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Articles from 1995 In May

Technology Bulletin

Technology Bulletin

'Smart' gun may save police officer's lives

Imagine a gun that could not be used against its owner-or by a child. That's the goal of engineers at Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, NM. Sandia received a $620,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice to develop a weapon that can be fired under all kinds of conditions-but only by people it recognizes. Sandia electrical engineer and project manager Douglas Weiss likens the "smart" gun to a lock and key. The "smart gun" might use an enabling code programmed into a ring worn by a police officer or a remote control that sends a signal to a receiver in the gun's grip. Sandia engineers and particpating officers are evaluating 14 existing technologies that could be adapted to a smart gun, such as bar- or voice codes and fingerprint recognition. "Some technologies are not realistic today but may be in the future," says Weiss. The technology may someday discourage criminals from stealing guns by making it too difficult for them to make the weapons work. Engineers are currently working with three demonstration models; Weiss expects a prototype will be ready in January. For technical details, FAX Weiss at (505) 844-2925, for information on the licensing agreement, FAX Craig Sheward at (505) 271-4202.

Polyester from bottles lives on as fabric

Yesterday's beverage bottle may be tomorrow's backpack. NatureTex 100(TM) polyester fabric, made from 100% recycled resin, is being used to make athletic shoes, wallets, caps, boots, and bags. Engineers at Starensier, Newburyport, MA, take advantage of the performance qualities of the polyester used to make beverage bottles. Because the bottle resin is a higher grade than that used to make virgin polyester fabric, the recycled material meets or exceeds ASTM tests for abrasion resistance, stitch tear, and other standard material tests. To make the fabric, discarded bottles are cleaned, extruded, cut, spun, and woven into cloth. The material can be custom-engineered to meet specifications, and is available in a variety of colors. Each square yard keeps eight two-liter beverage bottles out of landfills, claim engineers. For details, FAX (508) 465-6223.

Reusable space booster to reduce mission costs

NASA and Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, VA, are jointly developing a small, reusable space booster that will be a test-bed for reusable launch vehicles. The "X-34'' is expected to significantly reduce mission costs for 1,000 to 2,000-pound payloads into low-Earth orbit and may become a commercial booster. The goal of the Reusable Launch Vehicle technology program is to significantly cut the cost of space access and to promote activities that will improve U.S. economic competitiveness. Flight tests are planned for late 1997, with launch expected by mid-1998. NASA plans to provide $70 million to Orbital through 1999 for the project; Orbital will invest at least an equal amount. For details, FAX Orbital at (703) 406-5572, or see the Marshall Space Flight Center home page at http://rlv.

Wear-resistant materials promise to cut tool costs

Using a patented process originally developed for Army tank armor, engineers are creating high-temperature, wear-resistant materials for cutting tools, dies and electrodes. The self-propagating high-temperature process yields improved high-performance titanium diboride materials. The materials offer electrical conductivity, wear resistance, and high compressive and mechanical strengths. They also resist chemical reactions, molten metals, and thermal shock, and withstand high temperatures-thanks to their 3,000C melting point. The process was developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Georgia Tech Research Corp., which has licensed it to Advanced Engineered Materials, Woodstock, GA. AEM engineers hope that the materials will reduce parts costs for companies that now use dies and cutting tools made from hardened steel, tungsten carbide, or diamond. AEM is developing other uses for the materials. For details, FAX Tim Smith at (404) 592-1301.

Metal-ceramic tape: a superconductivity milestone?

Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico say they've developed a metal-ceramic tape that superconducts electricity at inexpensive temperatures, offering a major advance in electromagnetics. The new tape should significantly improve electric motors, medical imaging equipment used in hospitals, and electrical transmission lines, say engineers. It could also provide for magnetically levitated rail transit systems and systems to remove contaminants from polluted soil. "We have hit a new milestone in superconductivity, and I think we're on our way to a product that has great commercial value," says Dean Peterson, head of the lab's Superconductivity Technology Center. The flexible three-layered tape offers an electrical current density of more than one million amps per square centimeter at the relatively high temperature-for superconductors-of -320F: the temperature of liquid nitrogen. "Liquid nitrogen is cheaper than cola," said team member Xin Di Wu. Winding the tape around itself creates a tiny but powerful electromagnet. The tape's current density is nearly 100 times greater than other flexible, high-temperature superconductors, say team members. For more information, FAX the Superconductivity Technology Center at (505) 665-3164.

Experimental electronics may prevent chaos in the heart

Harmful electrical rhythms can create an erratic heartbeat and lead to big trouble. To treat the condition, called atrial fibrillation, doctors and engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University are developing an experimental therapy. The technique aims to alter chaotic patterns in the electrical signals controlling the heart. If successful, it could lead to a new type of implantable device that would be smaller and apply less electrical energy than the defibrillators now used. Where existing defibrillators use large electrical shocks, the new technique will apply small electrical signals to the heart at selected points in the heartbeat cycle. Researchers hope that these signals will allow the heart itself to correct the irregularities. Human tests are scheduled to begin this spring. The method also shows promise in altering chaotic brain patterns associated with certain types of epilepsy. For details, FAX Dr. William Ditto at (404) 853-9958 or e-mail him: [email protected]

Coming to an automotive mirror near you: Fresnel prisms

Automotive side-view mirrors may soon use prismatic mirrors to boost aerodynamics. UT Automotive, Dearborn, MI, has licensed technology from de Montfort Management Ltd. in England to create a low-profile side-view mirror that allows the driver to see alongside and behind the vehicle. The mirror takes advantage of Fresnel prisms to protrude 60% less than conventional mirrors, greatly reducing drag in wind-tunnel tests, say engineers. Its low profile also reduces the hazard to pedestrians or cyclists and the risk of damage in city driving or car washes. Because the reflective surface of the mirror is inside the vehicle, it may also be easier to use in bad weather. For more information, FAX Dick Berg at (313) 596-3159.

Biochemical computers of the future speed data storage

Researchers concerned with the limitations of silicon-based computers are turning their attention to computers based on protein molecules. Such "machines" promise compact size and faster data storage, says Syracuse University professor Robert R. Birge. He envisions future computers as hybrids of semiconductor- and protein-based chips capable of storing vast amounts of information in a very small space. A hybrid computer could be designed to function as a neural associative computer capable of learning and analyzing data in much the same way as the human brain, says Birge. For an abstract of Birge's recent Scientific American report, FAX Cybernautics Digest at (206) 547-5355 and request the April 1995 issue.

Sharpen your pencils for innovators design contest

The Firestone Industrial Products Co., Carmel, IN, is looking for designs that use Airstroke(R) actuators or Airmount(R) isolators creatively in practical applications. The Innovators Design Contest is open to professional design engineers and students. The grand prize is $2,000; first- and second-place winners in the professional and student categories will receive $1,000 and $500, respectively. Past winners include a Saturn design engineer's quick-disconnect coupling, which uses an airspring in a robot arm to allow rapid tool changes, and a polishing tool for ball-valve seats that uses an airspring to provide angular and lateral motion. Entries are due December 31, 1995. For details and an entry form, write to Carolyn Goodall, 701 Congressional Blvd., Carmel, IN 46032, or call (800) 888-0650 and ask for applications engineering.

Packaging partnership to boost electronics applications

A new partnership between industrial enclosure supplier Hoffman Engineering and European electronics packager The Schroff Group may help OEMs who use electronics packaging. "The move supports a trend in the control industry to move electronics into sophisticated industrial applications," says John Abbott, Hoffman's vice president of engineering. Officials hope that the partnership also will benefit the information technology field, where Schroff has worked with electronic OEMs to develop application-specific products for interfaces and structured wiring enclosure systems. "The partnership offers design and mechanical engineers-including OEMs-the opportunity to concentrate on their core competencies," says Richard Ingman, president of Hoffman. For more information, call (800) 355-3560 x100.

Concept vehicle travels at Mach 10 on microwaves

Engineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, are using microwave energy to explore aerospacecraft propulsion. The "Air Spike" concept uses focused microwave beams to create shock waves ahead of the vehicle to drive air out of the its path. The shock waves act as an efficient hypersonic inlet for the vehicle's air-breathing magnetohydrodynamic fanjet engine, says engineering professor Leik Myrabo. In tests last month, engineers brought the vehicle to Mach 10 in RPI's hypersonic shock tunnel. Project leaders Myrabo and veteran spacecraft designer Henry Nagamatsu emphasize that the vehicle does not need heavy tanks of on-board chemical fuel. For details, FAX Myrabo at (518) 276-2623.

CAD, CAM, and CAE: Formula One's favored team

CAD, CAM, and CAE: Formula One's favored team

Four short months separate each Formula One season, a tour that takes this year's 14 teams to Grand Prix events on five continents. At peak season-the European "summer campaign"-a mere two weeks separates individual events. It's said that Formula One drivers race against each other, but F-1 engineers race against the clock.

George Ryton, chief designer with the Tyrrell Racing Organization, agrees: "Between some Grand Prix stops, we literally have to re-draw parts of the car, manufacture the modifications, and have the car up and racing in less than a fortnight." To help him do this, Tyrrell uses AutoCAD Release 12 from Autodesk, a supplier it first used in 1990. The drawing office, Ryton says, was completely converted to CAD operation within a year of introduction. Now there are eight seats used for every aspect of the car's design, except the engine.

While Ryton's team works primarily in 2D, he claims solid modeling in 3D is also critical. Variations to the fuel tank, for example, can be evaluated for mass and center of gravity. "The gradual emptying of the tank as fuel is used during the course of a race," he points out, "can significantly change the car's handling. A different shape can mitigate these effects, but the optimum shape and size only can be discovered through the rapid processing of alternative designs with CAD."

Similarly, Jordan Grand Prix uses Hewlett-Packard's Precision Engineering/ME10 for 2D design. The company's Solid Designer, based on object-oriented solid modeling technology, handles 3D tasks. Such tools not only enable team engineers to turn around new or modified designs during the period between championship races, but they speed complete redesign during the off season.

Robert Stubbings, a design engineer with Jordan, cites this year's Jordan-Hart 195, which has much in common with its predecessor, the Jordan-Hart 194. All data from the 194 was accessible at the touch of a button when design commenced last fall on the new car. "Rather than redrawing one sketch after another," Stubbings notes, "we now have a much more structured approach to the individual design."

Integrated manufacturing. Williams Grand Prix first started with CAD ten years ago, but only recently adapted a fully integrated package of computer-aided engineering. Chris Wheatley, Williams R&D engineering manager, claims this approach greatly facilitates the fabrication of body parts from composite materials.

Engineering starts with Autodesk's AutoCAD products, supplied by CADlogic Ltd., to convert the design concept into a computer model of the part. This model runs on a computerized fluid dynamics (CFD) package where a whole range of parameters can be specified, including flow patterns, speed, angle of attack, air temperature, and surface roughness.

Structural details, such as material thickness and weight, are added using finite element analysis (FEA). Optimization routines determine the most suitable combination of shape and material, with data directly downloaded to CNC manufacturing centers. Tool instructions based on the model create molds for the composite parts, while the software generates a net of prepreg patterns on a Misomex plotter/cutter programmed for depth of cut.

These shapes are then cut, laid up, and cured in an autoclave before moving to the assembly shop; master software specifies prepreg angles of orientation. Wheatley says Williams uses about 10 different types of prepreg. "Effectiveness of the nesting designs for cutting the prepreg is so high," he adds, "that scrap is now history. All we have left are bits of "spaghetti' and tiny corners."

In this fashion, Williams can complete a part from design to final inspection without a single drawing. The entire process takes about six days.

Adding analysis. In Formula One racing, the use of aluminum honeycomb structures and materials, such as carbon and DuPont's "Kevlar," are now commonplace. Composites cut total weight 20 to 25%, while improving aerodynamics and body stiffness. Energy absorbing nose modules for frontal impact protection, and body shell survival modules-developed from molded composite parts-help shield the driver.

To get the most from its composite structures, team Ligier uses COMPOSIC(R), a composite structure analysis tool from Framasoft + CSI. Applied to a car's body shell, the software lets Ligier's design team perform such analysis functions as:

Static push tests on the sides and shell undersurface, and on the integrated roll-over bar.

  • Crash tests representing a frontal shock at an impact speed of 11 m/sec, after which the shell must not show any trace of damage.

  • Part behaviour predictions, ranging from aerodynamic fairings to the gearbox to components in the front or rear axle assembly.

Composite materials, says Christophe Sauvan, analysis engineer at Ligier, are particularly demanding of structure optimization tools. Parameters, such as ply thickness, fiber type, ply angle, reinforcement material, and the number of layers-combined with a multitude of model variables-present F-1 design teams with an almost infinite variety of possible combinations for achieving a wide range of mechanical properties.

These considerations must also be weighed against cost and response time. "The Formula One scene," Sauvan explains, "is in a state of constant evolution, where delivery dates-whether for design, testing or manufacture-must be reduced to the minimum. COMPOSIC helps us achieve test cost savings and manufacturing cost economics by lowering the number of tests, and by optimizing the utilization of materials. In certain cases, simulation enables us to select cheaper, less-sophisticated materials, but ultimately attain better performance."

As an example, Sauvan cites the team's cockpit and rear fin support plate. By optimizing the direction of plys, Ligier can incorporate a less-rigid, less-expensive material, without sacrificing strength.

Concurrent synergy. Critical to maintaining the demanding product cycles of F-1 racing is the ability to work concurrently, both in-house and with suppliers. Last year's campaign by the McLaren team provides a good example. With a new engine configuration, and the 1994 rule changes facing them, the team turned to Computervision's CADDS 5 software to make the January deadline.

"We had confirmation in early October that we would be competing for the 1994 championship with a new Peugeot V10 engine," explains Chief Designer Neil Oatley. Because McLaren designed the car concurrently with the engine, which was developed in France, the team met its timetable. Peugeot transmitted its CADDS data electronically as the engine was built, allowing the McLaren team to incorporate the new data simultaneously into the models.

"This particular engine had an integrated heat exchanger in the "V' to cool the oil, which demands a new cooling system to be designed around it," says Oatley. "Laying out that system impacts on other components, so there's a constant knock-on effect."

Making space for the new cooling system involved altering the rear of the carbon-fiber monocoque, whose complex 3D surfaces would be next to impossible to alter by hand. Changes to the model, however, were simply transferred by modem for machining by McLaren's subcontractors. The monocoque tooling, moreover, is machined from a solid tooling block, which would again be impossible without CAD input.

As for the 1994 regulation changes, Oatley points out the rule that allows refueling during the race, which stipulated a minimum fuel-tank limit of 200 liters. The smaller size left more room for cooling system ducting and other components. Again, McLaren used CV's CADDS Physical Properties package to work out the volumes for the new tank's fuel capacity, and NURBS surface design and solid modeling to create the new component and CVNC manufacture it.

During the Formula One season, one race may end when the last car crosses the finish line, but another is just beginning: the race against the clock. Without the help of CAD, CAM and CAE, a team may as well go home.


Rule changes drive design

Federation Internationale de Sport Automobile (FISA) is the organization controlling Formula One racing. Here are the rule changes it promulgated for 1995:

Banning of electronic and computer-aided hydraulic systems so that drivers have to exercise greater vehicle control.

  • Revisions of aerodynamic rules so that the ride height is increased with a stepped longitudinal underbody and a 50% reduction in diffuser length that dramatically changes the down pressure at the rear of the car.

  • Engine size limited to 3 liters, normally aspirated (no turbocharger).

  • Increase in minimum weight and a side impact test.

  • Further reductions in front and rear wing size over those introduced in mid-1994.

"These changes are probably the most comprehensive since the move from ground-effect cars to flat bottoms in 1983," says Alan Jenkins, technical director of the Arrows Grand Prix team. "The individual elements of the regulations are themselves not especially difficult," Jenkins points out. "The problem is the amount of design effort required, with the changes affecting almost every area of the car."

Spyglass Toolkit

Spyglass Toolkit

Spyglass has brought its three data analysis programs-PLOT, TRANSFORM, and SLICER-into the Windows market. The programs cover the spectrum in data manipulation and visualization for anyone in scientific disciplines.

PLOT 1.0. The simplest of all, PLOT performs column data analysis. It can read and manipulate datasets up to 32,000 columns wide. The number of data points is only limited by your system's memory.

PLOT's main menu offers three basic plot types for simple plotting. The Notebook and Macro capabilities are what add pizzazz to your graphs. Your comments and mathematical and data functions are in the notebook. Default graph attributes are easy to modify and save. You can use them in your Notebook for specific applications and to create your own functions, or combine them with the built-in ones.

PLOT's simplistic interface and lack of context-sensitive help force you to use the user's manual or view information in context and format on the on-line description of Macros. For instance, the bottom of the main Plot window could have been used for on-the-fly information as you scroll through function or macro commands.

The PLOT toolbox includes basic curve fit capabilities for linear, exponential, and polynomial fits. Some other built-in functions like standard deviation and RMS error can make up for what the curve fit routines won't give you directly.



PLOT, TRANSFORM, and SLICER are visual analysis tools for data manipulation and visualization. These programs can be used separately or can exchange information since their file definition base is the same. Minimum Requirements: 386 PC or better, 8M bytes RAM and 25M bytes of hard drive space, Windows 3.1 or later, and an 8-bit color display.
List Price: $2,700 Spyglass Inc., 1800 Woodfield Dr., Savoy, IL 61874; ph: (217) 355-6000.

TRANSFORM 3.0. TRANSFORM and SLICER come to your rescue for 3-D data manipulation. TRANSFORM can read and export matrix or image files in HDF, TIFF, FITS, PICT, or ASCII formats. Once the matrix data is loaded, TRANSFORM will create plots for the whole dataset as raster, surface, contour, or histogram representations.

The core of TRANSFORM's interface is its ability to extract data from the whole dataset. It lets you mark a region on the spreadsheet or on any plot windows associated with the dataset and automatically view the region on any of the other open windows. When you change the selection region, TRANSFORM automatically updates all plots associated with it once you activate the Synchronize tool.

SLICER 1.0. SLICER's core capabilities are focused on volumetric data rendering with ray-tracing techniques. You can view or interpret data using isosurfaces, slices, volume cutouts, or animation. A menu side bar has all the tools needed for basic rendering and image manipulation. SLICER can read DF, netCDF, and ASCII matrices.

By controlling SLICER's alpha values you can add transparency and translucency and have control over opacity. Controlling the range and portion of the volume of which your data will be rendered lets you leave out anything you choose. You also have complete control over the orientation and lighting conditions of the dataset.

To view the internal features of the data, slices can be inserted at any orthogonal plane or at oblique angles. Once you are satisfied with the slice locations, you can export them to TRANSFORM for further manipulation.

SLICER prints images in color or grayscale tones. The alpha mapping, color scaling, and orientation views are printed as part of the hard copy information. You can export SLICER's images in GIF, TGA, TIF or Windows Bitmap format.

The Spyglass toolkit has everything you could possibly want to import, manipulate, analyze, and export your data. The lack of on-line help makes you rely on the manuals more than you should for a Windows program. Exporting data to a host of formats is a major plus, although I was looking for a more robust data exchange between these programs and other external applications. Use of OLE and DDE in future versions would definitely enhance the use of these programs within the scientific and engineering community.

A similar product:

IDL-Research Systems, Inc., 777 29th St., Suite 302, Boulder, CO 80303.

Honda tries an Indy comeback

Honda tries an Indy comeback

Miami, FL--"We've come a long way since last year. It's taken a lot of time and hard work."

Those were the words of induction expert and race engineer David George of Honda Performance Development (HPD), Inc., Santa Clarita, CA, after the first day of qualifying by the Tasman Motorsports' LCI-sponsored Reynard-Honda at the Indy Car opener in Miami, FL. Driven by rookie Andre Ribeiro, the vehicle clocked a time second only to that of Michael Andretti's Newman-Haas' Lola-Ford/Cosworth XB. Ribeiro's best lap time and speed over the 1.843-mile course: 65.350 seconds and 101.528 mph. Andretti, Indy Car racing's most successful driver, ran a lap in 65.134 seconds and hit 101.864 mph.

An engine's development. How did Honda turn the 1995 Indy V-8 into a contender? The details are murky-Honda is famous for its secrecy.

Purpose-built turbocharged 4-cycle
780 bhp at
13.000 rpm (in Honda literature); 800+ bhp @ 13,000+ rpm (DN estimate)
315 lbs (with steel block); 283 lbs (with aluminum block) (Cosworth estimates)
Steel alloy (aluminum-alloy by Indy 500)
Dual-overhead cam with
4 valves/cylinder
Forged steel alloy
Machined steel alloy
Forged aluminum alloy
Honda/Motorola, electronic; driver can switch among multiple engine maps and control boost from cockpit
distributor-less CDI
Honda PGM-F1 electronically-controlled fuel injection
Khein Seikei
Dry sump
Single water pump
NOK (Nihon Oilseal Kogyo) and Arai
TEC (Toyo Electronics Co.) and NTK (Nihon Tokusyu Kogyo)
Nippon Denso
Limo connectors, Raychem cables

In fact, as imressive as Miami's results were, the company kept its latest aluminum-block engine under wraps. It won't make an appearance until Indy qualifying this month, though racing people have known about it for a long time.

Honda's entry last year into Indy Car's more regulated and relatively lower-tech world from Formula One's more wide-open guidelines challenged its engine designers more than you might think. Why? Indy Car mandates methanol fuel, up to eight cylinders, steel connecting rods, and conventional valve springs. These requirements make it impossible to employ the high-revving, power-producing titanium connecting rods and pneumatic valves used in Honda's Formula One engines.

George says Indy Car's rules limit rpms-exactly where power gains are sought, given the rules limiting turbo boost and engine displacement. So stifling are these requirements that Indy Car engines reputedly only reach 14,000 rpm, far shy of the screaming 16,000 rpm of Formula One engines.

But, before Honda could push their engine's rpm performance, they needed a strong base: a durable block. It had to last on big oval tracks like Indy and Michigan, where crankshafts must spin at 13,000+ rpm for 500 miles. Compare that situation to road races. In such races, drivers constantly shift through their gears, and alternately brake and accelerate into and out of corners and straights. Engines used in road races turn at substantially lower average rpm than those in Indy Cars, and therefore experience less wear and tear.

Robert Clarke, general manager of HPD and part-time club racer, says Honda began developing the 1994 Indy V-8 with an aluminum block that offered a significant weight reduction. When they use a lighter engine, engineers can distribute lead weights within channels in the vehicle's chassis to improve handling, yet still keep the car above the mandated minimum weight. So reducing block weight is worth some effort.

Unfortunately, tests revealed stress cracks in the aluminum block. Durability concerns arose immediately. Not wanting to place the program at risk, Honda engineers borrowed from the company's Formula One experience and switched to a stronger iron block. What was lost in weight they gained in greater reliability. As the 1994 season progressed, team members gathered data that helped them tame the vibration, wear, and heat problems caused by Indy Car's higher-weight, lower-strength materials and V-8 configuration. These efforts yielded refinements in drivability and increased power output.

Engineering tools. During this development process, Honda engineers used IBM RS6000 workstations running MICROCADAM(R) and mainframes running MICROCADAM and CADAM (2D studies). They also used CATIA (structural and volumetric studies), and custom in-house software to predict power, fuel usage, and volumetric efficiency, and to analyze friction. Zeiss and Mitutoyo matrix coordinate-measuring machines ensured that engine components met tolerances before they were assembled. Some of these engineering tools were at the Miami race, hidden inside Honda's traveling technical motorhome.

But engineering theories and models sometimes fall short. Such proved the case with the Indy V-8. Honda was particularly challenged by the mysteries of its turbocharged air-and-methanol-carrying induction system. Honda's George says that race engines are so advanced that "when you're working at the 95th or 96th percentile of maximum performance, simulation techniques break down and gains are made by a designer's feel." Dynamometer testing isn't even enough. Engines must run in cars and be driven under race-like conditions.

Take connecting rods, for example. To optimize the strength-to-weight ratio of these components, and thus maximize their rpm capacity, Honda started big and tested lighter and lighter prototypes until they finally broke. At that point, engineers knew they had trimmed too much mass. To improve strength further, Honda developed a proprietary ferrous alloy for those same connecting rods. They created a higher purity material that minimizes the number of failures caused by structural irregularities.

Engine magic. But the most serious limitation on the Indy V-8's performance last season involved the black magic of complex internal aerodynamic flows (induction). Clarke and George attribute these troubles to working with the methanol fuel, "pop-off" or 22 manifold pressure relief valves, and rpm limitations that demand a perfectly tuned induction system.

Methanol has an extremely high latent heat of vaporization. Under standard conditions in an Indy Car engine, this property can account for a temperature drop of well over 100 degrees F, increasing charge density dramatically. This evaporation process takes time, however, so injection location and quantity are crucial to performance.

Teams seem to have different ideas about how to optimally inject fuel. According to Honda's engineers, achieving proper balance between injection location and quantity under different loads, engine speeds, and atmospheric conditions challenged them.

Pop-up valves are intended to limit an Indy Car engine's boost pressure to 45 inches of mercury, and thereby limit power output. Track officials give teams pre-tested valves each day and watch mechanics take them on and off the top of the intake manifold. These valves create another technical challenge.

"Everyone tries to keep the valves from popping, within the rules," says Clarke. The idea is this: make the valve "see" 45 inches of mercury when in fact the engine experiences more than 45 inches. Doing so becomes especially important during engine transients such as those caused by abrupt full-throttle to closed-throttle changes going into corners. The pressure spike that develops in a corner can pop the valve and spill boost, causing a power lag when the driver reopens the throttle.

Surprises for '95. With that problem behind them, Honda engineers focused on raising the 1995 engine's power 7% into the 800+ hp league. They won't say exactly how they did it, but improvements in the induction, heads, exhausts, and injection all contributed. No doubt slightly reduced reciprocating mass and higher rpm accompanies better breathing.

On the track, the Indy V-8 has a distinctly smooth, turbine-like sound and is quieter than the competition. Tasman's driver Ribeiro said the fastest cars could not pull away from him during the race. His lap times and trap speeds confirmed that the car was as quick as the leaders. Unfortunately, a minor crash took Ribeiro out of the Miami race at its midpoint.

"They had a pretty good show in Miami," agrees Ian Bisco, vice president and general manager of competitor Cosworth Engineering N.A. He tempers his impression by noting that Miami is a traction track, where power takes a back seat to handling. The acid tests, he says, are courses with longer straights, and especially the superspeedways at Michigan and Indianapolis.

Bisco did not appear worried by Honda's progress, but he expects them to make "large incremental steps this season, especially if they are in it for the long term." He knows Honda faces a tough challenge, lacking the many years experience of Cosworth and Ilmor. And he remembers how companies like Porsche and Alfa underestimated Indy-Car's competition level in the past.

American Honda, which sponsors the Indy V-8 program, expects improvements with the Indy V-8 to follow a gradual developmental path-aided and tempered by race experience, says HPD's Clarke. That approach put the highest priority on durability last year, and led to the iron-block choice, a decision that cost Honda 50 lbs, Bisco estimates.

750 to 800 bhp, depending
on boost, etc.
0.452 to 0.516 bhp/lb (DN estimate)
(note: Acura Integra GS-R coupe Power/Weight ratio is 0.064 Bhp/lb)
0-60 MPH
2.2 seconds
0-100 MPH
4.2 seconds
240 mph (depending on gearing)
230 mph (Indy 500 and Michigan)
2,800 to 3,500+ lbs (depending on wings, angles, and mph)

Honda's all-new aluminum Indy V-8 debuts this weekend in the venerable Indy 500, and the company transferred every lesson learned on the iron-block engines to it. Clarke says it could be 10% lighter than the iron-block version. Using Bisco's estimate, the new engine may weigh in at 283 lbs, just 18 lbs heavier than Cosworth's. Whatever the engine's weight, Tasman's team engineer and chassis-design innovator Don Halliday (see DN 5/17/93) expects Tasman to run in the top 10 at the Indy 500 with Honda power.

Outer limits? How far can engineers take Indy Car engines under the current rules? Bisco claims Cosworth operates at 13,500 rpm and should push to 14,000 by the end of this season. To be competitive, he says, more than 800 hp is essential. Clarke believes Cosworth already runs at 14,000 rpm and is aiming higher. So, even with material shortcomings, 15,000 rpm and 900 hp represent reasonable next plateaus, he speculates. But, he cautions, will that power be useable? Will the engine be drivable? Or will the power occupy too narrow an rpm band, making it practically useless in competitive racing? Those are key issues.

Honda currently designs the Indy V-8s in Japan. Over the long term, however, they plan to develop a strong U.S. R&D presence to complement their consumer vehicle design and manufacturing capability. In 1995, HPD will also begin procuring components from U.S. companies.

Will Honda's Indy Technology find its way into the company's street-legal consumer cars? For sure. The engineers who design Formula One and Indy engines also design the engines in Honda's Accord and Civic and Acura's Integra, Legend, and renowned NSX.


An Indy Car chassis must be aerodynamic and allow for numerous weight distribution, suspension, wheel loading and wing adjustments. But above all, it must protect the driver. According to Indy Car rules, a chassis must not deform past the driver's feet when it undergoes a double impact test. That test calls for a 22 mph head-on crash into a brick wall, with a 15-mph, head-on rebound collision into the same wall. What chassis design features protect drivers during a wreck? Three deformable safety zones-a front pod and two side pods-surround the tub (monocoque) that holds the driver. In a crash, the carbon-fiber pods absorb energy by failing locally. This failure prevents impacts from progressing further into the monocoque's rigid aluminum-honeycomb construction, where they might cause buckling. To impede buckling and further control impact energy dissipation, the monocoque is designed to undergo progressive local deformation down its length. Carbon-fiber and aluminum bulkheads and carbon-fiber side beams also bolster the tub. The resulting monocoque feels dense as concrete when tapped.

Thermal imaging goes digital

Thermal imaging goes digital

Heat can be deadly to products and processes. It can shorten the life of electronics, indicate the impending failure of electrical or mechanical systems in buildings or equipment, and predict impending problems or design flaws.

Infrared thermal imaging can help analyze, monitor, and solve such heat problems. With this track record, why isn't industry teeming with IR cameras? Mainly because, in the past, IR cameras were bulky, limited by low-resolution imagery, and had only rudimentary analysis capabilities.

On the other hand, mechanical scanning systems could measure temperatures everywhere, but not very accurately. Even more advanced solid-state cameras measure temperature only at a single point in the center of the screen.

Last year, all those drawbacks went out the window. Attribute the advance to engineers at FLIR Systems Inc., Portland, OR, and the Prism DS-a handheld infrared thermal-imaging camera packed with advanced features.

"An emerging need for bringing very-high-resolution digital data from an IR imaging camera to a PC prompted the design," says Gary Causley, director of industrial engineering and manager of the Prism DS project. "This would allow the user to deal with the data in a more orderly and sophisticated format."

"In our previous camera, we digitized inside, did all sorts of DSP, and then regurgitated the output in analog video," Causley chuckles. "Our customers had no access to the digital data. The biggest thing about the DS is the link to the customer of "true' digital data."

Other project goals: temperature measurement across the entire field of view, instead of at just one point; 12-bit resolution; real-time operation; and light weight. There were also challenges: calibrating 78,080 IR detectors, connecting the detectors to the digitizing electronics, and processing a huge amount of data in real time.

Design of the Prism DS started in March 1994. However, the DS is the third product in the Prism line, so the engineering team didn't start from scratch. Also, FLIR believes in modular designs. Engineers reused or redesigned what components they could from the previous models, designed parts that could be retrofitted into those cameras, and developed others that they could easily integrate into future designs.

The result: the 7-lb Prism DS camera that uses solid-state technology to detect infrared radiation and measure temperature at more than 78,000 points simultaneously. PMCCIA flash-memory cards store the digital images, a 486 microprocessor runs the show, and real-time digital signal processing (DSP) enhances the images. Then, Windows(R)-based AnalyzIR image-analysis and report-generation software let users post-process images and analyze trends on their PCs.

Front to back. Walking through the camera from the lens to the digital output shows how the DS works-and the challenges the designers faced. First, the lens. FLIR developed a family of lenses-25, 50, and 100 mm-for the DS. The IR-transmissive material consists mainly of germanium and silicon.

The company buys the material as blanks, then uses its own diamond-turning optical fabrication facility to build lenses in house. "That gives us tremendous leverage," says Causley. "We can make common parts to keep costs down."

In the process, the engineers developed a new color-correction lens technology for the DS using diffractive optics and a sophisticated grinding technique. Because of IR light's long wavelength, it's critical that the energy doesn't shift as the lenses move the light. If there is a shift, the new technology passes the energy in the desired wavelengths.

Heat at 78,080 points of heat. The infrared radiation travels through the optics and then to the focal plane array (FPA). The most sensitive part of the camera, the FPA comprises a 320x244 array of 78,080 IR detectors.

Traditional systems have just one to four detectors, and you could calibrate each one independently. With 78,080 detectors, FLIR engineers developed new calibration techniques and algorithms that would let them deal with each. The results would be compatible with real-time imaging and temperature measurement.

"One of the biggest issues involved the vast quantity of data required to calibrate each pixel. Each needs several data points to provide a uniform output from an input signal," says Dwight Dumpert, application engineering manager. This is done at the factory. FLIR shows the camera a series of "black body thermal references"-objects at a known temperature uniform across the surface. Each detector must agree on the temperature not only at that point in time, but also at different ambient temperatures.

To cool the calibrated IR detector chip to its working temperature of 77K, FLIR chose a system developed by the military for a missile program. Called a dual-opposed linear Stirling cooler-or the "mini-liny"-it uses helium for cooling. The compressor's twin-opposed pistons move in opposite directions to minimize vibration. It's also electrically isolated from the detector to prevent noise and interference.

IR energy hitting the detector surface creates a charge, which transfers to a CCD (charge-coupled device). The CCD sends the microvolt-range signal to the digitizing electronics, which rest on a flexible circuit board on the cooler assembly. The board includes a speedy A/D chip from Analog Devices that digitizes the signal in real time.

Complex tradeoffs. The board mounts on the back of the cooler to get critical timing signals as close to the detector as possible. But, the components generating the signals can't be too close. If they were, they could generate noise that the detector could pick up.

Adds Dumpert, "At the same time, you have to minimize lead lengths. If the leads are too long, they'll act like antennas. Tradeoffs proved to be a careful balancing act."

Another concern: The signal leads had to go into the cooler, where they essentially act as conduits for heat. Taking heat into the cooler makes the cooler work harder, and changes the temperature of the detector. Engineers addressed this problem by using advanced ground-signal management to cut down on the number of leads to reduce the thermal load. Normally, you'd have separate grounds for each signal going into the array. Again, this required careful balancing: FLIR also wanted quality signals coming out of the detectors.

Programmable chips. After the signal makes its way through the digitizing electronics, it travels through several digital correction circuits. These circuits implement such features as automatic leveling, gain, and ranging. Xilinx programmable gate arrays perform the digital signal processing.

prismDS specs:
Operating temperature: -10 to 55C
Temperature range: -10 to 1,500C
Minimum discernible temperature:
0.1C at 30C
Temperature accuracy: plus or minus 2%
Number of detectors: 78,080
Spectral range: 3.6 to 5 microns
Spot size: 0.6 mrad
Standard field of view: 17o x 13o
Image update rate: 60 Hz (NTSC)
Battery: 4 hours
Weight: 7 lbs without viewfinder
Battery belt weight: 11 lbs
Price: from $50,000

Causley estimates that the DS has 13 different Xilinx designs. "When you're developing a product, you can use these off-the-shelf programmables and load instructions into them. Someday, you could take what we've learned and reduce it into a custom chip set. But in markets like ours, where the feature sets move fast and the technology advances quickly, the flexibility of gate arrays proves very valuable." One circuit example: a sophisticated auto gain and level system that uses a histogram equalization algorithm.

Some of circuits are new, some are redos. No matter what the circuit type, the 12 bits gave the designers added arithmetic to do. The challenge, they say, was to build firmware that would support all the features, but still go fast enough to deliver the picture in real time.

Data depository. After you have the image you want, you can store it in the camera by pressing a button. The storage media include PCMCIA cards and an internal HardCard 10M-byte solid-state drive from Sundisk. The PCMCIA cards hold 5 megabytes of solid-state memory configured as a floppy drive. They can store 30 to 35 images per card.

"We've got two ways to get digital data out. One is to store them on the removable PCMCIA card; the other is to hook up a monitor to the camera in real time," Causley explains. "You'd opt for real-time, 12-bit data for fast events that you want to capture with high accuracy, such as a plasma, explosions, or charcoal igniting."

A third option: Use the video output and image capture simultaneously. The camera's multipurpose, 44-pin DIN connector makes this possible. The connector implements three serial ports for calibration, interrogation, and remote control; the power connection; and the high-speed serial digital link. The digital link lets users take real-time digital video off the camera and convert it to real-time imagery on a PC.

To save space, FLIR decided to adopt a serial digital link rather than the more traditional parallel digital link. "If we did it in parallel, it would take 34 wires instead of four," claims Causley.

Analysis software. The AnalyzIR software, a Windows program that provides off-line data analysis and dynamic report generation, completes the Prism DS package. It features temperature versus time trending, using up to 24 user-selected temperature points or areas of interest. A simple interface lets users perform analysis functions with a single selection from the graphical toolbar.

The software team, under the guidance of Project Manager Bill Sondermeier, worked with Optimas, Bothell, WA, to create the image-analysis program. The team provided Optimas the necessary software and data to convert an image analysis, which typically shows pixel luminance, into temperature calibration data.

"There are other digital cameras out there, but their picture resolution is so poor that you see blocks of data, not a true VGA-quality image," claims Sondermeier. "Now our customers say there's no need to take a visual. The IR resolution is so good you can tell exactly what you're looking at."

For Sondermeier, the biggest challenge was dealing with the 12-bit TIFF data. Communicating the extra data and displaying it in full on all computer platforms proved difficult. But the designers felt it was especially important to get a good display for laptops, given the camera's portable design.

"We see people wanting to go out and capture their images, then do the image analysis on a laptop in the car," explains Sondermeier. "This assures them they got what they wanted before driving back to the office."

But it's customer reaction that Sondermeier and the other team members like best. "It's a great technology," says Brian Johnson, a manufacturing engineer at SDC Submarine Systems in Portland, OR. "By the year 2000, there won't be an advanced manufacturing facility in the modern world that doesn't utilize IR imaging."

Finding the hot spot

Three examples of thermal imaging applications-volcano research, injection-molding quality management, and studying CPU heat dissipation in PCs-reveal the power and versatility of Prism DS technology.

Heat in Hawaii. Half a million students around the world learned the power of IR imaging firsthand last March, thanks to the JASON Project. Oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard, discoverer of the Titanic, headed the Island Earth project, based in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Live satellite broadcasts transported students to the expedition site. "Primary Interactive Network Sites" let them watch the expedition live, interact with the scientists, and even control remote-operated vehicles.

"We went up in a helicopter with the camera and flew over a lava field," says David Katzive, producer of the JASON Project broadcasts. "The camera detected the array of underground lava tubes you can't normally see from the air because the lava's crusted over. Geologists mapped and tracked the whole network of lava tubes."

Heat-critical molding. When Brian Johnson got a FLIR thermal-imaging camera, it was love at first use. Johnson, a manufacturing engineer with STC Submarine Systems, Portland, OR, practiced using the portable camera all around the plant. "I found bearings that were bad, couplings that were misaligned, heaters that weren't consistently heating up to the proper temperature," Johnson recalls.

STD makes under-sea fiber-optic communications systems, which range from 1,000 to 3,000 km in length and consist of cable and repeaters. They connect two pieces of cable using a joint that's about 7 inches in diameter and 18 inches long. The joints are critical and expensive.

Especially critical is getting a smooth continuation of the polymer jacketing between the cable and the joint that doesn't let any water get inside. STC uses injection molding for the job. However, if you have cold spots in the mold then the polymer doesn't mold to itself very well. With hot spots, it molds too well, and you get a thin wall. To control the process, you must keep the temperature constant.

To do that, STC uses FLIR's thermal camera to analyze new mold blocks. "We used to have a dummy joint that had multiple thermocouples in it," says Johnson. "We'd put it in the block and take readings as it ran. Now we've found it easier to bring the mold up to heat, throw it open, and take a picture of the surface with the thermal camera." The image gives engineers an immediate surface temperature across the board, instead of just where the thermocouples sit.

Keeping PCs cool. Geert De Vries, analytical lab manager of Intel's Customer Quality Support Group, Swindon, UK, reports that thermal imaging can measure the temperature of components inside systems, especially in PCs. As microprocessors, such as the Pentium, become denser and run hotter, thermal management inside the case becomes more important. "It's no longer a case of just putting a fan in," says De Vries. "The way the components and additional boards in the case are laid out affects the way the cooling air movement takes place inside. This directly affects the ability of the CPU to get rid of heat."

Intel's current FLIR camera doesn't have a digital output. But storing images on PCMCIA cards would make the process more convenient and less dependent on one set of equipment, says De Vries.

From Pilgrims' progress to plastics advancements

From Pilgrims' progress to plastics advancements

Little did the Pilgrims know when they landed on Plymouth Rock that they would help nurture one of the leading industries in the New England region. That industry: Plastics!

Spreading from the scenic rolling Berkshire hills of Western Massachusetts and Connecticut and along America's Technology Highway west of Boston and on down to little Rhode Island nest enclaves of plastic producers, compounders, and tool and mold makers. In Massachusetts alone, nearly 400 companies employ more than 18,000 people in plastic-related work, according to the latest figures compiled by the state's Office of Business Development.

Catering to this industry are some of the better universities and provincial associations in the U.S. For instance, at the University of Massachusetts Lowell you will find a plastics engineering program "concerned with the synthesis and modification of polymeric materials and their conversion to useful end products," explains Executive Officer Stephen Orroth. Since its startup in 1954, more than 1,700 graduates have been employed by polymer industries throughout the world.

Attesting to the success of this program is a member of the Class of '76, Brett Blaisdell, a plastic engineer at Eastman Kodak. "Lowell graduates have typically been able to contribute at a high and steady level immediately upon entering the work force," says Blaisdell. "Currently, six out of about 50 engineers in our department are Lowell graduates."

Likewise, over the past 30 years, the University of Massachusetts Amherst has established an enviable reputation for its wide-ranging work in polymers. A Materials Research Laboratory-the only one in the U.S. dedicated solely to polymers-opened at the Amherst campus in 1973. The Center of Industry Research on Polymers followed in 1980; then the state designated the campus a Polymer Center of Excellence in 1985, and, in 1990, the university became the site of a new National Polymer Research Center.

Additional support for the industry comes from the Berkshire Plastics Network headquartered in Pittsfield, with nearly 90 members and associates. Aided by a $200,000 state grant, the network has promoted its activities primarily on behalf of its small-business enterprises.Then there's the North Central Massachusetts Plastics Council, located in Leominster, with some 15 members. The council also sponsors the very successful Mass Plastics tradeshow every 18 months.

Where the customer takes center stage

This year's Technology Tour began in Pittsfield, home of GE Plastics. Like all of GE's 22 or so business groups, GE Plastics is on a mission. "We will constantly strive to be the world leader in providing the highest value materials and services to our customers," reads the mission outlined by Gary L. Rogers, president and CEO, and printed on the back of every GE Plastics business card.

Beginning with Lexan(R) polycarbonate resin, GE Plastics has built its reputation on engineering resins. Other members of the stable include: Cycolac(R) ABS resin, Noryl(R) modified polyphenylene oxide-based resin, Prevex(R) phenylene ether resin, Valox(R) PBT resin, Ultem(R) polyetherimide resin, Supec(R) polyphenylene sulfide resin, and Geloy(R) ASA resin.

Each of these polymers continues to evolve, many spawning advanced copolymers, alloys, and composites: Xenoy(R) thermoplastic alloy, Cycoloy(R) ABS/PC resin, and Noryl GTX resin. Add Lomod(R) thermoplastic elastomers, Azdel Technopolymer Structures, Engineering Structural Foam resins, and a growing family of sheet and film products, and it's clear that GE offers a broad and versatile engineering plastics product line.

Customer focus. But providing a growing list of materials does not assure that a company will continue to "grow" its share of the market. That's why GE places increased emphasis on customer satisfaction. And, like its product line, services provided to customers continue to grow.

The latest in a recent "line" of customer aids is GE Select, which debuted at this year's National Design Engineering Show in Chicago. This comprehensive database covers the diverse family of GE polymers, plus complete properties and engineering data on over 500 commercially available resin grades. The two-disk program comes in Microsoft(R)-Windows and Macintosh(R) formats. Engineers can also download the data directly from the Internet.

"The data is presented in an easy-to-use format designed to help engineers maximize material potential, optimize usage, and eliminate costly over-design," Spyros Michail told this reporter as he watched the GE design engineer who developed the program put it through its paces.

Help doesn't stop here. GE has set up "industry" teams with special expertise to solve customer problems, or simply smooth the way for a new design. These teams not only can draw upon the knowledge found within the plastics operations, but from throughout all of the company's business sectors:

Commercial development centers in California, Georgia, and Michigan (said to be the largest commitment to the auto industry of any materials supplier headquartered outside Detroit), and at other strategic locations throughout the world.

  • A four-acre Polymer Processing Development Center dedicated to process development for large, functional parts on a "previously unattainable scale."

  • And one of the most sophisticated corporate R&D centers in the world located in nearby Schenectady, NY.

To better illustrate how this relationship works, let's look at an innovative door module that consolidates 61 parts into one. GE Plastics and Delphi Interior and Lighting Systems announced the patented "next-generation" door hardware module, called the Super Plug(TM), at this year's SAE annual conference in Detroit.

"Through a close working relationship that provided seamless integration with Delphi, we studied everything from material specification and manufacturing techniques to design assistance and assembly ergonomics," says Mike Webster, director of General Motors Business Development at GE Plastics in Southfield, MI. "The Super Plug is a perfect example of the way we like to work closely with our customers to assist them in their development of applications and systems that are forward-thinking."

The overall project goal: develop a system that could meet an OEM-specified target for mass and parts reductions, part cost reductions, investment savings, and a reduction in development time. Delphi refined the system and proposed a unique application of an innovative manufacturing process (gas-injection molding) for the hardware. At the same time, GE Plastics initiated development at the material level, custom-compounding a new Xenoy PC/polyester, a 30% glass-fiber blend proprietary to Delphi and the Super Plug application. Some of the results:

Potential part number reductions of 75% over conventional door technology.

  • Overall system warranty reduction of at least 25% due to fewer components and interfaces.

  • Total systems cost reduction of 5-10% through parts consolidation.

  • Potential rejected parts-per-million reduction of 96% for all sub-systems.

Such activity fits the mold of GE's Chairman of the Board and CEO John F. Welch, Jr. He puts it this way: "Using 100% of the minds and passion of 100% of our people in implementing the best ideas from everywhere in the world is a formula, we believe, for endless excitement and growth and endless renewal."

Stretching the limits of elastomers' future

A short journey from the Design News offices in Newton up Route 128, America's high-tech highway, brought me to the headquarters of DSM Thermoplastic Elastomers Inc. in Leominster. This subsidiary of DSM Elastomers, which, in turn, is a division of DSM of Heerlen, The Netherlands, contributes a growing chunk of the corporation's $6 billion in annual sales.

The subsidiary is known for the production of thermoplastic vulcanizates (TPVs) that combine the elasticity of thermoset rubbers with the processing advantages of thermoplastics. The result: the Sarlink(R) Series of TPVs, all available in general-purpose, food-contact, and flame-retardant grades. They include:

Sarlink Series 1000-Excellent resistance to oil, fuel, and abrasion, plus superior bonding.

  • Sarlink Series 2000-Low permeability, high damping, excellent flexibility at low temperatures.

  • Sarlink Series 3000-Multi-purpose, high flow, resilient, weatherable, and excellent compression set.

The Sarlink polypropylene-based TPVs were first developed and produced by Polysar Ltd., Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. NOVA Corp. of Alberta purchased the line in 1989 and moved production to Leominster in 1990. DSM acquired the business in 1992, hence its present name.

A recent expansion included a multi-million-dollar automated manufacturing line and extensive enhancements in R&D facilities. For added design help, however, DSM Thermoplastics Elastomers can call on the world-wide resources of its corporate R&D network, which includes some 1,500 people.

Such state-of-the-art operations encouraged DSM to introduce the 4000 Series of Sarlink TPVs, enabling the company to make greater strides into the automotive industry. Experts predict that over the next decade this industry segment will see the highest level of growth ever in under-the-hood use of plastics.

The 4000 Series product offers a strong alternative to thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) for such demanding applications as rank and pinion boots, hot-air ducts, suspension boots, and cable coating, says Malcolm Thompson, sales and marketing manager. He points out that TPVs are an ideal replacement for EPDM, neoprene, and other mid-performing rubbers, as well as self-skinning urethanes, and adds that they provide "soft touch" characteristics for interior comfort.

Two recent additions to the 4000 line include 4139D and 4149D (39 Shore D and 49 Shore D, respectively). For wire and cable applications, expect to see new lines that push the RTI rating from 75C up to the 90-l00C range. Also watch for increased use of soft-touch treatments that include overmolding glass-reinforced nylon in an adhesiveless operation, says Thompson.

"DSM is making great strides, particularly in the automotive industry, by providing security of supply, and long-term price stability, with an ever-broadening range of Sarlink 4000 products," Thompson stresses. This philosophy should give DSM the ability to grow even stronger in other market segments.

A delight in doing the difficult

Travel south from Leominster to Holden and you will come upon the headquarters of ReedSpectrum. Its business is really pretty simple: color. As a result, ReedSpectrum has become a leading supplier of color and additive concentrates to the plastics industry for packaging, appliance, electronics, medical, film, sheet, furniture, and fibers applications.

Founded in 1948, the division of Sandoz Chemicals Corp. not only provides custom-designed concentrates for thermoplastic polymers, where close tolerance, critical match, and enhanced physical properties prove crucial, but for all generic resin bases, including high-performance alloys and blends. The masterbatcher is particulary proud of its recent ISO 9001-1987 certification.

Color pioneer. Right after World War II, Milton Sheftel started the company under the name of Reed Plastics. He was involved in a lot of plastics projects related to the war efforts at that time. This work gave birth to the plastics compounding business.

Sheftel and his fellow workers ran the business like a manufacturing lab, taking particular delight in doing the really difficult. They cut their teeth on nylon, when it was a new material. This, in turn, led to the buyouts of other color concentrate companies: C.B. Edwards of Minneapolis, part of the Cookson company of England, and Hammond Plastics, located in Worcester, MA, formed by one of Sheftel's friends. And, when the younger generation of the Sheftel family showed little interest in continuing the tradition, Sandoz Chemicals purchased the Reed enterprises in 1988 as an entry to the U.S. with its masterbatch business. Sandoz added Spectrum Colors of Kalamazoo, MI, to the fold in 1993.

Close to the industry. Such commitments, new and old, have enabled the company to work closely with Dow, DuPont, BP Chemical, Amoco, and other major resin producers while they are developing an innovative new resin. For example, a concentrate in the High Performance Polymer Series was made specifically for Amoco's Amodel(R) PPA resins.

Also, with the continuing emphasis on "green theme" issues, ReedSpectrum recently introduced numerous heavy-metal-free standard product lines under the ReedLite(R) name. "We are the undisputed leader in the R&D of such alternatives," boasts Wayne Prescott, director of sales and marketing. One recent ReedLite product, the Special Effects Series, lets users give any product a heavy dose of pizzazz-granites, flecks, speckles, edgeglows, and mottled highlights.

Value added. But ReedSpectrum does more than make color concentrates. "We help bring more value to the product," interjects Prescott. "In fact, we devote half of our R&D budget to the customer with non-color additives."

Most of all it's the people who bring the added value, Prescott is quick to note. "They are constantly developing ways to increase plastics' performance."

As for the future, Prescott sees "Down Engineering" as playing a major role in the way products are designed. This trend, he forecasts, is going to do nothing but increase the concentrate business.

"Where we originally had pre-color being sold to the IBMs and Hewlett-Packards for engineering resins designed to last for a lifetime, along comes competition," Prescott explains. "Now you can buy computers for one-half or one-tenth of what they used to cost," he continues. "So, what they have done is to think in terms of going away from ABS to polystyrene, for example. Or adding fillers to commodity plastics so that they act like engineering resins. As a result, they are switching from pre-colors to natural resins, plus color concentrates."

One call/one manager problem solving

Slip over the Massachusetts border on Interstate 95 into Rhode Island and in no time you arrive at the headquarters of Teknor Apex in Pawtucket. This privately held company, founded in 1924 as a tire distributor and retreader, now has six product divisions with operations facilities across the U.S.

The Plastics Div., the object of my tech tour, is a leading producer of flexible vinyl and thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) compounds. These compounds meet or exceed requirements of UL, CSA, FDA, and other government and military specifications.

Chief among the compounds produced by this facility are those for wire and cable, footwear, building and construction, packaging, medical, toys, appliances, automotive, and electronic applications. They include:

Elexar(R)-Kraton G-based compounds specifically designed for wire and cable uses as a result of a licensing agreement with Shell Chemical.

  • Flexalloy(R)-Compounds based on high-molecular-weight PVC resins.

  • Flexite(R)-Compounds based on styrene block copolymers now under tests.

  • Telcar(R)-As the result of a purchase from BF Goodrich in 1980, TPE compounds based on blends of olefins and rubbers.

  • Tekron(R)-Kraton G-based compounds for medical, food contact, and general-purpose applications, again as a result of the Shell license.

  • Uniprene(R)-And just recently out of the labs, dynamically vulcanized thermoplastic compounds based on olefins and rubbers.

In addition, the division produces several specialty products. Among them: conductive, anti-static, and gamma- and lipid-resistant compounds; alloys of nitrile rubber, polyurethane, and other specialty blends; chlorinated polyethylene compounds; and calendered PVC films in standard and custom formulations.

Customer oriented. To better serve its customers, the division is segmented into five market-development groups: wire and cable, speciality, automotive, non-toxic, and general-purpose compounds.

Right now, the company is making a major push to replace EPDM materials with TPE products in the automotive arena, led by Charles E. Gates, industry manager for automotive compounds. Replacements already include such components as convoluted dust boots for struts, door conduits, and rack-and-pinion applications.

However, Gates is especially excited about a new HVAC blower-motor developed by ITT Automotive for GM 1995.50 mid-size models that mounts under the dash. Teknor's contribution is an insert-molded, Shore 30 hardness Tekron TPE ring on the motor's base.

"One of the features of this is that it replaces a thermoset," Gates explains. "What they used to do is to bolt the thermoset gasket for assembly on the motor's flange. This resulted in a lot of misalignments and disassembly problems. So, with ITT, we developed this soft styrenic that has exhibited excellent compression set, low durometer, the ability to absorb vibration and noise, and can be recycled. This solution not only improved the motor's quality, but has cut down the production cycle time considerably for added labor savings. We hope to take this across to other General Motors cars."

Over the past 2.50 years, Teknor has supplied the material for the driver-side airbag cover at GM's Delphi operations. According to Gates, one particular compound is provided in 23 different colors that are all 100% color matched and have retention requirements of 15 years.

"Our goal is to become a diversified company and offer our customers one-stop shopping," says Robert C. Billig, the division's vice president. "We want to get in at the design level and get on the print." At the rate Teknor Apex is responding to this challenge, this goal should not take long to reach.

Removing maintenance issues and obstacles

Head south and east another 35 miles or so and you arrive at the doorstep of the Furon Advanced Polymers Division's Dixon facility in Bristol, RI. And, unlike most of the other companies on this tech tour, this company uses almost all of the compounded materials it turns out to produce parts, especially high-performance bearings.

Dixon lays claim to being one of the world's largest processors of materials and components in fluoropolymers and high-performance plastics. Since 1876, its success has come in solving engineering design problems. The solutions reached? Very often proprietary. "When engineers work with us," says Louis P. Cirillo, manager of product applications, "they get tough problems solved, and products that work better."

The scope of Dixon's business embraces both custom and stock materials and parts. It spans the mechanical, chemical, electrical, and data-processing industries.

"Our commitment to R&D is clearly illustrated in our early work with PTFE," Cirillo continues. "In 1952, we greatly enhanced PTFE's wear-resistant properties. This new compound became the first of a large family of high-performance Rulon(R) bearing materials. The material needs no lubrication, has a low coefficient of friction, and offers exceptional wear and corrosion resistance."

Engineers might want to consider Rulon 142 for linear bearings that can improve the performance of sliding surfaces in a variety of machinery. Then there is Rulon 448, the veneer dryer bearing material that "bears up longer under heat and wear," especially when the application involves thermal shock. And Rulon 641 "provides a health advance" in food and drug contact bearings by overcoming some of the limited-temperature shortcomings of UHMWPE, or the less acceptable wear properties of virgin PTFE at high temperatures.

Cirillo was particularly enthusiastic about a new Rulon product, Ultraliner(R) J, designed for standard-size, sleeve-bearing structures with bronze wire-mesh backing that's about to hit the market. The material boasts these properties: temperature range from -400 degrees to +500 degrees F, maximum continuous PV of 20,000, maximum static load of 10,000, 400 speed at no load, optimum shaft hardness of Rockwell C35, coefficient of friction of 0.1 to 0.3, and a thermal conductivity of 5-6 x 10-5. Cirillo predicts the material will be ideal for robotics and assembly-line applications.

Dixon's latest generation of advanced polymers, Meldin(R), combines the properties of polyimides with thermoplastic processing and compounding features. For instance, the Meldin 3000 Series includes five "true polyimide" formulations that can be injection-molded into customized finished parts that require no machining. They can operate at up to 550 degrees F continuous, while retaining an impressive level of physical properties.

Furon CEO J. Michael Hagan has set a goal for the company-20% of total sales will be derived from products that did not exist in the previous five years. Rulon Ultraliner should help the Dixon facility to realize that goal. But there are more changes on the way.

"We will abandon the traditional divisional alignment," Hagan adds. "Instead, the firm will concentrate on our customers through Customer Focus Teams. Each team will be made up of all the functional and technological resources needed to help our customers achieve their goals. This organization is so flat, that only two decision points exist between the customer and the president."

Break out of the box

Break out of the box

Eliyahu Goldratt, an internationally recognized leader in the development of new management concepts and systems, is the author of "The Goal." Some 1.5 million copies of this book, which is published by North River Press of Great Barrington, MA, have been sold all over the world since its publication in 1985. "The Goal" continues to sell at a rate of 15,000 copies per month. Goldratt's latest book, "It's Not Luck," also from North River Press, continues his exploration of ways to resolve management dilemmas. A frequent contributor to industrial and scientific journals, Goldratt holds a B.S. in physics from Tel Aviv University in Israel, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, also in physics, from Bar-Ilam University of Tel Aviv.

Elilyahu Goldratt's clouds and trees may prove more helpful to engineers and managers than the latest in computer hardware and software.

Q: Design News: Why are management ideas like right-sizing and re-engineering so painful and ineffective?

A: Right-sizing in most companies is another word for layoffs. And basically managers use these layoffs to cover up mistakes that they've made a year or two before. Re-engineering is supposed to mean, re-think your basic assumptions. But in many, many companies, re-engineering is, again, just another name for layoffs.

Q: One of your solving techniques employs a device called a "cloud.' What is a "cloud?'

A: The first major step toward solving a problem is to define it precisely. Everybody knows that. But how do you know if you defined the problem precisely before you solve the problem? If you see a problem that chronically resists solution, it must be that something major, an inherent conflict, blocked the solution. I call the conflict that blocks a desired objective the cloud.

Q: And the solution involves the current reality tree and future reality tree?

A: No. The Current Reality Tree is analysis. We use it to ask: What is really the thing we have to improve? What is really the problem? So the Current Reality Tree is a technique to decipher the core problem. The cloud is a way to find out why the core problem has not been solved and what is the result of solving it. The cloud also shows you the direction to go to get out of the box.

Q: What is the role of the Future Reality Tree?

A: The Future Reality Tree is a tool that takes the direction revealed by the cloud and converts it into a solution. So you can be sure that, once the solution is implemented, all the negative effects will be eliminated without creating new ones.

Q: Can your methods enable engineers to avoid constraints that exist in design?

A: Absolutely. Most constraints that exist in the design process are self-made, with thousands of excuses about unknowns to cover up for mistakes in how to manage a project.

Q: And do you go into this in your previous book, "The Goal?'

A: "The Goal" addresses production. When you transfer it into engineering, major changes must be made in the approach. If you are looking at the design process, the number of statistical unknowns is by far greater than in production. Which means everything I've described in "The Goal" is by far more important for design.

Q: How can design engineers use your methods to develop new products when financial constraints come first?

A: Financial concerns should come first. And let me tell you, I'm sick and tired of design engineers who forget that their products exist to be sold in the market. Most companies are not just looking at costs when they're talking about design engineers. They're talking about cost versus the probability of selling. The goal of the company is not a perfect design. The goal of the company is to survive and make money.

Q: How can engineering managers justify either keeping or hiring personnel, when cost drives decisions on the size of the engineering department?

A: Suppose I say to you: "Tell me when the product will be finished so I can launch it in the market." And your standard answer is: "I don't know, plus or minus six months." And then you say: "I need two more engineers." If you can tell me the impact of hiring these two engineers on the financial performance expected from the completion of the project, there is no problem. If you can't, why do you bitch and moan? If you cannot give management answers on throughput, then they must concentrate on cost.

Q: Why do employees so often feel that they cannot trust management?

A: Because they can't! If managers make decisions right, left and center that are not in line with the goals of the company, and definitely not in line with the goals of the individuals in the company, why should they be trusted? For a huge problem, my analysis requires about a week of prudent work. Is that a long time relative to years of floundering? Is there any other way to look at it? Yes, there is. Let's shoot from the hip. Listen, if you are shooting from the hip, and all you do for years is hit your own people or your foot, why should you be trusted?

Application Digest

Application Digest

Designing plastic gears to last

Tody Mihov, Application Engineer, Intech Corporation

Plastic gears, when properly designed, offer many advantages compared to metal gears. We have found out the hard way, however, that the Lewis formula most engineers use to design metal gears will cause problems when applied to plastic gears. Differences in the characteristics of metal and plastic can lead to skewed results.

Having tested alternative plastic materials, Intech engineers identified Power-Core(TM) gear material, a Lauramid(R) composite cast around a metal hub, as a material that exhibits superior stability over time and carries high loads under varying conditions.

Usually, prototype parts must be fabricated and tested to define the point of failure. At Intech, however, formulae empirically derived during 10 years of experimentation with a complete range of gear sizes give our engineers a unique ability to predict gear life for INTECH Power-Core. The formulae apply at a wide range of rotational loads and speeds, with and without lubrication.

Gear calculation for Power-Core gears does not require including backlash to compensate for swelling due to moisture absorption. Also, the metal hub used in our gears reduces thermal expansion. In short, the high accuracy of gear machining, and the fact that the properties input to the gear calculation do not change significantly during the gear's operation, make our software a reliable predictive tool.

For application help with INTECH Power-Core(TM) Lubrication-free gears, call: (201) 767-8066.

Improved Spring-Pin Performance

Michael J. Dagle, Coiled Spring Pin Product Specialist, Spirol International Corp.

Providing uniform stress distribution and an ability to absorb shock and vibration, the coiled spring pin offers design engineers the option to select from three different types (standard, heavy, and light) to satisfy a broad range of application requirements. This choice enables an engineer to more effectively control loads imparted to hole material by the coiled pin, both during installation and while the pin is in place.

When you use coiled pins, compression during installation starts at the outer edge and moves uniformly inward through the coil. Consequently, the pin absorbs applied load more readily. Broad distribution of shock and load also minimizes stress points and makes the pin ideal for fatigue-related applications.

The compressibility or "give" associated with coiled pins accommodates greater hole tolerances than other types of pins. Also, the radial tension generated during installation sustains a tight fit that ensures the integrity of the assembly.

With their unique spring flexibility, coiled pins offer several specific and significant advantages: Elimination of distortion, cracking, and breakage around the hole; relatively low insertion forces; shock and vibration absorption; long-term assembly integrity; radial and longitudinal conformity to accommodate hole variations; compatibility with automatic-feed systems.

The coiled spring pin was developed by Spirol International, headquartered in Danielson, CT. The company remains the major manufacturing source.

To speak with a Spirol applications engineer, call: (203) 774-8571.

Engineering News

Engineering News

Pneumatics moves beyond 'bang bang'

Park Ridge, IL-For decades, engineers have known a basic truth about pneumatics: It's an on-off technology. It's known for fast, simple operation-no mid-stroke positioning, no acceleration profiles, no ultra-precise motion. That's how it earned its moniker as a "bang-bang" technology.

Now, however, that may be changing. A handful of companies have begun offering systems that take pneumatics beyond bang bang. Suddenly, the new systems are challenging electric drives and hydraulics in applications requiring precise linear positioning. "Fifteen years ago, no one in the industry thought it was possible to position a cylinder using air," notes Douglas S. Kelly, vice president of marketing for Mosier Industries, Inc., Brookville, OH. "Now we're doing it at three-thousandths of an inch."

By offering such precise pneumatic drive technology, the new systems open up a raft of potential applications that can't be served by today's conventional pneumatics. Those include: packaging, palletizing, and converting machinery; conveyors; and a host of other systems. Some engineers suggest that the new systems could be used to assemble intricate products such as electric razors, portable tape players, and highly populated PC boards. Rexroth Pneumatics, Lexington, KY, has supplied servo-pneumatic systems for pad printing images on small products, as well as for construction of pneumatic cylinders.

Up to now, such demanding applications haven't been the norm for pneumatics. Most found their greatest use in situations involving clamping, pushing, and braking.

Developing pneumatic systems for the newer breed of applications has been tough, say engineers. Worse, potential customers, particularly in the U.S., have greeted the technology with skepticism, manufacturers say.

The root of the difficulties lies in basic physics. As a power transmission medium, air is difficult to precisely control. It is hundreds of times more compressible than hydraulic oil, and its behavior is inherently non-linear. As a result, engineers have been unable to successfully apply the Proportional Integral Derivative (PID) technology that controls the vast majority of today's industrial systems. The reason: PID technology is essentially linear.

To compensate for that problem, pneumatics engineers have had to design their own control systems from scratch. At Rexroth, engineers developed a numerical controller that incorporates the non-linear nature of pneumatic physics in its algorithms. They've also created their own servopneumatic valve technology. By adjusting in microseconds to changes in the valves, the system precisely controls position and velocity of a load. A $15,000 three-axis system offers an extraordinary positioning resolution of 0.0004 inches, even at top speeds of 12 feet per second. By incorporating a pressure transducer, it also accurately controls force.

At Festo Corp., Hauppauge, NY, engineers have created a family of servopneumatic valves that enable users to control air flow in ways that haven't been possible up to now. Unlike conventional pneumatic valves, the firm's servo valves can shift part-way open when they're energized. Used together with closed-loop control, they allow users to go beyond the realm of on-off operation. As a result, machine designers can now use pneumatics to control such variables as force or acceleration. And they can achieve positioning accuracies down to 0.004 inches.

Not all engineers are convinced that servopneumatics holds all the solutions, however. After exploring servopneumatics, Mosier engineers settled on a low-cost technique that employs a brake to assist in final positioning. Known as the Pneuma-Drive system, it consists of a single axis controller with custom software, position feedback encoder, valve package, and rodless cylinder. The system's brake uses special pads to firmly grip the inner wall of the cylinder chamber. The controller "knows" the required stopping distance of a given load, and incorporates that distance into the positioning process. The system automatically adjusts to changes in friction, load, and external forces. Using a cylinder with a 40-mm bore diameter, Mosier's Pneuma-Drive system can position 300-pound loads within 0.003 inches.

Stateside reluctance. Thus far, acceptance of servopneumatic positioning has been greater in Europe than in the United States, say engineers. "My American database has about 7,000 contacts in it, and probably 80% are not yet open to the idea of servopneumatic positioning," claims one engineer who asked not to be identified. His firm, he says, has placed scores of servopneumatic systems in Europe, but has only about 15 operating in the U.S.

  • Pneumatic drives can serve as an alternativeto hydraulics and electrics

  • Cost of pneumatic positioning systems ishigher than traditionalpneumatic systems

  • Positioning accuraciesdown to 0.0004 inches rival servo motors

Engineers who have incorporated the technology in their machine designs are now believers, however. "It's fast and extremely repeatable," notes Brian D. Smith, a manufacturing engineer at ITT Automotive in Rochester, NY. ITT employs Rexroth's servopneumatic system in the molding of copper commutators for DC electric motors. "It hits the same spot within a thousandth of an inch all day long, five days a week, three shifts a day, a million-and-a-half cycles a year. It's tough to beat."

Today, the major barrier to the success of pneumatic positioning technology is cost. A linear positioning system currently costs a minimum of three to four times that of conventional pneumatics. On the high end, such systems could run more than stepper motor-based techniques, but less than most servo motor methods. In return for higher cost, however, customers receive levels of accuracy that can be a thousand times greater than those of conventional pneumatics.

Ultimately, engineers expect pneumatic positioning systems to match the best electric technology. And much of the performance that was once considered impossible has already been achieved. "All of a sudden you find pneumatics in very sophisticated applications requiring precise positioning," notes Joachim Scholz, vice president of sales for Festo Corp. "We're talking about random positioning, not just in-out or on-off. We're adding servo controls that provide the capability of ramping, speeding up, or slowing down in mid-stroke. Those are things pneumatics couldn't do in the past."

Rival digitizing-tablet makers join forces

Austin, TX-Summagraphics Corp. is teaming up with rival Kurta Corp. to jointly develop digitizing-tablet products and technologies, the two companies announced.

"This is a strategy that has already been utilized in many other market segments and is clearly needed in ours," says Michael Bennett, Summagraphics president and CEO. "Combining both companies' strengths in engineering and manufacturing will provide the end user with the best overall applications solutions."

"Working together gives us the opportunity to capitalize on our synergies and fuse the best of both to create a new force in the digitizer marketplace," adds Kurta CEO Bruce Moeller. The companies expect to unveil details of their first collaborative efforts at upcoming trade shows and industry conferences.

Summagraphics is known for its SummaSketch digitizing tablets, as well as plotters and printers. Kurta, based in Phoenix, manufactures desktop graphics tablets and large-scale digitizers; it is affiliated with Mutoh Industries of Japan.

Summagraphics recently announced two cordless, pressure-sensitive graphics tablets, SummaFlex and Summa Expression. The 18- x 24-inch SummaFlex, about the size of a standard desktop blotter, can be rolled out and left in place not only as a tablet, but permanent desktop work surface. Summa Expression is a smaller (6x8-inch) version for users with limited work space.

Design News awards engineering achievement

Chicago-Celebrating the best and brightest minds in the engineering world, the Design News Engineering Awards Banquet honored three distinguished professionals in the field: inventor Jerome Lemelson, voted by Design News readers as the 1995 "Engineer of the Year"; Lester Davis of Cray Research, who accepted the Special Achievement Award; and Amar Bose of Bose Corp., who won the Quality Award.

Nevada-based inventor Lemelson has received nearly 500 U.S. patents in his career. Only Thomas Edison and Edwin Land have more. His inventions span such fields as robots, material handling, consumer electronics, and medical devices.

"It's difficult to think of a product that does not relate in some way to one of Jerry Lemelson's inventions," notes Design News Editorial Director Larry Maloney, one of the hosts of the eighth annual gala. "The man has averaged a patent a month for 40 years-and at 71 is still going strong."

In accepting the award, Lemelson spoke out against changing the U.S. patent system to satisfy trading partners. "We must commit resources to programs that promote invention and protect intellectual property rights," he said. "This country's founders were more commited to invention than the current Congress."

Lester Davis, who recently retired as the chief operating officer of Cray Research, Inc., is one of the prime movers in the field of supercomputers and this year's Special Achievement Award winner.

Since the company's founding, Davis has played a key role in every major machine it has built. He served as chief engineer on the widely successful Cray-1, introduced in 1976. He then guided Cray's technical efforts on a string of even more successful machines-from the X-MP to the recently introduced Triton.

Davis echoed one of Lemelson's themes when accepting his award: encouraging young people to choose a career in engineering.

The third award winner, Amar Bose, founded Bose Corp., the company that captured the annual Design News Quality Award. Richard Paynting, Bose's director of product development, accepted the award on his behalf. Designing and manufacturing award-winning sound systems, Bose Corp. continues to be a leading acoustics innovator. Behind the company's success is a multilayer quality program that includes extensive use of Total Quality Management concepts.

Saturn coupe offers practical vogue

Newton, MA-A single word describes the new Saturn SC2 coupe: Inexpensive.

The '95 SC2 begins at $13,815. But even at $17,540, the loaded version Design News tested behaved like a more-expensive car. Standard dual airbags and power four-wheel-disc brakes matched with optional ABS, traction control, a/c, and cruise control leave little to be desired. Conveniences include power locks and windows and a rear-window defogger with automatic shut-off.

Not mere bells and whistles, these options qualify the car as fully appointed. More importantly, the SC2 handles well. At a curb weight of 2,389 lbs (1,084 kg), the SC2 is nimble and sure-footed in city driving. A welded steel frame and beefed-up front stabilizer contribute to a pleasing stiffness in handling.

While the l.9 leader, single-overhead-cam, four-cylinder engine is no powerhouse, a new multi-port fuel injection system adds 15 horsepower in "95 for a total output rating of 124. And what the engine lacks in brute strength it makes up for in fuel efficiency and low emissions.

An aluminum block, polymer body panels, new composite fuel rail, and tuned composite air-induction system boost mileage to a respectable 24 mpg city, 34 mpg highway EPA rating.

Also new for '95 is a cast-aluminum intake manifold. The design uses an integrated coolant passage for heating during cold weather to improve emissions performance. The car meets California and Federal Tier 1 emissions regulations.

To compete in a segment that includes the Dodge Neon, the Ford Escort, and the Nissan Sentra, Saturn engineers emphasized practical design. The re-designed instrument panel has fewer parts for easier assembly, and boasts a removable upper to service components behind the panel. Saturn engineers claim the design also reduces squeaks.

The SC2 isn't perfect. In the name of safety, small horn buttons are given short shrift beside the airbag. And the sporty profile comes at a price-although there is a rear seat, passengers more than five feet tall would be ill-advised to use it for long trips. But overall, this stylish little car is at home on the road.

CATIA expands its horizons

-Sharon Machlis, Senior Editor

Charlotte, NC-CATIA-one of the world's most popular CAD/CAM software packages-is about to move out of its IBM-only environment.

The latest CATIA release now runs on Hewlett-Packard HP 9000 workstations, marking the first time CATIA will be available on a non-IBM platform. A version of the software is in the works to run on Silicon Graphics workstations as well.

"That is big news," says Bruce Jenkins at Daratech, a Cambridge, MA, research and consulting firm. "We think that will drive a lot of new growth for them." While this year's overall software revenues are expected to rise 16.2%, Daratech predicts CATIA growth will soar 30%.

The move comes in a marketplace where users are increasingly demanding flexibility in running different brands of hardware and software together. "Many users have told us they are more comfortable with a multi-vendor environment," Jenkins says. Even customers who have no plans to switch from IBM equipment will be more likely to buy CATIA now that it gives them the option to change in the future.

CATIA Version 4 Release 1.4 offers what Dassault calls "single-system images," allowing users to pass data between IBM and HP workstations with no "translations" needed. It also supports emerging STEP (Standard for the Exchange of Product model data) protocols to allow easier movement of CAD drawings among different types of hardware and software.

The move is already winning new customers. "The commitment to open CATIA to multivendor hardware platforms like Silicon Graphics was a major prerequisite for our decision to use CATIA for car-body design and car manufacturing," said Dr. Trac Tang with Volkswagen AG.

Dassault Systems of France, the developer of CATIA, was the last major CAD vendor to keep with a single-platform hardware strategy, marketing the package through IBM.

"It's notable that CATIA achieved the position of second-largest CAD revenue generator after Autodesk running on a single hardware platform," Jenkins said. Now, he adds, its prospects are even brighter.

Refreshment stands meet requirements nationwide

Charleston, IL-Everybody has seen those all-too-familiar refreshment stands at beaches, fairs, and other events. And many people have joked about owning one. But for those who may be serious, Ice Deli(TM) Refreshment Centers has made the start-up process a little simpler. The company manufactures ready-built, ready-to-open refreshment stands that serve "Snoballs"-a shaved ice and flavoring mixture.

The refreshment stands can be easily transported and are totally self-contained-the only equipment needed is an electrical hook-up and a "gray" water drain outlet. That may sound simple; but for Ice Deli Refreshment Centers, designing the stands wasn't that easy.

The company had to develop a unit that would meet varying codes and requirements across the country, including the ability to withstand 120-mile-per-hour hurricane winds in Florida. State electrical codes demanded that all dictated load centers be placed on the exterior of the building, so the company needed an enclosure and breakers that could be placed in this position and still operate in harsh environmental conditions.

The solution: Cutler-Hammer's C-H 100R Load Center in a NEMA 3R weather-proof enclosure. Says Doug Cochran, a consultant on the Ice Deli design: "We checked with several companies and discovered that only Cutler-Hammer could give us what we wanted in a stock, off-the-shelf unit."

Another concern in the stand design was heat generated in enclosures from constant exposure to sunlight and possible corrosion from salt water. To avoid failures caused by breakers constantly tripping, the company chose Cutler-Hammer's magnetic thermal-trip breakers. "These were the only breakers that could stand up to that type of punishment," Cochran claims. A Cutler-Hammer disconnect switch was also used on the roof-mounted air-conditioning units.

Polymer helps hush conveyor

Grand Rapids, MI-Engineers at Rapistan Demag Corp. have improved their roller-conveyor technology using high-performance polymers and fibers. Driven by a belt, the new conveyor runs faster than comparable accumulation conveyors with only half the noise, according to the manufacturer.

An air-powered actuator controls contact between the rubber drive belt and the rollers. This mechanism has eight components injection molded from DuPont's Delrin(R) acetal resin.

"These parts operate more quietly than equivalent metal parts," says Riccardo Schiesser, engineering manager for Rapistan Demag. "Consistently close molding tolerances prevent rattling."

To bring the conveyor belt against the rollers, pressurized air flows through a manifold to an actuator, causing the actuator diaphragm to expand upward against a shoe. The shoe, which has the belt guides snapped into it, pushes the moving belt up against the rollers to drive them.

"For the shoe assembly, the low friction and wear resistance of the polymer are especially important properties because the moving belt rides on it," adds Schiesser.

For best compatibility, the belt is reinforced with Kevlar(R) aramid fiber for high strength and minimal stretching. The inside of the belt is smooth so it can glide over the Delrin-comprised contact shoes, while the outside has a high friction surface to drive the conveyor rollers.

Actuator parts are designed for ease of assembly and disassembly, the company notes. The air actuator and manifold snap-fit into the bracket, and the bracket is held in openings in the conveyor side rails by molded-in spring hooks.

As a result, the conveyor is not only quiet, but also provides flexible installation using a minimum of parts, according to Schiesser.

Rapistan Demag rates the Model 1278 conveyor for handling shipping cartons or packages weighing 0.5 lbs to 200 lbs at speeds from 50 to 250 ft/min.

Sensors ensure safety, cut costs

The sensing and assembly of aerosol cans in a potentially explosive environment can be difficult and extremely expensive. In an aerosol plant, every stage of production in which the aerosol propellant is present must be made intrinsically safe. Traditionally, this has meant placing sensors and controls in large, bulky, explosion-proof enclosures to contain any possible explosions. But Banner Engineering, Minneapolis, MN, now has an alternative.

The company's NAMUR sensors are intrinsically safe and can perform virtually every sensing function on the assembly line, eliminating the need for bulky enclosures. Most cable sealing and explosion-proof conduit can be eliminated as well, saving significant time and expense.

In a typical aerosol can application, a wide-angle diffuse sensor directed between the guide rails can note passing cans, replacing a proximity sensor that could potentially be false-triggered by the metal rail. Spray pipes can be detected using a diffuse mode bifurcated glass fiber-optic sensor looking down at the can from the top.

NAMUR through-beam fiber-optic sensors can monitor delivery of spray pipes to the assembly area, and shut down the assembly conveyor if the supply runs out. The same type of sensor can detect the presence of the spray nozzle and whether it is properly seated. Through-beam fiber-optic sensors can also check for the presence of a cap; while convergent sensors can monitor the cap supply.

Banner claims its NAMUR technology can save companies thousands of dollars in purchased product cost, as well as hundreds of hours of engineering, installation, and maintenance time.

Quickdraw 3D delivers workstation graphics to Macs

Cupertino, CA-Macintosh computers have long been popular with graphics professionals. With the introduction of Quickdraw(TM) 3D, Apple Computer (Cupertino, CA) intends to make the Mac a more powerful contender in the 3-D CAD arena as well.

"Our goal was to make 3-D just another data type on the Macintosh," explains John Alfano, digital space product manager for Apple. "And in order to do that we've got to get people at some level to agree on a robust file format."

That file format, 3DMF (3-D metafile), lies at the core of the Quickdraw 3D standard. It supports not only three-dimensional geometry but also appearance information such as lighting, shading, phong illumination, NURBS surfaces, and rendering-essentially all the information that comprises a particular scene.

The 3DMF format gives users the ability to move data, seamlessly, from program to program- even from the 3D world to the 2D world.

"What this means is that you'll be able to copy 3-D data right out of your CAD application and put it into your desktop publishing application,' says Bruce Morgan, vice president of sales and marketing at Spatial Technologies (Boulder, CO). Morgan's company is the developer of ACIS, a geometric toolkit that forms the basis of 3-D modeling systems from more than 250 vendors including Autodesk and MacNeal-Schwendler.

Quickdraw 3D exploits the capabilities of Motorola's Power PC processor and will run only on Power Macintosh computers. Applications will have to be rewritten to support the new interface. And while hardware-based acceleration of graphics functions isn't required, Quickdraw 3D will take advantage of industry-standard PCI cards. "For $400, you will be able to get an acceleration card for this," says Alfano.

The interface eliminates file-translation hassles while still allowing vendors to write proprietary extensions for 3DMF files. Quickdraw 3D for Windows will appear about six months after the official Mac introduction sometime this summer.

Ultimately, Quickdraw 3D may provide the Macintosh with a path into the formerly exclusive domain of high-end workstations.

How good is your crystal ball?

How good is your crystal ball?

During the course of our jobs, many of us are called upon to forecast trends, markets, or the outcome of a project or product. If you're like me, your predictions aren't always on the money. In a recent issue of American Demographics, John Mahaffie of Coates & Jarratt, a Washington, D.C., research firm, cites some of the chief reasons for forecasting errors--

Failure to examine assumptions. Does the forecast rest on unlikely or unrealistic social, economic, or technological developments?

Limited expertise. Some people simply get too enthusiastic and overshoot their expertise when making a forecast.

  • Lack of imagination. Other forecasters suffer from just the opposite problem: They may fail to explore the more interesting possibilities for the future out of conservatism or timidness of thought.

  • Neglect of constraints. Many people fail to anticipate the roadblocks that occur within organizations, such as budget limitations or the opposition of others to an idea or project.

  • Excessive optimism. Those who view the world through rose-colored glasses don't give sufficient weight to "downside risk.' Result: Their forecasts are usually flawed.

  • Reliance on mechanical extrapolation. Don't assume that a particular trend or development, such as market penetration by a product, will continue to proceed at the same rate as in the past.

  • Premature closure. When developing forecasts, some people finish their work before all factors are considered. As a result, the more creative and far-reaching possibilities are never explored.

  • Overspecification. It's not possible to control all the variables and imponderables driving change, so no one can be utterly specific about most developments.

Mahaffie adds that those who develop products must guard against being too enthusiastic about a particular outcome, such as a new technology that they admire or own patents on. While enthusiasm is a necessary ingredient to get projects rolling, we need to add a dose of detachment to insure that our expectations are realistic.