Jeff's MCAD Blogging
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »
September 17th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe
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.
September 10th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe
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.
Denver Math Fellows 2015 Summer Institute
September 3rd, 2015 by Jeff Rowe
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 Simulating Antenna Performance
August 27th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe
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
August 20th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe
With multitasking an increasing fact of life for us all, it’s no surprise that machine tools continue to evolve into increasingly multifunction machine platforms, as well.
Let’s be honest, though, multifunction machines are not exactly new. For example, machines with processes that work together providing several functions, such as milling, turning, drilling, tapping, measurement, and EDM have been around for a number of years as requirements have changed.
I’ve also seen a number of interesting things on the exhibit floors at manufacturing trade shows, such as RAPID and IMTS, that employ traditional multifunctional capabilities, but have been most intrigued by a new emerging class of hybrid 3D printers that employ both additive manufacturing (AM) and subtractive (conventional machining) methods. Some of these innovative hybrid machines follow.
Hybrid (Additive & Subtractive Manufacturing) Machine by DMG Mori
August 13th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe
Wow, it’s still summer, but what a week for cloud-based CAD apps. First, Onshape for Android, and now this development from Spatial and Machine Research.
Spatial Corp., a provider of 3D software development toolkits announced that Machine Research, a software provider that helps manufacturers increase efficiency and profitability, has leveraged Spatial’s 3D InterOp and 3D ACIS to launch the first Machine Research app for manufacturers, providing them with the ability to view, measure, collaborate, and translate virtually any CAD file type to any other file type on a secured cloud-based platform. Customers also can manage projects, utilize a visual search engine to find legacy projects of similar geometry, and customize and standardize the quotation process across their organization.
The Machine Research Multi-Purpose App
The Machine Research App provides two levels of service:
August 11th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe
Today, Onshape for Android, claimed to be the first 3D CAD system to run on Android phones and tablets, was released. The new mobile release comes just five months after the launch of Onshape Beta, a full-cloud 3D CAD system that lets design teams simultaneously work together on the same model using a web browser, phone, or tablet.
This is big news because, as far as I know, Onshape for Android is the first 3D CAD app that lets you create designs on Android platforms, whereas other CAD companies have only a viewer.
“We founded Onshape with a vision to make CAD accessible on any device, anywhere,” says Onshape founder and Chairman of the Board, Jon Hirschtick. “We’re proud to be the first in the industry to run on Android. And by ‘run,’ I mean really run. You’re not just viewing models. You’re able to sketch, extrude, fillet, shell, create 3D models, edit their shape and size, and put them into assemblies.”
Editing An Assembly On A Nexus Android Tablet
3D CAD users are no longer restricted to one primary workstation, as their data is now readily available on practically any device. In addition to Android, Onshape also runs on iPhones and iPads – and in a web browser on Mac, Windows, and Linux.
“When we first started, a lot of people were skeptical that CAD could be done on such a small device,” explains Ravi Reddy, team lead for Onshape Mobile. “We solved the precision selection problem and made sketching easy with touch-based finger offset tools. We added intuitive lock and unlock modes to help with pan, zoom, and rotate operations for sketching and assemblies.”
“We rejected the standard notion of providing a view-only version of CAD on mobile or choosing a subset of features,” he adds. “We were determined to build a full CAD product that can be used anywhere and from any device.”
Keep in mind, though, the mobile app is not intended to replace Onshape’s use on desktops and laptops – it is meant to expand a CAD user’s access to their work outside the home or office.
Onshape for Android is available now for free in the Google Play store.
August 6th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe
Today, 3D printing is relatively well established, with an ever-increasing selection of printers available, ranging from low-cost personal/desktop 3D units for home to the larger and much more capable industrial-strength printers.
The technology itself has also evolved and is now being implemented in a wide range of industries from automotive to aerospace, construction, health, food, and many others.
By now most of us are familiar with 3D, but for the past couple of years there has been increasing chatter about 4D printing. So what is 4D printing?
The Emergence of 4D Printing
He described 4D printed objects as 3D-printed objects that reshape themselves or self-assemble over time, depending on the environment they’re in. In other words, the 4th dimension is time and/or environmental conditions.
Tibbits is said to be working with GEOSyntec to design 4D printed water pipes. As the scale and reach of the technology increases, applications in the military (no surprise here) and construction industries are likely to materialize.
Shapeshifting: 3D printed materials that change shape over time.
Dr Dan Raviv, postdoctoral fellow at MIT, believes that 4D printing may be used in a wide range of applications such as home appliances, childcare products, or even clothes and footwear that optimize their form and function by reacting to changes in the environment.
New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) recently acquired a 4D-printed dress which designers were able to print using a powder-based nylon material, and made the dress out of thousands of interlocking pieces.
The pace at which 3D printing has evolved in various industries is impressive, but the technology is still too slow for mass manufacturing, and precision and repeatability must still improve for fabrication of structural components.
The power to offer customized products that are manufactured closer to their point of consumption certainly makes the technology appealing to both providers and consumers. It’s a growing market, but there’s still a lot work to be done – particularly around process speed, product size, and the variety of materials that can be used with the technology.
In the near future, 4D printing could be used in space. For example, an improved 3D printing process using materials that could self-assemble (the next topic below) was used to fabricate components on-site and on-demand for astronauts during a space mission.
Self-Assembling 3D Printing
A recent study reported in The Conversation has shown that high frequency vibrations can cause bricks to self-assemble into a larger 3D object, a finding that may one day help reduce the need for factory assembly lines.
The findings, published recently in the journal, Scientific Reports, signal a key advancement in programmable self-assembly, which was previously thought to only be possible using one-dimensional or two-dimensional objects.
The research team, led by Dr Ido Bachelet from the Institute for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, used an algorithm from the Computational Geometry Algorithm Library (CGAL) as part of a design that allowed 18 tetrahedral bricks to self-assemble into a larger 3D cylinder.
The following video shows blocks in the self-assembly process. Two sets of the object (36 bricks) were inserted in the chamber and after 2.5 hours in a constant speed of 320 rpm one set was assembled. The video doesn’t contain the whole, but portions of it.
The Basic Self-Assembly Process
“Assembly rules are encoded by topographic cues imprinted on brick faces while attraction between bricks is provided by embedded magnets,” the researchers said in their paper. “The bricks can then be mixed in a container and agitated, leading to properly assembled objects at high yields and zero errors.
“Improved designs inspired by our system could lead to successful implementation of self-assembly at the macro-scale, allowing rapid, on-demand fabrication of objects without the need for assembly lines.”
The ability for life to self-assemble is something that continues to puzzle scientists. For example, proteins, viruses, living cells and multi-cellular organisms are all examples of systems in which parts are bonded to each other through attraction to form a structure or pattern.
Hamza Bendemra, a Research Engineer at the Australian National University, who was not involved in the study, said the research of 3D printed assemblies is remarkable.
“The algorithm was inspired by the molecular assembly of the DNA,” he said. But he added that more research was needed to address challenges of time, space and safety for the model to be more efficient at forming and remaining together.
“In the study, a two-brick assembly took less than a minute to self-assemble. However, an 18-piece assembly required over two hours to perform the same feat.”
“The components are subject to high vibrations and collide over and over again until they fit in the right combination. It would be a challenge to implement such a method with materials with low strength and poor impact tolerance without causing damage.”
The next step in developing this concept for construction and manufacturing industries is to use both magnetic forces and adhesives to ensure the assembly stays in place.
Bendemra agreed, saying that “the researchers did a great job at adding topographic cues to ensure a unique combination only would lead to the pieces locking in. Their footage clearly shows that pieces that collide in a non-desired formation detach until they lock-in as planned.”
“The number of pieces involved in the assembly and the nature of the materials being used (including the magnet) in more complex assemblies could limit the use of such a method.”
This self-assembly effort is not entirely unique, as the Self-Assembly Lab is collaborating with Autodesk and Stratasys for 4D printing.
So, there you have it: 4D printing and self-assembly. There is certainly a long way to go to commercial viability, but these demonstrations point the way to some fascinating possibilities.
August 4th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe
Boeing has had a patent approved for an aircraft engine that employs laser-generated nuclear fusion as a power source, according to a recent story in Business Insider. The controversial idea is generating some attention from organizations, such as Counter Punch.
So, why the controversy?
The patent has generated fears (founded and unfounded) of what could happen if an aircraft containing radioactive fuel were to crash, spreading the fuel across the crash site. All in all, though, an understandable concern.
New Patent From Boeing Reveals That Tiny Nuclear Explosions Will Power Aircraft
The engine works by laser beams focused on a series of deuterium or tritium (radioactive isotopes of hydrogen). The result is a miniature nuclear explosion that “sprays” hydrogen and/or helium through a nozzle, thus creating massive amounts of thrust.
The explosions also create neutrons that bombard an inner wall of the combustion chamber coated with Uranium 238, creating heat that is harnessed by coolant on the other side of the inner wall that runs a turbine and a generator that powers the lasers. This bombardment of the Uranium 238 has an unfortunate side effect of transforming part of it into Uranium 239, a fissile material.
This idea is really nothing new, and is actually derived from an old idea to create a laser-generated fusion rocket for providing relatively quick flights to destinations throughout our solar system, and possibly interstellar voyages. That concept is based on an even older idea called Orion (not to be confused with the NASA spaceship being developed), that would have used the force generated by “small” nuclear bomb explosions to propel spacecraft.
Again, the concept is currently still in the patent stage, and is a long way from becoming a real design, much less a prototype.
Realistically, considering the real danger of using fissile material as fuel, it is highly doubtful that it will ever be used as an aircraft engine.
However, the idea has real merit for propelling spacecraft. These possibilities are especially interesting, given the recently renewed interest in deep space exploration.