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Articles from 2006 In April

What's new in 3D CAD?

What's new in 3D CAD?

Ray Kurland, president of the CAD consulting firm TechniCom, Inc. ( tells clients a cautionary tale, the story of "Company X." Company X used only a few dozen unique parts but pre-built hundreds of assemblies in hopes of saving delivery time and gaining efficiency in engineering and manufacturing. But inventory was high, manufacturing costs were excessive, delivery times were long - they never seemed to have the right assemblies in stock - and engineering costs were out of control.

Company X decided to replace their old 2D CAD system with a 3D system, but they used the 3D system in much the same way that they used the old 2D system. They never fully utilized the benefits of 3D CAD, they didn't get costs under control, and now they are no longer in business.

According to Kurland, today's environment demands an organization's best effort in terms of quality, productivity, responsiveness, and cost. A CAD system purchased today is likely to last for seven years, and when you are looking at a new CAD system, you need to ask what efficiencies must be gained within that time frame.

When buying a CAD system, Kurland says, it's vital that all members of the selection team understand their organization's strategic issues and its product development environment. To make sure your company doesn't become the next Company X follow these steps: Before purchasing a system, know where and why improvement is most needed, know how system effectiveness is to be measured, and have a clear understanding of what metrics should be used.

Take a look at what's worked for Moen, JR Automation and Foxconn and how they solved their unique 3D CAD challenges with new developments in 3D CAD Software.

Reducing Time to Market with better views and shading
Moen (, a leading manufacturer of kitchen and bath fixtures selected a system that helps shorten time-to-market. Engineering systems administrator Mike Brattoli says that improved styling features, such as swept blends, in Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 3.0, enable Moen engineers to design highly aesthetic products more quickly, using fewer features. "Improvements in the surfacing tools will help us shorten our time-to-market and provide us with a competitive advantage," he predicts.

A new shaded-view feature in Wildfire 3.0 also offers advantages, according to Brattoli. "We deal with many manufacturers overseas, and a 2D line drawing is not always clear," he explains. "The ability to include shaded views in drawings is going to significantly decrease our manufacturing costs by improving our ability to effectively communicate with groups overseas." Brattoli explains that the feature can reduce if not eliminate conference calls with manufacturers to clarify drawings. "This will help to reduce our time to market," he says.

JR Automation Technologies
Lean manufacturing with easy-to-understand designs

JR Automation Technologies LLC ( selected a system based on its need to improve productivity. JR Automation designs and builds lean manufacturing, material handling, testing, and other systems for automotive, consumer goods, and office furniture manufacturers. "Quality improvements in Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 3.0 are going to significantly improve my productivity," says mechanical engineer Vaughn McDaniel.

"The Process Wizard in Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 3.0 is also going to be extremely useful in our environment," McDaniel continues. "We have a couple of FEA experts who use the application regularly, but the majority of the engineers don't use it that often, so they are always refreshing themselves on exactly what needs to be done. With the wizard, you have that refresher at your fingertips, so any engineer can just jump in and start with the analysis."

McDaniel adds that JR Automation engineers previously spent a lot of time with customers in design reviews, explaining and clarifying details of the design. "Now with Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 3.0, we can add shaded views to the drawings, removing the ambiguity, and allowing us to discuss design details with customers in a quarter of the time," he says.

Technicom's Kurland suggests that manufacturers consider what benefits a new CAD system can provide, over what time period, compared with a system already in place. Desired performance improvements, such as an enhanced ability to communicate design data, then become requirements for the new system. Careful analysis of issues such as product quality, time-to-market, response to RFPs, and the ability to access and reuse portions of prior designs, can indicate the need for cutting-edge CAD technology.

JR Automation's McDaniel says that the sketcher palette in Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 3.0 "is going to increase productivity by making it extremely easy to reuse common sections. Having multiple sections at your fingertips and being able to customize the sketches in the palette allows us to create new features in a fraction of the time."

Foxconn International Holdings
Using the new sketcher palette to reduce time to market

"Time to market is critical; being second to market can significantly lower revenues, notes Jerry Hsieh, CAD/CAM Center director at Foxconn International Holdings (, a large manufacturer of handsets and other electronic equipment. "The productivity improvements in Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 3.0 are going to enable Foxconn designers to work faster while maintaining the quality of their work, enabling us to meet our time-to-market goals."

Since Foxconn creates many design variants from its main product line, Hsieh estimates that the sketcher palette in Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 3.0 will increase productivity by 15%. "Having frequently used shapes at our fingertips for reuse saves significant design time," he says. Other useful design enhancements in Foxconn's new CAD system include the ability to pattern a pattern, and to create partial shells. "This additional design flexibility gives us a simplified workflow, allowing us to more accurately meet the needs of our customers in terms of product design and speed to market," he says.

Make the most of CAD
The right CAD technology and effective processes can make or break an organization's product development effort. Time-to-market is critical, as is the ability to respond quickly to market opportunities and changes in customers' requirements while maintaining or improving product quality. Organizations today are shortening time-to-market by eliminating superfluous steps, communicating more clearly, reusing portions of prior designs wherever possible, and otherwise doing more with less. There is simply no other way to survive and to create a better future than "Company X".

English translation of China RoHS now available

English translation of China RoHS now available

Design Chain Associates (DCA), a San Francisco consulting firm, has announced it has engaged a translation service to translate China’s RoHS-related “Marking and Maximum Concentration Value” draft standards into English. The firm has reviewed the translated documents for consistency with the promulgated Chinese law as well as the European Union’s RoHS directive and annotated the document appropriately.

The Chinese government has declined to officially translate its draft started into English or any other language. The translated standards produced by DCA are available at for a fee. DCA is also working on translating the test and disassembly draft standards as well.

The Chinese government has indicated it might product an official English translation once the draft standards are converted to National Standards. In the meantime, the rest of the world is left to its own devices in making sense of China’s directive.

ARP-2606AP LCD Panel Computer

Made for compact environments

This 6.4-inch panel-mount LCD computer is made for factory automation, facility monitoring, machine automation and environmental monitoring. It has a 3.5-inch embedded board that uses a VIA Eden 667-MHz processor. It has up to 512 Mbytes of memory capacity in its 144-pin SO-DIMM socket. It has video support with a built-in VGA controller and 32 Mbytes of shared display memory. A Realtek 8139 C PCI PnP Base-T Ethernet controller handles local area networking, and there is an optional PCMCIA for wireless applications. It has a 4-wire resistive touch screen, three RS-232 ports, an onboard CompactFlash Type-1 socket, an optional 2.5-inch hard disk drive and a 16-bit PC/104 extension connector. They start at $1,000 for North American sales, and are available for immediate delivery.

Arista Corp.



Crestron CEN-IPOD ( .This interface connects an iPOD to a touch panel display that provides remote control and navigation. Plugging the iPOD into the docking station wirelessly links to the touchpanel for selecting and sharing music through remote speakers. A 30-pin connector on the cable or in the docking station attaches to the iPOD. Besides data transfer, the connection provides power to charge the iPOD's rechargeable battery. In addition to providing high-speed Ethernet communications with the Crestron control system, the CEN-IPOD has buffered unbalanced and CAT5 balanced stereo outputs to enable interfacing to any Crestron audio distribution system.


Time-to-Digital Converter

Digital time conversion at high resolution

The TC840 CompactPCI time-to-digital converter module, with 50 ps timing resolution, is made for measuring the time of the rising or falling edge of very fast trigger events, using inputs with programmable thresholds. It is designed to handle large-scale experiments like hydrodynamics, particle accelerator timing, nuclear fusion studies and explosive testing, plus time-of-flight measurement in mass spectrometry and 3D mapping. With a wide-range, single- and multi-start converter, the TC840 uses 13 identical hardware channels: one is the common start, while the rest are independent stop inputs. It works in single-start or multi-start acquisition, and with timing information on all the independent channels encoded relative to the common channel. Up to 512 stops per channel can be recorded with the large internal buffer, and start/stop events up to 20 seconds apart can be recorded. Digitized data goes straight to the onboard FPGA-based data processing unit. This increases data throughout the PC through the direct memory access mode. The TC840 measures time on the internal low jitter (&3 ps rms), high stability (±2 ppm) clock source, or an external 10 MHz reference input. Pricing starts at $11,990, with delivery in six weeks ARO.

Acqiris USA


PRO 555 Solderless Breadboard

User-repairable at an affordable price

Cal Test Electronics' new breadboards are designed for engineering, R&D, education, prototype circuit design and experimental circuit evaluations. They are the only ones available that can be repaired by the user, eliminating "dead spots." Technicians can remove the back and replace damaged contacts, using Model CT2044 PRO 555 Accessory Maintenance Kit parts. It offers a 25,000+ cycle contact life; 555 contact holes per board; sizing for standard .012- .031-inch contact pins; silk-screened nomenclature to assist in circuit layout and mounting holes on the back of the board. It's available by itself or pre-mounted on black anodized aluminum panels for larger circuit designs. It has a small, durable, rectangular, white, polyester plastic board with 430 contacts for IC's and components, in two side-by-side rows of 5 contacts by 43 rows. It also has 125 contacts in five lines of 5 × 5, for power and grounding. The boards can fit together into a matrix if needed, and the user can easily see the parts inside through the transparent rear panel. The boards use five binding posts which work with standard and sheathed banana plugs, allowing power, ground and signal connections. The panels come with a circuit-tracing pad for design development and documentation, and the boards are available in pre-build configurations, including Test Board 2, with 1110 pts with binding posts and pad, at $46.80, Test Board 3, with the same package, with 1665 pts for $63.70, Test Board 4, with the same package, with 2,220 pts at $80.60, and Test Board 6, with 3,330 pts, also with binding posts and pad, at $114.40. The accessory maintenance kits are $7 each, and accessory circuit trace paper pads are $6 each.

Cal Test Electronics


RFID: Beyond the Drive for Five

For almost a decade, the "nickel tag" has loomed unattainably on the horizon. Chief information officers have waited patiently for it. Experts have forecast a role for it in "trillions" of everyday products. The European Central Bank has even been rumored to be hatching a plan to weave the five-cent Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags into the fabric of its currency. There is, it seems, no limit to the reach of RFID once that five-cent goal is attained.

Still, vendors are showing there's more to RFID than nickel tags.

"We've been talking about the mythical five-cent price point for years," notes Mike Liard, RFID practice director for Venture Development Corp. "Is it possible? Yes. But it may not necessarily be the type of tag you're looking for."

Indeed, makers of RFID chips and so-called "inlays" (which include chip, antenna and substrate) know this, which is why most haven't rushed to put nickel tags on the market. Instead, they've been content to cut prices at a steady rate of about 5 to 10 percent per year since 2000, while simultaneously improving the technology. As a result, users of the tags are already employing them in applications undreamed of a decade ago, despite their inability to reach the elusive nickel price point. At McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, for example, "bag tags" with dual dipole antennae are attached to luggage to ensure that RFID readers in the handling system can communicate with all bags, no matter their orientation on conveyor belts. Such dual-antenna tags haven't reached rock-bottom price points, but at roughly 20 cents apiece, they offer capabilities nickel tags couldn't match today. Similarly, retailers have begun using tags with specialized antennae to enable garments buried in stacks to successfully "talk" to RFID readers. Again, cheaper tags would be unlikely to achieve such feats.

The bottom line is that while RFID vendors have been lowering their prices and improving their technology, they've been carving out new niches for themselves. Increasingly, RFID tags are being used on pallets, cartons, garments, luggage, DVD cases, pill bottles and library books. And in the future, experts foresee more use in low-cost everyday items, from lipstick cases to cereal boxes. While they won't replace the bar code any time soon, they nevertheless offer non-line-of-sight capability, which means they can gather information of their whereabouts without being individually handled. As a result, they're capable of deterring theft and counterfeiting.

"RFID is not labor intensive," notes Sanjay Sarma, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and research director for MIT's Auto-ID Center. "It gives you information you can't get with a bar code, unless you have an army of people scanning every product."

Cost Still Key

And then there's that issue of the nickel tag. At costs of 10 to 20 cents apiece and up, RFID tags are still far more expensive than bar codes, which is why the drive to five continues.

"The state of momentum within the industry toward the five-cent mark is very healthy," Sarma says. "The good news is that it has gone beyond research. It's moved into development, and a lot of companies are looking to go to five cents."

Whether or not five cents is their ultimate goal, makers of chips and inlays alike have targeted lower cost. Chip designer Impinj Inc., for example, is cutting costs through a novel semiconductor approach that enables the company to capture low-cost CMOS techniques and apply them to RFID devices. Unlike conventional RFID chipmakers, which typically use extra photo masks and process steps to create on-board, non-volatile EEPROM or Flash memories on RFID chips, Impinj engineers use "self-adaptive silicon." Using the technique, they create special transistors containing gates that are able to store bits of memory. By fabricating such transistors, they can make non-volatile memories without resorting to the extra photo masks and steps required in EEPROMs or Flash.

"Self-adaptive silicon enables us to make non-volatile memory with the simplest of CMOS processes," says Dimitri Desmons, vice president of marketing for Impinj.

Impinj engineers say that self-adaptive technology can potentially cut pennies from chip costs. Moreover, such technologies reduce costs even further when combined with high-volume assembly methodologies, such as those developed by Alien Technology. Alien, which employs a technique known as Fluidic Self-Assembly (FSA), recently announced it has cut inlay costs to a scant 12.9 cents apiece through its efforts. Its assembly technique, originally developed by a company founder who was playing a child's game that required him to maneuver steel balls into tiny slots, reportedly allows the company to package as many as 2 million chips per hour into RFID tags, compared to 10,000 per hour using conventional methods. The trick, the company says, is to suspend the tiny semiconductor devices in a liquid and then "flow" them across the holes, where they drop in and self-align. The self-assembly technology, combined with growing production volume, enabled Alien to cut its tag costs by nearly 50 percent recently, down from 23 cents apiece.

Other vendors have attacked the cost issue from a different perspective. Symbol Technologies, for example, has cut the cost of its tags through multiple efforts, not the least of which is its move from silver to aluminum antennae. The company, which makes high-performance RFID systems, was able to move from the higher conductivity of silver to the lower conductivity of aluminum by developing an on-chip "charge pump" that helps boost the continuity and strength of RF signals coming to the antenna.

Symbol has employed the antenna on so-called bag tags used at McCarran International Airport. Integrating two antennae oriented 90 degrees from one another, the RFID tags are virtually assured of being able to communicate with the airport's RFID readers, no matter how bags are tossed onto conveyor belts.

"If you wanted to have a lower cost solution where one antenna would work, the bags would have to be oriented in a certain way, and they'd have to pass the reader in a certain way," says Alan McNabb, senior director of product management for Symbol's RFID tags. "But with our tag, the orientation of the bag doesn't matter."

An 'Internet of Things'

Such technologies are making in-roads for RFID. Symbol, for example, has placed similar technologies on pill bottles for the counterfeit-wary pharmaceutical industry.

"The pharmaceutical industry has a huge issue with counterfeit product coming through the market," says Dirk Morgenroth, marketing manager for RFID for Philips Semiconductors. "They've been very vocal about using RFID."

Manufacturers — including Philips, Texas Instruments, Inpinj and Alien — have also landed their RFID products on shirts, pant and sweaters in the fashion industry, as well as in library books, and on DVD and CD cases.

The industry's biggest score to date, however, could be in the works in Europe, where the European Central Bank is rumored to be working with vendors on weaving RFID into the fabric of its bank notes. The technology — most probably incorporated in larger bills — would enable money to carry its own history. Hence, it would become more difficult for kidnappers to ask for "unmarked bills." It would also enable law enforcement agencies to "follow the money" in illegal transactions.

The project, originally reported in such publications as Wired and EE Times, was supposed to take effect in Europe's 2005 currency. Hitachi Ltd., which announced in February that it has developed the world's smallest RFID chip, measuring just 0.4 × 0.4 mm × 7.5 µm, has often been linked with the Euro reports. Hitachi, however, denies it has worked on such a project. A European Central Bank spokesman also told Design News, "We cannot say anything about this, and we've requested that our providers sign a mutual agreement not to talk about it."

Even if such projects never reach fruition, however, experts are confident that RFID will eventually be the backbone of a plan that researchers have called "an Internet of things," in which almost everything, large and small, is connected via the Web. The plan, already described in hardware and software protocols, calls for all information on a product to be written in a code based on eXtensible Markup Language (XML). The code, which forms a sort of web page for each item, would be connected via RFID tags to Internet servers. Thus, all products could be identified anywhere, instantly. A broad coalition of corporate giants, including Coca-Cola, International Paper, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble and others have supported such efforts through MIT's Auto-ID Center.

Low cost, of course, is a key to such plans, but researchers have worked that out, too. Ultimately, they say, everyday items will incorporate RFID, not on sticky tags, but through integration into the corrugate of cardboard boxes. Ongoing efforts in this area will be the key to lowering RFID cost, researchers say, because it eliminates the need for certain parts of the tag. Instead of being done as an afterthought, as is the case today, such technologies would be integrated during the cardboard manufacturing process, thus enabling cost reduction.

"These RFID technologies will co-exist with the bar code for a long time into the future," says Sarma of MIT. "But they will provide information that a bar code can't. 'Did the item go to the sales floor? Did the meat sit in the fridge long enough?' You can't know that with a bar code."

Sarma says such technologies will become widespread when production volume reaches a "tipping point." When that happens, it will drive costs down to a level low enough to motivate use of RFID on everyday items. And with retailers — particularly Wal-Mart — pushing hard for RFID, the concept is not unrealistic, experts say.

"The question now is the tipping point," Sarma says. "When do you get to the percentage that causes you to say, 'I'm going to put the tag inside the corrugate?' In the next year, we could see it happen."

Reach Senior Technical Editor, Chuck Murray at [email protected].

6U VMEbus Board

Tough, low-power board

This rugged board is made to handle harsh environments in defense, aerospace and space applications. It offers several I/O capabilities, including ARINC-429, analog-to-digital, digital-to-analog, audio and discretes. It's perfect for general-purpose airborne applications like manned and unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopter platforms, with a new single-slot C437 accommodating I/O for a large number of sensors and actuators. There are independent power and ground domains for each of the C437's analog, digital and discrete I/O sections, isolating each signal from the other, maintaining signal integrity and minimizing cross-coupled noise. The board's new I/O components include 24 AEEC-compliant ARINC-429 channels that support both high and low-speed configurations, 60 single-ended discrete inputs, 2 differential inputs and 41 single-ended discrete outputs, plus four opto-isolated, -10 to +10V, 16-bit differential analog imputs and four -10 to +10V differential analog outputs. The board can store and play back prerecorded audio messages through an MP3 player with stereo audio output and dedicated Flash and SRAM memory. The C437 can decode and play MP3+V, WAV, PCM and MPEG 1 & 2 audio layer 3 files, plus run-time messages and uses a VMEbus bridge in a FPGA logic device, offering slave VMEbus capabilities, and support for A32/D08/D16/ D32 data transfer to and from any standard host board. The host is free to perform other tasks too, as the FPGA logic device offers full autonomous control over onboard functions. The C437 works well with moderately-powered systems, using only 14W of power. It comes in both conduction and air-cooled models, and is fully compliant with IEEE 1101.2. It has a metal thermal frame for vibration and shock control, plus added heat paths for less thermal impedance. The board has built-in self tests and integrated RTOS drivers, which include VxWorks and Integrity, for control/status and access to all the C437's I/O modules from the VMEbus host card. Other popular real-time operating system drivers are available by request.

Aitch Defense Systems


RTX America DUALphone ( Without abandoning the familiarity of plain old telephone service (POTS), the DUALphone connects to a standard telephone socket, as well as a USB port on a PC. Using Skype's free global telephony Internet calling capabilities, the digital phone provides a display to identify friends and associates who are online and an instant connection to them by simply pressing a button. With the wireless handset, the user does not have to sit in front of a PC to use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). The base-station has a fixed USB cord, telephone line cord, and power supply connection and the wireless phone has a standard headset connecter.



Belkin Cablefree USB Hub ( Using ultrawideband (UWB) wireless technology that communicates up to 10m, stationary USB-equipped products connect to an untethered computer anywhere in the room. The four-port hub communicates with a USB-connected wireless dongle receiver mounted on the PC. Without requiring additional software, the unit provides instant high-speed wireless connectivity for any USB device. Even though this USB Hub does not require wires to connect to a computer, it still needs four USB connections for printers, scanners, MP3 players, Flash memory drives and more.