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Engineering enhances 'mature' product lines

Engineering enhances 'mature' product lines

Small companies in technically mature industries still have a place in the United States, says Schilling, if they're efficient and offer well-engineered products.

Design News--What future do you see for 'smokestack' manufacturing industries?

Schilling: How well manufacturing does in the United States depends on several factors, such as currency exchange rates, the productivity of the America worker, government intervention in the affairs of industry, and the types of industries involved. Industries that have a high labor content tend to flow to areas with low-cost labor. Industries that have a high degree of technical expertise and low labor content stay where manufacturers can find the technical expertise. As a national defense policy, I do not see how the U.S. government can allow the United States to not maintain its high level of manufacturing expertise.

Q: How can companies like yours continue to manufacture in the U.S., given the pressure of offshore competition?

A: Horton is in a very niche business. Our products are sold on performance more than price. The availability and ability to meet local customers' needs have been important to our customers. In a niche market, many times it is hard for foreign competitors to really understand and service U.S. customers. Just as it is hard for U.S. manufacturers to understand foreign markets, it is hard for foreign manufacturers to understand the U.S. market.

Q: How important is teamwork to success? Doesn't intense internal competition produce superior results?

A: Without teamwork a company wouldn't go very far. In the case of Horton, we look at our products as a joint effort between engineering, manufacturing, sales, marketing, and top management as well as working with customers to help them solve their problem. We try to only make products that solve problems for many different manufacturing processes in many different industries. Thus our customers have a better product at a cheaper price to offer their customers. Does internal competition produce superior results? Yes and no. If the competition is controlled in a way that doesn't cause a loss of focus on the end results, then internal competition is healthy. If not controlled, it can be a big negative to a company.

Q: What innovations can engineers expect to see from Horton over the next five years?

A: Horton is fast becoming a systems provider rather than a component provider. You will see us offering a system to solve a problem or do a job function. This is a different tact than before, where we offered a component and the customer had to figure out the system.

Q: How important are R&D and design engineering to a 'mature' product line?

A: Many of Horton's products are considered mature; but we consider ongoing R&D and design engineering very important in making our products state-of-the-art. We are always testing and refining existing products. Outside they may look the same, but the quality and reliability of the products are continually improving.

Q: How have today's small computers and engineering software affected Horton's design engineers?

A: It used to be that our engineers and designers all had a drafting table and drafting instruments at their work stations. All design work was a very manual process. Now we don't have a drafting table in the engineer department.

Every engineer and designer is a proficient CAD operator, and all our designs are generated electronically. This use of CAD has allowed us to reduce the cycle time from concept to finished product.

Q: How has the movement by large companies to reduce their number of vendors affected Horton?

A: I can't say it hasn't affected us, but we sell engineered products for specific job functions. This being the case, most companies are still concerned about keeping their factories running efficiently rather than saving paperwork on vendors. Sometimes the purchasing and accounting departments prevail at the expense of the operating people. Is this a wise policy? It has been tried many times with limited success. The advent of integrated supply contracts is changing the way our distributors do business and promotes consolidation.

Engineering News

Engineering News

Hubble upgrades deliver sharper eye on the universe

Seal Beach, CA--In February, astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery snuggled their craft up to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and spent 33 hours installing some of the most highly engineered mechanisms ever built. They carefully wrestled the phone-booth-sized Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) and Space Telescope Imaging Spectrometer (STIS) into place--two instruments that scientists expect will significantly push the envelope of our knowledge of the universe. And they replaced one of HST's three tape recorders with a solid-state recorder (SSR) possessing 10 times the data capacity.

But before the astronauts could install them and astrono-mers use them, engineers spent a decade pushing the envelope on numerous engineering technologies needed to bring the STIS, NICMOS, and SSR to life. "There were people at NASA Goddard who said that this was the most difficult instrument they'd ever asked anyone to build," says Don Hood, technical manager for STIS at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, CO. Ball served as the primary contractor for both the $125 million STIS and the $105 million NICMOS.

Innovations on the three projects include:

  • Dozens of step- and servo-motor motion-control systems that offer repeatable positioning of optical assemblies to as little as 0.20 arc-seconds and linear accuracies of 1 micron.

  • Optics and detectors on STIS with 30 times the spectral capabilities, 500 times the spatial capabilities, and 2.4 times the resolution of previous HST spectrographs. This technology might also have application in high-end digital cameras.

  • Digital detectors on NICMOS that can resolve objects 50 to 100 million times dimmer than can instruments on Earth.

  • Graphite-epoxy trusses that weigh as little as 40 lbs can support peak loads of several tons during launch, yet possess overall coefficients of thermal expansion of nearly zero. These structures could also find use in the Space Station, aircraft design, and terrestrial telescopes.

  • Stacked, high-density DRAM chips and a NASA-developed, radiation-hardened microprocessor on the SSR.

  • Uncountable applications of anti-vibration techniques; outgas-free paints, coatings, and motor lubricants; innovative thermal-management techniques; and redundant everything.

Telescope on ice. NICMOS is the first HST instrument to operate in the 0.8- to 2.5-micron near-infrared region that lets the telescope penetrate the haze of interstellar dust. Scientists hope it will provide answers to questions about star formation, planets in nearby solar systems, and the origin of the universe.

It uses three fixed-magnification cameras, all looking simultaneously at adjacent parts of the sky. Light is imaged on 256x256-pixel HgCdTe detectors. In addition to their IR sensitivity, "these detectors have the advantage over CCDs of being able to perform nondestructive reads," says Paul Lightsey, system engineer at Ball. A selection of filter wheels, polarizers, and grisms (combination grat-ing/prisms) let NICMOS act as telescope, coronograph, polarimeter, and spectrometer.

But undoubtedly its most interesting system is the dewar, an insulated vacuum flask that keeps the detectors at 58K (-355C) to limit thermal noise. The cooling source is a 240-lb composite block of nitrogen solidified around highly porous aluminum foam. The foam was designed to prevent nitrogen chunks from floating around as the material sublimes away over the unit's five-year life.

The dewar is a layered sandwich of insulation and shell casings. Thermoelectric coolers (TEC)--Peltier-junction heat pumps--draw energy away from two layers of the dewar. They conduct heat to external radiators via an assembly of hundreds of thin layers of aluminum foil, each shaped like an "S", that exhibit high thermal conductivity but little structural stiffness.

Supporting the ~815-lb instrument is a 40-lb graphite-epoxy truss that engineers maintained in a nitrogen atmosphere during construction to minimize moisture absorption. "It has a coefficient of thermal expansion of three-tenths of a part per million per degree C," boasts Lightsey. "And it's slightly negative to offset that of the metal components."

Motion-control masterpiece. A two-dimensional imaging spectrograph, the 700-lb STIS contains three detectors sensitive from ultraviolet to near infrared light (115- to 1,000-nm wavelengths). Its spectral and resolving capabilities should enable discoveries of supermassive black holes, solar flares, and the distribution of mass in the universe. "It will give scientists a better insight into what's going on than any spectrographic instrument built before," says Hood.

STIS's pair of 1,024x1,024-pixel Multi-Anode Microchannel Arrays (MAMAs) cover wavelengths from 115 to 310 nm. "Solar blind" to other radiation, the MAMAs don't need shielding from stray sun, moon, or Earth light. They compliment the 1,024x1,024-pixel CCDs that operate from 305 to 1,000 nm. Both two-dimensional detectors gather from 2,048 to 4,086 times the data of previous columnar arrays.

A showcase of precision motion control, STIS is populated by eight mechanisms--two of them three-degree-of-freedom de-vices. Examples:

  • Mode-select mechanism. This uses geared step motors with redundant windings to rotate any of 21 optics into the light path and tilt or tip the beam across the detector. "The mechanism will position the optics and move the beam to the 1- to 5-micron level," says Hood.

  • Slit wheel. It rotates any of 65 restrictive apertures/filters into the beam. A brushless dc torque motor with servo feedback positions repeatedly to less than 10 microns.

  • "Fly swatters." Powered by step motors, these rotate either 90 or 180 degrees to block light from certain optical paths.

  • CCD shutter. A brushless dc torque motor, chosen for its speed uniformity, turns an opaque disk that incorporates precise aperture cutouts.

  • Detector calibration mechanism. This uses a step motor with redundant windings to place tungsten, deuterium, and krypton lamps into the optical beam path.

Like NICMOS, STIS is built on a truss of square- and diamond-shaped graphite-epoxy longerons and tubular members. Proper fiber orientation gives it a coefficient of thermal expansion of nearly zero. "We've limited motion due to thermal changes over a 1-hour period to less than 20% of one pixel on the detector, or 0.0002 inch," says Hood. "And that's over a length of 1,500 mm."

Robust recorder. NICMOS and STIS aren't Hubble's only new tools. A solid-state re-corder developed by NASA Goddard (Greenbelt, MD) replaces one of the three existing reel-to-reel tape recorders. The 25-lb device not only offers 10 times the data-storage capacity in the same volume but can record and play different sets of data simultaneously--a significant advantage.

Its memory consists of 320-Mbit DRAM stacks developed by Irvine Sensors (South Burlington, VT) arranged on two boards for a total of 12 gigabits of storage. Processing is handled by the "Mongoose," a RISC-based, radiation-hardened microprocessor developed at Goddard. A Reed-Solomon encoder/decoder chip adds additional bits of information to stored data for error handling.

The SSR further adds robustness with its ability to map storage around bad or failed memory areas. This eliminates a tape recorder's Achilles heal--the tape. "If a tape breaks you lose everything," says Steven Horo-witz, lead engineer at Goddard.

But the SSR's greatest benefit is in assisting Hubble to reach its full potential. Says Horowitz, "NICMOS and STIS produce so much data that they need the SSR to fully exercise their capabilities."


Isolator cuts earthquake damage

Avignon, France--The building sways. If it sways too far, it can be severely damaged--or collapse. But that's highly unlikely in a steel-frame or reinforced-concrete building built with the Paraseismic Isolator Support system from A.A.I.P.S. (Ap-pareils d'Appuis Isolateurs Para Sismiques).

The system is located between a building's underground foundation substructure and the base platformof its above-ground superstructure. It consists of two solid blocks of Bayer Vulkolan elastomer, one embodying a horizontal friction plate with a truncated cone in the middle, the other a flat-topped circular cap that fits over the cone. Either block can be attached to the substructure, with the other attached to the superstructure.

The space between the blocks is filled with one or more vibration-proof crowns. Layers of a supple polymer material are laid horizontally.

As an earthquake starts, the layers of polymer allow some degree of multidirectional swing between the building's substructure and superstructure. Under more intense shaking, the two parts can slide and rotate relative to each other. However, much of the seismic energy is absorbed and dissipated, thanks to the deformability and damping capacity of the isolating materials.

Once the earthquake is over, the central crown acts like a giant spring to restore the superstructure safely toits original position. What's more, this same spring action can compensate for slow foundation displacement due to soil moisture variations or clay compaction. The supports also can be installed underwater.

Easy to use, the system comes in many configurations, with thicknesses, sizes, volumes, and shapes determined by the loads it supports. It can be employed on individual houses, large buildings, or civil-engineering facilities.


Software helps company brush up design

Palo Alto, CA--When Oral-B Laboratories approached IDEO Product Development with a compact interdental toothbrush design, their primary concern was time. The company wanted to bring the product to market in eight months.

"Oral-B's prototype had a limited stroke, no protective cap, and a problem with the brush head coming unscrewed," says IDEO engineer Dave Lyons. "Our job was to make it work." The result: IDEO completed the design phase in less than six weeks using SolidDesigner software from CoCreate Software Inc., Fort Collins, CO.

The final toothbrush design comprises a handle made of two halves that slide with respect to each other. With the two parts together, the head is in line with the handle, and can be used to clean the teeth and gums in the front of the mouth. Sliding the handles apart bends the brush head up to 90 degrees, reaching rear teeth.

The brush's body is made from Monsanto Santoprene, an injection-moldable elastomer. Four molded "living hinges" and a snap-fit detail provide articulation.

The main body is molded in the open position, and the wire stem below the bristles is insert-molded into a boss in the center of the four hinges. The brush is then folded, and the two handle-halves snapped together at the sliding snap-fit detail. A clear protective cap snaps over the brush head.

Lyons used SolidDesigner to determine the interaction of the two halves of the handle and to design the snap detail for the cap. He credits the software with helping IDEO meet Oral-B's time line.

"What made the project so successful was the ease with which we transitioned the 3-D database to tooling vendors," says Lyons. "Real savings were made downstream in the development. Surface data from the SolidDesigner parts were used to create cavities of injection-mold tools."


Reduced costs driving concern for auto engineers

Detroit--Cost reduction is far and away the number one challenge facing automotive engineers and designers. At least that's the result gleaned from a survey sponsored by DuPont Automotive and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) of attendees at this year's SAE International Congress and Exposition.

"For the past few years cost was a significant concern, but this year it is the only concern," reports Erik Frywald, DuPont Automotive's director of engineering materials. Fifty percent of respondents listed cost reduction as the top priority, outranking all other considerations, including foreign competition, recycling, fuel economy, safety regulations, and quality, by more than a 30% margin.

Not only is cost the primary concern, the survey shows, but the industry is finding better ways to evaluate total cost. Nearly 70% of the respondents said they have systems in place to account for final assembled costs of a component or system.

Materials suppliers like DuPont can help automakers meet their cost-reduction goals, according to Fyrwald. "Materials suppliers need to partner with the automakers and play a visible role in advanced concept development so the right materials are being selected for the right use."

Based on the SAE survey, the industry agrees. Nearly 90% of those surveyed said materials suppliers play an important role in the pre-concept and concept product development process.

Automotive Consulting Group, Ann Arbor, MI, conducted the survey for DuPont and SAE.


Catera: A driver's Cadillac

by Brian Hogan Managing Editor

Dover, MA--Whether it's fair or not, most people think of cars from Cadillac as oversized iron lumps with mattress-type suspensions, designed for older drivers whose fat wallets come attached to bloated egos. If the new mid-sized Catera catches on, that perception will change.

No kidding here, Catera is a neat car. During a week of city and highway driving, I found Catera quick, nimble, comfortable, and just plain fun. I hated its cup holders, but literally everything else about Catera was delightful.

Of course one reason for this excellent result might lie in Catera's family tree. Basically, the car is an Americanized version of Opel's Omega MX6 Sport Sedan. Assembled in Germany, it features a German-designed engine assembled in England, and other components from the U.S. and France.

Cadillac gave the Catera full luxury features: power seats, a great sound system, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote keyless entry--all the things you'd expect in a U.S.-built luxury car. But they kept the fundamental package intact.

Catera comes with a 3.0l, double overhead camshaft, 54-degree V6 rated at 200 hp at 6,000 rpm and 192 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. The 54-degree layout reportedly reduces the engine's weight by 15%, and reduces rotating inertia by 28% when compared to the previous Omega Six. Engineered by Adam Opel AG in Germany, the 24-valve engine has a three-stage induction system that maximizes power output, and a compression ratio of 10:1. Top speed is electronically limited to 125 mph. Catera's four-speed automatic transmission uses adaptive logic to optimize shifting. There are three shift programs: Normal, Sport, and Winter.

Catera offers four-wheel (ABS) disc brakes and traction control; if a driver wants to lay rubber, he or she can switch off the traction control. The car uses a MacPherson strut suspension in front, with a multilink rear suspension. Automatic load leveling keeps ride height constant even with the vehicle fully loaded. Speed-sensitive steering varies power assist according to vehicle speed, and steering requires three turns lock-to-lock. With a steering ratio of 13.5:1, Catera has turning ratio of 34.12 feet.

Interior space on the Catera pleases the soul. Its rear seats actually allow normal-sized adults to ride back there without pain. (One minor point: This mid-sized car is the tallest vehicle in Cadillac's lineup at 57.4 inches.) Vision from the driver' position is excellent, and Catera has a four-position adjustable steering wheel. If you drive the car, you'll find its analog instruments easy to read. The switches and knobs that control Catera's collection of gadgets are convenient. Switches that control the sound system proved a bit too convenient; this driver kept tapping them as he drove, changing stations, volume, etc. But over time I adapted.

Would I like to have a Catera in my garage? Yes. No qualifications on that response. Unfortunately, my Catera carried a sticker of $36,665, not including taxes--a bit steep for a struggling editor. But if you're in the market for a luxury sport sedan, check out this Teutonic Caddy. It's definitely worth a look.


Software accelerates roadster design

Las Vegas--Carroll Shelby, founder of Shelby American Inc. and three-time winner of the Sports Car Driver of the Year award, has made his mark again, and just in time to celebrate his company's thirty-fifth anniversary. The Shelby Series 1 sports car is powered by a modified Oldsmobile Aurora V8 in a rear-wheel-drive setup.

For optimal handling, the car's semi-monocoque chassis, designed with CADKEY, has a fully independent suspension with a rocker-arm configuration and inboard-mounted coil-over shock absorbers.

The roadster's carbon-fiber composites and lightweight components keep the target weight at 2,300 lbs, with the body shell weighing in at less than 100 lbs. Aerodynamics induces downforce and dissipates heat. Computer analysis predicts acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in under five seconds and a calculated top speed of 170 mph.

Shelby engineers used CADKEY software from Baystate Technologies, Marlborough, MA, to significantly shorten the development time of the Series 1 prototype's key components. For example, instead of supplying individual line drawings to the machine shop, all of the aluminum-suspension pieces were milled directly from 3-D CAD models.

"From interference checking to visualization, the advantages of three-dimensional modeling in CADKEY were substantial," says Shelby American's Director of Engineering and Design, Peter Bryant. "The software enabled our engineering team to productively focus on inventing and communicating breakthrough automotive technologies, instead of worrying about the mechanics of the CAD system."

Running prototypes will be ready for testing and appearance at various Oldsmobile functions, including the 1997 Indianapolis 500.


Implantable pump stops deadly fibrillation

Minneapolis, MN--Atrial fibrillation (AFib), an extreme form of arrhythmia, can cause both of the heart's top chambers to stop beating and start to quiver. AFib affects more than six million people worldwide and causes more than 75,000 strokes per year in the U.S.

An implantable pharmacologic atrial defibrillator designed and patented by Robert Arzbaecher, director of Illinois Institute of Technology's Pritzker Institute of Medical Engineering, is being developed for the market under license by PharmaTarget Inc. The company says that initial introduction of the device should take place in Europe in about two years.

About the size of a hockey puck, the implantable device monitors the heart's electrical signals to detect any irregularity. A special catheter/lead, fixed in the right side of the heart like a pacemaker lead, connects the heart to the defibrillator. A microcomputer analyzes the heart's electrical signals. When an AFib episode occurs, the computer starts a drug pump to deliver a physician-prescribed dose of anti-arrhythmic drug directly into the heart, restoring normal function. Drugs are used only when needed, at the site (the patient's heart) where they're needed.

Today, the standard treatment for AFib requires either electrical shocks to the heart or drugs delivered intravenously. Patients then go on a lifelong drug program that can cause serious side effects. The new device should not inflict the pain sometimes associated with electric shock, and could reduce or eliminate the side effects associated with long-term drug therapy.

PharmaTarget intends to call its new medical device the Implantable Pharmacologic AtrioverterTM, or IPA. This spring, 31 electrophysiologists from the U.S., Europe, and the Pacific Rim will begin a series of clinical studies on the effectiveness and safety of delivering drugs directly into the heart, and the effectiveness and safety of the IPA.


Materials help new Corvette remain a 'classic'

Detroit--When an American icon like the Chevrolet Corvette is redesigned only five times in its 44-year history, customer expectations can be demanding. However, the fifth-generation 'Vette won critical acclaim at the 1997 Detroit Auto Show.

"Styling is expected to be distinctive, quality is critical, and the entire team knows they're producing something that will be valued and collected for decades to come," says Fred Kulka, engineering group manager-exterior plastic parts for GM's Midsize and Luxury Car Group.

Helping to fulfill those expectations were requirements the vehicle's suppliers subscribed to and met. One such supplier, Dow Automotive, provided a material designed to cost-effectively facilitate the needed styling flexibility for the fenders and front and rear fascia.

Dramatic air scoops extend from the front of the vehicle to the doors and are key styling elements of the vehicle's exterior. The scoops are molded into the fender--a component that was not part of the previous generation's design. The fenders are reaction injection molded (RIM) by MAGNA Decoma Exterior Systems Polyrim, Thornhill, Ontario, using Dow's SpectrimTM BP-80 reaction-moldable polymer.

"Three-and-a-half years ago, when we looked at the design of the fenders on the new Corvette, everyone knew that RIM was the only viable alternative," Kulka explains. "The excellent engineering and production experience that we have had in the past on the Camaro/Firebird, as well as the GM APV fenders, acted as our guide."

The front and rear fascia had different production issues than the fenders. The rear fascia in particular had demanding requirements as to both size and depth, according to Ron Petry, Corvette release engineer, making Spectrim RIM the most appropriate choice.

"In this case, the large size and complex shape of the rear fascia helped dictate both process and material," Petry says. "Too many die-lock positions would have been required for TPO (thermoplastic olefin). With RIM, the molder can pull the fascia directly off the tool. RIM also permitted the most effective attachment system for both the front and rear fascia."

"Body panels and fascia for several new vehicle programs, which cannot be identified at this time, have been committed beyond the year 2000," notes Laurie Sargent, market manager for Dow Automotive. "If design flexibility at the OEM is to be adequately supported, then it remains extremely important to offer a high-performance product family like Spectrim. This allows the automaker an enormous range of capabilities as well as on-line paintability and excellent customer satisfaction."


Hal Rosen's powertrain hybrid

Woodland Hills, CA--Harold Rosen led the team that designed the first geostationary communications satellites ever built. Rosen spent 37 years at Hughes Aircraft Corp. He was awarded more than 50 patents and received many engineering awards, in-cluding the Design News Special A-chievement Award for 1992. Now, funded by his brother Benjamin, chairman and co-founder of Compaq Computer, Harold Rosen is developing a world-beater of a hybrid powertrain.

Rosen Motors' hybrid electric powertrain consists of a turbogenerator, a flywheel-driven motor-generator, electric drive motors, and an electronic control system. The flywheel has a carbon-filament-wound composite cylinder and ring, titanium hub, and steel shaft. Supplied by Capstone Turbine, another company with which the Rosen brothers are involved, the turbogenerator will burn gasoline in a catalytic combustor and also serves as a motor when starting the vehicle.

In the Rosens' powertrain, a dc bus connects all the motor/generator sets. A controller containing both logic and power sections governs all the motor/generator sets and monitors the bus voltage (nominally 400V). In milliseconds, the flywheel-driven generator either adds energy to or subtracts energy from the bus as bus voltage tries to fluctuate.

"In the process of accelerating the car with the drive motors, the flywheel starts slowing a bit," says Harold Rosen. When the controller recognizes the reduction in flywheel speed, "the turbine control system starts adding power to the bus, and that causes the flywheel to charge up," he explains. "It's a proportional control system, and it's a continuous system."

During operation on a test rig or in a vehicle, the electronic controller dynamically blends power from the flywheel-generator and turbo- generator to supply the drive motors. The drive motors are the only components connected directly to the drivetrain. Using a fixed-gear reduction, coupled with the characteristics of an electric drivetrain, result in vehicle acceleration as smooth as that achieved with a continuously variable transmission, according to Rosen Motors.

In the company's current system, the turbogenerator provides a maximum of 30 kW; future versions will utilize a 45-kW (60-hp) unit. The current design goal for flywheel self-discharge time is approximately 1,000 hrs, and the turbogenerator can recharge the flywheel. At maximum charge, the flywheel stores 1 kW-hr; of that energy, 80% can be recovered over the flywheel's operating speed range of 28,000 to 62,000 rpm. It can deliver or accept energy at a maximum rate of 150 kW.

At the present time, work continues on the turbogenerator's catalytic combustor. Until the unit reaches the level of performance desired by Rosen Motors engineers, the turbogenerator will use a conventional combustor.

Early this year, Rosen Motors successfully road-tested its powertrain in a converted 1993 Saturn at Willow Springs racetrack near Edwards Air Force Base. A second car, more of a prototype than the Saturn, is also being built. This latter car, a Mercedes Benz E-Class, has four motor/generators on board. Two drive-motors in the rear wheels function as generators during regenerative braking. Harold Rosen expects to see the E-Class on the road with its hybrid powertrain before the end of 1997.

Rosen and his colleagues say cars equipped with their drivetrain will a-chieve a fuel efficiency of 45 to 80 mpg and be capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in six or seven seconds. They claim their type of hybrid system has many packaging advantages over hybrids that use batteries. "We don't need a purpose-built car," says Rosen, "our powertrain is not too hard to introduce into an existing vehicle."


Panel design enables easy access

Toledo, OH--When Owens Brockway needed to cool a new computer, the company knew that choosing the right air-conditioning unit was critical. Owens, which makes glass and plastic containers for consumer products, chose a 1S Pro-Ozone air conditioner from Rittal Corp., Springfield, OH.

"Being able to easily change parts without much downtime was important," says Steve Cisco, an electrical engineer at the company. "And easy monitoring of the temperature was also key."

Interchangeable cover grills integrated into the unit provide the quick and easy access during maintenance that Owens desired. And an integrated microcontroller with touch-pad programming and a C or F temperature display option permits instant system analysis. Plus, the microcontroller can be integrated into a central computer system, enabling users to monitor the functions of many climate-control components at once, even from remote sites, to ensure reliable operation.

"The microcontroller technology enables us to set and view the temperature within the enclosure without having to open it up," explains Cisco. "And being able to connect the microcontroller to other systems to monitor the temperature is a big help. For example, we are now monitoring the temperature using the computer that is inside the enclosure being cooled."

Easy installation is another benefit of the Pro-Ozone units. Side-mounted models can be installed with no special hardware, using only eight mounting studs. They can be placed either on the enclosure surface, or partially or fully recessed into the enclosure.

Smaller mid-size 1S air conditioners also aim to make servicing easier. The units feature front-vented panels that snap off for easy maintenance and replacement of filters. They offer simple temperature control through a standard built-in thermostat as well.


European gasket gains foothold in U.S.

Wayne, NJ--What do six European first-tier suppliers have in common? All have practiced Form-In-Place (FIP) gasketing of automotive rear-light assemblies for two to four years. Savings range from $1 to $2 per car, with payback for the new equipment averaging 18 months.

Six years ago, the Foams, Films and Laminates Business Unit of Norton Performance Plastics Corp. developed Dynafoam(R), a single-component, rubber-modified polyester gasket material. The thermoset is applied in place and cures quickly when it reacts to ambient humidity.

Dynafoam holds its shape right out of the nozzle without slumping or running, even when applied on an incline or upside down. This proves to be a key benefit. For example, many newer vehicles feature tail lamps that wrap around the rear of the car to provide side lighting. Dynafoam's ability to maintain its shape facilitates such custom transfer-molding operations. About half of the European light suppliers combine Dynafoam with transfer molding to achieve gasket geometries not previously possible. They include such firms as Valeo in France, ITT in Germany, SIMA and Carello in Italy, and Altissimo in Spain. The gaskets can be found on Ford's Mondeo, Fiat's Punto, and Opel's Astra and Vectra models.

To create extreme cross sections and 3-axis gasket parts, engineers use a three-step process patented by Norton called gasket transfer molding. In the first step, Dynafoam is dispensed into a groove of a specially treated, wa-ter-cooled mold. The mold filled with the material is pressed onto the part being gasketed. Five seconds later, the mold is removed from the gasket, adhering to the part.

Depending on the size and shape of the gasket, total processing time ranges between 7 to 20 seconds. If full cure is desired, the gasketed part is processed in line through a humidity cabinet for 12 to 20 minutes and then packaged.

To date, more than 2 million European cars carry rear-light assemblies based on the molding-material duo. Major lighting assemblers in France and Germany that have incorporated the innovation into their assembly lines have cut gasket installation costs as much as 55%, eliminated production bottlenecks, and, in some cases, cut material use per gasket by 7:1.

Now, several U.S. rear-light applications using the process are in development.


Threaded fasteners get tough with PEEK

Santa Ana, CA--Over the years, Textron Aerospace Fasteners has offered threaded fasteners in a variety of materials. However, when it comes to thermoplastics for its line of ACP fasteners, Textron turns to PEEKTM.

One reason for the popularity of the material: its resistance to a wide range of inorganic and organic chemicals. "PEEK polymer has excellent properties and superior test data," says Clyde Simmons, technical services engineer at Textron. "Customers like the higher strength and temperature resistance of PEEK, as well as its ability to maintain mechanical properties in harsh chemical environments."

The polymer fasteners see service in aerospace, marine, medical, sporting goods, and recreational applications. In the aerospace arena, for example, they can significantly reduce the weight of fastening systems, while providing ample strength in structural and non-structural uses. "PEEK fasteners can cut weight by up to 80% when compared to current metal fastening systems," Simmons explains.

In marine applications, customers turn to PEEK because of its corrosion resistance. "In waste holding tanks, fasteners made with the polymer have excellent performance in the highly corrosive environment," Simmons notes.

Yet another reason for choosing PEEK, adds Simmons, is that it has minimal interference with electronically sensitive applications such as radar equipment, instrument housings, and brain-scanning equipment.

For these applications, Victrex USA Inc., West Chester, PA, supplies Textron with its Victrex(R) PEEK polymer.

Engineering on the home front

Engineering on the home front

Raise your hand if you've ever thought it would be great to work right out of your home.

Ah yes, plenty of us have thought so. And, thanks to flexible work rules, some engineers are working out of home offices. Many others, of course, have downsizing to thank for the move home, having been turned into contract employees working on a project basis for their former company and other companies.

The benefits of working at home are compelling. Foremost among them: no commute. Lose the commute and you gain back the travel time that used to be so unproductive. You can use that extra time for family, errands--and even work, which is only a room or two away rather than a car, bus, or train ride.

Of course, you give up the inspiration that comes from bouncing ideas off your neighbor at the next computer terminal. The camaraderie that develops in an office can help everyone refine their designs and produce better products. It's also hard to practice concurrent engineering--working closely with manufacturing to ensure that designs are buildable--when you're not there.

What brings these thoughts to mind is a conversation recently with Microcadam's John Sunderland. A bit of a philosopher as well as an experienced engineering pro and a CAD guru, he frets about the potential loss of corporate engineering memory and lack of engineering skills being built up within companies that farm out engineering or force their engineers off premises. Still, as he says, every problem holds an opportunity too.

In this case, one of the opportunities is for software developers to make their CAD and FEA products easier to use for home-bound engineers who may not have access to colleagues who can help them use the software's full potential. Microcadam, Autodesk, Ansys, and virtually every other developer is doing that. Microcadam is even incorporating voice-activated user commands.

There are also opportunities for companies such as PictureTel, which develops video-conferencing equipment. Engineers can meet via computer to collaborate on-design.

In the end, it probably doesn't matter where you work--home or office. What's important is what has always been important, the opportunity to communicate and collaborate to make good ideas even better.

Aluminum extrusions form lighter, stiffer engine cradle

Aluminum extrusions form lighter, stiffer engine cradle

Milwaukee--Automotive engineers have a rule of thumb: Strip a pound of weight from a vehicle, and you'll save a gallon of gas over its useful life. So how would automotive engineers react if they learned that they could strip substantial weight from a vehicle, stiffen it, and cut cost all at the same time?

An extruded aluminum engine cradle designed by engineers at A.O. Smith Corp. will deliver all these benefits. Incorporated in a Chrysler LH sedan on a test basis, the aluminum engine cradle weighs only 39 lbs. In contrast, a steel cradle used on the same vehicle weighs 58 lbs. What's more, the new engine cradle dramatically improves the vehicle's lateral stiffness, which translates into better handling characteristics.

The extruded aluminum cradle consists of 20 separate pieces, including one specially designed cross member. Nineteen of the pieces were made from 12 different part profiles, then assembled with tongue-and-groove connections to attain the final configuration.

Key to the design was the use of an aluminum extrusion process. A.O. Smith engineers considered several other options, including stampings and castings. Ultimately, however, several considerations caused them to settle on extrusions. Primary among them was that the fact that extrusions allowed them to vary the thicknesses of the parts, enabling engineers to place material exactly where they wanted it. "Using extrusions, it's very easy to create a structure like this one, because you can place material in the places where you need it the most," notes Peter Fritz, engineering manager of advanced structures and analysis for A.O. Smith Corp. "A steel product would have used the same gauge all the way around."

Extrusions also enabled them to cut costs. "Our tooling bill was about $75,000," Fritz explains. "With steel, we would have started at one million dollars."

A.O. Smith engineers configured the engine cradle using PTI Mechanica software from the Rasna Corp., San Jose, CA. They employed 13 different loading situations, also used previously in the design of a steel engine cradle for the same vehicle. The situations represented various loading scenarios, including crash test, wide-open throttle, and engine inertia, among others. By configuring the system in FEA software, instead of in a solid model, they were able to quickly reshape the members as "shell models."

In all, they performed more than 250 iterations before finally settling on the 19 pieces and 12 part profiles. Once they settled on the basic configuration, the engineering team members designed the parts using Pro/Engineer CAD software. Kaiser Aluminum, Sherman, TX, and London, Ontario, then extruded the 12 part profiles.

Attachments, such as suspension control arms, were joined to the structure using a friction-stir-welded connection. Stir welding, a relatively new process for automotive applications, eliminates the need to melt metal in the weld zone. Consequently, distortion is reduced and the heat-affected zone minimized.

A.O. Smith engineers say they were initially surprised by the strength of the aluminum parts. They employed a 6061-T6 aluminum with a yield strength of 43.8 ksi and an ultimate strength of 45.7 ksi. This material choice resulted in a bending capacity roughly equivalent to that of steel. In lateral stiffness, however, the aluminum engine cradle proved vastly superior to steel. Lateral stiffness measurements revealed that the aluminum cradle is about 80% stiffer than the steel version. Stiffness for the aluminum cradle is 100,000 lbs/inch, while the steel design came in at 55,000 lbs/inch.

Fritz says A.O. Smith launched the aluminum cradle project in 1994 after aluminum prices dropped dramatically, from about $0.90 per pound to $0.49 per pound, making it more competitive with steel.

By employing the aluminum engine cradle, A.O. Smith engineers say they improved the performance characteristics of the vehicle. It is stiffer and more nimble than versions with steel cradles, enabling test drivers to change lanes and perform emergency maneuvers more quickly, Fritz says. "It's obviously a safer vehicle with the aluminum cradle," Fritz contends. "The reason is that we could put material where we wanted it. So even though we were using a material with a lower modulus, the vehicle became significantly stiffer."

Additional details...Contact Peter Fritz, A.O. Smith Corporate Technology Center, 12100 West Park Place, Box 23990, Milwaukee, WI 53223, (414) 359-4270.

Other Applications

Applications for tongue-and groove extruded aluminum parts include:

  • Semi-trailer decking

  • Window and door frames

  • Light poles or flag poles

Aluminum engine cradle results
Measurement Current Steel Aluminum Measured Improvement Targeted Improvement
Lateral stiffness
Right (lb/inch)
(bow tie)
55,000 108,000 100% 33%
Lateral stiffness
Left (lb/inch)
(clevis bracket)
55,000 100,000 80% 33%
Modal first torsion (hz) 48.8 80.8 65% 0%
Modal second torsion (hz) 130.2 246.1 89% 0%
Modal sidebar vertical bending (hz) 114.5 119.1 4% 0%
Battery of five fatigue tests five cradles consumed one cradle consumed 20% 0%

Don't confuse authority, power, and politics

Don't confuse authority, power, and politics

If you work in an organization, you need a clear understanding of three closely related concepts--authority, power, and politics. Unfortunately, for many employees these concepts often confuse, frustrate, or elicit anxiety or indifference.

The traditional concept of organization is built upon the principle that someone has the "right" to command someone else, whose duty is to obey the command. This "right" is bestowed by the formal organization, and we call it authority.

It is important to note that "right to command" does not connote the "capacity to command." Most of us would be making a mistake if we were to equate right and capacity--i.e., authority and power. This is especially true in a professional environment. We must always be careful to undergird our right to command with the appropriate power, the capability to secure dominance of one's values or goals, if we want to develop and maintain highly effective organizations.

Even though it may be socially unacceptable to admit that one aspires to power or worries about power relationships, we must recognize that power and politics enter into every organizational decision.

Positive power. However, concern about power and politics does not mean that a person is committed to such Machiavellian tactics as "doing unto others before they do unto you." Power has a positive side as well. Organizations could not function without some kind of power relationships. The positive side is characterized by a concern for group goals and their achievement. Leaders enjoy the greatest overall influence when they help their followers feel powerful and accomplish greatness on their own.

The direction of communications, their frequency, and their content reveals a great deal about the power relationships within an organization. It is as simple as who talks to whom about what.

Office politics. The process by which power is exercised and sometimes acquired is called politics. In politics, contesting forces compete for favorable outcomes on decisions involving who gets what and how. Political activity is usually stronger where there are no prescribed routine answers or no stated policy. It also centers around the interpretation of existing policies and those situations involving value judgments. Any organization that attempts to totally reduce these arenas of political activity by instituting rules, regulations, and policies from the top would quickly strangle in its own red tape. Political processes form the dynamic that enables the formal organization to function. In a sense, power and politics act as the lubricant that enables the interdependent parts of the organization to operate smoothly together.

When we pretend that power and politics don't exist, we greatly reduce the ability of an organization to get things done, especially when innovation and change are involved, because they abandon procedures we have always followed.

Since power and political processes are a fact of life in all organizations, we must develop and use the appropriate skills to achieve the organization's goals.

Managers must avoid working in isolation and instead as part of the flow of social forces. They must understand that a managerial position is not self-perpetuating.


Ask the Manager

Q: Why should design engineers be concerned with Machiavelli and his philosophy?

A: "A Machiavellian is clear-minded and carefully weighs the risks and benefits of every move. [This person] won't automatically accept any rules or constraints but examines each before deciding to obey or flout them," according to Business Week (10/13/75).

Based on this quote, a Machiavellian is one who tries to take the rational approach to situations. He or she, being too clever, seldom threatens or attacks others. Instead, this person identifies and analyzes rivals and tries to exploit any weakness found in them or in the system. The Machiavellian follows the creed to "do unto others before they do unto you."

Nicolo Machiavelli was the Florentine civil servant and social scientist who wrote The Prince in 1513 (J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., London, last reprint 1952). It was a contemporary handbook prescribing how to acquire and keep power. In it he says:

Introduction of change. "And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

A person rarely forgets insults. "He who believes that new benefits will cause great personages to forget old injuries is deceived."

Lasting rewards. "Injuries (which are necessary to inflict) ought to be done all at one time...so as not to have to repeat them daily...to do otherwise one is always compelled to keep the knife in his hand...in this manner being tasted less, they offend less. Benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavor of them may last longer."

Wish list for motion control

Wish list for motion control

Santa Clara, CA--In Silicon Valley, as in most regions, many engineers cite motion control as the most crucial factor in the design of their new machines.

Responding to their customers' demands for machines that deliver higher throughput and greater precision, design engineers in this high-tech Mecca are on a constant quest for better motion control systems. That was evident from a recent focus group sponsored by Design News, which drew engineers from such companies as Applied Materials (semiconductor manufacturing equipment), Coherent (medical lasers), and Schlumberger Technologies (test equipment). Together, these engineers gave their wish list for the "ideal motion controller."

Not surprisingly, they wanted simple, easy-to-integrate, off-the-shelf systems. The engineers said they should be able to buy such controllers for under $1,000 for a 3-axis system.

Often, however, off-the-shelf systems fall short, and custom solutions are needed. That typically can take four months or more--far too long for most engineers. "We really need to have vendors provide us with custom products in a week," said Gregg Teaby, a senior design engineer with Advanced Cardiovascular Systems. For most engineers, getting suppliers to trim lead times is more of a priority than ever, particularly in the product development stage.

Among the prime features engineers desire most in controllers:

  • Superior reliability to minimize application support needs. The quality of a controller was cited as the number one concern--clearly more important than price.

  • Flexibility and ease of use. Too often, different controllers are needed for stepper and servo motors.

  • Automatic tuning, and other diagnostic and debugging features.

  • Compatibility with the voltage requirements of the machine's diverse components.

  • Modularity, to allow for changes and expansion in customer applications.

Engineers are far more concerned that the controller meet these and other performance requirements than they are with the controller's own architecture, such as integration of DSPs, ASICs, and the like. And when it comes to network protocols for motion control, the engineers were reluctant to try new bus systems--fearing a backlash from their customers.

Nor do design engineers have the time to do lengthy benchmarks of various motion control products. Most rely on two or three known vendors and demand a high level of applications support. At least among the engineers at our focus group, the field of possible vendors was wide open. Few of the engineers we interviewed had built their own motion controllers. Instead, they depend on vendors to keep them up-to-date on new motion control technology.

"Speed is what is driving everything," said engineer Stuart Davis of Applied Materials. In many instances, a motion control vendor's ability to meet the engineer's tighter development schedules outweighs the price of the controller.

As vital as the contoller is, however, the engineers pointed out that it is only one part of the performance equation. Motor performance, as well as the proper functioning of such feedback components as sensors and encoders, also play a major role in the accuracy of a motion control system.

For the future, engineers want to see more intelligence built into the controllers they buy--and more debugging capability. They expect to deal with vendors that can provide a greater range of solutions. And they plan to adopt more PC-based motion control so-lutions. Most of all, with the increased pressures they face in product design, engineers want supplier partners they can trust.

Technology Bulletin

Technology Bulletin

High-temperature superconductor transformer
goes online

The "world's first" demonstration of a high-temperature superconductor (HTS) transformer, designed and built by Asea Brown Boveri (ABB) with HTS wires developed and made by American Superconductor Corp.--took place recently in Geneva, Switzerland. The 630-kVA transformer, placed in the Geneva electric power grid, will power the headquarters of SIG, the city's electric utility, through the end of this year. The oil-free HTS transformers use environmentally friendly liquid nitrogen to cool the wires so that they are resistance-free. This translates into less winding losses and a more effective power network. In addition, the transformers will be about 30 to 50% lighter than conventional units--allowing for smaller substations with increased capacity. "When we discovered the HTS ceramics more than 10 years ago, we didn't foresee how quickly they would begin to dramatically benefit the utility industry," says Professor K. Alex Muller, the 1987 Nobel Prize winner for discovering HTS ceramics. "This demonstration illustrates the tremendous practical and environment benefits that HTS brings to the table." FAX (508) 836-4248.

Liquid-crystal fibers provide optical protection

The aircraft cockpit's heads-up display suddenly blazes white and the pilot, blinded by the laser flash, doesn't see that all the optical sensors are fried. At this point in a futuristic novel, the computer or the inexperienced passenger takes over. Back in the real world, a Pennsylvania State University engineer has developed an optical switch that would automatically prevent such an overload. "These optical fibers made from liquid crystals will allow low levels of laser light to pass through," explains Dr. I.C. Khoo, professor of electrical engineering. "But once the intensity reaches a set level, the fibers automatically absorb the light." Conventional light limiters only absorb very specific wavelengths. For instance, a pair of yellow sun glasses, made to absorb 50% of the light, will absorb half the green light at dusk and half the green light at noon. The liquid crystal fibers absorb all colors of light and react non-linearly to intensity. Khoo's cable of glass has tiny holes the shape of wires running through it. These empty channels are filled with liquid crystal mixed with carbon 60--a fullerene. The channels of liquid crystal become the optical fiber, passing low levels of light and limiting higher levels. E-mail aeml@psu.edu.


Smallest ever force measurement reported

Imagine a force barely strong enough to lift a protein molecule, and far too weak to budge a blood cell. Until now forces this small have been virtually undetectable. But scientists from Stanford University and IBM's Almaden Research Center report that they have successfully measured forces of such an infinitesimal magnitude. The measurements of the "auto-newton" forces (a newton is about one-fifth of a pound) were made using a microscopic cantilever being developed for a new instrument called a magnetic resonance force microscope (MRFM). The instrument combines the scanning tunneling microscope's ability to image individual atoms with magnetic resonance imaging's capability of telling one kind of atom from another. The MRFM holds promise of "revolutionizing the study of biological processes at the molecular level, and adding an entire new dimension to the study of electronic materials at the atomic level," says Thomas Kenny, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford. E-mail david.salisbury@stanford.edu.


Ceramic valves for advanced heat engines look promising

Heavy-equipment engines that operate around the clock in huge mine-haul trucks can be a pain in the neck if the engine valves fail in service. Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have under development ceramic valves that offer longer life and better durability. The valves, developed as part of the Ceramic Technology Project, an ORNL-led DOE Office of Transportation Technologies program, tackled three areas: material and process, design methodology, and life-prediction analyses. The researchers discovered early on the reason for the high failure rate of metallic valves. "They fail due to corrosion caused by sulfur in the fuel," says D. Ray Johnson, project manager. However, it was not advantageous for a manufacturer to buy ceramic valves, even though they are more durable. The biggest problem, other than cost, was their unreliability. Now, that problem has been overcome because the ceramic valves produced by the researchers have passed the reliability and durability test criteria of conventional valves. "Four valves are currently running in an engine in a mine-haul truck and have accumulated over 2,000 hours," reports Arvid Pasto of ORNL's High Temperature Materials Laboratory. "If they were going to fail, they would have done it in the first 1,000 hours." FAX Fred Strohl at (423) 574-0595.


U.S. lab to design powerful Chinese locomotive engine

The People's Republic of China's largest locomotive maker, Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Works (DLW), has selected the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to team with it in the design, building, and testing of a new diesel locomotive engine. "This will be a state-of-the-art design," says Nigel Gale, vice president of SwRI's Engine and Vehicle Research Div. The robust engine will be compact, lightweight, require low maintenance, and will meet anticipated international emissions standards. The first three phases of the three-year project--concept design, design analysis, and definitive design of the engine--will be carried out at SwRI over a 16-month period. Building and testing of the prototype will take place at DLW, with SwRI engineers providing technical support. One design constraint: loading on tracks and road beds in China can be no higher than 25 tons per axle, as opposed to the average 30 tons in the U.S. FAX Elizabeth Douglas at (210) 522-3547.


Technology heat treats ferrous materials faster

A new, cost-effective technology to heat treat ferrous materials promises higher quality, reduced cycle times, and more applications than other comparable methods. So claims Adaptive Coating Technologies, LLC, Waunakee, WI, of its Radiant Heat Treating (RHT) process, developed as part of a Small Business Innovation Research award. The company plans to complete its new RHT production facility next month. Patents are pending. The process will heat treat most carbon steel and steel alloys, including tool steels and martensitic stainless steels, according to John Krebsbach, Adaptive Coating Technologies' chief engineer. It can heat treat selective areas or the entire surfaces of flat, cylindrical, or complex shapes, Krebsbach adds. The hardening depth for one RHT unit can be electronically adjusted to heat treat from 0.010 to more than 0.500 inch deep without changing equipment. Most individual induction units are limited to a much narrower range. Moreover, says Krebsbach, hardening with RHT results in cost reductions because the technology requires no part specific tooling, such as an induction coil or RF electrode. FAX Krebsbach at (608) 233-1039.


Lonely Maytag repairman may become even lonelier

A few years ago, Maytag approached the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) with the idea of a new, energy-efficient (agitator-less) washer built for high efficiency. About a year later utilities in the Pacific Northwest, led by Seattle City Light and EPRI, started a project aimed at moving the residential laundry market to high-efficiency washers for the energy- and water-saving benefits. However, EPRI and the utilities had no performance data or market studies on the washers. Hence, THELMA (High-Efficiency Laundry Metering and Marketing Analysis) was born. The analysis would confirm the findings of Maytag's tests and research on the high-efficiency washers that are built on a horizontal-axis (H-axis). Unlike conventional washers, they wash clothes by tumbling them like a clothes dryer, repeatedly lifting them in and out of a pool of water. In addition to getting clothes cleaner, the tumble action extends the life of clothing, making it look newer, longer. Several new high-efficiency washers have appeared on the market from U.S. manufacturers, including Frigidaire, Gibson, Amana, and Maytag. The THELMA researchers tracked the performance of these machines in several residences. Data from 26 homes indicate that the tumble-action washers provide an average energy savings of 65% and reduce water use by almost 40%. The high-efficiency washers are also 25% more effective in soil removal, the study concludes. E-mail ltelson@epri.com.


New catalyst permits easy access to low-density polymers

Phillips Petroleum Co. has proven the use of a metallocene catalyst to make enhanced grades of polyethylene (PE) in its slurry loop reactor process. The company reports that evaluations of resins produced using the new catalyst have been successful in commercial-scale trials by several select customers. The catalyst requires minimal process changes, which is expected to keep costs down. The process will permit Phillips to produce linear low-density PE (LLDPE) films with high strength and clarity for use in many applications. Phillips researchers say the catalyst leaves a clean heat-exchange surface for continuous runs, provides uniform catalyst feed for proper mixing and reactions, reduces product of fluff particle fines, and "can equal the highest reactor output rates from conventional catalysts by maintaining low residence times and controlling fluff bulk densities." Phone (918) 661-6900.


Technology provides electrical conductivity to plastics

GE Plastics has introduced a resin based on Conductive Carbon FibrilsTM technology targeted to the automotive industry. The NORYL(R) resin meets eco-label standards, also making it suitable for eco-compliant computers and business equipment. "Conductive Carbon Fibrils is an exciting way to introduce electrical conductivity to plastic materials," says John Quinn, general manger of the NORYL resin business. "Two applications for these conductive plastics are electrostatic painting, particularly automotive parts, and static dissipation in business equipment where static buildup must be prevented." Although conductive plastics based on carbon powder and carbon fibers have been in use for quite some time, the Fibrils technology, made by Hyperion Catalysis International, Cambridge, MA, delivers equivalent levels of conductive performance with a lower level of filler loading. "Today, particularly in Europe, manufacturers are selecting materials based on the need for eco-labels," Quinn adds. "Almost every eco-label restricts or eliminates the use of halogens in plastics. E-mail pam.wickham@gep.ge.com.

Is your prototype yours?

Is your prototype yours?

Companies frequently introduce new or improved products at trade shows. In the rush to exhibit, the company may jeopardize its patent rights by failing to first file a patent application.

Almost all foreign countries require "absolute novelty" prior to the filing date of a patent application. "Absolute novelty" means that a patent application must be filed before the product is described in print or made known in any other way, in any country, prior to the filing date of a patent application. A new product may destroy "absolute novelty" creating a legal bar to obtaining patent protection. The U.S. does not require "absolute novelty," and gives you a year from the disclosure to file.

What to do. To preserve patent rights, file a patent application on the new product before display at the trade show. Corresponding applications can be filed within a year in most countries by claiming priority from the already-filed application under treaties between the U.S. and most foreign countries.

Business reasons may prevent a patent application from being prepared before the trade show. Because of last minute changes to the product, particularly if the product is a prototype, it may be difficult to file a patent application beforehand. Also, if major changes to the product are expected, it may be better to wait.

Exceptions to the rules. With some precautionary steps, foreign patent rights can be preserved for a short period without filing a patent application, and the new product may be introduced at the trade show. Some countries provide exceptions to the requirement for "absolute novelty" for trade show demonstrations. Rules differ by country to country.

  • Many countries permit a disclosure at an exhibition certified by the state so long as a patent application is submitted not more than six months after the exhibit opens. The local patent office certifies the exhibition in many countries.

  • In Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, novelty is not destroyed by the invention having been displayed at an officially recognized exhibition within the terms of the Convention on International Exhibitions. An International Bureau in France provides the Certificate. Obtain one before the trade show, or at least, contact the International Bureau to make sure that it will issue a Certificate for the particular trade show. When the patent application is filed, the applicant must declare that the invention in question was displayed at a trade show at the time of filing the application and must, within four months of the filing date, furnish adequate documentary evidence in the form of a Certificate of Exhibition.

  • In countries such as Austria, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Switzerland, and at the European Patent Office, give notice of disclosure to the local patent office after the trade show. A patent application must be filed within six months after the show opens.

An alternative to using the certification procedures is to file a provisional patent application before the new product is exhibited at the trade show. Many countries, including the U.S., permit the use of low-cost provisional applications which must be converted into a regular patent application within one year. Provisional applications may be inadequate because the lower costs are a result of the invention not being fully described.

Kenneth Berner specializes in patent applications. E-mail at kberner@ipfirm.com


Legal questions

Q: Does a patent application filed in the United States before a trade show, for example, preserve patent rights in other foreign countries?

A: Usually. By filing a patent application in the U.S., patent rights are generally preserved in foreign countries. The same is true for patent applications filed in foreign countries. For example, an application filed in Canada can be used as the basis for filing a patent application in Japan. File the application in Japan within one year from the date of filing the Canadian application. Additional patent applications must be filed in each country in which patent protection is desired. Some countries do not have treaties with the U.S., in which case an application must be directly filed in that country before disclosure occurs.

Q: Do printed publications, such as in a magazine or in sales brochures, create a bar to patentability in foreign countries?

A: Yes. Printed publications generally create a bar to patentability, if available before a patent application is filed. An exception available in just a few countries is where the publication was before a learned society, for example, a paper presented to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Also, if a disclosure contravened an agreement, such as a confidentiality agreement, there may not be a loss of patent rights.

Q: Can prototypes be tested in public without losing patent rights?

A: No. It is best not to test prototypes in public because the testing may be considered a public disclosure, not experimental, and patent rights can be inadvertently lost.

Miniature motors deliver big performance

Miniature motors deliver big performance

Mountain View, CA--A new line of miniature dc brushless motors--reportedly the world's smallest--offers engineers the opportunity for big breakthrough applications at a micro scale. The tiniest of the motors, about the size of a fly, weighs 350 mgm, and is just one-quarter the diameter of its nearest competitor. Initially developed for a new generation of small gas analyzers, they may also make possible micro-drives and pumps for minimally invasive surgery, miniature motion-control systems, and even hummingbird-sized remote-control aircraft.

Their secret is, of course, size. The baby of the motor family measures just 3 mm in diameter. A 5-mm size is available, and both 4-mm and 2-mm models are in the works. Each employs a slotless, brushless design in which the cylindrical outer housing serves as the stator. Coils attach to the inner surface of the housing, and high-flux neodymium-iron-boride magnets mount to the rotor shaft.

Power requirements are appropriately Lilliputian. The motors will run on 2 to 9 Vdc at currents from 20 to 200 mA. Users can easily use batteries as a power source by connecting them to a three-phase controller.

The motors will operate at speeds as high as 110,000 rpm. Yet, while spinning at less than 5,000 rpm, they can be re-versed simply by switching the direction of the rotating stator field. "Their inertia is so low that they change direction almost instantaneously," says Jeff Perkins, president of RMB Miniature Bearings, manufacturer of the tiny motors. The company calls the motors smoovyTM, a name that hopefully conjures up images of small, smooth, and movement.

Much of the size and smoothness arises from RMB's own miniature precision bearings. Motors are offered in three grades--High, Standard, and Economy. In the High-Grade 3-mm motor, two 1.6-mm diameter cartridge bearings support the shaft. Each cartridge contains seventeen 200-micron-diameter stainless-steel balls with a roundness tolerance of 0.0002 mm. "They are so small they float in water," says Perkins, "surface tension will support them." Standard and Economy motors respectively receive ruby and sleeve bearings--and a lower price tag to match.

The bearings determine a smoovy's operational life, as they do for any brushless dc motor. Engineers predict that High Grade motors will last for 10,000 hrs, Standard and Economy grade motors somewhat less. To date, prototypes with the stainless-steel ball bearings have run for more than 4,000 hrs at 30,000 rpm.

Engineers chose the slotless motor design because it offers several advantages in very small sizes, explains Albert Birkicht, product manager for smoovy motors at RMB Miniature Bearings' main facility in Switzerland. "The main one is that they are easier to make," he says.

And building them indeed presents most of the challenge. Working tolerances between the inner diameter of the coil and the magnet measure 0.05 mm. The coils are 26 to 50 microns in diameter. Birkicht notes that if a worker drops one during assembly it can be nearly impossible to find the ends of the wires again. RMB considers many of its tiny-assembly secrets a competitive advantage, and is loath to reveal them.

The company might be particularly well suited to creating motors this size. Its primary business is manufacturing extremely precise, miniature bearings used in watches and the like. RMB engineers essentially invented the miniature precision ball bearing in the late 1950s. But recently the future of this market came into question, and the company began to think of ways to diversify. But diversify how?

"We watched motor manufacturers struggle to make motors this size," says Perkins. "That's when we realized that maybe our core competency wasn't simply in small bearings, but rather in making small, precise things." RMB engineers decided that they could more easily learn how to make a motor than someone else could learn how to make their motors small--and smoovy was born. "An experienced motor manufacturer could possibly come up with as good an electromechanical design," says Birkicht, "but I doubt they could actually produce it."

Initially, smoovy was targeted towards a small, portable gas analyzer, a-bout the size of a ball-point pen. It would run an axial-flow pump to draw in air samples. The company, however, is still looking for a partner to supply suitable miniature sensors to turn this idea in-to a product.

Motors just represent the beginning of an expected series of tiny devices. Already, engineers have created drivetrain components for the 5-mm smoovy motor--a planetary gearhead in ratios of either 1:25 or 1:125. And in the lab are gears for the 3-mm motor's drivetrain. Too small for conventional technology, they are being manufactured using the LIGA X-ray lithography process. RMB is also designing miniature motor controllers, as well as tiny sensors that attach to the motor's end to provide closed-loop capability.

How small can the motors get? Power is a function of volume, and at some point bearing drag will prohibit the motor from doing much work. "Two millimeters diameter is probably the limit with the current technology," says Birkicht, "below that it gets much more difficult."

Additional details...Contact RMB Miniature Bearings, 29 Executive Parkway, Ringwood, NJ 07456, (201) 962-1111, FAX (201) 962-1101, email: 104764.246@compuserve.com.

Other Applications

  • Surgical instruments

  • Micro drives and actuators

  • Miniature pumps

Washington Beat

Washington Beat

President's budget proposal cuts R&D 14% by 2002

Federal funding for R&D will decline another 14% in inflation-adjusted dollars by 2002 under President Clinton's latest budget proposal. That follows a 3.3% reduction over the past three years. So finds an analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The group presented the study at its annual Colloquium on Science and Technology Policy in Washington, DC. The president's budget for fiscal 1998 sets aside $75 billion for R&D, an increase of 1.8% over the current funding level. After adjustment for inflation, however, the president's request represents a cut of 0.8%, the analysis finds. Future budget projections call for still-bigger slices. The House Science Committee, meanwhile, submitted its own budget recommendations to the House Budget Committee. Supported by a majority of both Democrats and Republicans on the committee, this plan calls for a 3% increase in the civilian science programs under its jurisdiction. Science Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., drafted the plan. The ranking Democrat on his committee, George E. Brown, Jr., comments: "I was happy to see that he went beyond the president's minuscule 1% increase for civilian science programs."


Stronger fuselages, tanks seen in patented composite material

..The U.S. government has issued a patent on a perforation-proof material that promises to strengthen many types of structures. The material is a reinforced polymer composite embedded with nitinol fibers. Nitinol is a shape-memory alloy of nickel and titanium that can stretch and rebound like a rubber band. Developed at the Center for Intelligent Material Structures and Systems at Virginia Tech, the nitinol-reinforced material has the potential to strengthen airplane wings and bodies, the shields on tanks and other vehicles, and containers for hazardous materials. The new composite protects against impacts of up to 200 ft/sec, such as bullets from handguns or collisions between birds and planes. Researchers hope to use the material in helmets and other body armor. The patent is owned by Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc., a nonprofit corporation affiliated with the Blacksburg, VA-based university.


NASA plans hypersonic vehicles that fly without rocket engines

..During the next two years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) intends to develop four experimental "air-breathing" drones that will fly up to MACH 10 or 12. Until now no vehicle has obtained speeds above Mach 5 without rocket propulsion. NASA officials say a new non-rocket propulsion system designed for this $33.4 million project could find its way into future fighter planes and missiles. The first flight in the project--called Hyper-X--is to take place off the coast of southern California in mid or late 1999. A booster rocket launched from a B-52 airplane will take each craft to its test altitude at Mach 3. Then the Hyper-X vehicle will start scooping oxygen from the atmosphere for its own engine. Unlike the space shuttle, the Hyper-X would not have to carry its own heavy load of compressed oxygen. The test planes will be about 12 feet long with wingspans of 5 feet. NASA contracted MicroCraft Inc., Tullahoma, TN, to build the four drones.


Improved pyroelectric detector could reduce false alarms

..Safety and security products containing pyroelectric detectors could benefit from acoustic refinements made by government researchers. A pyroelectric detector contains a material that produces a charge when heated. When placed between electrodes and connected to a sensing circuit, the material generates a current. Unfortunately, noise often sets off false signals from products such as infrared motion detectors, automotive pollution sensors, burglar alarms, and some military applications. Engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology found a way to embrace two or more pyroelectric domains within a single crystal. This, they say, significantly reduces the noise problem and simplifies construction of the detectors.


New products for designers include A-to-E plotter

..Xerox Engineering Systems introduced its latest printer for engineering reprographic and CAD plotting environments at the FOSE '97 technology show in Washington, DC. The Xerox 8830 can automatically switch between paper rolls of sizes from A to E. The machine, priced at about $25,500, has 400-dpi resolution and sustains speeds of up to 3 inch/sec. Also at the show, Defense Logistics Services Center, Battle Creek, MI, demonstrated its Military Engineering Data Asset Locator System. It allows customers to access more than 29 million Department of Defense technical drawings. Everex Systems Inc., Fremont, CA, unveiled its StepStation(R)Pro workstation for design engineers. It runs on an Intel Pentium 440FX chip set. Finally, Integraph Federal Systems, Reston, VA, introduced Imagineer(R) Technical 2-D design software for Windows 95 and NT.