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Articles from 1998 In April

Engineers help unlock El Nino's secrets

Engineers help unlock El Nino's secrets

Huntington Beach, CA--To millions of people and untold wildlife, the 1997-98 El Nino has meant floods, mudslides, drought, and even famine. Yet it contains a possible silver lining for scientists, meteorologists, and engineers. Delivered along with El Nino's wrath has been increased emphasis on the need to understand this often destructive weather phenomenon. This emphasis translates into opportunities for not only gathering vital information about the most recent El Nino, but also for developing next-generation equipment to better understand and forecast El Ninos in the future.

Great. But what exactly is El Nino? The phrase refers to a massive warming off the coastal waters of Peru and Ecuador that frequently extends more than 90 degrees of longitude. It's related to the Southern Oscillation, the atmospheric component of this phenomenon, and the two are often abbreviated ENSO. Typically, ENSO starts late in the spring or summer and builds to a peak at the end of the year, with the event usually over by the following summer. It's quasi-periodic, recurring on an average of two to seven years, and causes significant anomalous weather effects worldwide.

Vital to El Nino's study are technologies such as satellites, sensors, instruments, imaging systems, computers, and software. A sampling of systems and devices available today and under development include:

- ATLAS buoys. These form the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) array in the equatorial Pacific. Next-generation, ATLAS II buoys just being deployed will extend the capabilities of the world's only real-time sub-surface thermal observation system.

- Jason 1. Follow-on to the TOPEX/Poseidon spacecraft, Jason 1 will continue tropical sea-surface height observations vital to understanding ENSO.

- SeaWinds. NASA's Micro-wave radar scatterometer will gather sea-surface vector wind data.

- TRMM. Launched in fall 1997, the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission uses a precipitation radar to measure rainfall.

- MODIS. The Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectrometer will fly on AM-1 in late 1998 and PM-1 in 2000 and provide infrared sea-surface temperature.

- ALACE. Anomalous coastal effects from El Nino storms can be studied by the laser-based Airborne LIDAR Assessment of Coastal Erosion program which uses LIDAR beamed from low-flying aircraft to create detailed digital elevation models of coastline topography.

Water temperature wizards. The TAO array, comprised of 70 Autonomous Temperature Line Acquisition System (ATLAS) buoys, is considered one of the essential sources of El Nino information. Their data is more discrete and localized than that provided by satellites, but the buoys deliver something no orbital platform can: subsurface water temperatures to 500m.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is just now mooring the first Next Generation ATLAS buoys, replacing those placed in the late '80s and early '90s. Reengineered by the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), changes were made to improve performance while easing manufacture and reducing cost. Reengineered buoys function similarly to their predecessors, but incorporate new electronics and sensors.

Most significant is the incorporation of inductively coupled sensors clamped directly to the wire-rope mooring line. This simplifies fabrication over the original ATLAS which had a separate sensor cable. Sub-surface temperature readings are supplied by YSI (Yellow Springs, OH) thermistors, and Paine (Seattle) model 211-30-660-01 pressure sensors determine depth. Interestingly, an inductive-coupling method is also used to time multiplex data transmissions from each sensor package to the buoy.

New electronics based on the Motorola MC68332 microprocessor retrofit into the original electronics packages. This change greatly reduced component count and improves reliability. All electronics now fit on a single PCB, replacing three boards. The board draws an average of 10-15 mW, and a simple battery pack of 84 D-cells will provide an 18-month deployment life.

Redesigned sensor modules sample and store data at predetermined intervals. Their cylindrical housings are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and designed for depths up to 750m. Internal electronics are based on the Motorola MC68HC11 microcontroller with 256K of RAM. It's mounted to a dense, 8-layer board with surface-mount components. Three 9V batteries provide power for more than 400 days.

El Nino vs. big science. "Everyone's been talking about this El Nino because it just happens to be the biggest one this century," says Dr. Michael King, senior project scientist for NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS), the world's largest science program. Over the next decade many of EOS' 19 instrument science development teams and 71 interdisciplinary science investigations will focus on better understanding ENSO.

One critical piece of El Nino data EOS will provide is ocean sea-surface vector winds. NASA's SeaWinds microwave radar scatterometer will launch in 2000 on the ADEOS II. And a SeaWinds engineering spare will fire aloft in November 1998 on QuickSCAT, a rapid-development recovery mission intended to fill in for the Japanese-built ADEOS I, which failed last June. "Before it failed, the ENSCAT instrument on ADEOS I was improving some weather forecasts by 24 hours," says King.

Adding to the El Nino data pile will be MODIS with its sea-surface temperature and ocean color sensors, Jason 1 for sea-surface height, and TRMM for tropical rainfall. On the ground, the EOS Data and Information System (EOSDIS) ground computers will focus on processing, analyzing, and disseminating information gathered by this orbiting army of satellites.

Model behavior. Interpreting this pile of information is the job of Dr. Lisa Goddard, project scientist at the International Research Institute (IRI) in San Diego, CA. "Satellites only tell you what is happening now, not what will happen in the future," she says, "that's what prediction models are for."

AT IRI, Goddard and other researchers run El Nino models developed by organizations such as the National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) on Cray J90 supercomputers. Even with 12 processors and gigabytes of RAM, the models take 2 to 3 days to complete, but it's worth it. "It's been only quite recently that anyone could make a statement as to what triggers El Nino, the atmosphere or the ocean," says Goddard. "We now know that the inertia for starting El Nino's is in the ocean."


El Nino Page at NOAA

ATLAS buoy info.

EOS Project Science Office

International Research

Power supply

Model PM33910F-5-6 power factor-corrected, 2,750W, six-output switching power supply is a standalone unit for reliable, high-power applications. Available in a compact 5 x 8 x 12.8-inch case, this semi-modular, multiple-output unit, with a demonstrated MTBF of 250,000 hours, delivers full power continuously from 0 to 50C. Input power is single-phase 170 to 264V ac, 47 to 63 Hz, and each unit can be configured with two high-power primary outputs and four adjustable auxiliary outputs.

Pioneer Magnetics Inc., 1745 Berkeley St., Santa Monica, CA 90404, FAX (310) 453-3929.

IntelliStation M Pro poised to take over the world

"We want total world domination," jokes Jay Barrett, from International Business Machines Corporation (IBM, Durham, NC). But when it comes to the company's IntelliStation M Pro, he isn't really joking. "This is more than just a PC on steroids. This was specifically designed for the needs of MCAD/MCAE, EDA, DCC, finance, and software engineering users," says Barrett. Several features set the workstation apart from those already on the market. A performance enhancement program (PEP) is a little engine that sits on the system and optimizes the hardware, changing settings as you work. "We took the characterization work normally done in an engineer's brain and wrote it into a soft-ware package," says Barrett. Improved system performance includes: a 33% bandwidth increase for the CPU; 50% bandwidth increase for the L2 Cache; a new 100-MHz front bus, and dual processor enabler. The station supports everything from AGP-based Matrox Millennium II with 8 Mbytes of on-board memory to Intergraph GT geometry accelerator and Appian graphics. The user can choose what level of performance he or she prefers. "Prior to this, IBM was just keeping up with the Jones. Now, look out," Barrett says. The Windows NT-based workstation is immediately available.

Voltage surge suppressors

Brochure details transient voltage surge suppressors (TVSS) which protect against internal and external power surges. TVSS devices include receptacles, portable systems, and panel units. The panel units are available in light, medium, and heavy-duty models. A raintight model is also available.

Pass & Seymour/Legrand, Box 4822, Syracuse, NY 13221, FAX (315) 468-6296.

Technology Bulletin 4-20-98

April 20, 1998 Design News

Technology Bulletin

Late developments that shape engineering

by Laurie Peach, Associate Editor

Spring sprouts software

Spring rains are bringing summer design tools as well as the more traditional flora. ANSYS (Canonsburg, PA) will soon introduce DesignSpace Enterprise--a family of design and process integration software compatible with both Windows NT and UNIX workstations. The graphical interface, Solid Browser, provides a common window into solid model geometry where users can access and analyze geometry from all leading CAD programs. Based on a new ANSYS concept called Advanced Controls, DesignSpace Enterprise allows analysts to set up templates to guide design engineers as they prepare models for advanced analyses downstream. Engineers can automatically document and communicate data over the Internet with the DesignSpace Web-Based Report. The software package will be released in three phases over the next nine months. The first release, DesignSpace for Pro/Engineer, Unigraphics, Parasolids, and .SAT format, will be available this quarter. DesignSpace for SolidWorks and Autodesk, including access to Advanced Controls, will be available the third quarter. DesignSpace for CADDS will be available by the end of the year.
FAX Michael Morris at (412) 514-3115.

Automating factory automation

An automated factory capable of solving its own problems is currently running on Rod Spencer's kitchen table. Granted, the live-steam generator is only 4-ft across. But the miniature generating plant, complete with a butane-fired boiler, a live steam engine and electric pumps, operates entirely through systems integration software written by Spencer and several of his Raytheon colleagues. The package automatically combines physical equipment characterization as well as the operation intents of the factory--what the plant produces under what conditions. The Spencer compiler assembles and simplifies physical relationships, resulting in fast, compact, and reliable real-time software control. Spencer says, "Today's automation often means inflexibility. The cost for reprogramming stands in the way of adapting to changes of equipment and experience." The system starts with a blank computer screen. Inputting a bar code triggers characteristic charts for each piece of factory equipment, feeding information into the data set. This includes data such as flow, pressure, and temperature. "If we add a new pump, we click on the web site of the pump's manufacturer and download performance specifications," Spencer says. The operator then "superimposes the process intent" and the system does the rest. Like an engineer, the software can effectively teach itself to solve problems on its own. He says, "This allows the fast inclusion of the single most important aspect of automation...operational experience." Spencer acquired the sole rights for his creation last year and is currently trying to secure the $4 million in capital needed to launch the project. He will initially focus on the semiconductor and printed circuit-board industries.
VOICE/FAX (603) 424-4028.

Customize your computer system

If you ever wanted to fine tune your operating system to make it do exactly what you wanted, Integrated Chipware (Reston, VA) has a product for you. At the Embedded Systems Conference East in March, the company introduced icWorkshop. "This is the best thing to come along in this industry since pockets on shirts," says Dick Peterson of Integrated Chipware. The icWorkshop offers engineers the option of using and customizing pre-configured software components to build real-time operating systems. This is the first time engineers have had such an option, says Peterson. Developers can also customize the kernel on a component basis. Like an engine on a car, you are usually stuck with the capabilities of whatever operating system you have. "What we do is allow you to change individual components, such as the fuel injection system, without affecting the entire engine. If a new process is developed, it usually takes operating system developers at least a year to adapt," Peterson adds. Integrated Chipware can adapt icWorkshop in 90 days. Industries such as telecommunications, automobile, oil, and aerospace are clamoring for this flexibility because the operating system now can be be tailored to fit the exact requirements of an industry sector, says Peterson.
FAX (703) 736-3556.

From A to Z in nuclear fusion

The Z-machine at Sandia National Laboratory, a former dark horse among accelerators meant to produce conditions required for nuclear fusion, is doing much better now, thank you. Researchers increased the machine's X-ray power output by nearly 10 times in the last two years. The most recent advance resulted in an output X-ray power of 290 trillion watts--about 80 times the entire world's output of electricity. The increased power will be a major contribution to the Department of Energy's (DOE) science-based approach to stockpile stewardship. This program dictates that DOE must use giant computing and laboratory experiments to sustain the nation's nuclear stockpile without above- or below-ground tests.
FAX (505) 844-6367.


Model 702 solenoid features an encapsulated coil, which offers insulation and coil protection. This overmolded coil allows resistance to moisture and is targeted for use in humid environments. The solenoid also provides protection against mechanical damage and handling, and offers a stroke up to 1 inch. The solenoid measures 2.5 x 0.75 x 1.15 inches. Applications include those where high force is required.

Magnet Schultz of America Inc., 401 Plaza Dr., Westmont, IL 60559, FAX (630) 789-0614.

Termination kits

Xpress termination kits apply an adhesive and an accelerant directly to fiber-optic horizontal cabling in LAN systems, producing an immediate bond between the fiber and the ceramic ferrule. No measuring, mixing, or special applicator is required for the adhesive. In the Xpress termination process, the adhesive is applied directly to the fiber.

Molex Inc., 2222 Wellington Ct., Lisle, IL 60532, FAX (630) 969-1352.


The SRLT Series of medium-pressure filters are rated for flows up to 25 gm/min and operating pressures up to 800 psi. The filter features a durable, lightweight design that will accept high-performance elements, in both synthetic and cellulose media. The SRLT's dirt-tolerant, rolled-thread design permits quick changeouts, and the series' compact physical envelope, coupled with its performance characteristics, target it for use in hydrostatic systems.

Schroeder Industries, Box 72, McKees Rocks, PA 15136, FAX (412) 771-1320.

Letters to the Editor 4-20-98

April 20, 1998 Design News

Letters to the Editor

Readers state their views

An eager competitor

Regarding "Buy metric," (Design News, 3/2/98 Letters)?I like to compete against anyone who is willing to build additional cost into a product or to eliminate from consideration what may be the highest-quality component simply because it isn't specified in his particular choice of units.

I hope (the writer) also restricts himself to dealing with ISO-certified firms.

George Dubovsky

A plug for diesels

Regarding "Diesels Unacceptable," (Design News, 3/2/98 Letters):

This nation moves much of its produce and material by truck and rail using diesel engines. In addition, RV'ers use diesel powered vehicles. Every large motor home is powered by a diesel engine. The large majority of tow vehicles for 5th wheel RV trailers are powered by diesel engines. The simple reason is that you get substantially more horsepower and torque, and up to twice the fuel mileage using a diesel than with gasoline engines.

As far as battery or solar powered vehicles go, they are primarily designed for commuter travel and not over-the-road, long-haul trips. I don't think that the vast majority of the motoring public would consider buying such vehicles, mostly from the cost standpoint and recharging problems (sites). The American driver wants good fuel economy, performance, horsepower, and speed. That is why they buy what they do.

I would not object to tax dollars being used for developing a better diesel engine that is even more fuel efficient, powerful, and less polluting. Today, I think that the Ford Motor Co. and International Harvester are doing just that.

James Hofbauer
The Boeing Company
Huntington Beach, CA

More information

I read with interest your article "Micro-wave technique takes telemetry to new heights," (Design News, 3/2/98 issue).

There are two very important problems when taking data from a rapidly turning shaft such as the torque converter you described: (1) Getting power to the rotating member and (2) getting the information back.

You did not say how the circuitry on the torque converter was powered. Was it a battery? If so, how large, how heavy, and how long would it last? There is a new technique for handling these problems which is used in the Torque and Horsepower measuring instruments described at

Thank you for the interesting article.

Clyde L. Ruthroff
e-mail at: [email protected]

Losses and gains

I just finished reading the excellent article on the way Cannondale shaved a pound off of their bike frame ("Skin and bones, but plenty tough", Design News, 3/2/98). The only comment I had was some pictures on the internet would have added to the enjoyment of the article.

Roy Voss

Inventions wanted

Regarding the news story, "Program seeks to puncture use of compressed air" (Design News, 3/2/98), the goals of the compressed air challenge should be expanded to include regenerative energy recovery in any application where this is theoretically possible.

Consider: Every working day, millions of vehicles around the country are raised five feet or more for oil changes or maintenance and repair by powered lifts, a significant percentage of which are air powered. A vehicle elevated five feet above ground has many thousands of foot pounds of potential energy, all of which is wasted as the vehicle is lowered--i.e., the compressed air in the lift cylinder is vented to the atmosphere.

Put on your invention hats. If you can come up with a practical system, file a document disclosure with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office?submit the idea to the DOE's confidential Energy-Related Inventions Program. You could receive a grant up to $100,000?

Gerald Shirley
Aldshir Manufacturing Comp., Inc.
Tuckahoe, NY

Zero pollution! Yes

I was disappointed to see the letter (Design News, 2/16/98) perpetuating the myth that electric vehicles "in most cases" merely transfer burned fossil-fuel air pollution from tailpipes to smokestacks. Deregulation has made it possible for consumers to buy electricity derived exclusively from 100-percent renewable, non-fossil-fuel sources.

People like me who are inclined toward EV ownership would also follow through by subscribing to receive pollution-free power.

Steven Kent

More on SUVs

In response to Mark Walker's letter (3/23/98 issue), I agree that the enhanced view of the road ahead is a plus. This leads, however, to another point: His enhanced view is a detriment to those behind him.

Before the glut of SUVs, pickup trucks, and vans of any flavor, one rarely had one's view of the road ahead blocked in any way. Even the occasional station wagon was of the same height as an automobile. Now, of course, drivers must deal continually with the problem of not being able to see what's ahead.

How about if we all had one of these "high-rise" vehicles? Then we would all be able to see better, or at least no worse than our fellow drivers. Or, in my opinion more reasonable, we should do away with the lunacy of recreational use of these vehicles, thus spreading fairness like oil on the waters of controversy.

James A. Ledbetter
Navistar International
Melrose Park, IL

Send us your letters

Got an opinion on engineering? Want to add information to an article you've read in Design News? Tell us about it. We welcome your letters. All, of course, are subject to editing for brevity. And, you must sign the letter and tell us your company's name.

Send them to Letters, Design News, 275 Washington St., Newton, MA 02158, or e-mail them to:[email protected].


The LC584A family of high-performance color oscilloscopes offer four input channels with 1 GHz bandwidth on each channel. The series features dedicated knobs for V/div, time/div, offset, and trigger level control. The technology inside the scope has been upgraded with 10 proprietary ICs, which gives the series new trigger features and a faster sampling rate.

LeCroy Corp., 700 Chestnut Ridge Rd., Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977.