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Articles from 1998 In February

Valve manifold has on-board PLC

In any system using databuses, most engineers prefer to place intelligent control as close as possible to the actuators. With new Smart Pneumatic Valve Manifolds from Festo, they can now do that to a greater degree than ever before. The reason: The new manifolds incorporate the full processing and control functionality of an Allen-Bradley SLC 5/02 programmable logic controller. The system, which uses either Allen-Bradley DH-485 or DeviceNet protocol, provides OEMs and end users with a space-saving, multi-function control solution for merging electronic and pneumatic controls in automation applications. All the system's components--valves, sub-bases, electrical I/O, bus interface--are integrated with plug-in electrical connectors, thereby eliminating internal and external wiring of individual valves. Festo Corp: Product Code 4188.

Timing technology improves Olympic performances

Timing technology improves Olympic performances

Colorado Springs, CO--"Timing is key in winter sports," says Tim Conrad of the U.S. Olympic Sport Science Technology Division. "During the summer, athletes race against each other. But in the winter, each athlete races against the clock." The Sport Science Technology Division developed infrared laser-based training programs, instant-feedback video programs, and millisecond accuracy checks to help athletes im-prove performance times.

The Potato Index. "The start time is probably the single most important part of a luge run," says Conrad. To help the athletes improve their time, Conrad and Tom Westernburg, also a principal engineer at the Sport Science Technology Division, developed a start-time training system.

The luge has a three-phase start: the push, the paddle, and the exit as the sled leaves the start ramp, says Westernburg. An indoor ice ramp, built at Lake Placid, NY, by York Engineering, measures each phase. Strain gages measure applied force from the start handles. The "potato" index measures paddling technique. Using a photoelectric system from Banner Engineering (Minneapolis, MN) and an LED retroflective sensor, the athlete's paddle time is measured against that of a sack of spuds. "We know the speed of a sack of potatoes traveling down the track," says Conrad. "So we compare the athlete's time at the top and bottom. If it is better than the sack of potatoes, then the paddling technique is good. If it is slower, then it needs to be improved."

Lasers on ice. For the short-track speed skating event, Conrad and Westernburg again developed a time-monitoring system to provide athletes with immediate feedback on their performance. They used a laser photoelectric system from Banner Engineering, where a visible laser beam is shot across the ice in the path of the skate blade. The skater's lap time, clocked to within 1/1,000 of a second, is publicized on a four-inch-high LED display. The whole system fits into a portable notebook computer case. "The motivation is tremendous," says Conrad. Athletes can see immediately what they did on one lap and can adjust their technique accordingly. Previously, the skaters relied on a crude stop-watch system.

SMT transformers produce cost-effective ISDN devices

SMT transformers produce cost-effective ISDN devices

The explosion of the Internet onto the worldwide scene, combined with the growth of corporate Intranets, telecommuting, and the small-office-home-office marketplace, has fueled an unprecedented demand for high-speed connectivity. To boost efficiency, many ISDN makers are converting their designs to 100% surface mount technology (SMT) components and processes.

Pulse engineers redesigned the new SMT transformer around an "open frame" construction that reduces the overall weight at the heart of the component. The new component's winding bobbins are formed from high-temperature plastic and internal solder connections using high-temp solder to resist any potential for component degradation from the 220 to 230C temperatures in today's SMT reflow ovens.

A key issue raised during discussions with OEM manufacturers was the need for a highly consistent level of co-planarity between all of the transformer leads to ensure required SMT production yields. Pulse engineers redesigned the production process to simultaneously form all of the leads in a single step, thus eliminating problems of lead 'lift' and improving solder joint integrity.

The use of SMT transformers can significantly improve the cost and quality of ISDN systems by allowing greater levels of automation, reduction of manual operations, more efficient use of PCB real estate, and improved consistency of system yields. Empirical testing has shown that SMT transformers are just as durable and reliable as through-hole components. Plus as a result of im-proved production efficiency and reduced handling costs, the final "applied costs" of using the new SMT components is significantly less.

To reach the author or a Pulse representative, e-mail [email protected]; or call (619) 674-8100.

Omron continues to support Design News foundation

Omron continues to support Design News foundation

Schaumburg, IL--For the sixth consecutive year, Omron Electronics Inc. is supporting the Design News Engineering Foundation with a major donation of $10,000. This gift benefits engineering students at the university level.

According to Tony Tinaglia, vice president of the Control Components Div., Omron's participation in this program and others stems from their dedication to "providing students with the proper education to meet company and community expectations when they enter the work force." Other driving factors include Omron's desire to expand upon the awareness of the engineering profession and to help promote/encourage students to pursue engineering careers.

"Being an electronics company, our products are engineering intensive from customer design to manufacturing, including product development and marketing," says Tinaglia. "Therefore, we focus on the engineering community since it contributes largely to our success and future growth."

Founder Kazuma Tateisi's corporate philosophy remains at the root of Omron's success, as President Shingo Akechi continues to encourage employees to act as responsible corporate citizens by giving back to their communities. Omron does this through Founders Day, where employees participate in volunteer activities in their communities; through Omron factories built for and run by physically disabled workers; and by supporting educational programs.

The Omron Foundation, Omron's philanthropic arm, provides scholarship programs to five universities in Illinois.

Recently, a donation on behalf of the Omron Foundation was made to Northern Illinois University (NIU) to support their concurrent engineering program. This program is based on a philosophy of enhancing engineering education through classroom project-related activities involving multiple engineering disciplines.

As one of the world's leading suppliers of factory automation and control components, Omron's products are developed and supported by engineers worldwide. These engineers work in areas such as material science, mechanical design, bioengineering, and electronic- and optical-system design. Their work goes into developing Omron's product lines, including sensors, relays, switches, PLCs, and vision systems.

"Not only do we need to support education," says Tinaglia, "we need to encourage today's youth to pursue engineering careers. Otherwise, the technology advantage our country enjoys today could shift to other countries."

More data for DVDs

More data for DVDs

Tokyo, Japan--The easiest way to increase the storage capacity of an optical disk is to increase its diameter. But design engineers drafting the Digital Video Disk specifications did not have this option, as DVD drives must also play traditional compact disks.

"One of the key aims with DVD is to offer CD compatibility," says Koji Hase, general manager for DVD products at Toshiba Corp., part of the 10-member DVD Forum.

DVDs thus have the same 12-cm diameter and 1.2-mm thickness as a CD. Their greater storage capacity is due primarily to the use of a red laser diode in the DVD player in place of the infrared laser of a CD drive. The shorter wavelength of 650 nm, against 780 nm for the CD, allows the "pits" that represent bits of data to be packed more densely in the disk tracks, and the tracks squeezed closer together.

Greater pit density allows the latest DVDs to hold 4.7 gigabytes, sufficient for a feature-length movie or the data contained in seven CD-Roms.

Technical obstacles. Reducing the feature dimensions on a DVD creates several design challenges. For example, the laser light of a DVD drive must be focused through a larger aperture lens than used in a CD to obtain pinpoint focus. If the disk is not perfectly level, it can unfocus the laser beam and cause errors in reading the tiny pits. Manufacturing impurities in the polycarbonate substrate cause the same problem.

Solution? Halve the thickness of the polycarbonate substrate to 0.6 mm, reducing the impact of focus distortion and impurities. Gluing two substrates together achieves the 1.2 mm thickness necessary for CD compatibility. This sandwich construction also reduces warping due to heat and humidity.

In the simplest DVD configuration, called DVD-5, the top substrate is a dummy; data is pressed as a thin layer of pits just below the surface of the lower substrate in much the same way as a CD is made. This single-sided, single-layer format holds 4.7 gigabytes and has the advantage of simple player design. Even so, DVD makers want to move to higher-capacity formats.

"The current 4.7 gigabytes may seem sufficient, but it is not going to be enough," says Koos Middeljans, manager for mastering and duplication at Phillips Electronics NV, another DVD Forum member. "To record more than two hours of video material you need to add a second data layer to the disk."

Doubling the data. Consequently, the DVD industry has developed a single-sided, dual-layer format, called DVD-9. Its capacity: 8.5 gigabytes. In this construction, the top substrate also has a data layer, which is accessed from below. To switch between the upper and lower data layers, the player refocuses the laser.

The same technique is used to read a CD, whose data layer is at a different depth than the DVD. Two lenses, one for the CD and the other for the DVD, mount horizontally in the laser pickup. The player automatically identifies which type of disk is playing and switches the appropriate lens into the light path. In the DVD-9 disk, the lower substrate has a semitransparent reflection coating to allow the laser to penetrate into the upper layer.

Other formats lie on the horizon. The first is a double-sided disk where two substrates, each incorporating one data layer, are glued back-to-back. Capacity is 9.4 gigabytes, twice that of a DVD-5 disk. Since data layers are accessed from opposite sides, the design will require a new type of player with two lasers, one to read each side of the disk.

The ultimate DVD may be a 17-gigabyte version called DVD-18, equivalent to back-to-back DVD-9 disks. The lower laser accesses the bottom two data layers; focus is adjusted to switch between the two layers as in a DVD-9 disk. The upper laser accesses the top substrate's two layers.

Finally, Toshiba's Koji Hase believes data capacities of 15 gigabytes per side will be achievable in two to three years by switching to a shorter wavelength blue laser diode.

Flat disks for focused players

Flat disks for focused players

Because adhesion and disk flatness must be maintained in varying environmental conditions, the bonding agent plays a critical role in the DVD. Typically, a hot-melt adhesive applied to both halves of the disk, the agent is normally cured by UV light. This process, however, can take hours for the bond to reach final strength.

Imation Corp., Menomonie, Wisconsin, has developed a pressure-sensitive adhesive for DVDs that does not need lengthy curing. The product, called SP-5, is applied to the substrate surfaces as a liquid and when briefly irradiated with UV becomes a high-tack solid glue. Once the disks are mated, no further curing is needed, thus reducing stresses in the substrate which could affect optical properties.

To compare, a DVD has a 0.74-micron track spacing and 0.4-micron minimum pit length against 1.6 microns and 0.83 microns for a CD. In addition, the DVD player's laser can still read the larger pits of a CD, thus giving the desired backwards compatibility.

DSPs pack peripherals, flash memory on one chip

DSPs pack peripherals, flash memory on one chip

Texas Instruments' TMS320F241 and TMS320F243 DSPs offer 8K of reprogrammable flash memory and control area networking(CAN). The TMS320C241 offers 8K of read only memory (ROM) and CAN. Machines such as industrial book binders that use multiple electric motors of myriad sizes can be interconnected using the CAN bus to link the DSP controllers within each motor.

Applications include motion control systems, robotics, transmission/hydraulic systems, power supply inverters, uninterruptible power supplies, computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines and automotive systems.

The TMS320C242 offers 4K of ROM, a serial communication interface, dual 10-bit analog to digital converters, and the needed pulse width modulations for controlling a power inverter. Typical applications for this device would be heating ventilation and air conditioners and home appliances.

The four DSP controllers also feature a fixed-point, 20 million instructions per second (MIPS) DSP core with a 50-ns single-cycle instruction execution time, enabling 1-cycle multiplication and addition operations. Additional on-chip peripherals include general-purpose timers, serial communication interfaces, serial peripheral interfaces and analog to digital converters.

Low-cost, one-chip digital cameras coming to a store near you

Low-cost, one-chip digital cameras coming to a store near you

Sarnoff Corp. (Princeton, NJ) hopes that its new image sensor, based on a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology, will make the digital camera as inexpensive as a computer mouse and just as common. The CMOS active pixel sensor delivers nearly 100X the dynamic range of a standard charge-coupled device (CCD) sensor, at comparable resolutions. Exposure is controlled without a mechanical irisand the on-board electronics eliminate the need for external analog-to-digital converters required in CCD-based cameras. Sarnoff will license the technology to camera makers and provide engineering support to modify the design for specific camera applications. The company predicts that eventual unit costs for the chips could be in the $6 to$10 range. Demonstrators of the technology are now available. For more information, contact Tom Lento, Sarnoff Corporation, CN 5300, Princeton, NJ 08543-5300; ph: (609)734-3178; FAX: (609)734-2040; e-mail: [email protected]

Use your finger for security

Use your finger for security

Software developers and OEMs can use electronic fingerprint identification in computing, commerce, and security applications with a new digital sen-sor chip and kit available from Veridicom Inc. (Santa Clara, CA). The sensor, about the size of a postage stamp, can be incorporated into networks, a keyboard or computer mouse, cellular phones, automo-bile instrument panels, television sets, cash registers, and home and office building en-trances. Samples are expected during the first quarter of 1998. The cost will be $100 per unit in small quantities and about $50 in OEM production volumes. Veridicom, formed in 1996, is a venture between Lucent Technologies and US Venture Partners. For more information, check out the company website at:


Accupack/VE event simulation software features an enhanced EASY menu that enables users to automatically set the control parameters for an event simulation without having to know the underlying mathematics. Accupack/VE combines kinematics, rigid/flexible body motion, and nonlinear stress analysis in one program. A click on the EASY menu takes the user to a list of the kinds of events to be simulated, including linear static solution and dynamic response and large or small strain static/steady-state solution.

ALGOR Inc., 150 Beta Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15238, FAX (412) 967-2781.