Turkey Feed at PADT, 2012

As we gear up for the holidays we think it is very important to prepare our employees for the coming trials.  As part of that, we have an annual Turkey Feed the Friday before Thanksgiving.  This allows us to spend some time together as a company before the craziness starts, share some food, and be thankful in our own way.

It was a perfect day out there today as we got ready:

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The food was from Boston Market.  Not great cousin, but hot, on time, and tasty.

We all enjoyed taking some time out of our cubicles and in the sun:

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We wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving and a joyous and peace filled holiday season.

Some Stuff ANSYS Users Should Know about Excel

imageWhat is the software tool that us numerical simulation types use almost as much as ANSYS products, maybe even more?  Most of you will answer Microsoft Excel.  We all use it almost every day for a variety of things. Every time I see someone doing something sophisticated with Excel, I learn something new, a tool I can use to be more efficient. 

For this week’s The Focus posting I will be sharing some stuff in Excel, tips and tricks, that ANSYS users should find useful.  I am using Microsoft Excel 2010 and the assumption is that the reader is a good user of Excel, maybe not an expert, but good.  I have tried to pick things that have a direct impact on user efficiency.  You may already know some or even most of these things, but hopefully you will find some of it useful.  If you have something to share, please add it to the comments.

Take the Time to Setup Tables

I love tables.  I’m always getting made fun of because I always convert what I’m working on into tables.  Why are they so great? 

    • They auto-format
    • They have filtering built in
    • You can refer to the table, columns, rows, and cells in equations with names rather than ranges
    • When you add a formula in a column, it automatically copies it to the whole table (my favorite)
    • It does automatic totals, averages, etc…

Making a table is easy:

    1. Select the columns you want in your table
      1. It is a good idea to have the headers defined
    2. Go to the Insert Tab
    3. Click on Table

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That give you:

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Click on the downward facing triangle icons to filter.  Use the options in the Table Tools > Design tab to set the name, remove duplicates, turn on the total row, and change the basic formatting (color).  Once you have played with these for a while, you will find you can not live without them and people will ask you why you use tables so often.

Concatenation

One of the ways that we use Excel is to convert some sort of text data in row/column form into a command, mostly MAPDL commands.  A key to this is the ability to concatenate text strings and the values of cells.  I’ve even seen someone write a NASTRAN to ANSYS translator in Excel.

To do so you create a formula (start with =) and string together the text you want with ampersands: &

As an example, if we want to add a column to the table we used above to create N commands we simply click on any of the cells in the empty column next to our table and enter:

=”n, “&[@N]&”, “&[@X]&”, “&[@[Y ]]&”, “&[@Z]

Because we are using a table, the command uses the column reference [@name] from the tables rather than cells.  In a non table the command would look like:

=”n, “&$A6&”, “&$B6&”, “&$C6&”, “&$D6

Either way you are stringing the values in your cells together with text to make a command:

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That column can be pasted into a text file, an ANSYS Mechanical code snippet window, or saved to a file.

Text to Columns

After tables, the next most useful feature in Excel for the analyst is the ability to convert the text in a column into multiple columns. This is a lot like the text import window that opens up when you open a text file, but it can be used at any time on any column in your spreadsheet.  To use it, simply select the column you want to convert:

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Then go to the Data tab and click on “Text to Columns”

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This will bring up the wizard that steps you through the process:

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If you are working with a NASTRAN type input file, formatted with fixed columns, you can chose “Fixed Width” here. If not, choose delimited.  Click next.

For fixed, you get a ruler that you can drag the column lines back and forth on till you get what you want. Pretty simple.

For delimited, you get the delimiter screen.  Specify your delimiter here.  In the example, we will use a comma. But it can be spaces, tabs, or any other character. When you specify the delimiter, it shows you how Excel will break it up. 

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I usually click finish here because the next screen is formatting and I usually play with that once I have the data in Excel.

That is it. Very simple.

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One thing to note, it converts to columns by overwriting columns to the right. So if you have data in those columns, you should insert enough blank columns before you use this command, so you don’t overwrite anything.

Names

Usually you refer to a cell or a range of cells with the old LetterNumber syntax: A3, B7:NN2145, etc…  That can be a real pain to deal with and it really doesn’t tell you what the data in that range is.  A better way to deal with chunks of information, or critical cells, is to use names. 

Creating names is very easy.  The simplest is to click on the cell or cells you want to name and then type in the name you want in the input box in the upper left corner:

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Now, if you want to know the max value of those numbers, you can use the formula =max(MyData)

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If I have a lot of constants I want to define, I can use the “Create from Selection” tool in the Formulas tab:

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This command brings up a dialog box and you can tell Excel where to grab your names from. Three or Four clicks and you have named parameters instead of cell locations.  This is very useful if you have a group of key parameters you want to use in your calculations.  Now when you look at your formulas, the descriptive name of the parameters are there rather than a reference.

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Use the Name Manager in the same Formulas tab to view, edit, and delete your names.

Dynamic Range

A related trick for Excel is creating dynamic ranges. What do you do when you name a range and then the amount of data in that range changes? You have to redefine your range.  Nope, you don’t. You can define the range using a formula that changes as the length of the column, or row, changes. 

The name can be defined for a column as: =OFFSET(startCell,0,0,COUNTA(column)-1)

Or for a row: =OFFSET(startCell,0,0,0,COUNTA(row)-1)

This may be the most time saving trick I know in Excel.

You put the formula into the “Define Name” dialog box found on the Formulas tab:

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Now, no matter how long the column of data is, MyVals will always contain it.  A big time saver.

Relative Reference on Record Macro

How many times have you gotten data in Excel, or imported data into Excel, where you want to make a small change to every line. But you have several thousand lines. If you do a “Record Macro” that doesn’t work because you have to click down to the next line, then run the macro and repeat that over and over again. Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply record a macro with some sort of relative reference. 

For years (maybe decades) I didn’t know you could do that. There is an option under the Developer Tab called “Relative Reference.”  Click that before you record your macro and you are good to go.

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As an example, take a look at this data. Nodal coordinates on one line, rotations on the second. 

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I want to grab the rotations, paste them on the same line as the coordinates, delete the rotation line, then move to the next node.

Here is a video that shows the process:

That is all fine and dandy if you have a few dozen lines, but your fingers will get tired CTRL-e’ing that many times.  I quick fix is to go into the macro and add a simple loop.  First we use CountA() to see how many nodes we have, then we loop on that with a for statement:

Sub Macro3()

'

' Macro3 Macro

'

' Keyboard Shortcut: Ctrl+e

'

    cnt = Application.CountA(Range("a:a"))

    For i = 1 To cnt

    ActiveCell.Offset(1, 1).Range("A1:C1").Select

    Selection.Cut

    ActiveCell.Offset(-1, 3).Range("A1").Select

    ActiveSheet.Paste

    ActiveCell.Offset(1, 0).Rows("1:1").EntireRow.Select

    Selection.Delete Shift:=xlUp

    ActiveCell.Select

    Next i

End Sub

Of course you could have done this with *VREAD’s in MAPDL, or python. But sometimes Excel is just faster.

Building CUBE Mini-Clusters in the Clean Room

It is a busy time in the world of CUBE computers. We are building our own new cluster, replacing a couple of older file servers we bought from “those other guys” and building a 128 core mini-cluster for a new CUBE customer.  We ran out of room in the IT cubicle so we looked around and found that PADT’s clean room was not being used.  A few tables and tools later and we had a mini-cluster assembly facility.

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With the orders that customers have told us are on the way before the end of the year, this is going to be a busy area through December.

STL File Tolerance: A Short Explanation of Faceting and Chord Height

When you are making a prototype of a CAD file, you send an STL file to the software that the machine uses to calculate how to build the part.  An STL file is made up of triangles, called facets, that cover the surface of your part.  Imagine having a a real part and a box full of small triangle. You have to paste the triangles all over the surfaces of the part till you have covered every part of the surfaces.

To illustrate what we are talking about lets start with a simple geometry: a block with a hole:

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When we make an STL file the CAD package breaks the surfaces of the part up into triangles.  The result is something like this:

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Notice how the surface is made up of triangles.  Triangles are flat so if you don’t have enough, if the triangles are too large, you end up with visibly flat surfaces.  This example shows the default for many CAD tools, and if we make a prototype of it we will see the flat triangle bits, and it will look bad.

To solve this you need to set your tolerance to a smaller number. Each CAD package has a different way of specifying this.  Most of them use some sort of Chord Height tolerance. 

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The chord height is the maximum distance from the actual surface (orange) to the facet face (green).  The smaller the Chord Height, the smaller the facets and the more accurate the curvature of the surface is represented.

Here are some examples of our sample part with different tolerances (the hole has a 2” diameter):

facet_01

0.1” Chord Height

facet_02

0.01” Chord Height

facet_03

0.001” Chord Height

facet_00

0.0001” Chord Height

That last example may be a bit extreme. 

Why not just set your tolerance very small and be done with it?  The problem with that approach is that you force the program to make a ton of triangles, and your STL file gets huge.  So you need to find a nice compromise.  0.001” seems to work well for us and is a good place to start.

if you want to view your STL files, you can usually do so in the software you use to send your parts to your RP machine. If you are using a service provider, you may want to download a tool like Meshlab or MiniMagics.

The PADT Hat Visits ASU’s Formula SAE Team

PADT was honored to be invited to come out and see the Formula SAE car that Arizona State University has been working on as part of their Press Day at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving.  The PADT Hat came along and got a picture:

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We helped out the team last year by printing them an intake manifold and by offering some assistance to the Aero design team.  It was a very nice design and in their first year of competition, they came in 24th out of 80 teams.DSC09593

Congratulations to all the students involved and we are looking forward to working with them in the coming season.

Thoughts from the 2012 CleanTech Open

The CleanTech Open (CTO) is a unique organization in the world of technology startup competitions. As PADT grows our involvement with the CTO, we become more and more enthusiastic about their efforts. I just finished attending our first global awards competition as a sponsor, and wanted to share my thoughts on what makes it so special

The most unique aspect of this competition is the fact that it is more than a competition. When a company applies they immediately enter into a mentoring process that is comprehensive and in depth. Whereas most competitions offer up the ability to chat with a few retired guys, the volunteers that make the CTO so strong are active business, finance, and technology domain experts. Applicants are put through a rigorous training and mentoring process that addresses all aspects of starting and growing a business. So when they get to the actual competition they are much more mature and prepared than we have seen almost any other applicants in other competitions. It is not about winning the pitch, it is about learning.

The other characteristic of the CTO that we find special is that they are focused on companies that are using technology to address real environment problems. Clean water, more efficient energy production, dealing with waste and pollution. Sitting there watching the presentations I realized that the problems we face as a planet are not going to be solved by politicians, laws, treaties, or activism. Like most serious problems that we have faced in history, they will be solved by smart people being creative who apply knowledge and technology. They are working on it.

What a great experience. Thank you to all the volunteers that make it happen and the leadership behind the whole effort. I can’t wait to get involved in the 2013 competition.

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The Files View in ANSYS Workbench

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When you watch someone work with a tool as complex as ANSYS Workbench, you quickly realize that they use different tools and features than you do.  One thing I noticed the other day was someone really using the Files View.  So I thought, I should really make sure I know what is there and take advantage of it.  In looking into it I found a few things I was not aware of, and I needed an article, so here we are.

Philosophy of Files in Workbench

Before we get started, you have to realize that the way ANSYS Workbench thinks about files is unique, and you should understand it.  The idea originally was that the program itself would manage all your files. You just had to worry about the project file and the directory tree it points to.  Therefore the directory structure in that tree is pretty complex, and the user can not change the name of a file being used. That is all managed by the program. Times have changed and there are a lot of programs that run in the Workbench that require the user to know about the files, especially some of the legacy solvers.  So we have the Files View to help us with that.

It is very important that you do not go in and rename, delete, or move files around.  ANSYS Workbench has no way of knowing that you have done that. You should just use it to find files, edit their content, and deal with files that non-workbench type solvers (FLUENT, MAPDL, Etc…) use that are not managed by the Workbench.

The Files View

You see your files through view by toggling it on and off. Under the View menu there is Files item.  Click on it to turn on the Files View and click on it again to make it go away.

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If you see the check and not the view, then use View->Reset Window Layout

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As with any window in the ANSYS Workbench GUI you can drag the bar at the top of the view, or click the thumbtack in the upper right corner, to break it out as its own window, and drag it anywhere you want. I have two monitors so I like to do that, and have a full size graphics window.

If you look at what is in the view, there are no real surprises.  Like a lot of Workbench applications, the information is presented in a spreadsheet from.  If we take a look at each column we can learn some things:

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Name:
Nothing spectacular here. The icons are kind of nice to let you know what type of file you are dealing with.

Cell ID:
This one is kind of handy.  It shows you where in your project the file in question is used.  This helps with complex models where you have multiple systems.  If you don’t change the names on your files, then things get confusing quickly.  The Cell ID helps sort it out.

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Take a look at the Cell ID and the associated project schematic. You can see that the geometry is used in two systems, and that the material properties are used in the Static Structural system.  As you review this, you can see how useful these references can be.

Also notice how some of the files only have a letter for the Cell ID. These are usually solver related files that really apply to the whole system, and not to any one particular cell in the system.

Size:
Not much to say here.  One nice use is to see if your result files are large enough to indicate a successful solve.

Type:
This tells you what type of file you are dealing with, often including the tool that uses it.  What is cool about it is that you can sort on it and you can filter on the file type.  More on that below.

Date Modified:
Always useful for finding out what files were, or were not created and what the most recent work is.

Location:
Again, not much to say here. This is where your files are.  Sometimes you can tell a bit more about where the file is used by looking at what directory it is in.

Interacting with the Files View

You can do some cool stuff in the Files View. The most obvious, is you can click on the upside down triangles and sort by any of the columns: Ascending or Descending.

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You can also choose Sort Settings… and specify multiple columns to sort on.

 

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Just add columns and set the Ascending flag as needed. Delete by clicking the X or Remove All.

Notice how the triangle now shows the columns that are being used to sort.

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When you are done using the sorting, you can click on any of the columns being used in the sort, and choose Cancel sorting.

If you right mouse button (RMB) on any of the cells, you get two options.  They both do what they say: open the folder that contains the file or bring up the File Type Filter.

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Note, just because you can open the folder that does not mean you can go messing around with file names and locations. Only do that on files that are not managed by Workbench.

The File Type Filter will list all of your file types and let you turn on or off the visibility of any of them.

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This can be very useful for a very complicated project.

Some Suggested Uses

So using this tool is not that hard.  A better question than how is why?  Here are some suggestions:

Finding Output Files
Many of the solvers in the ANSYS family create log, error, journal, and output files. Instead of poking around and trying to find them through the operating system, you can quickly use the type filter and maybe sort by Date Modified to find the files you need. Then open up the folder containing them and view the contents.

Extracting a Solve
Sometimes you need to get into the lower levels of the directory structure and get all the files associated with a particular solve so that you can run them outside of workbench, or give them to a user who does not use Workbench.  Using this too, you can quickly sort by directory, find the one you need, then bring up the OS file browser tool.

Managing Macros and Input files
If I’m writing macros or input files, I really don’t want to dig around through directories. So when I’m ready to save my macro, I copy the directory that my solver uses out of the cell in the Files View, then paste it into my text editor’s Save As… dialog.

Making a File Table
Because the information is presented like a spread sheet, you can copy and paste any of the columns you want right into Excel. This comes in handy for reports because you can add a column where you add your own description or notes. To copy hold down the CTRL key and click on the column label of any columns you want.

Get to Know your Files View

We recommend that you use the Files View all the time, not just when you have to. The more familiar you are with the files the program is using the better you will understand what is going on when you use the program. Black boxes are fine and dandy when you are learning or in a hurry, but if you are going to be spending a good chunk of your life alone with one of the ANSYS, Inc. products, you should be spending some time looking at what file are created and where it stores them.

Getting to Know PADT Medical: An Interview with Skott Skeleton

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PADT Medical has been an established group within Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies (PADT) for a while now. Over the years it has grown and we have added new employees with new skills and experience. But one “employee” has been a member of the team since the beginning, providing guidance and setting a strong example on a variety of medical device product development projects. Skott Skeleton may not be physically substantial, but his skills are rock solid. If you have been fortunate enough to have toured PADT, you have probably met Skott as he hangs around in the PADT Medical office area.

As we launch this new blog based format for sharing information and news with people interested in what is going on with PADT Medical, we thought it would be a good opportunity to sit down and ask Skott a few questions and learn more.

EM: Skott, why don’t you share with our readers why you decided to join PADT Medical?

SS: I didn’t decide anything. One day I was hanging around with my buddies in a warehouse in China, and someone comes along, shoves me in a box and ships me off to the desert. But once I got here, I really fell in love with the place. PADT is a great company. Everyone here is smart, they have good senses of humor, and they do not judge me because of my body type.

EM: What is your roll within PADT Medical?

SK: Mostly I just watch. I move around in the office and I watch. Everyone knows that I’m there and that I am watching. Another important role that I play is to remind everyone why they are doing what they are doing what they are doing. For many engineers, parts are parts. But PADT Medical works on parts that are used to heal and repair people. There is nothing like a person stripped down to the basics to remind everyone that we are working on devices that can really make a difference in people’s lives. And, if we do it right, a good difference.

EM: PADT has been doing product development for over 15 years, including many Medical Devices, why create a special group and brand it apart from PADT?

SS: After doing a couple of medical projects two things become clear. First, the development process for medical devices is different because of the quality requirements, the material issues, the regulatory environment, and the difficulties in designing things that go inside of or interact with human bodies. Second, medical device customers know that they need specialists. PADT Medical customers know that generalists might be able to do some things very well, but that engineers in this space really need to know what is required for medical devices. So we formed a group dedicated to nothing but medical device product development. And to convey that specialization and focus to people inside and outside of the company, we created the PADT Medical brand.

EM: There are a lot of people out there doing medical device product development, what sets PADT Medical apart?

SS: I’d say their engineering skills and their ability to simply get stuff done. When I’m standing in the corner and no one remembers I’m there, I hear customers talk. The main thing they say over and over again is how impressed they are with the breadth and depth of engineering knowledge within PADT Medical. The other thing they say is that when the PADT Medical team signs on to a task, they get it done. They get it done efficiently and with a minimal amount of delay and floundering, especially with difficult tasks.

I also think there are a few other things that set PADT apart but I could go on and on about it, or you can read the PADT Medical part of the website. Let me list the most important bits:

  • Access to world class FEA and CFD simulation, right here at PADT
  • In house rapid prototyping, injection molding, and machining
  • A flexible and robust product development process
  • Established and proven processes

That is just the tip of the iceberg.

EM: That is very impressive. PADT Medical really seems to have a lot of unique skills, experience and tools. But no group can do everything themselves, what do you do when you can’t do what you need in house?

SS: Ah yes, our vendors. We love our vendors. We have over 350 vendors and 65 are approved for medical device work. You are exactly right when you say that we can’t do everything ourselves. So we have spent a lot of time finding and qualifying lots of different vendors. We use our quality system to make sure they can deliver what our customers need, exactly the way they need it. Then we continually work with them to make things better and more affordable.

I should also add that not the way a lot of companies do it this way. We don’t have a purchasing department that beats up our vendors on price and schedule. Our engineers and technicians work directly with our vendor network as partners to come up with a reasonable win-win-win solution for everyone. We want our customers to win, we want PADT to win, and we want our vendors to win.

EM: I’ve heard that PADT Medical is well known as a team that works very closely with vendors and customers. How close?

SS: So close that sometimes I get wheeled out of my comfortable corner to make room for our customers and vendors to actually move into our space here. Only a few partners end up collocating, but even if they are visiting for a day or a few weeks, we make room, and we work side by side till the project is complete.

EM: Skott, we are running out of time and you probably need to get back to the PADT Medical room. But before you go, is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about PADT Medical?

SS: Wow. That is a tough one. There are so many things that we do here, so many success stories. So many difficult challenges that we have identified and overcome.

When I think about it, I guess the only thing I can say is that if anyone out there is thinking of using PADT Medical for their medical device development project, you should meet with us to really understand all we have to offer. Some of it can be put down on paper or explained in a PowerPoint, but much of the value that PADT Medical adds is intangible. Things like experience, problem solving, perceptiveness, mechanical intuitiveness, and organizational skills. If you want to learn more, let us do a proposal for you, or better yet, let us work on a small project where we can show you first hand.

EM: Well thank you very much Skott. It has been a bit creepy talking with you, but it has been informative. I hope we can do this again soon.

SS: Anytime. I am looking forward to the new blog. I hope to meet some of the readers when they come in for a tour.

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[Editors Note: Yes, we know this is a silly way to do an article about what sets PADT Medical apart, but let’s be honest – if I had written an interview with one of the mangers here you would not read it. This way we can have some fun and you might learn a thing or two about what sets PADT Medical apart.  Or you will at least get to roll your eyes a few times.  Share your thoughts in the comments below. – EM]

Join PADT at the 2012 Governor’s Celebration of Innovation

imageThe awards are all done and are sitting on Jen’s file cabinet.  It is time once again for the Arizona Technology Council’s Governor’s Celebration of Innovation (GCOI) Awards.  It does not seem like it could have already been a year since PADT won an award last year. But it has.  And we can not wait to celebrate what a great year it was.

Learn more about the event here.

We will be back  this year, in our booth before the ceremony, in the audience with everyone else waiting to see who wins, and afterwards at the dinner. Please stop on by and say hello.

Using 3D Printing to Make a Clock

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If you visit the lobby of PADT’s Tempe office you will notice something very cool on the wall – a large white and black pendulum clock clicking away on the wall.  Its gears are exposed and you can not only hear it tick-toking away, you can see the gears moving, and watch the timing mechanism rock back and forth.  It defiantly attracts the attention of our mechanically minded customers.

imageThe clock was built by our very own manufacturing engineer Justin Baxter based upon a design from a website called Brian Law’s Wooden Clocks (www.woodenclocks.co.uk).  Brian has a large array of very cool wooden clock designs that he has done for the hobbyist community.  Do take a look at his website to see the very cool designs he has developed. We have our eye on a few more to try out.

To make our clock, Justin took the Clock 1 design and modified it for use with the Stratasys FDM machines that we have in house.  Starting with the free 2D drawings on the website, he created 3D Solids of the assembly making only a few changes. He had to add a bit of thickness to the winding ratchet paul and added some brackets for rigidity because the ABS plastic is more flexible then wood.  It took about 20 hours to build up the CAD model in SolidWorks.

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He then set to work building the parts on our fleet of Stratasys 3D Printers and Manufacturing Centers.  To speed things up he spread the job up over three of our machines:  The FORTUS 400mc for the large white parts, the SST 1200es for the small black parts, and a few smaller parts here and there on the Elite.  Black and Ivory ABS was used for all of the parts that were made on the 3D Printers. He then spent about 15 hours post processing the parts.

The post processing was important because he found early on that friction between the ABS parts could be significant.  All of the sliding surfaces needed to be sanded and Acetone-Smoothed to get rid of any ridges that are a natural byproduct of the additive manufacturing process.  This proved to be the most difficult part of the entire process.

Meanwhile, he ordered and fabricated the few metal parts that he needed: the drive shaft (steel rod), the pendulum rod (aluminum tube), and the mass for the weight (stainless steel bar). I strong string was also found that could be used to suspend the weight.  Everything was then assembled and he spent some time tuning the mechanism to reduce as much friction as possible, and to get the timing worked out on the mechanism.  After all was said and done, the material costs were around $700, and the total machine running time was around 60 hours total.

The end result is shown here in this video:

 

When asked if he had any advice for someone who wanted to make his own clock, Justin replied “Do it, these plans make it quite simple to print one and with a lot more patience and skill you could even make one out of wood as the designer intended. I found making this clock to be a very enjoyable learning experience. “

We hope to have some time to try out some other designs, the PADT Colorado office is already making noise about wanting their own clock.  We will be sure to share the experience with everyone here on The RP Resource when we do.

Shopping for a Rapid Prototyping Service Provider

imageThere are a lot of companies out there providing Rapid Prototyping, Rapid Manufacturing and 3D Printing as a service to others.  As of this writing, Wholers Associates lists 98 around the world. That list does not include the smaller providers or companies who offer RP services as a side service.  It certainly does not include the hundreds of people with low cost 3D printers who will make parts for people. 

With so many choices, how do you pick the right one?

Well, the obvious answer is you just pick PADT to be your service provider.  That makes it easy and you can stop reading now.

Didn’t Work? Damn. Well it was worth a try.  So, taking off the PADT marketing hat and putting on the design engineer hat and engineering manager sweater, here is how I recommend that you make a logical decision:

Why are you Making a Prototype?

Before you do anything you need to ask yourself this question and get a good answer.  Sometimes, the real answer is because it is cool and you want to impress your boss or customer. That is OK. Just keep it in mind when you pick a vendor.  Somebody cheep and fast that delivers so-so quality may not be a good choice.

An important part of the question is also what will you use it for?  Most prototypes are made for visualization – a 3D image.  But many are also made to check fit, form, or function. How you plan to use your prototype should impact the technology you use, and the material choices you make for that technology.

Does it need to look like the production part? Does it need to perform as close to the production part as possible?  If the answer to either question is yes, then you need to really look at what post-processing (sanding, surface finish, texturing, painting) your prototype will need and which providers can supply it.

In fact, if your potential RP service provider does not ask what you want the prototype for, you probably are working with the wrong provider.

Establish what is Important to You

Every customer is different, and often every project is different.  A good place to start is to look at these typical priorities, grouped into three classes, and rank them for your company:

  • The Basics:Image
    • Cost
    • Speed
    • Quality
  • The Interaction:
    • Location
    • Responsiveness of Staff
    • Effort Required to Work With
  • The Capabilities:
    • Technologies Available
    • Material Offerings
    • Knowledge and Experience of Staff
    • Post Processing  Available
    • Down Stream Services Available

Too many customers that we see at PADT who have worked with other service providers, and who have had a bad experience, just look at the first two priorities – cost and speed.  The reality is that there are a lot of things that impact the overall effectiveness of your prototyping effort.  Once you know how you will use your prototype, you can better determine what is important to you.

So rank your priorities and evaluate your potential vendors on the important ones.

Assessing the Basics: Cost, Speed, Quality

Cost and speed seem very easy to obtain. You just send your part file to the potential vendors and get quotes with cost and delivery time. But, you have to look at what you get for the cost, and what the total cost and time are.  Do you need to post-process the part yourself?  Will the quality, surface finish, and material strength meet your needs?  A part made on a low cost 3D Printer may only be $50 versus $500 on an SLA machine.  But if it breaks during your test, how much will that cost?

If you have not worked with a provider before, quality can be tough to determine.  Ask for a reference.  If they are local, go see their shop and look at sample parts.  It might be good to have all of your potential vendors make a simple and inexpensive sample part for you so you can compare all of them before you go off and order $12,000 worth of prototypes.  After you get parts from a vendor, make a note of the quality. If you work for a larger company, maybe share that with purchasing so they know who delivers high quality, and who does not.  We all know that a purchasing person will simply go on the transaction cost if you do not give them other factors to work with.

The Price of Interaction

Manufacturing consulting meetingThis is by far the most difficult set of priorities to define and quantify.  This is the fuzzy stuff that deals with the time, money, and emotional capital that is invested by you during the process of getting your prototype quoted, purchased, made, and delivered.  I wish there was a formula, but you just need to make a gut decision on this one.

After you interacted with a vendor, ask yourself if you found the interaction enjoyable and productive?  Did you get the information you needed quickly and efficiently?  Did they call you back or respond to your email in a quick manner? Did you feel that you were working with them, or was it a bit of a battle? 

I consider this important because what we are talking about here is Rapid Prototyping. It is not “I’m way ahead of schedule, have plenty of budget, and can wait to get my part whenever –prototyping.”  You are doing RP because you need a part fast, you need it right the first time, and your whole product development schedule is probably being held up by it.

If your RP partner is hard to work with, when you get into those stressful I-need-it-tomorrow situations, you can not afford the emotional and financial cost of battling our coaxing your provider to help you out. You need to know you have someone on your team that will step up and come through for you in a pinch.  Never under estimate the importance of how hard or how easy it is to interact with your Rapid Prototyping service provider – keep it in mind and let it weigh heavily in your decision.  It will pay off when you get to crunch time.

What does your Vendor Bring to the Table? Capabilities

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Novices in the world of 3D Printing or Rapid Prototyping usually start of with the thought that they just “need a prototype.”  What they have yet to learn is that there are literally hundreds of different options – combinations of various technologies, materials, and post-processing steps.  Picking a service provider based upon capabilities is actually easy:

  1. They need to have most of the major technologies available (SLA, SLS, FDM, Polyjet).
    A provider that is focused on only one or two technologies will fit your needs into what they have. They only have a hammer, so whatever you ask for, you will get a nail.
  2. They must offer a wide range of materials for each technology they have in house.
    This is a big one.  Often customers can get a part that is the wrong stiffness or strength because they use a vendor that just does not offer the full range of materials.
  3. They can offer the post processing you need for your prototypes planned usage.
    A vendor that has to go outside for detailed sanding or painting is just not going to work. They need to be able to give you the part, looking like you want it to look, when they are finished and without running around and counting on other providers.  If they tell you that it is easy and you can do it yourself, walk away.
  4. The engineers on staff understand the strengths and weaknesses of each technology, material property, and post-processing option.
    All of the other capabilities are useless if you can not talk to someone who understand them. You need to be able to call or email someone at your vendor, tell them what you want to do with your prototype, and have them give you reasonable options on how to get there.  If they just have people processing your order through a piece of software, you will get burned in the end.

Cliché’s Exist for a Reason: Don’t be Afraid to Shop Around, Ask Questions, You Get What you Pay For

In conclusion, we should all remember what our grandmother probably told us a few times. I know mine did: Don’t be afraid to shop around. If I put my service provider hat back on I cringe at this. We would like all of our customers to stay with us forever and never stray.  But the truth is that it is a competitive market out there, and if you do not shop around, then you may not be getting the best product and we may not be as focused on making sure we keep you as a customer.  So in the end, we all benefit.

And another thing she said: “Eric, ask questions. It doesn’t hurt anyone to ask questions.”  So do that. The answer may not be as important as how a potential provider answers the question. Does it show they can listen, that they know their stuff, and that they care about you?

Lastly, and most importantly: You Get What you Pay For. There is not need to elaborate on that one.

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This is a short list, and there is a lot more to think about. Do not hesitate to contact us at PADT to ask more questions and to learn more about how to pick the right Rapid Prototyping service provider.

Another 2012 “Pumpkin” Launch… Well an Ice Ball Anyway

So, being engineers, we are not satisfied with the performance of actual pumpkins. We begin to ask ourselves “Hmmmm… is there a better material to use? What would happen if I tried to shoot _____”

So during this years Halloween launch festivities the team decided to try out an ice ball. 

Here is the result:

PADT Company Pictures Through the Years

As we get ready to launch the new website and the new blog, I find myself looking back on PADT’s 18 year history.  While looking for some lab pictures I found a directory buried about 6 levels down on my C:\ drive called “CompanyPictures”  And inside are all of the pictures that we have kept over the years. After looking at them I thought it might be fun to put them out there on the Blog.

Unfortunately we did not think to take a picture till 2000. So we were already 6 years old.  Since then we only missed 2004.  Take a look. Maybe you recognize someone you used to work with here, maybe you used to work here.  Let us know what you think in the comments.

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2000
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2001
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2002
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2003
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2005
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2006
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2007
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2011
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2012

SBIR Awards at PADT

In 1999 PADT started looking for ways to leverage our various skills to further develop some intellectual property.  We had been doing projects for a variety of customers who were participating in the Small Business Innovative Research program through the federal government (SBIR), and we thought it might not be a bad idea to try going for a few SBIR’s of our own to help us get from that “startup” stage to the “established” phase.  It worked, over the following ten years PADT was successfully awarded 13 SBIR grants.

While we were in the thick of it we really did not keep track of things from a marketing perspective.  But as we prepare to launch the new Product Development portion of the PADT Blog, we thought it would be a good time to look back and summarize what we did and share it with our readers.

One thing that sets PADT apart in the world of SBIR’s is our high level of commercialization.  Although not all of the awards PADT received turned into commercial products, many did.  And bits and pieces from each project help PADT increase our experience and tool set.

Here is a list of the SBIR’s we have been awarded over the years:

Miniature Air Handling System for Portable Fuel Cell Power Supplies
US Army 1999 Phase I
VaneAlpha1This was our first SBIR and it was also our first project that involved pumping or blowing for fuel cells.  We learned a lot on this project and many of the follow on SBIR and commercial products we developed in this area are based on the technology developed here.
Ultra Low Weight Turbomolecular Pump
NASA 1999 Phase I
psys5JPL was interested in developing a very low weight vacuum pump (TMP) that they could use on their interplanetary explorers so they could run their experiments in a vacuum.  This project had a lot of issues to overcome, not the least of which was how to manufacture the thing.
Ultra Low Weight Turbomolecular Pump
NASA 2000 Phase II
TMP_050701_fOur proof of concept in Phase I was good enough to win PADT a Phase II contract for the ULWTMP design.  Now our ideas had to be put to work. We did solve a lot of the problems, especially the manufacturing issues. At the end of the project the only issue left undone was the rotordynamics problem that is encountered at the speeds of a TMP with a magnetic bearing.
Miniature Air Handling System for Portable Fuel Cell Power Supplies
US Army 2000 Phase II
vane-familly2PADT took what we learned in Phase I of this project and developed a family of vane compressors that met the unique needs of the US Army.  We developed an entire family of pumping solutions and tested them to develop a good understanding of their capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses.
Fuel Cell Based Portable Hybrid Power Supply
US Army 2000 Phase I
Hybrid-aThis phase I project involved the design of a portable hybrid power supply that combined batteries and a hydrogen fuel cell.  The end product was a conceptual design for a light way power solution for US soldiers.  PADT built a working demonstrator model that highlighted the control system, the custom fuel cell, and the pumping solution.
Fuel Cell Based Portable Hybrid Power Supply
US Army 2001 Phase II
hybridThis follow on project focused on the detailed design of a light weight portable power supply that used hydrogen to drive a fuel cell.  We produced a working demonstration product at the conclusion if of the effort. PADT was able to use all aspects of our company: simulation, design, test, prototyping, system integration, and manufacturing. The technology developed was used successfully to develop a complete hybrid system for a methanol fuel cell manufacturer who applied it to commercial applications.
Aerosol Collection Technology
US Army 2001 Phase I
impactor_bAfter the events of 9/11 the US Army had an interest in being able to detect air born biological weapons. Although they had good detectors, they needed a device that would use aerodynamics to collect air and separate out particles of a certain size. In Phase I of this project PADT used our CFD capability and rotating machinery design experience to develop a conceptual device for this application.
Aerosol Collection Technology
US Army 2003 Phase II
91010046For Phase II of this project PADT produced a working prototype and tested it with the help of Arizona State University. The testing showed that the technology was viable.  Fortunately, as time passed so did the potential threat and no market really opened up looking for such a device.
Low Cost Hot Anode Recycle Blower for SOFC Systems
DOE 2005 Phase I
invis_start_02_a32500_pic13PADT applied our fuel cell pumping knowledge to develop a pumping system that could work with the very high temperature Solid Oxide Fuel Cell systems that the government was looking at using for aircraft applications.
Miniature Disposable Drug Infusion Pump
DOD 2005 Phase I
clip_image002The department of defense is always focused on improving their ability to treat wounded soldiers in the field. One area that needed improvement in 2005 was the ability to deliver drugs in the battlefield with a portable lightweight design that had many special features which would allow a non-expert to administer the drugs. PADT investigated several different solutions and produced a conceptual design.
Low Cost Hot Anode Recycle Blower for SOFC Systems
DOE 2006 Phase II
clip_image002For the follow-up on this project PADT built a working system for pumping very high temperature fuel in a solid oxide fuel cell loop.  We also tested the system, at temperature, under a variety of operating conditions.
High Temperature Blower Development For SOFC Applications
DOE 2006 Phase I
clip_image002[5]PADT received an additional Phase I grant in this area to explore other options and to improve on the system developed as part of the low cost program.
Instruments and Devices To Preserve Molecular Profiles In Tumors
NIH 2009 Phase I
IMG_1448PADT first NIH project looked at developing a device that would freeze tissue biopsy samples during their extraction from a patient, or just after.  PADT developed a working prototype, the ReadyFreeze, that was very successful at allowing the user to freeze biopsy samples very shortly after extraction.

PADT’s very own Susanna Young Named as one of 2012’s Top Young Entrepreneurs by The Arizona Republic

imageMany PADT employees were looking through their newspaper (or browsing it online) and saw our very own Susanna Young made this years list of the Valley’s top Young Entrepreneurs.

Susanna worked as an intern at PADT while she was going to ASU and still works part time when she is not trying to make the world a better place by building G3Box into a viable company.  If you don’t know about their effort to make medical clinics from steel shipping containers, check out the website and learn more.

Here is a link to the article online:

http://www.azcentral.com/business/arizonaeconomy/articles/20121102young-entrepreneurs-arizona-2012.html 

Scroll to the end of the slideshow to read about Susanna. 

Congratulations. It is good to see good people, and an engineer, get recognized by the business press.