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Should Feds Fund U.S. Manufacturing Innovation?

Friday, October 30th, 2015

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.


Metrology In Manufacturing: Not Just An Afterthought Anymore

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

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.”


PTC Continues to Get Real With Augmented Reality Acquisition Of Vuforia

Friday, October 16th, 2015

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.

Simulating Mechatronics Systems With LabVIEW 2015

Friday, October 9th, 2015

Simulation has received an increasing amount of attention through acquisition and integration with the CAD world. There have also been cases where simulation companies have acquired CAD technology. In any case, simulation has been a very active area in the realm of engineering and design technologies, and for good reason, simulating designs early saves money and headaches later in the design process.

National Instruments (NI) is an especially interesting simulation company that develops NI LabVIEW software as its flagship product.

I have followed NI for several years and really got interested in the company with LabVIEW 8.5 being used alongside SolidWorks. LabVIEW has followed a natural progression in the evolution of the NI product line for designing and prototyping complex systems, including robots, that are becoming increasingly pervasive in the world around us, and not just manufacturing environments anymore.

LabVIEW (short for Laboratory Virtual Instrument Engineering Workbench) is a system-design platform and development environment for a graphical programming language from National Instruments named “G” (not to be confused with G-code used in CNC machining). Originally released for the Apple Macintosh in 1986, LabVIEW is used for data acquisition, instrument control, and industrial automation on a variety of platforms. The latest version of LabVIEW is LabVIEW 2015, released in August 2015.

Simulation Added To Fusion 360

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

A day before its official release, I spoke with a couple of Autodesk Fusion 360 staffers, Daniel Graham, Fusion 360 Senior Product Manager and Bill Danon about what to expect in the newest update.

The biggest news was the inclusion of simulation capabilities in Fusion 360 – at no additional cost – at least not for now or the foreseeable future. That in itself is pretty significant. Of course, there were some other improvements and enhancements, but let’s start with simulation

Simulation in Fusion 360 lets you perform linear stress analysis that assumes linear elastic behavior and infinitesimally small displacements and strains, as well as modal analysis for study the dynamic properties of structures undergoing vibration. With Fusion 360 simulation you can define materials, add constraints, and add loads to solve for weaknesses in assemblies, within the design environment.

When in the Fusion 360 design environment, a workspace labeled “SIM” under the workspace switcher is where you choose from two types of simulation studies: Static Stress and Modal Frequencies.

Fusion 360 Simulation


Bunkspeed Becomes SOLIDWORKS Visualize For Photorealistic Rendering

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Although it isn’t exactly breaking news, Bunkspeed, a developer of advanced rendering technologies, as we know it, or rather, as we knew it, has a new overseer and brand — SOLIDWORKS Visualization.

SOLIDWORKS Visualization products (note the plural) provide a suite of standalone software tools that combine rendering capabilities with design-oriented features and workflows that “enable easy and fast creation of visual content for designers, engineers, marketing, and other content creators”. The last part of that statement always gives me a chuckle — advanced rendering products, even if they’re “easy to use” are not necessarily for the faint of heart or those who easily become impatient. Also, “easy to use” does not guarantee professional looking results. For example, remember back several years ago when Encapsulated PostScript arrived one scene. Suddenly, with the opportunity to use dozens of fonts, many “professional-looking” documents looked more like gaudy ransom notes or circus posters.

I’m not saying that with some training and practice, just about anyone could produce good looking photorealistic renderings. I’m just saying that this (like many aspects of technical software) is not always the “professional results out of the box solution” that too many marketing hype types like to push.

SOLIDWORKS 2016 Visualize

Since it’s GPU based for ray tracing, you might want to invest in a good graphics card to take advantage of all SOLIDWORKS Visualization packages can do.

As said earlier, and since everybody likes options, SOLIDWORKS Visualize is available as the following two packages:

Innovation On The Hydrogen Generation Front

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

With the relatively cheap price of oil from production to pump, alternative energies, especially R&D seem to have taken a back seat. Battery technologies are progressing (slowly), wind and solar seem stagnant, as do most other innovative technologies, including fusion (well, enough said there). An alternative energy source that has always intrigued me, though, is hydrogen – the base element.

Obviously, it has challenges for safe storage and use, but producing it economically and profitably have also been challenges.

In college I was very interested in converting water to its base elements – hydrogen and oxygen – using a process called electrolysis. It works as the decomposition of water (H2O) into oxygen (O2) and hydrogen gas (H2) as an electric current is passed through the water. This technique can be used to make hydrogen fuel (hydrogen gas) and breathable oxygen; however, today most raw hydrogen fuel is made from natural gas. Not exactly a sustainable alternative source or method.

Even with this drawback, hydrogen is considered an important source of “clean” energy, and the cleanest way to produce hydrogen gas is to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. But, scientists have struggled to develop cost-effective water-splitting techniques.

Recently, though, researchers at North Carolina State University have created a technique using a new catalyst for converting methane and water into hydrogen and a fuel feedstock, called syngas, with the assistance of solar power. The team of chemical engineering researchers used a catalytic material that is more than three times more efficient at converting water to hydrogen gas than previous thermal-water-splitting methods.

“We’re excited about the new material and process because it converts water, inexpensive natural gas and clean, renewable solar energy into valuable syngas and hydrogen fuels,” said Feng He, a PhD student in the lab of Professor Fanxing Li at NC State.

How Can Water Be Turned Into Fuel?

Syngas is a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and it’s used as a feedstock for commercial processes that produce synthetic diesel fuels, olefins, and methanol.


Mr. Rowe Goes To Middle School

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

I’ll say right at the outset: “It ain’t for the money.”

What do I mean by that? Read on . . .

For several years I have been interested not only in education in general, but how I might get actively involved, especially at the high school level in math and/or science. No, I have never been a teacher in a formal sense, and no, I don’t have a teaching  credential either. Even though I had the will and desire to become a teacher, unless I had a teaching license issued by the state of Colorado, my options were limited.

Sure, I could have been a volunteer or a private tutor, but for me these options were limited in scope, responsibility, and personal satisfaction. I thought earlier this year that I was at a dead end until I remembered an ad I had seen and saved a couple of years ago about a program called Denver Math Fellows. This program is the first large-scale tutorial program integrated into the school day to be implemented district-wide in Colorado schools.

The concept and possibility of becoming a Denver Math Fellow (DMF) really piqued my interest because one of the primary qualifications was a college degree in virtually any field (mine’s in industrial design). This was good for me because I had never been a teacher before. Other qualifications include the desire to help students close the opportunity gap in math, as well as committing to at least a one-year term of service — in my case August 2015-June 2016.

Below is a slideshow/video of some the orientation and training I did before becoming a Denver Math Fellow — just click anywhere in the photo.

 DMF Summer Institute2

Denver Math Fellows 2015 Summer Institute


ANSYS Gets On The IoT Train By Acquiring Delcross Technologies

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

ANSYS, a major provider of engineering simulation (CAE) software, announced that it has acquired substantially all the assets of Delcross Technologies, a developer of computational electromagnetic simulation and radio frequency system analysis software.

The acquisition is intended to let ANSYS users to understand how antennas interact within their operating environments and how this behavior affects the system’s overall ability to transmit and receive data without interference. As usual, and not surprisingly, terms of the deal, which closed earlier this week, were not disclosed.

So, what does this really signify? Simulating not just large-scale antenna systems, such as those found in giant aerospace projects (which will surely go on after the acquisition), but on a much, much smaller scale for Internet of Things (IoT) projects.

Although it’s almost a year old, below is a video presentation (click on the image) from Delcross Technologies for modeling installed performance of antennas on electrically large platforms, such as aircraft and automobiles.

Delcross Technologies


Delcross Technologies Simulating Antenna Performance


3D Printing Comes To Big Box Stores

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

It’s obviously no secret that 3D printing continues its march on dominating the world of 3D physical realization. In the past year I’ve personally seen 3D printers at Office Depot, UPS, FedEx, and Staples where you can bring in an STL file on a USB drive and, theoretically, come back in a few minutes or hours with a 3D product of your creation.

From what I’ve seen, I haven’t exactly been overly impressed with the results. Between under-trained store staffs, limited choices of processes and materials, and just plain bad designs, the end product and process still leave a lot to be desired. In other words, it’s a hit or miss proposition, and probably more of the latter.

Honestly, if you’re serious about the result, take your design to a 3D printing service bureau with more process and material options, not to mention a professional, experienced staff who understands those important issues, but good design practices, as well.

Sam’s Club Brings 3D Printing to Moline, Illinois


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