Web Changes Engineering Article

The Web Whips Up Waves Of Change

Machine Design
October 10, 1996

Pages 80-84
by Paul Dvorak, Sr. Editor

What follows is my condensing of the article plus some RBBI Editorial Comments.
This article discusses how Internet technology and the World Wide Web are about to "turn engineering on its ear." The Web speeds up communications, allows decentralized organizational structures, and "exponentially boosts the information available for any given project." They present an example of a pilot project at an automaker.

In the past, engineers discussed design details on a component by marking up drawings and faxing or delivering them to a Cad Designer, then they met with or called the supplier with questions. Simple changes might only take a week.

In the pilot program, the engineers accesses the CAD model from the company database on their desktop PC, viewed it in full 3-D, cut sections and visually compared old and new versions, and marked the model with the changes. One option is to transform it to VRML (3-D web graphics format) and E-mail it to a Web server at the supplier company. Engineers at the supplier view it using Netscape (in full 3-D).

Editorial Comment From RBBI
This sounds great and may come to pass. I have personally been involved in similar efforts and found many CAD 3-D models to be in excess of 30 meg. Its very tough to load them on a PC to convert them to VRML and if you could the resulting file is to big for you to view at once. It is so huge you could probably mail it to them by the postal service before the e-mail transfer ended (slight exaggeration). As compression technologies develop and transfer speeds go up, hopefully this will become a more viable alternative.
Another alternative is for simultaneous viewing of by both parties across the network. This allows the engineers, suppliers, purchasing, tooling, etc to review the issues in real time and agree on changes in a few minutes.

One great idea mentioned by the article is to set up a "home page" for each major new project and allow access by participants and suppliers. Firewalls and password protection can limit access and allow participants to schedule meetings, review the design, send drawings and models to each other, and solicit bids.

New product information is now being placed on line as soon as products are released by potential suppliers. You don't have to wait for trade shows and magazine coverage to obtain information about new products.

RBBI Editorial Comment
Some Trade Shows are taking advantage of this movement and going on-line themselves. Many are establishing web sites to promote a real trade show and some are establishing virtual trade shows.
VRML can be used to load 3-D models into online parts catalogs and assembly views. Parametric Technology Corp (PTC) is using the modeling language in a new module called Pro/Interface for VRML. It lets users export Pro/E parts and assemblies into online VRML catalogs of parts and assemblies."

RBBI Editorial Comment
Woah! !! I personally talked to a PTC rep almost a year ago asking if they were doing any work in this area and was told they weren't interested.
PTC then goes a step further and combines the Pro/Interface module with another called Pro/Fly-Through to give users a stand alone navigator to view and manipulate large assemblies. It lets users export Pro/E parts and assemblies into online VRML catalogs of parts and assemblies. The software will also allow users to pull VRML components into PRO/E for modifications.

Java Applets are potentials for performing calculations, sizing and selecting components on web sites and for searching large databases.

A virtual feedback device called the Phantom Haptic Interface invented in 1993 at M.I.T. fits the thumb and index finger of one hand. Thomas Massie, founder and chief technology officer of SensAble Technology describes how that through a series of gimbals, linkages, and servomotors it provides the tactile feedback that would exist if the object were in your hand.The hardware uses software called "Ghost" to interpret the surface position, texture, and weight of the VRML model. "Massie says the device can accurately represent smooth surfaces, sharp corners, textures, solid or rubbery spheres, and friction."

RBBI Editorial Comment
Wow! !!
The three Phantom Haptic Interface units work in workspaces of 5 X 7 X 10 inches, 7.5 X 10.5 X 15 inches, and about a cubic yard.

Applications include examining the feel and size of hand held designs and ease of assembly. They even have their own web site http://www.ele.vtt.fi/projects/vrp/vrp.htm

Another development is hooking PDA's (Personal Digital Assistants) to the web. Mercedes-Benz has announced plans to connect their cars to the net. Those disconnected from their desks could continue their work and car assistance could be obtained as well.

Intergraph's Imagineer Technical product is a 2-d drawing package with parametric features that can be used with Microsoft's web browser (Internet Explorer) to link with technical sites.

Micro-Station (% by Bently Systems developed a web browser that runs within their CAD package which allows dragging and dropping drawings or specs from manufacturers web sites.

Search engines such as Lycos, AltaVista, Yahoo, and HotBot are making it easier to find the piece of information you need on the net.

RBBI Editorial Comment
They did not point out that many industries have their own web sites such as RBBI. We have links to a few industry specific sites on our Other Useful Links Page. You should find sites of this nature in your industry and support them. They will save you a great deal of time in "ferreting out" the information you need.

The article goes on to explain that by making corporate databases web accessible, the use of Netscape's browser, rather than proprietary tools will allow users to navigate and access databases for information, documents, parts drawings, part information, and bills of material.

RBBI Editorial Comment
Great article, timely, with some real content. Presents some novel concepts. In the future we may look back and find this article to have been a real catalyst in promoting the Engineering use of the web. A couple of technologies seem left out or shorted a bit. The use of whiteboards, internet phones (especially for international collaborations), webcams to monitor activities in an area (construction of prototypes or on test units themselves), real time data feed sharing, remote control of prototypes or testing, and real time sound.

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