This section was written by Associate Editor Jean Thilmany

Firm Sees Continued PLM Investment

The collaborative product definition management portion of the product lifecycle management market grew 25 percent in 2001 to reach $3.6 billion, according to the consulting and research firm Cimdata Inc. of Ann Arbor, Mich.

Despite the economic downtown, companies continued to buy product lifecycle technology during the third and fourth quarters of 2001, said Ken Amann, Cimdata's director of research. Product lifecycle management technology allows business to implement a common business approach and consistent business practices across the entire organization. It lets users share product information as they work on design to ensure that everyone involved in the process is working together using the same information and with the same goal.

Product definition management is a sector of a product lifecycle management system that includes everything in that system except for information authoring tools, such as mechanical and electronic computer-aided design, computer-aided software engineering, and technical publishing software. Product definition management focuses on engineers collaborating, managing, and sharing product information, according to Amann.

Cimdata forecasts product data management technology growth to continue at a strong pace over the next five years, to more than $11 billion in 2006.

Parts Shopping Online Beats Catalogs

SMC Corp. of Indianapolis, a maker of pneumatic automation components, or moving parts, admits it was drowning in its own product catalogs. The company was producing two million hard copy catalogs annually.

The catalogs included 8,900 products that could be configured in 520,000 different ways. The catalogs were expensive to print, according to SMC officials.

SMC publishes an online catalog for its 8,900 products using 3DpartStream.Net technology.

The company recently implemented technology that allows it to publish an online catalog of parts in a 3-D format. SMC's customers can use the technology—3DpartStream.Net from SolidWorks of Concord, Mass.—to configure product models based on their specific requirements and then download the models into their product design. They can then purchase the actual components when the product needs to be built.

Beckman Coulter, a maker of biomedical instruments, uses the technology to select parts for the more than 40 product designs that engineers develop each year. Engineers estimate they've shaved about three design days from each project by using the 3-D Web service.

They used to spend about two hours modeling parts, using information from the printed catalogs. They can now insert the models from the online catalogs into a design in minutes instead of hours, according to a Beckman Coulter statement.

Clarifying Wireless High-Speed Internet

Engineers at Pennsylvania State University in University Park have developed software to efficiently manage radio spectrum use to prevent interference on the wireless broadband systems used for high-speed Internet access.

The finding could bring down the cost of wireless high-speed Internet, according to Mohsen Kavehrad, director of Penn State's Center for Information and Communications Technology Research, where the software was developed.

Currently, high-speed Internet access capable of carrying MP3 files, video, or teleconferencing is available mainly over networks connected by wires, although wireless local loops are being introduced in some test markets, Kavehrad said. But the wireless networks have to compete for bandwidth space. They share bandwidth with cordless phones or even radiation from microwave ovens.

The wireless local loops work much like cell phones in that they function via a base station that sends the radio signals carrying the Internet connection to customers who have an appropriate antenna. But unlike cell phones, the traffic between the customer and the Internet provider's base station flows unevenly. Like a highway system, it's used little during sleeping hours and other times are rush hours, such as when kids come home from school and download music or play games.

So wireless local loops need software and hardware that allow the network to respond to changes in traffic and make sure that every frequency in the spectrum is used efficiently, Kavehrad said.

The software developed by the Penn State engineers allows a subscriber whose signal has the least amount of interference to be processed ahead of signals with strong interference. Because the amount of interference on any subscriber's signal varies by microseconds, no subscriber has to wait long for a turn, Kavehrad added.

"With this technique, service providers could offer quality service to more homes using only a limited span on the radio spectrum," Kavehrad said. "And if providers can squeeze more customers onto the available bandwidth, it could translate into lower costs for the consumer."

Tool and Die Shop Finds RFQs Online

John and Brenda Baust run the B&M Toolworks tool and die shop in Sedalia, Mo. When they started the business out of their garage in 1995, they added business by word of mouth. They've now turned to the Internet.

Recently, Brenda Baust discovered that the company could bid on jobs online. She found it to be a way to look outside their regular business providers. The company bids on requests for quotes from around the nation via a Web site called MfgQuote. com, operated by a Smyrna, Ga., company of the same name. For a fee, the site matches suppliers with businesses seeking their services. B&M Toolworks has won business from companies in Colorado, New Jersey, New York, and on the West Coast, according to John Baust.
He said that the Internet is a new and growing way for suppliers to answer RFQs.

"I believe this type of online bidding will continue to grow steadily," he said.

His business saved money by submitting quotes online because he didn't have to travel to an original equipment manufacturer to submit the quote.

Baust said he expects to see about $200,000 in increased sales this year, thanks to his company's online bidding.

CAD Meets CAM On the Range

American Stove Parts Co. of San Clemente, Calif., makes custom stove parts and parts for original equipment manufacturers, largely through injection molding. It also assembles metal components for commercial and domestic stovetops.

Because the company makes many products of varying quantities, it recently implemented CAD and computer-aided manufacturing technology that are integrated for efficiency, according to Everton Cope, the company's president. Before using the technology, the company got CAD designs from outside vendors or from its customers' vendors.

Engineers at the company, which implemented VX CAD and CAM software, now meet with customers to understand application requirements. They then make three-dimensional models for customer review. The step has eliminated stereolithography, which can be costly, Cope said.

In the future, engineers will use the technology, from VX Corp. of Palm Bay, Fla., to design molds and to send part files directly to the suppliers who make the molds. The suppliers can then directly translate the CAM code into their computer numerically controlled machines, Cope said.

Simplicity for Digital Thermal Analysis

ASML in Veldhoven, the Netherlands, manufactures machines that make semiconductors. As part of a recent project, engineers at the company used a software application designed to simplify a computer-aided design file for thermal analysis. The analysis, carried out within a separate software application, determined the thermal reliability of a lithographic system while it was still in the digital stage.

Engineers at ASML used software from Flomerics to simplify a CAD design of a lithographic system (top) and then perform a thermal analysis on the design (bottom).

The lithographic, or imaging, system from ASML prints circuit information on silicon wafers and is used to make integrated circuits. It allows semiconductor manufacturers to continually shrink designs and produce more chips per wafer with higher yield and performance. Heat dissipation is an issue as the number of functions within the system continues to increase, which means a rise in the number and power of electrical and heat-dissipating components.

The software application that enabled engineers to simplify an existing CAD file is called Flo/MCAD from Flomerics of Southborough, Mass. The software automatically eliminates intricate details not required for thermal analysis purposes. The CAD file for the control cabinet of a lithographic system had been made in Solid Edge from EDS of Plano, Texas.

Before they had the simplifying software, engineers had to rekey data from the original CAD files into a simplified format prior to thermal analysis.

After simplifying the CAD design, ASML engineers used Flotherm thermal analysis software, also from Flomerics, to find out if higher-power electrical components placed within the system would be effectively cooled.

Virtual Test Drives

The Japanese automaker Mazda has developed new virtual testing capability to test cars and parts for durability, reliability, noise, vibration, ride, and handling before they're produced. The testing software was developed with MTS Systems Corp. of Eden Prairie, Minn., and two other companies.

As part of a venture called the Mazda Digital Innovation Project, which began in 1996, the automaker joined with MTS Systems, MSC.Software Corp. of Los Angeles, and nCODE of Southfield, Mich., to develop virtual simulation technology in an open software environment. The project allows test data acquired from mechanical testing systems to be used in computer simulation and modeling.

The software developed as part of the project results in what Mazda calls a virtual testing toolbox, which shortens vehicle development time because parts can be tested before they're produced, according to the company.

Designers Keep Track Online

WMH Tool Group of Chicago has incorporated what's called project collaboration software to make sure that members of its design team can access up-to-date information at any time, regardless of location.

With the technology, Streamline, from Autodesk of San Rafael, Calif., designers can collaborate online to keep product development moving at a consistent pace, according to Bill McCann, technical publications editor at WMH Tool Group. Design team members are located in the United States, China, and Europe. Because the software ensures that members are looking at the most recent design changes, it helps reduce errors associated with keeping track of files saved on a server, McCann said.

"With our design team spread among several locations and working on more than 50 active projects together, it's crucial to have the information organized and accessible by everyone," he said.

Comput-erized Rocket Nozzle Dynamics

One of the most difficult parts of pintle-controlled rocket design is configuring the nozzle so the gas pressure at the nozzle exit equals the outside air pressure in order to maximize thrust, according to engineers at Stone Engineering Co. in Huntsville, Ala.

The company carries out propulsion and structure design for the U.S. Army Missile Command and its Space and Strategic Defense Command. One of the engineering company's current projects is designing a bipropellant gel rocket engine that uses an axial pintle to control the throat area of the engine and thus the motor thrust.

The pintle rocket design helps overcome a basic challenge in rocket motor design, according to Chuck Margraves, a Stone Engineering mechanical en- gineer. To keep the pressure of the combustion gases at the end of the nozzle equal to or close to atmospheric pressure, and thus maximize thrust, engineers must change the geometry of the nozzle.

Stone Engineering Co. engineers use computational fluid dynamics technology combined with physical testing rather than physical testing alone on the current project to determine the best nozzle configuration for rocket design, Margraves said.

"CFD allows us to look inside our design to gain a far greater understanding than we were ever able to achieve with physical testing results alone," Margraves said. "The result is that we can see exactly where flow separation occurs for various nozzle geometries and fine-tune our design to maximize thrust under a wide range of flow conditions.

The company uses Fluent CFD software from Fluent Inc. of Lebanon, N.H. In a recent experiment, the software analysis showed engineers the forces acting on the pintle at various flow conditions. The information helped engineers develop specifications for the spring that controls the pintle, Margraves said.

Briefly Noted

A provider of hardware and software, NEC Solutions (America) of Sacramento, Calif., has released PowerMate eco, which is a personal computer with no boron in the monitor, lead-free solder, and recyclable plastic. The computer also has no fan to disperse hazardous dust and contains no other dangerous chemicals, according to an NEC statement.

CFX of Waterloo, Ontario, a maker of computer-aided engineering software, has released CFX-5.5.1, the latest version of the company's computational fluid dynamics software.

Resinate Corp. of Andover, Mass., a provider of automated materials management software for discrete manufacturers, has released its software application Resinate Material Advisor/Plastic version 3.0.

Spatial Corp. of Westminster, Colo., a maker of 3-D development software, recently released two new products, 3D InterOp Exchange and 3D Viz Exchange. The two have been released as separate components within Spatial's InterOp product line.

Coade of Houston, a maker of engineering software, has released Caesar II version 4.40, an updated edition of the company's software for pipe stress analysis and design. Enhancements include updates to piping code and an intelligent hydrostatic load analysis.

Proficiency of Marlborough, Mass., which makes engineering supply chain collaboration software, has announced a partnership with PTC of Waltham, Mass., which makes CAD, PDM, and other engineering software. Proficiency's Collaboration Gateway software allows collaboration on the design of products without the need for trans- lation software, such as standard for the exchange of product model data (STEP).

NavisWorks Ltd. of Sheffield, England, a developer of interactive viewing technology and of 3-D design review software, has released an upgrade to NavisWorks. Version 2.2 of the software works with Windows XP and includes upgraded features to aid collaboration.

Alibre of Richardson, Texas, has created a program for value-added resellers to sell Alibre Design, the company's application for 3-D design, collaboration, and data sharing.

Delcam of Birmingham, England, a maker of manufacturing and engineering software, has released a new version of its PowerInspect software, which will support the inspection of models against simulation and test language (STL) files.

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© 2002 by The American Society of Mechanical Engineers