withstand continuous sunlight, salty air, and high wind forces.

After using an ordinary garment iron to heat the adhesive, Nowicki let the bond cure for a week and then began sailing with the refurbished jib. "The sail retained excellent shape," he recounts. "The patched jib is still going strong despite encounters with some really bad weather."

Now, National Starch is working with an Australian sail maker to examine the potential for commercial sail-making applications. The adhesive's elasticity may reduce seam slippage and improve the sail's ability to retain its intended shape. For commercial use, Nowicki proposes that the adhesive be applied by slot applicator at 110 degrees to 120 degrees F along the seams of the sail.

Cushion car seats with recycled fibers

Plymouth, MI--From cola bottle to car seat: That's the route some PET resin is taking thanks to a process developed at Johnson Controls' Plastics Technology and Automotive Systems Groups.

The seat backs and cushions use recycled PET fibers from soft-drink bottles. PET (polyethylene terepthalate) seat pads have a few advantages over the polyurethane foam pads used in current auto seats: PET pads are easier to recycle, lighter weight, offer better "breathability," and can be molded into a wider variety of densities, say Johnson engineers.

Johnson's "thermobonded" PET manufacturing process uses heat and low pressure to compress the fiber into seat pads. The process is less environmentally toxic than foam-blowing methods, and eliminates adhesives and their associated solvents.

"The PET recycling industry is growing significantly," says Alok Kumar, director of advanced development for Johnson Controls. "In the 1999 model year, we will be in a position to provide recyclable PET-fiber seat pads for production vehicles, and we're working to develop PET-based trim covers for future applications."

The cushions, which were unveiled at the recent Frankfurt Auto Show, meet comfort, durability, and material requirements, say engineers. A new molding process boosts the high-temperature durability of the pads.

Johnson is also improving the recyclability of seat designs by reducing the number of parts, using standardized fasteners, avoiding insert-molded plastic parts, and designing structures using lay-on pads. "In the near future," Kumar adds, "environmental features will become as important to automakers as quality and safety are today."

'96 E-Class, engineered like...a Mercedes-Benz

La Quinta, CA--For the past 15 years, Design News' engineer readers have voted Mercedes-Benz builder of the world's most desirable "dream cars." And for ten of those years, the E-Class sedan has dominated the company's sales. In 1995, IntelliChoice picked the decade-old design--changed only modestly since its inception in 1986--as the "best value" in its class. So when Mercedes unveiled the all-new 1996 E-Class at a lavish event outside of Palm Springs, I expected a lot.

The car delivers.

Controversial front styling aside, the new E320 (217-hp, 3.2l inline 6) and E300 Diesel (134-hp, 3.0l inline 6) incrementally up the ante in the highly competitive $40,000 luxury-car arena. A 275-hp V-8 version, the E420, will debut as a 1997 model, and cost just under $50,000.

Smooth, quiet, solid, balanced, and with one of the most supple but well-controlled suspensions ever mounted beneath four doors, the E-Class models boast a host of innovatively engineered components. Highlights include:

The HVAC system incorporates a dust and pollen filter and an activated charcoal filter to absorb odors. To reduce the effects of smog on occupants, a sensor detects levels of both CO and NOx and will switch the climate control to recirculation mode for up to 30 minutes.

  • A sun sensor on the dashboard measures infrared-light intensity and increases A/C blower speed to compensate for strong sunlight. In winter, a "rest" mode continues to direct residual engine heat into the interior for up to 30 minutes after the engine is shut down.

  • Rack-and-pinion steering in place of Mercedes' traditional recirculating ball steering saves 15.4-lbs. Engineers developed a variable-rate system that is somewhat less direct on center to maintain the previous system's desirable damping characteristics.

  • Electronic Traction System (ETS) that limits wheel spin by applying the brake to the spinning wheel comes standard on the Diesel and E320. A more sophisticated Automatic Slip Control (ASR5) graces the E420 and uses braking as well as ignition-timing and throttle adjustments to maintain traction.

  • Another acronym, ESP (Electronic Stability Program), describes a sophisticated stability system that is optional on the E420. It uses sensors to monitor steering angle, individual wheel speed, lateral acceleration, brake pressure, and yaw rate. Should the car begin to understeer or oversteer, ESP applies appropriate brake pressure at one wheel to correct the instability.

  • Optional xenon headlights produce twice as much light from 30% less power than standard halogen lamps. They use a gas-discharge system containing two electrodes filled with xenon gas and metallic salts. Twenty-thousand volts ignite a small arc, which in turn heats up the quartz-glass bulbs.

  • A three-stage intake system on the E300 Diesel is the first ever incorporated into a production diesel automobile. It incorporates six intake runners feeding through a butterfly valve into a twin-pipe resonance manifold, which is divided by a second butterfly valve. The runners and resonance manifold lengths and volumes are tuned to give three torque peaks at 2,400, 2,900, and 4,000 rpm.

Worth more than a mention are new safety features that give Volvo--our readers' perennial favorite in the auto-survey "safety" category--something to think about. Side airbags--the first mounted into the door, the company claims--protect both driver and passenger. Due to the door's close proximity to occupants, the TRW-produced system triggers in 5 msec and fills in just 12 msec. That compares to the 40-msec fill time spec'd for the front airbag.

Not forgetting the seat belt, engineers added new pre-tensioners that rewind 13 cm of belt--30% more than before--during a collision. And torsion-bar belt-force limiters--the first installed in a production car--reduce peak loads.

As expected, all this technology adds up to performance and--something Mercedes-Benz wants to emphasize with the E Class--fun. Informal drag races at a test track in Palm Springs, CA, had the E320 handily beating BMW's V-8 powered 540i. And fun it was.

--Mark A. Gottschalk, Western Technical Editor

Simulation helps Alcoa get parts right on 1st try

Pittsburgh--If you're designing parts that cost $100,000 or more to make, you'd like to get them right the first time.

That's why Aluminum Company of America's Process Design and Smelting Section is using CAD and analysis software to create dies for the automotive industry. "We have improved the quality of the parts," says Technical Specialist Walt Wahnsiedler. "We have also reduced the number of trips back to have the dies reworked, probably by a factor of two."

Alcoa uses a number of different software programs to analyze the dies before they are cast: FLOW-3D (Flow Science Inc., Los Alamos, NM), PROCAST (Universal Energy Systems Inc., Annapolis, MD), FIDAP (Fluid Dynamics Inc., Evanston, IL), and CFDS-FLOW 3D (CFDS Inc., Pittsburgh). "By analyzing filling and heat transfer, we reduce problems of porosity," he explains.

The codes had been running on networked workstations, but Alcoa recently purchased a Convex Exemplar parallel-processing system.

With the larger system, Alcoa can simulate much larger parts, and get results more quickly, Wahnsiedler says. "We only have a few weeks to influence a design before it is cast in stone--or, in this case, steel."

Processor makes designing PDAs as easy as ABC

Austin, TX--Motorola's M68328 DragonBall (TM)microprocessor sports all the features and interfaces you'd want for a personal digital assistant, or PDA. The low-power, low-cost chip also packs enough computing power for such applications as electronic organizers, mobile na-vigation systems, dictionaries, handheld video games, and personal communicators.

Features include an LCD controller, three power-saving modes, a real-time clock, two timers and a UART ready to support the infrared communications standard IrDA, a PWM for generating tones or melodies, a system-memory interface, and a serial interface for pen input. And as a member of the company's 68K family of microprocessors, DragonBall already has an extensive suite of development tools available.

"DragonBall delivers efficient system performance, low power consumption, and outstanding system cost advantages for battery-powered consumer electronic devices," says Ken Edwards, marketing manager of Motorola's Portable Systems Operation.

One company that agrees is Samsung, which selected the chip to build a personal data communicator featuring a built-in pager, pen-based handwriting recognition, and a high-speed data/fax modem. "Our partnership with Motorola allows us to deliver the most cost-effective and compact personal data communicators to the worldwide market," claims Robert Kim, VP and general manager of the Multimedia R&D Lab of Samsung Corporate Technical Operations.

PEEK extends valve-plate life

Ventura, CA--Valve plates normally require more maintenance than any other part of a compressor. That's why the Uni-Seal Valve Co. turned to a polyetheretherketone (PEEK) material to extended its valve plates' life and reliability.

"We wanted to reduce compressor downtime," says Uni-Seal Customer Service Manager Chris Hodgetts. "The PEEK valve plates have excellent stress resistance and fatigue endurance." His company selected Victrex(R) PEEK from Victrex USA Inc., West Chester, PA.

Before switching to PEEK, Uni-Seal used a variety of materials, including nylon and mcarta. The trouble, according to Hodgetts, was that "plates made from these materials experienced breakage problems."

The valve plates act as a seal in reciprocating compressor valves to regulate substance flow through machinery in the oil and gas industries. As a result, they operate in very tough environments. The PEEK engineering thermoplastic can survive under this punishing use because it resists harsh chemicals and is thermally stable. "Not only is PEEK very strong, it is wear resistant and performs very well under extremely high-temperature conditions," Hodgetts notes.

Other physical properties of PEEK include: good tensile strength, as well as resistance to stress cracking, high-pressure steam, gamma radiation, and low smoke. Adds Hodgetts: "PEEK's superior chemical resistance makes it an effective material as a metal replacement."

Uni-Seal supplies plates for all OEM compressor-valve designs. It also specializes in replication compressor valve plates, as well as complete valves.

Is it time to update your resume?

Is it time to update your resume?

Whether by choice or as a result of corporate "right-sizing," many of us in the coming months may be looking for another job. If you find yourself in this stressful situation, get a copy of a new book, Finding Work Without Losing Heart (Adams Media Corp.). Written by William Byron, S.J., a Georgetown University management professor, the book draws anecdotes and advice from the job-hunting experiences of 150 professionals.

Of particular interest is a section describing the major elements of what the author sees as a solid job campaign:

Attitude. A positive outlook is essential. It is a time to grow, try new things, meet stimulating people--and smell the roses.

  • Spiritual. Whether or not you belong to a specific religious group, the extra time you have during a job search allows for some serious reflection on life and its mysteries.

  • Physical fitness. Take advantage of this time and establish an exercise routine that gets you fit for the challenges ahead.

  • Mental fitness. At last, you have the chance to tackle those books that you have been wanting to read.

  • Financial management. Homeowners can tap home-equity loans to help bridge the income cap. It's wise to institute zero-based budgeting, which will weed out unnecessary spending and set the stage for better control of finances in the future.

  • Family. Keep your spouse and children informed about your job search. Without raising false expectations, you need to convey a sense of optimism and of being in control of your fate.

  • Support group. One or two such groups can help you keep your spirits up, but beware of becoming a support group junkie.

  • Friends. You'll find out who the true ones are. They will keep you sane.

  • Networks. Set a goal of making 10 to 15 new networking calls a week, either with job source leads or with stimulating people who can make you feel good or provide useful perspective and ideas.

  • Active lifestyle. Don't sit at home waiting for the phone to ring or the mailman to come. Get out of the house everyday, not just to pursue the job search but for volunteer work, recreation, or other activities.

  • Pacing and balance. Be patient. You can burn out during a job search faster than you can under conditions of full employment.

Beyond these strategies, Rev. Byron emphasizes a central truth that some of us forget: Your job is not you. He adds that those who have the toughest time coping during a job search tend to be people who have lost a sense of balance in life by letting the job define their self image.

Technology Bulletin

Technology Bulletin

Hand-held laser generates scaled drawings

Scaled drawings without CAD? A new hand-held laser distance meter allows engineers to generate scaled drawings from measurements without surveying equipment or CAD systems. The system teams a laser distance meter from Leica Inc., Atlanta, with "smart" parametric drawing software from Saltire Software Inc., Portland, OR. Designed for mechanical contractors, architects, and other space-planners, DISTO Plus SketchRight(TM) lets users point and shoot the laser meter to measure distances up to 330 feet, with an accuracy of 1/8-inch. After the user "sketches" the room or floor-plan, software algorithms automatically convert the laser measurements to a CAD-quality scaled drawing. The system electronically transfers dimensions captured with the distance meter to avoid operator error. SketchRight supports the DXF file standard to transfer drawings to CAD programs such as AutoCAD R12 or R13. For details, FAX Saltire at (503) 968-1282.

Lubricant research sheds light on thin films for small-scale devices

In complex mechanical systems such as computer disk drives, lubricants are meant to reduce friction and protect moving parts against wear. But they may actually do harm, say researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology. With the help of molecular dynamics simulations and supercomputers, researchers recently demonstrated that ultra-thin films of the organic lubricants used in nanometer-scale devices may act more like solids than liquids when subjected to high pressures. Under extreme conditions, such lubricant behavior can lead to damage from cavitation effects and fatigue failure caused by repeated surface deformation. "We believe these results could have some impact on the design and way of thinking about devices like high-density disk drives that have moving parts in very close proximity, lubricated by thin films," says Uzi Landman, director of Georgia Tech's Center for Computational Materials Science. The work helps expand the understanding of elastohydrodynamic lubrication phenomena from large-scale mechanical systems to "nanoscale" devices. For more information, FAX Dr. Landman at (404) 853-9958.

Imaging techniques may aid schizophrenia treatment

Ultra-fast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology, also known as functional MRI, is helping doctors better understand schizophrenia. By using the imaging techniques to detect blood flow to different areas of the brain, researchers at the UCLA School of Medicine have shown that when people with schizophrenia hear voices in their heads, their brains are activated in a way that is similar to activation during normal hearing. Schizophrenia affects more than 1.5 million people in the U.S. Of those, up to 70% suffer from auditory hallucinations. Although medications can "quiet" the voices, very little is known about how or why the hallucinations occur, and no treatment is available to prevent them. The technology may enable psychiatrists to measure whether medical therapies are successful at lessening the auditory hallucinations. In addition to documenting brain activity in people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, functional MRI also can be used to guide neurosurgeons both before and during brain surgery, and assist neurologists in treating stroke victims and others suffering brain injury. FAX (310) 794-7406 or email erik[email protected]

Nickel cadmium batteries power city bus

A zero-emission electric bus developed by APS Systems Inc., Santa Barbara, CA, for the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District offers a 70- to 80-mile urban driving range. The bus uses 100 6V STM5-180 nickel cadmium batteries from Saft America Inc., Valdosta, GA. The batteries are lighter than their lead-acid equivalent and offer a longer life cycle, say Saft engineers. The battery pack consists of two strings of 50 batteries in parallel, and provides a total system capacity of 100 kW. The batteries can be quick-charged using chargers installed on the bus. The 35-foot bus can carry 7,000 lbs of payload and has a turning radius of 28 feet. Maximum speed: 60 mph. For details, FAX Jim Miller at Saft: (912) 247-8486.

System enlists electricity to destroy hazardous waste

A non-thermal method for destroying hazardous waste is available now as an alternative to incinerating organic waste. The catalyzed electrochemical oxidation process breaks hazardous wastes, such as the nerve gas sarin, into inert materials such as carbon dioxide and water. The process was developed at Pacific Northwest Laboratory and is licensed by EOSystems Inc., San Jose, CA. The process generates chemical reactions similar to those in a car battery to destroy organic wastes. A self-contained unit containing an electrolyte solution breaks down waste when an electric current is applied. The 300-pound system is about the size of a large desk and operates at room temperature and pressure. According to EOSystems Vice President Norvell Nelson, the capital costs of the system are lower than those of incineration systems. "The costs of transporting the waste can be eliminated because we have designed a portable unit," he adds. For details, FAX Dr. Fred Coppotelli at (408) 437-9363.

Friction material for transmissions to boost fuel economy

An unusual carbon friction material from Textron Specialty Materials (TSM), Lowell, MA, is helping automotive engineers meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. The material is making its debut in the torque converters of automatic transmissions of 1996 autos. As part of a recent multi-year contract with one of the Big Three automakers, Textron's AVCARB(TM) material will be used in a controlled wet-friction application to replace paper-based friction materials that have been used since automatic transmissions first appeared in the 1950s. For more information, FAX TSM's Michael Dorf at (508) 934-7597.

Future computer aims at a ten-fold speed increase

The U.S. Department of Energy is building a new computer that engineers hope will deliver ten times the performance of today's fastest supercomputers. The new system, to be located at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM, will be the first in the world to achieve calculations of more than a trillion operations per second (a teraop). It will use more than 9,000 next-generation microprocessors, unofficially known as P6s, from Intel Corp., Santa Clara, CA. The P6 is the follow-on to the Pentium(R) processor. The Intel/Sandia machine will use the same computer building blocks that Intel offers commercial OEMs for use in large-scale parallel systems, high-volume servers, workstations, and desktop systems. "Scalability was an important goal in designing the P6," says Andrew Grove, Intel President and CEO. When complete, the new computer will use "the same chips we'll be putting into desktop PCs," adds Grove. The computer will have peak performance of 1.8 teraops and offer 262 billion bytes of system memory. Due to be installed by the end of 1996, the computer will be used by DOE engineers to study a variety of complex problems, foremost among them nuclear weapons safety. For details, look at URL

Zero-gravity study to test fluid-management equations

The differences in fluid behavior on earth and in space can be fascinating and frustrating. Space engineers, for example, have to know where fuel will settle in a tank as it empties, or how to keep liquid waste from dispersing into tiny droplets that astronauts could inhale. A recent mission of the space shuttle Columbia may provide new information about fluid behavior in zero gravity. The experiment will videotape the way a mixture of water and alcohol behaves when released into unusually shaped acrylic chambers. The experiment was designed by Stanford University mathematics professor Robert Finn, Paul Concus of the University of California-Berkeley, aerospace engineer Mark Weislogel of NASA's Lewis Research Center, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "One purpose of the test is to determine if we really can use the equations that we have relied on for all these years," says Weislogel. Insight on fluid behaviors such as capillary action could prove useful to engineers designing battery electrodes and protective coatings. For details, email Finn at [email protected]

Superconductive cable to deliver high efficiency

Engineers at Southwire Co., Carrollton, GA, and the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are joining forces to develop high-efficiency superconducting cable. Southwire will design and fabricate a one-meter length of the cable for testing. ORNL will provide cryogenic systems support and test facilities. "If the test cable works, it should be possible to fabricate much longer lengths and thus commercialize what is now an experimental technology," says Southwire Project Manager R.L. Hughey. Silver-clad tapes containing dozens of filaments of ceramic superconductor will carry twice the electrical current--more efficiently--than conventional cable, say engineers. When chilled by liquid nitrogen to approximately 320 degrees F below zero, the tapes lose their resistance to electricity and conduct current with virtually no energy loss. For details, see htttp://

Light device helps identify health risks

People have known that flickering light has an effect on the brain for centuries. For example, for some drivers, light flickering through roadside trees can trigger a seizure. Now, Tufts University electrical and computer science engineer Van Toi Vo has created a device that may help doctors and perhaps patients themselves determine whether they are prone to develop eye diseases such as glaucoma, or test the effects of caffeine or nicotine on the brain. Vo's patented device uses two oscillating polarizers to create a sinusoidal wave of light that continuously and slowly changes in intensity and rate. To be tested, the patient looks through an eyepiece and adjusts the rate or intensity of the flickering light until it begins to look steady. The device is presently being used to study LSD users who still suffer from flashbacks. The instrument can be used to study blood flow to the retina, and also shows promise for diagnosing potentially toxic levels of stimulants used to treat heart disease. For more information, e-mail Deborah Halber at [email protected]