November 30, 2014

Technology and Evolution

Filed under: Articles + Blogs,Technology Development — smeyer @ 5:29 am

NCR N-530 Bombe Enigma Decryption Machine

Technology is a term that is broadly used and highly misunderstood.  It is the art of, or skill that is based on the underlying principle of a certain field of knowledge.  This results in the creation of tools or machinery that are appropriate to manipulate the system in question.  In electric motors, it is understanding the principles of electromagnetic induction leading to the creation of the electric motor, and all the tools and equipment that goes into making these devices.

The subject could be anything.  In computing, the underlying field of knowledge is the ability to render complex problems into binary code and writing processes that solve the desired problem.  In primitive architecture it might be the skill or art of forming bricks and understanding the appropriate building shapes that can be constructed to create safe shelters.

The application of technology is an entirely different matter.  Technology has a limitation based on value.  The usefulness or importance of technology defines how widely it is applied.  The cellphone is very widely used and has spawned giant industries to supply the demand for this technology.  This is due to the value that society places on the usefulness of the cellphone combined with the low cost that producers have been able to achieve.

There are many technologies of human transportation based on personal use and mass use.  Electric cars, however, are not achieving the mass acceptance that is consistent with how we value clean transportation.  This is because the cost of electric cars, and hybrid buses for that matter, have not fallen to the competitive level that can displace combustion solutions.

In this regard, the economics of the situation are perfectly consistent with an “evolutionary” model of the technology.  New technology displaces the old when the cost of the new tech falls below the old tech or is low enough to promote widespread adoption.  Anyone still own an analog watch? or a watch at all? Remember floppy disks?  or tube monitors?  Anyone have a phone booth in their neighborhood?  Of course not, all these things have been displaced by the new tech because the new stuff is so much less expensive and more convenient.

November 2, 2014

Design Integration and the Future of Design

Filed under: Articles + Blogs — smeyer @ 8:17 pm



There are a number of definitions for the word ‘design’.  A broad definition is based on conceiving or planning something.  The object of the design could be anything, a building, a park, a homestead, an electric vehicle, you name it.

Design can also include the process of fabricating the item, so all of the techniques necessary for the production of the design must be considered. The materials used for the design will also drive the requirements to make the item.  Wood is very different from metal, and both materials have incredible diversity and specialization in order to get the best performance for a given design.

Design involves the underlying scheme that governs function.  This aspect of design deals with intent and purpose of the candidate design.  Functionality and engineering content required to achieve the purpose become another dimension to consider.  In the technology world we live in, there is frequently a control requirement as well.

Design can also be the arrangement of elements and how they perform together.  The process of bringing two or more parts together is integration. So when we talk about design integration we are focusing on this aspect, how the different parts come together to serve the design.

In a car, the body and the chassis are two separate systems, but they have to be designed in an integrated way because the body attaches to the chassis and the chassis supports the body.  To the extent that the chassis has to support the engine, drive train and passengers as well, the chassis integration is a much more complex design activity.

In the age of 3D part manufacturing the integration process takes on a whole new meaning.  3D part fabrication gives the designer the flexibility to incorporate features that cannot be produced by machining.  Hidden passages within a part, complex geometries, reinforcing features are all possible within the same process.  The fluid nature of the manufacturing not only offers the design freedom, it conserves material, since there is no waste.

Our understanding of design has to be changed from the training we have based on a manufacturing world where casting and stamping processes come at very high tooling costs.  Computer numerical control machining is not the only option in part fabrication.

In a recent effort GE Aviation developed a new approach to the jet fuel mixing and atomizing nozzle.  The old design required 20 individual parts that are replaced today by a single 3D printed part in chrome steel.  The implications of this very successful design integration is revolutionizing manufacturing.

It’s also going to require a change in our understanding of design.