Jeff's MCAD Blogging
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 »
May 6th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Designing lighter products, whether they’re as large as jet liners or as small as mobile phones, has always been smart business. Less material means less cost and lower energy consumption, both in production and operation. Lower production costs mean higher profit margins for manufacturers. Lower operational costs lead to broader customer acceptance and higher market share.
These days, the “smart business” in lighter products has been upgraded to “essential ingredient.” Lower weight and material efficiency are mandatory for companies that expect to succeed in markets coping with volatile energy prices and increasing environmental regulations. Higher energy prices cause sharp swings in production costs. Manufacturing a product and its component materials means more predictable costs and higher profit margins.
End products are also subject to more scrutiny during their operational lives. Vehicles have to squeeze more miles out of every gallon to satisfy mandates such as U.S. corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards
For decades, making a product lighter meant optimizing designs to cut out mass that wasn’t needed to achieve engineering goals. Now, extensive use of fiber-reinforced composites has introduced a new weight-saving measure into product design. Especially in vehicle design but also in appliances and industrial machinery, composites offer comparable strength to metal at a fraction of the weight.
However, introducing composites into product design requires extensive testing. Composites’ plasticity means they do not perform as predictably as metals under real-world conditions. Many manufacturers qualify composites through extensive physical testing on prototypes. This is expensive, time consuming, and can be replaced by simulation – provided that simulation evolves to accommodate composites. Otherwise, they will not yield accurate material allowables, and inaccurate allowables can lead to poor product performance or outright failure.
Simulation technology has traditionally focused on metals. Composites, however, have different properties from metals. For example, a metal-stamped part will behave the same way regardless of how it is manufactured. By contrast, the manufacturing process can change a fiber-reinforced plastic part’s behavior significantly because the process can affect the orientation of the fibers in the material’s epoxy-resin matrix.
Those additional variables complicate engineers’ tasks. They can optimize a design for maximum lightness but end up with a different set of problems because the composite won’t perform the way they expected. Engineers must be able to simulate the strength of composites in different configurations and through various manufacturing processes down to the microstructure level. However, simulation technology hasn’t accommodated them so far.
Most simulation solutions depict composites as “black aluminum.” They represent a composite part’s geometry, but not the full range of its properties. Composite suppliers provide their customers with property data, but that data seldom takes into account the manufacturing process’ influence on the material. Entered into a simulation, these data points will not produce accurate results.
Without accurate material modeling and simulation, designers have to approximate how the composite will perform under real-world conditions. That often leads to over-designing to guard against failure. Over-designing undermines the purpose of designing with plastic or composite in the first place – using less material and reducing weight. It also adds unnecessary cost.
Many simulation technology vendors have incorporated some level of non-uniform material behavior into their solutions. However, these solutions only simulate composite behavior on the surface. A truly realistic model requires an intelligent handle on:
Conventional simulation tools do an excellent job of modeling a party’s geometry, loading, deformation physics, etc. Incorporating detailed material behavior for composites drives further precision into the simulation lifecycle.
Giving engineers that precision opens a new range of possibilities for making products lighter without sacrificing performance. For example, an automotive OEM wants to re-design a metal engine mount in composite to save weight. Design engineers develop the basic geometry for the new mount in a 3D CAD environment. The mount weighs 1.2 kilograms. Simulation reveals that the engine mount performs its function under normal loads and in normal operating conditions.
Through virtual simulations to analyze the composite’s behavior in that shape and function, the design team does a series of iterations, analyzes the mount’s performance, and reduces its mass by 40 percent without compromising performance. The lower mass shaves 15 percent from the mount’s cost.
This is what design teams can achieve when they have the tools to model and simulate composites with the same precision they have for simulating metals. It’s the approach that manufacturers need to incorporate in bringing composites into their designs while keeping prototyping costs. The result will be lower material use and energy consumption in production and operation, and more accurate material and part performance. These essential qualities will enable manufacturers to meet the new economic realities of rising energy costs and the societal obligations of sustainability through lighter, better products.
This article was contributed by Dr. Roger Assaker, PhD, founder and CEO of e-Xstream Engineering, and also chief material strategist at MSC Software. Please see http://www.mscsoftware.com/product/digimat for more information.)
April 24th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Today I saw a demonstration of SolidCAM’s newest version of its iMachining technology. The co-hosts of the presentation were Shaun Mymudes, COO, North America and Ken Merritt, senior application engineer.
After a little SolidCAM iMachining theory, the science of cutting angle, and how it’s different from the competition, a live demonstration via webcam began with new iMachining software controlling a Hurco VMX42 HSi machining center. A tool running at 10,000 RPM and traveling at between 85-200 inches per minute cut and finished a pocketed part of 1018 steel in pretty short order.
Owing to iMachining’s unique tool motion control algorithms and variable cutting angle, the presenters said (and showed) significant improvement in cycle time efficiency/time savings (in this case, more than 70%), as well as reduced tool wear.
After the live demo, it was time to see some of the features and capabilities of the software.
April 16th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Autodesk President and CEO, Carl Bass, led a conversation about “Engineering the Future” for the manufacturing industry at Develop3D LIVE 2013.
In a keynote address, Bass demonstrated how a series of major technology trends are shaping the way product designers and engineers work, and how these trends paved the way for Autodesk to create its cloud-based design platform Autodesk 360, which has been accessed by nearly 15 million users since September 2011.
Additionally, Bass announced that pricing for Autodesk Fusion 360, Autodesk’s comprehensive cloud-based 3D CAD offering, will range from $25 to $200 per user, per month. Originally unveiled at Autodesk University 2012, the cloud technology behind Autodesk Fusion 360 offers universal access where design data is the center of the design process. It also supports an open design environment, allowing designers to incorporate and modify CAD data from virtually any source and share it.
Carl discusses the Cloud and how it is transforming design:
In the following video, Carl discusses how Autodesk is solving tough design problems with Fusion 360, and provides examples of how Fusion 360 provides designers and engineers with clear choices on not only what they want to use, but also how they can buy it, and what it costs.
This is interesting news because I’m about to go hands-on with Autodesk Fusion 360. I’ll tell you how it goes.
April 5th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Like many people, if not most, spring is my favorite time of the year. The days are longer, the weather is warmer, foliage is coming back to life, and it’s the season for FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) all over the country. Eligible participants are male and female high school students — grades 9-12; ages 14-18.
For those unfamiliar with the event, every team is given a standard parts list and kit from which to build their robot that consists of mechanical, electrical, electronic, and software components. This, along with rigorous inspection for compliance with the strict rules and specifications before competition ensures that all teams literally compete on a level playing field.
A FIRST team working on their robot, preparing for competition
I was a volunteer at this year’s Colorado Regional FRC event. My official title was Field Repair/Reset, but in actuality I was a scorekeeper. Once the action starts, it’s non-stop and pretty heated until the competition is done for the day. Between the robots, teams, and fans in the stands, the volume level also remains pretty high throughout the day. A lot of excitement and great fun for me.
The game changes every year and this year’s was especially challenging. It involves team-built robots picking up and shooting Frisbees into target goal at varying heights. In addition, there is also a segment of the event that has the robots climb tubular pyramids — the higher, the more points. For safety, if a robot ascends above a certain height, it must be belayed back to the ground with climbing rope and special hardware.
There are also two different timed modes for competition — autonomous and teleops. The first 15 seconds are autonomous where the robot must find the target goals on its own and attempt to fling Frisbees into them. The teleops portion of the competition has the robots “driven” by team operators with computers and joysticks.
I wish my tools were this well organized . . . team from Minnesota’s tool crib
The FIRST events are always well organized, well attended, and well worth the time of everybody involved — participants, volunteers, teachers, parents, mentors, and sponsors. The FIRST event always leaves me with a good feeling about the promise of the future of engineering in the hands, minds, and hearts of those who will create the future.
April 2nd, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
On a weekly basis I review hundreds of press releases relating to (more or less) CAD, CAM, CAE, and related software and hardware products. With most of them it is immediately apparent whether they merit publication, are overt sales pitches, or new rehashes of old news. Not always, but often, my interest gets sparked by the headline, such as, 3D Printing Inspires New Working Style in CAD/CAM Software Industry. Interesting stuff, right? The headline was pretty catchy, although it didn’t mention a specific company name. In spite of that, I read through the press release once, twice, three times, and still had trouble comprehending what was trying to be said.
Well, the company is Chinese software developer, ZWSOFT, and what they are trying to get across is the new Print3D function in ZW3D 2013 for leveraging 3D printing. The company doesn’t tell you how to do it and the 3D printing capability isn’t specifically mentioned in its 56-page “What’s New in ZW3D 2013” document. In fact, if this press release had not come out, there is no way I (or prospective customers) would even know it’s there. I tend to think it’s buried in some obscure place that will really take some digging to find.
3D printing is mentioned in online product literature under Reverse Engineering in the following context (and accompanying graphic):
I’m no marketing guy, but if you’re going to push a new capability, wouldn’t you give it little more prominence?
I’ll download a trial version of ZW3D 2013 and see what and where the 3D printing capabilities really are.
Beyond that, the only reference I could find with regard to ZW3D’s 3D printing ability was an event last year when personal manufacturer Ponoko teamed up with ZW3D and 3D model library GrabCAD to 3D print the winners of its Holiday Design Challenge.
So another MCAD company enters the market with this year’s “must have” capability – 3D printing – which is fine. I guess the more, the merrier. What I more interesting is a rumor I’ve heard from more than one source that another Chinese company may soon market a 3D printer in the $300-$500 range and PLA and/or ABS consumables for $10-$20 a spool.
While it is possible, I still maintain that 3D printing isn’t suited for everything or everybody. While there have been some impressive results, many of the parts I have seen produced on the so-called “low end” machines are analogous to dot matrix output when 2D printers came on the market. Like many technologies, just because “everybody’s doin’ it,” doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody should be doing it.
March 26th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Even though we’re not even through the first quarter of 2013, some companies can’t wait for 2014. A case in point is Autodesk, who today announced in general terms its next generation desktop products and Autodesk 360 cloud-based services for 2014. In actuality, the cloud-based offerings augment the desktop application suites. All suite subscribers have access to select cloud services as part of their subscriptions, and can always purchase additional cloud access, if and when needed.
One of the most intriguing of the new cloud-based services is a point cloud engine for processing point clouds called ReCap. With it, you’ll be able to use laser scan and photographic image data to build 3D models. This is one I definitely want to try out for myself.
Autodesk’s Amar Hanspal acted as the MC for the product introductions and kicked things off with a new look logo and branding for the company — kind of origamic — that he said was a new identity that blended art and science.
As it has for the past couple of years, Autodesk prefers to market its products, not so much as discrete products, but multi-tiered suites (Standard, Premium, and Ultimate) with more comprehensive utility, function, and profit. The Autodesk product suites that we’ll pay the most attention to in the coming months will include:
Without a lot of specifics to draw upon, several aspects of Autodesk’s 2014 product and service lineups look promising. However, the devil’s in the details of how all these parts work together, and that is exactly what we’ll be evaluating in the coming months.
March 20th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Not just resting on its cash reserves or other recent acquisitions, Autodesk announced that it has completed the acquisition of Firehole Technologies (DBA Firehole Composites), a privately held company that specializes in design and analysis software for composite materials. Through this acquisition, Autodesk will expand its analysis software portfolio to work with light, strong, and complex composite materials. Firehole Composites is based in Laramie, Wyoming, also the home of the University of Wyoming, and a town with an incredibly low unemployment rate of 3.4%.
“As manufacturers move to more complex material such as light weight composites, new simulation technology is required to predict and optimize the performance of these materials. This acquisition will enable Autodesk to deliver this technology to a broad spectrum of design and engineering industries,” said Buzz Kross, senior vice president for Design, Lifecycle and Simulation products. “The Firehole team will add significant expertise in next generation materials and non-linear analysis, as well as industry-leading technologies that strongly complement our solutions for structural, thermal and plastics analysis.”
Engineered composites are complex materials made from two or more materials with widely different physical and/or chemical properties. When combined, the constituents produce a material with characteristics much different than the individual components. Interestingly, though, (and this adds to the mystique behind composites), the individual components remain separate and distinct within the finished structure. Even though it’s been around a long time, today, still the most common composite material is concrete. Because composites are complex materials, simulating and analyzing them and their behavior is a very computationally demanding proposition.
Check out the video for CompositePro for FEA that demonstrates some of the tools availble to support composite finite element analysis process. Among other things, CompositePro can be used to:
Autodesk says it intends to sell and support the existing Firehole Composites product line, as well as integrating the composites analysis technology more tightly with Autodesk products. No surprise there, especially the latter. As usual, and not unexpectedly, terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
March 15th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
A little over a year ago, HP introduced a workstation-class computer that it said would revolutionize the computer world with its all-in-one Z1. It the Z1 certainly wasn’t the first or only all-in-one computer available, as the iMac G3 was introduced in 1998 and has evolved significantly since then. What really sets the Z1 apart from the desktop workstation crowd are two things — its easy, no-tool access to its internals for swapping out or upgrading components, and its gigantic, brilliant display.
The HP Z1 received had the following specifications as supplied:
However, as I always do, the tests were performed with the HP Z1 “out of the box,” as received – nothing was tweaked or optimized to distort the performance numbers (such as enabling multi-threading) in a positive or negative direction. As usual, I actually get more out of the subjective testing because Read the rest of HP Z1: Brilliant All-In-One Workstation
March 13th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
3D printing. Do you love it, hate it, skeptical, convinced, or still deciding? We are, too. There’s no doubt that 3D printing is diverse technology with a lot of potential, but has that potential been realized, or is it still a lot of hype and wishful thinking? Yes, to all of the above.
One of the more interesting, “real” examples of 3D printing we’ve come across is a simple multi-material keyboard.
Designer Arnon Gratch of Stratasys recently created a mechanically sound, fully functioning keyboard using rigid and flexible materials on the Objet Connex500. Typically, the keys and supporting structures need to be assembled into the board, however, the multi-material Connex technology allowed Grach to print the complete keyboard in one print run.
Using Objet’s simultaneous multi-material jetting technology, the Objet Connex500 can print models made of up to 14 different materials, in a single print job. This capability is effective for highlighting varying material components in complex or assembled products for physical modeling.
The range of materials that can be used with the Connex500 numbers over 100.
While this is an impressive demonstration of the 3D printing technology, especially using multi-materials, the produced part doesn’t exactly have a finish I would call commercial, and the keys seem a little slow to return to their original position. That said, though, it does have definite possibilities.
Spring is typically when a lot new 3D printing technology is showcased, and this year is no exception with two exhibitions coming soon — Inside 3D Printing and SME’s RAPID 2013. Periodically, over the next several weeks, we’ll report on the hype, reality, and general state of 3D printing. Admittedly, it’s come a long way, but just as importantly, still has a long way to go for fulfilling its promise of custom, unbridled manufacturing for the masses.
March 11th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
It wasn’t all that long ago that an exotic new material, carbon nanotubes, caught a lot of imaginations with endless possibilities, including supporting and conveying an elevator from earth to space. Those dreamy beginnings for carbon nanotubes never quite seemed to materialize. However, things are changing and carbon nanotubes again seem to be gathering some momentum as a reality in our lives.
A huge leap forward in nanotechnology was recently announced by Rice University. Scientists from Rice, the Dutch firm Teijin Aramid, the U.S. Air Force, and Israel’s Technion Institute recently unveiled a new carbon nanotube (CNT) fiber that looks and acts like textile thread and conducts electricity and heat like a metal wire. The researchers say they have come up with an industrially scalable process for making the threadlike fibers, which outperform commercially available high-performance materials.
“We finally have a nanotube fiber with properties that don’t exist in any other material,” said lead researcher Matteo Pasquali, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and chemistry at Rice. “It looks like black cotton thread but behaves like both metal wires and strong carbon fibers.”
“The new CNT fibers have a thermal conductivity approaching that of the best graphite fibers but with 10 times greater electrical conductivity,” said study co-author Marcin Otto, business development manager at Teijin Aramid. “Graphite fibers are also brittle, while the new CNT fibers are as flexible and tough as a textile thread. We expect this combination of properties will lead to new products with unique capabilities for the aerospace, automotive, medical, and ‘smart-clothing’ markets.”
The phenomenal properties of carbon nanotubes have fascinated scientists since their discovery in 1991. The hollow tubes of pure carbon, which are aboutas wide as a strand of DNA, are about 100 times stronger than steel at one-sixth the weight. Nanotubes’ conductive properties — for both electricity and heat — rival the best metal conductors. They also can serve as light-activated semiconductors, drug-delivery devices, and even sponges to soak up liquids.
Carbon nanotubes, despite their huge potential, are difficult to work with. For starters, finding a method for producing bulk quantities of nanotubes took a decade. Scientists also learned early on that there were several dozen types of nanotubes — each with unique material and electrical properties; and engineers have yet to find a way to produce just one type. Instead, all production methods yield a hodgepodge of types, often in hairball-like clumps.
Shortly after arriving at Rice in 2000, Pasquali began studying CNT wet-spinning methods with the late Richard Smalley, a nanotechnology pioneer and the namesake of Rice’s Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology. In 2003, Smalley worked with Pasquali and colleagues to create the first pure nanotube fibers. The work established an industrially relevant wet-spinning process for nanotubes that was analogous to the methods used to create high-performance aramid fibers, which are used in products such as bulletproof vests. The process, however, needed to be refined. The fibers weren’t very strong or conductive, due partly to gaps and misalignment of the millions of nanotubes inside them.
Through a refined process, today, the fibers have about 10 times the tensile strength and electrical and thermal conductivity of the best previously reported wet-spun CNT fibers, Pasquali said. The specific electrical conductivity of the new fibers is on par with copper, gold and aluminum wires, but the new material has advantages over metal wires.
For example, one application where high strength and electrical conductivity could prove useful would be in data and low-power applications, Pasquali said.
“Metal wires will break in rollers and other production machinery if they are too thin,” he said. “In many cases, people use metal wires that are thicker than required for the electrical needs, simply because it’s not feasible to produce a thinner wire. Data cables are a particularly good example of this.”
So, while products using this new carbon nanotechnology won’t be hitting the market next week, the new production method looks very promising and the potential is huge.