Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Engineering For Change

Engineering for Change (E4C) -- a joint initiative founded by ASME, IEEE, and Engineers Without Borders-USA -- reached a milestone this past May when its 10,000th member registered for the social network.  The E4C network began in 2011 and at the time of this writing had 11215 active members (per E4C's home page).

By registering on the website (registration is free), engineers, scientists, and other technology-related professionals can discuss and assist with projects affecting the developing world.  With the recent approval by ASME's Board of Governors to support the 2012 operations of E4C with a $250,000 contribution -- matching IEEE's $250,000 funding for 2012 -- E4C should be around long enough to connect even more able-minded Samaritans.

Personally, I have always been interested in the miracles Doctors Without Borders and Engineers Without Borders have been able to accomplish.  But, traveling and putting boots on the ground in those developing areas have not reached the top of my capabilities.  Membership with E4C provides a link for those who want to help, but can't physically participate at this time.

If you have an altruistic nature, have great ideas that could aid people in developing areas, or want to educate yourself by expanding your understanding of the world around you, I recommend signing up for the free membership at Engineering for Change and see if there is an area where you can help.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

FE Exams Soon & How You Can Help

NCEES logo copyright by the
National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying ®

I am blessed to have an intern working for me during his senior year.  The energy and enthusiasm of a soon-to-be grad makes for a refreshing office environment.

In return, I feel my duty requires me to be a good mentor to him.  One of those duties includes informing him of the upcoming FE examination on October 27th (the 26th for PE exams) as well as providing suitable study materials.

Let's say you already took, and passed, the FE and PE exams but love test taking so much that you want to do it again.  Well, now's your chance!  NCEES is seeking volunteers to participate in a standard-setting study for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam.  Don't worry, you have time to study before taking the exam.  Volunteers who qualify will be administered the computer-based exam September 14 and 15, 2014 in Atlanta (travel and lodging reimbursed by NCEES).

If you are interested in reviewing and rating exam questions for future FE exams, contact Dave Soukup - Managing Director, Governance at

Original article from July 2012 issue of ASME ME Magazine, page 62.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Love NASA Technology? Have a Spinoff Idea?

Commercial industries hate risk and love profit.

Advanced research and development is high risk and low profit.  These are the technologies best suited for government programs - programs where failure doesn't cost the livelihood of every employee.

NASA, I'm happy to say, is one of the few remaining government organizations who still follows its charter to research the high risk technologies and then license them to commercial industries.
"A priority of NASA is to get federally funded new technologies into the commercial marketplace." --NASA Chief Technologist Mason Peck
In order to make that process easier, NASA has recently launched its Tech Transfer Portal.
"One of NASA's highest-priority goals is to streamline its technology transfer procedures, support additional government-industry collaboration, and encourage the commercialization of novel technologies flowing from our federal laboratories." --NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, small to medium business, or even large corporation that has a business plan aligned with cutting edge technologies and needs to organically grow your business through new product development, then take time to browse through NASA's available licenses, patents, and intellectual property via its Tech Transfer Portal.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Paint-on Solar Cells

No, I'm not talking about a new type of Photo-voltaic cell, nor am I talking about old horses, I'm talking about yet another additive that you can mix with regular house paint that converts light into electrical energy.

Now it has a few specific requirements, such as being applied to a conductive surface, so you can't just go out to Home Depot and toss a fresh coat of paint with this additive onto your stucco.  It also only has an efficiency of about 1%, significantly less than the 10-15% you get from your typical silicon PV arrays.  But, this additive is significantly cheaper than PV, so you may just get a return on investment depending on what type of structure you apply the paint to; it just won't be applied during your next home remodel.

This brings up a point I made April 2011 in my post about The Next Asbestos.  When the formulation for this nano-additive becomes more efficient and usable on any substrate, imagine applying it along with the heat-resistant additive mentioned in my blog post.

Read the press release from the makers of the additive at Notre Dame's Center for Nano Science and Technology.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Venerable Hair Clip

How much engineering goes into a design like this?
The purpose of this post is to rebut my video interview that Dora was so nice to post on the Siemens PLM blog.  It will either justify my position, or just show the world how crazy engineers can be.  And I'm a mechanical engineer, not electrical.  We all know their brains are wired wrong.

This image is a representation of the hair clip I was referencing in the video.  I used this as an example because of a funny story I experienced in the presence of my wife.  Engineers, be honest, raise your hands if you ever found yourself in a similar situation.  Comment if you are man enough to share.

My young daughter had left her hair ties on the kitchen counter.  Not overly familiar with female beauty accessories, I picked up one of the hair ties and actuated it, stopping short of actually trying it out myself.  (You can see in the video that I have fairly short hair. The hair ties wouldn't work anyway.  No reason to test my theory to get objective evidence as proof.  Guys, take note.  Putting hair ties in your hair when playing dress up with your daughter is OK.  Putting hair ties in your hair to prove an engineering theory is not.)  Immediately, my mind went to
  • fatigue,
  • strength of the materials,
  • Goodman diagrams,
and it blew up from there:
  • yield strength,
  • material compatibility with hair products like shampoo, conditioner, spray, gel, etc. -- you wouldn't want your hair turning green;
  • raw sheet stock,
  • progressive die design,
  • heat treat,
  • finish treatments, and on and on. 
Organic or non-organic finish?  What if the paint chips off?  Will the metal rust?  Do I need to pre-treat for painted finish?  Spot weld the tip or cold-press a rivet?  How much hand assembly or do I tool up to automate the assembly?  Where are the contact points for painting?  Do I do hand touch-up afterward?  What type of adhesive to use to glue the flower on?  Will the petals break off on first use?  What environments do kids actually get into?  Playground? Classroom?  Nap with the clips on? I think you get the picture.
Imagine the situation. I'm there, standing in the kitchen, frozen in the moment, staring at this hair clip as I flip it open and closed.  How do the forces equalize in two positions to keep it open and closed?  What does the free body diagram for the load conditions look like?   Then my wife walks in. "What are you doing?!"

She looked at me like I was some alien entity.  "It's just a hair clip," she said.  To a "normal" person that may be true, but to an engineer, this is a marvel.  There are so many small nuances that had to be considered in the design, yet to still be able to make them so inexpensively.  This is the world we live in.

To an engineer, the world is not something that is just interacted with and expected to work.  It is something designed, thought of, created, and developed.  Someone had to think of this before it even existed.  There is an existential connection to everything we contact.  Non-engineers can't see it and look at us like we're crazy.  Engineers look at them and wonder how they can't be fascinated by it.

Why should you become an engineer?
Because the world is a beautiful place.  Learn how to shape it, not just use it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Solid Edge and PLM Connection

Solid Edge University 2012 is just around the corner.  If you haven't already registered, you missed the early bird discount but there is still ample opportunity to attend the conference in Nashville.  I am unable to make it again this year, but thanks to the great folks at Siemens, I was able to attend the PLM Connection (aka PLM World) instead in fabulous Las Vegas, NV.

I have been greatly hesitant in the past to attend PLM Connection because it typically lacks depth in the Solid Edge track.  This year, PLM World didn't disappoint.  True to form, the Solid Edge sessions were held in a tiny room in the far back corner of the the Rio Conference Center.  The room held at most 60 people.  But I can't fault the planners for this detail.  I heard through the grapevine that only 40 people registered for the Solid Edge track (that number has not been verified).  There isn't any reason to provide any more facilities than necessary.  So why go to PLM Connection if you are a Solid Edge user?


  1. If you run Siemens software besides Solid Edge, you won't find topic tracks or networking opportunities elsewhere.
  2. Few people in your track?  Plenty of 1-on-1 time with the experts.
  3. Siemens still sends their best and brightest.


  1. The Solid Edge track ends on Tuesday, even though the conference itself runs until Thursday.  You pay full price to attend a conference that only runs half the time.
  2. The conference doesn't revolve around the Solid Edge release cycle.  With specific Solid Edge events timed accordingly, Siemens reps aren't willing to give up the farm so early and detract from the other event.
  3. Very few peers to exchange ideas with.
And I could continue the lists, but there is no point when I can summarize my experience with PLM Connection with a single question.  Is there a home for Solid Edge at PLM Connection?

In my opinion, the answer is no.  If you are a Solid Edge + Teamcenter user, then go to PLM Connection to follow the Teamcenter tracks.  If you want to know more about changes to the Solid Edge Embedded Client for Teamcenter, then go to the Solid Edge specific event.  I don't recommend going to a PLM conference to talk about CAD or design.  You'll only get lost in the crowd.  But I don't mean to imply that I didn't get value out of attending.  Because of the small Solid Edge crowd and therefore 1-on-1 time with the experts, I was able to get quite a few very specific questions answered and discuss issues I've been having with the software.  I will write up the details during the #SEU12 event time frame.  (Siemens has not embargoed me, but they did request I not post anything until the official announcement in June at Solid Edge University.)  But I have to wonder, with the growing popularity (demand based, nonetheless) of the Solid Edge University, how long will Siemens commit to sending their experts to two conferences?  Will Solid Edge cease to exist at PLM Connection?

twitter: #plmconx

Disclaimer: Siemens paid for my conference registration fee and two nights at the Rio All Suites hotel and casino.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cube Farmers and Cave Dwellers Rejoice

A corner office with a window, that's what we cube farmers all crave.  We care very little for the job or title that goes with it, we just want the feeling of not being trapped inside a room of padded walls.  It's the next best thing to working outside, but without the sunburn, allergies, rain, insects, and traffic noise.

So what if your ceiling was the sky?  I'm not talking about any strange cloaking device tricks that use cameras to record the sky above and display it at your desk.  I'm not talking about fireplace screen savers either (like those actually worked for romantic evenings).  No, I'm talking about an architectural feature that can be designed into high ceiling rooms.

Researchers from the Stuttgart-based Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering have developed a series of red, green, blue, and white LED panels that mimic passing clouds, giving the occupant a sense of being outdoors.  The trick to not seeing each individual LED, a diffuser located 30cm (about 1 ft) below the LEDs.

The system is still mostly in the development and test phase, but you can own a piece of sky for approximately 1,000 Euros per square meter (~US$120/sq. ft).  Now if they'd only through in some safe UV rays to help create Vitamin D.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Powerpoint 2010 Tip - Laser Pointer

I am tired of watching presenters show up without a laser pointer and then fumble around trying to emphasis something on the screen.  I am amazed at how many didn't realize that you can turn your mouse into a "laser pointer" during a presentation.

It's ugly, but it works.  You can even change the color of the "laser."
See the ugly red circle?

Click the links to see Microsoft's demo video and online help instructions for more information.