My late father-in-law (and his father) were master machinists who made excellent tools and decent livings over the course of their careers. I chose not to follow in their footsteps, but rather, to go to college instead. However, I have always considered tool making and manufacturing to be noble professions and ones that have contributed immensely to the quality of our lives.
With all the news we continue to hear today about product design, engineering, and manufacturing increasingly being outsourced in every direction away from North America, surprisingly little coverage seems to be given to one of the foundational pillars of product manufacturing, namely, tooling and tool making.
Although most of our readers are manufacturing-savvy, let’s first define what we mean by “tooling,” because it’s often a misunderstood term by those outside manufacturing. Simply put, tooling entails the tools, machines, or other devices required to manufacture products – everything from car fenders to detergent bottles. The two most prominent groups of toolmakers are die makers whose tools stamp out metal parts, and mold makers whose tools mold plastic parts.
Breaking Tool Making – Is Tool Making Your Passion?
The transportation sector (primarily automotive) still dominates the tooling industry. Because the automotive sector is outsourced much of its manufacturing overseas, it has become very clear why tool and die makers, especially the family-owned small ones with five to 100 employees have suffered the most. It’s estimated that approximately 60% of stamping dies and 40% of plastic molds are used directly or indirectly by automakers worldwide, so it’s no wonder that the smaller tool shops are bearing the brunt of offshore outsourcing. This offshore outsourcing has cost a huge number of tooling jobs in North America, according to estimates from several sources.
Almost 50 years ago, The Graduate, a 1967 film about Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman), a recent college graduate who is talented, but aimless, premiered. It’s a good movie even today, but one of the better scenes is one when Ben is asked and advised about his future plans. Remember this one?
Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Benjamin: Yes, sir. Mr. McGuire: Are you listening? Benjamin: Yes, I am. Mr. McGuire: Plastics. Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean? Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
Today, I see a potential parallel to a material beyond plastics – graphene. (more…)
This week Nano Dimension Technologies announced that it had filed a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a proprietary copper ink that is used for printing electronic conductors.
The copper nanoparticle-based ink provides improved oxidation resistance with the ability to print copper with industrial 3D digital printers.
Copper, of course, is an electrically conductive metal, and its low price gives it a significant advantage when compared to silver (although copper is more electrically resistive than silver). However, copper nanoparticles rapidly oxidize upon contact with air that impairs electrical conductivity.
The patent application that the company has filed is an approach for overcoming the problem of copper nanoparticle oxidation. Overcoming this challenge introduces an effective and less costly method for industrial additive manufacturing of printed electronics by 3D printing.
Amit Dror, CEO of Nano Dimension, said, “Our conversations with companies across different industrial sectors indicate a strong demand for our 3D printed electronics technology. The demand is not limited to prototyping, but also includes industrial scale manufacturing applications.
The current global PCB market is estimated to be larger than $70 billion and is expected to reach about $100 billion in coming years. A high-performance copper nanoparticle ink presents an opportunity to significantly impact this huge market.” (more…)
In its latest legal challenge and triumph, Autodesk as plaintiff and WCAD Software Co., Ltd., ZWCAD Design Co., Ltd., HK ZWCAD Software Ltd., and GLOBAL FORCE DIRECT, LLC. (doing business as ZWCADUSA) (collectively, ZWSoft) have agreed to settle lawsuits pending in the Hague and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
In these lawsuits, Autodesk alleged that the AutoCAD source code had been misappropriated and improperly used when developing ZWCAD+. Autodesk had filed suit before the Hague in the Netherlands in February 2014 and in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in March 2014.
Although it initially denied the allegations, ZWSoft’s subsequent internal investigation revealed that an employee had, in fact, improperly used AutoCAD intellectual property when developing ZWCAD+ (another AutoCAD wanna be) and concealed it from ZWSoft’s management team. This sounds something akin to the VW emissions fiasco, and you have to wonder; how could this happen without the knowledge of management?
After the “discovery,” ZWSoft and Autodesk worked to assess and remedy the inappropriate use of Autodesk’s intellectual property. Upon learning these facts and admitting fault, ZWSoft stopped selling ZWCAD+. Customers who purchased ZWCAD+ are eligible for a free replacement version of ZWCAD Classic.
Check out the video below that demonstrates some of the features of ZWCAD+ 2015. Does it look or feel much like AutoCAD? You be the judge.
For as long as I can remember, CAD/CAM/CAE data (I’ll just refer to it as engineering data) has been saddled with a perpetual problematic issue – interoperability. That is, the ability (or inability) of a completely understood load of code to work with other current or future products or systems without any restricted access or utility.
The term, interoperability, was originally defined for information technology or systems engineering services to allow for information exchange. A broader definition takes into account organizational factors that impact system-to-system performance. In other words, the tough task of building coherent services for users when the individual components are technically different and managed by different organizations.
When I ask people in the MCAD community to name four or five mechanical CAD products, I get the same answers about 90% of the time. Just based on conversation, I’ve come to regard these four to five products loosely as “first tier,” based solely on mention, not capabilities. This is more of a marketing thing than a functional thing.
When I ask the same people to name another four or five products, the answers vary all over the place. I’ll call this “second tier, “ or mid range, again based on frequency of mention, not capabilities. That’s unfortunate, because a number of products in this tier (or range) have a number of interesting and often unique features and capabilities that can often provide a better user experience. Although I could name several in the so-called second (or mid-range) tier, a product I’ve followed for a long time is IronCAD.
As a first-year Denver Math Fellow (I assist math teachers and tutor in small groups), last week I was give a reprieve from my daily grind of lesson plans and teaching by participating in what my school calls Explore Week. This is a week where I was partnered with a teacher, chose a topic to explore with students, made a video promoting our explore class, and had students sign up to join us.
The topic my teaching partner and I decided on was “Creating Furniture Using Non-Traditional Methods and Materials.” Our course included designing and creating furniture models from cardboard, as well as 3D printing simple models. It was a lot of fun, and as I said, a nice change of pace, not to mention I really felt I was in my comfort zone.
Explore Week was made possible by the efforts of several companies, including:
Late last year I started following a federal-level initiative that’s been around a while on establishing manufacturing hubs (known as institutes) around the country specializing in specific areas of expertise.
Some of these hubs include:
Chicago, IL – digital manufacturing and design innovation
Detroit, MI – lightweight materials
Raleigh, NC – semiconductor technology
Youngstown, OH – additive manufacturing
Knoxville, TN – advanced composite materials
San Jose, CA – flexible hybrid electronics
Together, this is known as the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). This network may expand to as many as 16 institutes (there are currently seven to nine, depending on who you talk to) by the end of 2016. The vision is for an eventual total of 45 institutes, although no target date has been set for that goal, but a decade sounds about right.
A few months ago I went to an event that was new to me, Hexagon Metrology’s big U.S. event, HxGN. The conference was specifically targeted for metrology (science of measurement) with regard to sensing, inspection, QA, and reverse engineering applications – in other words what, Hexagon Metrology is all about.
However, metrology was not the only area represented, as the company known as Hexagon AB also has a huge presence with its hardware, software, and services in other industry segments, such as geospatial (GPS and surveying); process, power, and marine (PP&M); and security, government, and infrastructure (SG&I). It was a lot to take in and I focused on industrial metrology and related technologies – sensors and software used for optimizing manufacturing processes and throughput. I was especially interested in optimizing manufacturing processes with metrology because I have felt that this is a gap that genuinely needs to be filled.
The core of Hexagon Metrology’s business is sensing – the acquisition of information about an object with (touch probe, CMM) or without (laser, visible light) making physical contact for purposes of precise measurement for a variety of purposes. For example, measuring quality is becoming more prevalent earlier in the manufacturing process, and not just measuring a product as it comes off a production line. Earlier measurement and inspection to ensure ultimate quality are analogous to what simulation used to be – often an afterthought. Today, however, an increasing number of manufacturers are realizing the value that both simulation and measurement can provide if applied earlier in the design and manufacturing processes.
One of Hexagon’s customers who spoke during the conference said that earlier measurement has made it reorder its priorities in making its products “better before cheaper.”
As part of its ongoing acquisition quest, earlier this week PTC announced that it had signed an agreement to acquire the Vuforia business from Qualcomm Connected Experiences for $65 million. Vuforia is a widely adopted augmented reality (AR) technology platform, that PTC is betting will enrich its technology portfolio and further foster its strategy to provide technologies that blend the digital and physical worlds. In other words, the next phase of the Internet of Things (IoT).
Under terms of the agreement, PTC will acquire the Vuforia business, including its developers ecosystem. PTC is committed to continued investment in the Vuforia platform and to the ongoing support and growth of the Vuforia ecosystem, but why wouldn’t it? The deal is expected to close later in 2015.
It was first reported last month that Qualcomm was soliciting bids for Vuforia as part of its effort to cut costs and focus on its key mobile business. The surprise was that PTC was the ultimate suitor for the company and its technology.
Vuforia is a mobile vision platform that enables apps to “see” and connect the physical world with digital experiences that demand attention and drive engagement. Vuforia is supported by a global ecosystem of developers, and has powered more than 20,000 apps with more than 200 million app downloads and installs worldwide.
Vuforia’s technology lets people use their smartphone or tablet to bring advertisements, toys, and other real-world objects to life. The effort has attracted a notable base of developers, but let’s face it, augmented reality remains more of a novelty than a big business. Obviously, PTC is out to change that. (more…)