Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

How many of you remember these words when growing up?


I guess more of us are getting accustomed to the buzzwords green and sustainable instead. Personally, I have a hard time reading all the press about green and sustainable design without hopping on my soapbox. Whatever happened to common sense?

I remember being young and wondering why in the world grandma was reusing that tinfoil to cover the leftovers. "Why not just use a clean piece?" I thought to myself. But growing up after the Great Depression, when Madonna was becoming famous by being a Material Girl, it was hard to fathom the Land of Plenty getting full on waste. But sure enough, as far back as two decades ago those with foresight were professing a better lifestyle, one in which every consumer would reduce, reuse, and recycle. So although new buzzwords are abounding, the concept has been around forever. Thus my question, what happened to common sense?

I think the problem was that common sense was thrown out with symbol for environmentalism. The symbol, the triangle of arrows pointing to reduce, reuse, recycle, implied that all three methods were equivalent. I, the consumer, have no reason to reduce or reuse because I'll just recycle it "all." Of course, the entire energy equation wasn't being looked at back then, so understanding how much more entropy was created by recycling instead of reducing wasn't considered. That's why I happen to prefer to waste hierarchy now being used and shown at top. It defines that reducing and reusing are more beneficial than recycling. It is also where we as engineers come in, and where all the talk on sustainability comes in.

You see, reusing isn't possible for a consumer if the product was not designed with reuse in mind to begin with. Take cell phones, for example. I get a new cell phone every two years. Why? Because if I don't get a new one, I don't get the new features; and the only feature I use is the phone part. But my phone service is spotty, sketchy, and terrible two years from now because my cell phone doesn't communicate well with the updates to the network. I'd love to hold on to my phone for longer, but I can't. There's only so much a software update can do.

Take another example. I have three pocket watches at home. One I bought because it looked cool, the other two were my grandfather's. All three still work, none use batteries. You think I'll be handing my grandson my cell phone someday? Probably not. What about other products? I buy a new pair of shoes each year, sometimes two pair. I remember my mother taking my dad's work boots in to get repaired - not buying new ones. Why are the shoes I own today not worth repairing but shoes made just over a decade ago were?

Now that I've asked the questions, what is the answer? Saul Griffith calls the answer "heirloom design." It's starts with the designer and engineer working out the entire life cycle of the product, and then designing it to last longer... generations longer. By doing so, the energy cost of the unit significantly decreases because the cost of product birth and death is amortized over more years. This reduces per product entropy.

And the benefits to the consumer abound: a single one-time buy of a product, a lifetime of use, energy savings, implied cost savings. I think the only person not open to this idea would be Alfred P. Sloan (who is credited with introducing planned obsolescence into American manufacturing during his days at General Motors). I'm sure corporations everywhere are fighting the trend for sustainable design because it means fewer products sold. Sprint and Apple aren't going to sell too many cell phones if each one lasts for 20 years. That will be the real challenge for engineers - to design sustainable products while bringing bottom line increases to their corporate pocketbooks.

Other cool links:
Wattzon - Saul Griffith's website to determine energy of a product.
ASME article on heirloom design.
Environmental Timeline.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Designing for Degrees of Freedom

We all think about it all the time when assembly modeling in our favorite MCAD package. We make sure to fully constrain all the degrees of freedom of the model per our design intent. If not, any change could result in unpredictable consequences and the robustness of our model compromised. Hours later, we may have our model back to the way it was prior to the change since we forgot to save it first.

But what happens when those degrees of freedom are something physical instead of virtual. We know how our model crashes, but what about our systems and machines? What happens if we over constrain our design? In the virtual world, the software either produces an error notifying us of our own ignorance, or it automatically corrects it for us and we merrily progress towards our deadlines, none the wiser.

An old concept making its way into new light is a concept called Exact Constraint being championed by James G. Skakoon of Vertex Technology, LLC.

To understand exact constraints we have to look back to our basic geometry class. There are 6 degrees of freedom in a solid body: 3 translations and 3 rotations.
We also have definitions of elements: points, lines, and planes.
  • A point is just that, a singularity within space. It has no length, area, or volume.
  • A line is defined as the distance between 2 points. It has length, but no area or volume.
  • A plane is a flat surface defined by 3 points or a line and a point (which is equivalent to 3 points since a line is defined by 2 points). Mathematically there are additional ways to define a plane, but geometrically this is the basic definition. A plane is considered infinite, but can be considered as having length and area, but no volume.
Using a cubic solid, applying...
  1. a planar constraint removes 3 degrees of freedom: 1 translation and 2 rotation.
  2. a line constraint removes 2 degrees of freedom: 1 translation and 1 rotation.
  3. a point constraint removes 1 degrees of freedom: 1 translation and 0 rotation.
If we use a planar constraint as the primary, and linear constraint as the secondary, and a point constraint as the tertiary, we fully constrain our design. Any more than that, and we over constrain the design. Overconstraining often leads to mechanism failure, obscure load paths, or other problems.

Taking a look at a shaft and pulley arrangement in the above figure*. The designer of this arrangement added a center bearing because the radial loads from the belt and pulley caused too much shaft deflection. Not knowing the design considerations, we don't know if a material change or diameter change on the shaft is possible. All we know is that the designer used 3 bearings.

As defined above, a shaft is like a line and therefore defined by 2 points. In this case, the shaft is defined by 3 points - the 3 bearing points. Inevitably, one of those bearings is not going to align and therefore cause an over constrained condition in the design and all pitfalls that come with it, including additional shaft stresses.

So how could it be designed better? If the shaft deflection truly is the forcing factor in the design, and extra bearing blocks are needed for support, then the shaft could have been sectioned and joined with a shaft coupler. This would allow for each shaft segment to be defined by only 2 points, the shafts to be joined and therefore rotating at the same velocity, and any misalignment to be compensated for by the coupling. All self-imposed stresses due to misalignment of the bearings - creating the over constrained condition - is removed and the system will be more robust.

You can find more information on Exact Constraints, including additional examples, by reading Exact Constraint: Machine Design using Kinematic Principles by James G. Skakoon or his article in ASME ME Magazine online.

*Note: The inspiriation for this post came from an article in ASME magazine written by Mr. Skakoon. One image was taken from that article because I'm too lazy to create my own.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rendering History or Industrial Archeology

Oh to have more hours in a day. The Vought F4U Corsair is my favorite airplane of all time, hands down, bar none, not even the Phenom 300 (which I use an image of as a avatar on some websites). If I had money, I'd own one of these, even if I had to dredge one up from the bottom of the Pacific and restore it (with all due respects to the pilot and family of the pilot of the downed aircraft). But I don't. As a matter of fact, I don't even have the resources (mainly workshop & storage space) to go into RC model flying and create a scale model of one of these gorgeous warbirds. So what do I do? I envy the man I learned about when reading the same article I learned about Kinetic Steam Works discussed in my prior post.

William Gould of Gould Studios uses Solidworks (and Hypershot from Bunkspeed) to recreate history.

From the article, Gould is a design consultant on medical devices, consumer products, and test fixtures. In his spare time, he uses his CAD proficiency as an industrial archeologist to recreate engineered objects from times past. He is even a member of the Society of Industrial Archaeology, which up until reading this article I never even knew existed. He does this by finding old blueprints and recreating them in 3D. Oh what I wouldn't give to find the original Vought prints for the Corsair.

Not only are the subjects of Gould's work visually stunning even to the non-engineer, so are his virtual recreations. So much so, that Gould has created an online virtual museum to warehouse his archeological finds.

I can't tell you how many times I wish I made the time to recreate history the same way Gould is. My kudos goes to him for taking this to such a great level. I also look forward to researching the SIA and perhaps joining. Maybe they can help me recreate the majestic Corsair.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Artistic History of Engineering

How many of you wanted to be engineers when you grew up? I mean real engineers, the kind that drive trains. Yeah, me too.

Meet some engineers that have taken their trade of math and science and turned it into art. Not just any art, historical art of fabulous steam power: steam trains, steam tractors, river boats, Baker fans, and more. The group of dedicated volunteers revitalizing the lost art by restoring these grand masterpieces is Kinetic Steam Works.

Termed "kinetic art" by some of the volunteers, Kinetic Steam Works restores this historical monuments into a working museum. In some cases, such as the steamship, it not only works, but is used as an "artistic excursion" down the Hudson River.

A side bonus to Kinetic Steam Works volunteer projects is mentorship. Older and younger engineers who share an interest in studying the past have a means of collaborating on it. Where else does a wide range of people come together for a common goal? (OK, I could probably name a few.)

So if you happen to be interested in steam, historical artwork of great engineering accomplishments, or just enjoy working with your hands, pop over to Kinetic Steam Works website and see if there is a way for you to get involved.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Best Picture Ever

It's Friday and I haven't posted in a while so I thought I'd so something fun. Another blog I follow posted the coolest picture ever. I had to follow up with the Best Picture Ever. Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Right Stuff

Better than Gatorade, if I saw this stuff on an infomercial first I wouldn't believe it. But, it happens to be UpFront in NASA Tech Briefs August 2009 edition.

Why am I writing about a sports drink? Well, because it is better than Tang. We often forget how many space and military technologies have been commercialized for the benefit of the John Q. Public. We worry about economic forces and why government is or is not spending enough money on research. Every now and then, it is nice to see what those research dollars go to and how the directly affect YOU. Now I'm not saying this is going to affect every single person out there. As it is I prefer water and perhaps a little fruit juice over a Gatorade to quench my thirst. This product will probably end up on the same shelf. None the less, it's nice to have options.

More importantly, read beyond what this specific product does for rehydration. Put your engineering hat on and think about all the research that went into this product. How much did we learn about the human body in order to come up with this formula? Through the research of rehydration, are we on the road to a breakthrough in another form of disease treatment? We may not see a 1:1 correlation between rehydration and a cure for cancer, but we do know that strong healthy cells prevent disease. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Commentary: What is an engineer?

Sparked by the controversy over at Machine Design regarding Burt Siegal's alleged illegal use of the term engineer, I felt it time for me to weigh in on the subject because I think I see something else that the commentors of that article appear to be missing.

The commentors, along with the author of the article, apparently have very strong emotions on what is right and what is wrong with the situation Mr. Siegal finds himself in. But what I get out of this article, and the comments that follow, defines the exact reason why this is an issue in the first place - there is no solidarity among engineers and the engineering profession.

While professional engineers and engineering professionals are bickering amongst themselves, lawmakers and lobbyists, many of which have no understanding of engineering, are defining who or what engineers are. Why are we leaving this decision up to non-engineers to decide for us?

My greatest empathy goes out to Mr. Siegal, but I don't understand all the controversy? Right or wrong, the law is the law. The law clearly states that for Mr. Siegal to call himself an engineer, he must be licensed in the state in which he practices engineering. This includes using the term "engineer" within his business name. The reason behind this is to limit confusion to the general public who have even less understanding of what engineering is.

How can Budd Engineering do engineering but not be an engineer?

See, it's confusing to the layman. That's why the law exists. But much like any law, there are precidents and grandfather clauses in order to protect those who were legally doing what they were doing before the law was written. Lawmakers are human, too. They also make mistakes. This is why I support Mr. Siegal in his cause, even though I don't believe his cause is worth pursuing as it leads to the increased confusion of the engineering profession and opens the door for others to practice engineering without a license - something that is contrary to protecting the public health, safety, and well-being.

I'm a Professional Engineer, licensed in the state of Arizona. I work in an exempt industry. I have no use for my stamp. So why go through the hassle of getting licensed? Because I know the law, and that one day I may want to go into business for myself. In order to be able to practice engineering I need to be licensed. That's it, that's all, that simple. Does the license prove that I have the special skills and knowledge to be a good engineer? No, it just means I was able to pass a test. But more than that, it means that I understand and agree to the ethical and moral high-ground of protecting the public health, safety, and well-being in everything that I do.

The root problem remains. Engineers are not unified in our position as to the definition of an engineer. Lobbyists, professional organizations, and all other political groups aside, we as engineers don't stand together for our profession. In my personal view, licensing is the only way.

Do lawyers practice without a license? No.
Do doctors practice without a license? No.
Do pilots fly without a license? No.
Do you drive a car without a license? No.
So why do you think you can engineer without one?

Not all doctors are good. Not all lawyers are good. Not all pilots are good. But, at least there is solidarity and when someone says they are a lawyer or doctor, the general public knows what that means. Educating to public, increasing the prestige of the engineering profession, and protecting the public are all things that we need to stand together on. How can we do that if we engineers can't even decide on who gets to be an engineer?

To learn more about Mr. Siegal's quest, visit http://www.iamanengineer.org/
Just read it with a grain of salt because the marketing experts managed to put a biased spin on it. I advise everyone who reads this to also take the time to educate themselves on the issue. You can start by reviewing your state's statutes on becoming a licensed engineer, for example. Something that is not a "private trade organization." FYI: The private trade organization only administers the test based on the state's approval of them doing so. It saves you taxpayer money and provides consistency across the nation. This is a good thing. The states still determine who gets to be a PE and who doesn't, not this "private trade organization."
I also like how they try to take a job survey and spin it to say that this grab for power for a trade organization is the cause of the labor shortage. There are so many complexities in this issue that a single page website can not even begin to describe. Recognize the website for what it is, and then do your own research so you can make an educated and unbiased decision. Then, and most importantly, do something about it! Don't sit idle and let someone else define the engineering profession for you.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Alibre's Ridiculous Offer

As an Alibre Design beta tester, I have many great enhancements I want to share with you that I just can't because of the NDA. Although name dropping in this article would be fun, I don't want to get readers worked up like Josh did over on Solidsmack with his SW HQ story. Instead, I will tell you something that I'm not under non-disclosure agreement.

I know I said that this blog is going to be more engineering and analysis related while CAD topics are posted on mcadcafe.com, but this news was just too exciting to not share a quick message here. I'll write up a more detailed post on mcadcafe. It was difficult not spilling this news early, but today is the first day of the sale and I can't hold my tongue any longer. I don't know exactly how long it lasts, but you can check it out by going to Alibre's home page and clicking on the announcement banner at the top of the page.

Alibre Design Standard is usually $999. That's a $900 savings.
  • If you were ever thinking about moving to 3D but couldn't afford it;
  • If you were ever thinking about taking Alibre Design for a test run, but didn't have $1000 to spend;
  • If you are contemplating staying ahead of the curve in recession by investing in the growth of your engineering department;
Now is the time to buy! No Stimulus Package can compare to this deal. It really is ridiculous.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Blogging on MCADCafe

I have been invited to blog over at mcadcafe.com. I accepted the opportunity because it is a new experience, new audience, and will hopefully provide feedback as I develop my writing skills. It may even provide some free PR in my direction.

Because of that, I have decided that I can't support content for two blogs of the same topic. Since this blog has recently shown a history of being more engineering and analysis related, as opposed to CAD related, I am going to keep the focus of this blog in the realm of engineering. Any CAD or PDM/PLM topics I may come up with will be posted on mcadcafe. The title of the blog is
Scott's MCAD Meringue. Yes! That's right, it is the fluffy sweet goodness topping your favorite MCAD deserts. Yum. (See, Josh, I can come up with clever and whitty sayings also. Take that, Smack!)

Of course, if you prefer reading about World of Warcraft, I am a blogger over at The Hunting Lodge, too. You can read all about my uber spreadsheet skillz.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

We Build, We Fight - Can Do

Memorial Day may be the time to remember our military brothers and sisters, but the 4th of July is also a time to remember those who continue to fight in order to maintain the freedoms our forefathers set in place. And, since this is an engineering related blog, there is no better group to remember on this national holiday than the Fighting Seabees.

Conveniently enough, Navy engineers have been receiving some much needed attention through a year-long exhibit at the Naval Heritage Center in Washington, D.C. running from April 2009 through March 2010.

A Little History:

Lead by the Civil Engineer Corps, the Seabees made a name for themselves during World War II while supporting the Allied war effort. There name is derived from the acronym for Construction Battalion, or CB. Thus, they were the CBs and then got a nice logo with the "Sea" in it since they were part of the Navy.

Their official motto is "Construimus, Batuimus," which translates into We Build, We Fight. Many nonofficial mottos have appeared throughout history, but the most prominant is the CAN DO attitude of the Seabees.

After the Korean War, the Seabees turned from being a purely military construction outfit to one of goodwill ambassadors to help the world in crisis. The Seabees rebuilt after earthquakes or other natural disasters. They improved roads, bridges, and even orphanages in remote parts of the world. They built things no commercial organization would do.

Today, the Seabees are active in reconstructing wartorn areas of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Trusty Bulldozer:

Many of us remember the scene with John Wayne and the bulldozer. But, the bulldozer is a trusty companion of many CBs. One of my favorite Seabee stories is when a battalion used their bulldozers to push a fleet of landing craft, that were being pounded by surf, into deeper calmer water.

The Front Lines:

And the Seabees aren't just a group of construction workers who come in to repair war torn areas. There are many missions in our history where they Seabees were right up front with the invading force. So not only do they build roads, dig causeways, and supply water, but they also pick up their guns and fight, sometimes die, alongside every other warfighter. These are truly dedicated and amazing individuals.

So on this 4th of July holiday, with all the BBQs and fireworks, take a moment to remember those who have fought and are fighting for our freedom. Also remember that it takes more than guns to win a cause, so do your part. I did mine tonight when standing up for the Star Spangled Banner before the fireworks started. My son asked me why we were standing. I made it a point, when explaining it to him, to speak loud enough for those still resting on their blankets to get up and honor the flag. Is it really that hard to do?

For more information on the Seabees, just do a Google search. You can also search Amazon for some great books about the Seabees.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

QinetiQ Ion Engine

I don't know how you feel about space, but I love it. It excites me, and seeing new technology making in-orbit first time qualifications is incredibly exciting, even if I had no part in getting it there.

The is a picture of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Gravity and steady-state Ocean Circulation Exploroer (GOCE) launched in March.

That beautiful blue artists rendition (photo courtesy of ESA's website) is the trail of ions produced by QinetiQ's T5 ion thruster. And forgive me for sounding a little biased here, but it is just my excitement for this program and the fact that QinetiQ has an association with it. I don't know who works for QinetiQ, but everything I have seen come out of that company has been extraordinary, and this is no exception.

SAE's Aerospace magazine has an article (written by Jean L. Broge) about QinetiQ's ion engines, which provoked this blog post. I don't want to plagerize the article, so please read it to get the details about the project.

To summarize: The GOCE spacecraft is a part of ESA's living planet program and is designed to measure the Earth's gravitational field. It orbits at the outer reaches of the atmosphere, about 260 to 280km and therefore does experience disturbances from atmospheric drag. QinetiQ's ion engines must counteract those disturbances in order for the gravitational sensors to function properly. Here's the part of the article that really grabbed my attention.
"This mission would not be possible without QinetiQ's electric engines," said Mary Carver, Managing Director of QinetiQ's Integrated Systems business. "Our space engineers have overcome a challenge that has been likened to compensating for the impact of an insect landing on the windscreen of a car traveling at 100 mph."
How would you like your cruise control to be able to do that?

SAE Collegiate Design Challenges

I know what you're thinking. Why am I talking about collegiate challenges when school is out? Well, it's because many of the challenges happen at the end of the school year, and the results are not that old (2009 Aero Design East Results). Also, many design teams don't take the summer off. I speak from experience when I say that it is a LOT of work to design and manufacture everything necessary for the competition. More to the point, it is expensive. Years full of Ramen Noodles dinners does not prepare you for the added expense of being able to compete.

You see, most teams like the one I was on pay for everything that goes into the airplane, formula, mini-baja, or snow mobile out of pocket. Costs can exceed $5000 plus travel expenses. And the students participating in these challenges spend some time looking for sponsors, but most of the time are busy with school work and designing or fabricating the competition vehicle. They don't have time to market themselves. But the sacrifice is worth it.

I remember my senior year working on the Aero Design Challenge, open class. I won't tell you which one in the picture is me. But, that washed out piece of cardboard at the front of the plane is the award check for getting 1st place and a new world record!
I was on campus by 8:00am each morning. If I didn't have class, I was in the computer lab that early. It was the only time I could find a terminal open to compile my Fortran code. In between classes I was in the student commons area, working on all the homework I just got. After the last class, it was down to the lab building the airplane you see above. The team was there until 1:00, 2:00, and sometimes 3:00 in the morning. Just enough time to get back to the apartment, sleep for a couple hours, shower, and do it all over again. I stayed as long as I could until I started dropping screwdrivers and utility knives on my feet. That's when I knew it was time to go. Steel-toed boots are the best!

Because the aero competition is all about lifting weight, the design you see above is a lifting tail configuration. Anyone who is in the industry knows that lifting tail designs are inherently unstable. My kudos goes out to our pilot to be able to control such a monster, but even he couldn't correct for the first hard learned lesson.

You see, that carbon composite wound boom was designed to be strong and light weight. In our haste, we forgot to consider deflection. We're on the runway for our first test flight. The pilot starts the roll-out and we can see the wing tips starting to lift. Then the tail starts to lift. And then the boom deflects to compensate. And the tail lifts more. And the boom bends more. And the tail lifts until it flips the plane over, smashing the vertical fin and cracking other parts. Flight testing over, back to the lab.

I remember comments from other teams during the competition itself. To elaborate a bit, you keep your design pretty hush-hush as well as the potential weight you think you can lift. Yeah, that's all calculated out wayyy ahead of time. We go into the competition fully aware of where our plane will start falling apart. There were two classes for the Aero Design Competition. The regular class is smaller planes, and the design is limited to wetted area of the lifting surface and so on. Smaller planes means less weight aloft. The open class had design limitations on fuel. Build as big of plane as you can, but the rules of the competition require it to take off within a certain distance, run the rectangular pattern, and land in the same area you took off in. Too big, and you'll run out of fuel on the downwind. Too small, and you won't be able to carry enough weight to bother competing.

Back to my story. Talking to a competitor in the regular class, they were impressed by an open class competitor that stated they needed about 10 lbs of cargo just to get their weight and balance right for stable flight. The regular class lifts around 10-20 lbs during competition. I didn't have the heart to tell him our plane needed 30 lbs. Yeah, just to get the plane off the ground, we needed more weight than the world record holder in the regular class. Think about this for a minute, a baby is born at 6-10 lbs. We're lifting 3 times that. We're lifting a small child into the air just to get started.

These are just two of the many fond memories I have about the experience. I urge all of you to support your alma mater's or local university's participation in the SAE Collegiate Design Challenges. Sponsor your local team. Be an industry expert or consultant. Provide donations like: tools, storage, work space, even Bologna sandwiches. It all helps and creates a wonderful experience for future engineers.

One more picture, for the road.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Supersonic Air Travel back on the Horizon

The Concorde is well known for its supersonic commercial air travel "across the pond." Air France and British Airways started supersonic service in 1976 and finally stopped service in 2003 after the fatal accident that killed all 113 people on board. If you know any more of the history of the Concorde, you know it only did water routes because the noise from the sonic boom was deemed too loud to expose anyone or anything on land. Of course, limiting flight only to open seas really diminishes the number of routes available to supersonic flight. Yet, many a weary international traveler, combined with some great engineering and business savvy, opens the door to a future business model that includes supersonic commercial air travel. I have been recently made aware of two companies that are pursuing this goal, and they are not Boeing or Airbus.

Of course, we all know that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is going to be one of the fastest commercial jets on the market, reaching Mach .85. Each new generation of airplane from those manufacturers are quieter, sleeker, more economical, and faster than their predecessors. No doubt they will one day reach a Mach limit where they will have to deal with supersonic transport. But a little closer to that projected date from companies like Aerion Corp and Supersonic Aerospace International. Both of these companies are starting their business plan small, with business jets. I mean, who other than business travelers could afford $10,000 for a Concorde flight? Might as well cater to where the demand is. But, if those planes take off (pun intended), there is no reason why larger capacity commercial jets will not be on the horizon.

And those two companies must be on the right track, because other companies are continuing to look into supersonic travel as well, just not as closely. Boeing is always looking at supersonic air travel, even if just for military applications. Gulfstream has been rumored to be conducting continuous supersonic research. NASA has a supersonic fundamental aeronautics program.

Look at how much quieter jet engines have gotten in the past decade. We may never be able to get rid of the sonic boom, but it certainly seems possible that research is driving us in a direction to reduce the amplitude of the boom. Who knows, maybe within the next decade or two we'll all be traveling at supersonic speeds.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Salary Survey

NSPE is offering a 12 month free unlimited access to members who participate in the Salary Survey.

If you are not a member, why not? But even if you aren't, taking the survey is free and you do get a free limited access complimentary report for taking it. Pricing for a 12 month, unlimited access subscription to the salary survey is as follows:

NSPE Member/Survey Participant: free
NSPE Member/Nonparticipant: $150
Nonmember/Participant: $375
Nonmember/Nonparticipant: $595

Four Free PDH Hours

NSPE is offering 4 free Professional Development Hours (PDH) in ethics training for NSPE members. And as most of us know, finding those ethics courses to meet the minimum requirements has always been the most difficult.

Go online at www.nspe.org/four4free to learn more.

Engineering's Grand Challenges

NSPE's PE Magazine had an article in its April 09 edition about the National Academy of Engineering's (NAE) Grand Challenges summit. The think tank of top experts in engineering, science, humanities, and public policy met in March to discuss the biggest engineering challenges of the 21st century. Their key findings include:
  • Americans have high expectations of technological advancement and of U.S. leadership meeting the challenges.
  • Most adults view engineering as less appealing to young people compared to law, medicine, or business.
  • Interest in engineering grows as youngsters learn about the challenges engineers are addressing.
  • To improve competitiveness, higher education standards are necessary.
(Note: Paraphrased directly from the PE Magazine article. No byline is listed for the author of the article.)

The list of 14 Grand Challenges
  1. Make solar energy economical
  2. Provide energy from fusion
  3. Develop carbon sequestration methods
  4. Manage the nitrogen cycle
  5. Provide access to clean water
  6. Restore and improve urban infrastructure
  7. Engineer better medicines
  8. Advance health informatics
  9. Secure cyberspace
  10. Prevent nuclear terror
  11. Reverse-engineer the brain
  12. Enhance virtual reality
  13. Advance personalized learning
  14. Engineer the tools of scientific discovery
It is not just a bunch of talking heads in a room, it is up to all of us to meet these challenges. We must get involved both professionally and personally to continue towards the goal of reaching the goals set by these challenges. Educate, inform, and participate at as many levels as possible. These are not some challenges that we can afford to waste time on, or pass down for the next generation to deal with. I urge all of you to get started by visiting the links I have posted above and learn about these Grand Challenges. Find out where you can help.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Housekeeping - Scripts

I use Firefox 3 with Adblock+ and NoScript. I'm in the habit when visiting new websites to automatically click on the NoScript icon and allow scripts for that domain. What I don't like is seeing a list of a dozen scripts being blocked that have different domains than the one I'm visiting. That is, after all, why I have NoScript installed.

But, usually the webpage does not view correctly until I allow more scripts on the page. I decided to check out the report on this blog to see what scripts are there and was quite surprised to see how many I actually had. For your benefit, I have traced the scripts on this blog to gadgets on the right side bar. Depending on if you want to see/use the gadget or not, you can enable is disable scripts on this page.

blogger - lets me actually write a blog to the blogspot domain.
blogspot* - the host domain of this blog.
disgus* - the application used for comments to blog posts.
twitter - for the rolling twitter updates.
sitemeter* - a traffic monitoring application so I know how many people actually visit this blog.
google - because everything is owned by google, especially since I'm using google blogspot.
gmodules - on of the gadgets that allows you to "follow" this blog, much like following me on twitter.
googlesyndication - for the google ad services, which I have blocked by adblock+ anyway so I still don't see them even with the script allowed.

I hope that clarifies all the scripts I have running on this blog. No security risks, but you can pick and choose what scripts to run and what scripts to continue blocking. The 3 scripts marked with an asterisk are the ones I recommend allowing. The other ones are optional. Actually, sitemeter is optional, too, but it would help me out if I could measure all the traffic to this blog. Please note: to be able to use the gagdets of gmodules and googlesyndication, you must also allow the google domain.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Application of Bi-Linear Material Models

Based on the comment from Burhop on my post about bi-linear material models, I'm expanding on the applications of bi-linear models. This deserves a topic on its own because I need to first clarify a few implied assumptions, mainly on how I would like to see this in "first-past solvers." I made the statement that the math is easy because I'm only switching E1 with E2 in the stiffness matrix after I reach the yield point and therefore should be able to be included in first-pass solvers. Well, it's not really that easy and here's where I need to clarify. I'll define first-pass solvers and typical thresholds of those solvers in terms of linear, nonlinear, static, and dynamic analysis.

Static vs. Dynamic
Most first-pass solvers, or those built into CAD packages, only run static solvers. Static solvers assume that the load is applied slowly and remains constant, or static. But along with that is the assumption that the deflections of the material are small. So what is a small deflection? Well, small deflection can be defined the same way that sin(theta) = theta for small angles. Basically, it is as small or large as you need it to be while still producing acceptable levels of error in the result.

Dynamic solvers not only solve simulations that require movement or changing loads over time, but they also have less error when solving problems with large deflections. I'll get back to this concept in a minute, so hold this thought.

Linear vs. Nonlinear
In my prior post I commented on linear material models. Linear models assume stresses and strains only within the elastic, or linear, range of the material (E1) and project the same elasticity of the material if the loads exceed yield. Nonlinear models define equations of state for the entire stress-strain curve. Bi-linear material models estimate the plastic range of the material with a linear curve following the slope of the line from yield to ultimate stress/strain points (E2) as shown in this repost of the stress strain curve of a typical steel material.
Where these definitions start to get confusing is that many materials that have large deflections, like rubbers, are defined with non-linear material models and linear material models are assumed to have small deflections. Therefore, FEA analysis tend to fall into two groups: 1)linear-static and 2)nonlinear-dynamic. Why would anyone want to do a non-linear static analysis?

Application of Bi-linear Material Model
That's just it, I'm doing a bi-linear material model in a static analysis. That's my typical application. It crosses the border between static load but with large deflections. If I were to assume linear materials, an increased load does not give large deflections as I'm still following E1, even above the yield point. By switching to E2, a small load causes a large deflection - as typically seen during necking of a metal material - while stress barely rises. In other words, I'm not going to get a strange stress riser in my post processor that I have to explain away. Instead, I'm going to get large deflections that will either a)crash my simulation or b)more accurately represent the system including interactions (interferences) with other components within the assembly.

What are some specific examples?
  • When I'm designing sacrificial parts. My actual design my not ever exceed yield, but if there is an overload condition due to handling or unforeseen use of the product, then I will create a simulation that overloads the assembly. I need to make sure I design in a specific - and safe - failure mode. Shear pins are cheap to replace if it saves the motor!
  • When I'm designing for deflection. Usually when designing for deflection, the parts are so overbuilt that I don't have to worry about stress failure. But as mentioned in my previous post, if I'm doing FEA it is often because the complexity of the part precludes me from being able to visualize load paths or failure modes. If I happen to yield a part, I need to know that the deflection in my simulation accurately represent deflections beyond yield with just a slight increase in load.
  • Always. Yeah, I (almost) always use a bi-linear material model. The overhead to run the stiffness matrix with a bi-linear material model (static analysis) is so low that there is hardly an increase in run-times compared to a linear static analysis. I use a bi-linear material model just for the increased fidelity of the FEA model.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bi-Linear Material Models

I don't do FEA very often. Most of my designs are fairly simple with hearty factors of safety built in. Therefore, I can get away with closed-form solutions using standard Mechanics of Materials theory, including Roark's Formulas for the more complex boundary conditions, conservative estimates to simplify the problem, and a good use of professional judgement.

But, when I need to run FEA, it is because the problem is too complex for me to make accurate judgements or conservative simplifications. Thus, I need a fairly accurate representation. Most of all, I may be at the point where I pass yield. Running an FEA simulation using the standard linear material models is not sufficient. Yet, for a first-pass analysis I also don't need a fully defined model. I need a good approximation with a fast run-time.

Enter, the bi-linear material model.
The figure above is of a typical stress-strain curve for steel.
The cyan colored line with the slope E1 is your standard Modulus of Elasticity in the elastic range as determined by the .2% offset to find the yield strength (sigma y) at the yield strain (epsilon y). The second cyan line with the slope E2 is the approximated elasticity in the plastic range of the material. It is approximated because, as you can obviously see, contains error above and below the line compared to the actual stress-strain curve. But, it is a much more accurate approximation as to the material's response to a load then continuing with the usual FEA analysis of linear materials as it would continue to follow the Modulus of Elasticity, projected as the green line.

Just like the Modulus if Elasticity (E1) is the slope of the line to the yield point
the modulus of "plasticity" (E2) is the slope of the line from the yield point to the ultimate point.
The benefit of using a bi-linear material model is
  1. You can easily define the two equations of state with the data you already have from the material properties.
  2. It solves relatively quickly because it uses the same matrix & solver as a linear static analysis, but changes the modulus value if the yield point is reached.
  3. It is more accurate than assuming a non-yielding analysis.

The biggest problem with the bi-linear material model is that it is considered a nonlinear material model. For most FEA applications, that requires me to purchase the nonlinear package. In other words, to get a reasonable approximation, I have to spend a whole lot of money for material models I'll never use. It's not like I'm defining the equations of state for rubbers or amorphous solids. I'm just approximating the stress strain curve of isotropic materials beyond yield with a linear function. How is that nonlinear?

So why don't "express" versions of FEA software - the ones that come with the CAD software - have a the ability to solve bi-linear materials models without forcing me to purchase a bloated piece of non-linear material code I won't use? Bi-Linear material models are great for first-pass analysis and ballpark figures. Given enough margin for error, they can even be used for final approvals, but they are more in-line with comparative analysis and "warm fuzzies." Why not include them with express FEA solvers?

Disparity of Technological Advance

Humans tend to fear what they do not know and to destroy what they fear. And I think many of us are aware that there are a whole lot of things we don't know.

Perhaps that is why there is such a disparity in our ability to create things that destroy rather than things that preserve. Just look at the items around you and realize how many things had to be destroyed in order to make it happen. Also look at how that item could be used to hurt, maim, or destroy if given in the wrong hands - and no I'm not turning this into a "green" post.

As engineers, our prime directive is to hold paramount the safety and well-being of the public. Yet, how easy is it for us to create things that can easily destroy when placed in the wrong hands? Worse yet, look at all the medical tools we have that are designed to radiate, cut, remove, or otherwise destroy living tissue. Yes, usually remove infected tissue, but there is always collateral damage with healthy tissue. Why is our first instinct in medicine to destroy? Of all the fields of study, I would think medicine would be the field focused on creation, sustainability, and longevity. Look back at doctor's medical kits as shortly as the civil war period and you'll see something more along the lines of a carpenter's toolbox than a med kit.

Personally, I think the best tool we have to overcome disease of the human body is the human body itself. Our immune system, if working properly, can fight off any disease. So why would a sick individual use a treatment method that destroys a part of their body? Well, I can name a few: education, availability of alternate treatments, financial ability, and other methods that we have just come to accept as being state-of-the-art medical care. Well I say poo-poo to that. I think it is time that we engineers (bio-medical specifically) challenge the perspective of our learned brethren in the medical field and come up with ways to treat disease without having to eradicate healthy tissue in the process. If our military has changed its perspective on acceptable collateral damage, it's high time the medical field does as well. Radiation, drugs, chemo, and other treatments that have side effects as bad as the disease itself really shouldn't be offered, much less advertised on television. Let's come up with better ways to create health rather than destroy disease.

I happen to have a personal experience with one such device currently on the market. Short of turning my soapbox post into a shameless plug, I will simply link you to Ed Skilling's Photon Genie.
Basically, this device enhances our body's ability to heal itself and fend off disease. It does so without destroying any healthy tissue in the process. Pretty cool stuff, really. But why aren't more people informed of this option for chronic disease treatment? Why must it always be harmful drugs or surgeries that destroy healthy tissue along with the infected tissue? If you are on maintenance meds, why not ask your doctor about alternative treatment options? Bring up the Photon Genie, and I'm sure your orthodox medical professional will give you a strange look and blow off your question. Don't be intimidated. Remember, (s)he is only "practicing" medicine and doctors are humans, too, capable of making mistakes. Read, learn, educate yourself and take control of your own health. If you can't find medical care that suits your needs, look elsewhere. It's out there, you just have to be open to it and hopefully, engineers will find new methods that will be acceptable by orthodox medicine that follow the benefit rather than hurt philosophy. (Sorry, I'm starting to sound preachy. But I really want to note that some scientist had to come up with the theory on how the Photon Genie works and an engineer had to come up with the means to apply it. This exemplifies the philosophical change in thinking we need today - build up the good rather than destroy the bad.)

The Science of Cooking

We all have our hobbies outside of design and engineering. Although I wouldn't consider cooking a hobby of mine, I do enjoy cooking and find myself pretty good at it. And even though this post is just about sharing my recipe I recently tweeted about, I wanted to put a little substance in here to keep it on topic.

One of my favorite cooking websites is http://www.cookingforengineers.com/. They do a fine job of explaining recipes for the analytical mind. I also find it educational and informative and the information I have learned from their website has made developing my own recipes easier since I have a better understanding of the complex interaction of components within a mixture. (Sorry, tried to put some jargon in here to make it sound all "engineery.") Cooking for Engineers is also the website that I got my Grilled Turkey recipe from that I use each Thanksgiving.

Now that the formal stuff is out of the way, here's my recipe for quesadillas. A little background... my wife and I were in the mood for Mexican but didn't want to go out. We hadn't gone grocery shopping yet so we had some jumbo prawns in the freezer as well as some frozen chicken breasts, but not much else. Since my wife and son like shrimp, but my daughter and I don't, it worked out well to make some shrimp and chicken quesadillas. Well, shrimp quesadillas and chicken quesadillas, not chicken & shrimp quesadillas. I was originally looking for a "saucy quesadilla" or at least some sort of fajita-style quesadilla.

I also have to warn you that I'm one of those cooks, who when in the mood to really cook, doesn't measure a thing. I go by smell and taste, adding a bit more here and there until I like what I have in the pan. So, for those of you who need to have specific measurements, I'm only guessing as to how much I really used. Don't blame me if it doesn't taste as good for you as it did for me, try adjusting the recipe a bit.

Shrimp Quesadillas
12 jumbo prawns - cleaned and shelled (thawed, of course)
4 Tblsp butter
1 Tblsp Lime Juice
3/4 tsp Garlic Salt (I like using Simply Organic)
1/2 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Chili Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 Tblsp Flour (or Corn Starch)

Large (burrito-size) tortillas
Monteray Jack cheese (shredded)
Sharp Cheddar cheese (shredded)
Green onion
Tomato (diced with seeds removed)
Sour Cream

Saute the shrimp in the butter on medium heat until done. (I prefer to saute these covered. They cook a little faster and keep the stove top clean from splattering butter. I originally sauteed the shrimp in 3 Tblsp butter, but added another tablespoon after sauteing because I didn't have a enough left in the pan and wanted to freshen it up a bit.) Remove shrimp from frying pan and keep butter in pan.
Add lime juice, garlic salt, cumin, chili powder, and paprika to butter remaining in pan. Stir until well mixed. Heat still on medium. Add flour (or corn starch) to thicken sauce.
Return shrimp to pan. Heat through, turning often to coat the shrimp.

While the shrimp is cooking, prepare your tortilla.
I used shredded cheeses because they melt easier on the tortilla. Diced blocks of cheese will also work, but you run the risk of scorching your tortilla before all the cheese is melted.
Cover one tortilla - to the edges - with: Monteray Jack, sharp cheddar, tomato and green onion.
Place battered shrimp on tortilla.
In a clean frying pan, heat the tortilla on medium until the cheese is melted or tortilla starts getting crispy. Place another tortilla on top and flip over to toast second tortilla until crispy.

Remove, cut, and garnish with sour cream, guacamole, and your favorite salsa.

Chicken Quesadillas
For the chicken quesadillas, follow the same recipe. I cut my chicken breasts into strips and cooked them with light Olive Oil instead of butter.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Wolfram Alpha

Who needs Google? Not anymore!

I'll admit I have always been interested in Wolfram's products. Mathematica is a great tool even though I use MathCAD for most of my work. Why? Because I like the format of MathCAD better, it reads easier, flows into reports better, and I'm more experienced at using it. I won't say anything specific about the deals PTC offers to make it incredibly affordable, too.

I still use Wolfram's website for numerous mathematical problems. A google search for a math problem will often bring up Wolfram's knowledge base as the first hit.

So what is Wolfram Alpha? It is something worth more hype than just a tweet, that's for sure. I may be a little hasty in saying that it is the beginning of the end of Google, for they each serve a different purpose. I also won't say it is the beginning of the end of Wikipedia either, because Wikipedia currently has a bit more description behind it. But what Wolfram Alpha is, is a combination of the two. It's knock-your-socks-off intelligent searching and data analysis. Or, as they call it, Computational Knowledge Engine.

Engine? Heck no! This is a suped up piece of hyper-drive technology capable of going warp speed. "She's givin' 'er all she's got, Captain."

Wolfram Alpha will be announced today. For now, check out the website www.wolframalpha.com and view the quick intro. Don't forget to subscribe to their blog and follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Windows Startup Locations

I hate HP Printers. I really do.

I have an Officejet all-in-one printer for my day to day printing and a Photosmart printer for my wife's scrapbooking hobby. When I first installed the Photosmart printer, the all-in-one didn't work. Apparently, there was a version conflict in HPs universal controller that didn't allow my aged all-in-one to coexist peacefully with the newer Photosmart technology. (No, not quite as old as the image of the printing press.) I will give HP credit though, hours of phone time with their clear English speaking tech support told me the only solution, after trying all the rest, was to buy a new printer. The biggest problem, I use fast-user-switching at home and the old printer didn't recognize it.

So I buy myself a shiny new all-in-one. This time, though, I make sure it is a network capable printer. Afterall, network printers deal with multiple users all the time, so it must be able to handle fast-user-switching. Besides, I have room on my switch for it. (And the Photosmart has a wired or wireless network option.) After hours of productive conversation with HP Tech Support, I got both printers to work in harmony with eachother on my home network.

By now you are asking yourself what HP Printers have to do with Windows Startup Locations? I'm glad you asked. The problem with HP Printers for home use are that they require that stupid HP Solution Center software. What happened to the good old days of printer drivers instead of printer software? Anyway, that bloated software that I don't use for anything but shoveling out print jobs causes my PC to have 5 minutes startup times. COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE. Without the HP software, I can start up in under 30 seconds.

How does one decrease the startup time but keep the software running to be able to print? That's right, registry hack. Turn off all the startup commands put into the registry by HP except for the one that I need to print. But trial and error by backing up and deleting registry keys is very time consuming and could lead to other problems if I delete the wrong one. Not to mention, searching the registry for all those startup locations is a royal PITA. Enter, autoruns.

Autoruns is my new favorite registry tool for finding and removing all those extra startups. And what's best, it's not a true 3rd party app. The link I provided is to Microsoft's Technet on the Sysinternals site. You can run Autoruns through the GUI or via command line for you network admins. My favorite part, autoruns allows you to not only delete unneeded registry entries in the startup locations, but it allows you to just "turn them off" if you want to test it out first, prior to deleting them. And of course, autoruns finds EVERY start up location and event. Talk about easy. Welcome back 30 second startups!

P.S. My next printer will definitely be a business level machine. One that doesn't require software to use, just a driver, a driver that allows for automatic duplexing. One that I can actually use on my network and not via USB even though it is network capable. One that is capable of living in harmony with other printers on a network so there is no software conflict and I'm not forced to go back to USB connection and Windows Printer Sharing to see it on my other nodes. One that works and doesn't say HP on the side.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Alibre Tries New Feedback Mechanism

Tired of sorting through pages of posts from the: enhancement request forum (http://www.alibre.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=6), wishlists, and incident reports, Alibre has developed a new means for users to vote on their favorite enhancement requests.

While not perfect, it is a good start at working towards a more robust means of finding where the user's priorities really lie and to not lose enhancement requests deep with a database. How many requests do you have in your software package dating back to 1995 that still haven't been implemented?

And with all silver linings there is a dark cloud within. No sooner was the announcement made when users started asking questions and making criticisms on how to make it better.
Here's the short list:
  • No guarantee the top voted enhancement will make it in the next release. But at least we know Alibre has put it on their list if high priorities.
  • No means to include attachment to better illustrate the request.
  • No support for localization (other languages besides English).
  • Only 10 Votes per user. Not a bad thing, but what about local VARs who speak with one voice for many users?
  • Yet one more User ID and Password you have to create when registering on this site. Where's my one-click access to Alibre's Website, Alibre Forums, and the Feedback Forum?
  • Will requests made in the forums or through incident reports still be recognized?
Now I don't want to paint a bad picture here. Overall, users are very happy with the new method of enhancement requests.
  • Users can search for existing requests and easily tack-on their request.
  • The forums are already in English and provide a wealth of knowledge, non-English speaking countries appear to have representation in the forums. (I really need to see some demographics of Alibre users to know if they are adequately represented or just have a few strong English speaking proponents talking for them. See the bullet about localization and VARs speaking with one voice above.)
  • There is a feedback method for when Development has incorporated a request, which means it should make the next release.
  • Once you register, you can stay logged in or use the "remember me" features of browsers.
  • A place to comment on existing requests.
Overall, I'm happy with the new approach. It's still too early to tell how valuable it will be. But, like anything, with more users and more feedback, I'm sure it will develop into a worthwhile resource guiding the future development of Alibre Design.

See it for yourself.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I'm Twitterpated

I have had a twitter account for a while, and as of this post I still have yet to make one tweet. To me, LinkedIn is a site with professional interaction whereas Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter are for social interaction. But the Twitter phenomena is not going anywhere considering that even LinkedIn has a place to tweet. I haven't used it, but I did notice one of my contacts use it to state that he was looking for a licensed mechanical engineer with HVAC experience. Now that has value. Telling me you are eating at a 5 & Diner and just had the best milk shake ever... not really worth my time.

But then I see that it worked for Shaq, and others as well in the engineering and CAD world. So I'm going to give it a shot. Don't expect too many tweets from me. My attendance is more of a social experiment. First matter of business, start following some people I know. Give me a shout if you are on twitter so I can follow you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

3D Human Modeling

I don't know if this is new, or just new to me. There are plenty of applications that allow a user to insert a human representation into their CAD design in order to visualize fit. But, most of those representations are just dumb models, inserted to get a picture of scale; they are not necessarily a usable functional check. Certainly, CATIA and other other high end CAD packages have had 3D Human Models for quite a while, and their manufacturing/processing applications even allow a certain degree of manipulation. The obvious one that comes to mind is the automotive industry and the use of 3D models to verify driver's view prior to fabricating prototypes.

But PTC also makes a Manikin Extension for Wildfire. This extension allows full manipulation of the human model within the CAD model to determine fit and interaction with the proposed design. I have no cost for the extension pack, but it certainly is nice to see a full-featured human modeling application within a mid-range CAD package. Hopefully we'll see more from the likes of Solid Edge and Solidworks - more than just downloading human approximate models from 3D Content Central.

PTC's website does not readily show how the manikins are defined (but I did get the image from them via a Google search). Do they follow MIL-HDBK-743? Does it only contain a 50th-percentile man and woman? What about 10% or 90%? And we can't forget about ADA compliant models. What about models with missing limbs or digits, or perhaps are wheelchair bound?

I think the next evolution in 3D Human Modeling is taking the manikin and have it interact with the CAD model in such a way as to verify Human Factors, like those published in MIL-HDKB-1908, MIL-HDBK-46855, and MIL-STD-1472. If we can have realistic looking humans in virtual worlds and video games interacting, why can't we have them for engineering designs?

Virtual Shaker

I'm not a proficient test and instrumentation engineer by any means. But, every engineer has to have some concept and understanding of what it takes to prove out a design before it reaches the market. As much as FEA, CFD, and other CAE technologies allow you to simulate the virtual world, finding vibration modes really was not sufficient to determine failure modes due to vibration. The only way was to put physical hardware on a shaker/vibration table like this Vibration and Slip table shown above. This physical test, usually following a standard or specification like MIL-STD-810, are time consuming and expensive. Hopefully, a well trained and experienced test facility (like my favorite - and shamelessly plugged - NTS) is overseeing the testing.

Due to the required shortening of development time, cost, and other associated inconveniences of physical testing, I'm always happy to hear about new virtual solutions. In a Nasa Tech Briefs article, a new Virtual Shaker test is highlighted. The article does not go into any detail on how the software works, who produces the software, what it integrates with, or anything at all. Still, I'm intriqued. You can get more information by visiting this link http://info.hotims.com/22908-123 or email info.us@lmsintl.com. The article was written by Marc Marroquin of LMS North America. But I couldn't find anything specifically related to "Virtual Shaker" on their website, which the info.hotims.com link takes you to.

Million Hours Campaign

Although Engineers Week has passed for this year, the Million Hours Campaign is continuing through December 2009. The goal of this campaign is to reach one million hours of outreach in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

Many engineers volunteer their time through a multitude of activities that inspire children and young adults to consider STEM careers. More so, engineers volunteer their time to help educate our youth. These activities often go unnoticed by the general population. To show the world how much engineers do, the National Engineers Week Foundation has put together a dedicated website for engineers to log their volunteer hours. The goal, 1 MILLION HOURS. Help do your part by registering with this website and logging your time.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Engineer's Week - 2009

Yes, it is this week. My apologies for being late in announcing it via this post, but hopefully you were reminded by the official channels prior to missing half of the events. And if you are not participating in any eweek activities, this is still a good week to remind others about the existential pleasures of engineering.

Eweek was founded by NSPE in 1951. It usually takes place in mid February and this year is being held between Feb 15 - 21. Engineering colleges and universities nation wide typically have special events and competitions during eweek. If you've though about a visit back to your alma mater, this would be an excellent week to attend.

You can learn more about events for the remainder of eweek 2009 through NSPE's website.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Future Engineers - Hydro Roller Coaster

This was spammed to me this morning. Although obviously not real, it is just too good to not share. Rather than spamming your inboxes, I'll just let you ignore this one on your own time.

Egg-drop contest? Not nearly as exciting.
Toothpick bridges? They don't measure up.
Robot wars? That was so last decade.
Extreme engineering? At it's finest!

Now if a bunch of high school aged kids could put together something like this, why can't Hollywood? Talk about a means to get kids excited and interested in engineering. Worried that your children mimic the violence and crime they see on tv and video games? Give them something like this to ponder, but be careful on your next AmTrak ride.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Peterson's Stress Concentrations - errata

The 3rd edition of Peterson's Stress Concentration Factors is on the bookshelves and it is time for an upgrade.

A team at the University of Tulsa used Finite Element Analysis to overcome some of the inaccuracies of the original 1953 analysis (repeated through the 1997 release of the 2nd edition book, resting comfortably on my bookshelf). The inaccuracies can be as high as 24%, based on the Machine Design article used as inspiration for this post.

The team used FEA to derive coefficients for a new set of Stress Concentration Factor equations that are more accurate than those of the prior release. Not only do the SCF result in a more accurate stress analysis, but the location on the fillet of the maximum stress concentration can also be calculated now as well.

For over 50 years Peterson's Stress Concentration Factors has been a must-have resource for Mechanical Engineers. Now it appears that the 3rd edition is the new must-have reference. And you can finally level out your coffee table, since there are no other uses for the 2nd edition.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Body by Fisher

I don't know what happened to the Big 3 Automotive bailout. Last I heard was that a decision had to be made, but then all news of it just fell off the planet. Did they get it, or didn't they?

I have been against the bailout from the beginning. I haven't really made my personal opinion public domain, other than a few comments on eng-tips. The reason I am against the bailout is because times change and this little correction is just what is needed to revitalize the creative spirit of the US. The US, historical, is full of risk-takers, entrepreneurs, and small businesses able to quickly react to market needs. Greed drives mergers, large corporations, and the failure to react to market demand in a timely matter.

I realize times are tough for everyone. I have friends and family in the Midwest and now is not a time to be associated anywhere near the rust belt. Layoffs are pending; plants are closing; no jobs are to found. Take Caterpillar for example. They just announced layoffs for 20,000 people, including plant shut downs. That's 1/5 of their global workforce. I have many college classmates that work for Cat. This stuff is really hitting home for me, but yet I still feel a bailout is not an option.
UPS is even planning layoffs and possible closures of hubs.

And why do I still strongly believe against bailouts? Because as the market closes its doors to the large corporations, smaller ones rise up to fill the need. Small niche companies that realize good business means serving customers to make money, not make money by serving customers. They go hand in hand, but putting the cart before the horse - defining ones corporate priorities, determines success of the business.

In Mechanical Engineering magazine's November issue (I'm a little behind in my reading), there is an article about Fisher Body Co, now known as Fisher Coachworks, LLC.

Here's a small company that started in 1908 by two brothers - Fisher Body Co. That company was later absorbed into General Motors. The technology behind Fisher bodies has since been completely lost in history in terms of being uniquely defined. But 100 years later, the grandson of one of the original brothers licenses the technology for a new lightweight stainless steel called Nitronic 30 and starts building buses with it. These buses get approximately twice the fuel economy as any current bus on the market. So out of darkness comes light by a small start-up company able to do something the large company has been unable to do. And the good news... Fisher Coachworks is looking manufacturing space in the Detroit area, returning jobs back to where they came.