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Articles from 1997 In April

Designer's Corner

Designer's Corner

No-drip pump

Tangency between auger's ball point and seat's flat, angled sides eliminates drip. Rotary pump can deliver 10-200 milligrams of materila with a volumetric accuracy of +/- 3% at volumes to 100 milligrams per second.

When dispensing encapsulation or flip chip underfill materials, volumetric accuracy is critical. The 680 Series Rotary Positive Displacement Pump ensures accurate delivery via:

  1. Positive material shut-off valve. An air cylinder lifts the dispensing auger out of its seat for unobstructed flow.

  2. Closed-loop motor control. The rotary encoder adjusts motor speed in 1 rpm increments to compensate for viscosity changes.

  3. Heating cartridge. Exiting warm air pre-heats material in the feed tube for proper viscosity.

Craig Lazinsky, Camelot Systems, Inc., 145 Ward Hill Ave., Haverhill, MA 01835, 508-373-3742.

Silicon relay

Faster response in a smaller package; silicon micro-machined relays combine the isolating benefits and low leakage of electromagnetic relays with the speed/size advantages of solid-state relays.

Microelectromechanical system (MEMS) is small enough that a multiplexing relay can be put directly on a probe card.

Bonded silicon and glass chips form the relay building blocks. A cavity, etched into the silicon side, houses the deflecting paddle, while the glass side supports an actuator plate.

Applying a voltage to the actuator plate initiates switch action. Electrostatic attraction pulls the paddle towards the glass until the shunt bar closes the circuit.

Designed for automated test equipment, the prototype relay offers millisecond response, high reliability, and low power dissipation.

Harold Joseph, EG&G IC Sensors, 1701 McCarthy Blvd., Milpitas, CA 95035, 408-432-1800.

Hot products

Hot products

CAD marries power and simplicity

Los Angeles-based Microcadam Inc.'s new marketing slogan uses an in-your-face tone to broadcast an interesting message. "The hell with limits," the company's literature says, then it explains why the Helix Design System "unleashes" engineering power. The slogan works, and, more importantly, Microcadam is betting that the software will too. One of the so-called mid-range software products, Helix includes a solid modeler and an integrated parametric detail drafting package that, the company says, are full of features and easy to use. Helix Modeling combines surface and solid-modeling capabilities, and allows users to combine extruded, revolved, swept, and skinned objects to represent complex shapes, then further refine them through filleting, chamfering, and other tweaking operations. Microcadam Inc., FAX (213) 613-2350

And now, a 'spell checker' for design

"Will it break?" "How much will it bend?" "How will it vibrate?" Those are just a few of the important questions design engineers ask about the products they're developing. To answer them quickly, says CAE guru Dick Miller, engineers would like to have something like a word processing spell checker. So, he and a team of ANSYS developers in Houston, PA, have come out with DesignSpaceTM, a "design checker" that plugs into the Windows-based solid modelers Mechanical Desktop, from Autodesk, and SolidWorks. It's not a finite element analysis program, though FEA capabilities reside in it. Miller says DesignSpace gives engineers access to performance data as they design, rather than late in the development stage. He says it helps engineers make better decisions by defining their space--or range of design constraints. ANSYS Inc., FAX (412) 746-9699.

Push-button analysis for design

Structural Research and Analysis Corp. (SRAC), Los Angeles, says it has developed a sure-fire way to make it easy for design engineers to do the analysis they want to do. It's called COSMOS/M DESIGNER II, and the company says it enables engineers to prepare models for analysis and view the results by pressing a few buttons. Users don't even have to see the mesh. Solver technology is COSMOS/FFE (Fast Finite Element), which SRAC says is 100 times faster than any other program on the market while requiring 20% less disk-storage space. Structural Research and Analysis Corp., FAX (310) 207-2774.

FEA package does the work for you

"I wanted to develop an analysis program that would do a lot of work for the engineers who use it." That was the stated goal of Pedro Marcal when he began development work on SAGE (Superconvergent Adaptive General Elements). The resulting finite element analysis program, marketed by Barnabei Inc., Murraysville, PA, is Windows-based, interactive and includes an expert system. The program performs two analyses, one with a simplified coarse mesh for initial results, and a second with a mesh that uses adaptive methods. The expert system is the F.E. Consultant, which takes the user through a series of questions about the design to ready the model for analysis. Among the kinds of problems SAGE solves are thermal, electromagnetic, potential flow, and piezoelectric. Barnebei Inc., FAX (412) 325-5591.

Analyze turbulent and laminar flow simultaneously

Algor has a new analysis package that enables engineers to study turbulence as an extension of laminar flow, using the same model. The technology comes from research Pittsburgh-based Algor funds at Carnegie Mellon University. It's based on computational fluid dynamics technology that shows where and how different types of flow act within a computer model of fluid flow. Applications include analysis of parts in cars, airplanes, boats, and other products that interact with air, water, and other fluids. Algor, FAX (412) 967-2781.

Better designs are the 'object'

Matra Datavision's EUCLID Quantum suite of products are based on the Andover, MA, company's Cascade object-oriented development platform. The product consists of four applications, one each for design, analysis, machining, and parts/assemblies management. All support a common object model for UNIX and Windows NT, and are both Web and intranet enabled. EUCLID Desktop, shown here, links all the applications together, accesses external or third-party applications, and enables data exchange. Matra Datavision, FAX (508) 685-7100.

Engineering Productivity Kit

Engineering Productivity Kit

Tiny isolators solve frame stiffness problem

Dayton, OH--Engineers who build vibrating machinery often employ air springs in their designs. Because air springs have extremely low natural frequencies, they enable engineers to reduce the natural frequencies of vibrating systems.

But when Dean Blake of Quest Engineering set out to design a vibrating V-trough conveyor for a Pillsbury plant in Martel, OH, air springs were not available for his particular application. The reason: The V-trough conveyor, which vibrates food bags while they move over a distance of five feet, was only 12 inches off the floor. "To obtain the proper natural frequency, I knew that we needed an air mount," Blake says. "Unfortunately, the package size was too confining for ordinary air mounts."

Now, however, that's changing. As Blake learned, Firestone Industrial Products' new 2M2A air spring, also known as the Microactuator, solves such problems. The unit, which operates off pressures ranging from zero to 100 psi, can measure as little as 1.2 inches high and 2.2 inches in diameter. Designed for actuation and isolation applications in tight spaces, it has a stroke of about one inch.

The technical challenge to building such a small air spring was the curing process, say Firestone engineers. Conventional rubber air springs are cured in a press by employing an air and steam media. That enables the layers of rubber to bond together and perform as a single unit. For the Microactuator, Firestone engineers developed a proprietary new curing process. "We couldn't use the standard curing process for this size air spring," notes Brian Hoaglan, an applications engineer for Firestone. "So we developed a unique one based on the methods used on some of our earlier air spring styles."

The Microactuator played a key role in the design of the V-trough conveyor system for two reasons: First, it was small enough to fit the packaging constraints of the conveyor; second, it provided a low enough system natural frequency for the conveyor frame.

To meet the stiffness constraints, Blake designed the conveyor frame to be at least ten times as stiff as the vibratory frequency needed to settle the contents of food bags travelling along the conveyor. That meant that with a peak driving frequency of 58 Hz, the vibrating frame needed a frequency of at least 580 Hz.

Blake says that he considered other types of isolators, such as coil springs and elastomers, but only air springs could provide the necessary design reliability. "They offered low noise and low natural frequency," Blake says. "All the vibration energy was transmitted to the product and very little to the support frame."

The air isolators, he says, are ideal for vibratory applications. "The key to success for this vibrating system was that it had to have a low natural frequency," he says. "That required an Airmount isolator."

Additional details, Microactuator...Contact Brian Hoaglan, Firestone Industrial Products Co., 701 Congressional Blvd., Carmel, IN 46032, (317) 580-2300.

Additional details, vibrating conveyor equipment...Walter Dean Blake, Quest Engineering, 2325 Wrencroft Circle, Dayton, OH 45459, (937) 435-0500.

Pneumatic valve softens blow of sudden pressurization

Slow start feature is volume independent

by Charles J. Murray Senior Regional Editor

Englewood, CO--When turning on a delicate pneumatic instrument, it's best to start slowly, letting air in at a gradual rate before reaching full pressure. Problem is, many slow-start valves don't do that. They let air in slowly at the outset--reaching about 40 to 50% of line pressure--then they slam all the way open. Such harsh operation can damage valuable equipment. Worse, it can be a safety hazard in some applications.

Now, however, there's a better way. Engineers at the Wilkerson Corp. have developed a slow-start pneumatic valve that employs a gradual opening technique all the way to 100% of line pressure.

Key to the valve's operation is a design that allows it to be pressure dependent, rather than volume dependent. To accomplish this design objective, the slow-start portion of the valve employs a specially designed control volume and a pair of opposing pistons. During operation, air enters the system, causing pressure to build in the control volume. As that pressure builds, it pushes down on the uppermost of the two pistons. As a result, the unit's main valve opens, allowing air pressure into the outlet.

As pressure builds on the outlet side, however, it is channeled back to the lower piston, which tries to close the main valve. The resulting give-and-take between the two pistons accounts for the slow-start effect of the valve. "It's a balanc-ing act," explains Frank Bohenick, the Wilkerson engineer who de-signed the patent-pending system. "Pressures on the two pistons balance each other out until the valve is fully open."

The unit is designed such that the pressure on the upper piston ultimately overcomes the lower, and the valve fully opens. Full opening does not occur, however, until the unit reaches 100% of line pressure.

Operating in this way, the valve's performance is always independent of the application air volume. That's a critical distinction, because conventional slow-start valves typically are volume dependent. As a result, a change in the air volume on the downstream side of a conventional valve (caused by adding a new pneumatic application) changes the performance of the unit. But volume independence changes all that. "It really doesn't matter what you have downstream of the valve," Bohenick says. "You could have an open line downstream, or you could have a tiny air cylinder down there, and it will always pressurize at the same rate."

Wilkerson employs the feature on its E18/E28 Emergency Stop Valves. The unit can be used in a wide variety of applications, ranging from delicate instruments to those with safety-related needs. "It's helpful to the equipment and to the people using it," Bohenick says. "No matter what the situation is, it always opens slowly."

Additional details...Contact Randy Greenwood, Wilkerson Corp., 1201 W. Mansfield Ave., Englewood, CO 80110, (303) 761-7601.

Rapid Response quickly delivers custom fittings

by Charles J. Murray Senior Regional Editor

Cleveland--When engineers build a hydraulically based machine or a vehicle, they often run into connector-related dilemmas. Sometimes, to reach from one point to another, they must stack three or four special fittings. If they have eight or ten weeks, they can contact a specialist who builds custom fittings. If they don't have that much time, they usually must make due with a conglomeration of off-the-shelf products.

Now, however, there's another way. Parker Hannifin Corporation's Fluid Connectors Group offers a service that designs, builds and ships special fittings, sometimes as quickly as 24 hours. Known as Rapid Response, the service provides single custom fittings or larger volumes, which usually require slightly more time.

Key to the company's capabilities is a multiple-spindle, microprocessor-controlled CNC manufacturing technology that enables Parker Hannifin engineers to quickly set up for virtually any kind of fitting. Because the machine uses no cams, set-up can be as much as 20 times faster than for conventional machinery. "Most machines have cams," notes Don Smrekar, vice president of manufacturing technology for Parker Hannifin. "On those machines it can take 20 hours for total set-up. On this machine, we can often do the set-up in less than an hour."

Using the system, Smrekar says that the Rapid Response team can do small orders on a 24-hour emergency basis or larger orders, even as much as 1,000 items, within two weeks of a purchase order and approval of a drawing. Smrekar says that the Rapid Response systems can handle virtually any kind of fitting for applications including manufacturing, packaging, processing, transportation, agricultural equipment, construction equipment, and more.

Additional details...Contact Parker Hannifin Fluid Connectors Group, 17325 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, OH 44112, (800) 272-7537.

Chrysler launches an aluminum revolution

Chrysler launches an aluminum revolution

To the average driver, it's invisible: a big, bulky, non-descript lump of metal that dutifully bears their vehicle's largest loads in virtually every situation. Most drivers never see it; few ever give it a second thought. They know only that it's down there, somewhere beneath the powertrain. And it's probably made of steel.

Probably. On one of the world's most popular vehicles, however, this is no longer the case. The front suspension cradle--the beefy structural component that carries huge static and dynamic loads on Chrysler's minivans--is aluminum.

To many, that may sound almost like a contradiction in terms. Structural aluminum? Aluminum, after all, has built a reputation as a lightweight material. But experts say there's no reason it can't be used in automotive's toughest structural applications.

"Aluminum may have some of its best applications in structural components," notes Dr. David Cole, director of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation at the University of Michigan. "It serves very effectively there."

Indeed, looking at the advantages of Chrysler's aluminum cradle makes one wonder why the industry hadn't done it earlier. Check, for example, the list of items that can now be mounted on the suspension cradle: ABS control unit, brake junction block assembly, leak detection pump, power steering pump oil cooler, and a host of items that weren't mounted on the steel version.

What's more, aluminum provides better dimensional integrity: about a half-millimeter across the length of the part, compared to about three times that for steel.

Best of all, however, is the weight reduction. In an era when engineers work frantically to cut a pound of weight from a vehicle, Chrysler engineers reduced the weight of the minivan's suspension cradle by at least 14 lbs. While conservative estimates held that a stamped steel cradle would have weighed more than 40 lbs--the aluminum version weighs a scant 26 lbs.

Chrysler managers are ecstatic over the thought of having removed so much weight. "Weight reduction is one of the few universal goods," notes Bob Gasparovich, who served as manager of suspension engineering when the cradle was developed. "It makes fuel economy better. It makes the vehicle perform better, handle better, and stop easier. It does just about everything that's good."

No easy choice. In retrospect, the advantages of aluminum now seem obvious. But it wasn't always so. Steel had long served as the material of choice for structural components. Its strength and low cost made it an easy selection. Plus, engineers understood it. It presented no unknowns.

But when Chrysler engineers began redesigning the minivan, nothing was taken for granted. For the front suspension cradle, their first priority was functionality.

What's more, Chrysler designers were adopting the cab-forward configuration that later made the LH vehicles so successful. That meant that there would be less room under the hood and, as a result, a tighter packaging environment for the cradle. To meet those packaging constraints, they needed to maintain unusally high levels of alignment integrity.

Chrysler engineers first discussed the idea of alternative materials in 1991. "We knew the part would have a complicated architecture," Gasparovich recalls. "And we worried about whether we could make a steel part with the dimensional integrity we needed."

When engineers investigated aluminum as an alternate material, they found that it met those needs. An aluminum cradle could be cast in a single piece, with more material placed wherever they needed it. The benefits of the casting process were twofold: providing greater strength in key areas; vastly improving dimensional integrity by eliminating the need to weld as many as five steel pieces together.

A cast aluminum cradle also offered another advantage: Adding an attachment to it was simple. To do so, assemblers would merely need to drill and tap a hole. Attaching a component to a steel cradle meant welding a bracket into place, then adding nuts and bolts.

For Chrysler, the changeover to aluminum was a cultural one. "We've been a steel-based company for a lot of years," notes Bernie Swanson, who served as chassis executive engineer for the minivan platform during the development of the aluminum cradle. "We've made aluminum transmission cases and engine parts, but we haven't made load-bearing members."

If the decision were being made for a low-volume vehicle, it wouldn't have been as difficult. But this was the minivan--the Chrysler minivan. For more than a decade, it had dominated the industry, serving as a cornerstone of Chrysler's comeback. Yearly production volume ranges between 700,000 and 800,000 vehicles. And aluminum was more costly than steel.

In the spirit of Chrysler's new team approach, the company's engineers met with other platform members who had expertise in materials, finance, procurement, design, and a range of other disciplines. Together, the team hashed it out, finally reaching a decision that would have once been unthinkable.

"We wouldn't have made this decision 10 years ago," notes Gordon Rinschler, general manager of the minivan platform. "It never would have gone past the stage where it was a twinkle in the engineer's eye. Someone would have said that it cost too much, and it would have been all over."

Chrysler executives say that the decision-making process on the cradle is typical of the company's new platform-team approach. Co-located team members met frequently, often informally, before finally settling on aluminum. That approach helped to break down walls that might have once existed between departments. "Everyone who needed to be part of the cradle decision was probably within 100 feet of each other," Gasparovich says.

Packaging challenge. Once the decision was made, however, the hard part started. Swanson and a team of engineers and designers began the task of designing the new cradle.

One of the most difficult aspects was the packaging. Chrysler product designer Ken Dostert configured the new cradle, employing the advantages of the casting process to place more material where needed. Dostert shaped the cradle to accommodate the multitude of powertrain and steering configurations. He determined proper thicknesses for heavily loaded areas and ensured that clearances were sufficient in the tightly packaged environment. He also made allowances for various attachments and "windows" in the cradle.

The all-wheel-drive version, for example, required a special, semicircular cut-out for the steering's power transfer shaft. The cut-out would later enable the steering rack to be replaced without having to remove the cradle, thus reducing repair and warranty costs.

Designing the cradle in this way would have been impossible with stamped steel, engineers say. But with a casting, it was possible for them to adjust the design as needed. The advantages of the process even extended to the stress analysis procedure. In the past, the most difficult part of analyzing a steel cradle was modeling the stress concentrations on the welds. But because the casting consisted of a single element, instead of a welded assembly, engineers were spared the task of guessing at stress concentration factors.

"This was probably the most reproducible finite element model we've ever had," Swanson says. "We didn't have to worry about going back and forth between the software model and the bench tests to determine the correct stress concentration factors."

  • Ultimate strength

  • Yield strength

  • Young's Modulus

  • 44 ksi

  • 32 ksi

  • 10.4 X 106 psi

  • 46 ksi

  • 32 ksi

  • 30 X 106 psi

Supplier partnerships a key. For Chrysler's engineers, the biggest challenge in developing an aluminum cradle was on the process side, not engineering. "The question is not whether we can make one, but whether we can make 800,000 of them," Swanson explains

Indeed, aluminum was by no means a new material for Chrysler. The automaker had used it in engine blocks and heads, as well as in transmission cases and wheels. But no one had ever made a structural aluminum component in such high volume (Chevrolet's Corvette uses aluminum suspension components, but in lower volumes).

To turn the cradle into a reality, Chrysler found a supplier, CMI-Precision Mold, Inc., Bristol, IN, and began working with its engineers. CMI assigned two engineers, Chad Bullock and Tim Glilliland, to interface with Chrysler on issues of manufacturability. Together, the two teams re-shaped the product for the casting process. They developed special heat treating steps for the aluminum parts, then constructed high-tech molds with built-in distortion, which compensated for the heat treating.

CMI's involvement stretched all the way to the software level. Within Chrysler, Dostert generated a wire frame model on CATIA software, then called upon CMI engineers to "surface" it. CMI engineers also performed mold flow analyses and thermal feasibility studies.

"This process has broken some of the old paradigms," notes John Romain, a Chrysler product engineer assigned to the cradle project. "The old way was to have the vehicle engineer throw it over the wall and walk away. We didn't do that here."

Throughout the process, Chrysler counted on its suppliers for major commitments. CMI, suddenly facing the task of building 800,000 large aluminum parts per year, nearly tripled its manufacturing space, from 110,000 sq ft to 300,000.

Chrysler, meanwhile, worked with test equipment suppliers to ensure that the aluminum parts met specifications. For example, they collaborated with suppliers of X-ray equipment on the development of special systems to check the aluminum parts for porosity. Because porosity is a key measure of the aluminum's strength, they devised a system that would take as many as 30 different views of the aluminum cradles to look for acceptable porosity levels. A knowledge-based computer program checks each "picture" to see if the part meets specifications. "When you take a big step like this on a high volume piece, you end up dragging the entire industry with you--from the firms that make the part, to the companies that build the X-ray and bending equipment," says Swanson.

Aluminum test-bed. The new suspension cradle, which quietly debuted with the introduction of the 1997 minivans, has yielded a multitude of benefits for Chrysler. Its design enabled Chrysler engineers to employ a fully isolated front suspension, thus improving the vehicle's noise, vibration, and harshness characteristics. It also allowed for the front suspension to be reliably built and repeatably positioned in an automated assembly fixture for installation into the vehicle.

Despite the recent growth in the industry's use of aluminum, experts say that its popularity could drop off as quickly as it grew. "The future of this material in vehicles is very dependent on fuel economy standards and volatile material costs," says Cole of the University of Michigan. "If those things change, everything changes."

For that reason, Chrysler engineers view their use of aluminum as a moving target, with ever-changing goals. "From a vehicle standpoint, we can say that we've been successful," Swanson concludes. "But we can't be completely satisfied. The way to remain competitive is never to be satisfied."

How aluminum cradles are made

To develop a manufacturing process for their aluminum cradle, Chrysler engineers collaborated with designers at CMI-Precision Mold, Inc., Bristol, IN. Together, the two firms developed a high-tech, 10-step process to cast, heat treat, straighten, and inspect the aluminum parts:

Step 1. Reverbratory furnace melts A-356 alloy and introduces molten material into 187' heated launder.

Step 2. Gravity die cast machines produce 80-lb cradle.

Step 3. Multiple-stage trimming machines saw and mill. Casting reduced to about 30 lbs.

Step 4. Continuous Roller-Hearth processes product through solution furnaces, polymer quench, and double-age oven.

Step 5. Automated straightening cells use laser-targeted anvils to gently bring castings within strict tolerances.

Step 6. Mechanical and microstructural properties are evaluated at materials lab.

Step 7. Six-station transfer line qualifies castings for machining

Step 8. Castings undergo final machining.

Step 9. Automated system X-rays each casting. Computerized recognition system identifies defects.

Step 10. Castings undergo partial assembly of lower isolators.

Steel-aluminum cradle comparison

Items mounted on Chrysler's aluminum suspension cradle,versus a list from the minivan's old steel cradle:

Aluminum Cradle Mounts Steel Cradle Mounts

Lower control arm

  • Sway bar

  • Steering gear

  • Steering gear with pressure and return hose assemblies

  • Rear engine mount

  • Body isolators

  • ABS integrated control unit

  • Brake hose mounting bracket

  • Brake tube mount

  • Brake junction block assembly (non ABS)

  • Leak detection pump

  • Power steering pump oil cooler

Steel Cradle Mounts

Lower control arm

  • Sway bar

  • Steering gear

  • Bobble strut

Product News

Product News

Temperature sensors

Series 200 wire-wound RTD temperature sensors and transmitters are available with Windows-based software that allows the user to configure their own RTD assembly. The sensors meet real-world conditions for extended periods of time.

The design starts with a coil-suspension construction technique in which the element is coil-wound with high-purity platinum wire to minimize stress and assure accuracy over a longer period of time. Each coil is suspended in a high-purity ceramic insulator and surrounded by a ceramic powder.

Burns Engineering Inc., 10201 Bren Rd. E, Minnetonka, MN 55343, FAX (612) 935-8782.


50 kW DSP-based flywheel controllers are to be combined with flywheels, motors, generators, and containment systems. Interface is provided via SL-MTI/Windows software. The flywheel systems are for applications including commercial vehicles, satellites, and uninterruptible power supplies.

SL-Montevideo Technology Inc., 2002 Black Oak Ave., Montevideo, MN 56265.

Strain reliefs

Independent of insertion into the chassis, Lockit strain reliefs self-lock into the cable. These completed sub-assemblies can then be installed with fingertip pressure into the application's mounting hole. The units protect the lifeline of electrical/electronic products by absorbing the forces of push/pull that may be exerted on the flexible power cord. Rectangular design eliminates the possibility of part rotation under forces of twist.

Heyco Products Inc., Box 160, Kenilworth, NJ 07033, FAX (908) 245-3238.

LCD projector

EzPro 550 LCD projector weighs 10 lbs and delivers 800 x 600 SVGA resolution, matching the resolution of the latest notebook computers. It is plug-and-play compatible; connects to PCs, Macs, and video sources; has built-in stereo speakers; and sets up very quickly. PC-based images are displayed in their entirety, without compression or scanning. A light-condensing optical system projects images from 3 to 13 ft using the full palette of 16.7 million colors. A collapsible four-element lens folds into the unit for in-transit protection.

CTX Opto Inc., 1257 Tasman Dr., Suite B, Sunnyvale, CA 94089, FAX (408) 541-6068.


T-FLEX Parametric Pro v5.1 is a CAD program for mechanical engineers working in the manufacturing environment. The software includes full 2-D detail drawing and 3-D solid modeling. The ACIS 3-D kernel is utilized for industry compatible 3-D solid models. All elements of the drawing can be parametric, including all geometry, text, dimensions, tolerances, solid models, and bill of materials. Drawing constraints are automatic yet optional.

Western Technical Products Inc., 4209A West 6th Ave., Eugene, OR 97402, FAX (541) 344-1242.

Cable harness

EverFlex cable harness is compact, durable, and able to dissipate heat, and is easy to repair in case of a damaged wire. Applications include military, aerospace, and consumer products.

Midcon Cables Co., Box 1786, Joplin, MO 64802, FAX (417) 781-9589.


Non-flame-retardant THERMX(R) glass-fiber-reinforced PET polymers are for injection-molding structural components for automotive, appliance, power-tool, and electrical/electronic applications. Available in 14 and 45% glass-fiber-filled or 40% glass/mineral-filled compound, THERMX GFR PET polyesters offer improved viscosity and full crystallinity at lower mold temperatures, permitting the use of hot-water molds.

Eastman Chemical Co., Box 431, Kingsport, TN 37662, FAX (423) 229-8595.


Electroforming offers new approaches for designing microcircuits, both rigid and flexible, for challenging designs in small-appliance, automotive, and consumer-electronic applications. To accommodate severe size and space constraints, conductor and space widths down to 5 microns are achievable in single and multilayer circuits on a wide variety of substrates.

Dynamics Research Corp., 60 Concord St., Wilmington, MA 01887, FAX (508) 657-7765.

Inspection system

The RE1000 inspection system significantly reduces processing time involved with reverse engineering parts by simultaneously digitizing surface and internal-part geometry. The system creates 3-D point-cloud data on the interior and exterior part features within a plus or minus 0.001 inch accuracy.

CGI(R) Inc., 15161 Technology Dr., Minneapolis, MN 55344, FAX (612) 937-3018.

Microstepping driver

IM481H hybrid microstepping driver measurers 1.1 x 2.7 x 0.17 inches and maintains enough power to handle demanding applications. Features include short-circuit and thermal protection, adjustable automatic current reduction, single supply at full step, and fault outputs. Advanced ASIC technology reduces motor heating and allows low-inductance stepper motors to be used to increase high-speed performance and efficiency.

Intelligent Motion Systems Inc., Box 457, Marlborough, CT 06447, FAX (860) 295-6107.


Traction spring provides pulling power in extension and tension while compressing. This spring can be made with a stroke ranging from 10 to 600 mm and forces from 50 to 1,500N. Special damping features equipped with different speeds accommodate specific motion-control needs. Applications include use in armored vehicles, vehicle hoods, heavy machinery, and component boxes.

Bansbach Easylift, 751 N. Dr., Melbourne, FL 32934, FAX (407) 253-5546.


Dual-scale thermometer offers maximum visibility and protection to optimize production capabilities, increase quality, and lower product care. Thermometer gages for flush mounting are used to indicate liquid and temperature levels in tanks, reservoirs, steel-mill pumps, and hydraulic presses. Marine, petroleum, construction, machine tool, and aerospace industries can utilize the thermometer. Flush aluminum gages resist rust and corrosion to meet the most demanding requirements. The thermometer has a range from 0 to 220F.

Oil-Rite Corp., Box 1207, Manitowoc, WI 54221, FAX (414) 682-7699.


Alpha and Sierra valves are available in an electro-pneumatic configuration for use with EasyWire I/O-based communication systems. Multi-purpose Alpha valves in both stacking and thin versions, now provide greater application latitude.

The Aro Corp., Bryan, OH 43506, FAX (419) 636-2115.

Plastic balls

Solid balls range from 1/8 to 1/2 inch and are made with thermoplastics that provide chemical corrosion resistance, can withstand high heat and wear, allow for noise reduction, and are self-lubricating. Solid plastic balls are used in automotive, appliance, food processing, marine, and medical applications.

PPM Inc., 11 Danco Rd. Putnam, CT 06260, FAX (860) 928-2229.


Auto Tuning Amplitude Controller (ATAC) is for electromagnetically driven feeder systems. This active controller eliminates tuning, optimizes feeder performance, and minimizes operational costs. The true closed-loop controller maintains the desired vibration intensity while exciting the feeder at its resonant frequency regardless of feeder load. The all-digital design results in a plug-and-play setup process and a simplified design. ATAC interfaces to a photocell or PLC.

TS Engineering, 33900 Curtis Blvd., Suite 200, Cleveland, OH 44095, FAX (216) 918-9624.

Terminal blocks

DIN-rail terminal blocks are manufactured from tough polyamide material. All blocks have a 600V rating, including the 5- and 6-mm sizes. Each block has a full serrated-box connector with a centered wire stop, allowing longer wire engagement. The blocks are for applications such as machine tool and elevator control.

Marathon Special Products, Box 468, Bowling Green, OH 43402, FAX (800) 515-7151.


Imagination software now uses standard 32-bit conventions for Windows 95 and NT. The 32-bit compliant version adds long-file-name support and tab dialogue boxes for tool and edit options. A Windows Explorer-style dialogue box is available whenever a user is opening, closing, importing, exporting, or browsing for files. A bilevel option is included in the merge dialogue box. Imagination incorporates plot, scan, annotate, hotspot, and text-search functions to provide a full suite of customizable view, redline, markup, and edit tools for virtually any electronic document for Windows, Macintosh, and UNIX platforms.

Spicer Corp., 221 McIntyre Dr., Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2R 1G1, FAX (519) 748-9457.


Super-Torq swage standoffs resist rotation under high assembly torques and eliminate breaks in electrical connections due to spinning of standoffs during assembly. The standoffs will not broach into panel material and therefore will not remove plating from walls of panel mounting holes. The units will not exert radial stress on mounting-hole walls. Available in a variety of sizes, materials, and finishes. Common uses include installation in epoxy-glass pc boards and phenolic or aluminum panel or chassis.

Lyn-Tron Inc., S. 6001 Thomas Mallen Rd., Spokane, WA 99204, FAX (509) 456-0946.


Alias/Wavefront software can create photorealistic images and lifelike animations. Files from other software packages can be imported and completed with this software. Virtual prototyping is also attainable.

Visual Computing Solutions Inc., 8465 Keystone Crossing, Suite 210, Indianapolis, IN 46240, FAX (317) 254-9049.

Digital drive

DDS2.2 digital intelligent ac servo drive provides superior performance and flexibility for CNC metalcutting, metalforming, packaging, converting, robotics, printing, material handling, test, and simulation applications. Ultra-high-resolution digital motor feedback gives automation applications the highest static and dynamic response available. The drive provides a resolution of up to 1/4,000,000 per resolution throughout the servometer speed range and two local registration inputs with capture rates down to 1 musec.

Indramat, 5150 Prairie Stone Pkwy., Hoffman Estates, IL 60192, FAX (847) 645-6201.


LM guide Type RSR-Z uses resin in the LM block body construction to decrease the mass of the block by a maximum of 28%. Absence of contact between adjacent metal parts results in silent operation. The miniature guide is corrosion resistant for durability and is suitable for use in clean-room environments. The monolithic molding design provides smooth, infinite ball circulation and prevents dimensional error. RSR-Z can support loads in all directions: radial, reverse radial, and lateral.

THK America Inc., 200 E. Commerce Dr., Schaumburg, IL 60173, FAX (847) 593-5613.

PC enclosure

PROLINETM modular pc enclosure protects commercial-grade personal computers in harsh industrial environments. The enclosure features UL/NEMA Type-12 protection and a pull-out keyboard tray that allows computer operation without exposing the monitor or the CPU to contamination. The frame features 12 steel roll-formed members with six bends welded to a solid-steel corner block for stability, strength, and rigidity. A flange trough on all sides of the enclosure directs dust, oil, and moisture away from the door and side gaskets.

Hoffman Engineering, 900 Ehlen Dr., Anoka, MN 55303, FAX (612) 942-6940.


Filters for the 300 Series check valves are made of FDA-compliant nylon and 35-micron mesh with a 27% open area. A sonic cut prevents edge fraying and provides maximum reduction of contaminants into the flow. The filters remove any particulates measuring more than 0.0015 inch, fit into any of the 300 Series check valves except the footvalve, and can be replaced by the end user.

Smart Products Inc., 1710 Ringwood Ave., San Jose, CA 95131, FAX (408) 436-0744.


Four-channel synchro-resolver encoder card plugs directly into any IDM-AT-compatible computer. The card is available with any combination of synchro-resolver converters with industry standard pin-outs. Converters include those with internal micro transformers for isolation of all signal and reference lines. Transformer isolation provides optimum system noise immunity; preserves the integrity of the bus; and eliminates all concerns over ground loops, differing potentials, or machine noise entering the computer. The card is suited for motion control, simulation, ATE, or data acquisition applications using synchros/resolvers or requiring shaft-angle position feedback.

Computer Conversion Corp., 6 Dunton Ct., East Northport, NY 11731, FAX (516) 261-3308.


Electrical safety CD-ROM is used for understanding the European Union's low- voltage directive, including how to address compliance on an organizational level, information for meeting the requirements of the directive, and a search feature that looks up electrical safety standards. Based on the European standard EN 60950, the CD-ROM provides design tips and recommendations for designing a compliant product.

Technology International Inc., 609 TwinRidge Lane, Richmond, VA 23235, FAX (804) 560-5342.

Coating material

XADC is an industrial coating that protects against friction, wear, and corrosion of metal parts. This coating provides durability, lubricity, and resistance to abrasion. A precise coating deposition of 0.0001/0.0003 inch can be applied in uniform, thin deposits on nearly all basic metal substrates, and does not require changes in engineering design or production specifications. The lubricity of XADC reduces the need for lubrication, and its nodular texture retains lubricants to further reduce friction. XADC provides corrosive resistance exceeding 440C stainless steel and withstands temperatures from -400 to 1600F.

Armoloy Corp., 118 Simonds Ave., DeKalb, IL 60115, FAX (815) 758-6640.


Shrink-N-ShieldTM tubing for EMI control and physical protection of wires and cables is a combination of two technologies: the outer jacketing consists of a flame-retardant Polyolefin shrink tubing, and the lining is a Z-ClothTM metallized fabric shield. Available in diameters from 1/8 to 1 inch, Shrink-N-Shield is easy to slide on and shrinks to a tight protective fit with a standard industrial heat gun. Shrink rates are 50% radially, and 10% or less longitudinally.

The Zippertubing Co., Box 61129, Los Angeles, CA 90061, FAX (310) 767-1714.

Diaphragm pump

Model N86 oil-free diaphragm pump features 6.5 LPM flow, 27-inch Hg end vacuum, or 35 psig pressure in a compact package. An FEA-designed structured-diaphragm design provides flex control and increased flow, and the new multi-port valve system is gas-tight and efficient.

KNF Neuberger Inc., 2 Black Forest Rd., Trenton, NJ 08691, FAX (609) 890-8600.

Hydraulic cylinder

The 125 Series Hydro-Max hydraulic cylinder is rated at 4,000 psi working pressure and is designed for high cycle-duty, heavy payload, demanding applications. Offered in bore sizes from 80 to 125 mm, the cylinder is also available in rod sizes from 50 to 75 mm.

John Deere Harvester Works, Cylinder Div.,501 River Dr., Moline, IL 61265, FAX (309) 765-7379.


DH Series high-performance dc power-line EMI filters provide effective EMI attenuation for switch-mode dc-to-dc converters and regulators with dc inputs and outputs. The Series is available with current ratings from 5 to 100A, are non-polar, and perform equally well with balanced or unbalanced load currents. They are suitable for use in equipment that is exposed to explosive atmospheres, such as fuel-control systems and petroleum refinery applications.

Filter Concepts Inc., 2624 S. Rousselle St., Santa Ana, CA 92707, FAX (714) 545-4607.

Power supplies

Vari-Flex modular-based power supplies feature power levels ranging from 200 to 800W in either ac or dc inputs, and single or multiple outputs. Included are dc-to-dc converters ranging in power from 50 to 600W and available output voltages of 2 to 48V dc. Input circuitry, signaling options, converters, and output circuitry are integrated to create a "quick-turn" application-specific solution from standard building blocks.

Switching Systems Int'l., 500 Porter Way, Placentia, CA 92870

Plugs and receptacles

International-rated pin and sleeve devices offer an easy installation process, possess high security in use, and carry a wide range of international approvals. Plugs and receptacles are available in ratings of 16, 32, 63, and 125A. Configurations range from 2-pole 3-wire to 4-pole 5-wire.

Feller U.S. Corp., 72 Veronica Ave., Unit 4, Somerset, NJ 08873, FAX (908) 247-7279.


DRAFT-PAK 7.55 for CADKEY is available for Windows 95, NT 3.51 and 4.0, and Windows for Workgroups 3.11/3.1 operating systems. New automation features accelerate routine design and drafting operations for mechanical CAD. Other improvements include additional dimension and detailing symbology, interface enhancements, and a new visual library feature that accelerates visual tracking for rapid positioning of symbology on the engineering layout.

Baystate Technologies Inc., 33 Boston Post Rd. W., Marlborough, MA 01752, FAX (508) 229-2121.


Model 1500XL timed-air-pulse dispenser makes it easy to apply any assembly fluid ranging from thick pastes and RTVs to solvents and cyanoacrylates. The ability of the 1500XL to be reset for different fluids or different deposit sizes makes it suitable for meeting varied or changing bonding processes. The adjustable air pressure and time controls combine to provide a wide range of settings for applying assembly fluids in small to large deposit amounts. High pressures up to 80 psi are used for thick materials, while lower pressures are used to create small deposits of low viscosity fluids.

EFD Inc., 977 Waterman Ave., East Providence, RI 02914, FAX (401) 431-0237.

Frame kit

The Monarch Dyna-Lift(R) K-frame kit includes all mounting hardware and components necessary for easily adding height adjustment to K-Frame sewing machine tables. The four-post system smoothly raises or lowers the work surface from 0 to 12 inches. Manual or electric activation is available.

Monarch Hydraulics Inc., 8184 Broadmoorm, South East Caledonia, MI 49316, FAX (616) 891-3544.


CAMROL(R) cam follower bearings function to provide anti-friction translation of rotational motion to linear motion. These units can be used with external cams, such as radial cams or translating cams, or with internal cams such as face-groove radial cams. Bearings withstand the shock and loads of cam operation. Anti-friction cam follower bearings, additionally, can add precision to a machine by helping to eliminate the wear of the contacting surfaces.

Emerson Power Transmission Corp., 620 S. Aurora St., Ithaca, NY 14850.

Paddle latch

No. 9600-U recessed rotary paddle latch is for industrial applications. The latch's rotary slamming action makes virtually any door feel more solid. It attaches easily with just two small nuts, significantly lowering installation costs. The 9600-U features an automotive-style key cylinder. Matching two-point locking and non-locking versions are available. Single-point slam bolt and remote latching models are also available with the same automotive styling for enhancing the appearance of a variety of applications.

Eberhard Mfg. Co., 633 W. Bagley Rd., Berea, OH 44017, FAX (216) 234-1890.


Series SVA 10 and 20 solenoid valves are compact and lightweight. Featuring a high flow rate for its size, SVA10 is able to drive 3-inch bore cylinders and SVA20 is able to drive 5.5-inch bore cylinders. An individual plug-in connector or a 9- or 25-pin D-sub connector is available for SVA10 and a 26- or 40-pin ribbon-cable connector is available for SVA20.

PISCO Pneumatic Equipment, 2228 Landmeier Rd., Elk Grove Village, IL 60007, FAX (847)


DR-4M and DR-4MPS are OEM-priced, stand-alone microstepping drivers designed to operate all NEMA 23 frame size and smaller stepping motors. These 4A-per-phase, bi-polar, chopper drives combine many unique features to satisfy OEM requirements for cost-effective performance, while meeting end-user demands for simple integration and user-friendly operation. The units have eight resolution settings, from 1/2 to 1/256 step, all of which are easily selected by the user via a modular connector. They are short-circuit, over-temperature, and under-voltage protected for extended service life.

Advanced Micro Systems Inc., 2 Townsend W., Nashua, NH 03063, FAX (603) 881-7600.


Geomagic Wrap software is for automatic surface reconstruction and grid-generation from point-cloud data. This modeling program can wrap a surface around an arbitrary point cloud and concurrently construct surface and volume meshes. These surfaces are based on exact computation and unambiguous rules formulated in geometric and topological terms, and can be edited and outputted to various data formats. Geomagic Wrap runs under Windows NT, Windows 95, and on a variety of UNIX workstations. Applications include reverse engineering, rapid prototyping, geometric modeling, surface reconstruction, medical imaging, and grid generation.

Raindrop Geomagic Inc., 206 N. Randolph, Suite 520, Champaign, IL 61820, FAX (217) 239-2556.

Wiring duct

One-piece wiring duct, with an overlapping finger design that eliminates the need for a separate cover used with a conventional duct, makes rewiring easy and lends itself to a more efficient use of space. Model VK-FLEX, molded of halogen-free UL 94V-0 grey polymide, is available in four sizes for a wide range of wire channel capacities. Each strip is fully interlocking for continuous end-to-end attachment. Molded with slotted mounting holes, VK-FLEX is also available with a permanent self-adhesive backing, eliminating the need for other types of fasteners.

Wieland Inc., 49 International Rd., Burgaw, NC 28425, FAX (910) 259-3691.

Head strap

Die-cut, oxygen mask part is used in applications requiring quick attachment of a device to a head or limb. The head strap, manufactured from a 1/16-inch-thick white natural rubber, is a light-weight design that conforms to different size heads. Thirteen larger holes in the head strap reduce weight and allow stretching so the mask will remain in place.

PressCut Industries, 2828 Nagle St., Dallas, TX 75220, FAX (214) 350-4713.

Card-cage solutions

Custom-designed circuit-board card cages fit any layout design. Choose from a wide range of non-corrosive materials including, nickel-plated steel and galvanneal. Optional heat venting, heat sinks, and grounding strategies are also provided. Critical, non-conductive surfaces are finished with dielectric laminates. Card cages come fully assembled, with or without rock flanges and are available in any slot number requirement and offset position. Optional card guides are available.

Ber Mer Mfg. Inc., 1001 Lee Rd., Rochester, NY 14606, FAX (716) 647-8274.


International Power Transformers P14A thru PA41 are now certified EN60950, and EN60742 through TUV. This series also carries safety approvals through UL and CSA, UL506, and CSA 22.2 #66. A variety of standard models are available and models can also be custom designed. VA ratings range from 2.5 up to 175 and are available in pc or chassis mount.

CET Technology, 27 Roulston Rd.,Windham, NH 03087, FAX (603) 894-6161.

Fan guards

Plastic fan guards include 09150-G 11/2 inches (40 mm), 09080-G 31/8 inches (80 mm), 09120-G 41/2 inches (120 mm), and 09121-G 41/2 inches (120 mm). These guards offer maximum airflow while maintaining compliance to safety regulations. Each guard is made from UL-listed 94 VO material and offers a cost saving comparison with wire-form fan guards.

Qualtek Electronics Corp., 7675 Jenther Dr., Mentor, OH 44060, FAX (216) 951-7252.

Gas spring

Hydrolift-T(R) II is a temperature-compensating gas spring for hood, hatch, and liftgate applications on automobiles, mini-vans, and sport-utility vehicles. The custom-designed gas spring is engineered to operate at temperatures within a range of -40 to 180F. In ware temperature conditions, the HydroLift-T II operates as a standard gas spring. In this mode, gas and oil pass through an orifice from chamber to chamber as the piston travels through its stroke cycle. However, in cold weather, the unit's thermally actuated check-valve, with bi-metallic spring, provides a variable force boost. As temperature drops, the check valve more securely closes the orifice providing a steady and increased force boost.

Stabilus, 92 Country Line Rd., Colmar, PA 18915, FAX (215) 997-4271.


MCRT 27000T automotive wheel torquemeters are non-contact, rotary transformer coupled devices. They measure wheel torque and speed during driving, braking, and coastdown maneuvers. They are constructed of corrosion-resistant materials and are waterproofed to permit operation in shallow water. Torquemeter installation is made without vehicle rework, and can accommodate four-, five-, six-, and eight-bolt wheel patterns, as well as front-, rear-, and all-wheel drive applications.

S. Himmelstein and Co., 2490 Pembroke Ave., Hoffman Estates, IL 60195, FAX (847) 843-8488.

Servo package

DSC2000 intelligent servo package is an affordable stepper system replacement for OEM's and other machine builders needing faster throughput and greater torque. A new Windows utility program features a terminal window and editor that allows the user to quickly and easily develop programs using a Windows-compatible text editor, and familiar Windows editing commands such as copy, cut, and paste. The controller portion of the DSC2000 system features an integrated IGBT-based brushless servo-amplifier; a built-in power supply; optically isolated, 24V dc, PLC compatible, user-programmable I/O; and a real-time interruptive control programming language with more than 100 simple-to-use firmware commands.

Automotion Inc., Box 7746, Ann Arbor, MI 48107, FAX (313) 662-3707.

Cable liner

AR-650TM PTFE-alloy cable control liner is engineered to be used with or without a silicone lubricant to deliver efficiency, load- bearing capability, and a longer cycle life. The unit can be extruded with a wall thickness as small as 0.010 inches and an I.D. dimension to meet the needs of virtually any control application.

Markel Corp., Box 752, Norristown, PA 19404, FAX (610) 270-3138.

Tool kit

TK Solver is a mathematical modeling tool kit that features text in HTML format, colorful electronic art, and dynamic wizard links to external databases. The software makes it possible to launch a design guide from a company's intranet, or use a CD-ROM. The calculations are already set up in TK Solver and the design guide is linked to databases. Multidirectional solving provides optimization.

Universal Technical Systems Inc., 1220 Rock St., Rockford, IL 61101, FAX (815) 963-8884.


DQC6200 servo amplifier is very compact and lightweight. Features include 22 kHz pulse width modulation, four quadrant "H Bridge," 24V dc or ac input at 50/60 Hz, 5A continuous-output current, isolated command input, input scaling, selected current limit, and dc analog tach or back EMF feedback. Options include 8-bit digital-input command and optical-encoder velocity feedback.

Dynetic Systems, 19128 Industrial Blvd., Elk River, MN 55330, FAX (612) 441-5217.

Mechinical pressechanical press

HMX high-speed mechanical press features a stiff-slide guiding system and maintains its accuracy under cold, warm, slow, fast, and off-center operating. The bed, bolster plate, connecting rods, crankshaft, and crown are also two to three times more rigid than a general-purpose stamping press. Thermally stable, the HMX's lubrication system circulates oil to all moving parts in the press and feed.

AIDA Dayton Technologies Corp., 3131 S. Dixie Dr., Suite 107, Dayton, OH 45439, FAX (513) 643-1210.


Model OLS optical level switch is for liquids. This rugged, low-cost switch delivers rapid response yet employs no moving parts for stable, reliable process control. Bright-red and green LEDs clearly indicate the presence or absence of nearly any liquid for true local indication while providing local power indication for field diagnostics. This control utilizes FDA-approved materials for wide-ranging application flexibility.

Dwyer Instruments Inc., Box 373, Michigan City, IN 46361, FAX (219) 872-9057.


SD series of low-profile DIP switches features bifurcated, wiping, gold-plated contacts, and flush or extended actuators with or without tape. The switches are available with surface-mount and through-hole terminals with an off-the-board height of 0.168 inches for through-hole and 0.155 inches for SMT. They are available with 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 12 positions. The SMT model is designed with high-temperature materials for IR reflow and vapor-phase processing. Flush and extended actuators provide a positive detent. Models with taped, flush actuators are process compatible and machine insertable on industry-standard equipment.

C&K Components Inc., 57 Stanley Ave., Watertown, MA 02172, FAX (617) 926-6846.

Engineers can mandate tailored materials

Engineers can mandate tailored materials

Zimmer joined JPS Elastomerics in 1985 as Sales Manager, was promoted to Director of Sales, and appointed to his current position in 1994. In this capacity, he is responsible for development and implementation of national and international sales and marketing strategies, budgets, and business plans for Stevens Urethane. His experience includes more than 30 years in sales and marketing, including positions with Uniroyal Corp., Sonoco Products Co., and B.F. Goodrich. Zimmer holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University, and a Bachelor Degree in Foreign Trade from the American Graduate School of International Management.

When it comes to materials, performance relative to cost is the driving force in design, asserts JPS's Zimmer.

Design News: In view of this perspective, what key issues face engineers today in terms of product design and material selection?

Zimmer: Cost is still an important issue, but the primary up-front consideration is the cost-performance ratio. Products today are often more complicated compared to the past. Many are niche products in applications where they are expected to perform at extremely high levels. Environmental impact is also an issue.

Today's design engineer has to consider the total life span of a product from development through disposal, and design with that in mind. In addition, ease of manufacture is increasingly important. Making a product efficiently and minimizing the number of steps required are keys to profitability. For example, automotive bumpers used to be molded, then painted to a high-resolution finish. Today, plastic bumpers can be injection molded in color, eliminating the time and expense of an added step to paint them.

Q: What new trends in material development will influence the way designers specify a material?

A: Materials are now being customized to suit an application's performance criteria. Essentially, all the "easy" applications utilizing basic polymer compounds have been addressed. To meet the high-performance requirements demanded today, polymers will be increasingly tailored to offer specific characteristics to exact criteria. Engineers don't have to settle for "close enough." With polymer performance tailoring, they can demand, and get, precisely what they need. Additionally, advances in alloying, where two or more polymers are combined, will also provide a greater depth of performance properties. This opens up a new avenue of possibilities.

Q: Does the trend toward concurrent engineering effect material specification?

A: Yes, it certainly does. The concept of concurrent engineering and teamwork is critical to being first-to-market, which in today's competitive arena can mean the difference between success and failure. The design engineer must be a jack-of-all-trades, leading a team composed of design, manufacturing, purchasing, and suppliers, to get the job done. Material selection is part of that process, and the engineer has to know more about the available options, and be able to direct the team accordingly. Involving suppliers can help make this a more informed decision.

Q: What applications or industries will be most affected by these issues?

A: All industries will be affected, both by developments in material selection and concurrent engineering. Cutting-edge development of medical products, automotive components, even consumer goods, rely on the right material for the right performance, so it is a critical issue.

Q: Why do engineers increasingly need high-performance materials such as thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPUs)?

A: The less challenging applications for plastics have already been fulfilled with low-cost, low-performance polymers. However, the high-performance expectations for many of today's new products require advanced materials that add greater value and answer higher expectations.

Thus, the market's demand for improved value and material performance, combined with cost-effective manufacturing techniques, are driving material selection today. Advanced thermoplastics, such as TPUs, are answering the call. They are lightweight, recyclable, adaptable, and provide the performance characteristics that engineers need.

Q: What new developments can design engineers expect in TPUs over the next few years?

A: New developments will include more breathable materials, less permeable materials, softer durometers, enhanced flame retardant properties, and alloying. Improved processability, as resin suppliers and compounders continue to perfect and adapt their recipes, will offer further benefits.

These Guns For Hire

These Guns For Hire

Some engineers just weren't meant to settle down. These engineers often start their own consulting companies--or join already established engineering services firms. The payoff for the rebel engineer: escape from a rigid corporate environment and the ability to work on many different products for various clients. The payoff for corporate engineering departments: getting jobs done that they don't have the resources or freedom to do efficiently. Design News visited three engineering firms and profiles them here. Most striking was the high level of job satisfaction--after leaving their corporate niche, few engineers ever look back.

Variety is the spice of design

by Mark A. Gottschalk Western Technical Editor..

San Jose, CA--In 1982, when Bob Lathrop founded the engineering firm that bears his name, his goal was to "spend more time doing stuff that's fun." He'd worked his early years in capital-intensive industries that were inherently slow moving. "But what I really wanted was to do new stuff all the time," he says.

It looks like he got his wish. Lathrop Engineering takes on about 50 new projects a year--about 15 were underway when Design News stopped by to chat. Since its inception, the company has partnered with more than 150 clients ranging from startups to major players such as National Semiconductor, Hewlett-Packard, Raychem, Schlumberger, Varian Associates, and Apple Computer. Projects are handled by teams of 20 to 25 engineers--mostly mechanical engineers and designers, plus two industrial designers--and at any given point the company employs about 30 to 35 people.

Besides being "fun," working on a variety of projects keeps the staff sharp and continually learning new skills; there is little risk of becoming pigeonholed. "At another job you might work the same issue for years," says Chris Todd, senior mechanical engineer. "Here, each job may last just a few months, and then you move on to something different."

Such diversity contributes greatly to the engineers' personal security. "We work on so many different things--medical, computer, semiconductor, telecommunications, consumer products," says Lathrop, "and apply such a variety of processes--plastics, machining, die casting, stamping, optics--and use so many different computer tools that our engineers could easily go anywhere they wanted." But they don't. Rick Cameron, marketing manager, says that except for retirees, he can't recall the last time someone left the company.

From the customer's perspective, choosing a firm that can cross-pollinate ideas from different industries improves the final design. Engineers who have little plastics experience might find themselves on a team developing a plastic product. "They often bring in ideas and a different point of view that proves useful to the other disciplines," says Bruce Richardson, vice president of engineering. Case in point: On a current high-end electronics project, engineers are looking to apply an inexpensive shielding technique commonly found in consumer products and which they'd used previously.

The company keeps its staff well armed, too. Like a high-tech army outfitted with the latest weapons, the engineers' arsenal of design tools includes 20 Silicon Graphics workstations running Parametric Technologies' Pro/ENGINEER CAD/CAM/CAE package, COSMOS/M for FEA analysis, Pro/MECHANICA for design optimization, CDRS for photorealistic rendering, Adobe Illustrator and Micrographics Designer for creating illustrations, Ashlar's Vellum to produce ID control drawings, and a few seats of AutoCAD for layouts and data translation.

A recent project of particular interest is a portable pacemaker programmer. Clinicians use it to set a pacemaker's operating parameters by transmitting commands via an electromagnetic coupling through the patient's skin. With their client under competitive pressure, Lathrop engineers took the project from concept to production in six months.

The programmer consists of gutted Toshiba laptop computers, a thermal printer, CD-ROM drive, modem, acoustic touch screen, and various inputs for defibrillators and EKG, all packaged snugly--very snugly, say engineers--in a rugged plastic case.

Conventional top-down assembly wasn't possible. "The multiple layers of boards would prevent access to items on the bottom," says Richardson. So he conceived a design with a central subframe to which the components mount on both sides. "You can get to anything inside just by taking the covers off," says Project Engineer Steve Wilson.

The unit's design is punctuated by several unique features. To prevent fluid intrusion, the keyboard is sealed from behind and all top-facing openings have drain paths that direct spills away from the electronics. The hinge is designed with a hard stop that prevents stress from passing through the pivot. And engineers developed a grounding scheme to minimize EMI from each of the various modems needed for foreign countries.

A decided advantage was the use of Pro/ENGINEER. It not only helped speed development, it let engineers optimally locate the unit's center of gravity by simply inputting the average density for each material used. "If we didn't use solid modeling on this, we could never have met the time schedule," says Richardson.

The final design was pulled from ideas demonstrated in more than a dozen preliminary concepts that were narrowed to three foam-core mockups. Four months after kickoff, engineers created first-article stereolithography models, and SLA-to-urethane castings were completed in parallel with the construction of the final tools.

"Previously, the customer had worked with industrial design firms that gave them sexy consumer-product designs, but that's not what they wanted," says Richardson. "We listened to what they wanted and worked with them to achieve it. That's what we do best."

The auto industry's invisible helper

by Charles J. Murray Senior Regional Editor

Warren, MI--When Ford Motor Co. recently needed help re-designing its Econoline van, the giant automaker didn't place ads in the engineering section of its local newspapers. Instead, it did what automakers in this area have been doing for the past half century: It hired an engineering services firm.

For automakers, these firms are a form of instant expertise. Traditionally, services firms have tackled special projects, such as the design and construction of concept vehicles or right-hand-drive cars for foreign markets.

But on occasion Big Three automakers and others engage these firms for larger projects, such as the Econoline re-design. For the Econoline program, Ford called on Modern Engineering to provide 250 engineers for tasks ranging from computer-aided design to noise, vibration, and harshness control. One of the largest of Detroit's engineering services firms, Modern Engineering employs 2,800, most of whom are engineers. The company maintains offices in Dearborn, Auburn Hills, and Warren, MI, for the expressed purpose of supporting Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors, respectively.

In the Econoline project, Modern's engineers worked elbow-to-elbow with their Ford counterparts in Dearborn and, in some cases, even filled program management roles. "In the co-located team, our people made up about half the group at any given time," notes Albert Hamilton, executive program manager for Modern Engineering.

Modern Engineering joined the Econoline program late in 1991, while Ford was gearing up for the planned changes to the vehicle. The company's engineers understood from the outset that their role was to work within the goals and objectives set forth by Ford. They were not expected to change the goals of the program. Within that context, however, they played a broad role.

On the van's cooling system, for example, they participated in the initial design and packaging, as well as in the release and implementation of such things as the radiator, hoses, and coolant. They also helped with the powertrain packaging, accelerator controls, engine mounts, chassis configuration, instrument panel, exhaust, brakes, and steering. They even ran crash analyses on Ford's supercomputers.

Modern's engineers remained with the project until Ford rolled out the new vehicle in the fall of 1996. Their work included the first phase of prototyping early in 1993, the second phase late in 1993, and the final phase late in 1994. They helped run vehicles on test tracks, on test simulators, and in wind tunnels. During various stages of the program, they proved out the cooling system in Bemidji, MN, in winter and in the arid climate of Arizona in summer.

For Modern engineers, such tasks are not out of the ordinary. In recent projects, they have helped with the re-design of the Buick Park Avenue, Buick LeSabre, and Pontiac Bonneville. They've also helped build a long-wheel-base prototype for Chrysler and a limousine for Ford.

The main difference between working for Ford and for Modern Engineering is that the Ford managers set the tone for the project, and Modern's engineers work within those guidelines, says Frank Mei, executive vice president for Modern. "Ford tells us what their goals and objective are," Mei says. "Our role is to be invisible to the customer, so that we can help them reach those goals."

Creating innovative products is par for the course

by Julie Anne Schofield Senior Editor

Austin, TX--Since its founding in 1986, Design Edge has created hundreds of products for a roster of Fortune 500 clients including 3M, AT&T, Casio, Compaq, Dell Computer, IBM, Motorola, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba. Although its award-winning portfolio includes products ranging from teapots to hospital beds, the firm specializes in developing high-tech consumer goods, such as computer equipment, personal electronics, and communications devices.

Time to market and product innovation have become driving forces in the fast-moving, consumer-driven industries, where new technologies, materials, and product capabilities debut at a breakneck pace. Being the first to incorporate new technology into a product gains clients a competitive advantage. As a result, Design Edge focuses on accelerating product development. In fact, the company recently developed a series of award-winning Pentium- and 486-based notebook computers--from initial industrial design and engineering concepts to functional prototypes--in just 12 weeks.

Design Edge can trace its success to teamwork, CAD tools, and autonomy, says Lisa Sura, a senior mechanical engineer at the 45-person firm. "We've found that small, interdisciplinary teams armed with the right CAD tools can be far more productive than the large, functionally segregated product development groups found in traditional corporations," she says.

Sura speaks from experience, having worked at a Fortune 500 manufacturing corporation, where, she says, an inflexible hierarchy, bureaucracy, and constant political infighting stifled creativity. Now she's celebrating the completion of a turn-key development project, along with Design Edge colleagues Julie Heard, an industrial designer, and Carrie Bader, a mechanical engineer. The three women developed the PinMark Course Management System, a GPS-based product that measures yardage to holes and tracks golf course activity, for the Dallas, TX-based company PinMark. Total project time: about two months.

The system comprises a base-station computer and multiple display units mounted on golf carts and other club vehicles. The GPS-receiver-equipped mobile units display course layout, automatically zooming in on area views of each hole as the game progresses. The units' monochrome LCD also displays distances to approach shots and hazards--such as sand traps--plus interactive electronic score cards. A radio link provides two-way voice communication between the base station and the mobile units.

Sura, Bader, and Heard designed the PinMark System to appeal to the high-end clientele of exclusive golf resorts. "Because many of these upscale users aren't computer-savvy, the product's 'look and feel' needed to communicate quality and elegance with a simple non-techie interface," explains Heard.

To this end, the designers got the cables out of the way, made the unit compact, and worked out a friendly user interface. "It doesn't look like much from the outside, but that's part of the beauty of it," says Sura.

Due to the limited target market, the product design--including materials, components, and assembly strategy--needed to be geared for low-volume production. Pro/ENGINEER, a 3-D solid modeling and mechanical engineeringsystem, was used throughout the project todevelop, model, and analyze multiple design concepts, and to create plans and assembly for the final unit.

One of the most challenging aspects of the design was combining a cooling system with the need for waterproofing--all within a small, highly integrated package. The mobile unit's svelte enclosure appears simple, yet it is packed with components including pc boards, telecommunications hardware, shielding, an audio speaker, and an LCD.

The components themselves generate enough heat, but combined with the anticipated environmental conditions--110-degree heat on a sunny Arizona golf course--heat dissipation became a critical issue. To complicate matters further, the unit's venting had to be minimized and strategically placed to ensure effective waterproofing. In addition to being exposed to normal precipitation, the mobile units would be sprayed daily with high-pressure water hoses by employees cleaning the golf carts.

Sura used Pro/ENGINEER to devise a forced-air cooling system for the mobile unit. In Sura's thermal design, a fan draws air into the unit through its mounting tube and directs it around internal components. The air is exhausted through a vent pattern on the underside of the unit. The design allows for an effective, complete airflow path yet minimizes venting requirements to ensure the enclosure remains waterproof.

Although Design Edge uses multiple applications for mechanical engineering and analysis, the firm's system of choice is Parametric Technology's suite, including Pro/ENGINEER, Pro/MECHANICA, Pro/DESIGNER, and Pro/ASSEMBLY. Running on Silicon Graphics Indy workstations, Design Edge's 18 Pro/E seats represent an almost 1:1 engineer-to-workstation ratio, which "is unheard of in our industry," claims Sura. But, then, so is designing notebook computers in 12 weeks.

Engineering in the fast lane

Time, it seems, functions differently inside the walls of Lathrop Engineering. Like some sort of Einsteinian relativity study gone awry, hours become minutes, days change to hours, and weeks turn into days. Engineering occurs at, literally, a higher frequency than at most normal companies. "It's very intense," says Project Engineer Steve Wilson. "You have to know your stuff and come up with ideas quickly, then quickly put them into conceptual form for the customer."

Wilson started his career at Lathrop as a contractor after earning an engineering degree from Brigham Young and spending his early years with big firms such as Ford Aerospace and Varian Associates. "I wanted more variety and more responsibility," he says. Bruce Richardson, Lathrop's VP of engineering, granted his wish immediately, putting Wilson in charge of the pacemaker-programmer project that went from concept to first article in six months.

"At another job you might work the same issue for years," says Senior Mechanical Engineer Chris Todd. At Lathrop, Todd works six to ten different projects a year, with many lasting just a few months. "You are always getting to learn something different," he says.

Both engineers emphasize that the diversity of projects and the continual learning are two of the biggest attractions at an engineering services firm. The companies run lean and hire multi-talented personnel who can work across a number of different engineering disciplines. "You get lots of opportunities to delve into technologies that are not used commonly," says Wilson.

Though he loves his work now, Todd hadn't really thought of joining a contract engineering firm before looking into Lathrop. He had the impression that they concentrated on cosmetic design and minor components. "I was really surprised to find out just how many interesting, solid, technical projects they do," he says.

Calling automotive wannabees

For many, the job of a Big Three automotive engineer is an almost unattainable dream. Those who make it are often plucked from universities near Detroit--University of Michigan, Michigan State, General Motors Institute, Michigan Tech, and a few others. For the rest, it's a difficult road to the labs at Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors.

Still, it's not impossible. Every year, engineering services firms around Detroit hire hundreds of engineers to design cars for the Big Three automakers. Many of those engineers later go on to work directly for the Big Three. "Probably one-third of our turnover is people who are hired by the OEMs," notes Frank Mei, executive vice president for Modern Engineering, one of Detroit's biggest engineering services firms. But even more stay with the firms because they enjoy the diversity.

Mei and Modern Engineering colleague Albert Hamilton understand that diversity as well as anyone. Mei worked 22 years as a Ford engineer; Hamilton spent 15 years with Ford, GM, and American Motors. Together, the two have spent approximately the same number of years with services firms. "At Modern, you may work on a van in one month and a compact car the next," Mei says.

Both engineers agree that the key to survival in the services engineering field is flexibility. Their engineers need to apply their engineering training to a variety of components, from steering systems to antennas. "The majority of our people are seasoned engineers with experience in more than one discipline," Hamilton says.

For engineers who are unintimidated by such a variety of tasks, services firms are often a welcome change. "A lot of our people really like the diversity," Mei says. "Those people tend to stay right here and continue to work for us."

Shoes are optional

Because her eyesight prevented her from becoming a commercial pilot, Lisa Sura, senior mechanical engineer at Design Edge, did the next best thing--she earned a degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Minnesota. Having worked for a military contractor and a multinational technology corporation, she doesn't miss their dress codes, rigid schedules, or hierarchy.

"There are only two rules at Design Edge," says Sura, "Do killer product design and meet your deadlines." As a single mother of three, Sura appreciates Design Edge's flexible work hours and self-directed management model. "Those are the only rules the employees follow. We can come and go whenever we want. We can take any time off we want--as long as we follow those two rules."

At Sura's previous job designing military computers, each project lasted about two years. At Design Edge, a conceptual design project can be as short as two months, and engineers are usually working on one to five projects at a time. But while juggling multiple projects, she's managed to find the time to get her private pilot's license.

"Our dress code is that shoes are optional," she continues, "and we're really proud of that fact. People come to work here and stay."

Engineering News

Engineering News

Motion-control suppliers
help cut design time

Newton, MA--Wrestling with engineering decisions on which motor to specify--like similar decisions with other components--is getting easier. The reason: supplier involvement.

To get mechanical engineers to the next time-critical project faster, more firms bring suppliers into the design cycle early. For the vendor's part, especially if quality and price are a wash, they tout software, integration, and application services to make them stand out from the competition. Here's a look at how some suppliers go all out to help engineers meet their design goals.

Teach the machine. Rory Kelly, senior project engineer, was brought on-board Oakdale, CA-based Haeger Inc. to automate its 824 series insertion machines. Haeger, builds about 400 fastener insertion machines per year. To maintain its market position, automation was critical.

Kelly decided to farm out the hardware and software integration to a supplier to free some time to start specifying the next project. After corresponding with 150 vendors, he chose Westamp Inc. (Chatsworth, CA). Kelly issued the purchase or-der at the end of June 1996; the completed ma-chine arrived in Chicago at the end of August. "We wanted the machine ready for IMTS '96," Kelly explains. Westamp convinced him they could accomplish this. A proven track record and the ability to dedicate resources night and day won the bid. "We brought the prototype to IMTS without prior testing," Kelly notes. "I turned it on and it performed well."

Haeger's customers, mainly automotive and appliance manufacturers, use the 3-axis press to insert self-clinching fasteners into various sheet metal products. They require flexibility and fast, easy changeovers from one product to the next. "When Westamp finished integrating the controller, OI, and software, we could teach the machine ourselves. Programming, accomplished by moving the machine into position and pushing the teach button, was fast and easy," Kelly says.

Other motion-control suppliers follow suit. For example, Michael Gigl, technical group leader at Green Bay, WI-based Paper Converting Machine Co. (PCMC), needed motor-sizing software and guaranteed field support. Indramat (Hoffman Estates, IL) incorporated Gigl's suggestions into its Winsize software to meet his motor and drive needs.

PCMC, a custom builder of capital equipment, used hand calculations and conservative engineering assumptions to spec motors before Winsize. The rule was oversize when in doubt, says Gigl. "Motor sizing is more critical now," he adds, "We work from minimal information, such as web speed, roll sizes, and gearing, then estimate performance requirements."

After entering requirements into Winsize, the software provides different motor sizes and drive combinations to obtain the desired torques. "I look for commonalities and oversize where practical to minimize the number of different parts," Gigl explains. He then enters new specs, and runs another iteration to ensure performance. "To get the design right the first time requires many iterations. Winsize lets us do iterations faster," he notes.

"I can spec closer and fine tune the design more than traditional sizing methods. I don't have to second guess the issued part. I know it will work, because the program gives accurate and conservative numbers," reports Gigl.

Matched sets. While motor sizing is critical to many applications, stability presents more problems for highly-dynamic (fast acceleration/deceleration) systems. If coupling, bearing, or structure designs aren't stiff enough, they could excite the mechanism, decreasing performance. "Filtering or fine-tuning problems like this are usually beyond our expertise," explains Gigl. "That's where Indramat's (for information FAX 630-462-1346) experienced servo support proves essential."

Guaranteeing such support usually requires buying matched motor/amplifier sets from a single source. Firms such as Cleveland Machine Controls (CMC) (for information, FAX 216-360-4790) market performance-matched motor/am-plifier sets, but will test non-CMC amplifiers to support its motors, says Jay Greyson, vice president and general manager for CMC's Torque Systems Division (Billerica, MA).

For maximum performance, servo-based controls require matched components, and smooth integration. A mismatched component could decrease the investment's value, and lower anticipated quality and productivity gains. A November 1996 Design News market insight study on industrial controls and drives reports that 84% of design engineers have some problems with motion-control applications. "Much of this difficulty stems from a lack of performance-matched motor/amplifier sets," says Greyson.

A poorly matched motor and amplifier can decrease servo performance and impact system reliability. As the inner loop of nested-loop control systems, the current loop governs bandwidth for the velocity and position loops. It's the last thing a mechanical engineer wants to mess around with in a motion system. CMC offers Motion Master, a simulation package designed to save engineering time, effort, and reduce the chance of such errors. "It puts years of servo-sizing application experience into the designer's hands," says Greyson.

Greg Selke, president of Multitech Inc. (West Chester, PA), has worked with several different vendors' products. "MotionMaster is the most advanced," he explains. "In about half an hour, depending on system complexity, the motion system is clearly defined and documented."

Engineers can expect new motion-control technologies to provide added flexibility, performance, improved accuracy, reliability, and diagnostics only if integrated appropriately. As motion-control options grow, and engineers get busier, suppliers will continue to be there to help engineers meet their design goals.

What this means to you

  • Suppliers, brought into the design process early, can help reduce time-to-market.

  • Matched components maximize servo-control performance, and increase supplier support levels.

  • Due to few widely accepted standards, validating published technical data in catalogs is critical.

Motor/amplifier specification

..Here's a look at what's involved when specifying motors and amplifiers, according to Jim Woodward, application manager for Copley Controls Corp., Westwood, MA.

Assume motor and load inertia are equal, and double load inertia in your calculations. Determine maximum speed and acceleration.

  • Obtain maximum motor rpm, peak torque, and rms torque.

  • Calculate mechanical HP (or Watts) needed to do the job.

  • Determine candidate motors with rpm capability in your HP range.

  • Remember that inertia varies with motor design. Does your candidate fall within the inertia-match range of your load? If not, pick another model with a better HP and inertia combination. If so, pick a motor winding.

  • Divide maximum krpm into 35, 70, and 140 to obtain three Ke figures in units of volts/krpm.

  • Multiply each by 1.36 to obtain three Kt in units of ounce-in/Amp.

  • Select amplifier that can output 35, 70, or 140V (or even 280V for higher power ratings). Don't pick a model rated greater than what you need.

  • Multiply the amplifier continuous current rating by Kt. Check that this gives you the rms torque you need to move the load.

  • Choose power supply based on continuous Watts rating divided by 0.75 (linear power supply efficiency).

  • If driving multiple amps from common supply, consider duty cycle of each axis. Simply adding ratings of axes is conservative, and will usually result in an oversized power supply.

  • Having roughed-in the motion control system, re-consider the motor's resistance.

  • Determine voltage required to hit max rpm during acceleration when IXR will subtract from the amplifier output voltage.

  • Estimate if profile will heat the motor substantially, based on RMS torque, and Kt of the motor.

  • The temperature coefficient of Cu is about 0.4%/C. Therefore, total resistance can reach 140% of the cold value.

  • Check the power loss (I2R) for the power supply. Iterate through calculations again.

  • Notice that motors have higher peak/continuous current ratios than amplifiers. (Copper and silicon play by different rules). Trade off continuous or peak ratings of your amplifier to move the load.

  • Build your system and test it. Measure motor temperature, and amplifier current.

Share your experience

Solved a tough design problem recently? Tell us about it. Design News is looking for short stories on how our readers are using new tools and components to make design breakthroughs. We want to know the problems you faced, the tradeoffs you made, the tools you used, and the lessons you learned that can benefit other engineers.

We'll give you a by-line and run a picture of you, your design team, and the end product.

This is a great opportunity to share your knowledge and experience with others, and to learn from them.

Send the details to Paul Teague, Chief Editor, Design News, 275 Washington St., Newton, MA 02158. E-mail:

Recycled magnesium can yield quality castings

Detroit, MI--According to a paper presented at the annual conference of the SAE by Senior Researcher Andrew G. Haerle of Dow Corp., tests showed no differences in final die-cast properties between virgin metal and argon-refined recycled material. Haerle's paper also details the impact of varying non-metallic inclusion (NMI) content in recycled magnesium on machining, corrosion, paint adhesion, and basic mechanical properties.

Automotive manufacturers have hesitated to use recycled material because of concerns over residual NMI contamination. Present in small quantities even in virgin alloy, NMIs generally degrade performance.

Dow announced last year that a simple, inexpensive light-reflectance method can measure NMIs and serve as a quality indicator. "Wider acceptance of recycled alloy depends on two things: the ability to quickly and reliably measure NMI content in recycled material, and a better understanding of the relationship between NMIs and die-cast performance," says Haerle. Dow's light-reflectance technique can give the rapid feedback needed to ensure product quality. "With state-of-the-art refining," says Haerle, "recycled materials can be argon-refined to the same cleanliness as virgin metal."

Coatings chemically bond to surfaces

Eden Prairie, MN--A patented bonding technology called PhotoLink uses light activation to produce covalent bonds between proprietary photoreagents and almost any carbon-containing substrate, according to the developer, BSI Corp. This method of immobilizing reagents on a substrate controls random, intra-matrix crosslinking, creating stable surface properties. PhotoLink coatings enhance the properties of materials used in medical device applications.

One example of a PhotoLink coating is a low-friction coating. Medical-grade polymers, such as those used in catheters, generally exhibit reductions in surface friction of 50 to 90% once coated. The coating is typically 200 to 500 nm thick, with thickness largely determined by control of the coating solution's concentration and the method of coating application.

Covalent bonds make PhotoLink coatings very durable in clinical settings. Also, low-friction coatings reduce cell damage and tissue irritation. Except for some perfluoropolymers, PhotoLink coatings are not substrate-dependent. More than one coating can be used on a substrate. If a product combines one reagent that produces a low-friction surface and another that reduces clot formation, the product will wind up with a slippery coating that reduces the risk of clotting.

Most PhotoLink reagents come as water-based solutions and require no hazardous solvents. Light activation requires less than three minutes, and employs commercially available light sources. The coatings usually exhibit long shelf lives because of the covalent nature of the bond between substrate and coating.

Technology soothes audio-lovers' ears

St. Paul, MN--In the discriminating world of high-end audio, maximum sound performance is everything. That's why developments in vibration control and sound damping technology have caught the eye of both equipment manufacturers and do-it-yourself audiophiles.

One such technology from the 3M Vibration Control Products Group incorporates a thin stainless-steel constraining layer with a layer of viscoelastic polymer. The stainless steel adds stiffness to the applied area, while the polymer dissipates the vibration energy.

The application, not unlike 3M polymers specified for military and aerospace damping, should prove ideal for many amplifiers, compact-disc players, pre-amps, and speakers. The technology's damping characteristics--in which the constraining layer remains rigid while the polymer absorbs the vibration--help produce improved sound, especially in audio systems that use vacuum tubes where resonance may create a problem.

"Mechanical vibration can cause audible degradation in high-quality audio equipment," explains Harry Straub, market development supervisor for 3M's Vibration Control unit. "Audio engineers and designers are always looking for methods to improve their products. We feel this technology offers them that advantage."

The 3M material, part of the viscoelastic family of high-energy dissipative polymers, is a pressure-sensitive adhesive that's easy to apply. It comes in thicknesses from 1 to 15 mils.

3M has worked with major manufacturers of high-end audio equipment in a variety of applications. Wadia Digital, River Falls, WI, will use the product in a new CD player to be introduced soon.

"These products allow better vibration control than previous materials," says Jim Kinne, Wadia's director of engineering. "This allows us to achieve our goal--creating better sounding CD players--better sonic value."

Alpha chip targets PCs

Hudson, MA--Long a leader in microprocessor performance, Digital Semiconductor's Alpha chip will soon be appearing in PCs. By offering high performance, Windows compatibility, and PC price points, Digital hopes to take a bite out of In-tel's market.

Digital officials estimate that a PC using the 466-MHz version and featuring 32 Mbytes RAM, 2.4-Gbyte hard drive, 8x CD-ROM drive, and a 15-inch monitor could sell for $2,600. Look for systems based on the new chip in June.

Initial processor speeds will be 400 to 533 MHz. The 500-MHz part achieves 15 SPECint95 and 19 SPECfp95 (measures of integer and floating-point performance, re-spectively), according to company estimates. Desktop per-formance for the 64-bit RISC processor is given as 2.1 BIPS (billion instructions per second), thanks in part to four instruction pipelines.

Alpha runs Windows NT, which boasts more than 1,800 native applications including AutoCAD and MicroStation. It is also fully compatible with x86 WIN16 and WIN32 applications by running FX!32 translation software.

"When you attempt to go after the PC market with a non-x86 processor, there are always barriers," says Dean McCarron, a principal analyst for Mercury Research, Scottsdale, AZ. "Digital has taken a lot of steps to reduce those barriers, for example, having the FX!32 software and of-fering pretty substantial performance to induce people to switch processor families. It has a chance for reasonable success."

The 21164PC has a 30% smaller die than the 21164, mostly due to removing the level 2 cache from the chip, says Pippa Jollie, 21164PC product manager for Digi-tal Semiconductor. "We in-creased the cache to 96 kbits and moved it to the board." Digital also beefed up the on-chip level 1 cache to 8 kbytes for data and 16 kbytes for instructions.

Debuting in the 21164PC Alpha are 13 motion-video instructions that speed calculations of multimedia data. Company officials say they will enable such applications as full-frame-rate DVD (digital video disk) playback and high-quality video conferencing in software.

Second sources for the microprocessor include Mitsubishi Electric, which helped in its design, and Samsung. Samples are available now; production volumes will come on line in the third quarter. VLSI Logic is a second source for the core logic, whose single-chip implementation helps improve a PC's data throughput and reduce cost.

Digital expects to be selling standard ATX form-factor PC motherboards based on the Alpha 21164PC for less than $1,000. Samples will be available in the second quarter, with volume shipments in the third quarter.

Sprocket and belt design eliminates maintenance

Montgomery, AL--Aiming to provide maintenance-free operation for powered live conveyors, Interroll Inc. (Wilmington, NC) now offers an alternative to chain-driven live-roller (CDLR) conveyor systems: POLYCHAIN(R) belt drive rollers that use sprockets in conjunction with synchronous belts.

"CDLR systems have long presented a range of problems: chains that stretch and break, power transmission lag, high maintenance costs, and messy lubrication," says Michael Cordle, conveyor components product manager at Interroll. The POLYCHAIN drive roller's nylon sprocket/synchronous belt drive arrangement eliminates these issues, he says.

When a chain breaks on a CDLR system, lengths of chain must be removed to fix the break. With a belt system, only the one broken belt need be replaced, he says. Using belts also enables the conveyors to run faster, and they do not require lubrication. Plus, the nylon sprocket/synchronous belt drive eliminates sprocket wear.

That's the reason the Montgomery, AL facility of HK Systems's Unit Handling Group switched to POLYCHAIN rollers. The facility makes palletizers, which bring in products from a conveyor, form a stacking pattern, and drop the accumulated material onto a pallet.

Previously, the company's systems used plain rollers and a padded chain. Underneath the chain was an air bladder. To make the rollers convey and stop, pressure in the bladder was increased and decreased. When the company began designing systems for higher-speed applications, several problems arose. Heat generated from the increased speed melted the pads on the chains, and air bladders began leaking.

"We needed something that would better endure the heat and wear," says Cynthia Reinhardt, mechanical engineer at HK Systems.

Now, many of the company's systems use roller-to-roller drives with POLYCHAIN rollers. Not only do the POLYCHAIN rol-lers assist speed and maintenance, they improve overall performance. "The POLYCHAIN rollers gave us the drive we needed, and they handle well," says Reinhardt. "Plus, noise has been greatly reduced compared to our padded chain systems."

Washington Beat

Washington Beat

Supreme Court ruling fortifies rights
of patent holders

How much protection does a patent provide against those who come up with somewhat similar ideas? Quite a bit, according to the United States Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision important to most patent disputes, the high court knocked down a challenge to the "doctrine of equivalents." That doctrine maintains that an infringement occurs if there is an "equivalence"--not necessarily exact duplication--between the elements of a product and a patented invention. Some trial lawyers had argued that changes to federal laws in 1952 overrode the doctrine of equivalents. In writing the high court's opinion, how-ever, Justice Clarence Thomas upheld the doctrine, adding that it "should be applied as an objective inquiry on an element-by-element basis." Thus, flimsy differences between two inventions would not be enough to avoid infringement of an existing patent. Warner-Jenkinson Co. was on the losing side in this case. It used an ultrafiltration process that was largely--but not entirely--similar to one patented by Hilton Davis Chemical Co. Although the Clinton administration had urged the justices to side with Warner-Jenkinson, the United States government has been trying to get other countries to adopt the doctrine of equivalents in their patent laws.

Do some 'pilot errors' stem from design of flight controls?

Some accidents attributed mainly to pilot error may actually have occurred because of confusing design features in flight controls. A report by the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board of the National Research Council raises that disturbing possibility. Flight data recorders, it says, are not sophisticated enough to tell if complex controls misled pilots in crucial seconds before a crash. "Major mismatches in how a pilot expects an aircraft to fly and how it actually responds generally occur when a pilot must act quickly and aggressively to correct an unexpected aircraft motion during a difficult maneuver," the panel states. The problem is apt to worsen, it adds, as more advanced technologies enter the design of modern aircraft. The report acknowledges that ever-more-complex systems make it difficult for designers to anticipate all possible interactions between pilots and their flight controls. The board recommends forming teams to evaluate the design and development of both military and civilian aircraft at several stages. The teams, consisting of experts in flight control, piloting, aerodynamics, and flight dynamics, would develop criteria for assessing all aircraft.

Army lab's research on turbines declared 'too ambitious'

The Army Research Laboratory's effort to develop a new combustor design code for turbine engines is "probably too ambitious." So concludes a technical assessment board of the National Research Council. The laboratory has been developing the code, called ALLSPD-3D, since 1991. It is a technology-transfer project for use by U.S. makers of vehicle engines. The Research Laboratory assigned the task to its Vehicle Technology Center (VTC) at the NASA Lewis Research Center in Ohio. Army researchers had hoped the code would provide significant improvement in engine performance and design time. The board, however, says funding appears to be insufficient to ensure that VTC researchers will meet regularly with engine designers in industry. VTC, the board notes, "would have to be prepared to maintain and upgrade the code continually in order to meet increasingly sophisticated future design requirements."

3-D capaciflector electrodes add degree of freedom to designs

Three-dimensional capaciflector electrodes promise greater flexibility for designers of sensor-studded robots and tools. The 3-D feature allows engineers to conform capaciflectors to irregular rounded surfaces, such as robot arms. Capaciflectors emit signals to show the capacitance between a sensing electrode and a nearby object. An almost unlimited number of configurations for capaciflectors is now possible on objects requiring proximity sensing. Screws or pins could serve as sensing electrodes. The new electrodes were developed at Goddard Space Flight Center, under the direction of John M. Vranish. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration owns the invention and has applied for a patent on it.

Global network for standards launched on World Wide Web

NSSN, a global network for standards, is officially open for business on the World Wide Web. Known as the National Standards Systems Network during its development, NSSN allows users to search multiple standards databases in minutes. Information on more than 100,000 standards--including about 30,000 military specifications--will be in the NSSN database by year's end. The new service is the result of a partnership between the National Institute of Standards & Technology and the American National Standards Institute. NSSN's Internet address is

by Walter Wingo, Washington Editor

The missing link

The missing link

Don't worry. Despite the headline, this editorial isn't on the origin of the species. Instead, it's on the critical ties that bind manufacturing companies to their customers--ties that too often are missing in some companies.

And those ties are important, as every successful company knows. Whether you call them consumers and end users, or middlemen who use products to build other products, customers are the life blood of every manufacturing business.

Satisfy them, exceed their expectations, and they'll help your business grow. Disappoint them with poor designs and shoddy quality, and they'll drop you like a hot lump of coal.

IBM, which has made a remarkable turnaround in the last few years, credits its comeback to customer focus. CEO Louis Gerstner has said, "I came here with a view that you start the day with customers, then you start thinking about a company around its customers, and you organize around customers."

AlliedSignal, under the leadership of CEO Larry Bossidy, uses a Total Quality Management framework that starts with improving customer satisfaction, then encompasses all aspects of the company's performance.

Baldor Electric Company actually uses a mathematical formula to express its credo that the customer's view of value is what counts in business.

Customer satisfaction is everyone's priority, but it begins with--you guessed it--engineers. Top management decides on corporate direction; marketing figures out who the customers are, what they want, and how to reach them; sales gets them to buy; but engineers make them happy--or unhappy. Engineering decisions have the major impact on quality, reliability, fit, and finish.

And that means that engineers are the critical link between a company and its customers.

So why is it that some companies don't let engineers talk to customers? They're missing a great opportunity to strengthen an important bond. The feedback engineers can get from direct contact with customers is invaluable, and can result in better product designs. Instead of throwing up a wall between customers and engineers, those companies should look for more ways to bring the parties together, in focus groups, trade shows, and other venues. Engineers shouldn't be the missing link to customers. They are the ties that bind.