Jeff's MCAD Blogging
Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 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 design … More »

Desktop 3D Printers Grow Beyond Trinkets, Tchotchkes, and Toys

 
July 2nd, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

Without a doubt, one of the biggest developments in the MCAD world in the past few years has been 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing). Until relatively recently, though, the cost of the 3D printing machines was cost prohibitive for all but large companies. To a large extent, costs have been plummeting, but there are machines that cost more than a million dollars. However, that is changing with the advent of relatively low-cost desktop 3D printers.

3D printers sound cool, and to a large extent they are. But, before running out to buy one, there are a few things to keep in mind. Currently, a machine will set you back $500 to $5,000, plus $40 to $100 for a roll of plastic filament (think Weed Wacker) for producing parts. Also keep in mind that producing one small object could take hours, and end up costing much more than buying it. Don’t forget, too, that you need some technical know-how to make it all work, including how to create a solid model with a CAD tool. As I have maintained for some time, with all the online 3D printing services that are available, why buy when you can rent. Check out my blog post on this sentiment from last year entitled, “3D Printing Goes Retail: Why Buy When You Can Rent?”

Being the smiling skeptic that I am, I also wrote a blog entitled “Is 3D Printing Really A Miracle?” My short answers are “Yes” and “No.”

That’s why I have said that the first low-cost devices were more fun than functional, and appealed to DIYers, hobbyists, and early adopters. All that is changing as the technology matures, prices come down, more materials become available, and part quality vastly improves.

Desktop 3D Printers

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Getting Started With IoT In A Box

 
June 25th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

With all of the buzz that the Internet of Things (IoT) has generated, a number of our readers have asked if there was anything available for experimenters who may have interest, but not a lot of money to spend on exploring the technology. Until recently, the answer would have been, “No.” However, that all changed this month with the availability of the ARM® mbed™ IoT Starter Kit-Ethernet Edition from ARM Ltd.

In the 1980s British computer manufacturer Acorn Computers first developed the Acorn RISC Machine (ARM) architecture for its personal computers.

A reduced instruction set computing (RISC)-based computer design approach with ARM processors require significantly fewer transistors than typical complex instruction set computing (CISC) x86 processors in most personal computers. This approach reduces costs, heat and power use. Such reductions are desirable traits for light, portable, battery-powered devices and other embedded systems. A simpler design facilitates more efficient multi-core CPUs and higher core counts at lower cost, providing improved energy efficiency for servers.

ARM Holdings develops the instruction set and architecture for ARM-based products, but does not actually manufacture products itself.

ARM core processors are used in a wide range of products including the Microsoft Surface tablet, Apple’s iPad, iPhone, and iPod, ASUS tablets, Canon PowerShot digital cameras, and Nintendo DS handheld game consoles. In a word, ARM cores are everywhere.

ARM Processor – Sowing the Seeds of Success

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Hexagon and HxGN Measure Up and Beyond

 
June 18th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Hexagon Global Network (HxGN) 2015 Live conference. Although not held in my favorite destination, Las Vegas, this was an opportunity for my first direct exposure to Hexagon. In a word, I was not disappointed. In fact, the experience went far beyond my modest expectations that I had before attending the event.

I went to HxGN specifically for the metrology (science of measurement) portion of the conference 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.

Founded in 1992 and headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, Hexagon AB has offices in 46 countries, 15,000+ total employees, and is R&D focused with 11% of net sales and more than 3,400 employees invested in R&D. The industrial side of Hexagon AB, known as Industrial Enterprise Solutions (IES), that includes manufacturing and industrial plant facilities accounts for about half of the company’s sales. Roughly one third of Hexagon’s business is derived from metrology.

HxGN LIVE 2015 Conference

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The Invisible Labor Shortage of Technicians Who Keep Things Running

 
June 11th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

The pressing need for engineers of virtually all disciplines has become increasingly urgent as relatively few students view and pursue engineering as a career.  Business seems more attractive to many, and yeah, there’s always psychology (the “new” liberal arts degree) that has a lot of sellers, but relatively few buyers, at least at the BA/BS level.

Yes, engineering education and engineers are vital for keeping our technological world moving ahead, but who keeps the underlying machinery, tools, and software moving at all? Technicians.

Whether you recognize them, or not, there are technicians in just about every field and industry. For example, automotive mechanics, machinists, cosmetologists, electricians, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) — the list is about endless. If it’s “technical,” the odds are extremely good that there is a technician involved somewhere in the chain, and that may include many links in the chain.

So, what exactly is a technician?

Technicians can be classified as either highly skilled or semi-skilled workers, and are usually an integral part of a larger process. They work in a variety of fields, and they usually have a job title with the designation “technician” following the particular category of work. For example, an engineering technician is a highly skilled, highly educated occupation requiring several years of post high school training in a formal apprenticeship and probably college (usually two year) for further education.

Experienced technicians in a specific domain typically have at least an intermediate understanding of theory and expert proficiency in technique. Because of this practical knowledge, technicians are generally better versed in technique compared to average laymen and even general professionals in that field of technology, namely engineers, for whom theory often trumps practice.

What is the Future of (Automotive) Technicians?

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IoT and PTC’s Brave New World

 
June 4th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

About a month ago I spent a few days in Boston at PTC’s LiveWorx 2015 event. It was an eye opener for me and a brief look into the future of PTC with its growing emphasis and dependence on the Internet of Things (IoT).

Recaps of the event, entitled LiveWorx 2015: PTC Drives Home Its IoT Future – Part 1 and  PTC ThingWorx Converges On IoT were published shortly after the event last month.

Beyond the technologies and business strategies presented, what struck me was the relatively young crowd attending with relatively young PTC PR people pushing the IoT platform. Sold out with over 2,300 attendees (up from ~350 in 2014), the draw was similar or maybe more than this year’s PTC Live Global user event. Although Creo and Windchill were certainly present at LiveWorx, they took a back seat to IoT offerings, such as ThingWorx, Axeda, and others.

So what does IoT really mean? I don’t know either because it’s evolving so rapidly and all participating vendors define it so that it accommodates what they offer best. In other words, until standards are established, the definition continues to evolve. I will admit, however, that PTC currently has a leg up on virtually all of the competition for IoT in its traditional design, engineering, and manufacturing space.

A standard definition is in the works, however, and IoT generally 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 has been discussed since 1991, so it’s not exactly brand new.

According to PTC, the Internet of Things has the potential to create trillions of dollars of new economic value in the coming decade. To capture this value, manufacturers will rely on new applications that enable the creation of smart, connected products, thus PTC’s interest and commitment, as shown in the brief video below.

PTC’s Vision for Smart, Connected Products
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Wohlers Report 2015 and the State of the 3D Printing Industry

 
May 28th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

An independent consulting firm and industry source that we know quite well, Wohlers Associates, Inc., recently released the Wohlers Report 2015, the company’s annual detailed analysis of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing worldwide. According to the Report, in 2014, interest in 3D printing reached an unprecedented level and exceeded the $4 billion milestone. The phenomenal attention to AM began in 2012, was sudden, and has continued to proliferate since then.

Wohlers Associates is widely recognized as the leading consulting firm and foremost authority on additive manufacturing and 3D printing. This annual publication has served as the undisputed industry-leading report on the subject for two decades. Over the 20 years of its publication, many have referred to the report as the “bible” of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing—terms that are used interchangeably by the company (and industry).

Wohlers Report 2015
As it has from the beginning, Wohlers Report 2015 covers virtually every aspect of additive manufacturing, including its history, applications, underlying technologies, processes, manufacturers, and materials. It documents significant developments that have occurred in the past year, R&D and collaboration activities in government, academia, industry, and summarizes the worldwide state of the industry. This edition marks the Report’s 20th consecutive year of publication

2015 wohlers Report Cover

The market for additive manufacturing, consisting of all AM products and services worldwide, grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35.2% to $4.1 billion in 2014, according to Wohlers Report 2015. The industry expanded by more than $1 billion in 2014, with 49 manufacturers producing and selling industrial-grade AM machines. The CAGR over the past three years (2012–2014) was 33.8%.

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RAPID 2015: 3D Printing In Vivo, In Vitro, In Situ, and In Space

 
May 21st, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

We’ve been in Long Beach, California all week at SME’s RAPID 2015 conference and exhibition. If you want to learn what’s new exciting in things 3D, this is the place to be. Hardware and software vendors, service providers, distributors and resellers, and educational institutions all showcase new offerings in 3D printing, scanning, and additive and subtractive manufacturing.

RAPID is an interesting mix of industry experts, pundits, users, and people just curious about this fascinating 3D world that continues to grow at an exponential rate. This year about 4,000 attended RAPID with almost 200 exhibitors

RAPID is about the most recent developments in the field, as well as what may be coming in the future. A number of technologies, techniques, and innovations are discussed during technical sessions, but this year, we found among the most interesting topics to be 3D bioprinting and 3D printing in space.

The first morning’s keynote was made by Jason Dunn, CTO of Made In Space, who talked on the topic of “Bringing Additive Manufacturing to Space.” The company was founded in 2010 with the goal of enabling humanity’s future in space. It has developed additive manufacturing (AM) technology specifically for use in the space environment (no easy task). By manufacturing space assets in space, as opposed to launching them from Earth, the company is attempting to accelerate and broaden space development while also providing unprecedented access for people on Earth to use in-space capabilities (the ultimate goal of a business model to monetize its cash outlay in space on earth).

Made In Space Launches First 3D Printer to Space

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Meet Us at RAPID 2015

 
May 15th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

We’re heading to Long Beach, California next week to participate in one of SME’s marquee events — RAPID 2015.

I’ll be at the conference all week taking in the keynotes, new hardware and software products and service announcements, as well as sitting in on a few technical sessions.

This is an especially pivotal year in the evolution of 3D printing as it strives to get to the next level with higher quality parts, lower cost materials, and greater presence in manufacturing direct part production.

I’ll be hitting the floor running early Tuesday morning and will be Tweeting throughout the event, as well as posting blogs at the end of each day.

If you’re going to RAPID 2015 in Long Beach, feel free to contact me at 719.221.1867 or jeff@ibsystems.com and let’s meet up for discussing the latest technologies, trends, rumors, etc.

Hope to see you there!

PTC ThingWorx Converges On IoT

 
May 14th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

Last week at LiveWorx 2015, PTC made several major product and strategic announcements around the Internet of Things (IoT) and their implications for the future of PTC. A couple of the most prominent of these product announcements were ThingWorx 6.0 and ThingWorx Converge.

Before being acquired by PTC about 18 months ago, ThingWorx realized that making IoT a reality required an ecosystem of complementary technologies that enable “things” to be created, connected, operated, and serviced. With the ecosystem established, applications that capitalize on the data these “things” generate can be developed.

According to Russ Fadal, President & General Manager, ThingWorx, a PTC business, it’s estimated that in 2010 there were approximately 7 billion connected smart devices in the world. That number is expected to be in the neighborhood of 1 trillion by 2035. That’s explosive growth, to say the least!

He said that today IoT is challenged because 80% of resources are dedicated to infrastructure and 20% for applications, and he would like to see those percentages reversed. Other issues that he, PTC, and the IoT industry as a whole are trying to resolve include security, predictable performance, 10X+ faster production and implementation, and what to do with the mountains of data generated by IoT devices. Security is especially important because it is not an event, but an ongoing process that will never go away. No small concerns here, therefore the evolution of the platform ecosystem — ThingWorx.

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Stratasys Reports Disappointing Q1 Financials

 
May 11th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

As exciting as the 3D printing/additive manufacturing (AM) space has been the past several, especially the last couple, its unbridled enthusiasm and expectations couldn’t be expected to go on forever, and they’re not. Stratasys reported less than anticipated financials for Q1 2015.

All was not doom and gloom for Stratasys, however, as the financials also include the following:

  • Announced that Stratasys AM technologies were selected by Airbus for producing 3D printed flight parts for use in the first-of-type A350 XWB aircraft.
  • Announced organizational changes, including the creation of the Stratasys Strategic Consulting Division to help support customer development.
  • Completed the organizational integration of Solid Concepts, Harvest Technologies and RedEye Services to form Stratasys Direct Manufacturing (SDM).
  • Initiated a reorganization within MakerBot. This involved a sizable layoff of MakerBot employees and the closing of MakerBot retail stores. This reorganization was done to make MakerBot a better “fit” within Stratasys.
  • The company sold 7,536 3D printing and additive manufacturing systems during the quarter.

Stratasys Presents a 3D Printed Aircraft Interior at EuroMold 2014

Fred Fischer, Director of PolyJet and FDM Applications at Stratasys, presents an aircraft interior 3D printed using a unique combination additive manufacturing technologies. The presentation was filmed at Stratasys’ aerospace-themed booth at EuroMold 2014 in Frankfurt.

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