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.