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Articles from 2008 In March

Facebook: Do engineers hang there?

Facebook: Do engineers hang there?

They’re called social utilities. Facebook and Myspace are the best known. My college-age kids have been on Facebook for years and I opened an account a couple of months ago. Ain’t I cool!?

The Facebook Fact Book says precious little about Facebook: Founded in 2004,  Facebook has 67 million users who visited their account at least once within the last month. It is the "second-most trafficked PHP" installation in the world. PHP stands for "hypertext preprocessor" and is computer and web site scripting language. It’s inventor, Mark Zuckerberg, will turn 24 in May and attended the same private high school as my son (Phillips Exeter Academy), who tells me Facebook to some degree is based on the school’s internal student network. Controversy seems to find Zuckerberg and there are several claims alleging that he ripped off some of his ideas. 

Do engineers use Facebook? Certainly, the younger ones do. Design News has its own Facebook page and of the 57 people who havee friended it, the vast majority are from countries outside the U.S. And when I searched "design engineering," I could not even get through the A’s. I didn’t see many of DN’s bloggers on Facebook. Mechatronics on Campus blogger Stefan Wolpert, a Olin College sophomore, was there of course.

I can’t tell you for certain that Facebook is an essential networking tool for engineers, but I can tell you this. That vast majority of kids (I am more than 2x older) under 25 who I know use it as a key social medium. And there’s no reason why it could not be a professional medium as well. It already is. Stay tuned.

LeCroy Takes Complexity out of the Box in Redesign

The number of fasteners used in an oscilloscope top box was more than cut in half through a redesign project at LeCroy Corp. in Chestnut Ridge, NY. In total, two-thirds of all parts were eliminated from the 194-part sheet-metal chassis that was riveted together.

The design team was comprised of mechanical engineers, manufacturing engineers and a lead project engineer, who met on a weekly basis. “We were able to have the key design people be part of the regular brainstorming sessions,” says Toni Inserra, senior manufacturing engineer. “That provided invaluable real-time continuity between the mechanical engineering department and the redesign team.”

Members of the team included a senior mechanical engineer who made sure the top box and assembly satisfied all structural and customer requirements. The goals of the redesign project were to simplify manufacturing, reduce cost and make the box easier to service in the field.

A software package called DFMA (Design for Manufacturing and Assembly) was used to evaluate various iterations for ease of assembly and manufacturing efficiency at early stages of product development.

Difficult to Assemble

“The original design for the oscilloscope top box was durable, but it had an extremely low ease-of-assembly rating,” Inserra says. “There was plenty of room for improvement.” From his service background, he was able to point out areas of the product that were difficult to reach and disassemble. More often than not, those areas presented assembly difficulties, as well. “In its initial design, the equipment included sub-assemblies that could not be removed without first taking out several others,” Inserra says, “and the inside of the box was cramped for manual operations.”

One of the big developments was the replacement of rivets with interconnecting slots and “finger” tabs. This was possible due to a decision to split the top box chassis into three units to minimize interference during assembly and disassembly operations.

Another big breakthrough was use of self-clinching fasteners from PennEngineering to mount the CPU board to the chassis. “Using the PEM inserts helped us to reduce fastener count by over 50 percent in the top box,” Inserra says. The total number of fasteners in the box was reduced from 103 to 42.

Ease of assembly improved sevenfold in the new design based on a metric generated from the DFMA software. Wiring was routed in a more efficient manner and all components are easily accessible for installation or service. The new sheet-metal chassis consists of an upper and lower box and a removable front panel, eliminating awkward and constrained assembly tasks. “The new chassis makes troubleshooting in the field far simpler,” Inserra says.

Stamped "fingers" and slots replace fasteners.

Google's Home Page Goes Dark For Earth Hour

Google's Home Page Goes Dark For Earth Hour

Don’t adjust your LCD; there is nothing wrong with your desktop computer (except maybe that it is drawing power from a non-renewable energy source).

Google today turned all the white pixels black on its main homepage as “a gesture to raise awareness of a worldwide energy conservation effort called Earth Hour.” Details of Google’s involvement in this effort can be found at Google’s Earth Hour page.

To me, this gesture smacks just a little bit of Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth. Google is expending effort to publicize and promote the need for energy conservation, but the promotional effort itself does nothing to improve sustainability. See “Gore Wins Global Warming Nobel, Invents the Internet, and Cures Cancer” for the analogous global warming argument. Google could have, for example, made this promotional effort much more meaningful by purchasing all their power from renewable energy providers for the duration on the time their home page was black.

Nonetheless, Google is among the greenest companies in the world. They recently installed a massive 1.6 MW solar array at their headquarters in Mountain View, CA that offsets 30% of the company’s peak electricity demand. So, I cannot really fault them on the renewable energy front.

Plus, it turns out that changing Google’s white pixels to black may actually have some positive environmental impact. On “Black Pixels Cost Less?” a blogger reports some measurements that suggest, at least for CRT monitors, that black pixels pull less power than white pixels (although, as illuminated in the blog comments, these measurements may be incorrect). A further extension of this discussion can be found at “Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year”. In fact, there is a Web site,, that provides a custom Google search but always with a black background to exploit the alleged conservation benefits of black pixels. As of this post, claims to have saved 535,474.135 Watt hours.

I hate technology, today

I hate technology, today

Do you have days when nothing works? I had one today and am totally sour on computers and all the crap you attach to them that doesn’t work.

The first problem occurred when I wanted to edit a short video. Neither Pinnacle Studio 11, my main video editing tool, nor Movie Maker in Windows XP would work. They crashed every time I tried to Firewire video off my  camcorder. And this is after I upgraded my video card and added two GB of memory specifically so I could us these tools! No wonder everyone says video editing should be done on a Mac. The PC and MS Windows are neither powerful nor stable enough to handle video. At least that’s my experience with Dell Pentium 4 based system.

On to the next tech debacle. A friend wanted a recording that I had on tape cassette. Well, the only thing old enough to have a cassette recorder  is my car. So I recorded it there onto my Zoom H4 Handy Recorder. The H4 has one of the worst user interfaces I’ve ever experienced. It was designed by morons. And now it fails most of the time when I connect it to a PC to dowload the files. Once I was able to, the resulting MP3 file was 27 MB - too large to send via e-mail. I could zip it, but I told my friend to buy the recording on Amazon.

And in the middle of copying it in Sony Sound Forge, some confusing message insisted I register for some MP3 utility or it would not let me complete saving the file. My Sound Forge is a legitimate and legal copy so I wonder why this had to happen. The heck with it.

To top it off, the battery in my truck is dead. Time to take a walk!

Automotive Market Trends: Chrysler, Daimler Lead The Way With Little Electric Vehicles

March 28, 2008
Spotlight Story:
Chrysler, Daimler Lead The Way With Little Electric Vehicles
Chrysler and Daimler are testing the market for little electric vehicles. Leading the parade of tried-and-true technologies in the vehicles are lead-acid batteries and brush-type motors. Full Story
Optimum™ – the Clear Advantage™

EFD's new Optimum™ syringe barrels, cartridges and pistons set a new standard in consumable fluid dispensing and packaging components. EFD used Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software to engineer a comprehensive family of disposable components that bring fluid dispensing and packaging processes to a higher level of reliability to meet the demands of today's cutting edge manufacturing processes. Click Here.
Automotive Technology in the News:
Autonomous Vehicle Could Reach Roads Soon Automotive engineers at the recent 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas declared completely autonomous cars could be ready as soon as 2020. Full Story
GM Will Use New Structural Adhesives Extensively New models based on General Motors Delta and Epsilon platforms will make extensive use of new crash-resistant structural adhesives. Full Story
Hybrids vs. Clean Diesels With gasoline prices above $3/gal in the U.S., automotive buyers looking for the best fuel economy have the options of a hybrid or diesel powertrain instead of the conventional internal combustion engine. Full Story
Camera System Analyzes Driver Behavior Drivecam, Inc. is using Texas Instruments digital signal processors (DSP) to create video recordings of driver behavior. Full Story
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Tough Jobs: 50,000 Hours Life Specification In partnership with Groschopp
What affects the life of the motor? Long motor life to achieve tough specifications such as 50,000 hours of continuous operation requires a quality product and a detailed understanding of the application. Find out how Groschopp helped their client avoid expensive product recalls. Read More

Design Tips for Engineers: Welding Aluminum Extrusions In partnership with Hydro Aluminum
Welding aluminum isn't difficult, its just different. Different from welding steel that is. It is the unique combination of light weight and relatively high strength makes aluminum the second most popular metal welded today. Learn what makes welding aluminum a bit different from steel. Read More

A New Multi-Shot Injection Molding Process In partnership with Phillips Plastics
Does your design call for a part requiring the elasticity of rubber combined with the strength and rigidity of thermoplastic? If so, a new manufacturing technique may provide the best solution with components that offer high performance with reduced material and production costs. Read More
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View All Materials/Fastening Resources

Chrysler, Daimler Lead The Way With Little Electric Vehicles
Autonomous Vehicle Could Reach Roads Soon
GM Will Use New Structural Adhesives Extensively
Hybrids vs. Clean Diesels
Camera System Analyzes Driver Behavior
Resource Center
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Here comes gadget gear

If you love your gadgets, you can now get clothing designed to hold every werid little electronic product. Here comes the Scott-E-Vest line. How about a jacket that holds an iPod in an inside pocket but lets you control it from the outside?

Gadgets from 1983

Gadgets from 1983

Here’s a video showcasing electronic gadgets from 1983. Along with cassette players, you’ll also get dazzled by some early robotics. The big feature was small electronics, from little video games to tiny TVs and small cassette players that roar through giant speakers.

One Giant Machine


An Aesthetic Look


Reducing Blu-ray Disk Failures