Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Print 3D

A quick and easy way to get parts rapid prototyped directly from your CAD software.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to drive a little free advertising to my engineering and design consulting business. If it ever gets off the ground, one of my goals of expansion was to be a rapid prototyping service provider simply because it doesn't take a prophet to realize that rapid manufacturing is going to be the standard of the future. Why not get into the ground floor?

Short of the initial capital expenditure in buying the RP equipment, my other problem is finding space to house the equipment. Well, those are actually the easy issues to resolve. The difficult issue is overcoming the competition by providing better, faster, and cheaper service than everyone else, especially when the services can be easily outsourced to less expensive parts of the world. Say for example... India.

How does one do this?
1) Provide a safe and secure online mechanism to upload CAD (or STL) models.
2) Provide on online quote mechanism that gives instant quotes, or at least 24 hour turn-arounds.
3) Provide accurate finished parts within a short period of time (preferably 24 hours + shipping).

I have to admit that when meeting these 3 items, my abilities would fall short and it is yet another reason I have yet to expand into this arena. But, it certainly looks like Deelip has done so by founding Print 3D Corporation. http://www.print3dcorp.com/

Print 3D Corp has done everything correctly.
1) They provide a free plug-in to most CAD systems making uploading safe, secure, and very easy, using native CAD geometry (no STL translation on the user end**).
2) Part of the plug in provide instant quoting.
3) Part of the plug in provides signing up for an account with Print 3D making payment easy.
4) Incredibly fast turn around, with user choice of delivery options.

So the only question remains, Deelip, how good is the quality of the finished part? And, why did you choose an example of a handgun assembly for your instruction page?

The only thing lacking from Print 3D is the option for the user to choose material, finish, and color of the RP part. That may be a limitation of the plugin, or just a limitation on available RP hardware. Either way, it's room for improvement.

**Footnote, Print 3D made a wise decision having the user send native CAD files and performing the STL translation internally. A bad translation, or one where the user ignored options, could easily set the finished part too course or too fine, thus affecting delivery and end-item quality. Only experienced RP operators should translate to STL because they know what settings work best for their equipment. If an RP operator only accepts STL files, make sure - as an end user - to strictly define your finished product and work with the RP provider before hand to be certain the STL file you provide is capable of meeting your final requirement.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Holistic Engineering

Fancy buzz words aside, the more I read about the "latest" methods of engineering education, the more I am grateful to have graduated from the school I did.

So what is Holistic Engineering? Quite frankly, it's the ability to look at the big picture. In terms of engineering education, it's teaching engineering students how to look at the big picture and how to communicate it to others.

My alma mater was on a trimester system and the first two years were packed full of core competencies. Sure, there was a bit of statics and dynamics in there, but mostly it consisted of chemistry, physics, language, mathematics, and social sciences. It wasn't until my Junior year that I got to start playing with the cool stuff and realized why I paid so much in tuition. It also wasn't until my Junior year that I got into the specialized engineering classes, the interesting ones that made the first two years worth while. (Sadly, a lot of student burned out in the first two years and never got to see experience the fun.)

A decade later, a study has been published (http://www.nspe.org/PEmagazine/pe_0808_Dispelling.html) stating that my school has it all right, yet some people doubt the necessity of a strong foundation and instead prefer to make specialists out of every student.

I'm sorry, but those people are wrong. Engineering degrees should be degrees that teach students how to learn. The cutting edge technology being used in industry today can not be taught in schools. The only way for engineering students to thrive in the real world is to have the general tools necessary to learn and adapt to the specialties they will be exposed to in industry. The authors of the above listed article have the right idea. I just wish they would have included other engineering colleges and universities that teach the same philosophy.

Let's take a look at this from another direction.
http://www.nspe.org/PEmagazine/pe_0808_Got_the_Message.html

Engineers have historically had a problem with informing the public as to what exactly engineers do. The problem is not with the vast expanse that is engineering: mechanical, civil, electrical, structural, aerodynamic, bioengineer, and all the subsets and other disciplines I can't possibly mention in the space of a blog. No, the problem is with the ability of engineers to communicate. I don't want to draw a broad stereotype, but engineers typically focus on the specific details and can not find common ground in explaining how we view the world compared to how the public sees it. Personally, I strive to not use jargon and to explain things on the most basic level, even when conversing with other engineers. I strongly believe that this is the best skill taught to me and the thing that has carried me so far along my career.

Perhaps an education that focuses on general knowledge and includes more of the "soft studies" will provide engineering students with the tools necessary to not only learn and thrive in their environment, but to be able to communicate that environment to everyone else, thus promoting the profession. It seems to me the answer plaguing our most basic problems has been in front of us all along, teach undergraduate students how to communicate and learn. Specialties can be taught on the job or at the graduate level.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Fundamental Canons of Engineering

Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall:
  1. Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.
  2. Perform services only in areas of their competence.
  3. Issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.
  4. Act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees.
  5. Avoid deceptive acts.
  6. Conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of the profession.
You can view the entire Code of Ethics for Engineers from the NSPE website via this link.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wanted: Temporal Engineer

Contrary to popular belief, time is not linear.

Just like the world appears to be flat when looking out to the horizon, time appears linear because we exist on such a finite distance of the curve that it acts linear within the segment. I'm looking for a temporal engineer willing to share theories on time/space interaction.

That, or I've just been watching too much SciFi lately.

View the article posted today (Oct 1, 2008) from Fox News.
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,430943,00.html