Jeff's MCAD Blogging

Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has over 35 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design and engineering. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CG, CAD, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design community. As editor of ShareCG, … More »

Want a Challenge? How About a Basic Physics Test?

 
January 13th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

How long has it been since you really thought about your engineering roots? By that I mean basic math and physics.

Recently, I thought about it a lot. This past fall I enrolled in a computational physics class in Optics. It was a real eye-opener, especially the math part – calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, etc. Although I enjoyed the challenge of the physics, I struggled for several weeks with the math – trying to recall principles after (quite) a few years removed from the classroom. I caught on, though, and eventually caught up with the rest of the class.

While maybe not totally applicable to hard physics, the following video illustrates some basic physics principles with regard to shatter and fracture:

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3D Printing Grows Beyond “Gimmick” Stage and Takes Center Stage at CES 2015

 
January 8th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

As impressive as it is, last month we gave 3D printing a bit of a dressing down based on personal experience. The blog post was a reality check and a look at the technology not through rose-colored glasses. That’s not to say, though, that 3D printing is still one of the biggest innovations on the manufacturing front, if not the biggest, in recent memory.

Even with the major advances that have transpired in 3D printing, there are still a number of skeptics who view the technology as little more than a promotional stunt or gimmick.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2015 took place this week. It’s an annual tech festival that began in 1967 that today attracts more than 160,000 attendees checking out about 3,500 exhibitors. Over the years, some of the more significant technologies first released at CES have included:

1970 – VCR

1981 – CD player

1985 – Nintendo Entertainment System

1998 – High-definition TV

2000 – Satellite radio

2003 – Blu-Ray DVDs

2015 – 3D Printing(?)

We didn’t attend CES this year, but we have been monitoring the activities in a pavilion dedicated to innovative technologies, including 3D printing.

3D Printing Highlights at CES 2015
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Happy Holidays From MCADCafe!

 
December 23rd, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

We’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of you a happy holiday season and a prosperous new year. We’d also like to thank all of our readers and supporters for continuing to make MCADCafe a vital part of the design, engineering, and manufacturing community.

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re unveiling what we’ll be covering in 2015. The calendar below reflects what we think are some of the most important topics for the MCAD community, based on our perceptions, as well as feedback from our readers and other supporters.

The main theme for each month will be covered in an extended article or series of articles so that the topic can be covered in a more comprehensive way. We’ll also be covering some of the major MCAD and related events throughout the year, reporting what we see and hear from vendors, partners, and attendees.

If you have any thoughts on topics you would like to see covered in 2015, feel free to contact me at jeff@ibsystems.com or 719.221.1867. We encourage and welcome all input and feedback.

We look forward to an exciting 2015 and providing you with the MCAD content you want for improving your design, engineering, and manufacturing processes.

Keep MCADCafe.com your source for all things MCAD. It’s going to be a great year!

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Technology of the Year: The Internet of Things

 
December 18th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

This year we’ve attended several technical meetings and conferences in the design, engineering, and manufacturing realms and have heard one concept/phrase repeated much more than anything else – Internet of Things (IoT). That said, we consider IoT to be the most significant technology of the year for 2014.

Simply, IoT is a newer implementation and outgrowth of an older technology known as Machine-to-Machine (M2M).

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure. The term Internet of Things was proposed by Kevin Ashton in 1999, although the concept had been discussed since 1991.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) was seen as a prerequisite for the Internet of Things in the early days. The initial thought was, if all objects and people in daily life were equipped with identifiers, they could be managed and inventoried by computers.

Today, the term IoT is used to denote advanced connectivity of devices, systems, and services that goes beyond machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and covers a variety of protocols, domains, and applications. Both of the technologies are expected to enable billions of new devices in the near future (I’ve seen forecasts of 20-100 billion connected devices by 2018 or 2020).

The Internet of Things: Dr. John Barrett at TEDxCIT

In most M2M and IoT scenarios, the device being monitored and/or controlled contains an integrated sensor and wireless transceiver connected through a cellular, WiFi, or other wireless link to the Internet. Keep in mind that all devices are assigned an Internet Protocol (IP) address for unique identification and role purposes. The Internet connection communicates with a remote server that contains the application software. The monitoring device then makes an Internet connection to the same server to complete the service request loop.

Data from the communication is then captured, displayed, stored, and control commands are issued as a result of it.

The Internet of Things Explained

In mechanical design and engineering, while many of the hardware and software vendors have expressed interest in IoT, PTC has really embraced it and positioned it as a major part of their overall strategy going forward.
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The Dark Side of 3D Printing

 
December 11th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

Like a large portion of the product design and manufacturing world, I have a lot of enthusiasm for the potential of 3D printing. I have also experienced the reality of 3D printing – most of it positive, but not all by any means. In other words, 3D printing has come a long way, but it’s still got a long way to go on three fronts: hardware, software, and materials.

When I learned about and made a move to experimenting with 3D printing and other additive technologies a few years ago, I thought by now I would have had no use for subtractive technologies, such as milling and drilling. However, experience (and some hard knocks) have taught me that additive technologies cannot be used exclusively as my only tools. They are actually complementary in what I’ve come to realize is a hybrid approach that employs both additive and subtractive technologies.

Like many others who have been relatively early adopters of 3D printing, problems have been encountered – some of which can be resolved, while others continue to frustrate. Although the video below discusses problems with a specific 3D printer, they are somewhat typical for so-called “low-end” 3D printers using PLA or ABS materials (these are the only materials I currently use).

3D Printing Problems

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Autodesk University 2014 –Business Wagers Paying Off

 
December 4th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

Along with about 10,000 other attendees, we were at Autodesk’s annual user forum spectacle in the desert – Autodesk University 2014 – now in its 22nd year. Amidst a couple of surprisingly foggy morning in Las Vegas this week we saw, heard, and experienced a number of interesting thing from Autodesk, partners, and customers.

More than anything this year, it was pretty evident that a number of business moves, some gambles really, are beginning to return real dividends on their investment.

Autodesk’s very approachable CEO, Carl Bass, was front and center as usual at AU, and this time around he didn’t have to do much defending of his business decisions of the past few years. For the most part he’s risen above the skepticism of some customers, industry pundits, and competitors, and has led Autodesk to the forefront of contemporary engineering software and services that will serve the company well near and long term. In a word, to the benefit of Autodesk he’s been a smart and savvy gambler who wagered a lot, and is starting to win big.

AU 2014

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At AU 2014, Think About AU 2019

 
November 25th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

Next week, along with what is expected to be over 9,000 attendees, we’ll be in Las Vegas for Autodesk University (AU). Yes, it’s an Autodesk vehicle, but it’s also much bigger than that.

AU is analogous to a big box store (ironically, it starts on Cyber Monday – December 1) with one-stop shopping for technical software for a broad range of industries – manufacturing, media/entertainment, GIS, AEC, and so on.

If you’re coming to Las Vegas for AU, it’s always a good idea to know your objectives for attending and what you hope to get out of it. In other words, come with an agenda based on asking the following questions on behalf of yourself and your company looking ahead five years:

  • What are you working on now and what do you want to be working on?
  • What will be the core competencies of our company and our competitors?
  • What technologies are our competitors acquiring and implementing, and are they new or complementary?
  • What technologies will emerge and be vital to our business?
  • Will our company be able to use methods and technologies from other industries?
  • Will our company grow strictly by organic means, or through partnerships, mergers, and acquisitions?
  • How will our company’s staff differ from todays and what skill sets will be required?
  • How will we deal with data – interoperability, legacy, management, etc.?

These are all important questions, because regardless of position today, no company can afford to remain complacent if they hope to remain competitive.

AU 2014

AU is always a good place for monitoring industry and technology trends, market direction, future requirements, industry rumors, and R&D within Autodesk and many of its partners.

AU, like other live software/technology events are great for meeting with Autodesk folks, exhibitors, peers, and potential customers. It’s also an opportunity to learn at the myriad industry-specific classes that are offered, as well as unparalleled networking. With all that we do via email, texting, phone calls, Skype, Web meetings, etc., AU is a great venue for face to face discussions and conversations before, during, and after each day’s formal events. Some of the best inside “dirt” (ranging from successes to frustrations) we pick up on is outside the confines of the conference itself, and we always look forward to catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.

Always expect the unexpected at AU, because you might just hear, see, or learn something that will drive a solution to a problem, or a new direction for you, your company, and your career.

So, if you are going to AU 2014, don’t just go for the sake of this year, but also for considerations down the road.

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The Continuing Relevance of Spatial’s 3D Software Components

 
November 20th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

Last month we attended the Spatial Insider’s Summit 2014 and got a good look at the company’s technologies, current position, and future direction.

From its inception, Spatial, a Dassault Systèmes company, has been a developer and provider of software components – modular software packages that perform a set of specific and related functions. This class of software is designed to work as a functional component of a larger application, such as CAD, CAM, or CAE. The goal of component software is to standardize the interfaces between software components so that they can work together efficiently

Although far from the only issue of concern, reusability also is a vital characteristic of software components. Ideally, software components should be designed and implemented in such a way that many different applications could reuse them. This is not an easy task because it takes significant effort to write software components that are effectively reusable. To succeed, components need to be:

  • Fully documented
  • Thoroughly tested
  • Designed knowing that they inevitably will be put to unforeseen uses.

In developing its software components, Spatial has always realized, too, that the best modeling components excel at modeling with imported data, and through data reuse, data import is more prevalent than data creation. With regard to the second part of the statement, Spatial understands that design data reuse is much more than just data exchange.

Spatial Software Components in Fabrication and Manufacturing

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In Search of the 3DEXPERIENCE

 
November 13th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

We just returned from Dassault Systemes 3DEXPERIENCE Forum North America in Las Vegas this week. Truth be told, Las Vegas is not one of my favorite destinations, but I was intrigued by what I might discover about Dassault’s elusive 3DEXPERIENCE, something I’ve always had difficulty getting my head wrapped around. I came to Las Vegas hoping to finally understand what the 3DEXPERIENCE platform was about, also hoping the Forum would provide that opportunity.

After learning all I could at the Forum, I now realize that the 3DEXPERIENCE platform is a comprehensive engineering and business platform, each dependent on the other and not mutually exclusive.

On many different levels and in many different contexts, the Forum was all about experience, experience, and experience. Design and engineering definitely took a back seat at this event. This is a departure from competing engineering software companies where it’s all about products and subscriptions. Keep in mind, though, that the Forum was geared primarily toward big companies with current and prospective customers at the CxO level. This being the case, most of the presentations were high level and emphasized business potential over technology implementation. Technology was presented in the context of strategy, experience, and culture; not as an end in itself.

Dassault Systemes’ 3DEXPERIENCE Platform

 

Until this Forum, I reacquainted myself  to the fact that Dassault Systemes (DS) is involved in 12 major market segments/industries that include:

  • Aerospace & Defense
  • Architecture, Engineering, & Construction (AEC)
  • Consumer Goods & Retail
  • Consumer Packaged Goods & Retail
  • Energy, Process & Utilities
  • Financial and Business Services
  • Life Sciences
  • High-Tech (ECAD)
  • Industrial Equipment
  • Transportation and Mobility
  • Marine and Offshore
  • Natural Resources

That’s quite a broad range of markets that are served, and DS has strategically entered these markets through organic in-house development, as well as through acquisitions.

Below is the 3DEXPERIENCE compass with brief descriptions of its various points of reference and components.

 

3DS-compass-small-640x252

The 3DEXPERIENCE Platform Compass

In DS’s view, consumers do not just buy products anymore, but rather, experiences. During the Forum, DS used Apple as an analogy to reinforce this thought on customer experience. Apple sells both products and supporting services that equate to an overall experience for customers – Macs, iPhones, iPads, iTunes, Genius Bar, etc. It seems like DS aspires to do the same.

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It’s Never Too Early To Plan For Obsolescence

 
November 5th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

I’m not an impulsive buyer now, and never have been. Before I purchase just about anything, especially for business purposes, I explore function, options, alternatives, and expected life span. Before purchasing, as much as it pains me, I also plan for the product to eventually become obsolete

Obsolescence is a fact of life, whether incidental with regard to function or intentional because it was deliberately planned. As time goes by, it seems that the latter occurs with greater and greater frequency. Just look at cell phones, computers, software, clothing . . . just about anything you can name.

Even high-ticket capital investments, such as manufacturing equipment are not immune.

The video link below is simplistic and slightly off topic, but is a great case in point for how and why obsolescence is very much part of product design and consumption:

Planned Obsolescence, Perceived Obsolescence

Along these lines I recently came across an article written by Frank Powell, Grinding Products Manager at Marposs Corp. (Auburn Hills, MI). It appeared in the August 2014 edition of SME’s magazine, Manufacturing Engineering and is entitled, “The Time to Start Planning for Obsolescence is Now.” It really resonated with me, as I’m sure it will with many of you as follows:

________________________________________________________________________________

So, your shiny new, state-of-the-art metrology system is up and running. What’s next on the agenda? Well, after you relax for a minute and admire your handiwork, starting some serious, in-depth planning for its replacement is probably not a bad idea.

No, there is nothing wrong with today’s hardware and software, and your shiny new system will probably last for many years. But, it absolutely won’t last forever and when the time comes to repair or replace it you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Metrology, like all technologies, is evolving rapidly and continuously. That’s why your new system is a lot more capable than anything you could buy a few years ago. Your tolerances are tighter, you need more flexibility, you can’t find skilled operators so you need more capabilities in the software and a simplified interface—all of these evolving requirements are reflected in the components of your system.

Your needs will be different in a few years, and so will the systems available to meet them. The parts you need to keep the old one running, however, may not be available. In fact, some basic building blocks of today’s widely-used systems, like Intel 486 processors, component-mount transistors and some specialized chips are already in short supply. Other things, like gas-plasma displays are now listed as environmental hazards that can’t be used at all, even in a like-for-like replacement.

And, even if a manufacturer can find legacy components, in many places it’s already illegal to use them in commercial products. They often contain lead and other heavy metals for which voluntary reduction or elimination is being replaced with strict bans in many places and the list is growing rapidly.

There is no question that the time is rapidly approaching when manufacturers simply will not be allowed to produce many of the components and apparatus you are using today. Don’t wait for a crisis; you need to start planning now to avoid unpleasant surprises tomorrow.

A good place to start is with an inventory of everything that’s on your floor now. Talk to your suppliers about the status of key components, with particular attention to the electronic items that have the highest incidence of obsolescence. Let your suppliers know that you expect to get ample advance warning about anything that is going to be unavailable. That way you can make decisions about whether to repair or replace components or systems now, or to stock up on key parts that may not be available when needed in the future.

Barring crashes or catastrophic damage, any piece of metrology gear from a reputable supplier ought to deliver 10–15 years of service with routine maintenance. That’s a reasonable number to use as a base for prioritizing your spare-part requirements and replacement schedule.

It’s obvious, but nonetheless worth mentioning, that the older a system or component is, the less likely parts or direct replacements are to be available. In other words, prioritize your plan to deal with your oldest components first because that’s where failure is both most likely to happen, and most likely to cause the greatest disruption.

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