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Something to think about…

Published 22 December 2008

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: innovation, smelting iron, abraham darby, repeatable processes

I had the pleasure to have a meet-up with the guys at Protolabs (or Protomold or First Cut) over in Telford today. Not too long of a drive, a friendly and knowledgable team and they have a rocking service if youre looking for machined prototypes or injection moulded components.

On the way back, I drove through Ironbridge, a small village in Shropshire that, for those of us involved in design and manufacturing, holds a pretty big key to how we got here and it got me thinking. Consider this, next time you’re up against a challenge, a client has asked for what seems impossible or higher improbably.

Early in the 16th century, a gentleman turned up in a smaller villiage down the valley called Coalbrookdale. A gentleman by the name of Abraham Darby I and took over an existing iron forge. Forging iron was an inaccurate, non-repeatable process and the quality of the product produced was not what you or I would expect. And somewhat dangerous - the forge Darby took over blew up a few years before he arrival). What Darby did was look at the process (which previously used charcoal), use da different material for smelting (coke), developed the Blast Furnace and refined the method until it reached pretty much what we have today. You would think that kick starting the Industrial Revolution would be enough for his family.

About 80 years later, his grandson, Abraham Darby III, undertook the job of building a bridge across the valley in which his family’s business worked, a bridge designed by a local architect (who would never see it completed). What was unique about this bridge was that it took his grandfather’s new process (now three generations old) to new scales and new heights. Building a cast iron bridge, simply hadn’t been done before, so everything, from casting moulds, to joints (many mimic joints typically found in carpentry as these were well established) had to be developed from scratch. Few of us will be lucky to work on projects that will still be active, working and so impressively current in 200 years time.

So next time you’re looking at your workload, looking at a new challenge that comes in and it seems tough; think back. Think back to a time when innovation actually mean true, honest-to-god, innovation. When you had to make things up from scratch to move forward, when advances were discussed in generations and history was made.

If you’re ever in the area, visit ironbridge or the various museums (Blists Hill, and the Museum of Iron) around there. For anyone with an engineering interest, its the hot bed of so much that it can’t fail to be fascinating.

PS: Interesting thing: SolidWorks have a fantastic PR lady by the name of Darby Johnson - yup, she’s related. Synchronicity - its a wonderful thing.

View comments (1 comment) Applying social media to product development?

Published 21 December 2008

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: solidworks, proengineer, collaborate, social media, non-linear conversations,, twitter

It started with a blog comment. A name pops up you know. Guy that used to be CEO of one of the most interesting 3D tech companies in a while. They sold to Dassault last year. He disappeared shortly there after. Then he pops up again. This should be interesting.

Chris Williams was CEO of Seemage for a stint as they sold to Dassault some time ago: that product got reassessed in the DS portfolio, and is now sold through both the SolidWorks and Catia channels as 3DVIA Composer. Job Done. So what’s he up to next?

The answer is What is it? I had no clue, so I did a little digging. It turns out that its a new organisation at the very embryonic stages of developing a service. What does that service do? Well, I’ll tell you.

Look at the Social Media landscape. Facebook, Twitter, Brightkite, all this stuff. It didn’t take long for someone to figure out that similar things can be used within the Product Development community (and I don’t just mean LinkedIn) - someone had to build a service that would take those core concepts and apply them to the 3D-based professional realm. Sort of.

What social media, particularly something like Twitter, is all about is: Communication. Informal communication (that’s my take on things anyway). If you get into it (I’m on there, as are a lot of other 3D alpha geeks) and use it for something other than simply uni-directional broadcasting (which is pretty common), then it quickly becomes clear that the simplicity of the service makes informal, non-linear conversation a very effective communication method. You have a conversation with someone, in small 140 character chunks, other people can see that and jump in. Sure, they could add a lot more, but the devil is in the details.. or lack thereof. So, WTF has that got to do with CAD.

Design is a team effort. Full stop. People work on a product, converse, communicate, adapt and refine. how is that communication done? In person, by phone, by email, by data management or PD… no. Wait. let’s stop there. At the very formative stages of design, PDM gets in the way.

What if there was something less rigid, less formal, less time consuming that would enable discussion around a dataset, a part, an assembly, that you could just… use?

This is what is trying to build. Integrated into your CAD app (current documentation shows a working Pro/E plugin) that give you tools to connect to the server, link to a part, add discussions, comments and such. Then, whenever anyone else works with that data, that same data is available, can be swapped between team members. Because its a web-service, non-CAD users can work on with it too. Essentially, it allows a conversation to happen, without too many barriers.

It’s super early days for both the company and service but they have the potential to do something interesting here. Let’s see where it goes. I’ve got a few ideas for things they need to build into this, to make it more community led as a means to reach more people, but these are smart guys. If you’re interested, they’re looking for testers. Go on, you know you want to.

Other things to read:

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ART-VPS Shaderlight demo

Published 19 December 2008

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: rendering, visualisation, hypershot, luxology, shaderlight, renderdrive, art-vps, ray box, pure, progressive renderer

This is pretty cool. ARTVPS (which stands for Advanced Render Technology - Virtual Photography Solutions - snappy eh?) has been active in the rendering and visualization business for years with its RenderDrive, Pure cards and RayBox products. These worked with 3dsmax and Maya to use custom hardware (using an ART-VPS design ray tracing chipset) to accelerate the ray tracing calculation times to mere fractions of what they would be with a standard workstation. And with some tweaks that the company also added to the host applications (such as really usable depth of field), the images that could be produced were breathtaking.

Of course, today multi-core machines, and rapidly advancing graphics card tech means that those hardware acceleration solutions have become a little dedundant. ShaderLight is ART-VPS’ next core technology. As you’ll see its integrated into 3dsmax, but the company has plans elsewhere. Now, its video time:

Watch and learn. See how the scene doesn’t all recalc massively when you play with materials/textures and light sources - now that’s slick and appears to be an interesting step on from standard progressive rendering. With Bunkspeed, Luxology and now ARTVPS back in the game, perhaps 2009 is going to be year where rendering finally gets easy.

ALSO: This looked cool too - FryRender Swap for swapping out materials in real time.

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Autodesk to acquire Algor

Published 17 December 2008

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: simulation, autodesk, cfd, fea, analysis, algor

News has just broken (the press release isn’t even on either parties’ web-site’s as yet), that Autodesk is to acquire simulation specialists Algor for approximately $34 million with a view to expanding the rapidly growing base of technology to fulfill the Digital Prototyping vision. What does this bring to the deal that previous acquisitions of Solid Dynamics (Motion simulation), Moldflow (Mold filling analysis) and Plassotech (Static FEA) in recent years? The answer is multiphysics, mechanical event simulation* and fluid flow.

According to the release postsed on the Yahoo Biz, “Upon completion of the acquisition, Autodesk’s current intent is to integrate Algor into its Manufacturing Solutions business unit and to continue developing and selling Algor‘s core product line. Autodesk plans to continue developing the Algor products with an open approach, allowing direct data exchange between Algor products and multiple computer aided design software offerings.” The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2009. The worlds of FEA, CFD and other simulation technologies are rapidly merging and becoming, at least in the view of the vendors, much more integrated. While user adoption varies between industry sector, its clear that this is THE big thing for the next few years and expect to see other acquisitions from other vendors as work is done to bring simulation in closer contact with the design process. * I hadn’t come across this term before, but it seems it “combines large-scale motion and stress analysis and includes linear and nonlinear material models. The combination of motion and stress analysis considering full inertial effects enables engineers to see motion and its results, such as impact, buckling and permanent deformation.”

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